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Raja significance and why it’s an important festival.

Sanjeev Hota

Odisha, the land of Mahaprabhu Jagannath that celebrates 13 festivals in 12 months, where the number of festivals celebrated is more than 13. Odisha celebrates endless festivals throughout the year. Among all these one important festival is Raja Parba which is celebrated for three days during the mid of June,
Raja (pronounced Rawjaw) festival starts in Odisha from today. Raja Parba to be celebrated for three consecutive days from today. Raja is an agriculture-oriented festival, mostly observed in the coastal districts of Odisha for three days. Dedicated to Mother Earth (Bhu Devi) and womanhood at large. The festivities begin a day before Mithuna Sankranti and conclude two days after that.
And in those three days the Earth is free from all agricultural activities since Mother Goddess is expected to go through a rejuvenation. Each day has its own traditional celebrations and customs. On the last day the Bhumi is bathed and all types of seasonal fruits are offered to the Maa
The last day of month “Jestha” is known as “Pahili Raja” and the first day of month “Asadha” is Raja Sankranti (Mithuna Sankranti) from which rainy season starts. It also inaugurates the agricultural year all over Odisha which marks the moistening of summer parched soil with the first shower of monsoon making it ready for productivity. The second day of “Asadha” is known as “Bhuin Dahana.
The first day of the festival is called Pahili Raja, the second is Mithuna Sankranti and the third Bhu daha or Basi Raja. The preparation begins one day before Pahili Raja, and it is called Sajabaja. Primarily, it is a time for the unmarried girls to prepare for their matrimony. They follow various customs related to the festival by consuming nutritious food like Podapitha, not walking barefoot, taking a bath on the first day, and merrily swinging on ropes attached to a tree.
There’s a story associated with this festival. Earth (Bhuma Devi), the consort of Vishnu, undergoes her monthly cycle during this period. So its a festival that’s considered to be celebrating this aspect of womanhood which makes the feminine entity unique. Its considered as a sign of fertility, and therefore, it celebrates femininity and her ability to give birth to another life.
In a country where the menstruating women are considered impure and untouchable, the festival of celebrating a menstruating woman comes as an eye opener. The religious association with the festival makes it more accessible and relatable to the uneducated mass who are yet to question the stereotypes of the society. And in a way Odisha and Odias lead the way by being traditional but not stereotyped like many.
During these days the women wear new clothes, alalta and ornaments and take rest from all the activities. This festival of Raja Parba also ushers in the first shower of monsoon. As the earth rejoices after a dry spell of summer, this festival marks the beginning of the cultural preparation of unmarried girls for matrimony in the recent future. On the three days the people of Odisha eat uncooked and nutritious food like Podapitha, which is locally popular food. The Raja festival is a celebration of life and fertility. In the rural regions of Odisha, the festival is recognised for its illustrious nature and revelry, including lyrical folk songs that compliment the beauty of the monsoon, and rope swings on banyan trees.
During the Parba, Odia people do no undertake any construction works or tilling that requires the earth to be dug. And by not doing such activities, they pay ode to the Mother Earth who needs a break from routine work. The festival concludes with a custom called Vasumati Snana or the bathing of Bhuma Devi. Women worship a stone that symbolises the Mother Earth. They give her a bath with turmeric paste and offer her flowers and smear her with Sindoor.
This festival is also associated with the end of the summer season and the arrival of the monsoon. And therefore, it is also associated with agriculture and cultivation related communities and activities.
During the three days women are given a break from household work and time to play indoor games. Unmarried girls decorate themselves with new fashion or traditional Saree and Alatha in feet. Taking a break from daily routine, girls indulge in unbridled merry making, playing on swings and other games and cards, feasting, savoring delectable pithas and chewing special paan during the festival. Moving up and down on the swings during the festival is a special feature of the Raja festival. Girls sing songs, specially meant for the festival from State’s folk literature:
“Banaste dakila Gaja,
Barasake thare aasichhi Raja,
Asichi Raja lo gheni nua sajabaja”
Podo pitha is an integral part of the menu today made of rice-powder, molasses, coconut, camphor, ghee etc. The size of the cake varies according to the number of family members. Cakes are also exchanged among relatives and friends.
Raja pattern does not augur well for culture of the state, the festival speaks of love, affection, respect, social behavior and social order among people, loosing its relevance in villages and urban areas under the influence of modern culture has taken toll as because Raja carnival loses its sheen.
The advent of modern culture, distaste of present generation towards the traditional festivals and lack of financial ability all apathy of various aspects to have contributed to the sharp decline observance of the ‘Raja festival’ which was once the being observed with gusto and great éclat across in Odisha especially rural pockets of the state.
The scorching rays of Summer of April and May calm down by the advent of South- West Monsoon in the first week of June through its tender drops. The sky that was blue during Summers turns out to be dark and white with patches of rain-bearing cloud moving here and there. It is in this occasion of soothing weather through the relief from the heat and the new hope for next agricultural season Raja Parba is celebrated. Hence, it is a festival that is of great importance for the people who depend upon agriculture for their livelihood.
But what’s most important is that we miss a larger message of women liberation that this festival signifies. It acknowledges the naturality of women as it is and hence freeing her from a societal burden. As a message to society, this Raja festival has a name meaning menstruation, which is often kept secret in many societies, leading to a greater acceptance of genuine woman issues.
Not in many parts of the country except Odisha, celebrate this festival and it is even unknown to many. But in a world where women rights are sought, women menstrual hygiene is a serious issue with 23 million girls dropping school in India due to it, this festival should be an eye-opener for many. Along with all awareness campaign, the celebration of this festival of Raja will improve the women menstrual hygiene and will help liberate more and more women from societal taboo.
One last important aspect of this Raja festival is the acknowledgement of nature’s contribution to human life and humans duty for the maintenance of good health of nature. This mutual relation is very much essential for the promotion of sustainable development along with the protection of nature.
During Raja festival, not hurting mother Earth for three days is exactly the promotion of sustainable development goals of United Nations for protection of earth through climate action.
Source:Face Book Bhubaneswar

About Editor in chief

Ashok Palit has completed his graduation from Upendranath College Soro, Balasore and post graduation from Utkal University in Odia Language and literture.. He has also carved out a niche for himself as a scribe of eminence after joining the profession in 1988. He is also an independent media production professional. He brings loads of experience to Advanced Media, Ashok Palit as a cineaste has been active in film criticism for over three decades. As a film society activist, he soared to eminence for his profound commitment to the art film appreciation and aesthetics of cinema. His mode of discourse is often erudite but always lucid and comprehensible marked by a perfect acumen so rare in the field. A film aesthete with an immense fond of critical sensibilities, he wrote about growth and development of odia cinema in New Indian Express, The Times of India, The Hindustan Times, The Asian Age and Screen. He has been working as an Editor for Cine Samaya from 2002-2004.. He had made solid contribution on cinema in many odia Dailies and weekly such as Samaj, Prajatantra, Dharatri, Samaya, Satabadi, and weekly Samaya.

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