Lord Jagannath is the presiding deity of Odisha. Many festivals which are celebrated at Lord Jagannath Temple Puri are also devotionally followed in every Odia households. Chitalagi or Chitou Amavasya is one such festival which falls on the new-moon day of the Sravana, mostly falls in the English month of July or August. On this day, in the temple of Jagannath, the deity bears a golden mark (Chita) on the forehead. A unique type of rice-cake called as Chitou pitha is given to the deity as food-offering. This variety is also prepared in every household of the Odisha, especially the coastal districts.
In rural Odisha, the festival is more or less observed as an agricultural festival. On this day the farmers worship the paddy-fields. After a purificatory bath in the morning, they go to their respective paddy-fields with cake (chitau pitha), flowers, milk, etc and pray the fields to yield a good crop.
There is tradition to appease evil powers through worship; whether they are serpents, animals, insects, or plants. People worship and pray them to avoid their wrath. Pilas breed enormously in the paddy-fields and tanks during the rainy season. Farmers while working bare-footed in the fields often get their feet cut by the sharp edge of their shells. Therefore, during the festival, the piles are appeased as a female form of evil power known as ‘Gandeisuni’ (Genda is pile). Not only the family of the farmers but also in every Odia family, the kids of the farmer go to the fields and while offering cakes or chitou pitha pray “Oh, Gandeisuni, be appeased and do not cut the legs of my father or brother”.
In western Odisha, this festival is known as ‘Harali kans’. People of the areas believe it to be a day of the witch, Tandei who moves in the dark to suck the blood of the children. To save children from her wrath mothers draw peculiar designs below the naval zone of the children before the night falls. As they believe that would scare away witch, a common variety of rice-cake Chakuli Pitha is offered to the witch to be appeased and thereafter the cake is taken by all.
Also Read: History of Shree Kshetra