RAZA PARBA –FESTIVAL OF WOMANHOOD
BY SUSHMITA PANDA
Raja Parba or Mithuna Sankranti is a four-day-long festival and the second day signifies beginning of the solar month of Mithuna from, which the season of rains starts. It inaugurates and welcomes the agricultural year all over Odisha, which marks, through biological symbolism, the moistening of the sun dried soil with the first showers of the monsoon in mid-June thus making it ready for productivity.
The natives of Orissa (Odisha) celebrate womanhood each year for four days. Apart from womanhood, the festival is celebrated in the state on the occasion of the beginning of the agricultural year.
The term Raja has been derived from Rajaswala (meaning a menstruating woman). During medieval period, the festival was marked as an agricultural holiday and Bhudevi (Mother Earth), the wife of lord Jagannath, was worshipped during this time.
It is believed that the mother goddess Earth or the divine wife of Lord Vishnu undergoes menstruation during the first three days.The fourth day is called as Vasumati gadhua or ceremonial bath of Bhudevi.The term Raja has come from Rajaswala (meaning a menstruating woman) and during medieval period the festival became more popular as an agricultural holiday remarking the worship of Bhudevi, who is the wife of lord Jagannath. A silver idol of Bhudevi is still found in Puri Temple aside Lord Jagannatha.
During the three days women are given a break from household work and time to play indoor games. Girls decorate themselves with new fashion or traditional Saree and Alatha in feet. All people abstain from walking barefoot on earth. Generally various Pithas are made of which Podopitha,and Chakuli Pitha are main. People play a lot of indoor and outdoor games. Girls play swings tied on tree branches whereas aged ladies play Cards and Ludo.Many villages organise Kabbadi matches among young men.
It falls in mid June,the first day is called Pahili Raja, second day is Mithuna Sankranti,third day is Bhu daaha or Basi Raja. The final fourth day is called Vasumati snan, in which the ladies bath the grinding stone as a symbol of Bhumi with turmeric paste and adore with flower,sindoor etc. All type of seasonal fruits are offered to mother Bhumi. The day before first day is called Sajabaja or preparatory day during which the house, kitchen including grinding stones are cleaned,spices are ground for three days. During these three days women and girls take rest from work and wear new Saree, Alata,and ornaments.It is similar to Ambubachi Mela. The most popular among numerous festivals in Orissa, Raja is celebrated for three consecutive days. Just as the earth prepares itself to quench its thirst by the incoming rain the unmarried girls of the family are groomed for impeding matrimony through this festival. They pass these three days in joyous festivity and observe customs like eating only uncooked and nourishing food especially Podapitha, do not take bath or take salt, do not walk barefoot and vow to give birth to healthy children in future. The most vivid and enjoyable memories one has of the Raja gaiety is the rope-swings on big banyan trees and the lyrical folk-songs that one listens from the nubile beauty enjoying the atmosphere.
According to popular belief as women menstruate, which is a sign of fertility, so also Mother Earth menstruates. So, all three days of the festival are considered to be the menstruating period of Mother Earth. During the festival all agricultural operations remain suspended. As in Hindu homes menstruating women remain secluded because of impurity and do not even touch anything and are given full rest, so also the Mother Earth is given full rest for three days for which all agricultural operations are stopped. Significantly, it is a festival of the unmarried girls, the potential mothers. They all observe the restrictions prescribed for a menstruating woman. The very first day, they rise before dawn, do their hair, anoint their bodies with turmeric paste and oil and then take the purificatory bath in a river or tank. Peculiarly, bathing for the rest two days is prohibited. They don’t walk bare-foot do not scratch the earth, do not grind, do not tear anything apart, do not cut and do not cook. During all the three consecutive days they are seen in the best of dresses and decorations, eating cakes and rich food at the houses of friends and relatives, spending long cheery hours, moving up and down on improvised swings, rending the village sky with their merry impromptu songs.
The swings are of different varieties, such as ‘Ram Doli’, ‘Charki Doli’, ‘Pata Doli’, ‘Dandi Doli’ etc. Songs specially meant for the festival speak of love, affection, respect, social behaviour and everything of social order that comes to the minds of the singers. Through anonymous and composed extempore, much of these songs, through sheer beauty of diction and sentiment, has earned permanence and has gone to make the very substratum of Orissa’s folk-poetry. While girls thus scatter beauty, grace and music all around, moving up and down on the swings during the festival, young men give themselves to strenuous games and good food, on the eve of the onset of the monsoons, which will not give them even a minute’s respite for practically four months making them one with mud, slush and relentless showers, their spirits keep high with only the hopes of a good harvest. As all agricultural activities remain suspended and a joyous atmosphere pervades, the young men of the village keep themselves busy in various types of country games, the most favourite being ‘Kabadi’. Competitions are also held between different groups of villages. All nights ‘Yatra’ 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.