Just a couple of months ahead of India's [ Images ] Independence in 1947, an Unidentified Flying Object was reported to have landed in Odisha's Nayagrah district.
Rejected as fanciful stories by many, traces of the incident buried under the pages of the country's tumultuous history during the period, have been preserved in the form of traditional palm-leaf engravings by a local artist.
Depicting the long-forgotten stories of 'yantra-purusha' (alien robot-like creatures), pieces of those rare engravings have now been published in 'The Obliterary Journal' (Blaft Publications) in between its collection of comics, street art and illustration.
Award-winning 'pattachitra' artist Pachanana Moharana, who runs a workshop in Puri, had made sketches of the alien visitors and their spacecraft which was claimed to have landed in a hilly area of Nayagarh on May, 31, 1947.
Interestingly, only a month later this incident, a mysterious crash was famously reported near Roswell, New Mexico. In the most well-publicised and most controversial of all "UFO sightings" anywhere in the world, the US Air Force [ Images ] had once claimed to have captured a flying saucer from the spot but contradicted it later on.
Moharana's art works are said to be based on the first-hand accounts of two young people who were invited into the spacecraft and given a sort of tour.
If local tales are to be believed, the book says that after the return of the aliens and the spacecraft's departure, the youths sat with a well-known 'tala pattachitra' artist and gave careful descriptions of the beings they had met inside -- a variety of rather anthropomorphic robots, or perhaps, creatures in metal suits.
These descriptions were subsequently passed down to the original artists students, and their students, for 60 years.
One of the palm-leaf engravings shows the 'yantra-purusha' wearing spacesuit with pincer-like hands rising as if offering a blessing.
Hemispherical devices protruding from the head of the aliens are a recurring feature in many of the engravings. Some aliens appear to have ball-shaped hands while others are shown with five-fingered hands.
Edited by Rakesh Khanna, the book rues that the Nayagarh incident remains barely studied or publicised, in India or anywhere else, even as the last few people who claimed to have been eyewitnesses die out.
"The ensuing violent and chaotic, migrations, the heady debate surrounding the future of the new independent nation, the possibility of Adivasi rebellion against the rajas, and the tumultuous years-long political process of integrating the feudatory states into the state of Odisha combined to completely eclipse any press that the fantastical reports from the countryside might have otherwise generated," says the book.
The sole exception is a single-paragraph mention in a Berhampur Odiya-language weekly dated June 15, two weeks after the event, in which the anonymous reporter takes a tone fairly dripping with scorn for "the overactive imaginations of the villagers".
However, the 'tala pattachitra' have been sold for decades in small numbers and without fanfare to curious tourists and art collectors outside the famous temples of Puri district.
"As the skeptics would have it, they might be nothing more than fanciful novelty items based on a colourful local tall tale. On the other hand, they might be the most accurate extant record of humanity's first contact with an extraterrestrial civilisation," says the book.