Prathamastami is a household Odia festival observed every year to celebrate the prosperity and long-life of the firstborn of the family. Prathamastami is a combination of two words such as ‘prathama’ which means first and ‘asthami’ which means the eighth day.
The festival is called Prathamastami because going by Odia almanac it falls on the Asthami tithi of Krushna Paksha in the Odia month of Margasira.
The firstborns are worshipped and honoured on the day. They are made to wear new clothes and eat several types of delicious pancakes. Since Margasira month is known as ‘Agrahyana month’, the elder child takes all the responsibility and care of the family.
Also Read: Glimpses of Bali Yatra in Odia Literature
Prathamastami & Lord Shiva
It is also known as Kaal Bhairava Ashtami or Paap-Nashini Ashtami as Kaal Bhairav is worshipped on this day. The importance of the day has been also mentioned in the tenth episode of the Ekamra Chandrika. Going by this mention, Prathamastami is Lord Shiva’s favourite festival. On this day, ‘trisakha’ bel leaves are offered to Lord Shiva.
On Prathamastami day, Lord Chandrasekhar - the representative idol of Lord Lingaraj, is worshipped as firstborn and goes on a ritualistic visit to his maternal uncle’s house.
Lord Lingaraj emerges from his sanctorum in a palanquin to visit a tank called Papanasini on his way to Kapalimatha, his maternal uncle’s house. The presiding deities of this matha Lord Baruneswar and Goddess Banadevi are the maternal uncle and aunt of Lord Lingaraj.
Prathamastami & Lord Krishna
Folklores have it that demon king Kansa was warned that Devaki’s eighth child would kill him. Thus, Kansa spared Devaki’s life, but killed every child born to her because of the threat to his life. He killed the first six sons born to her. When Devaki was carrying the seventh child, a miracle happened.
Lord Narayan summoned Yogamaya and asked her to transfer Devaki’s four-month-old foetus to the womb of Rohini, another wife of Vasudeva. Finally, Krishna took birth. Despite being the eighth child, he was the only one and eldest to survive. It is believed that since then Prathamastami (eldest and eighth) has been held.
Besides, it is believed that on this day Krishna and Balaram had visited maternal uncle Raja Kansa wearing new clothes and were honoured in a similar manner. And since then the eldest child of a family gets new dress as presents from the side of his/her maternal family which they wear on this day.
Deep Rooted Tradition
In our tradition, nephews perform maula shraddha which falls between Dussehra and Diwali. Nephews offer shraddha for their uncles as part of their tribute towards their uncles. It is because in Odia households, uncles generally give new clothes to their nephews till they get married.
Even after marriage, uncles invite the newly wedded nephew and his wife and gift them new clothes to mark the end of the Prathamastami ritual.
Significance Of Enduri Pitha
A special pancake called ‘enduri pitha’ or the ones prepared with help of turmeric plant leaves are offered as bhog during puja on this occasion. ‘Enduri pitha’ is filled with jaggery and grated coconut and wrapped in turmeric leaves before being steamed.
This delicious cake is first offered to the Goddess Sasthi before being served to others with kheer. As the pitha is made of special rice, health experts advise to have it. It helps boost our memory power and kills germs in body.
Also, there is a tradition of worshipping new crops on the day of Prathamstami. On this day, farmers pay respects to Goddess Lakhmi for blessing them with abundant crop.
Prathamastami At Sri Jagannath Temple
A special ritual of Lord Jagannath is held on this day. Madhabananda Jew is the maternal uncle of Lord Jagannath. As per tradition, new clothes and sweets arrive from the maternal uncle’s house on Prathamastami for the firstborn in a family.
On this day in Jagannath temple at Puri, Baruna Puja is held for Lord Jagannath after the daily morning rituals .Thereafter new clothes and sweets that come as an offering from Niali Madhaba temple is presented to the Trinity.
This ritual was discontinued for several years but has been reinitiated. The deities wear silken khandua and patta sent from their uncle’s house.
‘Enduri pitha’ is offered to Jagannath and his siblings in breakfast. This special steamed rice dumpling, stuffed with coconut and molasses filling, wrapped in turmeric leaves is prepared particularly on Prathamastami, once in a year and is offered to the Trinity.
By Dr Bijayalaxmi Dash, Ravenshaw University