“Banaste dakila gaja, barasake thare asichi Raja

Asichi Raja lo gheni nua saja baaja.

Raja doli kata kata, mo bhai matha re suna mukuta

Suna mukuta lo, heuthaye jhakamaka”

(the traditional folk song in Odia saying about Raja’s revelry, meaning ‘the annual Raja carnival has arrived with the pomp and pleasure of newness. The wooden swing is giving a cracking sound; my brother’s head glittering with a crown of gold)

In a country where it is common to shun women from social life when they are menstruating, Odisha stands out! Everyone who thinks women are impure during their periods should see how Odisha celebrates Raja. Odisha as a culturally sound state has a festival for every reason & season. Raja Parba, the three-day festival is one such unique festival for females which celebrates menstruation and womanhood. Here, females & Earth are symbolically represented in Raja Parba It’s pronounced as ‘raw-jaw’ (ରଜ in Odia), derived from the word ‘Rajaswala’ which means menstruating women. It’s based on the belief that Mother Earth (Bhudevi) menstruates for those three days. Like most of the traditional festivals which are agriculture related, so do Raja. Though symbolically, Raja festival welcomes the agricultural season with the moistening of the dried soil with the first showers of the monsoon during Raja (mid-June), thus making it ready for productivity again. Then the cycle of ploughing, seeding, sapling germination etc takes place just like a biological woman attains motherhood.

Raja Parba: Going Beyond The Taboo
Girls applying alata on legs during Raja

Raja festival falls preferably around 14th June & runs till 16th. During this period, the whole Odisha state stays in a state of celebration. It’s most popular in districts like Khordha, Cuttack, Puri, Kendujhar, Mayurbhanj etc. The festival is divided into three days & each day has its own significance. Pahili Raja on day one during which girls take bath with turmeric paste early in the morning, wears new dress/saree, enjoys pitha from relatives/friends house & goes out for a rope-swing. People can take non-veg items depending on the particular day (bara) if it falls on days like Wednesday, Friday or Sunday as per Odia people’s food habits, Raja Sankranti (Mithuna Sankranti) is .the start of rainy season which falls on the day two. The merrymaking goes on the second day too but people abstain from taking any non-veg item since it’s a Sankranti day. Bhudaah i.e Sesha Raja or Basi Raja falls on the third & last day. The pre-raja day is called sajja baaja (preparatory day) which is reserved for cleaning the household, making pithas (cakes) like poda pitha, mandaa, arisa etc ready & applying alata (red dye)on the feet & kumkum on their forehead. The post-raja is called Basumati Snana (bathing of mother earth) during which sila pua (stone grinder) is symbolically bathed with haldi (turmeric) paste & sindoor (vermilion) is applied & a new saree is worn around it.

Raja Parba: Going Beyond The Taboo
Mural of a kid on a swing at one of the Udayagiri stupa in Jajpur (Odisha)

Swings are not new to Odisha, its there both in mythology, rituals & temple murals. In mythology, we see paintings & poetic depiction of Lord Krishna & Radha enjoying a swing. Every village & temple in Odisha has a Dola Mandap used during Dola Purnima & Jhulana Jatra. A mural on the entry gate on the Udayagiri stupa site in Jajpur district depicts a kid playing on a swing merrily. In fact, the kids grows in Odisha watching the rituals & virtually waits for the annual Raja to happen. During the three days of Raja festival, women and young girls do not take part in cooking or agricultural activities, and instead, play games and celebrate. During Raja, girls abstain from walking barefoot on earth & some even wear handmade footwear made from barks of banana tree (kadali patuka). It’s most likely that there will be rainfall during raja & the climate turns favourable. Locals call the climate as Raja paaga i.e. soothing weather perfect for an outing with friends.

Raja Parba: Going Beyond The Taboo
Raja Pithas from Podapitha, Enduri, Arisa to mitha

Raja festival moves around swings made with rope from coconut coir with a wooden seat (pidha) placed on big trees. Raja doli can be of various types out of which the most common ones are Rama Doli, Chakri Doli, Pataa Doli, Khae Doli, Daandi doli etc. The same doli may have a a differerent name as per localities Places like Putulia in Keonjhar are famous for Rama Doli in which 4-16 girls can swing at a go. Cuttack district’s Padampur & Salipur, Puri district’s Bali Harachandi Temple vicinity, Khordha dist’s Barunei hills, Ugratara & Patrapada area is also known for community Raja festival in a bigger way. Raja Khela (games) include Puchi Khela, Kabbadi, Pasha Khela, Kaudi Khela (shell game) etc. Puchi Khela is a game where girls squat & twist in a rhythmic manner & it can be basa puchi (seating) &  thia puchi (standing). Girls also goes dummy marriage of Shiba-Parbati with dolls. Urban Raja competitions starts from beauty contest, personality contest, kitchen craft, Odia jhoti competition, Raja games competition to song competition. The most popular events by various organisations include Raja Queen, Raja Paree, Sajare Sajare Raja by Dept of Culture, Raja Mahotsav at Panthanivas by Odisha Tourism, Priya Odiani by Sambhabana Trust, Raja Mauja at Patrapada etc. Apart from it, there are various online, electronic & print media competition organised keeping Raja in mind.

Raja Parba: Going Beyond The Taboo
Some of the popular types of Raja doli

There are Raja songs specially meant for the festival which speaks of love, respect & friendship led by the folk song ‘Banaste Dakila Gaja’ (Elephant roaring in the jungle). No one is aware of the poet, but it has been penned beautifully & mostly sung in chorus without musical instruments. Like an elephant who is fed up with summer heat, makes roaring sound out of excitement when the season’s first monsoon shower is felt. In the same way, girls are in mood for a rope-swing when Raja festival arrives. It’s like a social entertainment for the farming class of villagers. There are films songs, scenes & popular songs associated with Odisha’s most popular community festival – Raja Parba. Songs featured in films includes Gouri (title song), Mamata Madhura (Amada Bata), Jaa re Mana Doli (Nua Bou), Asa Baula Lo Asa Sangata (Punarmilana), Ae Phula Kaha Thare (Puja Phula) etc. An Odia movie by the name Pahili Raja (2010) starring Siddhant Mohapatra & Anu Choudhury which had a Raja song – “Aila re Pahili Raja.” Adhunika & Palligeeta includes Aa Khili Pana Banaku Jiba (Sangeeta Mohapatra), Arata Kaen Boila (Suchitra & Sangeeta), Banaste Dakila Gaja (folk song), Lalla Lalla Hoi (Susmita Das), Raja Doli (1955-58) by Padmavati, Shefali & Radharaman Ray with lyrics by Radharaman Ray. The official Raja song tune that we have been hearing all these years was composed by Radharaman Ray, the music composer of first ever Odia talkie, Sita Bibaha (1936). A welcome step has been taken by Odia film maker Sisir Kumar Sahu with experience in Bollywood, by making a docu film on Raja titled Rajo. It’s said to be the only docu film made on Raja festival in Odisha as of now.

Raja Parba: Going Beyond The Taboo
Raja doli song creator Radharaman Ray (PC OdiaMelody & Surya Deo)

Chewing specially made Raja Mitha Pan (sweet betel) is a part of culture & a must during Raja. Pan shops, both regular & occasional makes brisk business during these 3 days from selling special pan which ranges from average Rs 5 to 100 & above. In urban areas, people throng to public parks, visit malls & enjoy movies at local theatres. Urban dwellers, being deprived of the pleasure of playing rope-swings under big trees, manages with temporary swings in their balconies & inside houses. Some plastic swing sellers especially from Andhra makes good street side business during Raja period.  Odia movie producer also fights for dates to release their movies during Raja festival to make box office profits. Raja Parba means new dress for girls who throngs shopping malls & markets for their Raja shopping of fresh fashion. Newly married women also celebrates Raja & she brings Raja bhaara (gift) for her in-laws house comprising of clothes, fruits like mango, jackfruit, banana etc, ladoo, pheni, gaja, arisa etc.  It’s sometimes combined with Sabitri Osha bhaara since there is less gap between the two festivals.  

Raja Parba: Going Beyond the Taboo
Premuim Pan shops vs homemade pans

In Odisha, people are fortunate that they are blessed with age old strong vibrant culture, some of which are not noticed in any part of India, yet we are somehow ashamed to promote. People especially women outside Odisha are quite unaware of this unique festival. Odia cultural association & Odisha Tourism should promote Rajja Parba in Metros by organising various competitions among girls. We ourselves treat it low & rarely promote among ourselves, forget about outside Odisha. While Odias are known to adopt other culture quickly, yet when it comes to our own culture, we take back step. Raja has now somewhat lost its grandeur especially in urban cities & has been restricted to stage performance only. Further, Raja be spelled in many ways & anyways, but most Odias prefer it as Raja (ରଜ) because colloquially, it’s the nearest English spelling as per Odia language. But, as per my opinion, there should be more concentration on observing the unique festival as per tradition & popularising it beyond borders than making hues & cry for its correct spelling. Now, it’s the duty of the present generation to bring back the glory of Odia culture. Technology & communication can play major role in reviving /promoting festivals like Raja through social media platform, YouTube & internet. Happy Raja Saja Baja & Mauja !

Article: Taranisen Pattnaik with additional inputs by Sisis Kumar Sahoo

Photos: Taranisen Pattnaik, Peenakee Singh, Yugal Kishore Mahanta, Sudarshan Swain


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