What I Wish Everyone Knew About Nuakhai

Nuakhai or Navakhai or is an agricultural festival mainly observed by people of Western Odisha and Southern Chhattisgarh in India. Nuakhai is observed to welcome the new rice of the season. According to the calendar it is observed on Panchami tithi (the fifth day) of the lunar fortnight of the month of Bhadrapada or Bhadraba (August–September), the day after the Ganesh Chaturthi festival. This is the most important social festival of Western Odisha and adjoining areas of Simdega in Jharkhand, where the culture of Western Odisha is much predominant.

Nuakhai is also called Nuakhai Parab or Nuakhai Bhetghat. It is also known as Navakhai parv in Chhattisgarh. The word nua means new and khai means food, so the name means the farmers are in possession of the newly harvested rice. The festival is seen as a new ray of hope, held the day after the Ganesha Chaturthi festival. It has a big significance for farmers and the agricultural community. The festival is celebrated at a particular time of day which is called lagan. Aersaa Pithaa is prepared to celebrate this festival. When the lagan comes, the people first remember their village god or goddess and then have their nua.

Nuakhai is the agricultural festival of the people of Western Odisha. The festival is observed throughout Odisha, but it is particularly important in the life and culture of Western Odisha. It is a festival for the worship of food grain. It has its best celebration in the Kalahandi, Sambalpur, Balangir, Bargarh, Sundargarh, Jharsuguda, Sonepur, Boudh and Nuapada districts of Odisha.

Ancient origin: According to local 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 rishis (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.

Origin of the current form: Although the origin of the festival has been lost over time, the oral tradition dates its back to the 14th century AD, the time of the first Chauhan King Ramai Deva, founder of the Patna State[citation needed] which is currently part of Balangir district in Western Odisha. In his efforts to build an independent kingdom, Raja Ramai Deo realized the significance of settled agriculture because the subsistence economy of the people in the area was primarily based on hunting and food gathering. He realised this form of economy could not generate the surpluses required to maintain and sustain a state. During state formation in the Sambalpuri region, Nuakhai as a ritual festival played a major role in promoting agriculture as a way of life. Thus credit can be given to Raja Ramai Deo for making Nuakhai a symbol of Sambalpuri culture and heritage.

Journey from past to present : In the early years, there was no fixed day for celebration of the festival. It was held sometime during Bhadraba Sukla Pakhya (the bright fortnight of Bhadraba). It was the time when the newly grown Kharif crop (autumn crop) of rice started ripening. There are reasons for observing the festival in the month of Bhadrava even though the food grain is not ready for harvesting. The thought is to present the grain to the presiding deity before any bird or animal pecks at it and before it is ready for eating.

In early traditions, farmers would celebrate Nuakhai on a day designated by the village headman and priest. Afterwards, under the patronage of royal families, this simple festival was altered into a mass socio-religious event celebrated in the entire Kosal region (Western Odisha region).

Deities that are offered Nua : Every year, the tithi (day) and Samaya (time) of observance was astrologically determined by the Hindu priests. Priests sat together at the Brahmapura Jagannath temple in Sambalpur and calculated the day and time.

The tithi (date) and Lagna (auspicious moment) were calculated in the name of Pataneswari Devi in the Balangir-Patnagarh area, in the name of Saraswati Devi in the Subarnapur area, and in the name of Manikeswari Devi in the Kalahandi area.

In Sundargarh, Puja (worship) was first offered by the royal family to the goddess Sekharbasini in the temple which is opened only for Nuakhai. In Sambalpur, at the stipulated Lagna (auspicious moment), the head priest of Samaleswari Temple offers the Nua-anna or nabanna to the goddess Samaleswari, the presiding deity of Sambalpur.