Raja Parba, Odisha’s 3-day festival celebrating the onset of monsoons and the earth’s womanhood begins today. Raja Sankranti or Mithuna Sankranti is the first day of the Ashara month. Raja is celebrated on the day prior to the Sankranti, (Pahili Raja), the day of Sankranti, and the day after, known as Bhu Daha or ‘Basi Raja.
The word ‘Raja’ (pronounced as ‘raw-jaw’) is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Rajaswala’ meaning a menstruating woman. The festival is essentially the celebration if the earth’s womanhood because the 3 days of Raja are the days it is considered the mother earth or ‘Basumati’ or Bhudevi is menstruating. The fourth day is called ‘Basumati Snana’ or the day of the ‘purification bath’.
— Sudarsan Pattnaik (@sudarsansand) June 14, 2019
As a mark of respect towards the earth during her menstruation days, all agricultural works, like ploughing, sowing are suspended for the three days. The idea is ”the earth should not be hurt’. As it is a celebration of womanhood, a lot of the focus is on young women, who wear new clothes, apply ‘Alata’ on their feet and enjoy folk songs while swinging on decorated rope swings.
The Raja Doli or the Raja swing is one of the main attractions during the festivals. Ornately decorated rope swings with flowers and mango leaves are made where the women and children swing singing the festival songs. Swings are made in village orchards, gardens and city parks where people flock to enjoy. The best part is, women are exempted from household work and cooking.
“Banaste dakila gaja
barasake thare asichhi raja
ani kete sajabaja”.
The first lines of the festival song mean ” The elephants are calling in the forest, the once in a year festival has come, bringing loads of adornments with it”.
Poda Pitha, or the burnt cake made from rice, urad coconut and raisins is another essential part of the festival. Usually made by wrapping the batter with banana leaves and roasting over an earthen chulha, this Pitha is one of the many sweet delicacies unique to Odisha. Poda pitha is considered to be the favourite of Lord Jagannath.
Sweet paan is another must-have for everyone during Raja.
Raja is a celebration of fertility and womanhood. By celebrating the three menstruating days of mother earth, this festival hails the earth’s fertility and pays respect to the sacred feminine. In a deeper context, this festival signifies how menstruation, fertility and womanhood are the cause of celebration, not shame in Indic cultures.