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The people of the former tributary states and the present Daspalla, Khandapara, Nayagarh and Ranpur area of Nayagarh district of Orissa observe a number of festivals all the year round. These festivals may broadly be divided into two categories, viz, domestic festivals observed in each and every household, and public festivals and fairs where people congregate in large numbers on some auspicious days.
The domestic festivals were confined to the worship of family deities, observance of ekadashis, various bratas, etc., most of them being guided by the monthly cycle of the moon. The public festivals were usually religious ceremonies attended by a large number of men, women and children who came for worship as well as entertainment. An account of some important festivals in the area under our study is given below.
The Lankapodi Yatra (the Festival of the Burning of Lanka) which is held annually in Daspalla occupies a special place in the life of the people of the ex-state. The Yatra is observed for a fortnight commencing from the day of Rama Navami. It begins with the birth of Rama and proceeds to present different incidents in the epic, such as Rama’s going into exile, the killing of Tadaka, and the abduction of Sita on succeeding days. However, the last day is the culminating point of the festival. A colossal paste-board effigy of the ten-headed Ravana is erected. It is packed with crackers and explosives. The festival concludes with Rama shooting fiery arrows into the effigy which explode the crackers put inside it.
Before the feudatory states were merged with Orissa, the king of Daspalla was the sole patron of the Yatra. But the king always ensured large-scale participation of the people in the festival as he was convinced that without popular participation, it would never be a success. One incident goes to illustrate the king’s faith in the importance of popular participation in the festival. Once, when the king was accompanying the Deity in a procession during the festival, a villager rushed forward to have a glimpse of Lord Rama. A policeman gave him a slap for his breaking the rule of etiquette. The king for his part slapped the policeman for having ill-treated one of his subjects, saying that if the police scare people like this, they would stop coming to the festival and the Yatra would be a failure. Before the merger, people of Daspalla had to give two and a half kg. of paddy per hearth for organising the festival. This generated in them a sense of ownership and belongingness towards the Yatra. The system was abolished after the merger. Ramalila had also brought Daspalla recognition from different parts of the country.
In Khandpara state, the temple of God Nilamadhava, who is believed to be the former Form of Lord Jagannath of Puri, stands on a hillock close to the river Mahanadi. Most of the festivals of Lord Jagannath at Puri are being observed here, of which the Bhauma Ekadasi is celebrated on a grand scale. On this occasion thousands of people congregate there to witness the festival. The annual Mela that takes place at Kantilo on the Magha Ekadasi continues for five days. To enlarge the outlook of the people, an agricultural and industrial exhibition used to be held there during the mela days.
In Nayagarh, of the annual fairs (Melas), the most important was the Jagar Mela of Sarankul. Next to it, the Ramanavami mela of Orgaon and Panchudola mela of Itamati. The Jagar mela of Sarankul-Ladubaba began towards the end of February and continued for more than a week. This was very largely attended by the people of Nayagarh and the neighbouring feudatory states and specially by the people of Ganjam District. This mela attracted shopkeepers, artisans and traders from all over the state as well as from the neighbouring states and British Districts.
The Ramanavami mela at Orgaon-Raghunath commenced from about the middle of April and continued for nine days. It was also a fairly big fair. The Itamati Panchudola fair was comparatively a smaller gathering and continued only for 2 or 3 days.
In Ranpur, the Hindus observed the festivals like Rathayatra, Dasahara, Panchudola and Jhamuyatra with great festivities. They also observed other minor festivals, as was done in all other parts of Orissa. In the month of Asadh, the car festival was observed in Ranpurgarh. Men, women and children from all parts of the ex-state assembled in Nizgarh to see the car festival of Lord Jagannath. The king of Ranpur state performed the Chherapahara ceremony.
In Ranpur town, Dasahara festival was celebrated with great pomp and a big procession attended by the ruler, the paikas, and the public started from the palace to the Dasahara field. The Ruler offered puja and fired some shots and then they came back. The Khaliamunda Thakurani was brought from Ukutumei village in mal area on the first puja day according to their old custom and majority of the people observed fasting on this day, till the arrival of the Deity. The paik dance during this festival time was worth seeing. During Dasahara time, bhog was also offered to the village deities.
Panchudola was one of the greatest festivals in the ex-state of Ranpur and was observed in every village. The village deities of all villages were invited to attend the Panchudola Yatra in the Garh on the 5th day of Chaitra. 108 Choudolas with deities congregated in the Jatra early in the morning and before evening they dispersed. Some 8 to 10 thousand people, both men and women from every part of the state were coming to see this festival and to meet their friends and relatives and to make purchases. The Gopalpur and Majhiakhand choudolas were coming with great pomp and great processions for competition. A similar festival under the name of Dasadola was celebrated in Chandpur on the 10th day after Dolapurnima.
The Jhamu Jatra was a special festival and was observed by the people who had desired before to do so in order to get some boon from the deity. Some of them observed fasting for 21 days and took some sarbat only. Some observed for 13 days and some others for 7 days. On the last day they walked on fire. Their supporters danced in the nights. They never went to their houses during this period. Besides these, the people of Ranpur also observed so many minor festivals and fastings.
The practice of a deadly religious superstition had made Ranpur a citadel of primitive obscurantism. Human sacrifice was being offered to Goddess Maninaga Durga. About 80 families were granted rent-free land by the State to bathe the idol of the deity in human blood every night in the month of Magha. This deadly practice was continuing in Ranpur until 1939. On festival occasions, like Dutiya Osa, Chhadakhai, Champaka-Dwadashi, Niladrivije, Radhastami etc. people sent rasad to the Raja. On Dasahara and Suniya, the subjects and Sarbarakars of the State were obliged to offer costly gifts to the Ruler.
Nuakhai festival is intended for eating new rice of the year. It is observed as a general festival. On this occasion, the new rice is cooked with milk and sugar (Khiri) and then offered as bhog to Goddess Laxmi. Meeting of friends and relatives, singing, dancing and merry-making are parts of the festival. In ex-state areas including the states of Dasapalla, Khandapara, Nayagarh and Ranpur, the date of Nuakhai was fixed according to the instruction of the ruling chiefs. The car festival of Lord Jagannath at Kunjabana in Daspalla is humorously referred to in a verse by the poet Jadumani Mohapatra, sung at the time of interview with Raja Krishna Chandra Bhanja, the Raja of Daspalla.
Similarly, there is a Jagannath temple in the town of Nayagarh for which a car festival was being held regularly every year. In it, thousands of people participated. The king of the state performed the Chherapahara ritual on the chariot before it was drawn. There is also a Jagannath temple at Khandapara Garh. The temple there was completed during the reign of Kunjabihari Mardaraj Bhramarbar Ray (1842-1867 A.D.), the 10th ruler of the state. Since then the car festival is being organised there annually with pomp and grandeur.
There were many fairs and festivals observed by the tribal Kandhas. These included Sivaratri, the Pusabanga Makar Parba, the Dasai Banga Dassara festival, Sarai festival-Kalipuja, the Bahubunya-Dola, Adan-from Pusa to car festival, the Snana Parba, Indu Parba and Gamha parba. The Saradiya Debi – worship comes in the month of Aswin. Its principle was similar to the Adivasis Sasya-Laxmi Puja (Worship of field production) and Sasya-Mahuka Puja (worship of the goddess earth). The Adivasi believed that the production of the earth was due to divine power. They believed that they are to please the gods by their dance and worship for rainfall and subsequent production from the land. The Aryans adopted their ideas and incorporated in the Aryan festivals like the Raja Sankranti, the Basumata Snana, the Gahma Purnima, the Agni Uchhab and when the oxen and ploughs were worshipped. Many things were burnt and given as manure.
The fairs and festivals observed in the four ex-princely states under our study were by and large the same except of tribal areas. The tribals Kandhas of Dasapalla celebrated the occasions in their own way, giving importance to their customs and believes. Till today we find some of these festivals are organised, of course on a more systematic way in these ex-Garjat states. The worship of Durga and Kali was also promoted by the rulers of these states. They considered the Goddess as their Istadevi and before starting any good work, they bowed before the goddess for blessing.
One common factor has been found in all these four ex-Garjat States, that is the existence of Jagannath temples and observance of daily rituals for Their Lordships.