The stage is set for agrarian festival of Nuakhai in Kalahandi, albeit with a difference. The festival here does not hold any similarity with other Western Odisha districts and is not celebrated as per ‘lagna’ of Goddess Samaleswari or that of Balangir.
The presiding deity here is Goddess Manikeswari and Nuakhai is celebrated according to the rituals related to the deity.
The Nuakhai of Goddess Manikeswari falls on ‘Bhadrab Shukla Dashami’ and people partake of the ‘naba anna’ after offering it to the presiding deity. There was a change in the festival after 28th king of Kalahandi Udit Pratap Deo married Asha Kumari Devi, the only daughter of last king of Sambalpur Narayan Sai in 1867.
The queen brought along some agriculture expert families from Sambalpur and these came to be known as Gountias (big landlords).
They were permitted to celebrate Nuakhai on Rusi Panchami (as per the tradition of Sambalpur) after offering ‘naba anna’ to local village and family deities.
Therefore, in many pockets that were under Gountias, Nuakhai is celebrated on ‘Panchami’ that falls on Thursday. However, in Bhawanipatna, Jaipatna, Madanpur Rampur, Lanjigarh and Thuamul Rampur areas, it is celebrated on ‘Bhadraba Shukla Dashami’ which falls on September 25.
There is another interesting tradition to the Nuakhai celebrations here.
The temple of Budharaja (Mahakala Bhairaba) on the campus of Manikeswari temple opens only on ‘Mahasaptami’ night after remaining closed for a year. It is again closed on ‘Bijaya Dasami’. So Nuakhai of Budharaja is observed on Maha Nabami after the completion of ‘Chatar Yatra’ of Manikeswari.