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Saturday, November 27, 2021

Badi Bahaghara : A unique Prathamastami ritual from Odisha

Waking up an hour earlier than usual, I carefully pulled back the curtains to catch a glimpse of the sunrise. Only to be greeted by a thick curtain of fog. The third instance this week. I stifled a yawn and proceeded to the kitchen. Putting the water to boil, I checked on the batter that had been set out on the kitchen counter to ferment overnight. The dal for making the 'Badi' was soaked even as the tea leaves were brewing. Grabbing a cup of tea I mentally ticked off the tasks one by one. It promised to be one tough day but I was ready to take on the world. Powered by the brew. And perhaps bolstered by nostalgia. 














Prathamastami or the festival of the eldest child. A unique Odia festival that felicitates the eldest child regardless of gender and grooms him/her for continuing the family name and shouldering the responsibilities that come bundled with it. A day that is synonymous with the unique aroma of the turmeric leaves as steaming 'Enduri pithas' are doled out in every house. A day that heralds the 'badi paka' season. Marked with a very unique 'badi bahaghara' ritual in my mother's family. Perhaps a modification of the ancient practice of offering the first harvest of 'biri' or black lentil to the Gods. Or a reminder of the important position held by these sun-dried lentils when it comes to Odia marriage rituals. Some communities also follow a similar ritual called the 'Badi Anukula'. It sanctions the use of freshly harvested black lentils which are crucial to churning the best quality 'badi'. I distinctly recollect the rows of pristine white 'badi' drying in the sun in the backyards or on rooftops on this day. A single row would be markedly different from the others. Adorned with a dot of vermillion, a sprig of 'doob grass', and a small flower or petal tucked into each badi. An image that has stayed with me for all these years along with the sight and smells of the steaming 'Haladi patra pitha' even though the rituals of 'badi anakula' or 'badi bahaghara' are not  a part of the traditions followed in my in-law's place. 

When I look back at those days, I can very well relate to the wisdom that calls for the usage of turmeric and Gajapimpali leaves for steaming food. To ensure maximum benefit, the '√Čnduri pitha' is made and consumed for 7 days in a row and then on the eighth day, the vessel used for steaming', an earthen pot called 'Athara', is discarded. The simple act of reiteration to used to drive home the message. Studies have established that these leaves have anti-inflammatory and carminative properties. Ayurveda has always prescribed them as a remedy for  'Vata-dosha'. 
The below images shows the different types of 'Enduri pitha' prepared using the different kinds of leaves. 
( From left to right : Gajapimpali patra enduri, Haladi patra enduri, Saal patra enduri')

























Similarly, 'badi anakula' also signals the onset of winter and clear skies which create ideal conditions for making badi. In fact, the entire stash of badi is made during these months and stored for usage throughout the year. But as a child, I associated the day with new dresses, 'enduri pitha and mutton', and 'badi bahaghara'.




















'Jau Kandhei' / 'Lakha kandhei' or Lacquer Dolls, a traditional art form still practiced by the Shankhari and Jaura communities of  Balasore, Odisha. These are made from terracotta and then painted with lacquer using a few basic colors. While one can find different kinds of  'jau kandhei' like birds, animals, fruits, vegetables, and even kitchen utensils,  the most popular ones are the bride and groom dolls which are always sold or gifted in a pair. They are symbolic of marital bliss and as such gifted to newly married couples. While the origin of this art form is not documented, some researchers have pointed to the similarity with the Dhangra-Dhangiri clay dolls worshipped by the primitive tribes of Mayurbhanj. This seems a possibility given the physical proximity of the regions. But then, the striking similarity in the forms and the colors used in painting the dolls hint at an association with Jagannatha culture. Whatever be it's origin, this is one art form of Odisha that needs to be revived and put on the world map. 

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