Performance of Nyo-dem Festival
Every village fixes a day for the celebration of the ceremony. Prior to the celebration of the festival, rice beer is prepared from the new rice of the season. The house wife, before brewing takes bath and boils rice in a new earthen pot. She also grinds rice for cakes wearing new clothes. The prepared food is first offered to Budha-Budhi i.e. the ancestor spirits and then consumed by the members of the community.
On the day fixed for the celebration of the festival, all the houses of the village and courtyard are smeared with cow dung by the females. Meanwhile, the head of the family fetches three Bhelwa branches from nearby forest. The family members then take a sacred bath in the village stream or tank while the female head fetches a pot of water in a new earthen pot. The male members then depart to the forest to fetch a bundle of paddy stalk.
Few stalks are kept aside for ritualistic performances while the rest is handed over to the women for preparation of parched rice. The male head, in a winnowing basket, places several bhelwa leaf and leaf cups containing sun dried rice, rice cake, rice flour rice, husks of gora paddy, parched rice, beer, molasses, incense sticks and a small amount of burning husk. He then comes out of the house. One of the members carries three Bhelwa branches, whilst the other members fetch three fowls of different colours; red, white and spackled. Among them the first two are cocks and the third one is hen. Two branches are placed at the entrance gate of the house and one is fixed at the back side of the house.
The rituals of the festivals are performed by the head of the family who at the onset cleans and smears cow dung before the Bhelwa branch at the back of the house. He settles down for the puja facing the eastern side with a winnowing fan containing the leaf cups with different articles. Firstly, few leaf cups are placed on the spot.
The first cup usually contains rice husks, while the second kept to its right side contains burning coal. Towards its left the winnowing fan is kept containing other cups. Burning coal is placed over the husk to make fire in which wicks are lit. Later butter, incense, molasses and rice beer are also put in the sacred fire. The members present during the festival offer prayers to Bero-lerang (sun-moon God) for prosperity and affluence of the family and a good agricultural yield. He then sprinkles molasses and incense on the burning coal and prays to ancestral spirit.
The festival encompasses the sacrifice of a white cock in the name of Ponomosor while a red cock is sacrificed in the name of spirits of the dead i.e. Danar Masan thought to wander about in up lands (Danr). The blood of the sacrificed fowls is sprinkled over the respective heaps of arwa rice together with rice beer that is poured five times over these heaps. The priest prostates five times and prays loudly in presence of others. The remaining rice beer in the Bhelwa cup is drunk by the worshipper.
The worshipper, after the completion of the performances, accumulates all the articles in the winnowing fan and sprinkles water over it. Next, five paddy stalks are wrapped in a Bhelwa leaf and immersed in rice flour and water. Upon arriving at the door, the rice flour is sprinkled over the Bhelwa branch.
The family head finally takes a bath again, after which he sacrifices fowls to the ancestral spirit, one of which is a red cock and the other a spackled hen. The red cock is offered in the name of male ancestors while the spackled hen is given in the name of female ancestors. Besides, arwa rice, beaten rice, two rice flour cakes and a jar of rice beer are also offered in the name of ancestral spirit. The sacrificial meat of the fowls is consumed by all the members present during the puja.
The following day, the Bhelwa branch, the Mahadeo jata (a thorny creeper), Bhelwa branch, Mahadeo Jata and some amount of arwa rice are collected by the ahead of the family and planted in the centre of one of his paddy fields. The rice is however, tied up in a Bhelwa leaf packet at the peak of the Bhelwa branch.
Nyo-dem Festival, one of the most exuberant festivals of the Kharias marks the observance and execution of different rituals that form an integral part of the tribal community structure.
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