What Bihu is for Assamese, Baisakhi for Punjabis, Onam for Malyalees, Nuakhai is for the residents of Odisha, more particularly of Western Orissa. And to celebrate the agrarian festival with gaiety and merriment, economic activities have already started with the peasants and the artisans working overtime to earn quick money.
The money earned helps these people to add the extra zing to the festival with a lot of expenses involved in the entire celebration. This year, Nuakhai falls on September 20.
Besides white washing of the houses, new clothes are worn on the day of the festival and a lot of money is spent on pancakes, traditional delicacies besides the puja that is offered to the presiding deity.
Hence, every bit of money counts with the festival fast approaching. While it is Goddess Samaleswari in Sambalpur, it is Patneswari in Balangir, Sureshwari in Sonepur, Sekharbasini in Sundargarh and Manikeswari in Kalahandi are worshipped.
And leading the list are the weavers who churn out cheap handloom sarees, which are a part of tradition for the people of Western Odisha. With simple designs hardly taking much of time, the weavers roll out affordable sarees and to ensure that they reach out to the users before the festival. And keeping this in mind, the mahajans (moneylenders) are quick to lend money knowing fully well that the pay back time is short and assured.
Besides the weavers, it is the daily labourers who also stretch themselves out for the festival. They are seen working till the dawn with assurances from the householders who have been engaging them for the festival. Having to clean the households they are much in demand and have seized the opportunity to jack up their price also.
Similarly, the bamboo basket-makers, blacksmith, potters and small time carpenters are also working round the clock to add to their coffers. While baskets are much in demand for use in the rituals and puja, the blacksmith is busy making door latches, traditional vegetable cutter, frying spoon, pan and such other items of daily use. Carpenters too are much in demand to undertake repair work in the households and sale of furniture.
While the men folk toil hard, womenfolk in rural areas are busy making leaf plates and cups which will be used during the festival.
Admitting that the festival provides them with an opportunity to bargain better wage, Pipli Bariha of Bhalupali in Sambalpur said with people in a hurry to get their houses cleaned and aware of the dearth of manpower, she has been working at ` 150 a day against ` 100 she charges at other times.
The hard work has failed to deter the spirit of the poor and the peasants who look forward to pay their obeisance to the Goddess for all the gifts bestowed on them.