NUAKHAI or NABANNA is a social annual event to celebrate and acknowledge the benevolence of Mother Earth in Western Odisha. Literally NUAKHAI means partaking of the first grains of paddy after harvesting the Kharif crop. This is held on a predetermined auspicious day in the month of Bhadrav corresponding to August- September of the English Calendar.
The significance of this festival lies more in its socio-cultural content rather than its religious or ritualistic aspect. NUAKHAI is nearly akin to the Onam Festival of Kerala or the Bhogali Bihu of Assam. Related to the agrarian life and activities of the people of more than ten districts of Western Odisha, NUAKHAI is a prayer for plenty and prosperity, a way of thanksgiving to Mother Earth and the ever benign and bountiful nature. Though it is difficult to trace the origin of this festival, as our collective memory says, in the olden days, this festival was being observed at the behest of the feudal lords in the princely states of Odisha like Sambalpur, Bolangir, Gangpur, Bonai, Bamanda, Kalahandi, Sonepur, Boudh, Attmallik and other smaller tributaries and zamindaries. In each of these states, the ruling houses had their presiding deities – Samaleswari in Sambalpur, Pataneswari in Bolangir, Manikswari in Kalahandi. NUAKHAI in each of these states was being observed according to the “State Almanac”. There was no common day for this culturally contiguous vast area in Western Odisha. But for over a decade now, to bring about uniformity, by common consensus of the people, a predetermined day has been identified for NUAKHAI and that is the day after Sri Ganesh Chaturthi, the fifth lunar day during the bright fortnight of Bhadrav. This unanimity of a common day has helped people away from home to visit their native places. A single day has been declared as holiday by the State Government of Odisha in the entire state to facilitate grand celebrations.
Now about the rituals of this festival, Western Odisha is a unique land. The hills, mountains, rivers, dales and fields abound with varied flora and fauna. During NUAKHAI nature is worshipped for its bounty. Shakti being the celestial symbol of Mother, during NUAKHAI the first offering of the new crop is offered at the temple of the village deity like Samaleswari, Patameswari, and Manikeswari at a predetermined auspicious time. The offering is made in leaf-cups or “Dana” made of Sal, Palasa, Tendu or Kurei leaves which are aplenty in the forests of Western Odisha.
NUAKHAI is a festival which has integrated within its fold of rituals elements of the aborigines, the ethnic, the agrarian and the Aryan ways of nature worship. The prince and the pauper, the crown and the commoner, all take the blessed offering in leaf-cups sitting on the ground facing east. The offering is performed by the eldest in the family. Even nuclear families, on this occasion, come together to partake the offering and participate in the rituals and festivity. From the temple to home and to the community NUAKHAI embraces all in its fold.
NUAKHAI has influenced the collective psyche of the people of Western Odisha. It has contributed to folklore, folk music and folk culture in almost all the villages. Cultural events are major highlights during the NUAKHAI celebration with dance, drama, music reverberating in the air, the echoes of which are heard far and wide, even in Delhi. We welcome you all to this joyous celebration, a festival to say thanks to Mother Earth and the bountiful nature to meet members of the families, to greet neighbours and friends, and to renew and reinforce the bonds of brotherhood for the years to come.