Sambalpur (Odisha): Despite delayed monsoon, people in western districts are on Saturday celebrating 'Nuakhai' festival, which marks eating newly harvested rice, with religious fervour and gaiety.
Essentially an agrarian event, 'Nuakhai' has since taken the shape of a mass festival in the region when the new paddy crop is offered to the mother deity to seek blessings for a bumper harvest.
On this day, people offer 'Nabanna' (new rice) out of newly harvested paddy crop to the deity amidst 'Hulahuli' (swaying of tongue generating a lilting sound by womenfolk), beating drums, cymbals and sounds of conch shells.
After eating 'Navanna' bhog (offerings), people seek the blessings of the deity and then do so from elders in the family and locality which is called 'Nuakhai Juhar' in local parlance, a significant part of the festival. People also exchange greetings which is called 'Nuakhai Bhetghat'.
Various delicacies are prepared from the new rice and exchanged with relatives and friends.
'New' being the theme of this festival, people use everything new on the occasion including new clothes, pot, basket, leaves and tray for which their preparation starts at least a month preceding the festivities.
They throng the market places in urban places and weekly markets in rural areas to procure new clothes, bamboo baskets, pots and harvesting implements from black smith.
Almost every house in the region are decorated and womenfolk draw 'Jhoti' (drawings on walls in rice paste) to seek the blessings and welcome the deity to their home.
Several community programmes are held to mark the festival in which all sections of people take part. Cultural artists are much in demand for a host of programmes.
In Sambalpur, presiding deity 'Maa Samleswari' is offered 'Narvanna' as large number of devotees attired in new Sambalpuri clothes throng the temples and other 'Gramdevi' (village deity) of the region.