There is no better evidence for this religio-spiritual yearning in its popular form than the string of festivals that is spread over the year. As has been said earlier, Odisha is a confluence of the Aryan, Dravidian and Adivasi cultures all of which by the quest of the numinous.
The major Hindu festivals which have a national character are: Saraswati Puja, Ganesh Puja, Sivaratri, Janmastami, Durga Puja, Lakshmi Puja, Kali Puja, Kartik Puja, etc.
Durga Puja (September-October) symbolises the commemoration of good over evil. Life comes to a stand-still in the city of Cuttack as crowds pour over the Puja Mandaps to enjoy the festivities. On the day succeeding Vijaya Dasami, the last day of Dussera, the images are taken in a spectacular procession for immersion in the river Kathajodi.
Saraswati Puja is usually held in January-February and it is also known as Vasanta Panchami (fifth day of Spring) and it marks the end of Winter and advent of spring. Saraswati is the goddess of learning and as such this festival is celebrated most ardently by the school and college students to pray for success in their academic pursuits. Thousands of clay idols are worshipped in the academic institutions, in public places and in homes. The next day the idols are taken in procession to rivers, ponds and seas and immersed. This immersion of idols is a common feature of all the festivals in which they are installed for worship. In some places the immersion cakes place on the 3rd, 5th or 7th day of the worship.
Ganesh Puja (August-September) is also a festival of students mostly, but adults participate in it eagerly as tire god, son of Sival is the remover of all obstacles the path of success in ones endeavours. Ganesh has the head of an elephant supposed to have been grafted on his trunk after his head was destroyed by the evil look of the god Saturn. He is famed for his intellectual brilliance and so students are attracted to him to achieve similar powers.
Shiva Ratri (February) is one of the most prominent festivals of the Saivites in Odisha. Owing to the presence of a large number of temples of Siva, the festival is celebrated widely. It is also known as Jagara jatra which refers to the night-long vigil kept by the devotees, especially women, to have their desires fulfilled. In many places the celebration of the festival is marked by the organisation of fairs of different kinds. The most notable places for this festival are the Lokanath temple (Puri), Lingaraj temple (Bhubaneswar), Kapilas temple (Dhenkanal) and Nrusinghnath temple (Balangir).
Janmastami, tile birth day of Krishna, is another famous festival observed in the temple of Jagannath ill many temples and maths and also in household shrines. Devotees fast throughout the day and break it only after the symbolic birth of Krishna takes place al midnight. Krishnas birth heralds the hope for the destruction of the demon Kansa and so it becomes memorable as the eventual triumph of good over evil. EM Forster has immortalized this festival in A Passage to India.
How powerful is the cult of Shakti worship in Odisha, both in the Tantric and non-Tantric forms, call be realized from tile festivals or Durga Puja (September-October) and Kalipuja (October-November) which are celebrated with utmost solemnity, gaiety and eclat. The great Mother as the ten-handed Durga is believed to come down from her husbands home on Mount Kailash to her parents abode on the Himalayas every year for three days, tile 7th , 8th and 9th days of the bright fortnight in the month of of Aswina. There site is Parvati, the daughter of king of mountains, but in her incarnation as Durga she is worshipped as the destroyer of the buffalo-demon Mahisasura. In Odisha richly decorated and beautiful made images are installed all over the state and the festival instils a spirit of holiness and sancity into the whole community so much so that people of other faiths participate in it with abundant warmth and sincerity. In Odisha the special feature of Durga Puja is that in the temples it soreads ovet sixteen days unlike on other parts of the country where it lasts for three to none days at most. It is the same story in regard to Kali Puja which is preceded by Lakshmi Puja on the full moon day after Durga Puja. Lakshmi Puja in public is celebrated in grandeur in places like Kendrapara and Dhenkanal but in the homes she is worshipped on that day for wealth and prosperity. Kali Puja has another dimension in Odisha. Kali is the destroyer of time or Kala, she too is the goddess of death and destruction having her abode in the cremation grounds. But to the Shaktas she is Parambrahma swarupjni (identical with the Supreme Brahman), creator of the universe, its sustainer and ultimately its detroyer The Markandeya Purana, Devi Bhagavata, Kalika Purana and othrer books describe her as the ultimate Mystery of the Universe. If she is the desroyer of Mahisasura (as Durga), Shumbha, Nishumbha, Chanda, Munda, Raklavirya, she is also the compassionate Mother. The two mudras in her right hands, abhaya (protection from fear) and vara (granting of boons) and the raised blood-smeared sword in one her left hands with the freshly severed head of a demon dangling from the other hand, with three eyes standing for the sun, the moon and fire (Agni) make her a most complex symbol of love, compassion and terror. Like the Durga Puja, Puja is observed all over the stale though not to the same extent. The Hindu festivals are numerous no doubt, but they do not diminish the importance of the festivals of the Muslims, Christians and Sikhs all of which are celebrated in Odisha in a spirit of camaraderie, almost unmatched elsewhere. Easter, Good Friday and Christmas; Id-ul-Fitre, Id-ul-Zolla and Muharram and Guru Nanaks birthday are observed by the respective communities with active public participation. It is the contemplation of the beauty, meaning and significance of these festivals both local and national, and the wide response evoked by them among the people that show how the stream of religion continues to flow as a subterranean in the collective life of the Odia people. The significance becomes overwhelming when one thinks of the perils of dehumanization brought about by a mechanistic view of the universe supplemented by a technotronic culture.
Dolapwnima or Holi is the most famous spring festival of India. Usually celebrated in March It has special properties in its celebration in Odisha where it is a five day affair, especially in the rural areas. The images of Krishna are worshipped form Dashami (10th day of the bright fortnight) to the full moon day. The images are taken in decorated vimans, small wooden temples, carried on the shoulders of bearers from house to house where offerings are made to them. After the tour of the village the vimanas from different villages are assembled in an open field and the time is spent in bhajana and kirtan. Jatras and palas are also held in the area. The day after the full moon day people throw coloured water on one another and smear each others faces with coloured powder (3bir). The festival is specially important for cattle owing to their association with the cowherd boy Krisllna. They are bathed, anointed with vermillion, garlanded and fed sumptuously. The festival is connected with the destruction of the demon Holikasura or the she-demon Holika by making a bonfire, for which the festival is called Holi. Such Melanas or Fairs continue till the month of Chaitra in different places of the district of Cuttack, Puri and Ganjam.
This festival is generally famous in Puri but in other pars of Odisha this is also observed related to Lord Jagannath or Krishna. This Takes place in the month of Vaisaksha and continues for long 42 days. But, generally speaking it is a Festival of first 21 days only.The first period of 21 days is known as "Bahar Chandan"or outer Chandan. During this period,the representative images of Rama,Krushna, Madanmohan,Sridevi and Bhudevi are taken in a procession to Narendra tank.The images of Siva from 5 Siva Temples known as "Pancha Pandavas" also accompany them to the Narendra tank, At Narendra tank the images play in well decorated boats and are worshipped. The second period of 21 days known as "Bhitar Chandana" is celebrated inside the Temple. The rites observed on this period are not popularly enjoyed.
This Festival takes places in the month of Jestha. it is popularly known as the Deba Snana Purnima.This is the first occasion in the course of a year when the deities Jagannath,Balabhadra,Subhadra along with Sudarsan and Madanmohan are brought out from the Temple and taken in procession to Snana Bedi located in the North East corner of the outer compound.The deities are bathed there with 108 pitchers of water drawn from a well near the Northern Gate. Here,Jagannath and Balabhadra are dressed like Lord Ganesh of the Purans with the head of an elephant.