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In a country where it is common to shun menstruating women from social life, Odisha stands out by celebrating them in its festival Raja Parba.
While creating menstruation awareness and campaigning through social media and films is a much recent phenomenon, Odisha has been celebrating the same since time immemorial through its festival called Raja (pronounced as Raw-jaw).
A three-day festival which falls in mid-June, it is a celebration of menstruation and womanhood. ‘Raja’ is derived from the word ‘Rajaswala’ which means menstruating woman.
According to mythological and Hindu religious beliefs, it is said that just like women menstruate, which is a sign of fertility, so does Mother Earth (Bhudevi), the divine wife of Lord Vishnu.
In medieval times, the festival became more popular as an agricultural holiday marking the worship of Bhudevi. A silver idol of Bhudevi is still found in the temple of Puri beside Lord Jagannatha.
For the three days of this festival (celebrated between 15th June and 18th June), no agricultural activity like ploughing or sowing takes place as Mother Earth is expected to be going through rejuvenation.
The first day is called ‘Pahili Raja’, second day is ‘Mithuna Sankranti’ (which signifies the beginning of the solar month of Mithuna i.e., the rainy season) and third day is ‘Bhu-daaha’ or ‘Basi Raja’. The final fourth day is called ‘Vasumati snana,’ or ceremonial bath of Bhudevi.
The day before first day is called ‘Sajabaja’ or preparatory day during which the house, kitchen including grinding stones are cleaned and spices are ground and saved for three days. During these three days women and girls take rest from work and wear new sarees, “alata” (a red liquid that women apply to their feet) and ornaments.
The most vivid and enjoyable memories any Odiya would have of the Raja gaiety is the rope-swings (called ‘Raja-Doli’ in Odiya) on big banyan trees and the lyrical folk-songs.
Songs specially meant for the festival speak of love, affection, respect, social behavior and everything of social order that comes to the minds of the singers. Though anonymous and composed extempore, many of these songs, through sheer beauty of their diction and sentiments, have earned permanence in the very substratum of Odisha’s folk-poetry.
While girls scatter beauty, grace and music all around, moving up and down on the swings during the festival and a joyous atmosphere pervades, the young men of the villages keep themselves busy in various types of country games, the most favorite being ‘Kabadi’ (Kabbaddi). They thoroughly enjoy themselves on the eve of the onset of the monsoons, for the next four months would not give them any respite from the mud, slush and incessant showers. Their spirits keep high with only the hopes of a good harvest.
Competitions are also held between different groups of villages. All nights ‘Jatra’ (traditional theater) performances or ‘Gotipua’ dances are arranged in prosperous villages where they can afford the professional groups. Enthusiastic amateurs also arrange plays and other kinds of entertainment.
However, with heavy migration from the rural societies to the urban areas, this festival of agrarian origin, is slowly fading away, like many of our traditional festivals and folk culture. In the towns and cities, people find it hard to live up to the customs and rituals owing to the changing ways of modern life.
To create and spread the consciousness around an issue like menstruation, to challenge and change the status quo of not treating it as a ‘taboo’, the importance of talking about such rare local cultural practices cannot be over emphasized.
Menstruation after all is only a natural and biological process which is the seed and foundation for all human life on this planet.
Image Source: Rashmirparida [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
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A full time professional based in Toronto, Canada. Takes keen interest in women issues. Bibliophile,
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