Communal tension casts shadow on Orissa harvest festival

September 4th, 2008 - 1:31 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Sep 4 (IANS) Communal tension that gripped parts of Orissa dampened Thursday the traditional fervour of the annual harvest festival in the riot-hit districts.Every year people in western parts of the state celebrate “Nuakhai”, which spreads the message of goodwill and brotherhood.

But this year, a large number of people, particularly in the districts of Kandhamal, Bargarh, Bolangir and Koraput, are not celebrating the festival as heads of their families are not at home or they were affected by the riots.

The communal riots that erupted following the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati Aug 23 by unknown gunmen in Kandhamal district have claimed at least 16 lives. Thousands of houses and churches were burnt.

The police and paramilitary forces continued to patrol the streets in at least 12 districts, mostly in western Orissa. Orders prohibiting the gathering of more than four people have been clamped all over Kandhamal district. Parts of Kandhamal and Koraput districts are still under curfew.

“The villages are empty and large numbers of people are hiding in the forest,” said Raghunath Digal, a resident of Kandhamal.

“We will not celebrate the occasion this year because of the riots,” he added.

However, in the rest of the state millions of people offered the first crop of the season to their presiding deities in celebration of the harvest festival and also worshipped cattle, officials said.

After offering it to their presiding deities, the worshippers ate the offerings called ‘nua’ (new).

The festival was celebrated in Sambalpur, Bolangir, Bargarh, Boudh, Deogarh, Jharsuguda, Kalahandi, Nawapara, Phulbani, Raigada, Subarnapur and Sundergarh districts.

“The pomp and gaiety the festival witnessed last year was not there,” said Gobind Narayan Agarwal, an advocate at Sambalpur town.

In Sambalpur, people offered prayer at Samaleswari temple in the morning and offered the presiding deity, Sameleswari, their new harvest.

In Bolangir and Subarnapur, people made offerings at the temples of Patmeswari and Sureswari.

As a tradition, the seniormost member of the family distributes the ‘nabanna’ (rice cooked from the new grain) to the rest. Thereafter, people greet each other, which is known as Nuakhai Juhar.

Nuakhai Juhar is a solemn occasion when people are asked to forget enmity, vanity and ego. People put aside their disputes and celebrate the festival on this day.

The aim of the festival is to express man’s gratitude to nature and reverence to god for supply of food.

“We hope the festival will help restore peace and brotherhood,” said Agarwal.

“In other parts of the country, the festival is organised after the harvest, but here we observe it before the harvest since we like to welcome the new crop and worship the deities before the produce is used by men, animals and birds,” he said.

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