Sital Sasthi festival bridges Brahmanical divide

This year the Sital Sasthi festival has brought together two sections of Brahmins, who have been at loggerheads since decades. All these years the Aranyak and Utkaliya groups have been organizing their independent yatras. The Aranyaks originating from Uttar Pradesh live in Sambalpur’s Jhaduapara, while the Utkaliyas (Odia) Brahmins from Puri live in Nandapara. There was also no marriage between the sections and they organized the Sital Sasthi festival separately every year.

But now the situation has changed after the Jhaduapara Yatra Committee married Loknath to Parbati, whose parents belong to the Utkaliya section. The committee selected Hari Sankar Nanda and his wife Radhika Nanda of Sasan village as Parbati’s parents.

Nanda belongs to Utkaliya section and his ancestors came from Puri to Sambalpur at the behest of the ruler of Sambalpur Ajit Singh.

“I am an Utkaliya Brahmin but was selected by the Jharuapara Yatra Committee to play the role of Parbati’s parent. It is God’s wish,” said Hari Sankar. His wife is exuberant at the status bestowed upon them. “I have four daughters. But now I got another one as Parbati. The goddess has fulfilled my wishes”, said Radhika on Saturday.

The decision was mutual with both sects willing to bridge the divide. “Now we do not feel there is any difference between us. We selected Nanda babu after he approached us,” said Sanjeeb Padhi, a senior member of Jhaduapara Yatra committee.

The Aranyaks and Utkaliya sects of Brahmin started this festival 400 years ago. Historians believe that the competition between the two groups kept the festival going all these years. But the contest between the two was minimized after Modipara, Badabazar, Thakurpara and Budharaja areas too took out their procession on Sital Sasthi. “We have experienced a steep competition between Jhadua (Aranyak) and Odia (Utkaliya) Brahmins of Sambalpur that also reflected on the Sital Sasthi Yatra. In the 70s, the administration was forced to separate the yatra route because of the growing law and order problems,” educationist K C Panda said. “However, things have changed over the past few decades with the changing times. Marriages are now taking place between the two sects”, he added.

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