A little-known thanksgiving festival, Pola or Bail Pola is celebrated by farmers in Maharashtra and Chhattisgarh to acknowledge the importance of bulls and oxen, who are a crucial part of agriculture and farming activities. It falls on the day of the Pithori Amavasya the new moon day in the month of Shraavana, which usually falls in August. During Pola, farmers don’t work their bulls in the farmland, and the day is a school holiday in the rural parts of Maharashtra. This year, the festival of Pola falls today, 26 August.
The cow is considered a sacred animal and is worshipped in the Hindu religion. The states of Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka celebrate the festival called Bail Pola whereas, in states like Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, the day is also celebrated as Pola Amavasya. The Hindu God and Goddesses are accompanied by animals like a bull named Nandi to Lord Shiva, and the Cow to Lord Krishna. This day is celebrated by the farmers of Maharashtra to pay importance to the cows and bullocks named Bail Pola, meaning Bullock Pola.
The festival is celebrated among the Marathas of central and eastern Maharashtra with a similar festival observed by farmers in other parts of India, known as Mattu Pongal in the South and Godhan in the North and West India. In Telangana, a similar festival is celebrated on full moon day and is called Eruvaka Purnima.
In preparation for the festival, bulls are washed and massaged with oils and then decorated with shawls, bells, and flowers, and their horns coloured, and they get new reins and ropes. The decorated cattle are offered a special food called khichadi, made of bajari or pearl millet. The decorated bulls and oxen are walked in a procession to the village field accompanied by music and dancing with lezhims, a musical instrument found in Maharashtra made of a wooden rod and an iron chain full of metallic pieces and drums. The first bullock to go out is an old bullock with a wooden frame called makhar tied on its horns. This bullock is made to break a toran, a wreath of mango leaves stretched between two posts, and is followed by all the other cattle in the village. A big fair is also organised during the festival including various sports activities including volleyball, wrestling, kabaddi and kho-kho.
Homes in the village are decorated with rangolis and toran on top of doors. Puja thalis with kumkum, water, and sweets are prepared, and when the cattle are returned from the procession they are formally greeted by family members, with an earthen lamp with ghee for puja and aarti. On the day following Pola, children decorate wooden bulls with beads and flowers.
It is believed that the festival has gotten its name from mythological events and texts. In one of the episodes of Lord Krishna’s life where he killed a demon named Polasur to save the villagers while still a child. And so this day is dedicated to children and animals and children get special treatment on this day.