The Saptapuri Ritual and the Folk-Beliefs in Orissa

Dr. Bhabagrahi Misra

The Saptapuri ritual, commonly known as satpuri ameisa in Orissa comes off on the new moon day of Bhadrab. Pandita Sarbasva, a smriti work quotes that Amavasya ca pitrena Nakshatrena ca sanyuta Sapta Prakarah pitaro jatah Kamala Sambhavat1, i.e. if the new moon day coincides with pitri nakshatra (Magha) seven pitris or manes are born of Bramha. In order to pay homage to these pitris, a ritual is being celebrated by the "Hindu" community of Orissa. It is further mentioned that Brihaspati, the teacher of the Gods, has prescribed this ritual, viz. Amavasya tritiya ca ta uposyah paranviteeti Brihaspati Vacanat2. The commentator here suggests that upavasa savdotra Vrataparah, i.e. upabasa here means not only fasting but a religious vow. The question naturally arises: who are these sapta pitris or manes, to whom the people of Orissa pay their homage on this day of the year? In connection with the arrival of Sita in the hermitage of Valmiki, Kalidasa says, “And, as the lunar-solar conjunction does to herds the last digit of the moon whose cream (nectar) has been drunk by the pitris, he transferred her depressed by grief, to the wives of the ascetics who were overjoyed at her arrival”3. Here the word pitribhih has been explained by Mallinath as Vairaja, Agnisvatta, Vashirsadah, Sukalah, Anglrasah, Susvadhah and Somapah. The first three are Amurttayah without visible form, i.e. composed of intellectual and not elementary substance and assuming any form at will. The other four are 'Samurttayah (corporal) 4. ln Manu smriti we find that they are regarded as the parents of gods and as the sons of Marichi5. But the Oriya lexicon refers to sapta pitris as Agnisvattah, Vahirsad, Bhaskara, Ajyapa, Upahvata, Kravyadi & Sukalina. Though the names of these pitris or manes differ from that suggested by Mallinath, the rules that are followed in the ritual are specifically mentioned. It is said that “a cake [containing seven kinds of 'pura‘ (sweets)] offered to a deity on saptapuri newmoon day". It is further stated that the other name for this day is Kausi amabasya. Lord Jagannath at Puri, Lingaraj at Bhubaneswar temples are offered with a cake (containing seven kinds of pura) or seven kinds of cakes. The people also perform pinda dana (offering of homage) to their forefathers. It is believed that if the wives deify their husbands on this day, they will be blessed with sons and will never become widows in seven rebirths to follow6.       

            It appears from these facts that the saptapuri amabasya is a day for offering homage to the ancestors and so some times named as 'Sapta Pitrika' amabasya, also. This ritual is being observed in all parts of Orissa. But the festivities are more in Koraput, Bolangir, Ganjam and Balasore districts. The people do not understand the metaphysical side of the ‘Hindu’ religion. Like the people of any other part of India the people of Orissa from their birth, attach some importance to the cosmic being. But they have devised their own system of worship and attach no importance to the prescribed procedures in performing the rituals. The anecdotes, beliefs, connected with the ritual show that although they differ apparently, the aim of the people is same, i.e. to gain divine mercy in life's journey be it Durga, Jagannath, sasthi or Vanjari Devi of the aboriginal tribes.


 In Jeypore or Koraput district this is one of the biggest rituals that is Observed. The children wearing new garments will be seen pulling earthen oxen, elephants made of wood, on the road. In every house Seven different cakes are prepared and, offered to Sasthi Devi, the goddess who look after the welfare of the children. Regarding the origin of this ritual, the story is as follows:            

The ruling dynasty of this place was not the settlers of Jeypore first. They had there capital at Nandapur, forty two miles from Jeypore. The Kings of this dynasty were the descendants of the Surya Bamsa. A ruler of this dynasty had no son. He had only a beautiful daughter for whom the king was in search of a suitable bridegroom. With much effort he could contrive to give the hand of his daughter in marriage to a prince of Surya Bamsa (some connection may be there with the famous sailodbhaba dynasty of Ganjam). They spent a few years happily. Then there arose a conflict between the father-in-law and the son-in-law. The son-in-law was driven out of the kingdom. Once the king had been to Jeypore and found that a tortoise was playing with a snake near the present palace. So the king thought that the place must have some sanctity. He thought, if he would shift his capital from Nandapur to Jeypore, perhaps he would have no enemy. As he found the land as place of victory, he named it as Jeypore. In the meantime the son-in-law finding no other avenue of getting out of this misfortune went to the river named Sabari Ganga (present  dam Kolab). Frustrated and crest-fallen, the prince was found to be weeping on the bank of the river. A clan of merchants, known as Baiparis, was coming towards Nandapur with their mercenary articles. While crossing the river,  they found the prince weeping. They asked him about the cause of his grief. Then they assured him of their help. The king and these  Baparis entered into an agreement that the Baparis will have trading right in the country. The Baparis won the round. Then they placed the prince on the throne of Nandapur.  When the prince asked them, how he could serve them  in return, the Baparis asked the king to worship oxen  on the new moon day of Bhadra, in dedication to the memory of the service rendered by them. Since then the ritual is being  celebrated at Nandapur. Then the new king fulfilled the desires of his father-in-law and shifted the capital from Nandapur to Jeypore. Consequently the people of Jeypore worship the oxen -made of earth to commemorate this incident.                         

As the Baiparis stray about from place to place with loads of mercenary articles on the backs of oxen, elephants and camels, they consecrate the services of the said animals by worshipping them. The people of Jeypore make idols of these oxen and elephants and the children pull them on the road. An old man of Jeypore told me that previously elephants were not worshipped. Of late, during the regime of the last ruler some artists were brought from Parlakemidi, a neighbouring place, to Jeypore. These artists have replaced the earthen oxen by the decorated and well-painted wooden elephants.

          Any way, this day is being observed in Jeypore with much pomp and glory and is regarded as a day of worshipping Sasthi.

          The aboriginal tribes living near Jeypore are said to worship a goddess known as Vanjari, and worship their oxen in the jungle area. They celebrate the day in feast and merry making.


The beliefs of the people of Ganjam are totally different from that of the people of Koraput. In the latter case they have based their beliefs on historical & legendary facts. Two stories are prevalent in Ganjam. According to the first one, there lived a sadhaba (merchant class of Orissa) who had seven sons and one daughter. The name of the daughter was Polarei. Once the brothers sailed for business. While leaving home they told their wives to look after Polarei. But these seven wives tortured Polarei, after her brothers left home. So she made a fast and worshipped the "Adya Sakti', Sasthi Devi. The goddess answered to her invocations. After a few days her brothers returned & there was an end to her grief. As the goddess came to her rescue in times of her afflictions, she made seven kinds of cakes and worshipped Sasthi. Since then the girls worship Sasthi to protect them from the storms and stresses of life. This story resembles a story connected with another ritual known as ‘Khudurukuni Osa' in which the name of the sadhabas' sister is Ta Poi. Perhaps the latter story has influenced the former one.

              The second story is bit romantic. There was a sadhaba who had a son and a daughter. Once the son purchased two kendus (a kind of fruit.). He ate one and buried the other on the bank of a tank. He expected that the kendu tree would crop up on the spot and bear fruits. In the mean time his sister had been to the tank to take her bath. She dug out the kendu and ate it. After some days the brother went to see the seedling, but to his surprise found no trace of it. He found a saree left near the place where he had buried the kendu. The saree was left by his sister by mistake. Without knowing it, he made a promise that he would marry the girl who had taken away his kendu. When the sister heard the promise of her brother, she was nervous. She told her mother all about it. The mother told every thing to the son and tried to pacify him, but of no avail. The sister having no other way out went to a nearby river and finding a boat there, sailed down stream. When he was sailing down stream, the people of the place asked her to come back. There is a fine song about it. They called her in the following words:-

                                                        Lahunira bedi taraligala
Pana chhamundia jhaunligala
Asa, Asa tuhi Raja jema are
To karame eha daiva kala.

(The altar of butter has melted away / The vault of betel leaves has desiccated / Come back, come back, Oh! Princess! It was the heaven that this should be for you.)             

       But the girl did not return. The boat sailed on. At least the boat became stationery at the foot of a hill. There she got down and dwelt in a cave. During the new moon day of Bhadraba, she worshipped the Adya Sakti of the forest, to do away with her miseries. Some days later a prince of the area chanced to pass by that side for a hunting expedition. He saw the girl and was attracted by her beauty. Then he took her with him and married her. The girl felt that due to the mercy of Adya Sakti she was saved from her afllictions. Hitherto she worshipped the Adya Sakti every year. According to the tradition,  she begged seven kinds of fruits and worshipped the goddess. Since then the ritual is being observed throughout Ganjam district. The ladies who observe this ritual, beg seven kinds of vegetables from neighbours and prepare a curry for their deity. (Informant : Madhusudan Mohapatra. Vill & P.O., Silula. Ganjam.)


In many parts of Bolangir this ritual is being observed as a worship of the goddess Sasthi. In Sonepur the people believe, Ramachandra while starting for SriLanka (Ceylone), worshipped Durga on Saptapuri Amabasya. The worship of Durga continued upto the Dasahara festival and at last the goddess was satisfied with his worship and helped him in the battle against Rabana. According to another belief, SriLanka was set on fire on this day. And Ramachandra offered sacrifices to Lankeswari.         

      The ritualistic details that are followed in Sonepur seem to have some tantric influences. It is regarded as a worship of Sasthi Devi. The worshipper is known as 'Sahani'. He has been provided with land by the ancestors of the ex-ruler to maintain himself and to perform this worship once a year. The priest does not take any food for the whole day. He is expected also not to talk with anybody till the evening upasana (prayer) is finished. Early in the morning the priest comes to the temple of Sasthi in the ruler's palace and performs prayer. Then he moved from the palace to the temple of Samaleswari. While leaving the place, he takes an earthen toy- elephant on his head. The people of the place follow him in a procession. In every house of Sonepur the ladies worship Sasthi Devi. A cow (of undried soil)_and an oven (chuIi) is kept in front of the goddess and is being worshipped. Besides these, seven kinds of toys made of earth are also worshipped. These are chuli (Oven), Garia (water vessel) Telauni (earthen covering for the earthen pot), Chatu (Bat), Tambi (an unit for measuring rice), Pankhi (Knife for cutting vegetables), Pitha patia (spatula) for making cakes. These are all made of earth. Thepeople also make some dolls viz. elephant, cow and horse etc. They take these dolls in processions and follow the priest to the Samaleswari temple. In the evening the priest makes seven round of a pillar inside the temple known as Ghuda Khumba (Horse- pillar), and throws the toy- elephant before the goddess. After throwing the same he returns home without looking back. Then the people also throw their dolls. Until the elephant is thrown before the goddess, the oven and the cow made of undried soil placed before Sasthi, in every house, is not thrown. Some people make dolls of Hanuman also. They do not throw the Hanuman. Instead, they keep it on the top of the house. They believe that by keeping the idol of Hanuman on the roof of the house, they will escape from the danger of fire.

The seven kinds of earthen dolls, which are worshipped in every house have some significance. The people believe that each and every girl of the house should know the use of these things. They are the indispensable accompaniments of the kitchen. Over and above, the girls of Orissa are supposed to know the use of these things, before their marriage. In every house several kinds of cakes are prepared to worship these things, placed before the deity. The widows are forbidden to even touch the articles meant for the puja.  

It is believed that the ritual is being observed since the regime of the Chauhan dynasty, the dynasty to which the present ex-Ruler belongs. (informant: N.K. Tarasia of Sonepur).


The story prevalent in Balasore is to some extent same as that of the first story of Ganjam. They believe that on this day the Sadhabas were sailing for trade & business for foreign countries. The story of ‘Ta Poi‘ has also influenced the saptapuri ritual story present here. They believe that there was a sadhaba family consisting of seven brothers. The wives of these brothers used to prepare seven kinds of salads (frying seven kinds of edible green leaves), to hold farewell to their husbands. We know from the history of Orissa that Balasore had a port in older days. So it is natural that the people in their beliefs, must have attached some importance to observe this day in commemoration of their past glory. They worship their respective deities on this day.

I have not been able to know about the beliefs of the people of other districts. In Cuttack and Puri districts this ritual is observed by preparing either -a cake with seven puras or seven kinds of Cakes. The people worship their respective deities. The Jagannath temple Act published by the government of Orissa gives in detail the work of the different attendants of Lord Jagannath on this day. Saptapuri is one of those festivities,  which is observed in Jagannath temple with much pomp and glory. Different kinds of cakes are prepared to offer it to Lord Jagannath and the work of preparing those have been assigned to different attendants of the temple.     

         In concluding, l must say that the observance of Saptapuri, to pay homage to the forefathers is not being followed everywhere in Orissa. Some local elements have been introduced in course of time. The different folk beliefs  tend one to think that the festivities of the different places are not in any way associated with the birth day celebration of the seven pitris or manes. It may be suggested that this occasion is an independent ritual at different places associated with the sapta pitrika day. This is one of those ancient festivals of India, which has been inseparably associated with different myths and legends and has taken up local colours. It is a significant thing in Orissa as well as in India that the people associate the rituals and festivals with their respective deities. But one thing is clear from the above-mentioned stories and beliefs that the children are associated with the ritual at almost all the places. Perhaps the people believe that by satisfying their ancestors or their respective deities, their children will be happier in life.

              But one is surprised to see that the method of worship is different at different places, the number seven is common to all places. The worship of seven kinds of household articles at (Sonepur), the seven kinds of salads prepared at Balasore, the begging of seven kinds of fruits in Ganjam or seven kind of cakes prepared at other places is there. Perhaps the people in their beliefs have considered this number as auspicious. The pitris have been replaced, but the number is still there. Any way, one will have no contradiction to mention here that the people of Orissa worship Sakti, Siva, Vishnu, Ganapati etc. and are not sectarians in this respect. The Jagannath cult has taught them to respect each individual system of worship, as well as to remain united in religious thought. The different deities worshipped at different places on Saptapuri ritual conform this view. The people of Orissa in their own way of living and thought have devised their own method of worship, but have remained identical at the core.


  1. Pandita Sarbasva   The Ex-Ruler Mahendra Dev of Athamallik state, 1807.P-102
  2. Ibid.
  3. 3.Raghuvamsa, Canto xiv, sl.80, ed. $.P.Roy,vii edn. Pp.294-95
    Tamarpayamasa ca Sokadeenam Tadagama PreetisuTapasisu
    Nirvistasaram PitribhirhimamsorantyamKalamDarsaibausadheesu.
  4. “Saptete jayatam srestha sarve pitriganah smritah Catvaro murtimamanto vietraya esammurttayah.” Hv. - Raghu Vamsa, Ed. P.Kale-canto XIV-122.
  5. “Viratsutah somasadah sadhyanam pitarah smritah Agnisvattasca devanam marica lokavisritah.”  Manu-lll-195, lbid.
  6. Purnachandra Bhasakosa, G.C. Praharaja, Vll., p. 8375

Source: Random Thoughts, Acharya Bhabananda (formerly known as Dr. Bhabagrahi Mishra), Mayur Publications, Bhubaneswar, 2000, Pp. 119-126