.........BARGARH: Come last week of December, Bargarh town in western Odisha will turn into legendary Mathura with demon king Kansa, the main protagonist, letting loose a reign of terror and people thronging to see him. The excitement, however, spilled onto the streets much ahead of the 11-day Dhanu Yatra with an audition to select the man who would perform the role of King Kansa.The sheer size of the 5 sq km stage and the fact that every citizen is an actor in the play has made the Yatra stand out. The sheer number of aspirants, who turned up for audition to play the role of Kansa, speaks about the impact of the character. Although the hero of the play is Lord Krishna with the central theme of the play borrowed from ‘Krishna Leela and Mathura Vijay’, boys from a couple of families play the role of Lord Krishna and Lord Balaram.
The festival, which was organised to commemorate India’s Independence, will complete 69th edition this year since its inception way back in 1948. Till date, 10 actors have played the role of the protagonist. This year, Bhubaneswar Pradhan of Sarla village was selected from among 23 artistes who took part in the audition that concluded recently. Kansa’s roles were played by Bundi Rath (1948-50), Bhimsen Tripathy (1950), Yudhistir Satpathy (1957-71), Radheshyam Dash ((1973), Yudhistir Satpathy (1974-80), Debendra Biswal (1981), Nilanchal Dash (1982-83), Gopal Sahu (1984-98), Bhubaneswar Pradhan (1999-2000), Gopal Sahu (2001-08) and Hrusikesh Bhoi (2009-16). Sahu, Bhoi and Pradhan have captured the stage for the past three decades.
Mention the name of Kansa and you are bound to hear tales of late Yudhistir Satpathy who had donned the role for 23 years from 1957 to 1980. Old timers, who have been watching the play year after year without feeling monotonous, single out Satpathy for being the best Kansa till date. They say his acting skills have kept him alive in the minds of the locals. The fact that the lane in which his house is located in Ranggharpada here is still referred to as ‘Kansa Gali’ speaks volumes about the way his character is etched in the minds of the people of Bargarh.
However, it is no easy job to play the role of Kansa as it involves long hours of work with heavy dress, no lucrative remuneration and having to tolerate the biting cold in bare body. In this background, Kansa’s role wins revellers’ hearts. He also needs to have fair knowledge of mythology, diction, good dialogue delivery and ability to perform considering the fact that the Yatra never has a written script. People still recall that Satpathy was an actor par excellence and put his soul into the role.
Gopal Sahu has played Kansa’s role for 23 years. People still refer to him as ‘Maharaj’ in real life. The festival is scheduled to begin on December 23 and will conclude on January 2.