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Pora Uans: A celebration for the Ox

The new moon of bhadraba month is known as the saptapuri amabasya. A cake containing seven kinds of purā (sweets) offered to Lord Jagannath at Puri and Lingaraj at Bhubaneswar temples are offered. People also perform  shrādha or pinda dāna (offering of homage) to their forefathers.

It is believed that if the wives deify their husbands on this day, they will be blessed with sons and will never become widows in seven rebirths to follow.

It is further stated that the other name for this day is  kausi  or kusha grahani amabasya because on this day people store the  kusha  (half) grass for performing the puja

In West Odisha, it is known as porā uāns. A kind of red flower porā phul (Gloriosa superb) or the Gloriosa Lily blooms in this month. On this day oxen are worshipped, farmers wash their bulls, colour their horns, change their old year-long ropes, serve them different kinds of grains, and worship them with smeared turmeric powder.

In addition to worshiping the ox on this day, toy carts made of wood or docrā (earthen work) are made. The cart is decorated with flowers and children are allowed to play. This clay ox is also called the porā buil or porā ox. The children, dressed in new clothes, play on the streets of the village of liā (puffed rice)laddu (laddu made from puffed rice), khajā (a kind of sweet).

Porā Uāns is also known as dānsarā or belsarā jātrā. This is the end day of the gedi performance. The performance of gedi is also recognised as a game in the respective community. Gedi is a unique tool that is made by the community members with a two separate wooden pole where another six inches pole is fixed from the two feet height parallel to the base.

In this inserted panel performers stepped upholding the top of the pole and performed. The performance required special skill and balance and often called as dance also. On the eve of the saptapuri new moon, all the players break their gedi and bury them in a snake holes outside the village. This is called duker khedāDuker is considered as the goddess of disease.

It is believed that if the goddess leaves the village, all the diseases in the village will go with her. The players chanted while the goddess was buried, “jāre duker jā / liā chanā khai jā / bāte bāte jā / rogi jogi dhari jā / phule pani jā / jā duker jā … (go duker go / eat the puffed rice and nuts and go / take away the disease, and jogi (soccer?) with you / please with flower and water / go duker go”.

Usually, children between the ages of seven and twelve take part in the sport and there is no restriction in numbers. But now adult male members also participating and its dance forms are performed in the formal cultural events also. 

Bhabagrahi Mishra, a scholar of folklore and cultural studies discussed the tradition of porā with a legend that told in the Nandpur-Jeypore region that once a conflict arose between the father-in-law and the son-in-law of the King of Nandapur. The son-in-law was driven out of the kingdom. In the meantime, the king had been to Jeypore and found that a tortoise was playing with a snake. So the king thought that the place must have some sanctity and if he would shift his capital from Nandapur to Jeypore he would have no enemy.

He found the land as a place of victory so he named it Jeypore. In the meantime, the son-in-law finding no other avenue of getting out of this misfortune went to the river Sabari where he met a clan of merchants, known as Baiparis, who was coming towards Nandapur with their mercenary articles. While crossing the river, they found the son-in-law weeping.

After knowing all they assured him of their help and finally they won the round and the son-in-law conquered the throne of Nandapur. When the new king asked them, how he could serve them in return, the Baparis asked the king to worship oxen on the new moon day of Bhadraba. Since then the ritual is being celebrated at Nandapur.

Then the new king fulfilled the desires of his father-in-law and shifted the capital from Nandapur to Jeypore. Consequently, the people of Jeypore worship the oxen made of earth to commemorate this incident. Anyway, the history of the Jeypore kingdom is different as historians discussed.

Similarly, Abhaya Chalan in his Kariar Pāika Sanskruti essay discussed that earlier to 1930 when there were no train or regular road transport service people of Khariar especially the people of the pāik community are trading salt by bullock and bullock cart visiting Parvatipuaram. So, the porā is observed as a remembrance of the old tradition.

However the legend, porā is an event of offering gratitude to the ox for his labour on the agriculture and harvesting of crops, as the ox is the important asset of the farmer as well as the means of his livelihood. The tradition of observing porā and similar events is not limited to Western Odisha it is also observed outside in Maharastra, Chhatisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telengana, and Karnataka on the same day known as polā.

The word porā is also used along with polā in the Bastar region of Chattisgarh. And I believe that the word porā possibly derived from the proto-Dravidian word polā employed to mean pasturage to cultivation.

The children of western Odisha play with a unique plaything made of pengu (black oil tree) fruit and bamboo pole in this season of observing porā. Children’s put pengu fruit in a narrow bamboo pole and push with a piston (another wooden pole) that creates a loud popping noise.

The same tradition is also found in the Bastar region. Similarly, the performance of gedi is also found in other regions for the same reason.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own)

Dr.Sanjaya Kumar Bag  

Koksara, Kalahandi, Ph.D. on folklore studies from the Department of Modern Indian Language and Literary Studies, the University of Delhi. Presently he teaches Odia in the Eastern Regional Language Centre, Bhubaneswar, Odisha.

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