Rich in culture and religious traditions, Odisha is such a state that offers its spectators an array of sacred places, ancient temples, religious folklore, fairs and many more. Odisha is a home to uncountable numbers of festivals and fairs held at various parts of the state all round the year. Each festival that’s celebrated here is designed in such a manner that they portray spiritualism, mythology, belief and the same through them. With some of the special rituals attached to each of the districts, these festivals add vivid colours to Odisha’s cultural heritage!
Listed below are a few festivals that stand as a distinctive characteristic for these districts when looked through the religious perspective:
1. Ganesh Puja – Talcher, Angul
Besides being the fastest growing coal hubs, the Coal City of Odisha, Talcher, is also famous for its grand celebration during Ganesh Puja. Filled with traditional rituals and gaiety, the fest continues for nearly two weeks where more than 100 puja pandals are set up and thousands of devotees from various districts are seen thronging to this town. The entire town seems to put on a bridal attire as every corner of the town is adorned with varied lighting & pleasant illuminations. And what serves to be the major attraction here is the auction of Ganesha laddu which is done on the day following the immersion of the idol.
2. Dhanu Yatra – Bargarh
The small town of Bargarh organizes the world’s biggest open air theatrical called the Dhanu Yatra. It’s a festival that is celebrated every year at a stretch of eleven days altogether. During this time, Bargarh is turned into the city of Mathura where the mythological story of Lord Krishna and his demon uncle Kansa is portrayed. The play begins with the enactment of the wedding of Devaki and Vasudeva and persists till the death of Kansa at the hands of Lord Krishna. What’s interesting to notice is the arrangement of separate stages especially the movable ones that add more liveliness to this epic drama during the performance.
3. Kali Puja – Bhadrak
The fact that large number of devotees from across the State throng to the town of Bhadrak to witness this festival is something that should be noted with the celebration at the Bhadrakali temple being one of the major attractions during this festive season. This is the only place where the puja continues for a week accompanying which a mela is set up wherein vendors from not only Odisha but from other states set up stalls and exhibit their work.
4. Durga Puja and Bali Jatra – Cuttack
Apart from being famous for the delectable taste of Dahibara Aloodum, it won’t be wrong to say that in the Silver City of Cuttack, Durga Puja is unique in more than one way. With various majestic tableaux built in more than 100 puja pandals across the city, the key attraction for the devotees till date resides in the Chandi Medha (tableau and ornaments made of silver) that creates dazzle and adds up to its beauty. Since Cuttack in itself is known for its silver filigree crafts, the silver artisans who have crafted several master pieces in the past, along with experts from Kolkata, showcase their expertise in none other than the silver tableaux of Goddess Durga during this time.
Bali Yatra, on the other hand, is another festival of Cuttack which starts on Kartika Purnima and normally continues for a week. It is the largest trade fair of Odisha that’s celebrated annually. People from adjoining cities flock to Cuttack just to witness this grand affair. Starting from your basic needs (such as piggy banks, chakla belan, hand woven chairs) to an array of ravishing delicacies (like Thunkapuri, Chaat, Dahibara & many more), you can find them all at this place.
5. Gajalaxmi Puja – Dhenkanal
Gajalaxmi Puja deserves a special mention in the cultural part of Odisha as the festival takes place with great fervor in Dhenkanal district. Every year the festival starts on the full-moon day of Kumar Purnima and continues for eleven days. During this period, the entire town is decorated with glittering electric illuminations. As many as 40 puja pandals are set up altogether starting from the College road to a distance of about 7 kms. People visiting these pandals are also seen consuming the famous Bara in the fairs set up alongside.
6. Thakurani Yatra – Berhampur, Ganjam
Berhampur, the Silk City of Odisha, is also quiet famous for its biennial festival, Thakurani Yatra. It’s a festival during which a large number of devotees visit and worship the presiding deity of the region i.e., Maa Budhi Thakurani as she resides in her temporary abode i.e., the temple built at Desibehera Street. The entire town gets into a festive and colorful look during this time. The key attraction of this festival is the giant images of different gods and goddess along with the mythic figures displayed in several decorated chariots & pandals besides dance performances that take place, hence making this festival livelier.
7. Biraja Rath Yatra – Jajpur
The town of Jajpur is famous for its unique chariot festival of Goddess Biraja as Biraja is the only Goddess in Odisha to have her own chariot festival. It’s a nine day fest celebrated in the Biraja Kshetra where a representative of Goddess Biraja sets out for her journey around the Mandira Bedha (boundary wall of the shrine) on her chariot. This chariot of Goddess is named as Singhadhwaja as it bears a lion on its flag. Devotees from within and adjoining cities come along to be a part of this zestful celebration.
8. Chatar Yatra – Kalahandi
The traditional festival celebrated by the people of Kalahandi to honor their presiding goddess Maa Manikeswari, Chatar Yatra is very famous in the entire district especially in Bhawanipatna. During this yatra, the denizens get completely passionate about the celebration as they look forward to taking a glimpse of the deity who is carried in a procession, followed by a group of dancers performing the famous, Ghumura dance. Animal sacrifice during this fest remains as old as the festival and till date many devotees are seen sacrificing innocent animals and offering them to the deity.
9. Rukuna Ratha Yatra – Bhubaneswar
Bhubaneswar, the capital city of Odisha, also recognized as the ‘Temple City’ is famous for its chariot festival of Lord Lingaraj. Popularly known as Rukuna Rath Yatra, the festival is held annually on the day Ashokastami where the three deities i.e., Chandrasekhar, Rukmini and Basudeva are ceremonially brought to ascend the car (rath). The chariot is then drawn from its main temple to Rameswar Temple where they stay for four days. On the fifth day, the three deities start their journey back home.
10. Chaitra Parba – Koraput
The festival of Chaitra Parba or Bija Pandu (as popularized among the Koya tribe) is quite famous among the tribal people of Koraput as they celebrate it with utmost fervor. During this festival, men go out for fishing and hunting and return home before dark while the women keep singing and dancing as they await their men to come back. The festival continues for three successive days and it is during these days the traditional Chhau dance is mostly performed with much zeal.
11. Bada Yatra – Malkangiri
This puja too is based on folktales, legends and belief of people. Situated in the Kalimela Block of Malkangiri, Manyamkonda is a place with religious importance as the district’s famous God, Lord Mahaprabhu, is worshiped at this place. In every alternate year the famous festival of Bada Yatra begins from this place & is carried on till the Mauli Maa Temple. The three deities namely Kanam Raju, Pota Raju and Bal Raju are worshiped in this festival, especially by the Koya tribe.
12. Makar Parba – Mayurbhanj
The prime festival of Mayurbhanj district, Makar Parba or Makar Sankranti, is celebrated with much pomp and grandeur, both among the local and the tribal people, as it marks the beginning of the harvesting period of paddy crops which creates a blissful atmosphere all around. People from various age groups partake in the celebrations and from the first produce of paddy, the delicacy Makar Chaula is prepared. The inhabitants put on new dresses, worship the deity, prepare other eatables & drinks and enjoy themselves amidst the lively music of drums as the celebrations continue for three days.
13. Mondei – Nabarangpur
A widely celebrated festival of Nabarangpur, Mondei, is a three day affair where a large congregation of people worship their presiding deity Maa Bhandargharani. The festival is observed after the harvesting of crops is over. The denizens worship their first harvest near the deity and then go out to sell them. Amidst all the pre-historic rituals, fairs and entertaining activities like folk dance & music are performed at various locations of the district. Its specialty lies in the fact that the tribal operas held during this carnival extends throughout the night.
14. Rath Yatra – Puri
Rath Yatra, the world famous Chariot Festival, has its roots from Puri district of Odisha. The festival marks Lord Jagannath’s yearly sojourn to his maternal aunt’s abode. Lord Jagannath, accompanied by Lord Balabhadra and their sister Subhadra, are brought out of the main temple on huge chariots that are pulled by thousands of devotees and settle down in the Gundicha Temple for a span of seven days. They also have an earnest desire to help pull the Lords’ chariots as they believe it to be an auspicious deed and willingly risk their lives amidst the huge crowd.
15. Sital Sasthi – Sambalpur
Sital sasthi, the monsoon wedding ceremonial of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati, is one of the biggest carnivals in Western Odisha especially in Sambalpur. It is one of those famous festivals that is conducted in almost all Shiva temples of the city. The divine wedding is performed ritually as followed in an Odia marriage thus making it an interesting blend of human and divinity. The marriage is followed by a reception in which the deities visit the houses of nearby people. The festival lasts for five days where folk dance, folk music and other dance forms and music are the main attraction of the carnival.
16. Nuakhai – Western Odisha
Unlike every other district, Nuakhai is one of those agrarian festivals that is not only popular in one particular district but is celebrated all over. As compared to the rest of Odisha, the celebration for Nuakhai is of much importance in the life and culture of denizens residing in the entire Western Odisha. It plays a pivotal role in the lives of farmers and the agricultural communities. Every year people celebrate this festival as a welcome gesture to the new paddy harvest and offer their first crop to their presiding deity on this auspicious occasion. Apart from this, Nuakhai Juhar (exchange of greetings to friends and relatives, especially elders) also has a great significance in this fiesta.