Saturday, November 29, 2008


The temple city of Puri is in some sense a dual city: there is an inner Puri, and there is an outer Puri - “inner” and “outer”, both spatially and culturally. The servitors of, and others associated in one way or the other with, the temple of Lord Jagannath are the inhabitants of the old, inner city. They are the original locals. A hundred years ago, Puri must have been a small and serene place. The wide beach must have been quiet and lovely. In fact it is still possible to spend an hour or two on the beach undisturbed, if only one knows which part of the beach to go to. A hundred years ago, medical professionals would ask their patients to spend time in the healthy climate of Puri to regain their heath. Thus the moneyed came from far away Calcutta – Kolkata of today, not just to recuperate, but to live a quality life as well, and built spacious houses along the seashore. The outer Puri came into being. In due course came affluent, retired employees, people working in educational institutions, hospitals, and government offices, hoteliers and others following secular, modern professions. The outer Puri flourished. The two Puris belonged to two different cultures; the inhabitants of the inner Puri considered those of outer Puri outsiders, and the latter looked upon the former as different. But there was no tension; there just couldn’t be, because the outsider-locals would go to the temple, and many of them every day, and the original locals in due course would join schools, and colleges, watch films in theatres, eat in hotels, and participate in the day-to-day life of the modernizing city.

One cultural artifact that has an uncertain future is “Puri boli”, a variety of Oriya, spoken by the original locals. Outer Puri by and large speaks standard Oriya. And as the outer Puri flourished, Puri boli felt the heat. Speakers of standard Oriya found it rude, often abusive, crude, and uncultivated. Even outsider-locals, let alone outsiders, have always found embarrassing the ease and unconcern with which it uses some words considered taboo in standard Oriya. Many call it dismissively as pandaa padhiari bhaasa, the language of the temple people. The standard Oriya speaking elite has succeeded, to a considerable extent, in persuading the speakers of Puri boli that they need to change - they must use polite language while dealing with the others. It didn’t surely impress anybody when some of them said that what the others called vulgar and abusive language is not so at all, and that such language is not excluded from even their home domain. We know that words are not taboo or acceptable, it is the powerful elite that decides which words are what. In a few years as the original locals would realize that the traditional temple-centred economic activities are not going to provide them a decent living, they would join modern professions, and in two or three generations would come to look upon Puri boli exactly as others today do.

Puri boli is a colourful style: exuberant, imaginative, witty, and metaphorical. When sarcastic, it can be devastating, and when friendly and welcoming, it can be charming, almost embarrassingly so, and in either case, it can be colourful. Quite apart from all this, it is the carrier of a rich history and culture built around Jagannath temple. In these times and with such hostile attitudes its future is uncertain. Hopefully some will be concerned.

1 comment:

biswajeet said...

thank u sir for a wonderful was really amazing...