Fairs & Festivals :: Religious Festivals

Akshyaya Trutiya:
This is exclusively an agricultural festival held on the third day of the Hindu year. On this day the farmer ceremonially starts sowing seeds in the field, especially paddy. Early in the morning, farmers in their respective homes arrange the materials for the ritual. After taking ablution in a river or tank they wear new clothes and carry the seeds in new baskets, In the field offerings are made to Lakshmi, the Goddess of wealth which the farmers do it themselves. Then they sow seeds ceremonially praying the Goddess for a rich bumper crop. In the evening feasts (strictly vegetarian) are arranged in respective homes. In western Odisha (Formerly Orissa) this festival is called 'Muthi Chhuan'. Eating of green-leaves (Shag) is forbidden for the day. It is observed by all farmers irrespective of caste and creed.

The famous Chandan Yatra of Lord Jagannath which is observed in various other shrines of Odisha (Formerly Orissa) starts from this day. Moreover, from this auspicious day the carpenters start building the cars (Ratha) of Lord Jagannath, Balabadra and Subhadra.

On this day women also worship 'Sasthi Debi' popularly called 'Sathi Duchhei'. The Goddess is said to be the guardian of children. She has also the power to bestow the women with children. Therefore, she is propitiated with great devotion.

Religious scriptures testify that Ganga, the sacred river of India landed on the Earth on this day from Heaven. She is the perennial source of water which is the need for agriculture. Therefore, this auspicious day was chosen to start sowing seeds.

Gahma Purnima:
The full-moon day in the month of Shravana (August) is known as Gahma Purnima or Go Purnima. In the Hindu tradition even the animals and plants, who are benificial to the human beings are propitiated. The cow is regarded as mother. So, Gahma Purnima is a festival of the agriculturists to worship the cattle. Bullocks are the most important animals for an agriculturist in India. When ploughing the field with bullocks is over the farmers venerate them for the service they have rendered. Along with the cattle the God of agriculture Baladeva is also worshipped. The religious scriptures testify that Balarama invented the plough and showed the people all methods of agriculture. Therefore, bullock is His vehicle and the plough, His weapon. He has been also taken in as an incarnation of Vishnu. In holy scriptures. It is for this reason this festival is also known as Baladeva Puja or Baladeva Jayanti in some areas.


On this day the cattle shed is cleaned and neatly plastered and sketches of bullocks, bullock carts, ploughs and other agricultural implements are drawn on the walls. Bullocks are bathed and decorated with flowers and sandle-paste. Their horns are oiled. The rituals of worship takes place in the cattle-shed itself for which Brahmins are not needed. A piece of new cloth is placed on the back of the bullocks and they are fed with rice-cakes and pulses.

In the afternoon the bullocks are taken to a field where all the agriculturists gather. Each bullock is made to jump over an altar known as Gahma bedi and this portion of the fertival is called Gahma dian. It is said that this is reminiscent of similar festival first arranged by Baladeva Himself when He first took the bullocks to plough the land for agriculture.

Though essentially a festival of agriculturists, this festival has other religious and social ceremonies too. The other name of the festival is Rakhi Purnima or Rakshya Purnima. The religious scriptures testify that on this day Kunti, the mother of the Pandavas vested the responsibilites of safety of her sons to Lord Krishna as the Kauravas wanted to kill them. So, the festival goes on from that date and is known as Rakshya Purnima or full-moon day of protection. On this occasion the Brahmins of Odisha (Formerly Orissa) go from house to house and bind sacred threads on the wrist of the people invoking Gods to protect their lives. In northern India it is mostly a social festival in which sisters bind sacred threads on the wrists of their brothers to protect them from dishonour. This tradition though new to Odisha (Formerly Orissa) is slowly gaining ground.

Though Vaishnavism prevailed in Odisha (Formerly Orissa) much earlier, the cult of Krishna worship was made popular during the 15th century by Sri Chaitanya and his followers. Though temples exclusively dedicated to Krishna are few in Odisha (Formerly Orissa), the representative deity of Lord Jagannath is no other than Krishna known as Madan Mohana, Ramakrishna, Gopala, Gopinatha etc.

To the Vaishnavas the festival is known as Jhulan Purnima or the Swing festival which is observed in most of the Vishnu temples and monasteries following the cult. Beginning from the Tenth day of the bright fort-night, it culminates on the Purnima day. The metal images of Radha and Krishna are placed on beautifully decorated swings and nights are spent with singing and dancing in front of the deities. As an important festival of Lord Jagannath, the celebration of the festival in the shrine and monasteries at Puri attracts visitors from far and near. The festival in the temple was first initiated by the Gajapati king Dibyasingha Dev-II (1793-1798).

Makara Sankranti:
The orbit of the Earth round the Sun is known as Kranti Brutta (Circle of Movement). It takes full one year for the Earth to take the orbital move. The orbit is divided into-twelve parts known as 'Rashi' and accordingly the year has twelve months. The day the Earth starts moving from one 'Rashi' to another is called Sankranti and is counted as the first day of the month. Makara Sankranti is the first day of the month of Magha. According to the Christian calendar it generally falls on 13th or 14th of January. It is the day on which the Sun enters the sign of Makara Capricorn) which is the beginning of Uttaravana or the Sun's northern course.

Makara Sankranti as a festival is modestly celebrated in the all other parts of Odisha (Formerly Orissa) excepting the districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sundargarh, where it is observed as the most important festival of the year. Almost in every Hindu household 'Makara Chaula', a special variety of Bhog prepared with raw-rice, molasses, coconut, chhena (cheese), honey and milk etc. is offered to the Sun-God and then taken by all. People in general have early purificatory bath and visit temples. According to the Sun's movement, the days from this day onwards become lengthy and warmer and so the Sun-God is worshipped as a great benefactor.

In the districts of Mayurbhanj, Keonjhar and Sundargarh where the tribal population is more than forty per cent, the festival is celebrated with great joy and merriment. Though this is not a festival of the tribal people, but because of their acculturisation with the Hindus for centuries they have been celebrating this festival with great enthusiasm. Moreover, the time of the festival is best suited for them as all agricultural operations are over by that time and each family possess something after the harvest.

Preparation for the festival starts much earlier. All the houses are cleaned and neatly plastered. They are painted with three colours viz. White, red and black. New clothes are worn by young and the old alike. Sweet cakes and a meal with meat-curry is a must in every household. Liquor is freely consumed by men and women They sing and dance and enjoy life for about a week.

Before the day dawns all the, people take their purificatory bath in the river or tank and wear new garments. The day is spent with feasting and merry-making. In some places village-style sports are also organised and there are ram-fighting, cock-fighting and archery competitions.

Young girls of certain communities mostly Kudumi, Bastiti, Rajual etc. worship 'Tushu', a female deity and immerse it in the river or tank singing songs of a special variety.

In the temple of Lord Jagannath this festival is observed as 'Uttarayana Yatra'.

In some places big fairs are also held on this occasion and the biggest of its kind is held at Jagatsinghpur of the Cuttack district.

This is the car-festival of Lord Shiva celebrated with great enthusiasm at Bhubaneswar and is considered to be the most important festival of Lord Lingaraj. On the eighth day of the month of Chaitra the representative deity of Lingaraj Sri Chandrasekhara is drawn on a car from near the temple to the temple of Rameswara. Thousands of people congregate on this occasion to watch the festival. There is a puranical account about the origin of the festival.It is said that Lord Ramachandra, inspite of all efforts couldn't kill Ravana as Goddess Kali was protecting him. Then he was advised by Bibhisana, the younger brother of Ravana to propitiate the Mother Goddess and win Her support. Then Ramachandra prayed the Goddess for long seven days with elaborate rituals and could please Her to withdraw support from Ravana.When Her favour was withdrawn it became easy for Ramachandra to kill Ravana through'Brahmastra', the unfailing weapon. To celebrate this victory he took out Shiva and Durga, in a chariot,out of pleasure and satisfaction. From that day the festival is being observed. As the 'shoka' or sorrow of Ramachandra was removed by the death of Ravana, this day is called Ashoka (devoid of shoka) Astami or Ashokastami. Some religious texts are of the opinion that Parvati could get Shiva as Her husband on this day and she became 'Ashoka' (removed off sorrowfulness) and therefore, the festival has been named as Ashokastami.


Ganesh Chaturthi:
The day dedicated to the worship of Ganesha, the elephant-headed son of Shiva is known as Ganesha Chaturthi which is the fourth day in the light half of the month of Bhadrab. Ganesha, the God of the masses is one among the most important deity in the Hindu pantheon. He is the remover of all obstacles and bestower of success. His elephant head suggests cool-brain and the steed, rat suggests perseverance; the two qualities that are important to achieve success. In the worship of all other Gods, even of His father Shiva, Ganesha is invoked in the beginning. There is no ritual without a prayer to Him. Almost in every important shrine of Odisha (Formerly Orissa) Ganesha appears as a Parswa Devata or the guardian deity.

The festival is celebrated with great enthusiasm in all the educational institutions and also in public places. Highly gilded images of the deity are worshipped with great devotion. The business community, especially the shopkeepers preserve an image of Ganesha. They pray to Him daily for their success. On this day they change the image with a new one and immerse the old in a river or tank. 

The most important festival of western Odisha (Formerly Orissa) comprising the districts of Sambalpur, Bolangir, Sundargarh, Kalahandi and some areas of Phulbani, is Nuakhia. Generally it takes place in the bright half of the month of Bhadrab on an auspicious day fixed by the astrologers. In the ex-State areas the date is fixed according to the instructions of the ruling Chiefs.

The people in general eagerly look forward for the festival and preparation starts before a fortnight. Most of the houses are cleaned, neatly plastered and decorated by the house wives. On this occasion old and young, all wear new clothes. Though the festival is intended for eating new rice of the year, it is observed as a general festival. Meeting of friends and relatives, singing, dancing and merry-making are parts of the festival. On this occasion the new rice is cooked with milk and sugar (Kshiri) and then offered as Bhog to Goddess Laxmi. Then the eldest member of the family distributes the same to other members. 

Basanta Panchami:
The day marked for the propitiation of Saraswati, the Goddess of learning is known as Sripanchami or Basanta Panchami. The words 'Sree' and 'Basanta' are significant to the festival. 'Sree' is beauty and the other name of 'Saraswati' and Basanta is spring season which brings beauty and pleasure to the Earth. Therefore it is a festival to welcome beauty through worship of the Goddess.

The worship of Saraswati is prevalent since the age of the Vedas where she has been referred as Bacha. During the Puranic age the tradition became more established and she was adored with anumber of names. At this stage Her form was conceived and accordingly images were built. Clad in white, She rides a white swan while playing a veena. White is the sign of her purity. She is the Goddess of music, poetry, learning and eloquence, indeed, of all the arts and sciences.

In some scriptures Saraswati has been described as the wife of Brahma. But, the widely held view is that She was created by Brahma out of His own intuitive powers and therefore, She was His daughter. Vishnu is the preserver of the universe and for this job He needed both learning and intellect, and Goddess Saraswati fulfilled this need by becoming His wife. In Her four hands She holds a stylus, a book and plays a veena (flute) with two. The stylus and the book signify learning and the veena, music. She is seated on a lotus which signifies beauty and heavenly origin. The swan is the vehicle as of Her father Brahma.

In some scriptures she is also known as Brahmi, Bharati, Gira, Barnamatruka etc. In the Vedas the supreme deity of learning has also been referred to as Agni or fire. This lends credence to a significance that fire is the source of light and light is the source of knowledge. It was, therefore, natural to he early Aryans to propitiate the Goddess as Agni or fire.

This festival, held on the fifth day of the bright fortnight of the month of Magha is mostly celebrated in the educational institutions. Students observe fasting since morning, wear new garments and propitiate the Goddess to bestow them with learning and eloquence. They offer 'Puspanjali' (handful of flowers) to the deity and then break their fast. Images of the deity are built by traditional clay-modellers, who are famous in the country for their artistic skill. They make hundreds of such images small and big, for sale. In the evening cultural programmes and feasts are arranged as a part of the celebration. The next day, the images are taken in procession to nearby tanks or rivers for immersion.

Hingula Yatra:
Most of the festivals prevalent among the low-caste Hindus are either associated with the worship of Shakti or Shiva It is believed to have grown out of the mass religious culture of the people under the spell of Tantrism in the remote past. One such festival is Hingula Yatra or Patua Yatra. There is a popular belief among the local people that on this day of Visuba Sankranti Goddess Hingula appears and propitiation to Her removes all evil forces. She is worshipped in the village street on Her imaginary stride to the village. Offering to Her includes spitted new cloth, Pana(sweet-water), butter lamp and green mangoes.

In remote villages this festival is observed with much austerity. Those who observe fasting, especially women are called 'Osati'. Prior to the day of worship the fasting worshippers (mostly men) move from village to village with the sacred-pitcher symbolising the Goddess. Their religious procession is always accompanied by singing and dancing. These worshippers are called Patuas. The man who dances with the holy-pitcher on his head wears a black skirt, a red blouse and a long piece of black cloth tightly covering the head and having equal length on both sides to flow. While dancing, the Patua holds the ends of the cloth and moves them artistically with stretched arms in perfect harmony to the rhythmic pattern. Sometimes he dances on the stilts and performs difficult Yogasanas balancing on the head, the staff that holds the holy-pitcher (Ghata). A big brass bell played with a cane-stick provides various peculiar rhythms. Sometimes country drums are also played.

The head of the patuas is called Bada-Patua or Katha Patua. All the Patuas observe fasting on this day. In the afternoon they assemble near a tank or river where all the rituals take place. The priest performing the rites is always a non-brahmin known as 'Jadua' or 'Dehuri'. During the rituals men, women and children of the villages congregate The surrounding reverberates with auspicious 'Hulahuli' (a shrill sound made by wagging the tongue inside the mouth) and 'Hari Bol' cheers of men. Then, sharp iron hooks are pierced through the skins on the back of the Patuas. During this ceremony the morale of the Patuas are boosted through holy cheers of the onlookers and they themselves loudly continue singing in praise of Hingula or Mangala.

In some areas Jhamu Yatra is organised. Persons observing Brata or vow in honour of the deity walk on thorns and on the bed of live charcoal amidst holy cheers and loud drumming. Those who walk on fire are known as Nian Patua (Nian for fire) and those on thorns are called Kanta Patua (Kanta for thorn). Some worshippers stand on edged swords and are carried on open palanquins. They are caned Khanda Patua (Khanda for sword). Some of them show some feats in deep water. They are called Pani Patuas (Pani for water). Especially all these festivals are celebrated a Shiva or Shakti Shrine. Therefore, scholars are of opinion that these rituals, of inflicting injury to the persons by the devotees are related to the Tantra culture. By doing these they try to draw the kind attention of the God or Goddess whom they seek to propitiate.


Uda Parab:
In some areas especially in Mayurbhanj and Keonjhar districts of Odisha (Formerly Orissa) a flying festival popularly known as Uda Parab is observed. The participating devotees of this festival are called Bhokta or Bhakta. As in similar other festivals, almost all the devotees belong to the low-caste Hindus.

In a village field a long staff is fixed horizontally on a perpendicular pole. The Bhoktas, after having the ceremonial bath and other rituals in a nearby river, move dancing in a procession to this place accompanied by a cheering crowd and loud beating of drums. There a huge congregation enthusiastically awaits their arrival. Then, one by one, they are tied to the horizontal staff with a long cloth at the shoulders. Ankle-bells are fitted on their feet. Some devotees are not tied. They simply hold on the staff with one hand and move hanging. With the help of a rope fixed to the perpendicular staff they are moved round and round by a person below. Profusely garlanded, the Bhokta flying at a height throws flowers from his garlands and green mangoes to the audience below, who collect them with great enthusiasm as precious possessions. After this ceremony the Bhoktas go to the nearby temple and offer offerings and prayers to Shiva, Hingula, Mangala.

This is one of the most popular festivals of Odisha (Formerly Orissa), peculiar to the region. This is the eighth day in the month of Margasira in which the eldest child of the family is honoured. He or she is given new clothes and is made to sit on a wooden pedestal (Pidha). In fornt of him/her an earthen pitcher, full of water is placed on handfuls of paddy. Above it a branch of mango leaves and a cocoanut is placed. Then, the mother or any other elderly lady wishes him /her long-life and good health by praying Sasthi Debi, the Goddess that protects children. The social significanc of this festival is that the first-borns are brighter and it is ultimately they who take up the burden of the family after the death of the parents. According to psychologists the first-borns are mostly healthy, obedient and tradition-bound. Therefore, the family tradition is maintained through them. For such obvious reasons the eldest child is honoured to occupy the respectable place in the family after the death of the parents.

A special variety of cake is prepared on this occasion which is known as 'Enduri'. The cake is offered to the Goddess of Sasthi and then taken by all.

In the temple of Lingaraj at Bhubaneswar, the festival is observed with great devotion. On this day the repesentative deity of Lingaraj is taken out in a palanquin to a tank called "Papanasini" which is situated just behind the temple.

Baseli Puja:
Baseli Puja is also known as Chaiti Ghoda. In the month of Chaitra there is an exclusive festival for the bonafide fishermen community of Odisha (Formerly Orissa) who are popularly known as Keuta (Kaivatra). This festival is held for a full month beginning from Chaitra parba (Full moon of Chaitra in March) and ending with Baisakh Purnima (Full moon in April). During this festival Baseli, the horse-headed deity of the community is propitiated. She is considered to be the tutelar deity of the community. She may be considered as a form of Mother Goddess who was earlier formless. Later she took various forms according to the conception and needs of the various communities living all over the country. 

By 5th-6th century A.D., worship of Shakti had gained tremendous prominence in Odisha (Formerly Orissa). One of the four celebrated 'Peethas'(centres) of Buddhist Tantricism in India was located in Odisha (Formerly Orissa). The Peethas had not only the support of a number of Sadhakas to go ahead with their spiritual pursuits but also gave an impetus to the people in general to appreciate the Tantric practices. Rigorous religious practices involved in the Tantric way of worship became wide-spread.

It is believed that this festival originated during 10-11th centuries when Hindu Tantra and Buddha Tantra merged into one. Baseli is one of the various deities of Tantra culture which evolved during this period. The horse-headed deity is seated on an earthern platform. She wears a blood-red cloth in her full feminine form. In temples and places of worship She is propitiated on each Saturdays and Tuesdays throughout the year. During the festival period where there are no such images; only the horse-head made out of wood is worshipped. Peculiarly the worshipping takes place in a house and that is Dhinkisala (the place where paddy is husked). It is because, the subsidiary profession of the community is to prepare and sell flattened rice(chuda).

Worship of Baseli or Basuli and the Dummy-horse dance inexplicably connected with its rituals and celebrations is the most important festival of the fishermen who observe it with great devotion and austerity. The details for the worship have been enunciated in 'Kaibarta Gupta Geeta' by Achyutananda Das, a mystic Oriya poet of 15th century A.D. Various legends prevail about the birth of the community and their tutelar deity and this particular text records one. According to this Geeta, when the world was in a deluge Vishnu Bhagwan could not find a place to rest. So, He by His spiritual power reduced his form and rested on a floating Banyan leaf. As it was all the while dwindling on the stormy waves of the ocean He created a man out of the dirt of His ear-zone and asked him to hold the leaf still with the help of a row (kandiara). But, soon he fell into deep slumber. In the meantime a huge demoniac fish Raghab swallowed the man. Again the leaf began dwindling and God's sleep was disturbed To His utter surprise He found the man missing. By intuition He could know everything and at once killed the Raghaba and got the man out. Then God transformed the banyan leaf in to a horse. He summoned Biswakarma and asked him to build a boat immediately. Then He said to the man "Hence-forward you and your community will be known as Kaibarta and you would be the king among them. Go to the country of Simhala and rule there happily. Make this horse your carrier and use this boat for trading. As you were swallowed and almost got killed by a fish, generation by generation you would kill the species and live on them." Baseli, became the name of the horse and God asked the man to worship him as his tutelar deity on the full-moon day of Chaitra. Since then the tradition is followed.

The Dasa king sailed to Simhala with the horse by boat. There he ruled for many years. The horse died at the age of one lakh years and out of his carcass came out a damsel as beautiful as Lakshmi. She approached the king and lamented that no longer the name of Baseli would be associated with her. Taken by surprise the king was terrified. He then prayed Vishnu for His counsel. The God again directed, "This woman will be known hence-forth as Aswini Baseli whom you would propitiate for generations. Then only you can attain Baikuntha". Since then the woman became Goddess Baseli with a horse-head and continued to be venerated by the fishing community.

Another legend is associated with the worship of the horse-head and the horse-headed deity. It is said that after the death of Baseli, the sacred horse God distributed his limbs among fishermen, confectioners (Gudia), oil-merchants (Teli) and cobblers (Mochi). They continued to worship the limbs. Some time after an idea struck to them. All of them agreed to assemble the limbs and have the full form of the deity (horse) and worship him commonly. This was done. At one time the Kaibartas and the Gudias vied with each other. A communal riot ensued, Gudias being rich and powerful locked the deity in a house and deprived the Kaibartas from worship. The helpless Kaibartas simply prayed the deity with utmost devotion for His return. Moved by the prayers of the Kaivartas he crushed the wall with the force of his hoofs and escaped to their camp. Being enraged the Gudias chopped of his head and even then, the head lived to accept worship and offerings from the Kaivartas. It is, therefore, the Kaivartas who worship the horse-head separately.

Inexplicably connected with the festival is Dummy-horse dance of the community. On the auspicious day of Chaitra Purnami, the Kaibartas worship a Bamboo with vermillion, candle-paste, butter-lamp etc. Then the bamboo is split ceremonially into pieces out of which only twelve are taken out for preparation of the frame of the dummy-horse. The frame is dyed red with red clay and then covered with a Pata (indigenous silk cloth). Then a painted horse-head made out of wood is fixed to the frame. A garland of Mandara (Hibiscus) flowers is placed on the neck during worship. This particular garland is always intended for mother goddess. Thus the dummy-horse is worshipped till the eighth day of the dark fortnight after which it is taken out for dance. A man enters the cavity and hangs the frame on the shoulders and then dances to the rhythm of Dhol (country drum). Mahuri is the only wind-instrument played during the dance. Songs are sung intermittently in votive dedication to the deity. Sometimes the dancer gets possessed and falls in to trance. Then somebody else replaces him. Two other characters Chadhua-Chadhuani or Rauta-Rautani also sing and dance. The male character dances with a long staff in his hand symbolising the profession of fishermen's rowing of boats. The female character is played by a man. Both of them sing songs of love and daily household chores. Then a song combat ensues which lasts for the whole night. During this portion of the dance the dummy horse is ceremonially placed in the centre and the performance is held in front of it, people sitting all around.

There are regular amateur as well as professional groups for this dance. They perform on payment. Sometimes they move dancing from door to door and collect money. There are five to seven persons in all in a group including dancers and musicians. They continue to dance till Baisakh Purnami when they make a grand finale and then part for the next season.

Now-a-days the votive dancers are not confined only to the Kaivarta community. Since the dummy-horse dance is attached to many Shakti shrines of Odisha (Formerly Orissa) also, people of other communities have also taken interest to join the votive dancers.

The dummy-horse dance is mainly prevalent in the coastal districts of Cuttack and Puri. In Puri the dummy-horses are profusely decorated with flowers and the 'Tahia' (Archaic head-gear of flowers) presents a magnificent show during dance. When the festival ends the horse-head is taken out ceremonially from the frame and is preserved in a temple. Next year during the festival it is again brought out and repainted for worship and use during the dance.