Odisha, the state is widely known as a backward state. Well, I cannot argue that it’s completely untrue but being merely known as that is a bit unfair. Especially, when the rest of the country can learn a lot from Odisha and one of its glorious festivals ‘Raja/Rajo’.
Raja, is technically a four-day-long festival but is usually celebrated for three consecutive days. It falls in the beginning of the solar month i.e. mid-june, which is when the season of rain starts. It is, significantly, a festival of unmarried girls. The term ‘Raja’ stems from the word ‘Rajaswala’ which means ‘a menstruating woman’. Yes, you read it right. Menstruation is being celebrated in a part of the country where it’s a taboo to even talk about it. Ironic, isn’t it?
It is believed that Mother Earth, also known as wife of Lord Vishnu, menstruates during these three days. And like any other menstruating woman even the goddess has to observe certain restrictions. But I guess that wasn’t quite feasible which is why every girl of Odisha follows them during the festival, irrespective of whether they are menstruating.
There are restrictions like you cannot touch anything, cannot walk barefoot, not allowed to bathe, cannot pray. I know what you would be thinking. How following these superstitions is celebrating menstruation. It’s because these restrictions have been deciphered in a way that it doesn’t restrain instead it seems like it’s celebrating womanhood. Like the “no touching” restriction is not literally followed instead, it means no chores for women. The world will be at their feet. They’ll be adorned with beautiful dresses and sarees, embellished with trinkets, eating different types of ‘pithas’ (my personal favourite) a distant relative of a sponge cake and many such tantalising delicacies spread in front of them. The star attraction is playing games all day long and swaying away in the rope swings singing songs which would be euphonious to even a metallic habituated ear. Since it is believed that Mother Earth bleeds and like a woman, is allowed to rest in those days, all agricultural activities are also stopped during this festival. The men also take part in this vivacious carnival by playing various country games. It’s colossal than any Women’s Day on any part of the world.
Being a typical pragmatic 21st-century metropolitan girl, I had never bothered about these traditions thinking it’s too glittery for me. But as I think of it now I feel everybody should know about this festival which is such a huge part of the Odiya tradition, especially in this day and age of women empowerment. When there are such horrific cases of rapes, domestic violence, acid attacks, low girl child mortality rates such festivals shouldn’t remain an obscurity to the rest of the world. But at the same time, I would also like to say that we (women) don’t want to be treated as descendants of God neither as mere objects who lives to please men. We only want to be treated like equal human beings, one who has the right to her own body, career and in general, life.