Monday 17 June 2024

Raja Parba - Festival of Odisha That Celebrates Menstruation, Womanhood, Fertility and Life

Greetings to all on the auspicious occasion of Basumati Snana🙏🏽
Basumati means- Goddess Earth.
Snana means- Bath.
After the Raja festival, Goddess Earth is bathed and worshipped today.

Bhudebi Maa - Mother Goddess Earth

Bathing and Holy Dip in Culture

Bathing is very important in our culture. It signifies purification.
Devotees bathe and wear good clothes before visiting any sacred site or performing Puja. It is God's grace that some extremely cold places, like Badrinath, have natural hot water, facilitating the
bathing and sanitation of the devotees.
Devotees visit religious sites to take holy dips e.g. for Ganga Dussehra (it was yesterday), many devotees took a holy dip in the Ganga.

As per ancient texts like the Ramayana and Mahabharata, King Bhagiratha of the Ikshvaku dynasty, i.e. Suryavamsha, undertook severe penance and prayed for the descent of the River Ganga from heaven to Planet Earth. Sage Kapila had cursed Bhagiratha’s ancestors, and the River Ganga was needed to wash away their sins. Bhagiratha’s penance was rewarded by God Brahma, and the River Ganga descended and provided them with salvation.
It is believed that baths in holy places and sacred rivers like the Ganga, absolve us of all our sins.

Deities also take baths, some of which are extra special. For example, each year, the sibling Gods take a ceremonial bath on the Deba Snana Purnima at Puri Shree Jagannatha Temple. This year, Snana Jatra is on June 22nd.

Does Goddess Earth take a bath too?
Doesn’t Goddess Earth bath whenever it rains?
Why does Goddess Earth have to take an annual ceremonial bath in Odisha?

To understand this and today’s significance, we must learn about our festival, Raja Parba, in Odisha, India.

The culturally rich state of Odisha celebrates “Bara Maasare Tera Parba.”

This means 13 festivals in 12 months; it mustn’t be taken literally, as 13 is a limiting number. Each year, Odisha celebrates many festivals, like the Raja Parba, which is celebrated with great enthusiasm in mid-June.

Raja Parba-

The term “Raja” is derived from the Sanskrit word “Rajas,” which means menstruation, and a menstruating woman is called “Rajaswala.”
"Parba" means festival.

Raja Parba is a unique festival of Odisha that celebrates menstruation & respects girls and women and Mother Earth.
Menstruation is linked with fertility and is associated with the females. Raja is a vibrant festival of womanhood and fertility- the best embodiment being Mother Earth and mothers because of whom life has been possible. They nourish and nurture us. Shouldn’t they get to spend some time for themselves? During the Raja time, they get some relief from chores. It is a period of rest and enjoyment.

Odisha is an agrarian state, and many farmers depend on agriculture. Many of Odisha’s festivals are linked with agriculture.
It is believed that Raja Parba is Mother Goddess Earth’s menstruation period. Each year, during the three days of the Raja festival, there are no agricultural activities like digging up soil, using sharp tools, etc. We are supposed to walk softly and not barefoot so as not to disturb Mother Earth. During Raja time, gentle rains soak in the soil, preparing the earth for agricultural purposes and bearing bountiful harvests.
Raja is the time for rejuvenation.

Bhudebi Maa in Shreemandira
In Shree Jagannatha culture, Shree Jagannatha Mahaprabhu has two wives- Bhudebi and Shreedebi.
Debi means- Goddess.
"Bhu" refers to Earth, and "Shree" refers to wealth and prosperity.
Bhudebi is Goddess Earth; Shreedebi is Goddess Lakshmi.

We refer to our Goddesses as Mother.
Maa Bhudebi is Mother Goddess Earth.
In the Shree Jagannatha Temple- Shreemandira, Puri, the idols of both the Goddesses are near Shree Jagannatha- Maa Bhudebi is placed on the right, and Maa Shreedebi is to the left of Shree Jagannatha. Both the Goddesses do not bathe during the three days of Raja Parba. On the fourth day, when there is Basumati Snana, or the ceremonial bath of Mother Goddess Earth, both the Goddesses- Maa Bhudebi and Maa Shreedebi- are taken to the Marjana Mandap (in the Shreemandira) for their baths.
The image of Maa Bhudebi—Her silver idol (first image in this post—shot by Durgamadhab) and the Shreemandira information and the two images (of- Maa Bhudebiand Maa Bhubaneswari) have been graciously and patiently shared by Shreemandira Sebayat, Sri Biswanath Samantara.

Raja Parba starts with “Pahili Raja.”
  • Pahili Raja means the first day of Raja. It is also called “Prathama Raja”.
  • Thereafter, the second day of Raja is Raja Sankranti or Mithuna Raja.
  • The third day is Bhudaha or Sesa Raja. “Sesa” means end/last.
Some say Raja is a three-day festival, while others say it is four days, including “Basumati Snana.” However, by considering and adding the day before Pahili Raja, we have five days (akin to a woman’s monthly cycle).
Unlike the Snana Purnima, which is based on the tithi and whose date varies yearly, Raja Parba’s dates are fixed.
The Raja festivities begin on June 13th—a day before Pahili Raja—with “Raja Sajabaja,” when preparations for Raja begin.
Counting Raja Sajabaja too, the celebrations are from June 13-17 each year.

Day 1– Pahili Raja or Prathama Raja – June 14
Day 2- Mithuna Sankranti or Raja Sankranti – June 15
Day 3– Bhudaha or Bhumidahan or Sesa Raja – June 16

The above Raja celebrations are followed by Basumati Snana or Gadhua, a ritual bath with water, milk, and turmeric, and the worship of Mother Goddess Earth. Girls and women also take baths by washing their hair.
They, too, use turmeric for bathing. Turmeric has great health benefits.
Kandhamal Haladi has the GI Tag.

Day 4- Basumati Snana or Gadhua – June 17
Basumati refers to Goddess Earth.
As a symbol of Basumati, i.e., Goddess Earth, the grinding stone is anointed with haladi (haldi or turmeric) paste and adorned with flowers, sindoor, etc. Fruits and sweets are offered to Mother Goddess Earth. It is a ceremonial purification marking the end of Mother Goddess Earth’s menstrual cycle, respecting and praying for a bountiful agricultural season. Raja Parba aids in preparing the soil for agricultural activities.

Raja is a much-loved festival with mass celebration all across Odisha and by Odias worldwide.
Some important highlights of Raja Parba-

Raja Sajabaja (Decoration/Preparation)
Preparation means anticipation and
excitement! New clothes and accessories are bought. Girls and women apply alata (a red-coloured liquid that is applied on the feet during auspicious or festive occasions).


They also decorate their faces using tipa (dots) with kumkum and chandana (sandalwood paste). Some use haladi (turmeric) on their face and body before bathing to brighten their complexion. They deck up in style and with smiles.

Raja Geeta (Songs)
Girls sing songs dedicated to Raja. There is an entire book written and published by Sri Maguni Mahapatra with many Raja songs:

The most popular Raja folk song sung is:

“Banaste Dakila Gaja;
Barasake there aasichhi Raja;
Aasichhi Raja lo hoi nua sajabaja”

The above Odia words mean-
“The elephant calls in the forest;
Once a year (annually), Raja (festival) arrives.
Raja has come with a fresh new promising start.”

Raja Khela (Games)
Girls play several indoor and outdoor games,
like cards, Ludo, etc. Playtime means bonding, focus, and mind refreshment.
In English, it is said:
“All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy” and
“An idle mind is a devil’s workshop.”
Games sharpen interpersonal, social, and mental skills. There are competitions too. There is get-together, fun, bonhomie, and laughter. Imagine a festival that provides multiple levels of rest, relaxation, and stimulation!

Raja Doli (Swing)
There is a peppy Hindi movie song from the movie "Dil Dhadakne Do," picturized on actresses Anushka Sharma,
Priyanka Sharma, and others. The lyrics include this English line: “Girls like to swing.

During Raja, girls and women love to swing feeling free! They enjoy their freedom by swinging on swings. Swing symbolizes being uninhibited, breaking free of shackles, liberating, empowering, and
rising higher. The time spent on the swing means raising our feet above the ground/earth, feeling the rush of air, and being one with nature’s elements.

Swings have an ancient connection with Odisha – many arts and crafts depict subjects enjoying on swings – e.g., there are sculptures in temples and Pattachitra art showing Rasa Leela of Shree Krishna and Radha.

Pattachitra - art of Odisha - PC: Exotic India Art

Pattachitra - art of Odisha 

During Raja Parba, deities at Shreemandira are not placed on swings. However, during another festival of Odisha- Jhulana Jatra- deities are worshipped on swings.

The following image is of Maa Bhubaneswari in Markandeswara Sahi (lane) of Puri. Goddess is shown on swing to celebrate Raja Parba-

Various swings, such as 'Ram Doli,' 'Charki Doli,' 'Pata Doli,' 'Dandi Doli,' etc., are created/set up on the branches of trees or inside residential compounds.
I remember once swinging on a comfortable handmade saree swing in my maternal grandmother, Aaee’s house. Through her innovative initiatives, special swings were constructed each year.

Raja Pitha, Mitha (Sweetmeats) and Phala (Fruits)
Women prepared Pithas in advance in earlier days, and there was no cooking during Raja. At that time, there was no refrigerator. Pithas- delicacies like Podapitha (a burnt/baked dish), Chakuli, Manda, Arisha, etc., and fried dishes like – Kakara, Chandrakanthi pitha, etc. that have longer shelf-life, can be stored in air-tight containers outside without getting spoilt. Plus, a variety of Mitha like Chhenapoda, Rasagola etc. are had. Juicy fruits like mangoes, ice-apple, jackfruit, etc., are available and consumed. My grandmother and mother insisted we have a nutritious meal with rice before sunset. We could have snacks and fruits at night, with rice not being allowed. I have wonderful memories of the divine Pithas. It is extremely tough to match the superior taste when I prepare them at home.


Raja Special Treats- Courtesy: Odisha Tourism

Raja Paana (Paan/Betel-Leaf)
Paana (Paan) is associated with Raja.
Paana-patra (Betel-leaf) is considered very auspicious. It is used in many religious and cultural functions and festivals of Odisha. Even Odisha handloom and tie-and-dye (Ikat) sarees have this leaf as a motif. Odisha boasts of high-quality betel leaf that is sold to many states. It deserves the GI Tag.
Betel leaf has health benefits. The Raja Paana with sweet fillings is a mix of rich taste, nutrition, and bliss! Plus, it leaves a natural lip colour that serves as a sustainable lipstick!
While some popular Hindi movie songs about Paan exist, we need some new Odia Raja Paana songs as an ode to this delectable Raja treat.

Raja Maja/Mouja (Fun)
A popular English song is “Girls just wanna have fun.” There is an ad’s line- “Why should boys have all the fun?”

Raja- it is time to up our fun game!
During Raja, elders make sure that girls truly have all the fun! My mother, aunts, and grandmother never allowed us to do any work. They did not even let us carry/serve a glass or use knives to cut mangoes or fruits. They did all the work. I never saw them resting though girls and women are not supposed to do any work.

In short, thanks to Raja, girls and women get to swing, have fun, and enjoy Raja with nua luga (new clothes) and Sajabaja (decoration), Doli (swing), Geeta (songs), Pitha (sweetmeats and traditional food) & Paana (paan- betel-leaf)🙏🏽

Raja Parba- SDG Teacher & Advocate
Raja Parba is such a fascinating teacher and
advocate! Raja Parba is about sustainability, caring, and respecting nature while feeling grateful for its bounties. Our world now realizes that climate change is real and Planet Earth needs every individual’s conscious participation and involvement. We cannot take Mother Goddess Earth for granted.
United Nations (UN) has listed 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which are an urgent call for action by all countries - developed and developing; in which there are SDGs like “Climate Action,” “Life on Land,” “Partnerships,” “Gender Equality” etc.
Raja Parba wonderfully embraces SDGs.

Goal 13: Climate Action
"Climate change is a global challenge that affects everyone, everywhere."

Goal 15: Life on Land
"Sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, halt and reverse land degradation, halt biodiversity loss."

Goal 17: Partnerships
"Revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development."

Goal 5: Gender Equality
"Gender equality is not only a fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world."

When globally, there is a taboo to even speak about menstruation, proud of Odisha state’s cultural traditions and heritage that celebrates Raja- menstruation, womanhood, fertility, procreation, and life. Menstruation is not something to be ashamed of or to hide; rather, it is a reason for exhilaration and a happy occasion for celebration. Women’s health and hygiene are important and not something inconsequential to be brushed under the carpet. Raja Parba is about inclusiveness, acceptance, and openness. When there are campaigns for “Women’s Lib” and “Women Empowerment,” and the need for more discussion regarding women’s issues and “problems,” Raja Parba is the actual action and implementation of all this and more with the enthusiastic participation of girls and women.

In this fast-paced world, when we don’t have the awareness, inclination, or “time to spare” to simply “stand and stare,” Raja Parba comes as a welcome reminder each year to just go slow and enjoy nature, beauty, leisure, the good things and riches of life while inspiring us to care, dare, and be aware!

Isn’t that the purpose of life? To be aware while living and celebrating every moment, feeling thrilled to be alive, truly living, loving and laughing. Raja Parba allows us to do all this and celebrate life!

Some of my requests regarding Raja Parba:

Raja- Usage of local and Geographical Indication (GI) products
New clothes are a necessity for every festival. Requesting everyone to choose Odisha Handloom clothes for subsequent purchases for all festivals and celebrations. Odisha has 10 GI-tagged
handlooms. Let’s buy, use, wear, flaunt, and gift on all occasions.
By choosing local, handmade, traditional, and GI products, we can support our heritage arts and crafts, artisans, weavers, and producer groups and further our textile heritage.
Also, while showcasing the Raja festival in advertisements, girls or women on swings can be asked or shown to wear Odisha Handloom (instead of random clothes).

Raja Greetings- Subha Raja
There are many “Happy Raja” messages.
Actually, “Happy” is being used for all our Indian festivals & special days like birthdays etc.
Have shared about this earlier- there’s a need to consciously adopt & adapt to local words & greetings.
I agree that “Happy” is a great word, and we all aim and aspire to be happy, to own happiness.
But don’t we have any other local words to convey our wishes?
“Subha” can be a replacement.
Subha Raja 🙏🏽

Raja Parba ra abhinandana o hardika subhechha o subhakamana 🙏🏽
What do you feel? Which other local word can be used instead of “Happy” in our wish messages?

Raja- Spelling
Requesting all: Let’s use “Raja” as the spelling-
(Not Rajo – it is Raja) 🙏🏽
Agree that Raja means “King,” & many have been using “Rajo” over the years. Even I have done so in the past.
But, “Raja” must be used for uniformity & together, all of us can ensure this.
We have been sharing this information for the past couple of years. This year, we have also intimated in several Whatsapp groups where we found “Rajo” messages.

I have been meaning to write a detailed post/article about Raja Parba for a long time.
But, this festival enamours so much that the festive days simply whiz by!
Plus, it is such a grand festival that I always feel doubtful whether my words will do justice to it. I have previously shared social media posts and always felt lacking and guilty for the above reason. I wonder if I have the correct spelling, images, information, and representation.
Is it Sesa or Sesha? Gadhua or Gadhuaa? Bhudaha or Bhudaaha?
If you find any errors in this article, please share them with me.

Self-doubt is a stumbling factor and inhibits growth and progress.
But Raja Parba rises much above that – allowing us to dare, endeavour, and let our hair down while going higher!
Taking comfort in the central theme of this great festival, I have attempted to share by Bhudebi Maa’s grace.🎊

Happy to share these precious words of my Korean friend, Ms Yeonock Park 박연옥. Ms. Park commented on my previous Raja Parba Facebook post:
“In Korea, there is a very old tradition similar to the Raja festival of Odisha. On the 5th day of the 5th lunar month, Korean women wash their long hair in water infused with changpo (a type of plant), enjoy to have rice cakes in the shape of a wheel and swinging on swings.”

Kalinga (Odisha) has a rich cultural connection with many parts of the world, especially Southeast Asia. We have a shared heritage with some common words, rituals, etc., which never amazes us! There are no boundaries, and we feel connected.
In India, it is said- “Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam” – that the world is a family.
It is time to introduce our festivals and cultural traditions to the world, and we can proudly celebrate them globally together!
Raja Parba must be included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list and earn the recognition, participation, and celebration it rightfully deserves.

Did you know about Raja festival?
Please share in the comments below.

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