Jagannatha Svami Nayanapathagami Bhavatu Me
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  Jagannatha, Lord of the universe, in His Form in the great 10th century temple at Puri, Orissa, India

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Orissa - Its People and Culture

--- Acharya Dr. Chintamani Rath, Ph.D. (Music)
with inputs from Mrs Mitanjali Rath
(Tauranga, November 2006)

(This article is yet incomplete - work is ongoing and this page will be continually updated.)

  •    I.    Foreword [Why this page?]

  •   II.    Orissa - General Introduction [Location, old names, historical sources for original information]

  •  III.    Historical Roots [Political, Administrative, Economic, Commercial, Social, Educational, Religious and Cultural facets]

  •  IV.    Landmarks of Life [From birth to death]

  •   V.   Religious festivals [Outline of Odiya calendar, season names, festivals in chronological order across twelve months]

  •  VI.    Present-day Orissa [Today's reality]

  • I. Foreword:

    The purpose of this article is to answer several questions that friends, associates, colleagues, acquaintances and others frequently ask my wife Mitanjali and me about the culture of the place from where we hail. There is also a direct relevance of an article such as this with a music website, because, after all, music does not exist in a vacuum - it is a reflection of the society that has generated and nurtured it. Ergo, an understanding of my personal cultural background is an important step in appreciating and relating to my music in particular and Hindustani music in general.

    I was born into a traditional Brahmin family of Orissa, as was Mitanjali. But unlike Mitanjali who lived all her life in the southern part of this ancient eastern Indian province, I spent my time in Kolkata (formerly known as Calcutta) in West Bengal, a province to the north of Orissa. It was in Kolkata where I was given an English medium education by Jesuit priests. I learnt three languages in school -

  • Hindi - this was my "first" language. Hindi was and is the national language of multilingual India (23 official languages and several others still lobbying to get official recognition). I studied Hindi in depth - grammar, composition and prosody, literature (prose, poetry, drama), the historical development of the language, biographies of literary personages who contributed to its development and so on.

  • English - this was my "second" language. English was and is understood in many areas of India, particularly urban India. My study of English was not "in depth" but enough for me to gain a basic facility in its rudiments. To this end, I was taught grammar, composition and fragments of literature. My interest in the language led me to read, outside school, a good deal of old English literature, fictional works and so on. My grounding in the language was reinforced by the use of the language in my academic studies (business, accounting, law) and other serious hobby pursuits (mathematics, astronomy, telescope making, world religions, philosophy etc).

  • Bengali - this was my "third" language, being the regional language of the provinvce of West Bengal. My fluency in this language and in Bengali customs and culture was the result of my having grown up and lived in Calcutta.

  • At home, of course, Oriya (the language of the province of Orissa) was the language in vogue, it being my mother tongue. Also fully observed and practised were numerous Oriya festivals, customs and religious occasions/rites. In addition, on account of living in Kolkata, Bengali customs, festivals and religious occasions (which are in reality similar to Oriya ones in many ways) were also observed. Additionally, because Calcutta was and is a large and vibrant multi-cultural metropolis, many dominant north Indian festivals and cultural experiences were shared with other friends and residents of the place. Thus it was that I had strong cultural influences shaping my personality from three Indian sources (apart from the western influence of English): Oriya, Bengali and Hindi.

    In this article, I will focus upon Oriya culture - this being my mother culture: the culture into which I was born and which provided the basic cultural building blocks upon which the other cultural layers found secure anchor. To this end, I will, without delving into details or specifics, sketch in very general terms the historical background of Orissa from a political, sociological and religious perspective and thereafter present to you, gentle reader, some of the ceremonies practised and festivals celebrated by the people of Orissa, with short descriptions.

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    II. Orissa - General Introduction:

    The province of Orissa is located on the eastern seaboard of India (click here to see map and here to read the well-written Wikipedia article on Orissa). It is a fairly large province (area = 155,820 sq. km.; population = 32 million), with its modern boundaries defining but part of the full political spread it had attained in the past. Established folklore refers to Orissa as the land beween Ganga and Godavari - Ganga being the mighty river (Ganges) to the north of the land of present day Orissa and Godavari being the great river in the south, flowing through the present day province of Andhra Pradesh.

    In fact, the province of Orissa had spread even further south - right up to the city today known as Vijaywada. The city got its name from two Odiya (the language, as also the people, of Orissa) words: vijay meaning 'victory' and bahuda meaning 'return'. This was the city up to which a past Odiya king triumphantly went with his army and thereafter chose to return.

    The land of Orissa is an ancient one. Its stable geographical features enabled development and continued sustenance of culture down the ages. Through the millennia, a variety of people have found it pleasant to make Orissa home. Here were written the Atharvan (Atharva Veda). That might have been 4,000 BCE or earlier. This was the land through which Rama (2,500 BCE), the King of Ayodhya, travelled with his brother Lakshama and met Hanumana, Sugreeva and other tribal/local chiefs (alluded to in the Epic poem Ramayana as Vaanara, literally meaning "a different or alternative type of people" and mistakenly accepted in popular parlance as monkeys. In more recent times, during its heydays (600 AC to 1500 AC), its culture spread far and wide, profoundly influencing and dominating lands as far as Sri Lanka, Myanmar (formerly Burma (from the Oriya/Sanskrit Bramhadesha)Thailand (formerly Siam from the Oriya/Sanskrit Shyaamadesha), Cambodia (from the Oriya/Sanskrit Kambhoja), Indonesia (from the Oriya/Sanskrit Sindhu Desha), Malayasia (from the Oriya/Sanskrit Malayadesha), Java, Sumatra and other southeast Asian countries. The great world heritage temple of Angkor-Vat in Cambodia, for example, is architecturally in the Orissa temple style. During the ruthless and devastating Islamic rampages across northern India spanning several centuries, scholars fleeing cultural genocide found a safe haven in Orissa. Thus it was that in later times (during British rule for example), Orissa was in a position to export, and did export, religious and other cultural resources to other parts, notably Bengal (which had become highly Islamised in medieval times as opposed to Orissa, which had become highly Sanskritised).

    Since ancient times, different parts of greater Orissa have had different names, as follows:

  • Matsa: A name found in the Epic Mahabharata, the story of which centers around the great fratricidal war of 1500 BCE. Matsa was the kingdom of King Viraata, in whose service the five Paandava (the protagonists of Mahabharata) spent one year incognito
  • Chedi: Another name found in the Mahabharata
  • Utkala or Utkalaraata
  • Odra, Odrabisha, Odraraashtra, Oda, Udra or Odradesha [Orissa is the Anglicised form of Odradesha, meaning, literally, "Odra land"]
    Note: Philology and linguistics will tell us that "Oria" or "Oriya" (meaning, as a noun, the language of this province and as an adjective, "of Orissa") and "Odia" or "Odiya" are interchangable, as are "Orissa" and "Odissa". While the use of "d" appears more accurate from a formal linguistic point of view, the Constitution of India has adopted "r", aligning with the more popularly used consonant of the common people of the province - a consonant that lies somewhere between "d" and "r" and defies exact representation by means of letters in the English alphabet, without using diacritical marks]
  • Kongoda or Kangoda
  • Kalinga or Trikalinga
  • Kosala or Toshali: King Ramachandra's (of the Epic Ramayana fame) mother Queen Kaushalyaa was the daughter of the king of Koshal, hence she was called "Kaushalyaa"

  • We learn a good deal about the cultural history of Orissa from many ancient and medieval treatises such as:

                    - Koorma Puraana
                    - Padma Puraana (Bhoomi Khanda)
                    - Brhat-Naradiya Puraana
                    - Bramha Puraana
                    - Skanda Puraana (Utkala Khanda)
                    - Ekaamra Puraana
                    - Kaalikaa Puraana
                    - Kapila Samhitaa
                    - Kaala Saara of Gadaadhara (about 900AC)
                    - Anargha Raaghava Naatakam of Krshna Muraari (about 900 AC)
                    - Prabodha Chandrodaya Naatakam of Krshna Mishra (1050 AC)
                    - Rudra Yaamala (950 AC)
                    - Abhidhaana Chintaamani of Hemachandra (about 1150 AC)
                    - Maanasollaasa of Someshvara III (about 1130 AC)
                    - Prthviraaja Raaso of Chandabardaai (12th century AC)
                    - and more...

    In addition, there are numerous inscriptions - on copper, stone and other substances - as well as a wealth of literary material, writings of foreign travellers visiting Orissa (such as Hiuen Tsand in the 7th century AC), folklore and temple carvings that (among others) afford fascinating insights into the rich history of Orissa.

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    III. Historical Roots:

    The social fabric of ancient and medieval Orissa reveals itself through several windows - political, administrative, economic, commercial, social, educational, religious and cultural. These are briefly outlined in the following table:--

    Ancient and Medieval Orissa
    (Headings below are hyperlinked, click as required)
    Structure -

  • Monarch as head
  • Royal duties
  • Royal powers
  • Administrative System -
  • Ministers
  • Feudal lords (vassals), Beneficiaries
  • Bureaucracy
  • Revenue
  • Expenditure
  • Economic Environment -
  • Agriculture
  • Industry
  • Commercial Activity -
  • Domestic Trade
  • Foreign Trade
  • Social Strata -
  • Caste generally
  • Brahmin caste
  • Kshatriya, Kayasta and Karana castes
  • Vaisya caste
  • Tribals and Aboriginals
  • Position of women
  • Food, Dress
  • Education Religious Inclination Cultural Expression
    Political Structure

  • Monarch as head
  • duties
  • powers
  • Monarchy, mainly heriditary monarchy with the crown passing from king to eldest son
  • Very infrequently, election to appoint king (or queen): ususally as a result of serious internal trouble
  • Normal practice for king to appoint an heir-apparent (usually eldest son as crown prince) during his own lifetime
  • In absence of son, younger brother usually nominated heir-apparent - failing this king would appoint somebody else as such
  • King often voluntarily retired by relinquishing throne in favour of heir-apparent enabling pursuing a life of spiritual pursuits after retirement
  • Heir-apparent had important role as administrative assistant of king, with fair degree of absolute royal prerogatives
  • If king was minor, a relative (male or female) usually appointed as regent to act on behalf of king until king reached majority
  • Importance of women - several queens ruled Orissa at different times, with throne often passing to female family members (usually in absence of male heirs)
  • Great care expended in education of king - king expected to be shining role model: learned, liberal, idealistic, progressive, religious, impartial, just, brave, truthful, polite, gracious, dignified, merciful, rooted firmly in tradition and strongly mindful of public image in all acts, public or private
  • Kings more duty conscious than right (soverignity) conscious:
    - duty to expand state boundaries, duty to preserve peace, duty to administer justice in accordance with established civil and criminal laws
    - duty to attend to matters of state for uplifting the well-being of the common people
    - duty to adhere to and follow noble qualities like justice, charity, mercy, valour, truth and self-sacrifice,
    - religious duties
    - duty to undertake inspection tours to discover and rectify administrative shortcomings (including corruption and official highhandedness)
    - duty to enforce Varnashrama Dharma or caste system to ensure freedom of people to pursue their respective specialist professions without fear of competition from other professions
    - duty to promote trade and commerce
    - duty to assist in times of distress, calamity or individual need
    - duty to promote education
    - duty to promote the arts and culture
  • Kings enjoyed wide-ranging powers, limited by rule of law rather than rule of man. Few kings dared defy supramacy of established custom, tradition and usage laid down in scriptures and authoritative treatises like Smrti. Some powers were:
    - Appointing governers, ministers, high civil and military officials: Often the Prime Minister would be entrusted the actual task of running the whole kingdom/empire
    - Granting consent to feudal chief or crown price to alienate villages in favour of foreign powers
    - Supreme military commander: king usually led military expeditions himself
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    Administrative System

    click below
    for quick links:

  • Ministers

  • Feudal lords (vassals), Beneficiaries

  • Bureaucracy

  • Revenue

  • Expenditure
  • A. Ministers -

  • Prime Minister carried main administrative burden, advising and reporting to king
  • A raft of ministers holding different portfolios
  • Enhanced power on ministers during emergencies (e.g., when the throne was empty)
  • Ministers appointed by king, not representatives of the people through election
  • Sometimes heriditary or part of feudal hierarchy
  • Ministers usually belonged to the Brahmin or the Kayasta caste
  • Ministers consulted by king in council on policy and allied matters
  • Many ministers and governers were military leaders and military advisors

    B. Feudal lords (vassals), beneficiaries -

    These were created in several ways:-

  • Kings followed established ancient written authority enjoining them not to usurp the land, chattels, sons and wives of vanquished kings but to appoint them or, if the vanquished kings had been slain, their sons or relatives (if necessary daughters or other female relatives) in their places (on their thrones or other vacant positions).
  • Kings allotted territories to their own relatives (brothers, younger sons, cousins etc) to rule or administer
  • Kings rewarded ministers or officers with land
  • Kings invited learned Brahmins from other kingdoms to settle in Orissa and made generous grants of land to them so that the Brahmins could live comfortably and practise their expertise and impart it to local disciples
  • Kings made generous grants of land for temples

    Frequently, kings were over-generous in granting land - the grant would often comprise several villages with control of the administrative and judicial system over them. This ultimately led to serious reduction of royal power. Feudal lords and beneficiaries could, for example:-

  • try civil and criminal offences allegedly committed by people of the villages under their domain
  • exercise fiscal rights (revenue collection)
  • exercise administrative rights, including (for larger vassals) giving grants of land (and villages) in their turn
  • ceremonially use the five musical instruments symbolising authority: Shrnga (horn), Shankha (conch), Bheri (drum), Jayaghantaa (victory bell) and Tammata (another kind of drum)

    Feudal vassals/beneficiaries were bound by certain duties which were both expected and exacted on default, such as:-

  • duty to generally defer to and obey the imperial power of the king
  • duty to attend imperial court on ceremonial occasions as well as at periodic intervals
  • duty to assist in general administration
  • duty to pay imperial taxes
  • duty to provide military service, troops, horses, elephants and equipment when called upon to do so by the king

    C. Bureaucracy -

    There were many officers with specific duties. They included, for example:

  • confidential secretaries for kings and members of inner councils
  • ambassadors
  • officers of the secret intelligence service, including spies
  • garrison officers, including commanders of infantry, cavalry, elephants, artillery etc
  • commanders of forts
  • officers of magistracies (judges and other magistrates) at different area headquarters
  • police officers
  • protocol officers, to fix interviews with the king, escort visitors to royal presence etc
  • officers in the service of the king (or heir apparent or crown prince) before the king (or heir apparent or crown prince) attained majority
  • governors of territorial units
  • office superintendents
  • heads of tribes, villages or districts
  • revenue officials including tax officers and collecters
  • judicial officials
  • officials of peace and war, corresponding to present day foreign offices
  • officials to draft, deliver and oversee enforcement of royal charters
  • record keepers
  • document inspectors
  • treasury officers
  • land officers
  • health officers
  • messengers
  • officials providing clerical support

    D. Revenue -

    Land grants of kings had inbuilt clauses guaranteeing revenue to the Crown. Taxes were either in terms of money or in kind, such as produce or harvest (periodic supply of cereals, lentils, fruits, vegetables, flowers, firewood, processed food like molasses, curds, sugar etc).

    Taxes were collected from both kings' subjects and feudal lords/vassals and beneficiaries. Taxes and other sources of revenue could be:

  • customary king's share of produce (grain etc)
  • periodic taxes over and above such king's share (as a supercharge, surcharge or extra cess)
  • emergency taxes over and above the above, in times of national emergency
  • taxes on merchants' profits
  • land tax (on ownership of land)
  • tax on cultivators for exercising proprietory right to cultivate
  • tenant tax on landlords for keeping temporary tenants
  • annual income tax
  • tax on gold and mined wealth
  • turnpike tax imposed to preserve peace in villages by discouraging large numbers of visitors
  • tax on small retail dealers
  • tax on particularly fertile lands that could produce all manner of crops
  • salt tax (tax levied on production and sale of salt)
  • tax on discovery of buried or hidden treasure or on finding lost property
  • tax or fine on bailee who used the goods bailed for a purpose other than that of the bailment or without the permission of the bailor
  • taxes on hunting or income from water (marshy land, water reservoir etc) in the form of fishing, maintaining elephants, maintaining bulls of superior quality or exhibiting snakes for a living (snake charmers)
  • tax on exercising the power to convict and punish offenders
  • tax to maintain the infantry as the soldiers passed through the countryside - this meant the villagers had to supply provisions to the soldiers
  • tributes paid to the king upon his victory
  • ferry tax, which were tolls paid at military or police stations to enable transit of goods
  • fines paid by convicted offenders

    E. Expenditure -

    The chief items of state expenditure were, among others:

  • military expenditure
  • building towns, roads, tanks and other capital assets and their maintenance
  • maintaining royal establishments, including supporting palace servants, foreign envoys
  • salary and allowances to officials
  • religious activities like ceremonies and sacrifices
  • construction and maintenence of large temples
  • expenditure to assist the needy and the helpless
  • endowments for advancement of education and the arts
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    Economic environment

  • Agriculture
  • Industry
  • A. Agriculture -

    The chief economic activity was agriculture. Land therefore played a central role in public and private life. Land included all manner of land, marshy land, sterile land, ditches, water, hills, quarries, mines, forests, trees, creepers, shrubs and everything that existed on, in or with the land, including rights to fish, hunt, kill snakes, elephants, to collect present and all future taxes, tight to the enjoyment of ivory, tiger skins, deer skins, various animals and trees, grazing rights, sundry fiscal rights, etc. Different systems of land measurement were in vogue at various times, as also different ways of transfer of title.

    Most parts of land of Orissa was rich and fertile, although the northern areas were more so than the southern parts. There was also a good deal of infertile land. There was no irrigation project as we know today, but there were many tanks and reservoirs, some natural and many man-made.

    A wide variety of produce was cultivated from the soil:

  • grains - paddy, barley, millet
  • other crops - sugercane, cotton, pulses, oilseeds, betel leaf
  • fruits - mango, coconut, banana, bella (vilva in Sanskrit), jambu (rose apple), tamarind, various berries and many more
  • flowers - lotus, blue lotus, hibiscus, magnolia, etc

    B. Industry -

    There were several industries, the chief being:

  • Textile - high quality fabrics covering a wide range were produced and were in good demand for both domestic and export markets.

  • Iron - considerable metallurgical expertise enabled different forms of iron prodiction. Iron was used in the building industry for palaces, forts, temples etc. It was also needed for arms and ammunition manufacture. In particular, Orissa swords, as also short swords and daggers, were of superior quality and in high demand far and wide.

  • Other metals - gold, silver, copper and bronze in particular. The jewellry manufacturing industry was an extremely flourishing one, as evident from a variety of sources, not the least temple carvings and sculptures that show its display in profusion. Jewellry also used pearls and precious and semi-precious stones. Pearls were available in Orissa in the 7th century AC.

  • Stone work industry - This was a well developed industry on account of the great many stone temples as also stone buildings, walls and ramparts erected all over. On the one hand, stone (and iron) was used to provide structural firmness and external protection and on the other, stone sculptures provided ornamentation as well as a record of divine mythological events, royal events, cultural expression and social life, public and private.

  • Wood work industry - With stone and iron, wood was an important integral element in the erection of temples, forts, palaces, other buildings, homes, walls, etc. It was also essential for furniture making, chariot building and had military uses as well.

  • Boat making industry - Not only was there a flourishing domestic traffic on rivers and waterways, but also there was a great deal of commercial activity in the nature of export and import across the high seas with many southeast Asian countries.

  • Ivory work industry - As a land with a large elephant population, ivorycraft was a fine art in ancient and mediaval Orissa. This continued right into modern times until legal restrictions were placed in India upon ivory and elephant hunting on account of the elephant population dwindling drastically.

  • Pottery - Eartherware was (and is still) used as cooking vessels in temples. Pots, cups, vases and similar items of terracotta (burnt clay) were (and are) the main items manufactured.

  • Various other industries such as mirror making, tanning, sugar, salt, oil, perfumes etc.
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    Commercial Activity

  • Domestic Trade
  • Foreign Trade
  • A. Domestic trade -

    Every locality had its own market place that would serve the villages of that area. Villagers could sell at least a part of their produce here. Very often, the market place would be situated close to a temple to take advantage of the pilgrim traffic.

    Goods would be transported by means of bullock carts, pack horses and mules, water buffaloes, donkeys and, of course, elephants. There was also a good deal of water traffic in the form of cargo carrying boats, plying along and across rivers, which were effectively major commercial arteries. Items of trade would nopt only be foodstuff but also perfumes, conchshells, wooden objects, stone artefacts and objects, gold and silver jewellry, brass and bronze objects, textiles, sugar, pottery, meats and fish, milk, oil, flowers and many more. Also bought and sold were cattle, elephants, horses, donkeys and other animals.

    B. Foreign trade -

    Foreign trade with other parts of India existed from very olden times. There was flourishing trade with neighbouring areas like the empires of the Chola, Chalukya, Kalachuri, Tummana, Sena and Pala. There was also plenty of commercial link with farther empires like those of Magadha and Madhyadesha.

    With respect to foreign trade with countries across the seas, Orissa had abundant commercial relations with Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Mayasia in southease Asia and also with Persia in the Middle East. Historical records as also the folklore of southeastern Asian countries clearly indicate such relations. The Chronicles of Java say that the Hindus from Kalinga colonised Java. In fact, Kalinga also became the name of a Hindu kingdom in central Java. Lower Myanmar (formerly Burma) has and still has a class of people called "Talaing", from "Kalinga". Such instances are too numerous and too well-documented to need recounting here. The common items of export were cloth, cereals, incense, timber, ivory, conchshells, stone, iron products, diamonds, elephants and othe There were possibly imports of items like silver, copper, spices like clove, silk etc.

    The following table details the ancient Sanskrit and Odiya place names of some of the regions lying in south and southeast Asia where Odiya culture and civilisation spread. The list is by no means exhaustive.

    Burma Brammhadesha
    Desha means "land" or "country". The word Asia is derived from Desha and means in this context "land mass". The name Russia, for example, is derived from R'shi Desha meaning "land of the sages". Brammhadesha means "land of the Brammha people"
    Thailand Shaamadesha
    The olden name of Thailand was Siam. This word derives from Shyaama, meaning "dark". Desha", of course, is "land"
    Cambodia Kaambhoja or Kaambuja
    Vietnam Champa
    Malayasia Malayadesha
    Malaya means "garden", referring specially to the garden of Indra, the king of Devata (this garden would be somewhat analogous to the western garden of Eden). Malaya also means "sweet, beautiful or fragrant". Desha is, as said above, "land". An ancient settlement in Malayasia was Ganganagara, after the Ganga king (i.e., king of the Ganga dynasty) of Odissa. Nagara means "city".
    Indoneasia Sindhudesha
    Sindhu means "ocean", "sea" or even "a large body of water", here probably alluding to the large spread of islands comprising Indonesia across the ocean. Desha is, of course, "land".
    Sumatra Svarnadveepa
    Svarna means "gold" or "golden". Dveepa means "island"
    Singapore Singhapura
    Singha means "lion". Pura means "township"

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    Social Strata

    click below
    for quick links -

  • Caste generally

  • Brahmin caste

  • Kshatriya, Kayasta and Karana castes

  • Vaisya caste

  • Tribals and Aboriginals

  • Position of women

  • Food, Dress

  • Education
  • A. Caste generally -

  • Generally followed a hierarchical caste system but with variations as compared with other parts of India. The caste system in India has been (and admittedly not without good reason) much maligned, to the extent that it is fashionable to thoroughly and completely condemn it as utterly evil. It is terribly politically incorrect today to try to defend it in any way at all. Witness the plethora of bestsellrs in the market today that are so because they highlight, with glee, the extreme evils the caste system engenders. One could be forgiven to gently hint that the authors of those bestsellers have gained (and retained) untold wealth by exploiting the evils of caste system (and other evils of India, such as poverty, corruption and much more), that they therefore owe their enormous wealth (and fame) to the very systems they love to publicly hate, viciously biting the very hand that feeds them, as it were. The point is, poverty, corruption, squalor, inhumanity, greed and other lower traits and their expression in society sell, but good things do not. As the saying goes, "Dog bites man is not news, man bites dog is".....

    Yet it is incorrect to hold the existence of these reasons as the sole rationale to hurl vituperation against the system itself. What went wrong with the system was not the system per se: that was a good system and an unavoidable one that will settle in whether society wills it or not. The wrong lay in the abuse of the system by certain people for their selfish gain to the exclusion of the rest of society. Those people were, unfortunately, a particular class - a proper subset - of Brahmin and their sympathisers. This class was in a small percentage, but visible and powerful. It was this that gave rise to the evils so graphically painted in the aforesaid bestsellers. Today, however, the reverse is true, with the pendulum having swung the other way. The India of today reserves prime opportunities to the so-called victims of the caste system, with all - all - Brahmin (whether within or without the sub-set mentioned avove) being victimised terribly because they were, well, Brahmin. There is no bestseller featuring this fact. In this case, Art imitated Life rather poorly and after a large time lag.

    The fact remains that it is the caste system that has held India together as a functioning and organic society down the ages. Indeed , whether or not so called, every society everywhere has a caste system. The system is nothing but a natural division of labour amongst the members of society that enables the members to pursue professional paths in life that appeal to them individually and are within their most efficient range of capability. Just as a body functions well when there is one head, two hands, two feet, a stomach, a heart, a pair of lungs, a pair of eyes, a pair of ears, a liver and so on, each with its own specialised function and controlled centrally, so too society seems to function well when some are politicians, so teachers, some engineers, some scientists, some health professionals, some clerks, some farmers, some cobblers, some merchants, some soldiers, some policemen and so on. This is the caste system, with people going into professions according to their inclinations and abilities.

  • In the caste system of India, also followed in Orissa (with local variations) there is a division of society into four parts:

    a - the Braahmana (anglicised to Brahmin), comprising persons with a scholarly or academic bent of mind. The Braahmana themselves were of many kinds: one group comprised academicians, scholars and researchers, another comprised teachers, another comprised priests and yet another comprised farmers who produced food for offering to deities. (The sad fact of India is that it was the greed of the priestly class of Brahmins that brought disrepute to Hinduism generally and the caste system particularly.)

    b - the Kshatriya, comprising persons connected with statecraft, administration, military and allied activities

    c - the Vaishya, comprising persons involved with trade and commerce and

    d - the Shoodra, comprising tradespeople (masons, carpenters, plumbers, drainlayers, cobblers, washermen, farmers, hunters, butchers, boatmen, tanners, jewellers and other professional people) and those engaged in providing menial and service oriented support to society.

    Worthy of note is that originally these classes of people (known as castes) were not necessarily structured in a heriditary fashion: thus the son of a Shudra could well be a Brahmin if the son showed and pursued an academic trait. It was only after the turn of the Christian era, when great temple towns began to come into existence that the priestly class of Brahmins, in their greed, began to interpolate and alter authoritative texts with a view to perpetuating a heriditary caste system.]

    B. The Brahmin -

  • Brahmins occupied the highest place in society. Kings invited learned and famous Brahmins from far and wide to settle in Orissa, giving them grants of large tracts of land and villages on a tax free basis. The beneficial fallout of this phenomenon was that Orissa became a seat of learning and culture in the best Vedic tradition. But the downside of this phenomenon was the rise of a tenuous system of share-cropping, where the owner of the soil (the donee Brahmin) did not cultivate the land but contracted that work out to others who did the actual work of farming for a share of the produce. On the one hand, the Brahmin did not pay tax to the king, thus reducing state revenue, while on the other he had the right to receive tax from his tenants, vassals, workers and contractors. There was a hierarchy amongst Brahmins, and their titles (like Bhatta, Pandita, Upaadhyaya, Vandya, Svaami, Aacharya, Sharma and so on) indicated their rank.

  • Brahmins functioned as scholars, teachers, performers of religious and priestly duties and Vedic sacrifices, astrologers including royal astrologers and also officers/ministers of the first rank and highest status. Their roles included both religious and secular offices.

    C. The Kshatriya, Kayastha and Karana -

  • Kshatriyas enjoyed the next level of prestige in society. They were the rulers (including the king), the civil administrators, the high military officers and so on. Very often, vanquished indegenous chiefs of aboriginal or primitive tribes were elevated to Kshatriya level because they (or their sons or other relatives) were made chiefs after being conquered and assimilated into the mainstream social fold. However, in spite of such elevation, they were often regarded as being of lower social strata.

  • Kshatriyas also often married non-Kshatriya castes. A person born of a Kshatriya father and a Shoodra mother belonged to an unique class (or caste) called Kayastha. In ancient (but post 10th century AC) and medieval Orissa, Kayastha occupied an important place in both government and society - they were professionals who provided all manner of support to ministers, officers (civil and military) and important people. Kayastha were very often entrusted with highly responsible duties of ministers and royal executives. In many instances, they themselves assumed very important roles as ministers and officials, including being military commanders.

  • A subgroup within the Kayastha was the Karana class. They were lower officials and clerks. They were also entrusted with the task of copying learned treatises. The modern Oriya word "Kirani" (from Karana) means "clerk".

    D. The Vaisya -

  • The Vaisya caste primarily comprised the merchant community. Many of them had wealth enough to be able to donate land to Brahmins and make endowments for temples. Some of them also became military commanders.

    E. Tribals and Aboriginals

  • Orissa comprises a very large and varied tribal population - the most varied in the whole of India. There is not much historical record relating to tribals and aboriginals in ancient or medieval Orissa. However, the Savara and the Gond tribals find mention in several historical sources, including sources as early as the Aitareya Braahmana, where it is said that the sons of the sage Visvamitra were cursed so that they fathered lowly clans and servile races like the Andhra, the Pundra, the Savara, the Pulinda and the Mutiba. Apart from the Savara and the Gond people, there were the Bhilla, the Bhuyan the Mundari, the Kandha and many more. Many tribes became Hinduised and left their mark on mainstream cultural life in Orissa, present in many forms in modern times. These tribal and aboriginal influences have gone a long way to make Orissa a unique culture, in harmony with all the rest of Hindu India but at the same time with strong and distinct characteristics that are not to be found anywhere else. Orissa culture is all the more varied, interesting, endearing and holistic on account of these influences.

    F. Women -

  • Women had a high place in society. Several queens in the history of Orissa, in the absence of male heirs.

  • Queen given training in government and privileges like ability to register land charters. Ladies of feudal lords, beneficiaries, ministers and high officials informed of land grants and had a say in land transactions.

  • Matriarchal society among several tribal and aboriginal people transferred itself into mainstream life on account of strong tribal/aboriginal influence in Orissa society, particularly amongst the Kshatriya and the Kayastha and to a lesser extent amongst the Brahmins too, resulting in the high status of women.

  • However, patriarchal trends stronger in mainstream culture. Polygamy, particularly among ruling class, common.

  • Maidens sometimes dedicated to the deities of temples for service, particularly through music and dance - a practice that was in common vogue in south India (the Devadaasi system) and came to Orissa from there.

  • Unlike in other parts of India, no Sati system in Orissa.

  • Widows did not remarry as a rule.

  • More than half the historical records relating to land grants, charters, etc show that women made the grants. Women of the royal household were highly educated. Although dependent upon men from an economic point of view, women could and did indulge in many charitable and philanthropic acts.

    F. Food and Clothing -

  • Chiefly vegetarian food

  • Staple cereal: rice; also some wheat and barley

  • Fair range of vegetables, fruits, milk, ghee (clarified butter), curd (yoghurt)

  • Importance of sweets prepared from rice, milk, pulses

  • Non-vegetarian food to a lesser extent - hunting and fishing prevelant

  • Mention of wine makers and spirit distillers indicate use of alchoholic drinks as well, presumably in the course of the worship of Lord Shiva, Tantric practices and amongst royalty and nobility

  • Common articles of dress were Dhoti (yards of textile tied firmly at waist and covering lower body) with

    Chaddar (more yards of textile wrapped around torso) for men and Sadi (Sari) (yards of textile covering tied firmy at waist and covering, in earlier times, lower body alone and later both lower and upper body) with a chauli (bodice covering upper body and upper arms) and narrow scarf (for upper body) for women.

  • Dhoti worn as in modern times - the Sanchi variation of Dhoti wearing being used as opposed to the north Indian way. In the Sanchi way the middle of the Dhoti (which is about 4 metres long and a metre and a half wide) is first anchored around the waist so that about a metre and a half either side remains free (assuming a metre is taken up by the girth of the wearer). Thereafter the left end is tucked in through the legs and secured at the back against the Dhoti anchor while the right end is folded and secured to the anchor in front. The fold in front symbolises the female principle and the Dhoti thus takes on religious connotation for worshippers of the Mother Goddess.

  • Sadi worn in different ways - covering only lower body; or covering whole body, one end not being tucked in between the legs to be secured on the back against the initial anchor or being tucked in so (as in Dhoti wearing), the other end displayed, after wrapping around upper body, either on the back; or in front or in a simple wrap covering the entire body except the head and hands, and in other ways.

  • A variety of headgear used, particularly for men.

  • Both men and women sometimes wore a waistband which was often ornamented

  • Wide variety of gold (and silver) ornaments extensively used by both men and women, particularly women. Ear studs and rings, various items for the head and hair, armlets, bracelets, wristlets, necklaces, girdles and other waist ornaments, anklets in common use. Gold being a sacred metal not used for feet. Nose ornaments a later phenomenon.

  • Hair maintained and done in various ways, particularly by women. Common use of padding or false hair to increase length and mass. Hair coiled in different ways, ornamented with gold, pearl and other jewellry, in single pieces, combinations or strings (particularly strings of pearls).

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  • Very high standard of education

  • Extremely sought after educational institutions, with scholars coming from far and wide. Very often scholars from as far away as Afghanistan would come to stydy in the great Orissa monasteries and other institutions after having completed rigourous and lengthy courses (upto 18 years) at other prestigious educational places like the great university of Nalanda

  • Very prestigious centres of excellence for learning in Hindu, Jain as well as Buddhist traditions

  • Scholars could be Brahmin or non-Brahmin (for example, Buddhist scholars were non-Brahmin because Buddhist was a rebel movement that was anti-Veda, anti-Sanskrit and anti-Brahmin)

  • High standards in all scholastic areas: philosophic studies, classical studies and specific Shashtra such as:
    • Veda - R'g, Yajur, Saama and Atharva Veda: The four Veda collectively are the source of all knowledge of every description - every branch of Hindu learning, religious or secular, are traced to their respective sources in the Veda
    • Upaveda -
      - Dhanurveda: military science
      - Sthaapatyaveda: architecture (including visual arts like sculpture and painting)
      - Gardharvaveda: performing arts like drama, music, dance
      - Ayurveda: medicine and health sciences including botany, zoology and minerology
    • Vedaanga -
      - Shikshaa (science of correct articulation and recitation of Vedic Texts)
      - Kalpa (rules of ritual, ceremonial and sacrificial acts)
      - Nirukta (etymology), including Nighantu(dictionery or glossary)
      - Vyakarana(grammar)
      - Chhanda(prosody)
      - Jyotisha(astronomy and astrology), including Ganita (mathematics)
    • Veda Upaanga - (schools of philosophy)
      - Sankhya: literally "numeral" or "relating to number", this school expounds twenty five aphorisms - the first twenty four relating to the created universe and the twenty fifth relating to the creator; the object of the study being to free the spirit inherent in the created from the fetters of the creation.
      - Yoga: literally "union", this school deals with physical, mental and psychic control aimed towards uniting the individual self with the cosmic Infinite
      - Nyaya: logic
      - Vaisheshika: from the word Vishesha meaning "special", this school studies nine special substances - air, fire, water, earth, mind, ether, time, space and soul. Of these, the first five substances are atomic, in the analysis of which this school delves into atomic theory
      - Poorvamimaansaa, also called Mimansa or Karmakaanda: practice of rituals and ceremonies
      - Uttaramimaansaa, also called Vedaanta or Upanishad: secret and core meaning of the Veda. Six schools within Vedaanta -
      • Dvaita
      • Advaita
      • Vishistadvaita
      • Shuddhadvaita
      • Dvaitadvaita
      • Achintya Bhedaabheda
        (A discussion of these abstruse areas of study is beyond the scope of this article)
  • Apart from the above branches, also studied in Orissa were Itihasa (the epic poems Raamaayana and Mahaabhaarata), the Puraana, various secular Shashtra like astronomy, political science, statecraft, history, logic, poetry, music etc as well as various Smrti (legal texts).

  • A great many scholars were produced in Orissa; they left behind countless very valuable treatises.

  • Orissa Scholars in great demand in many parts of India and abroad

  • Scholarly debate a flourishing institution, well patronised by the king and other noblemen, most of whom were themselves very learned and enjoyed hosting public debates with lucrative rewards for winners

  • Apart from the above, there being a strong line of devotees and practioners of worshipping the Mother Goddess in many forms, Aagama or Tantra was also studied intensively.

  • Widespread development of Sanskrit language and literature, together with extensive study and teaching of secular subjects in addition to religious ones
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    Religious Inclination
  • A. Sanaatana Dharma (Hinduism)

    [For a general overview of the fundamental values of Hinduism, see Dr Rath's article "So Why am I a Hindu?" in this website]

    The predominant religion in Orissa was, and is, Hinduism, properly known as Sanaatana Dharma. "Sanaatana" means "eternal". "Dharma" is more difficult to translate. A close approximation would be "the property of being". For example: the sun gives light, so the Dharma of the sun is to give light; a student studies, so the Dharma of a student is to study. We say, for example, "He is discharging his Chhaatradharma" ("Chhaatra" means "student"), meaning, "he is studying". And so on.

    Hinduism is an all-encompassing way of life rather than a paricular religion. It is an universal code for the proper realisation of the four Purushaartha ("life purposes or desired objects") of life, as follows:

    1. Dharma - Righteous living, i.e., a life following the dictates of ten (five according to some schools) basic humane values (called Yama). [Discussed in my article "So Why am I a Hindu?"]

    2. Artha - Righteous accumulation of property/wealth: this includes physical or material wealth as well as intellectual wealth such as knowledge, information, learning and wisdom

    3. Kaama - Righteous pursuit of pleasure: i.e., allowing oneself various enjoyment (sensory, mental, emotional, intellectual, psycho-motor and spiritual) as permitted by Artha and within the boundaries prescribed by Dharma

    4. Moksha - Righteous pursuit of spiritual elevation: i.e., spiritual pursuits after having fulfilled, or without neglecting, one's five R'na (literally meaning "debt") -

    • R'shi R'na - "Debt to the Teacher" - to study and pass on one's acquired fund of knowledge to the next generation

    • Deva R'na - "Debt to the Gods" - to worship and lead a life of sacrifice

    • Pitr'a R'na - "Debt to Ancestors" - to procreate and preserve one'e biological lineage

    • Atithi R'na - "Debt to Visitors" - to welcome, serve and assist a visitor (preannounced or unannounced). ["Atithi is often incorrectly translated as "guest". The correct meaning is "one whose visit is without a date", in other words, an unannounced visitor.]

    • Pashu R'na - "Debt to all creatures or the environment" - to preserve the environment
    Within the fold of Hinduism, there are many strands of philosophy, some quite distint from others, woven into its very rich tapestry. Thus it includes both theistic and atheiestic (agnostic) schools of thought. The theistic part has two main streams: Nirguna and Saguna. NIrguna considers the Supreme Power to be nameless, formless and attributeless, transcending space, time and imagination and incomprehensible to the finite human mind-intellect equipment. Saguna assigns names, forms and attibutes to the Supreme Power so that hose (and this comprises the large majority) people who cannot effectively think only through abstract concepts may have a symbol through which to relate to the Supreme Power.

    There are two main streams within Saguna thought - first, visualising the Supreme Power through the male form (loosly called the Nigama or Dakshina or "right hand" path)second, doing this through the female form (loosly called the Aagama or Vaama or "left hand" path). The Aagama or left hand path is also known as the Taantrika path or the path of Tantra. The Nigama or right hand path has, in its turn, two broad divisions: Vaishnava (anglicised to "Vaishnavism") and Shaiva (anglicised to "Saivism").

    All these streams of Hinduism were and are practised in Orissa. In fact, in the great temple complexes of Orissa, such as the Jagannatha temple in Puri, there is a confluence of all streams: the main Deity is Vaishnav (and hence that whole complex is regarded as such) but there are many secondary temples with Deities of the other streams. This pattern is followed in all temple complexes, as also in household prayer rooms.

    A detailed discussion of these strands is outside the scope of this article and will be dealt with in a future page in this website.

  • B. Jainism

    Jainism is found in Orissa since the 7th century AC. Several Jain architectural remains are found in varios places in north Orissa. However, this religion has not been able to entrench itself significantly in Orissa, as it has not been able to muster enduring royal patronage.

  • C. Buddhism

    The rise of Buddhism in Orisa traces itself to the great Kalinga war (261 BC) when the north Indian emperor Ashoka, on an expedition to expand the boundaries of his empire, attacked Orissa and was able to defeat it after an extremely bloody and costly war that left him full of remorse at the suffering his action caused people and caused him to renounce war and embrace non-violence. Thereafter Buddhism gained ascendence in Orissa just as it did in many parts of India. It is interesting to observe that although a "non-violent" religion, Buddhism in India was propagated with much attendant violence. However, after the death of Ashoka, the movement began to wane. By the 10th century AC Buddhism had become a minor religion in Orissa.

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    Cultural Expression
    (writing in progress)
    Literature -
    • Religious literature -
    • Secular literature -
    • Folklore -
    Drama -
    • Jaatra
    • Gottipua
    Music -
    • Art music -
      • Odissi -
      • Keertana -
      • Jagannatha Janaana -

    • Folk music -
      • Palli Geeti
      • Daassakaathia (Daskathia) -
      • Paallaa -
    Dance -
    • Art dance -
      • Odissi
      • Chhau

    • Folk dance -
      • Dandanaatya
    Architecture -

    Handicrafts -
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    IV. Landmarks of Life:

    There are several landmarks of life that are observed in Orissa with religious rites and/or social events (like feasts). The more common ones, particularly among the Brahmin, are:

  • Ekkoisia - 21st day after birth. A prayer ceremony at home, followed by a feast with close family and friends. In many homes, the child is named on this day. Naming a child is often done by the head of the family or by the officiating priest. Frequently, a child has two names - an astrological name which is determined in accordance with astrological rules and is not made public and a social name which is publicised and by which the child will go for the rest of his/her life.

  • Barsha Puraani - 1st anniversary of birth (1st birthday). Again, a prayer ceremony at home (or in the temple) followed by a feast with close family and friends. Traditionally, birthdays in Orissa (as in other parts of India) are not a "big deal" in the way in which they are in the western world, although western ways have caught on in many households in urban India. In particular, the western custom of having a birthday cake on which candles totalling in number to the child's age are lighted and the child blows them out after which all eat bits of that same cake would be culturally inappropriate and frowned upon in Brahmin households for at least two reasons:

    (a) Fire is regarded as the Preceptor of the Brahmin, the Giver of Light (knowledge) and a Witness to auspicious events on account of which it is worshipped and revered; the Brahmin will never ever use his / her mouth to blow out a lamp or candle but will always fan it out of existence by hand or other suitable means and

    (b) Once an item of food has been touched by the mouth, it is not eaten by another person in a Brahmin household barring certain exceptions. After a child blows out candles on the cake, the cake would strictly be considered "Ainthaa" and so not appropriate for consumption by others.

  • Khadi Chhuaan - "Chalk Touching". This is the day from which formal academic life begins, particularly for the Brahmin. There is a prayer ceremony and the child is introduced to the alphabet by holding a writing implement (chalk, pencil, pen) and having his/her hand guided by the Teacher (or an adult officiating as teacher for the occasion or the officiating priest) to form alphabets on slate or paper. Traditionally, the first syllable the child is made to scrawl by the Teacher is the mystic symbol "AUM" followed by other auspicious prayer phrases.

    This ceremony is performed either when the child is four years, four months and four days of age, or on an auspicious or religiously significant day. The usual place where this ceremony is done is either at home or in the local school. Sometimes, this is done in the local temple also, although the temple is not as common a venue as the home or the school.

  • Brata - "Thread" ceremony ("Second Birth"). This religious ceremony is for Brahmin boys between the ages of seven and fifteen. It is a long drawn and very formal ceremony where family and friends are present. The boy is formally initiated into the world of Learning. He takes vows that will guide his life as a strict and committed student. Vows include celibacy, eating a single meal a day, offering food to the five vital forces (or life forces) before starting eating (this is called "Chalu"), studying hard, serving and obeying the teacher, and so on. In olden days, the boy left for the Ashram of the Teacher to live with the Teacher and study with him, at the same time doing normal household chores in the Teacher's house. The course of study could be anything from two or three years to up to twenty four years in duration, during which time the student would remain with the Teacher and imbibe Knowledge, theoretical as well as practical. A discussion of formal Indian pedagogy is outside the scope of this article but will be dealt with in a forthcoming page in the website.

  • Bibaaha - Marriage. A Hindu marriage is a sacrement. In general, Oriya Brahmin marriages mostly take place during the day (unless night is astrologically ordained) while non-Brahmin marriages take place during the night. [This is unlike in neighbouring Bengal, where all marriages are done only at night.] A marriage, particularly a Brahmin marriage, is a very formal and lengthy affair. A detailed description is beyond the ambit of this article and will be described in a forthcoming page on this site.

  • Mr'tyu - Death. Funeral is by cremation. In Orissa, women do not go to the place of cremation. The body is completely burnt except for a bit of bone that is brought back home (in a jar) for a ritual either during the mourning period, which lasts for twelve days, or to be performed on a convenient day afterwards. Close relatives do not cut hair or nails during the twelve days of mourning. They follow several other rules like Not eating non-vegetarian food, not sweeping/swabbing the floor, not touching outsiders, not sitting directly on the floor, and more. On the fourth or the seventh day of mourning, the jar containing the bit of bone is interred. It is exhumed after one year or more and taken to Gaya, a holy place in the province of Bihar on the banks of the river Ganga, where it is finally put to rest with another formal religious ceremony.

    On the tenth, eleventh and twelvth days of mourning there are particular rituals to be observed. On the evening of the twelvth day, there is a feast partaken by family and friends, marking the close of the mourning period. This is when those who are non-vegetarians start non-vegetarian food again. The feast serves to announce publicly that while so-and-so is no more in this world, the heirs are and such-and-such person is the person who will henceforth take the place of the deceased in all social, religious and other matters.

    The death anniversary of the deceased is marked by a religious ceremony each year, so long as a son or daughter of the deceased remains living. That is to say, in Orissa birthdays are not as important as are "deathdays": the former may or may not be observed (and many do not observe this) but the latter are always taken seriously and observed. For a Hindu, the four landmark segments of life to be followed (collectively called Varnaashama Dharma) are:

    1. Bramhacharya - the celibate stage: for students

    2. Gaarahastya - the householder stage

    3. Vaanaprastha - the retirement stage (Vaanaprasta literally means "proceeding to the forest". That is to say, having reared a family and satisfied oneself that the children are able to fend for themselves and able to fulfil their roles as meaningful citizens of the world, one retires from the household and from active income earning activities, downsizes with one's savings and devotes oneself to new cultural, social, environmental and spiritual causes)

    4. Sanyaasa - the renouncement stage: renouncement of all possessions except the minimum needed to survive and devoting all time available to spiritual pursuits.

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    IV. Religious Festivals:

    In Orissa, as elsewhere, festivals are linked with the calendar. Orissa follows two systems of calendar - the solar calendar and the lunar calendar. Some festivals or religious occasions are aligned with the solar calendar, others are aligned with the lunar calendar.

    The day dividing the months of the solar calendar is called Shankaraanti. This day marks the movement of the sun (or other planets) from one astrological house to the next. There are, therefore, twelve Shankraanti in a year. The year itself is divided into two six-monthly parts - Uttaraayana denoting the first six months and Dakshinaayana denoting the second six months. The solar months are from Shankraanti to Shankraanti, this day marking the beginning of the month.

    The day dividing the months of the lunar calendar is Poornimaa or the day of full moon, i.e., the lunar months are from Poornimaa to Poornimaa. The day of new moon is known as Amaavaasyaa. In between Poornimaa and Amaavaasyaa (or between Amaavaasyaa and Poornimaa) there are fourteen days, called "first day", "second day" and so on. The fifteen days making up half a lunar month (from full to new moon or the other way around) are collectively called a Pakkhya (from the Sanskr't Paksha). The period of waxing moon (from Amavaasyaa to Poornimaa) is called the Shukla Pakkhya and the period of waning moon (from Poornimaa to Amaavaasyaa) is called Kr'shna Pakkhya.

    Some festivals coincide with or start with Shankraanti while others coincide with or start with Poornima or Amaavaasyaa. Others are spread in between these focal days. Days are known as Tithi. Thus Sankranti, Poornima and Amaavaasya are specific Tithi, as is, for example, "the third day of the waxing moon", which will be known as the Shukla Pakkhya Trutiya (Trutiya referring the the third day) or simply Shukla Trutiya.

    Compared with the Gregorian calendar, Oriya months start from roughly the middle of Gregorian months. The first month is Baishaakha, starting sometime in the middle of April, usually on the 14th or 15th April. This is the New Year dDay. The last day of the year is Chaitra Shankraanti or the Shankraanti of the month of Chaitra, which starts in the middle of March and extends to the middle of April.

    In olden times in Orissa (as in most other places in India), there used to be six seasons, as shown in the following table. However, with changing meteorological phenomena, the months have changed, as have the clarity of demarcation of the seasons. Thus, some seasons are nowadays only one month long rather than two. Also, currently, the entire seasonal cycle has shifted by a month or more so that some seasons like the monsoon have moved: Orissa today hardly gets rain before the end of June or even July. Finally, the "post monsoon" season has about vanished, with the monsoon encroaching significantly into what used to be a "post monsoon" with a lull in rains and before the onset of autumn proper.

    However, the festivals of Orissa are of ancient origin, and aligned with the pattern of weather/climate of those times. The people of Orissa continue to celebrate these ancient festivals at the same times as they used to be in earlier times, without any adjustments having been made for the shifts abobementioned.

    The table of classical seasons, as found in olden days and gloriously described in Oriya literature, mythology, folklore and the arts - performing as well as visual - is as follows:-

    Classical Seasons of Orissa
    Odiya name Approximate
    English name
    Odiya months
    (now shifted)
    English months
    (now shifted)
    Greeshma Summer Baishaakha, Jyeshtha mid-March to mid-May
    Varshaa Monsoon Aashaadha, Shrravana mid-May to mid-July
    Sharata Post monsoon Bhaadraba, Kaartika mid-July to mid-September
    Hemanta Autumn Aasvina, Maargashira mid-September to mid-November
    Shishira Winter Pausha, Maaggha mid-November to mid-January
    Basanta Spring Phaalguna, Chaitra mid-January to mid-March

    The following table details the Gregorian months for reference, the corresponding Oriya months, the Tithi on which festivals fall or start, the names of the festivals and brief descriptions of the festivals.

    Selected Oriya Festivals
    English Months Oriya Month Day ("Tithi ") Festival Name Festival Description
    April - May Baishaakha Shankraanti Meru Sankraanti /

    Jala Sankraanti /

    Panaa Sankraanti /

    Bisubha Sankraanti /

    Mahaabisubha Sankraanti /

    Jalabisubha Sankraanti /

    Hanumaana Jayanti
    The Oriya New Year day. This is the first Shankraanti of the sun moving northwards from the equator, after the spring (in the northern hemisphere) equinox of 23 March. The days are lengethening. Summer is approaching.

    On this day, water (frequently a sweet and refreshing cold drink called Panaa) is offered, along with umbrella as protection from the schorching sun and sandals for the feet as protection from the schorching earth, to the Brahmin.

    The day also marks the birth anniversary of Hanumaana, the chief devotee of Rama, one of the incarnations of Vishnu, the Supreme Godhead. Hanumaana is also one of the seven immortal persons, having perennial life. There are special prayer services in Hanumaana temples.

    This is the day from which the Oriya alamanac (called Panjikaa or Paanji) starts and is is brought out in households and temples to plan the activities of the year.

    Infrequently, this day falls in the month of Chaitra instead of Baishaakha in which case New Year day will be in Chaitra and not in Baishaakha. This Shankraanti marks the end of a series of related end-of-year festivals in the last month of the year, Chaitra.
    April - May Baishaakha Shukla Pakkhya Trutiyaa Akkhaya Trutiyaa

    and start of
    Chandana Jaatraa
    (see below)
    Trutiyaa refers to the third day, in this case the third day of the waxing moon, i.e., if the new moon is on day 1, this festival is on day 4. This is the third day of the Oriya New Year. In some parts of Orissa like the district of Sambalpur, farmers begin to sow paddy after worshipping Lakshmi, the Goddess or Wealth. New clothes and evening communal feasts are in order for the occasion. Women also worship Shashthi, the Goddess of children, for their children's well-being.
    April - May Baishaakha Shukla Pakkhya Trutiyaa Chandana Jaatraa Chandana means sandalwood or sandalwood paste and Jatra means festival. This is a colourful festival spanning twenty one days. The temple deity, mainly Jagannath (and His Divine Companions) is taken in ceremonial procession on a boat for His aquatic sojourn. (Oriya deities personafied to the extent of acquiring human characteristics, including a love for sport.) The festival is marked by pomp and splendour, bright lights, rich colours and milling throngs of people.
    April - May Baishaakha Shukla Chaturdasi Nrusinghajanma /
    Nrusingha Chaturdasi
    Chaturdasi denotes the fourteenth day of the moon, in this case of the waxing moon, i.e., in Shuklapakkhya. This is the birth anniversary of Nrusingha or Narasingha, an incarnation of Vishnu in the form of half-man and half-lion. On this day, Oriya women worship Nrusingha in the temple and do not eat cooked food, restricting their diets to fruits, milk, curd (yoghurt) etc.
    May - June Jyeshtha Shankraanti Brusabha Sankraanti Brusabha means ox or bull, the animal associated with Shiva. Shiva is one of the Hindu Holy Trinity and the god of destruction, among other things. [The others in the Trinity are: Brahma, the Creator and Vishnu the supporter.] Shiva is of simple disposition with simple wants and needs, easily pleased, rides his bull whose name is Nandi, lives in the Shmashaana or cremation ground and is supremely benevolent to devotees, along with many other attributes too numerous to list here.

    On this day, Hindus visit the temple visit, particularly Shiva temple. They restrict themselves to Vegetarian food today.
    May - June Jyeshtha Amaavaasyaa Saabitri Brata This festival is observed only by married women with living husbands. On this day, the women pray for the long life of their husbands. The women wear new clothes and worship the emblems or symbols of their married state (glass bangles and vermillion) and wear these anew after worshipping Lakshmi Naaraayana, i.e., Vishnu and His Divine Consort Lakshmi, who were worshipped, in the mythological story, by Savitri who was able by means of the power of her prayers and the benevolence of Lakshmi Naaraayana to reclaim her husband Satyabaana, already lost to Yama, the God of Death, from the dead to the living.
    May - June Jyeshtha Shukla Shasthi Sitala Sasthi /
    Hara Parbati Bibhaa
    Sitala means "cool" and Bibhaa means "marriage". Legend has it that upon marriage with Parvati, Shiva "cooled down" after one of his bouts of rage. Hence the name.

    On this occasion the Divine Marriage is recreated with full grandeur, observing all necessary ceremony, spanning five days. This is done in the local temple. There is much feasting, merry making, song and, dance performances, story telling and exhibition of other Oriya performing arts like Daasakaathiya, Paallaa, Bharata Leela (Dvaari Naacha), Raadha Prema Leela, Rajjaa Naachcha or Prahallaada Naachcha and also dramatic performances like Jaatraa with mythological themes. Village fairs add another exciting dimension to the proceedings.
    May - June Jyeshtha Poornimaa Debasnaana Poornami On this day the eldest child (boy or girl) of the home is felicitated (called Bandana). The occasion is marked by a special prayer service at home in which offering a variety of sweetmeat (Pitthhaa), pudding (Khiri) and other foodstuff to the Deity, followed by feasting is an integral part.
    May - June Jyeshtha - Aashaadha Sankaraanti Maasanta; Rajja Sankaraanti This is a festival spanning three days - the last day of Jyeshtha month (when the day is called Pahili Rajja or the first day of Rajja) and the first two days of Aashaadha month. The time coincides with cessation of agricultural activity and the ritual observed is that of the menstrual period of Goddess Lakshmi, symbolised by Mother Earth. The word Rajja refers to the menstrual period of women. On these three days, women do not walk barefoot on the earth, nor do they cut vegetables, grind spices, engage in prayer rituals or eat cooked food after sunset. There is no agricultural activity of any kind whatsoever undertaken during these three days. On the fourth day (the day after the festival) a special prayer service is held after Goddess Lakshmi is bathed ritualistically. Mother Earth is worshipped and agricultural activity commences again.

    The three days of the festival are marked by plenty of merriment. In particular, women engage in a variety of games, including playing on swings. Many villages hold fairs, fetes and carnivals, with diverse folk performing arts including dance and drama being performed.
    June - July Aashaadha Shukla Dvitiyaa to Dashami Rattha Jaatraa This is the renowned and iconic Chariot Procession of Lord Jagannatha, His Elder Brother Lord Balabhadra and their sister Subhadraa ("u" pronunced as in "put"). The Deities travel from their Abode in the great 10th century Temple in Puri (Orissa) to the abode of their Aunt, the Queen Gundichaa ("u" as in "put"), the wife of King Indradyumna ("u" as in "put"). They return after nine days.

    Dvitiyaa means the second day of the lunar fortnight (in this case the fortnight of the waxing moon or Shukla Pakkhya) and Dashami means the tenth day. During each of these nine days the Lord assumes a different form. Details of this very famous festival are too well documented and known to merit detailed description here: readers are referred to the many sites in the internet that extensively deal with this festival - a search on any search engine will reveal several sites.

    This is a typical temple festival, with no special occasion at home or in the community by way of worship. People visit temples replicate the Divine Procession by drawing chariots across streets and alleyways, with children enacting the event with their little chariots with great glee.
    July - August Shraavana Amaavaasyaa Chittau Amaavaasyaa Sweetmeats prepared. Farmers take this to fields, worship mother earth and offer sweetmeats to mother earth. Also called Machchhi (the word means "fly" or "flies") Parba, flies are offered sweetmeats after worship at home, so that flies will eat, be satisfied and no longer return.
    July - August Shraavana Poornimaa Gamhaa Poornima, Raakkhi Poornima This is the birth anniversary of Lord Balabhadra, who, being a plough weilder, is also associated with things agricultural. On this day cows and bulls are worshipped. There is a special prayer ceremony in cowshed or, failing a cowshed, the home, with attendant praparation of varieties of sweets, puddings etc.

    This day is also significant as Raakkhi Poornimaa. On this day sisters tie a Raakkhi or decorative band around their brothers' wrists as a mark of solidarity and pray for their brothers' success in life. Brothers reciprocate by offering gifts to their sisters in return.
    August - September Bhaadraaba Rabibaara Khudurukuni Ossaa Ossaa is an Odiya word meaning "festival", denoting a day for religious observance. This particular festival is celebrated on each Sunday of this month by unmarried young women, partiucularly those of the business community. Khuda or Khudda (pronounce "u" as in "put") refers to broken grains of rice and Kuni ("u" as in "put") means a young girl. On the Sundays of the month of Bhaadraba (from the Sanskrit Bhaadrapada), young women worship the Mother Goddess Durga ("u" as in "put") in two parts - first, by recounting (in song) the story of Her slaying the demon Mahishaasura and second, by recounting, again in song, the legend of the only sister of the seven merchant brothers who travelled for trading to the southeast Asian countries, leaving her behind in their wives' care. The story follows the travails and tribulations of the sister from the wives' ill-treatment of her, the brothers' eventual return and restoration of happy times with the blessings of the Mother Goddess.

    The Mother Goddess is propitiated with a variety of food preparations of which those made from Khudda form an important part, hence the name of the festival. The story goes that the wives gave the sister Khudda to eat, this being part of the humiliation - Khudda is cheap and the poor man's food. So the hapless sister had only Khudda with which to worship Mother Durga. But then, it transpired that Durga enjoyed offerings made from Khudda, so that was brilliant! Since then young women take care to offer Khudda preparations on these very special Sundays.
    August - September Bhaadraaba Krushna Pakkya Ashtami Janmaashtami This major festival marks the anniversary of the birth of Lord Krshna. It is celebrated in temples as well as households. The worship is done during the night because that was when Krshna was born in the prison where His mother had been incarcerated by her own brother. The story is too well known to be recounted here, apart from being outside the scope of this article.

    Krshna is among the foremost and popularmost of Forms in which the Formless, Nameless and Attrributeless One is worshipped. The word Krshna is etymologically linked with the Sanskrit word Aakarshana meaning "attraction": Krshna being "one who attracts". The Incarnation of Krshna is replete with fascinating and supremely attractive stories and the inspiration of countless artistic, religious and philosophic expression.

    Orissa worships Krshna in many ways, the chief being in His Form as Jagannatha in the great temple at Puri, among the holiest of holy shrines for Hindus everywhere. During this day, there are special prayers in temples, Math (monasteries) and homes - everyone participates in these auspicious functions.
    August - September Bhaadraaba Buddhabaara Buddhibaamana Ossaa This is Womens’ festval: they do not eat cooked food. They observe this day the wellbeing of their menfolk, being husbands and sons but not brothers. This is because the brother is in reality another family: the woman, being married, has now come into her husband's family, leaving that of her father and brother(s). Married women fast during the day and eat uncooked food in the evening after offering the food to two deities: Buddhi (pronounce "u" as in "put") and Baamana.
    August - September Bhaadraaba Shukla Chaturthi Ganesha Chaturthi Ganesha is the famous Elephant-headed God, the God of learning and the remover of obstacles. He is woprshipped at the beginning of every ritual. In all Oriya temples, Ganesha finds an important place. Chaturthi is the fourth day of the moon, in this case the fourth day after the new moon. This day on this month is the birth anniversary of Lord Ganesha. This day also marks the day on which He received a second life by an elephant's head being transplanted in place of his original one, His Father, Lord Shiva, had cut off unknowingly. This interesting story is also a very well-known one but outside the scope of this article.

    On this day, Ganesha is specially worshipped in educational institutions. At home, women fast and worship Ganesha, offering a variety of sweetmeats to Him.
    August - September Bhaadraaba Shukla Panchami Nabaarna / Nuaakhaai Parba / Rushi Panchami Panchami is the fifth day of the moon, here the fifth day after the new moon. Nabaarna or Nuaakhaai means to "new food", meaning newly harvested rice. On this day the newly harvested rice is made into sweet pudding called Khiri and offered to God, only after which is the new rice eaten.

    This is the day on which this festival takes place in western districts of Orissa like Sambalpur; in the souther coastal district of Ganjam, this festival is observed when new rice is available on a day after the harvest (which may differ from the harvest time at Sambalpur).
    August - September Bhaadraaba Shukla Shashthi Shashthi Ossaa This day is specially observed for wellbeing of all the children of the home. There are special prayers after which each child is felicitated with sprinklings of rice, flowers and other auspicious items and thereafter being stroked with small leafy branches of six different types of trees. As with every special worship, there are many sweetmeats prepared.
    August - September Bhaadraaba Shukla Ashtami Raadhaashtami This is the birth anniversary of Raadhaa, Krshna's closest lady friend. Raadhaa holds a very special place in our lives. She is a mystic symbol of great profundity. On this day, Odiya women worship Raadhaa. They do not eat cereals on this day, restricting themselves to a diet of lentil, vegetables and special sweets like Haluaa, fruits, milk, curd (yoghurt) etc.
    August - September Bhaadraaba Shukla Dvaadasi Baamana Janma This day is the birth anniversary of Baamana, an incarnation of Vishnu, the Supreme Godhead. Like Raadhaashtami, this too is a women's festival, with similar rituals observed and practices followed. The worship is done to, of course, the Lord in His Baamana form. The story goes that Baamana (literally, "dwarf"), the Brahmin of short height, crushed the arrogance of the demon king Bali and pushed Bali to the netherworld (known as Paataala in our scriptures - many scholars find evidence that this region corresponds with Latin America).
    September - October Aasvina Pratipada (Kr'shna Pakkhya Prathama) start of

    (a)Janhi Ossaa


    (b)Pitr'pakkhya or Apara Pakkhya, which ends in Mahaalayaa
    The full moon marks the end of Bhaadraaba. The day after the full moon - i.e., the first day of the fortnoght of the waning moon or Kr'shna Pakkhya marks the start of the month long festival Janhi Ossa. This is a Womens’ festival, when women worship the Tulsi (basil) plant on the next Purnima or full moon day immerse the plant in water. During this month long period, women do not eat the Janhi vegetable (a long, ribbed, gourd-like green vegetable). They remain vegetarian for the whole month long period. They worship the flowers of the Janhi plant, but do not pick the flowers themselves; by tradition, these must be plucked by others. On the fifth day before the end of the period (before Purnima), women sprout five different types of seeds. ON the last day - a day of fast - the sprouted seeds and the Tulsi plant are together immersed in water.

    This day is also very important because it marks the beginning of the Pitr'pakkha or Apara Pakkhya fortnight ending on the new moon. Pitr' refers to ancestors and Apara refers to the hereafter, meaning literally "beyond". The fortnight that starts on this day is dedicated to ancestors, with special services held in households in their temembrance. The last day of the fortnight ends in a special prayer service (called Tarpana), often in nearby rivers, lakes or ponds. This last day - the day of the new moon or Amaavaasyaa - is called Mahaalayaa.
    September - October Aasvina Kr'shna Saptami and Ashtami Dviteebaahana Ossaa This too is a Womens’ festival. Women observe the rituals of this festival in a group - a group of women worship Dviteebaahana - the son of the Sun (Himself a powerful God in Odiya culture) - together at night (after sunset) with raw vegetables and ripe fruits. They observe this ritual for well being of their children. The fruits offered to the gods are eaten the following day. This festival is done with Maanasika or a directed intent to by those women who are not having children or are having miscarriages.
    September - October Aasvina Amaavaasya Polari Ossaa and Mahaalaaya Another women’s festival. On this day, women fast for wellbeing of children. The children collect alms from seven homes. Only the alms so collected are used for preparing a particular kind of pudding (called Khiri ) among other food and sweets. This particular Khiri is called Aadraa. Thereafter women procure seven types of branches, worship Bajra Mahakali and spread the prepared food on seven Kakharu (gourd pumpkin) leaves. Finally, they use the branches to stroke the children for the wellbeing of the children.

    This day marks the end of Pitr'pakkhya (see above) and the start of Devipakkhya, which is the fortnight dedicated to the Mother Goddess.
    September - October Aasvina Shukla Shashthi / Saptami


    Durgaa Pujaa This very important festival commemmorates the Mother Goddess Durgaa slaying the demon Mahishaasura - the triumph of good over evil. The worship starts on Shashthi or the sixth day of the waxing moon and ends on Dashami or the tent day, called in this case Vijayaa Dashami. Vijayaa refers to victory. In Orissa, this festival is celebrated in households, temples and also communally. Being the commemmoration of a successful military action resulting in the demon's death, this festival is also a military festival of valour, with all who are associated with martial affairs, including policemen, security staff and so on, bringing out their weapons, cleaning and servicing them and, where permitted, displaying them.

    The festival is celebrated with great fanfare and grandeur. People put on new clothes and ladies adorn themselves with a great deal of finery. There are fairs, carnivals and varieties of artistic performances with much merriment. Images of the Mother Goddess with her retinue (and sometime with Durgaa and Shiva ) are worshipped in huge marquees (called Pandal ), to which surging masses of visitors and local people alike throng, often throught the day and night. On the final day, and sometimes even afterwards, the images (unless they are permanent home or temple ones) are taken in grand processions and immersed in the nearest available body of water.
    September - October Aasvina Poornimaa Kumaara Poornami /

    Kumaara Uchchhaba /

    Gajalakshmi Pujjaa
    This is one of the most important of Odiya festivals. It occurs on the full moon day of the autumn month of Aasvina. Kumaara refers to the valorous (and handsome) Son of Lord Shiva, named Kaartikeya, the god of war. Desirous of acquiring a handsome and valorous husband, young Odiya women worship pray to the Sun by day and the Moon (both gods in their own respective rights) for a husband in the same mould as Kaartikeya or Kumaara. The young ladies don new clothes and accessories that go with the new clothes. They prepare a variety of food and prayerfully offer them to the Sun and the Moon at the appropriate times. The festival is marked by much merrimaking, song, dance and games, including a popular young ladies' game called Puchi which involves a variety of vigorous and acrobatic moves.

    This important day is also the birth anniversary of Goddess Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth and Prosperity and the attendant well-being, security and peace that goes with wealth and prosperity. In keeping with the traditional association (and subordinate worship) of specific animals or birds with particular Deities, the two creatures associated with Lakshmi are the elephant and the owl. Hence the name Gajalakshmi - Gaja means "elephant". The owl is associated with the Goddess of wealth because being a creature of the night, it protects our wealth by night, for wealth must be guarded by both day and night...

    Indeed, in Orissa, this is a day when many people keep themselves awake through the night. Traditionally, they play board games of strategy (after all, does not the acquisition and preservation of wealth involve a good deal of strategy?) like chess (called Passaa in Odiya) and the Odiya strategic board game of Dhaadi Dhokkada [known in the western world as "NIne Men's Morris" or "Mills" and considered in the West as having originated in the Roman Empire: Dhaadi Dhokkada has been played as a popular game in Orissa (and nowhere else in India) for centuries. Click here for the Wikipedia article on Nine Men's Morris].

    Lakshmi Pujjaa is celebrated in Odiya homes and temples with special prayer services.
    October - November Kaartika Purnimaa


    Habisya Brata

    (one month)
    This is a month long womens’ festial. The main deity worshipped is Lord Jagannath in the form of Lord Damodara. Also worshpped daily are Lord Shiva and the Sun. During this festival, women take only a single meal each a day - at 5PM. They consume only Habisya vegetables, cooked without spices or oils. Habisya vegetables include yams, gourds and other indegenous vegetables. The auspicious Tulsi tree (Basil) is worshipped for the whole month and thereafter - at the end of the month - immersed in water, when boats are released, signifying the glorious seafaring days of the Orissa of yore. The festival ends with a visit to the temple. On last day (Kartik Purnima), the women worship Kedar Gauri (Lord Shiva and His Dicine Consort Parvati )at night.

    Although a women's festival, diring this month, everyone remains vegetarian. In Orissa, to be a vegetarian means not eating fish, meat (including poultry) or eggs. Milk and other dairy products like curd (yoghurt) and cheese are permitted.
    October - November Kaartika Sankraanti Garbhanaa Sankraanti This is a farmers’ festival. This is the time when paddy (rice) plants flower. Farmers worship the Goddess Lakshmi for a good paddy crop. The worship is done in the paddy field.
    October - November Kaartika Amavaasyaa Deepaavali /

    Deepadaana Shraaddha /

    Prayaaga Shraddha /

    Kaali Pujjaa
    This is the celebrated festival of lights. Deepa means "lamp". This day is important for several reasons:
  • Lord Rama returned to his kingdon Ajoddhyaa after an exile period of fourteen years. The people of Ajoddhya celebrated His return with lighted lamps.
  • Ancestors are remembered on this day. Lamps are lit in their memory - one for each ancestor on both father's and mother's side, for five generations upwards. They are welcomed back in spirit, worshipped, and then farewelled back, when lights are lit to show them on their way back, with the exhortation "You came in darkness, return in light". The symbolism is clear, darkness being the darkness of ignorance and light being knowledge and realisation. We all come to this world in darkness: the goal is to quit it in light.....
  • People specially worship the powerful Goddess Kaali on this occasion. She is one of the several Forms of the Divine Consort of Lord Shiva. When evil forces become overpowering, She roams the world, destroying the demons in a fiercly angry rampage. She is one of ten mystic forms of the Mother Goddess. Her terrible rampage ends when she finds herself standing on her Husband Lord Shiva Himself - recounting the details of the story is outside the scope of this table. Suffice it to say that the image of Her standing upon a lotus that floats over the supine body of Lord Shiva is an extremely mystic and powerful symbol, denoting, among other things, the final ascent of the Kundalini to the thousand petalled Lotus on the psychic centre just above the crown of the head.
  • October - November Kaartika Shukla Pakkhya Chaturthi Naaga Chaturthi Pujjaa This is yet another Womens’ festival, when women observe fast, worship at home and offer eggs and milk to snakes in their holes in fields. (Naaga means "snake")
    October - November Kaartika Shukla Pakkhya Navami Aanlaa Navami /
    Raadhaanka Pada Darshana
    This too is a womens’ festival. On this day, women visit the temple and have Darshana (sight or viewing) of Raadhaa'ss feet. They offer garlands made of Aanlaa fruit Raadhaa Krshna. Navami is the ninth day of the moon, in this case of the waxing moon.
    October - November Kaartika Shukla Pakkhya Ekaadasi Panchukaarambha Ekaadasi is the eleventh day of the moon, in this case the waxing moon. This is a five day shortcut for those women who do not wish to go through the full month of Habisya Brata (see above). They can instead observe the same thing, but for five days only. (Pancha refers to "five".) These five days are the last five days of the month of Kaartika and are particularly auspicious days.
    October - NOvember Kaartika Poornimaa Baalijaatraa /

    This is the last day of Kaartika. People throng to Shiva temples to offer prayers. This day marks the anniversary of Lord Shiva slaying the demon Tripurasura. These temples have Kirtan (a kind of communal/group devotional songs) singing going on throughout the day.

    On this day, on the beaches of Orissa, people release little boats, remembering the glorious maritime history of Orissa in the ancient and medieval ages, during which periods Orissa traders sailed to far off lands like Sri Lanka, Thailand, Cambodia, Malayasia, Indonesia, Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo etc. for trade and commerce. Even today Odiya influences are visible in these places. This festival is a very colourful one, with fairs, carnivals and fetes dotting the beaches, crowds surging with joy and pride, music and dance and so on.

    (Glossary: Boita - "boat"; Baali - "sand"; Jaatraa - "festival"; Bhasaani - "to release something afloat on the water")
    November - December Maargasira Gurubaara Lakshmi Pujjaa Gurubaara means "Thursday". On each Thursday of the month of Margasira, housewives offer special prayers to the goddess Lakshmi. This is the time when the paddy (rice) has been harvested after six months of hard labour and granaries are full. The women specially scrub and clean their homes. If they are mud houses (as they are in the villages) they anoint a fresh coat of prepared mud as plaster and draw beautiful floral and other designs in front of their homes. These designs are called Jhutti or Chittaa and are extremely artistic, symbolic and mystic. Some are simple, others are elaborate. The designs are ancient. (This website will soon feature a page dedicated to Jhutti as a special artistic facet of Orissa.) Homes are also decorated with festoons and paddy stalks. Thereafter women offer various rice preparations (sweets) including varities of rice puddings called Khiri to the Goddess. After the worship, the food is shared amongst family and friends.
    November - December Maargasira Krushna Pakkhya Ashtami Prathamaashtami This is a very important festival for the people of Orissa. Prathama means "first", here referring to the first born of the family, that is to say, the eldest son or daughter. Traditionally, it is the first born or the eldest child who will subsuquently (after the death of the parents) be the head of the family and will carry on the family tradition. On this day, the eldest child is felicitated with new clothes. He/she is blessed by elders who pray for their longevity and health. Rice cakes called Endri are prepared on this day and offered to the Goddess for children, Mother Shashthi.
    November - December Maargasira Sankraanti Dhanu Sankraanti /
    Makara Sankraanti
    On this auspicious day the goddess Lakshmi is worshipped with Mua (a sweet made of puffed rice mixed with jaggery and shaped into spheres), Tila, etc. This is a farmers’ festival, observed after paddy crop is interred for curing into parboiled rice.
    December - January Pausha Amaavaasyaa Bakula Amaavaasyaa This is a women’s festival. On this day, women use mango flowers for their worship - a general worshipping of family deities at home. This festival is dedicated to particular and special friends who are not, on this day, addressed by their names and who are hand-fed (in reciprocity).
    December - January Pausha Shukla Pakkhya Dashami Shaambara Dasami /

    Shaamba Dashami
    An important festival exclusively observed in Orissa, this is a day when the Sun is specially worshipped thrice - in the morning, noon and late afternoon. This is a festival for women who invoke the Almighty in the form of the Sun to ask for the well-being of children. According to legend, this is the day when the Sun healed Shaambara, one of Lord Krshna's sons, of his deep seated leprosy. The place of the divine healing was Konark, where now stand the remnants of the glorious 13th century temple dedicated to the Sun. The remnants in themselves, even today, after a great deal of erosion as well as, sadly, vandalism, testify to the exalted heights of architecture that Orissa had reached in its hey days.

    [Note: It needs to be pointed out that the officially accepted spelling of the name of the place is "Konark" and NOT "Konarak" as some persons unfortunately persist in spelling. Kona means "corner" and Arka means "sun" - the whole compound word Konark (or more accurately Konaarka ) means "the sun in (or of) the corner". The site of this grand temple is the corner of the adjecent landmass, hence the name. "Konarak" is meaningless, nonsensical and the indicator of the user's ignorance, sometimes deliberate and malicious show of ignorance when there is really none...]
    December - January Pausha Purnimaa Pausha Pournami A festival when there are special prayer services at homes and temples. The highlight is the preparation, offering of (to the deity) and thereafter partaking of Poda Pitthaa, a special sweet delicacy made out of cottage cheese which is wrapped in leaves and roasted in a special way.
    January - February Maaggha Sankraanti Makara Sankraanti This is the first day of the winter month of Maaggha, when the sun enters Capricorn in the zodiac. Capricorn is Makara, hence the name for this day as Makara Sankraanti. The day is marked with people taking a holy, purificatory bath early in the morning, visiting temples, offering special prayers to the Almighty in His Form as the Sun and the like. A particular kind of rice preparation, with cottage cheese, coconut, jaggery, honey, milk and other interesting ingredients all mixed in special ways with the rice, forms the pride of culinary exercise on the day. Known as Makara Chaula (Chaula means "rice"), this food is savoured by all. There are fairs and fetes in many places, with attendent colourful crowds of people and plenty of merrymaking.
    January - February Maaggha Shukla Pakkhya Panchami Sree Panchami /

    Basanta Panchami /

    Sarasvati Pujjaa
    This is the fifth day of the fortnight of waxing moon and the start of the spring season - Basanta means "spring" and Panchami means "fifth", meaning the fifth day of the moon, in this case of the full moon. Sree refers to something auspicious: this day is a particularly auspicious one because it is dedicated to Sarasvati, the Goddess of Learning and the Arts. This festival is observed with great rejoicing particularly by students and in educatiuonal and cultural institutions like music/dance/art/drama schools. The Goddess is also worshipped in homes and in communal Pujja in localities. Sculptors and artisans make exquisitely beautiful clay images of the Mother: these are sold to the organisers of the Pujja (worship or centre where worship is done). Students wear new clothes and observe various rituals related to the worship, praying for academic and/or artistic prowess.
    January - February Maaggha Shukla Pakkhya Saptami Tilasaptami This is a festival on the seventh day of the new moon. The day is dedicated to worshipping the Sun in the great 13th century temple of Konark. (See note on Konark above.) This day sees hundreds of thousands of pilgrims from all parts of the country converge on Konark and bathe in the auspicious river Chandrabhaaga, which joins the sea nearby. The festival is a major and colourful one, second only to the Ratthajaatraa, a description of which has been given above.
    February - March Phaalguna Krushna Pakkhya Chaturdashi Mahaa Sivaraatri This is a very important religious festival for the Hindu. On this day, the fourteenth day (Chaturdashi means fourteenth day) of the moon, Hindus worship Lord Shiva, one of the Holy Trinity of Hinduism. This Holy Trinity comprises Brahma, the Creator, Vishnu, the Supporter and Shiva the Destroyer, for nothing that is created is permanent, whether it be wealth, fame, health, civilisations, cultures, theories, natural phenomena or anything else. Shiva thus represents Time and the Action of Time, be it micorcosmic or macrocosmic.....

    The devout recognises this and bows to this eternal principle in the form of Lord Shiva by fasting and keeping awake throughout the night, spending time in prayer and meditation. Very often people gather in groups and sing the praise of Lord Shiva in communal chants and songs. Temples dedicated to Shiva organise special prayers and allied events.
    February - March Phaalguna Poornimaa Dologobinda Pujjaarambha /

    Raadhaa Krusna Dolijhulaa /

    Raajaagni & Baankesvari Jaatraa /

    Holi khela /

    Panchadola Jaatraa
    This full moon day used to be the start of the year in olden times and an important part of the festival used to be the astronomer-astrologer reading aloud the forthcoming events of the year, such as full and new moons, Sankraanti, eclipses, days of festival, days marking important agricultural activities, days on which auspicious events like marriages are forbidden and so on. This tradition of reading out the calendar for the year to come continues to this day, although the start of the year has shifted to the month of Baishaakha.

    This day is celebrated as Holi (known to the western world as the 'festival of colours') in the rest of India, being there a festival for a single day. In Orissa, However, this festival lasts for five days, starting from the Dashami or tenth day of Shukla Pakkhya or the fortnight of waxing moon.

    The festival is consecrated to Lord Krshna and Lord Vishnu. On each of the festival days people take out images of the deities in procession led by drummers and other musicians, stopping in front of each home of the village for householders to make offerings of alms and food. On the final day the deities are gathered on the common village ground where, amidst much merrymaking and music, they are entertained on swings. Another ritual during this time is the burning of a straw hut. These props - swing, hut and others like colour - commemmorate certain important mythological events, a description of which is beyond the scope of the present writing.

    Village fairs, people felicitating one another with colour and general communal enjoyment are some features that mark this joyous festival.
    March - April Chaitra Mangalabaara Taraa Taarini Jaatraa This festival is celebrated with special Worship every Mangalabaara (Tuesday) in the month of Chaitra. Taraa Taarini is a famous temple of the Mother Goddess in the form of two sisters, Taraa and Taarini. The temple is situated high on a hill in the district of Ganjam in Orissa. Jaatraa means "fair" (as in village fair, fete or carnival). On these days children’s heads are shorn of all hair by shaving in the temple at Taraa Taarini, where fairs are also held.

    For more information on this temple, visit its website at http://www.taratarini.nic.in.
    March - April Chaitra Shukla Pakkhya Navami Raamanavami Navami means ninth - this day is the ninth day of the waxing moon in the month of Chaitra and is the anniversary of the birth of Lord Raama, the seventh incarnation of Lord Vishnu. Some people observe a fast on this day. Mythological stories from the epic Raamaayana are performed on this day, as also a special folk musical narrative called Paallaa.
    March - April Chaitra Poornimaa Hingulaa Jaatraa /

    Jhaammu Jaatraa /

    Udaa Parba
    These are different names of an essentially tribal festival dedicated to the Mother Goddess Hingulaa. The rituals are quite spectacular and seem to be inspired by practices from Tantra, involving a variety of dance movements, acrobatics, walking on thorns or on glowing charcoal, standing on sharp swords, underwater feats and, in the case of the Udaa Jaatraa of Keonjhar and Mayurbhanj districts of Orissa, feats while strung up on high poles.

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    VI. Present-day Orissa:


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