Raja is a three-day festival in Odisha which celebrates menstruation and womanhood. The festival is observed to respect Bhudevi, who is considered the wife of Lord Jagannath. It is believed that Mother Earth goes through a menstrual cycle for three days and is given a ceremonial bath on the fourth day. 

In a country where menstruation is largely shunned, Raja is a unique festival that celebrates womanhood, blending rich traditions along with fun and frolic. The entire family and village come together and enjoy the festival with utmost joy. 

When is Raja celebrated in 2021?

Raja is primarily observed for three days. This year, Raja will be celebrated from 15 June to 18 June. 

The first day is termed as Pahili Raja, which is also considered the last day of the month Jestha (summers). The second day is named Raja Sankranti, the first day of Asadha (monsoons). The concluding day is popularly known as Sesa Raja.

However, the festival in some parts of the states ranges for four days, including the fourth day termed Basumata Puja or Basumata Gadhua (Bathing & praying of mother earth).

How is Raja celebrated?

Raja festival is significant for its closeness to the agricultural class, and people celebrate it for fun and merrymaking. The word Raja itself in Odia means menstruation, and it’s a conjecture that mother Earth goes for three days long menstrual cycle during this period. So, on this occasion, no activities like tilling, construction or any other that hurts mother Earth are done. 

The Raja Doli or the Raja swing is one of the main attractions during the festivals. Ornately decorated rope swings with flowers and mango leaves are made where the women and children swing singing the festival songs.

Image © Indian Express

Indoor and outdoor games are also a popular pursuit during Raja. Women are given a break from household work and time to play indoor games. Unmarried girls will dress in new clothes or wear traditional Sarees and Alata (red dye) on their feet. 

With all agricultural activity suspended, many villages will organize Kabbadi matches against neighbouring villages to keep the young men occupied. The festival concludes with a custom called Vasumati Snana, or the bathing of Bhuma Devi. Women worship a stone that symbolizes Mother Earth. They bathe her with turmeric paste, offer her flowers and smear her with Sindoor.

Raja Festival during the COVID pandemic

Last year, the Keonjhar district administration strictly prohibited congregations and gatherings during multiple festivals, including Raja Festival. Considering that Indian COVID cases are still on the rise, it’s likely that Raja festivities in 2021 will be similarly curbed.