Nuakhai - The Genesis

Late Mr. Dilip Kumar Padhi
 Sambalpur - 768001

Nuakhai is a mass festival of great importance in a major part of Orissa. The festival is observed welcoming the new rice-paddy of the season. In one way, one can say that this is a festival with our agricultural heritage.

No one for sure, can tell since how long this tradition is continuing. It is rather difficult to ascertain any age, as ‘Anna’ – rice paddy, is offered to the Gods since long. Hindu philosophy and pantheism believes Anna to be Brahma. Again Anna is attributed to Goddesses Laxmi, hence on the day of Nuakhai Laxmi Puja is observes as well.

If we focus deeply to our ancient culture (including tribal ones) and its belief one can still know how ancient this tradition of Nuakhai is. Amongst the many other tradition and festivals observed by the people residing in central and eastern India , Nuakhai is the oldest one and has been observed since time immemorial.

Manifestation of Nuakhai in other Cultures

Nuakhai has been observed by different tribes in different names, as the Dud Khadia and Pahadi Khadia called it as Jeth Nowakhiaa the Oram called it NowaKhani, the Munda called Jam-nowa, the Santhali called it Janthar and Baihar Horo Nawabai,  the Birjia called it Nawaba and Jam-nowa, the Parajas of Bastar and Orissa called as Nowa-aani, Bihara called it Nowa-jam. In Chotta Nagapur area the Ashur tribe, which a sub-clan of the Birjhia, called it as Nowaa. In Tripura the tribes called it Mikatal, Mi – paddy and Katal means new. In East Bengal it is known as Nabanna. Besides this, Nuakhai or its equivalent form is observed in several other names.

This indicates beside major parts of Orissa Nua-Khai is observed in various part of India . However, the people of Orissa observe this in much elegance and splendour. First, the new rice paddy is offered to the Istha Devi of the family and the Village Devi then it is used for day toady affair. May it be the darkness of sorrow – or may it be the bed of happiness people of this area believes that the village deity has a major role to play. This faith in the deity gives them immense strength to face the problems or the world with ease. They believe that if Nua-khai is observed then all the sorrows – unhappiness- diseases- and loss of crop is avoided. Whatever may be the faith every moment of the innocent aborigines is engrossed with the blessing of this unseen power.

Nua-Kahi can be attributed to the festival of the aborigines. During the 2 nd Century BC Ptolemy described Sambalpur as the kingdom of the Mundas and Sabars. Gand, Binjhal, Sabara, Munda were staying in this area.

Nua-kahi is a festival and celebration of happiness, different types of local sweets and foods are cooked. All the family members are assembled together, after offering the new rice to the deity they all sit together and take the new rice, along with different types of Manda-Pitha – Khiri-Puri etc., after devouring the food they take the blessing of the Istha-Devi and from other elders of the family. In the evening it is habitual and obligatory to have meat, as it is believes that one who does not eat meat on the Nua-Kahi day, shall be born as a heron in his future birth. Whatever may be the fact it is a celebration of the mass. People forget their personal differences and greet each other – in this point of view – Nua-Khai is not just welcoming the new rice-paddy it is a festival which welcomes general happiness and mass development of the society. People may stay in far of lands, for their livelihood, but in the Nua-Kahi they must come to celebrate this festival with other members of the family with pageantry.

In earlier days Nua-khai was celebrated on different dates, however, all the people of Western Orissa decided to have Nun-Khai on a day common to all, which is the Bhadrav Suklapakhya Panchami.Trivia Historically, the present day Western part of Orissa (particularly larger Sambalpur area) was known as Southern Koshal or Hirakhanda. Dalkhai and related Folk Songs of Western Orissa