Environmental Issues, Festivals

Panchuka : The Festival that celebrates Sustainability

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Panchuka : The unique festival of Odisha

Odisha, the land of temples, culture and art has unique festivals to it’s credit that celebrates true spirits of life. One such unique festival is Panchuka which is celebrated in the holy month of Kartika of the Hindu calendar. This festival overlaps from the month of October-November. The month of Kartika is considered to be the most sacred and holy month as per the Hindu Calendar. The people of Odisha in this month abstain from eating non-vegetarian food. It is a month-long fast. One who cannot fast for the entire month at least observe the last five days of this holy month known as “Panchuka” or ” Bagapanchuka”.‘Baga’ means crane, it is said that even cranes turn pious during this period and abandon eating fish.

Now, how does this festival is related to sustainability? Well, before finding this relationship it is important to understand the meaning of sustainability. In simpler words, sustainability is avoidance of the depletion of natural resources to maintain the ecological balance. And this unique festival exactly does that apart from its spiritual connection it helps the natural resources to bounce back. The whole month people abstain from eating non-veg food and also avoid a few vegetables like brinjal, sweet potato, potato etc.

Before delving deep and finding out how Panchuka, the festival that celebrates sustainability. It is important to know the rituals attached to this festival.

Panchuka Rituals

  • Most of the festivals of Odisha revolves around the rituals of Jagannath Temple and Panchuka is no different. Lord Jagannath is adorned in different Bhesa (attires) on all five days. On the first day Lord adorns Laxminarayan Bhesa, followed by Bankachuda Bhesa, Tribikrama Bhesa and Laxminrusingha Bhesa.The last day Lord gives darshan to his devotees in “Rajarajeswar Bhesa“.
  • Taking bath early in the morning and visiting temple is another ritual that people religiously follow through out the year. It is believed that this ritual would help people to be in good health and drive out lethargy during winter times.
  • Whole month people of Odisha abstain from non-veg food. During these five days, Goddess Lakshmi and Lord Narayan are worshipped. Married women also worship Goddess Vrundavati , the wife of the demon Jalandar,in the form of Tulsi plant , praying for the long life of their husbands. They decorate the place where tulsi is planted with “muruja” or rangoli.
  • On the last day of the month of Kartik which is a Purnima or full moon day, there is mass commemoration of glorious maritime and naval festival “Boita Bandaana“. Boita means boat and bandaana means worshipping the boats for the safe return of the traders known as “Sadhaba Pua“( Trader cum sailor) who would sail centuries ago to far off land of SouthEast Asia and Sri Lanka to trade Odisha’s rich weaves, metal crafts, spices and lot more.
  • A famous fair “Bali Jatra” is held annually during Kartika Purnima on the golden sands of Mahanadi river at Cuttack since over 8 centuries.

Why Panchuka is the festival that celebrates sustainability?

  • Apart from spiritual and religious sentiments, the abstinence from non-veg food is backed by a solid scientific reason. Odisha being a coastal state the staple food is rice and fish and the month of Kartika falls soon after monsoon which is the breeding season for fishes. The complete abstinence of non-veg food for a month helps the nature to bounce back.This practise has been their for ages now and its done to bring back the balance .
Panchuka: The festival that celebrates sustainability
Muruja near Vrundavati (Tulsi plant)
  • The muruja or rangoli is not done from the coloured powder available in the market but they are made naturally. All the colours are eco-friendly as they are considered to be pure. Black colour is obtained by burning coconut shells, yellow colour from turmeric powder,white from the raw-rice powder, green by grinding dry leaves, red from sindoor or from grinding brick . Although in today’s time people have started preferring easily availaible colours from the market.
  • This festival not only helps in restoring the balance in nature but also helps to detoxify the body as people prefer “Satvic diet” which is not only devoid of onion ,garlic but prefers more locally grown vegetables and fruits . The show stopper dish that is cooked in almost all the Odia household during Panchuka is “Habisa Dalma”. Unlike, other dalmas this dalma is cooked only with raw moong dal and without turmeric.It has typical vegetables like elephant apple (oou in odia) , raw banana, pumpkin and colocasia. The elephant apple is easily available during this time of the year in Odisha that renders a tangy taste to the dalma. The elephant apple is also used to make a tangy, syrupy chutney popularly known as “Oou khatta”. This typical vegetable is loaded with B complex vitamins, proteins and healthy fats that offers vitality as well as vigour.
Habisa Dalma - The main dish of Panchuka.
Habisa Dalma
  • Eco-friendly boats are made out of the banana stem and are floated in rivers, ponds or any water bodies to commemorate the glorious maritime past that Kalinga possessed. Early morning on Kartik Purnima girls and married women float handmade boats with betel leaves, flowers, lamps, for the safe return of the sailors cum traders known as “Sadhaba pua” and this ritual is popularly known as “boita bandaana”.
handmade ecofriendly boats from banana stem
Handmade boats out of a banana stalk

“Aa Kaa Maa Bai, Paana Gua Thoi, Paana Gua Tora Maasaka Dharama Mora”

The popular folk song sung during the ritual of Boita Bandaana.

Aaa (Aasadha), Kaa (Kartika), Maa(Maargasira), Bai (Baisakha)
….with the boating festival when the hand made boat float.

[There is also an interesting but different opinion on this month, Here, Aa-Ka- Ma-Bai connotes the month of Asadha, Kartika, Margasira and Baisakha. While the period from Asadha to Kartika (July – September) was the season of outgoing voyage and Magha to Baisakha was considered to be the season of the return voyage.

Every ritual and practice followed during Panchuka helps to maintain the ecological balance both of nature as well as of the human body in a sustainable way. Bringing back the balance is the main mantra of this unique festival since times immemorial.

This blog post is part of the #causeachatter campaign hosted by Blogchatter.

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21 thoughts on “Panchuka : The Festival that celebrates Sustainability

  1. I had heard about panchuka festival first time. loved this concept so much. all the practices followed in this festival are great for environment and a best way to serve mother earth. thank you so much dear for sharing all details about it. indeed, it was an informative read.

  2. Awesome post Debi. Didn’t know so much about this festival. Infact haven’t heard about it. I liked how it supports sustainability. If we see then, our for our elders sustainability was their way of lifeZ it’s the today’s generation who is creating a buzz about it. These rituals go so much deep than just being a custom. Thank you for writing this post and explaining it so well.

  3. This was an eye opening post. I didn’t know about this festival and its beauty. Thank you for sharing such interesting details about Panchuka, its relevance and its sustainability aspect.

  4. This is such a unique festival, I am hearing about this for the first time and I must say it sounds interesting too. Of course the best part is how it contributes to sustainability. Thanks for sharing about it.

  5. Debidutta, it was so enriching post and very good to know about the festival Panchuka. Every festival that is celebrated has deep roots of scientific research too from ancient times. I am firm believer that if festivals are celebrated with core values then we shall sustain.

  6. Never heard about Panchuka festivals but it’s really great to know about it in detail through your post and feels nice to see how each festival of India teaches some great values. Sustainability is the key for healthy environment and healthy body, so wonderful learning from this festival.

  7. Wow Debi this festival is completely new to me but I was so happy to read about it! The traditions of our country and their heartfelt reasoning really amaze me!

    1. I am glad that you liked it and yes, our traditions, as well as festivals, are not just rituals but they are backed by science too.

  8. Kartik is a holy month for us Marwaris too since it’s Diwali time. I love how our ancient traditions and rituals always have a scientific reason behind them. This concept of sustainability is great.

    1. Odisha is not only the land of temples but also unique festivals. We also celebrate menstruation and womanhood which is a taboo everywhere. ‘Raja’ is the festival .

  9. I love the fact that the festival follows complete abstinence of non-veg food for a month. The way blog has covered details about the Panchuka festival and the food, the song is something everyone should learn from.

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