Odisha- the land of varied cultures and traditions is a land of festivals and fairs. It is a land of festivity – religious as well as folkloristic. Whether you go to the East or the West, North or the South you would be able to enjoy every month a festival or festivals speak of Odisha’s rich culture and traditional background Odia festivals speak of Odisha’s rich cultural and traditional background.
The colourful festivals are an integral part of every Odia. The festivals play an important part in promoting the traditional handicrafts and tourism of Odisha. The rich cultural heritage of India attracts the Western world during the celebration of important festivals like Ratha Jatra, Durga Puja, Dhanu jatra, Nuakhai and many more. Every region celebrates their festivals. Every day of the year there is a festival celebrated in some part of the State. Be it cultural or religious, it gives everyone an opportunity to enjoy and join the festivity. Festival is the time to rejoice and have fun festival according to their regional customs and rituals.
Nuakhai one of the most pious festivals celebrated with cheer and zeal in odisha. Celebrated throughout the state, the festivity is observed with a lot of pomp and gaiety in western region of the state. This festival reinforces the bonds of brotherhood since family members and relatives pray together and celebrate the new harvest. People celebrate Nuakhai as a welcome gesture to the new crop. As a harvest festival, farmers offer the first crops to the household deity on this occasion.
According to tradition, all members of the family get together to celebrate the festival and eat the dishes prepared with the first grains of the harvest after they are offered to the family goddess or Ishta Devi. During the festival, the head of the family worships the household deity and offers her the rice and other food items. He then distributes prashad among the family members. According to the age-old tradition, family members would sit and take their food together on this occasion. There is a tradition to cook the new rice in new earthen pots. In this age of aluminium and steel utensils, people here buy the earthen pots to cook the food during Nuakhai. The sacred rice is cooked in the new earthen pots. Even in the urban areas, people buy new clay pots
Apart from the rituals of offering the new crop to the deity, the Nuakhai Juhar is a major ritual of the festival. At this time, people exchange greetings with friends, relatives and well-wishers. The elders are wished Nuakhai Juhar and they give blessings to the younger ones for long life, happiness and prosperity.
Not only do people express their gratitude to the almighty for the food grain on the occasion, but also the festival is also considered a symbol of friendship, love and affection. Nuakhai in western Odisha is not a festival of any particular group, caste or creed. It is a festival celebrated by all people of the region with great enthusiasm. The festival promotes harmony, help, co-operation and equality.
Special prayers are offered to Goddess Samaleswari, the presiding goddess of western Odisha on this occasion. Similarly Patneswari in Balangir, Sureshwari in Sonepur, Sekharbasini in Sundargarh and Manikeswari in Kalahandi are also worshipped.
In the evening, various socio-cultural organisations organise Nuakhai Bhetghat in various places to celebrate the occasion. A number of cultural programmes are also organised in the evening such as Sambalpuri folk dances and songs in the evening. People dance to the tune of foot-tapping Rasarkeli and Dalkhai.
Nuakhai binds the communities together in a spirit of solidarity. Such has been the popularity of the festival that people of this region residing in Bangalore Delhi, Mumbai and Vishakhapatnam have also been celebrating the festival for the past one decade. Earlier, Nuakhai used to be observed on different days in various places. But since 1992, the festival has been observed on the same day throughout the state.