Nuakhai and Buddhism

Buddhism, the religion propound by Buddha has a significant aspect in the history and culture of Dakshina Kosala. Roughly comprising the upper Mahanadi valley in western part of Odisha namely the erstwhile undivided district of Sundargarh, Sambalpur, Bolangir, Kalahandi and others and also the neighboring and adjoining regions to it. There is no dearth of literary and archeological data corroborating the popularity of Buddha here. The text Ashokavadana further inform that his youngest brother name Tishya (who happen to be a Buddhist Monk) had came Dakshina Kosala and popularized Buddhism. Numbers of Sangharam, Stupa and enumerable Buddha Vihara were flourishing the text witnessed. The celebrated Chinese pilgrim and historian Hiun Tsang to have visited the country of South Kosala and spoken highly of the popularity of Buddhism in the kingdom. He further inform that Nagarjuna the celebrated Mahayana philosopher lived in a cave monastery of South Kosala at a place called Po-lo-mo-lo-ki-li which is identified by scholar as Parimalagiri in Gandhamardhana hill on the boarder of Bargarh and Balangir district of Odisha and also spoke of stronghold of Buddhism and a Buddhist stupa of Ashoka’s time near this place.                             

            Prof. N.K  Sahu in his “ Buddhism in Odisha” on the basis of few Tibetan text have tried to identify Uddiyan one of the greatest centre of Tatricism with Odisha. He identified the famous tantric places like Sambhala and Lanka as modern Sambalpur and Sonpur and holds the view that king Indrabhuti who was ruling at Sambhala in Uddiyan.  His sister married the son of king Jalendra of Lankapuri were famous luminaries  of tantric Buddhism  in retrospect a study of Buddhist remain in Dakshin Kosala reveals that Buddhist establishment and Buddhist culture flourished in this area. In the epigraph of Dakshin Kosala Buddha and Buddhism (from the meeting of Tapassu and Vallik with Siddhart Goutam Buddha while they were crossing the middle of Sarnath and Gaya )  can be notice as an  indispensable part of civic life. These literary evidence amply provide an idea of prevalence of Buddhism in Dakshin Kosala in the history of Odisha. The Buddhist art and activities continues up to circa 11th century A.D some other historian belief that the Buddhist culture of civic life continue to 15th century. While others belief that it is still in continuum. Nuakhai is the festivals of integration and co-operation. Apart from these two rituals, worshiping Paddy has a unique significance. Showing respect, honor, esteem to elders and prey our ancestors for bumper harvest and prosperity in life mainly the western part of Odisha and its adjoining region celebrate Nuakhai. Scholar of cultural study depict that it has   link with Hindu religious text and its roots in Vedic period.

                          Like Aam nua, semi nua ,mahul nua, The Dhan nua(new Paddy) is Nuakhai. In the year 1991 the government of Odisha fixed 5ht day of bright fort of Bhadraba the day of Nuakhai. It also has a wide presence in South Odisha as well as entire adjoining region to south and west Odisha. In Jharkhand and some part of Bastar only indigenous people (Adivasi, Dalit and backward caste) observe this festival. Brahmins and other Dwij caste people even don’t called their festival at all. These two context, “the linked to Hindu religious text of Nuakhai and the prohibition of celebration by Branmins and upper caste in Jharkhand and Bastar are contrary to each other.

                          We have already seen that how predominantly South Kosala (Todays Nuakhai celebrating region) were Buddhist by culturally and spiritually also. Nuakhai has its account to 12th century and the ending of Buddhist era in these region goes to approximately 16th century. These two dates clarify regarding the blurs of whether the festival has its root in Vedic period or in Buddhist era.

                      Paddy, Theory of social integrity, homage and offering to ancestors plays a vital role in Nuakhai. “Problems in reconstruction of the social history of Buddhism in Odisha” Manorama Tripathy has point out that all the Buddhist site in Odisha are located in the vicinity of wetlands known for their long history of Paddy cultivation. As Hiun Tsang travel dairy reveals great and numerous monasteries were in South Kosala, The area where we celebrate Nuakhai today by Worshiping new paddy. To maintain these large establishment constant supply of food grain had to be ensure. It was the reason most of the monasteries were setup near paddy growing wetlands area. As for a brief survey of important Buddhist sites and settlement in Odisha, The site of Dhauli and Jaugada were mere surrounded by paddy fields. The area of Boudh ,Goniapali ,Parimalgiri also commanded a huge out put of paddy. The account of beginning of Nuakhai and Meal Gatha of Zen Buddhism goes to the same century i.e 12th century A.D.

                     The case of new rice ceremony of the La-ha ethnic minority if Vietnams and Nuakhai share a common similarity. At harvest time la-ha ethnic people organize a New Rice Worshiping ceremony to show their gratitude to the genies, they invite their ancestors to join the celebration and pray for more bumper crops and good health for all family members and pay gratitude to paddy.They observe this festivals during the same September-October as we celebrate Nuakhai. They select a good day for New Rice ceremony which rule was prevalent in Odisha till 1991. A good thing not to forget is a Shaman (Monk) is invited to conduct the ceremony.

     The concept of social integrity play a vital role in the importance of Social Relation, In Nuakhai friends and relatives greet each other (all the members of house are expected to unite and a day together with happiness and joy). Youngsters offer respect to the elders and collect their affectionate blessing. Cheerful man and women in their traditional attires come out meet one another and participate in folk and collective dance as the la-ha ethnic group wearing their tribal attires do. All the members of a family join the Pittru Puja, the literary meaning is veneration of ancestor. And pay reverence to forefather. When Buddha was dwelling at Rajgriha as mention in Mahaparinibbana sutta had well spoken about the importance of social integrity and veneration of ancestors. He said that peoples should assemble in harmony discuss their national affairs together follows the established laws and not change them unnecessarily in addition they should honor their parent, teacher and elder .so respect, honor, esteem and veneration towards their shrines (Pidar kan- where we keep the demographic record of ancestors) both those within the city and outside it as long as people followed these advice, Their nation would prosper.

        To the large extend the rituals and rite of Nuakhai inclined its connotation towards Buddhism and Buddhist value. Because of Brahmanisation, Nuakhai have resulted its todays form. Its time to justify the culture and wipeout the blurs on Nuakhai the history and culture of new rice ceremony and Nuakhai celebrating region today also breathe the air of Buddhism, The oxygen called Buddhist Doctrine. Its time to shoulder a task to conserve the rite and rituals value of it .To conserve from cultural attack it must have to be a shouldering duty to us.

  • Abhiraj Bibhar, Graduate fellow of Dr. Ambedkar Thought and Department of Buddhist Study RTMNU Nagpur.

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