Bhubaneswar: Raja is one of the oldest festivals of Odisha. Pronounced as ‘raw-jaw’, this festival is truly unique in a way that it celebrates menstruation, womanhood and fertility, topics which are rarely publicly discussed in Odisha.
The name of the festival is derived from a Sanskrit word ‘Rajaswala’ which means ‘menstruating women’. This festival personifies Earth as being a figurative mother and is one of the most fascinating harvest traditions that treats womanhood as a blessing.
This ancient festival is spread over three days around June. All the three days have different names and different celebrations associated with them. The first day is called ‘Pahili Raja’, second day is called ‘Mithuna Sankranti’(solar month of Mithuna i.e., the rainy season) or ‘Raja Sankranti’, and the third day is called ‘Basi Raja’
All agricultural activities during this period is stopped completely. It is believed that the land like a woman undergoes through regeneration during this period. An act which is similar to the menstrual cycle of a girl or woman during which she should not be ‘disturbed’.
As per traditions, the girls bathe early in the morning with turmeric, wear new clothes and put ‘alata’ on their feet. They are not allowed to do any work. ‘Pitha’ or pancakes are made.
The swing plays an important part in the festivities. The girls also play a peculiar game called ‘pucchi’. All the women and girls consume ‘mitha paan’ on all the three days. In a deeper context, this festival looks at menstruation, fertility and womanhood as a celebration, and not as a taboo.
However, this year the festival will be celebrated in a low-key manner because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Sushree Patnaik, a B.Tech student said, “I won’t be buying new clothes this time, I don’t think spending money on clothes during this pandemic outbreak is worth it”. She added, “I will donate the money to a charitable trust”.
The same views were shared by Anchal Panda, a student of the 9th grade of Stewart school, Bhubaneswar.
Her views were echoed by most of the girls amid the ongoing COVID19 crisis.