Nuakhai is one of the unique social festivals which gets its name from the word ‘Nua’, meaning ‘new’ and ‘Khai’, meaning ‘food’. This traditional festival has excellent significance for farmers and the agricultural community as it is performed to welcome the season’s newly harvested rice. Though celebrated throughout the state, the districts of Balangir, Sambalpur, Kalahandi, Sonepur, Bargarh, Sundargarh, Boudh, Jharsugudah, and Nuapada observe this festival with great pomp and splendour. Nuakhai is celebrated precisely a day after Ganesh Chaturthi in the ‘Panchami tithi’ or the fifth day of the lunar fortnight that mainly falls in August or September. The Nuakhai festival 2023 date is 20th September.
Origin, History, and Significance of Nuakhai
Nuakhai festival traced its origin to the Vedic period when the sages mentioned the five important annual activities of an agrarian society in the Panchajanya. Customarily, the first crops are harvested and offered to the mother goddess with great reverence before birds or animals eat them. However, the oral tradition of Nuakhai dates back to the 12th Century A.D when this festival became a symbol of Sambalpuri culture and heritage. The first Chauhan Raja Ramai Deo of Bolangir district of Western Odisha celebrated the Nuakhai festival for promoting agriculture to generate a surplus and sustain the state’s economy.
Usually, the village headman or priest used to fix a day for Nuakhai, which later transformed into a socio-religious event in the entire Kosal region under the royal families’ patronage.
Nuakhai has evolved into an agricultural festival of the tribals who are settled agriculturists and the caste-Hindu communities of Odisha. Since paddy is the staple food of Odisha, it is believed to sustain hope and determine its inhabitants’ fate. Consequently, the new rice collection is also reckoned as an auspicious event as the farmers get the fruits of their toil after cultivation.
When is Nuakhai Celebrated?
Nuakhai Juhar happens every year between August and September. Every year the timing of Nuakhai is astrologically determined on the day after Janmashtami by the Brahmamandap Pandit Mahasabha at Brahmaputra temple in Sambalpur district. Therefore, the Nuakhai festival 2023 dates would be 20 September in Odisha. Since agriculture is the primary source of living for Odisha’s inhabitants, this auspicious occasion marks the gratitude for a bumper crop and abundant rain while nurturing the appreciation for rice cultivation, which is a symbolic manifestation of life.
How is Nuakhai Celebrated and Where to Go?
Nuakhai Juhar is an annual festival to welcome the season’s new rice. Generally celebrated a day after Ganesh Chaturthi. Announcement of a meeting to set a date for the festival, setting the exact date for partaking of new rice, invitation, cleanliness of the house, purchasing goods, looking for the new crop, offering the new crop to the deity, eating the Prasad, singing, dancing and finally paying respect to elders and exchanging gifts with relatives are part of the nine sets of rituals that are followed to celebrate the Nuakhai event. One can participate in the community functions known as “Nuakhai Bhetghat” and witness traditional Sambalpuri dance forms like Dalkhai, Sajani, Rasarkeli, Maelajada, Nachnia, Chutku Chuta, and Bajnia or taste the traditional delicacies that add a unique flavour to the joyous occasion.
In Sundergarh, the royal family worshipped the goddess Sekharbasini in the temple that opens only for the Nuakhai festival. Extensive Nuakhai festivities can also be witnessed in Southern Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, where the Odia culture is predominant. In addition to these, the following places of worship for Nuakhai can be reached by a well-connected road network with the nearby major cities of Odisha:
- Maa Manikeshwari Temple, Kalahandi – Hundreds of devotees following this Nuakhai ritual flock to offer prayers to the presiding deity of Bhawanipatna, Maa Manikeshwari.
- Kosaleshwari Temple, Titlagarh – Maa Kosaleswari is a part of the Shakta cult and is worshipped with great religious fervour in this temple during Nuakhai.
- Samaleswari Temple, Sambalpur - The Samaleswari Temple in the Sambalpur district is famous for its Nabanna Lagi ritual of Nuakhai.
- Sureswari Temple, Sonepur – Located at the temple town of Subarnapur district of Odisha, Nuakhai is offered to one of the oldest Shakti shrines, Maa Sursuri.
- Pataneswari Temple, Balangir- Situated 40 km from Balangir, this ancient temple is the abode of Maa Pataneswari's first Chauhan King Ramai Dev’s prime deity.
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