COVID-19: Odisha’s conch blowers scramble to earn a living

Several conch blowers in the state have shifted to working as labourers in farms 

By Hrusikesh Mohanty
Published: Thursday 10 June 2021
Odisha's conch-blowing community has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Photo: Hrusikesh Mohanty

The second wave of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in India has robbed the conch blower community as well as folk artists of their livelihood in Odisha.

These performers suffered a financial blow due to the country-wide lockdown in 2020; the situation exacerbated as the state government imposed another lockdown May 5, 2021 onwards to contain the spread of the infection in the second wave.

Rajendra Patra (50), who trained students in blowing the conch and represented different countries from India in folk dances, now works as a labourer.

Similarly, Bhagaban Patra (58), a folk dancer, has shifted to working as a labourer in farms. 

More than 3,000 members of nearly 250 conch-blower groups in Ganjam and Puri districts — who  made their living blowing up tunes for different celebrations, wedding procession and visit of the likes of Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik — are scrambling to earn their livelihood. 

The condition of other folk artists, who performed their dances more locally, is no different. The state is home to as many as 5,000 of them.

“We received very few invitations due to the lockdown restrictions in the last two years,” said Rajendra. He said they would receive at least 20 invitations every month before the pandemic.

He performed folk dances such as Jodi Sankha Dhwani (twin conch blowing), Ranapa, Chadheya as well as tiger dance in different parts and out of the country. 

He added that their group, comprising 15 people each, performed a six-minute virtual programme in 2020, for which each of them was paid Rs 1,000.

“It has been difficult to get by in the profession,” said Upendra Panigrahi, a Dasakathia artist.

“We have performed for the regional party during every election rallies as the party’s symbol is conch,” said G Krishna Reddy, a conch blower in Ganjam district.

Subash Chandra Sahu, a folk artist, said the state government needs to think about folk artists just as it does about other workers in formal and informal sector.

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