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Region : Throughout Orissa
Significance : Associated with the mixed cult of Satyapir
Dates Back : Muslim-Mughal Period


Pala, a very popular performance associated with the mixed cult of 'Satyapir', has wide distribution in Orissa. Its origin goes back to Muslim-Mughal period when assimilation of "Satyanarayan" of Hindu pantheon with "Pir" of "Muhammadanism", brought about a synthetic cult known as 'Satyapir'.

This is an instance to show the inter-change of cultural traits between Hinduism and Islam resulting in subduing to a great extent the intolerance and anticism of Muslims. As a consequence of this fusion the Hindus became the disciples of the Muslim guru or Fakir and adopted worship pattern of some Hindu deities and vice versa.

"Satyanarayan" is an incarnation of Vishnu, and "Pir" is an old man or precept of Muslims who established a religious sect at Persia. The Fakir considered to be the incarnation of Satyapir, exercised a tremendous influence on the common people of Muslim and Hindu sects. The propitiation of this deity is intended for well being of the people.

A story with regard to the origin of Satyapir is recorded in the 'Pala' of "Krishna Haridas". According to this interesting story, king Maidanb's virgin daughter Sandhyabati while taking a dip in the river, saw a flower floating and by smelling it she became pregnant. When her parents were aware of the fact, they took it a serious offence and drove her away. Under orders from Satyapir still in the womb, Hanila built a palace for Sandhyabati where she gave birth to a ball of bloody flesh. She threw it away into the river. A she-tortoise swallowed it up, gave birth to Satyapir and went to heaven after death.

Kusaleswar, the 'Purohit' of Maidanab brought him up with care. One day while taking a walk on the bank of the river Nur, Satyapir found a manuscript of Koran. The Brahmin asked him to keep that book in its former place, as a sacred Brahmin should not touch it. The boy argued and concluded that there was no difference between a Purana and Koran. Hinduism and Islam are not hostile to each other.

The cult of Satyapir is so popular in Orissan culture; the Puranas and popular literature profusely mention it of the supernatural powers endowed on the deity.

Types Of Pala
There two types of Pala in Orissa - the 'Baithaki' (sitting) and the 'Thia' (standing). The Thia Pala is taken to be the developed form of 'Danda Nata'. The group of performers consisting of six persons including the 'Bayak' or the drummer (playing on the 'Mrudanga') and the chief singer known as 'Gayaka'. The side singers with their cymbals sing and dance explaining the meaning of the verses to the audience.

The Performance
The performance begins with invocation to 'Satyanarayan' followed by the story of Puranas or epics embellished with poems of different poets. The Pala songs are the compositions of the local poets and recited in the appropriate places during the performance.

In a Pala performance, songs of various types in different styles predominate the dance, which on the other hand, is the expression of simple rhythm to the tune of music. Pala is normally ritualistic in character and is performed on the occasion of worship of Satyanarayan but now a days, it is performed on important festive occasions.

The performers, be it in an urban area or in the folk area, draws a large audience. The interesting theme of Pala, the lyrical diction of the poets exhibited in a charming manner in melodious voice, the songs of humour with the use of local dialects, the depiction of humorous story, the skillful play of 'Mridanga', the charming and colourful dress of 'Gayak' and 'Palias' make the audience spellbound.

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