“Bara masa re tera parba”, this popular proverb signifies the rich cultural legacy of Odias who believe in celebrating life, enjoying every moment and each season with a number of oshas, bratas, pujas and parbanas. To welcome and celebrate the beginning of the agricultural year, we celebrate Raja while Nuakhai is the harvest festival western Odisha observes with a lot of pomp and show. Boita Bandana and Kartika Purnima commemorate our glorious trade and culture while Rath Yatra is our way of rejoicing the universal brotherhood. As far as bratas and oshas are concerned, for unmarried girls, there is khudurukuni and janhi osha while mothers observe budhi baman osha. Similarly, all married women observe ballitrutiya for the well-being of their family.
Talking about these customs, retired teacher Kumud Ch. Pradhan tells MCL, “Our ancestors were unbelievably brainy people. They invented all these bratas and oshas and arranged them in such a way that they compensate for our harvest deficiencies! When we observe these fests, we have to fast on certain days and eat specific fruits, vegetables and delicacies that provide our bodies with maximum benefits. For example, during Raja and Savitri, fruits are available in ample quantity and are used as primary offerings. It is customary not to eat grains on the day of ekadashi, when it is said that new blood cells are being created. So, the food we take that day affects our body for a month. That’s why ekadashi is given optimal importance in Hinduism.”
He further explains, “Currently, it is the period of “Chaturmasya when when we observe typical Odia festivals like Rekha Panchami, Janmastami, Budhei Osha, Janhi Osha, Kumar Purnima, Chitou Amabasya and Sasthi Osha.” “Each one has its own significance, customs and traditions and of course delicacies.”
Chaturmasya is the time of rains, which starts with Harisayana Ekadasi (Ashadha Sukla Ekadashi) and ends in Debotthana Ekadashi (Kartika Sukla Ekadashi). All the auspicious deeds like marriage and bratopanayan are suspended during this time when Lord Vishnu is said to be asleep. However, it is the time several typical Odia festivals arrive with their own unique charm. We take a look.
Named after the famous delicacy ‘Chitau pitha’, this festival is celebrated on the new moon day of Srabana. To prepare the pitha, a rich thick paste of rice flour and black lentil is used to make the batter while coconut, cottage cheese, jiggery/sugar, cardamom and black paper is used to make the delicious topping called ‘pura’. Traditionally, the pitha is cooked on low flame and on one side, for which it is called, ‘Chitau Pitha, Unaleuta’ (The pitha that is unturned). It is considered one of the prominent festivals of Lord Jagannath and in every household, after offering the delicacy to the home deity, people enjoy this festival together.
Another name for Rakhi Purnima, this festival is celebrated on the full moon day of the month Srabana. Though some say that raksha bandhan is a borrowed culture for Odias, no one can deny the significance of Gamha Purnima in the lives of Odias. It is celebrated as the birthday of Lord Balabhadra. In villages, unmarried girls of farmer families take ‘chitau pitha’ to the rice field and scatter them as an offering to keep their father and brothers safe during the farming. People worship the cattle, offer them vermillion, sandal paste and flowers and feed them ‘chitau pitha’. In certain areas, they make a clay idol of Lord Balabhadra, name it the ‘Gamha’ and worship it. Ancient people believe a flood on Srabana Purnima is a good omen, it indicates good harvest.
Raksha (Rekha) Panchami
Otherwise known as Bhirav Puja or Baghamamu puja, this festival is limited to upper class Brahmin households only and is mostly popular in the coastal belt of Odisha. In this festival, the door goddess (Dwaradeva/Dwaradevi) is worshipped. A belt made of Kasha-tandi grass is tied to the door post and the famous ‘chakuli pitha’ is presented as an offering. The doors are decorated with haldi paste and prayers for Lord Ganesh, Lord Shiv and Lord Bhirav are written on them. The puja is conducted at night with the citation of the hymn “Gantakarna Mahavira, Sarbabyadhi Nibaranam”. After the completion of the puja, one offering of ‘chakuli pitha’ is thrown out of the main door and the back door and the doors remain closed till the next morning. Popular belief claims that the Lord Bhirava scouts the village at night and so it is inauspicious for humans to roam around that night. Among the children, the festival is popularly known as ‘Baghamamu puja’; they believe that tigers wait behind their back to eat the delicious ‘Chakuli pitha’!
Mothers observe this ‘brata’ for the well-being of their children. The sila and silapua are worshipped as the personification of Sasthi Goddess, who is believed to be responsible for the welfare of the newly born children as well as pregnant women and mothers. This ‘brata’ is observed on the sixth day after the new moon of Bhadraba. Mothers prepare six little idols from the paste of turmeric and amla leaves. They make a bunch with the branches of Amara Jui, Banasaru, Bana Olua, Bamboo, Bajramuli and Indian Gooseberry (Amla) and lightly beat the children six times with it while chanting ‘bajra hua’, which means ‘grow strong’.
One of the most popular oshas of Odisha, Khudurukuni traces its origin back to the glorious days of the merchant princes, the ‘Sadhabas’. It showcases the unadulterated bond between a sister and her seven brothers, the jealousy of her sisters-in-law and the devotion of a little girl for Goddess Mangala. Unmarried girls observe this osha with great enthusiasm on every Sunday of the month Bhadraba. A number of girls assemble together in a place called “kothi” to observe the puja. Every kothi has its own idols and among themselves, they show high competition spirit in terms of decoration, flowers and firecrackers.
Janhi Osha and Kumar Purnima
Janhi Osha is perhaps the second most popular festival among girls. For a month, every day at nightfall, girls observe this ritual. During the dusk hours, they gather together to worship the Goddess Brindabati (Tulsi) and the Moon God. They are not allowed to take non-vegetarian food and ridge gourd (janhi), after which the brata is named. The yellow flowers of ridge gourd are used in the puja. After completion of a month on the full moon day of Ashwina, Kumara Purnima is celebrated. Girls wear new dresses and worship the Goddess with seven types of pithas, seven different fruits and seven different flowers. A special chanda (moon) bhoga is prepared using cottage cheese, sugar, cut fruits, nuts, cardamom and black paper powder. Every girl prepares it with utmost care. And as the girls observe this ritual to get a husband as good as the Moon God himself; they don’t share the chanda bhoga with others. In the moonlit night, they also play traditional sports like puchhi, hide and seek and gho-gho-rani. In fact, this festival has also inspired a number of folklore and popular songs including “kuanra punei janha lo…phula baula beni…”
Indeed, all these festivals carry with them the essence of our being. They are meant to remind us of our glorious past even as they ensure we rejoice our magnificent present!