Odisha, a heritage & culturally enriched state in East India is known for archaeological treasures and traditional customs dating from when Ashok, the then King of Magadha conquered Odisha, then known as Kalinga . There is no better evidence for this religio-spiritual yearning in its popular form than the string of festivals related to numerous religion, culture, tribes, ancient temples, local shrines that is spread over the year.
The most popular among numerous festivals in Odisha, Raja (pronounced as raw-jaw) is celebrated for three consecutive days. It is believed that Earth, the mother goddess or the heavenly spouse of Lord Vishnu experiences feminine cycle during these three days. The fourth day is called as Vasumati gadhua or ceremonial bath of Bhudevi. The term Raja has originated from Rajaswala, which means a menstruating woman. During medieval period the celebration turned out to be more well-known as an agricultural festival remarking the worship of Bhudevi, spouse of Lord Jagannath.
During the festival, unmarried girls beautify themselves with new clothes, chandan kumkum and alta, a red dye applied in feet. These three days unmarried women and girls take rest from house hold work. Girls play swings tied on tree branches whereas aged ladies play cards and ludo. From plucking flowers to ploughing and irrigation, all agricultural works remain suspended during these days and also all people abstain from walking barefoot on earth. During the festival, the odia cuisine comprises various pithha (pan cakes) among these Podopitha (Rice and Jaggery cake) and Chakuli Pitha (a softer version of South Indian Dosa).
Today, the 21st century young generation is not bothered about these traditions thinking it’s too glittery. But, as a part of women empowerment everybody should know about this festival which is a major part of the Odia tradition. Today, when there are horrific cases of gang rapes, high girl child mortality rates, acid attacks and domestic violence, such festivals shouldn’t remain an obscurity to the rest of the world.