Raja festival in Odisha is celebrating the female biological cycle that is still a taboo across most of the country.
The Raja festival (pronounced as Ro-jo), which derives its name from from Rajaswala, is Odisha’s oldest harvest festival that celebrates the natural periods, and finds its genesis in the ritual of the ancient tribes of Bonda, Dharua and Saora who, back in time, practiced Podu Chaso cultivation through cut and burn.
It is believed that the biological cycle of menstruation lasts for three days and on the fourth day, a ceremonial bath known as Vasumati Snan is conducted in honour of goddess Bhudevi.
The first three days of the Raja festival are thus named: Pahili Raja, Mithuna Sankranti and Bhu Daaha.
This festival is mainly celebrated in Orissa households to honour young girls, who are looked upon as the mothers of the next generation. During these days they are not allowed to perform any household activities and are given complete rest. There are special songs sung, composed specifically for this occasion. The houses are decorated with flowers and swings are set up, for the girls, who spends their time taking turns on swings.
People celebrate this with folk music and dance. This custom treats womanhood as a blessing and humanize earth as a mother (mother Earth) and it celebrates the Earth’s preparation of bearing a crop as it gets ready for harvest.
Social activist Manoj Jena told The Hindustan Times, “Everyone who thinks women are impure during their periods should see how Odisha celebrated Raja. Those who believe the menstrual blood to be impure should know that the same kept a life on for nine months inside the mother’s womb.”
The fourth day, which is called Vasumati Gadhua or ceremony bath of Bhudevi, and is often marked with heavy showers, sees the highest of this regeneration period. For most villages, this marks the start of yet another season of farming and for women, back to the grind after four days of merriment.
Last year, there was furor over ban of entry of all women, from reproductive age of 10 to 50 , in the Sabarimala temple. Women took to social media and stated that they were not ashamed of their period blood.