In India the months and years are counted on the basis of lunar or solar movements. According to the solar system the month is counted from ‘Sankranti’ to ‘Sankranti’ and in lunar system it is counted from ‘Purnima’ (Fullmoon) to ‘Purnima’. Maha Visuva Sankranti is the first day of the month of ‘Baisakh’ as well as the solar year. This is also called “Jala Visuva Sankranti” In northern India it is called “Jala Sankranti”, in southern India “Sakkar Pongal” and in Odisha it is known as Pana Sankranti, named after ‘Pana’, the main drink offering specially prepared on this occasion. In Odisha according to the rituals the Odia New Year is started from this day, which is widely popularly known as “Pana Sankanti” .
There are specific reasons as to why the Visuva Sankranti is considered as the first day of the solar year. It is only on two occasions i.e. “Mesha Sankranti” and “Tula Sankranti” that the Sun fully rests on the equator and on these two dates the length of days and nights remain equal. After Mesha Sankranti the Sun moves in the northern direction to our side as our country is situated to the north of the equator. It is, therefore, from this day of first movement of the Sun from Mesha Sankranti that the New Year is counted. All over the country this day is considered auspicious and is celebrated with social, cultural and religious performances.
In ‘Bhabisya Purana’, this festival has been mentioned as Jala Samkranti. According to tradition when ‘Bhishma’, the grandfather of ‘Kurus’ or ‘Kauravas’ and the ‘Pandavas’ lay on the bed of arrows (‘Shara Sajya’) he felt thirsty and there was no water nearby in the ravaged battle-field of ‘Kurukshetra’. Then ‘Arjuna’ with his powerful bow thrusted an arrow deep into the ground and water immediately came out in a stream to quench the thirst of the dying warrior. Out of contentment and compassion Bhishma conferred to ‘Yudhisthira’, “Those people who would offer cold water to thirsty people on this day would not only be free from all sins, but also the departed souls of their ancestors as well as the Gods in heaven would be pleased.” This saying of the holy scripture is observed with great reverence and people all over the country offer sweet-water to thirsty people as a religious rite.
In Odisha, this festival is observed with great sanctity in various forms. On this day ‘Chhatu’ (grinded corn powder), ‘Pana’ (sweet water), umbrellas, fans (made out of palm-leaves or bamboo-strips) and ‘Paduka’ (wooden slippers) are offered to Brahmins and the poor people. All these are the remedies for the scorching Sun. Water as the vital source of life becomes more symbolical in another ritual of the festival. Above the ‘Tulasi’ plant-, which is a must in every Hindu household of Odisha, a shed is prepared with branches of green leaves and painted pitcher of smaller size filled with water is suspended with a rope hanger. Beneath it a small piece of straw is fixed to a hole in the pitcher through which water is drained drop by drop on the Tulasi plant. This is called ‘Basudhara’ (the stream of the earth). Here, Tulasi plant symbolises the human life and it is to be saved from the scorching sun by resting in the shed and taking enough water.
This festival is observed widely in some form or other in the coastal areas, in some towns and villages of other areas as a rigorous ritualistic observance. Deeply connected with the mass religious culture of Odisha, a number of other festivals otherwise known as “Jhamu Yatra”, “Hingula Yatra” or “Patua Yatra”, “Danda Yatra”, “Uda Yatra” etc., which originated as ritualistic observances of “Chaitra Parva” culminate in the Visuba Sankranti and make a grand finale of the whole celebration.