RAJA – A FESTIVAL FOR WOMANHOOD AND MOTHER EARTH


Raja (pronounced RAW-JAW) is a unique festival of Odisha. It probably is the only such festival anywhere in the world that explicitly celebrates womanhood. The name of the festival is derived from rajahswala – meaning a menstruating woman. The festival is supposed to be the menstruating period of Mother Earth or Bhoodevi – considered to be wife of Lord Jagannath.

 

A majority of mass festivals across India have some kind of association with agriculture. Raja is no exception. It marks the advent of monsoon and the earth soaking the first drops of rain making it wet. This is symbolized as the menstruation period and celebrated because this prepares the soli for agriculture, just as the menstruation marks the readiness of a woman for motherhood. It symbolizes fertility.

 

Raja is celebrated for three days around the Mithuna Sankranti—the day that marks the transmigration of the Sun to the zodiac sign (constellation) of Mithuna or gemini. Raja festivals starts a day prior to the Sankranti and ends the day after Sankranti—thus making it a three-day festival. This first day is called the Paheli Raja – literally meaning the first day of Raja; the second day is called Raja Sankranti and the third day is called Bhoodahaor simply Sesha (last) Raja. The fourth day, though not exactly part of the same festival, is called BasumatiSnanan or BasumatiGadhua literally meaning the bath of the Mother Earth, marking the end of the period.

 

It is one of the very few major festivals that are celebrated according to solar calendar. Most other festivals in Odisha are celebrated according to the lunar calendar.



 

Celebration

Unlike other festivals that are all about worshipping and rituals, Raja is all about pure celebration and merry making. In fact, women do not worship; do not do much of household chores, do not walk barefoot. Traditionally, they did not take bath as well, but that is changing.

 

People take special care not to hurt the earth; all agricultural activities are explicitly prohibited.

 

There are some ‘essential’ components of celebration all to do with fun and food. The most important ones

 RAJA DOLI (swing) - Swinging on swings tied to large trees is a major part of the celebration
  • PODAPITHA - a special type of cake prepared through roasting, a unique food item of Odisha
  • PANA – a special type of paan or betel leaf with various ingredients mostly spices and sweets inside it. Making in various ways with different shapes and sizes is considered a desirable skill.

Another special attraction is the Rajadoli Gita or the song of Raja.

It goes like this

Banastedakilagaja

Barashakethareasichhi raja lo

Gheninuasajabaja

It roughly means

 The elephant is calling in the forest

Raja has come once in a year

Bringing with it new ways of preparedness (make-up)

It may be noted here that Odisha was known for abundance of elephants in its forests. The king of Odisha was called Gajapati.

While menstruation was considered a taboo in most cultures and menstruating women are not allowed to enter places of worship even today a full-fledged festival celebrating this biological phenomenon reflects the evolved and mature outlook of the Odia people.

 

Sh. Shyamanuj Das


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9 April 2022 at 11:30 ×

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