From ‘Muthi Anukula’ to ‘Kheta Badia’ – A Photo Journey through Odia Rice Culture

Akshaya Trutiya – when a large part of India celebrates this summer festival buying fresh gold, the farmers of Odisha begin their agriculture cycle of the year. On this auspicious day, the farmers of Coastal Odisha celebrate ‘Muthi Anukula’ starting the sowing work of fresh paddy crops at their village farms.

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Odisha is an agrarian state with a significant rural population. Rice is the mainstay of Odisha’s agrarian economy. In fact, rice is the lifeline of Odisha. Most of Odisha’s festivals revolve around agricultural cycles. They reflect a symbiotic relationship between her land and people, especially farmers who constitute a large chunk of Odisha’s population.

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If you are in Odisha during July and August, the peak of monsoon season what draws your attention is vast green rice fields as far as your eyes can stretch appearing as if you are stepped in fields of sapphire.  There are small elevated manchas (raised platforms) with thatched roofs at intervals. Farmers watch their growing crops during the night hours to prevent the invasion of wild animals from these platforms. Sowing is in full swing mostly by womenfolk. The fields also become their pastime place – gossip and sharing their mundane matters with peers. There is a playful atmosphere all around with water, mud and crops.

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The festival of Gamha Purnima, which is also celebrated as Rakshya Bandhan in most part of India, is the next important festival in the agricultural cycle. The rice saplings have now matured. It requires a break. Gamha Purnima is also the birthday of Balaram, the elder brother of Lord Krishna and the farming god. On this occasion, the agricultural implements such as ploughs are worshipped along with bulls and cows.

Plough and Other Agricultural Implements

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Storage Facilities for Rice

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Tenda – Water Lifting Device for Rice irrigation

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Time moves on. By October/November, the rice plants start ripping and turn gold and in some places ready for harvesting. Harvesting is an elaborate process involving several steps. While the harvesting is carried out, the women folk celebrate Manabasa ritual on every Thursday of the month Margasira. In Odisha rice is revered as Goddess Lakshmi. The women folk of Odisha illustrate their home floors, from the entrance to backyard with elaborate chitta depicting paada (feet) of goddess Lakshmi, apart from various floral motifs and geometrical symbols. The ingredient used for these floor murals is rice paste. The process of making murals starts on Wednesday evening and continued to the next day.  A story goes:  Once Lakshmi visited the home of Shriya Chandaluni, a scavenger low caste woman. Balabhadra got angry and did not let Lakshmi enter the Jagannath Temple at Puri. Lakshmi avenged the insult by cursing her husband Jagannath and brother-in-law Balabhadra to go through a prolonged ordeal without food and water.  At last both her husband and brother-in-law realized their mistake and invited Lakshmi with grace to live in the temple.

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The story emphasizes the importance of equality and feminism against the background of rice cultivation.

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In the end, an elaborate ritual ‘kheta badia’ terminates the rice cycle.

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Odisha may not have impressive rice terraces as one sees them in China and Southeast Asia, but very few know that Odisha offers the widest range of domesticated and wild rice anywhere in the world. Some archaeologists even have speculated that parts of the Eastern Ghats in Odisha possibly yet region for the origin of rice.

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Author – Jitu Mishra

He can be contacted at jitumisra@gmail.com

 

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