Nuakhai is a major festival of Orissa. Nuakhai is a festival observed by the mass over the entire western Orissa, particularly Sambalpuri cultural area. Nuakhai is observed welcoming the new rice-paddy of the season. In this point of view, one can say that this is an agricultural based festival. No one for sure, can tell since how long this tradition is continuing. It is rather difficult to ascertain any age, as ‘Arnna’ rice paddy, is offered to the Gods since long.
Hindu philosophy and pantheism believes Arnna to be Brahma. Again Arnna is attributed to Goddesses Laxmi, hence on the day of Nuakhai Laxmi Puja is observes as well.
Nuakhai has been observed by different tribes in different names, as the Dud Khadia and Pahadi Khadia called it as Jeth Nowakhiaa the Oram called it NowaKhani, the Munda called Jam-nowa, the Santhali called it Janthar and Baihar Horo Nawabai, the Birjia called it Nawaba and Jam-nowa, the Parajas of Bastar and Orissa called as Nowa-aani, Bihara called it Nowa-jam. In Chotta Nagapur area the Ashur tribe which a sub-clan of the Birjhia called it as Nowaa. In Tripura the tribes called it Mikatal, in East Bengal it is known as Nabarnna.
This indicates beside Sambalpur Nua-Khai is observed in various part of India. However, the people of Sambalpur observed this in much elegance and splendour. First, the new rice paddy is offered to the Istha Devi of the family and the Village Devi then it is used for day toady affair. May it be the darkness of sorrow or may it be the bed of happiness people of this area believes that the village deity has a major roll to play. This faith in the deity gives them immense strength to face the problems or the world with ease. They believe that if Nua-khai is observed then all the sorrows unhappiness- diseases- and loss of crop is avoided. What ever may be the faith every moment of the innocent aborigines is engrossed with the blessing of this unseen power. Nua-Kahi can be attributed to the festival of the aborigines. During the 2nd Century BC Ptolemy described Sambalpur as the kingdom of the Mundas and Sabars. Gand, Binjhal, Sabara, Munda were staying in this area much before to the Arayns. As the time passes on the Aryans has adopted this festival as their own.
Nua-kahi is a festival and celebration of happiness, different types of local sweets and foods are cocked. All the family members are assembled together, after offering the new rice to the deity they all set together and take the new rice, along with different types of Manda-Pitha Khiri-Puri etc., After finishing the food they take the blessing of the Istha-Devi and from other elders of the family. In the evening it is habitual and obligatory to have meat, as it is believes that one who does not eat meat on the Nua-Kahi day, shall born as a heron in his future birth. What ever may be the fact it is a celebration of the mass. People forget their personal differences and greet each other in this point of view Nua-Khai is not just welcoming the new rice-paddy it is a festival which welcomes general happiness and mass development of the society. People may stay in far of lands, for there livelihood, but in the Nua-Kahi they must come to celebrate this festival with other members of the family with pageantry.
The Kolhas in Keonjhar celebrate it in a different manner. They on this day, cook new rice in a new pot, prepare fowl curry , brew rice beer and offer it all to their Dharam Banga or Sun God on one leaf and to their ancestors on another. This is done by men alone.