The Rathayatra or the chariot festival of Lord Jagananth is the most well-known among the festivals of Odisha. Festivals held at the Lingaraja Temple in Bbhubaneswar and other festivals involving Puri’s Lord Jagannath Temple are a big draw too. A slew of music and dance festivals are held in Bhubaneswar in January. The state tourism department also holds other festivals from time to time. For example, in 2018, the first National Bird Festival was organised at Mangalajodi, at the edge of the Chilika Lake.
Usually held in June-July, the Rathayatra or the Chariot Festival is the most well-known religious festival of Odisha. Lord Jagannath and his siblings — Lord Balabhadra and Goddess Subhadra — take a chariot ride to their aunt’s home and return to their abode after a seven-day holiday. The festival is observed throughout the state but the most famous is the one at Puri. The huge deities ride three gigantic chariots that are pulled by the attending pilgrims. Interestingly, the 10-day festival in Puri is conducted by the descendants of a tribal king and not Brahmin priests (who attend to the deities for the rest of the year). Preparations for the festival begin months ahead with the construction of the chariots. There are innumerable rituals associated with the festival, including one where the ruler of Puri sweeps the chariot with a golden broom — a ritual based on the concept that everyone is equal in the eyes of god. The first day of the festival sees almost a million people turning up in Puri. So book your accommodation well in advance. If you are not willing to lose yourself among the teeming crowd that throngs the street, buy a ticket for a seat in the temporary galleries that spring up along the way. But remember, it can be a long wait, so carry some snacks and drinking water. Carry protective rain gear as sudden showers are common. To know more about the cult of Jagannath and the chariot festival, check http://jagannath.nic.in/?q=home.
Usually held in November, on the day of Kartik Poornima, Bali Yatra celebrates the time when Kalinga (the ancient name of Odisha) used to have trade links with Bali and Sumatra in Indonesia. The key ritual involves floating decorated paper boats in the river. The biggest celebration takes place on the banks of the Mahanadi River near Cuttack. The local administration organises a week-long craft and cuisine fair in honour of the festival. When in Cuttack, do not forget to buy a finely crafted silver filigree product.
Konark (Dance) Festival
One of the best time to visit the Sun Temple of Konark, inscribed a Unesco World Heritage Site in 1984, is during the two festivals, held separately, in winter. The one organised by the state tourism department, popularly known as the Konark Festival, is held in early December. Apart from classical dance programmes with the famous temple as a background, artists’ camps, craft fair and sand art exhibitions are also organised. The International Sand Art Festival is also held at the same time at the Chandrabhaga Beach, about three km from Konark.
The Konark Music and Dance Festival, usually held in February, is now being organised by the Konark Natya Mandap, located about two km away from the Sun Temple. The programmes are held on its own premises, in an open-air theatre designed after the Natyashala (dance hall) of the iconic temple. Konark, Puri and Bhubaneswar is popularly known as the Golden Triangle of Odisha.
A popular festival of western Odisha, it is celebrated widely in Sambalpur and adjoining districts. Usually observed in Aug-Sep, it revolves around eating the ‘new rice of the year’. The rice is cooked with milk and sugar to make ‘kshiri’, which is then offered to Lakshmi, the Goddess of Wealth. Later, the sweet preparation is shared with everybody. It is also the occasion to spruce up homesteads, wear new clothes and indulge in merry-making with friends and relatives. Budget to mid-budget accommodation can be found in Sambalpur town, which is also well known for its uniquely patterned Sambalpuri sari and textile.
Maghe (Mage) Parab
The tribal festival calendar of Odisha varies from tribe to tribe. Maghe (Mage) Parab, observed by the Ho, Oraon, Kisan and Kol tribes, is a harvest festival, usually held in February. People offer thanks to the village deity, usually Mother Goddess, praying for her blessings for good fortune and protection from calamities. One of the key rituals involves sacrificing a black fowl before the deity and offering liquor made from ‘mahua’ flower. Besides, people wear new clothes and indulge in feasting and group dances.
Information: The best time to travel in Odisha is during winter, between December and February. Most of the festivals organised by the state tourism department is held during this time. It can be hot and humid during the Puri Rathayatra. Carry mosquito repellants while travelling through Odisha, especially while visiting the tribal areas.