Raja: A festival celebrating Womanhood

This article is authored by Ananya Bharadwaj

Picture credit: odishaconnect

Banaste dakila gaja, Barasake thare asichi raja, Asichi raja lo, Gheni nua saja baja.

These words echo in the ears of every odia girl which reminds her of the happy days of her girlhood. Raja Parba is a three-day-long festival celebrated in Odisha, India on the onset of monsoon in the asadha masa (Month of June) to cherish affection, love and womanhood. The first day is called “Pahili Raja” (First Raja), second is “Raja Sankranti” (Proper Raja) and third is “Basi Raja” (Past Raja). The term Raja came from Rajaswala (meaning a menstruating woman).

The genesis of this festival is immaterial of caste/creed and focuses on celebrating a gender; celebrating the transition of becoming a woman from a girl. Women menstruation is a sign of fertility, also Mother Earth or "Basumata” menstruates. Hence, all three days of the festival are considered to be the menstruating period of Mother Earth. The fourth day is called Basumati Snana, in which the ladies bath the grinding stone as a symbol of Bhumi with turmeric paste and adore with flower, sindoor etc.

While “Menstruation” is still a hush hush word not to be spoken in many households in India,

Odisha celebrates this biological magnificence in grandeur. While it is still a taboo and considered as making women impure which is a sheer act of ignorance that prevails in many parts of India, this Raja festival marches ahead to break this wrong notion and appreciates this occurrence which leads to women fertility and hence the reproduction of the human race. These 3 days of this festival holds a special place in my life. I remember being super excited about having a festival all to myself. New clothes, authentic odia cuisines and big swings awaiting to make my days special.

Three things which can be said to be the trademark of Raja Parba are:

1. Dressing up (Saja Baja)

A woman and her shringar are two irreplaceable items. Raja is no exception. The women especially the unmarried girls get ready with their new sarees/dresses along with ribbons, bindi, alata and kajala.

2. Special varieties of cakes and sweet betel (Pitha au Pana)

Pithas are prepared out of ingredients like rice-powder, coconut, ghee and jaggery. There are varieties of pithas which are prepared during raja such as poda pitha, enduri pitha, arisha pitha and many more.

3. The swings (Doli re khela)

The swings are of different varieties, such as ‘Ram Doli’, Chakri Doli, Pata Doli, Dandi Doli and Bamboo Doli etc. The rope of the swing, branches and trees are decorated with garlands of different flowers.

While Raja can be considered as a mere festival which is celebrated in Odisha, it gives us a reality check of the importance of gender equality. The act of menstruation should not be looked upon as making a woman impure but rather she should be appreciated for what she endures to keep the human race alive. It also provides an insight into the whole fact that we should value her contribution which makes the house a home.

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