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Rashmi Rekha Das

‘Banaste dakila Gaja,

barasake thare aasichhi Raja,

asichi raja lo

gheni nua sajabaja!’

These lines are very close to the heart of every Odia girl irrespective of their age group. They speak of a festival which is meant for and celebrated by girls. Young girls are seen singing this ballad in chorus while swinging and playing puchi. 

Most importantly, this festival is dedicated to Mother Earth and womanhood at large. Raja is the only festival in the world which celebrates womanhood and menstruation. With a few days left for the commencement of the three-day fiesta, let’s soak in the festive fervour and know what Raja is all about.

Raja and menstruation 

The word Raja has been derived from the word ‘Rajaswala’ which means a menstruating woman. At a time when menstruation is still considered a taboo that has to be discussed in secrecy in most of our households, Odisha celebrates it through a three-day festival named Raja. 

Even in 21st century, people even refrain from talking about periods, mostly assuming that such conversations may invite discomfort to the listener. A menstruating woman is considered impure in many parts of India even today. 

Thus girls are made to refrain from entering temple and offer puja. They are not even allowed to water plants just because they are considered impure. Though some rural pockets of India still struggle with the taboos related to menstruation, it is no more a taboo in Odisha as girls across the State celebrate this festival with fanfare.  

It is said that during the three-day festival, Mother Earth or Bhudevi undergoes menstruation. On the fourth day of the festival, Mother Earth is given a ceremonial bath. 

Raja is associated with agriculture as well. It marks the onset of monsoon and this prepares the earth for agriculture, just as the menstruation marks the readiness of a woman for motherhood. As in Hindu homes menstruating women remain secluded and are not allowed to touch anything and are given full rest, so also during Raja, Mother Earth is given full rest for three days during which all agricultural activities are cancelled. 

Thus, special care of Mother Earth is taken during the festivity. Everyone makes sure not to hurt Mother Earth. That’s why all agricultural works including tilling of land are not done in those days. Without exaggeration, we can say Raja festival symbolizes fertility.

Girls and swings 

On the first day of Raja, young women rise in the early morning, do their hair, anoint their bodies with turmeric paste and oil before going for bath in a river or pond. Also, maidens are not allowed to walk barefoot, scratch the earth, grind, tear anything apart, or cook during the festival. 

In short, girls enjoy these days to the fullest and make merry.  Young girls look their best in those days. Bamboo swings are the special attraction of the festival. Girls enjoy swing ride rending the village sky with their joyous impromptu songs (Banaste Dakila Gaja...). The number and the varying sizes of swings in villages make Raja a special one. 

Raja

About three days 

Raja is a three-day affair. It commences a day prior to the Sankranti and ends the day after Sankranti—thus making it a three-day festival. The first day is called the Pahili Raja which literally means the first day of Raja while the second day is called Raja Sankranti. 

Sankranti marks the transmigration of the Sun to the zodiac sign (constellation) of Mithuna or gemini. And the third day is called Sesha Raja means last Raja or basi Raja. However, the fourth day plays an important part of the carnival. The day is dedicated to Mother Earth as she undergoes a ceremonial bath marking the end of the period.

Poda Pitha

 

Raja

Raja festival sounds incomplete without pithas or cakes. Different kinds of pithas such as ‘Poda Pitha’, ‘Manda’, ‘Kakara’, ‘Arisha’, ‘Chakuli’ and ‘Chandrakala’ are made at home as part of the festival. That apart, these pithas are sold in kiosks as part of the festivity. But among the cakes, women make sure to bake Poda Pitha which is the essence of the festival. Else, the festival seems tasteless and colourless without it. Different variants of the pitha like ‘Janta Poda Pitha’, ‘Lau Poda Pitha’, ‘Biri Poda Pitha’ and ‘Savoury Poda Pitha’ are baked to mark the festival. 

Raja

Paan

Chewing Paan or stuffed betel cones is associated with Raja. Needless to say that, eating paan has become a ritual, especially for girls during the three-day swing festival. People like to savour a variety of paans during the celebration. 

Women of all ages are found chewing betels at shops, malls and restaurants to mark the festival. Different kinds of paans including fire paan, crushed ice paan and Ayurvedic paan, among various flavours, are available during the festival. 

As a result of fierce competition in the market, betel vendors are constantly working on new varieties to make brisk business.

Raja

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