Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Sambalpur, Sep 7:
The ‘lagna’ (propitious moment) for offering ‘Navanna’ (rice cooked out of new grains) to Maa Samaleswari, the presiding deity of the premier western Odisha town of Sambalpur has been fixed between 8.20 AM to 8.35 AM on September 18 (the third Friday of this month).
Like every year, the ‘lagna’ for the mass festival was decided on Nandautsav, the day following Janmashtami, i.e Sunday, by the Brahmamandap Pandit Mahasabha at the Jhaduapada Brahmapura temple here
“The time between 8.20 AM to 8.35 AM on September 18 has been fixed as the lagna for holding ‘Navanna’ bhogalagi (offering) to Maa Samaleswari in the presence of distinguished persons,” announced Pt. Amarnath Mishra, founder secretary of the Brahmamandap Pandit Mahasabha.
Members of the Pandit Sabha determined the Lagna for Navanna offering to Maa Samaleswari at the meeting on the basis of her horoscope according to which her natal moon sign is Kumbha (Aquarius) in the Satabisha nakshatra (constellation).
The offering ushers in the annual celebrations of Nuakhai, the mass festival of western Odisha meant to welcome the new paddy crop.
The festival as per the almanac falls on the fifth day of the bright lunar fortnight of Bhadraba in the Hindu 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 the 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.