India is the center of a number of cultures and religions. Therefore, there are numerous colourful and joyous festivals celebrated in India.
Many festivals celebrate the winning of good over evil while others celebrate other joyous events like the coming of spring, or harvest.
Festival is a time of fun and happiness. They make our mundane lives more enjoyable.
One such festival is Nuakhai. Nuakhai is also called Nuakhai Parab and Nuakahi Bhetghat. It is mainly celebrated by the people of Odisha.
The name Nuakhai comes from two words, nua and khai. Nua means new while khai means food. Therefore, as the name suggests, the festival is observed to celebrate the coming of newly harvested rice of the season.
It is celebrated on panchami tithi of the lunar fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada. Therefore, it usually falls on the next day of the famous festival of Ganesh Chaturthi and is celebrated with much enthusiasm and fervour.
It is mainly celebrated by those involved in the agricultural process of harvesting the precious rice. Rice is the staple food of many. Its harvesting is indeed a matter of celebration and happiness.
Like many other Indian festivals, the rituals related to the festival are performed at a particular time during the day. During the day of Nuakhai, this holy time is called as ‘Lagna’.
While the festival is famous all throughout the state of Odisha, it is mainly celebrated in the areas of Kalahandi, Sambalpur, Balangir, Bargarh, etc., which falls in the western part of the state of Odisha.
History of Nuakhai Festival
Historians who have looked into the past and history of the festival of Naukhai suggest that is has a deep and ancient history. Some have found that the origins of the festival of Naukhai dates back to the Vedic Era.
In this period, the ancient rishis propounded five necessary activities during the annual calendar of an agrarian year.
These five important tasks were collectively called panchayajna. The first was sit yajna in which the land was tilled. The second was prava pana yajna in which the seeds were sown.
The third activity was called pralam bana yajna in which the crops were cut in the initial stages.
The forth was called the khala yajna or harvesting period. And finally, the fifth activity was known as the prayayana yajna during which the grains harvested were preserved.
History has found evidence that Naukhai emerges as a festival to celebrate and honour the third of the five activities stated above in which the first crop was initially cut. This crop was then offered to the goddesses and gods for their blessings.
Others suggest that the festival has a later origin than the one suggested before. It is said that Chauhan Raja Ramai Deo, who was the founder of the dynasty of Patna wanted to improve the conditions of his kingdom so that the kingdom could become independent and strong.
He knew that for his objective to be achieved, settled agriculture needed to be established and promoted. This would lead to economic prosperity of the state. Therefore, Chauhan Raja Ramai Deo popularized the festival of Nuakhai.
This increased the value of an agricultural of life in the minds of the people of his kingdom, and thus increased its popularity.
Thus, Chauhan Raja Ramai Deo wittingly used festivals and celebration to increase prosperity and develop his kingdom. Soon, the festival of Nuakhai itself became the symbol of the culture, way of life and heritage of the region of Sambalpur.
During the initial years, Nuakhai was celebrated on the day fixed by the village headman and the priest according to astrology and the harvest. Later, the administration decided to make this festival well known and therefore celebrate it on a larger scale.
The festival which previously only existed in oral traditions was now given full royal support from the entire western Odisha.
The date and time of performing the rituals were decided astrologically by the temple priests who looked at the position of the stars and decided on the holy and auspicious hour to perform the rituals and the royal family offered their offerings of the new harvest to the goddesses and gods to ask for their blessings.
Thus, the festival became well known and was celebrated with fervour throughout the region.
Earlier, the people of western Odisha started the preparations for Nuakhai 10 to 15 days before the date of the festival. Before 15 days, elderly people of the village have a meeting at a holy place to discuss about the festival.
They all discuss with the priest the appropriate date and time for the festival which is decided according to astrology by the priest. Thus, the dates and time for the performing of the ritual varied from place to place.
But, in 1991, it was decided that the day of Bhadraba Sukla Panchami would be set for the celebration of the Nuakhai festival with the aim to introduce uniformity.
This date was accepted throughout the region of Western Odisha. On this auspicious day, the Government of India has declared a public holiday in Odisha.
In its present form, people celebrate Nuakhai both at home and with the community. Nuakhai is originally a community festival.
First, people go to the temple and offer the Nua to the local god or goddess. After that, they offer the Nua to their own domestic goddess or god.
During the festival of Nuakhai, offerings are also given to the Hindu goddess of wealth, Laxmi. After offering Nua to the gods and goddesses both at home and the temple, the eldest of the family gives the nua to all the other members of the family. The young take blessings of the old as is custom in India.
After wishing and celebrating with own family members, people go to the members of their community, neighbours and friends to wish, greet and celebrate with them.
This increases the harmony within members of the community and promotes unity, which is the basic aim of any festival, for people to come out, forget all differences, laugh and celebrate.
On the day of the festival, people wear their finest traditional clothes with beautiful traditional jewellery and accessories. After all the rituals are over, it is time to enjoy and relax. People gather around to see and perform folk dances and sing folk songs.
They forget all their problems and just enjoy. This provides a relief from their everyday mundane lives. It fills their lives with colour and fun.
During this gathering of Nuakhai Bhetghat, one gets to witness the traditional folk dance of Odisha such as Rasarkeli, Chutkuchuta, Dalkhai, etc.
With time, the people of Western Odisha have migrated to many other regions of India for various regions. But, these people never forgot their heritage.
They celebrate the festival of Nuakhai, wherever they might be. Be it Bangalore, Mumbai, Kolkata or the capital city of Delhi, Nuakhai is celebrated everywhere.
Therefore, the festival now is not confined the boundaries of Odisha. It is celebrated all over the country with much fervour and enthusiasm.
The main aim of Nuakhai festival is to celebrate the coming of the new crop and get blessings from the goddesses and gods so that there is abundance and prosperity.
Such is the beauty and simplicity of this festival. It celebrates Mother Nature herself and thanks her for her blessings. Indeed, Nuakhai shows the diversity and beauty of the culture of our beautiful country India.