Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Sambalpur, Aug 18:
The ‘lagna’ (propitious moment) for offering Navanna (rice) to Maa Samaleswari, the presiding deity of Sambalpur in western Odisha has been fixed for between 10.58 am to 11.13 am on Saturday (August 30).
The offering ushers in the annual celebrations of Nuakhai, the mass festival of western Odisha meant to welcome the new paddy crop.
This year, the festival is being celebrated on the fifth day of Bhadraba in the Odia Calender.
Nuakhai, a festival that has been celebrated for ages, is to western Odisha what Onam is to Kerala, Bihu is to Assam and Baishakhi to Punjab. It is celebrated with great fervour in the western Odisha districts of Sambalpur, Sundergarh, Kalahandi, Bolangir, Bargarh, Subarnapur, Deogarh, Jharsuguda and Boudh.
In keeping with the agrarian nature of the festival, farmers offer new grain to the deity and to welcome the new crop.
Early in the morning, the family head collects paddy from the field after offering milk and flowers to the crop and mother earth.
After offering ‘Navanna’ (new grain) to the deity, the family head distributes the new rice processed out of his first harvest, cooked with milk, sugar and other traditional food items, to members of the family.
A significant feature of the festival is that younger members get blessings from their elders in the house and also in the locality. People also greet each other with great warmth, a ritual called ‘Nuakhai Bhet’ in local parlance.
People working away from their native places generally come home to celebrate Nuakhai with family members.
A large number of devotees attired in new Sambalpuri clothes throng the Maa Samaleswari temple on Nuakhai and Gramdevi pithas of the region to make offerings.
Several community programmes are organised to mark the festival in which all sections of people take part with great enthusiasm.