Raja, pronounced as Raw-Jaw, is a three-day-long Odia festival which is celebrated in the second week of June in the state Odisha every year. It is a unique and one of the oldest tradition of Odisha that celebrates a girl’s beginning of Womanhood i.e. Menstruation. Although Raja festival has gone through a lot changes over time, it still an occasion for respecting women. Those who think women are impure during their periods must see how Odisha celebrates Raja, the festival of women fertility; because menstrual blood is the same that keep a life healthy and alive for nine months inside the mother’s womb. Menstruation is a part of life cycle and the reproduction process which is evidence of Fertility. About one year ago, Akshay Kumar’s movie ‘Padman’ made an effort to bring a little change in the perception, but still there is a lot of things to do. So it’s really important to celebrate occasions like Raja. ‘Raja’ is derived from an Odia word ‘ Rajaswala’ that means menstruating women.
Myths behind Raja:
As per the myth, during the three days of Raja, ‘Bhu-Mata’ (Mother Earth), the spouse of Lord Jagannath goes through menstruation cycle and on the fourth day; she is offered a ritualistic bath. During the Raja three days, agricultural activities like sowing, planting, cultivating soil or ploughing are prohibited because our Mother earth is supposed to be undergoing rejuvenation.
Each single day of this festival has its own name and significance. The first day of Raja is known as ‘Pahili Raja’ (First Raja). The second day is popularly known as ‘Mithuna Sankranti’ or ‘Raja Sankranti’ (Proper Raja ), which is a sign of the advent of the solar month of Mithuna (Monsoon or Rainy Season). The third day of this Raja festival is ‘Bhu Daaha’ (Past Raja) while the fourth day is known as ‘Vasumati Snana’ or ‘Vasumati Puja’ (Bathing and praying of mother earth).
How Raja Festival is celebrated?
Notably, Raja is a festival of the unwed girls who are the potential mothers. In these three days, Young girls and women do not take part in cooking and other household chores rather they take rest for three days. Combing of hairs, sweeping floors and walking bare foot are restricted during the Raja days. According to custom, the ladies rise before dawn, apply turmeric paste and oil all over their bodies and take bath. They wear new clothes and ornaments in all these three days.
The nubile beauties put Alta in their feet and get involved in merry making such as playing different indoor and outdoor games such as cards, ludo, pasha, punchi etc. There are special Raja songs which are available in ancient odia folk-poetry, are sung by the young girls. During all these three days, they are busy in spending long cheery hours, moving up and down on swings, eating different types of Pithas (Cakes) and rich food at the houses of their friends and relatives.
Raja is not only all girl’s affair, but also for Men folk. As all the agricultural activities are suspended and there lies a joyful atmosphere everywhere; the young men also keep themselves busy in different types of country games, from which the most popular is ‘Kabadi’. The Raja Festival seems incomplete without Poda Peetha (a baked cake). The taste and fragrance of this Peetha is so captivating that it is said to be Lord Jagannath’s favorite cuisine and served to him after having the meal in Jagannath temple Puri. Raja Pana and Mutton Curry remain the center of attention in the festivity of Raja.
The most interesting and entertaining part of this festivity is the Raja swings which is made with Rope and Pata, on big banyan trees and the lyrical odia folk songs which is heard from the young beautiful ladies is really commendable.
Raja festival, which was first started as a tribal tradition; is now celebrated all over Odisha and more ardently in coastal districts like Puri, Balasore and Cuttack. ‘Pahili Raja’ is the last day of the odia month Jeshtha (Summer) and the ‘Raja Sankranti’ is the first day of the month Asadha (Monsoon). So Raja welcomes monsoon in a festive and pleasing way after months of scorching summer. What makes this festival so unique is the special combination of rich custom along with fun and mouthwatering cuisines in the midst of the first shower of monsoon. Spending quality time with family, friends and relatives makes Raja a festival like no other.