Nuakhai Celebration Grips State

People across Western Odisha are busy in celebration of Nuakhai, the mass agrarian festival. People of the region worship their presiding deity on this day as mark of gratitude hoping for good rain and a bumper crop. Customarily, each farmer offers the first grain of the harvest to the presiding deity.

Nuakhai festival is observed on the fifth day of the lunar fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada or Bhadraba (August–September), the day after the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. Though the festival is observed throughout Odisha, it is particularly important in the life and culture of Western Odisha. It has its best celebration in Kalahandi, Sambalpur, Balangir, Bargarh, Sundargarh, Jharsuguda, Sonepur, Boudh and Nuapada districts of Odisha.

According to researchers, Nuakhai is of fairly ancient origin. Some researchers found the fundamental idea of the celebration can be traced back at least to Vedic times when the sages had talked of panchayajna, the five important activities in the annual calendar of an agrarian society. These five activities have been specified as sitayajna (the tilling of the land), pravapana yajna (the sowing of seeds), pralambana yajna (the initial cutting of crops), khala yajna (the harvesting of grains) and prayayana yajna (the preservation of the produce). In view of this, Nuakhai may be seen as having evolved out of the third activity, namely pralambana yajna, which involves cutting the first crop and reverently offering it to the mother goddess.

The preparations for Nuakhai celebration begin some 15 days prior to the date of the festival, when the elderly persons of the village sit together at a holy place after the beheren calls the villagers by blowing a trumpet. Then people get together and discuss with the priests the auspicious day and time for Nuakhai. The priest consults the panjika (astrological almanac) and announces the sacred muhurta (a period of time equal to about 48 minutes) when ‘nua’ is to be taken.

There was an attempt made during the 1960s to set a common tithi for the Nuakhai festival all over the western Odisha. The idea was reintroduced in 1991 to set the Bhadraba Sukla Panchami tithi for the Nuakhai festival. This became successful and since then, the festival has been celebrated on that day. Although for the sake of convenience a common auspicious day is set for Nuakhai, the sanctity of the ritual has not lost its importance.

Nuakhai is celebrated both at the community and domestic level. The rituals are first observed at the temple of the reigning deity of the area or to the village deity. Afterward, the people worship in their respective homes and offer rituals to their domestic deity and to Goddess Lakshmi, the deity of wealth in the Hindu tradition. People wear new clothes for the occasion. It is a tradition that after offering the ‘nua’ to the presiding deity, the eldest member of the family distributes it to other members of the family. After taking the ‘nua’, all the junior members of the family offer their regards to their elders. Thereafter follows the nuakhai juhar, which is the exchange of greetings with friends, well-wishers and relatives. This symbolizes unity.

This is an occasion for people to lay their differences to rest and start relationships afresh. Towards the evening people meet one another, exchanging greetings. The elders bless their juniors and wish them long life, happiness, and prosperity. In the evening, folk dances and songs called Nuakhai Bhetghat is organised. People dance to the foot tapping traditional Sambalpuri dance forms like Rasarkeli, Dalkhai, Maelajada, Chutkuchuta, Sajani, Nachnia, and Bajnia.

The modern Nuakhai festival was unquestionably given a new look of homogeneity and uniformity by various social organizations of Western Odisha. It has lost some of its enormity and variety with the passage of time, but Nuakhai is still an occasion which endorses the patrimonial nature of the Sambalpuri culture and society.

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