Since prehistoric times western part of Odisha was a child of Nature. Still it is a child of Nature. The people of this region lead a free wheeling life and while away their time as in Golden times. In the lap of Nature they live a sedentary life having agriculture as the main stay of their economy. Mainly they cultivate paddy crops. Once in a year they harvest their crops. With this new harvest, the new food is first offered to the Goddess Laxmi, the family deities, the village deities and to the ancestors of the family. This is called Nuakhai – the taking of Nuakhai.
It is a mass festival of western Odisha. Nuakhai is a festival of sentiment. Man is the highest primate having sentiment, intuition, imagination etc which the lower primates do not have. So it is manifested in festivals. It is manifested in culture. The eminent Anthropologist E. B. Tylor has said in his book –Primitive Culture – “Culture or civilization, taken in its wide ethnographic sense, is that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.” This definition of culture by E.B. Tylor fits into the Nuakhai festival. Nuakhai is a tradition. It is a custom, It has become a Heritage of this part of Odisha.
Mathew Arnold, the English poet said – culture is sweetness and light. Nuakhai gives colour and sweetness to life of the peasant. Moreover Nuakhai is a faithful mirror of society so it becomes a mass festival (gana parva) All members of society observe Nuakhai with much enthusiasm. I have written a poem on Nuakhai in Odia. The English Translation is a follows-
“In the time of scarcity (Abhaba)
Comes the Nuakhai festival
With enough emotion (Bhaba)
Scarcity of rainHence scarcity of food.
Still then Nuakhai is observed with full emotion.
In human society
There is much complexity of
Human inter personal relations
Still then at least for one day
There is harmony
Amongst siblings and relations
The mauryan imperor Asoka said Respect the elders.
And this is the Sum mum bonumm of Nuakhai.
Nuakhai is a festival of Harmony.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)
Radhakanta Seth is a former Income tax officer in Sambalpur. He is a freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri, and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.
He can be reached at [email protected]