Raja Festival : Odisha’s unique fest to raise toast to womanhood & Nature
Bhubaneswar: Raja as a festival holds much deeper significance than just an occasion to wear new and eat good. Like all other festivals in Odisha which have always been in sync with nature, Raja festival has deeper connotations that reflect the strong correlation of mankind with mother nature and helps build a value system. Since time immemorial, Raja celebrates menstruation, an otherwise taboo subject and thus dedicates the three-day fest to women and womanhood. The celebration equally finds reflection in nature where mother earth is compared to a woman and revered on all these days.
Termed also as harvest festival, during Raja, its believed that the woman and mother earth go through menstrual periods. Which is why, the celebration necessarily means to give rest to both by way of making them stay idle. While women are made to spend time on swings, eat well, wear new clothes, mother earth is also left to remain idle. Probably the only state to be observing a festival of menstruation, it is unique also for the reason that people of both sexes celebrate it with equal verve and enthusiasm.
The three day fest begins with a prologue when on the eve of Pahili Raja (1st day of Raja), termed as Sajabaja, which means getting prepared to celebrate, adolescent girls bathe with haldi, put on alta (red liquid used on the edge of the feet) wear new clothes and adorn kumkum on the forehead. Decades earlier the seriousness of the cause was so strongly observed that women were not supposed to take bath, comb hair or step on the ground for the reason that it might hurt them. Since during periods women are believed not to be touching deities, during these three days also, they are restricted to do puja. Young unmarried girls are also not allowed to cut or cook or do anything that might make them tired or cause pain. Swings are hung in every house and girls are supposed to rest, gorging on traditional pithas and paan. Though the customary rituals are giving way to modernity and women, mostly the young ones in the cities, have hardly any keenness to follow norms, the rural pockets continue to observe most of these with seriousness.
Named Pahili Raja, Raja Sankranti (2nd day) and Bhuin Naana (3rd day), all the three days are celebrated in a grand way. The fourth day, meant for Bhumi puja is considered important for the farming community as, like a woman, mother earth also is fertile on the subsequent days of Raja festival. On the day early in the morning, mother earth is revered near the Tulsi plant following which farmers start ploughing the fields and begin the process of cultivation with the belief that they will reap a good produce.
Some also believe that during these three days, Goddess Laxmi goes through her menses. The respect for women and treating them with care are thus compared to that of revering the goddess.
The festival that has seen many changes over the years, continues to hold significance in the present day. Some rituals which were waning, have bounced back. Though most would not be aware of the importance of the festival and its connect to nature, many places even in cities have now started community celebrations with feasting and fun.
However, it is difficult to comprehend that a state which celebrates womanhood also could register cases of crimes against women, rape and acid attacks at an alarming proportion. The national crime records bureau statistics stand testimony to this statement. It is thus important to celebrate a festival only when corroborated and justified by action on a day to day basis. Otherwise, Raja will come every year, the reason of celebration will remain the same, while reality will be presenting a different picture. Celebrate women and womanhood, but not only for three or four days a year, treat them with respect and care throughout. Happy Raja!