Raja Parba: Celebrating Odisha’s Royal Festival of Womanhood


Image:  Wikimedia

India is a land of festivals. Some of its festivals are popular worldwide, such as Diwali or Holi. The entire nation is involved in its celebrations and festive fervor. However, there are also some festivals that are lesser known, but nonetheless, celebrated with enthusiasm in specific regions of the country. Raja Praba in Odisha is one such festival, that perhaps only a few people know of.

About Raja ParbaRaja Parba Festival

Raja Parba is also called Mithun Sankranti, a three-day festival celebrated in Odisha. This festival has a deep symbolic meaning, as it celebrates womanhood and the biological wonders and cycles of a woman. It is believed that during the 3 days of the festival, Mother Earth menstruates and prepares for a fertile future, ready to give birth, in other words, ready for agricultural prosperity. 

The Mythology

The Hindus regard Mother Earth as the wife of Lord Vishnu, who they believe menstruate during Raja Parba. Bhudevi, the wife of Lord Jagannath is the main deity of worship, who is believed to have the ceremonial bath or Vasumati Snana on the fourth day of the festival. A silver idol of Bhudevi is still present in the Puri Temple beside Lord Jagannath. 

The word Raja comes from the Sanskrit word ‘ Rajas’ meaning menstruation. A menstruating woman is called Rajaswala. 

When is Raja Parba Celebrated?

The second day of Raja Parba is the beginning of the solar month Mithuna in the Hindu calendar. The Mithuna season is the season of rain. The festival usually falls in mid-June and is associated with the arrival of the monsoon and the end of summer. 

How is it Celebrated?

When is Raja Parba Celebrated
Image: Wikimedia

The first day of the festival is called Pahili Raja, the second Mithuna Raja and the third day is known as Bhu Daha or Basi Raja. However, the preparations for the festival begin one day prior to Pahili Raja, known as Sajabaja. The house is thoroughly cleaned, including kitchen equipment and grinding stones. 

 Undoubtedly, women and girls are the central figures during Raja Parba. On this day, unwed girls, prepare for the festivities. In fact, Raja Parba celebrations focus on unmarried girls who are deemed to be potential birth givers and mothers. On the first day of the festival, they rise early and apply oil and turmeric paste on their bodies, before taking a bath in the river. For all three days of the festivals, they observe practices that have been associated with menstruation. These include not taking a bath, not walking barefoot, not cooking or cutting anything, not grinding etc. On the other hand, they rest, enjoy the festivities, eat nutritious traditional foods, such as Podapitha and wear their best dresses and accessories.

Another iconic representation of the festival is the beautiful rope swings hung from the branches of banyan trees. Girls and women, swing happily on these, which are also a symbol of carefree joy and gaiety. The folk music adds to the fun of the celebrations. Besides, women visit friends and family during the festival, binging on cakes, sweets and rich foods while singing songs and enjoying themselves. 

The three-day festival ends with the bathing of Bhuma Devi. The grinding stone that symbolises Mother Earth is given a bath using turmeric paste. Sindoor is applied and flowers, fruits and sweets are offered to it for blessings. The fourth day of the festival is known as Vasumati Snana. 

Relation with Agriculture

Relation with Agriculture_Poda_Pitha
Image:  Wikimedia

Raja Parba is closely related to agricultural practice and concepts. The connection of Mother Earth to that of a woman is directly drawn and understood. Just as a woman goes through menstruation, which is a sign of her being fertile and fit to bear children, similarly, Mother Earth too, goes through menstruation during the festival, to be ready to bear crops and vegetation. Symbolizing growth and fertility, due to its almost synonymous relation with agriculture, all agricultural activities and work are stopped during the festival. During Raja Parba, the agricultural sectors of the region are at a standstill, as a mark of reverence and respect for the menstruating Earth. Similarly, no construction work, that disturbs the earth is also done during the festival. 

Swings, Songs and More

Image: Wikimedia

Raja Parba is also known as the Swing Festival. A large variety of swings are hung from trees during the festival for girls to play on. Some of these include the Ram Doli, Pata Doli, Charki Doli, Dandi Doli and more. Swinging during this festival signifies the arrival of the rainy season and is believed to bring luck and prosperity. Girls swing their hearts out, singing songs that are all about love and joy. These songs have become an important part of the state’s folklore music and traditions. The Dhalkhai Dance and other traditional musical performances are an important part of the Raja Parba festival. 

Also, traditional Odiya attires are worn by women who dress themselves up in new clothes and accessories. The special delicious cuisines and dishes that are associated with this festival are pithas (rice cakes) and podas (cakes). There are also other traditional dishes that are prepared from freshly cut and harvested crops. 

Besides, since there are no agricultural or construction activities, the men also join the celebrations. There are games, food and other activities to keep them busy. Jatra performances are held all night and Gotipua dances are also arranged for well-to-do villagers to enjoy. 

Cultural Significance Raja Parba

Dhalkai_Dance_Cultural Significance Raja Parba
Image: Wikimedia

Raja Parba is a unique festival for several reasons. One of the main highlights is that it openly and overtly celebrates menstruation, a subject that otherwise, has been deemed a taboo until recently. In most societies and regions of India, menstruation has been looked down upon as impure. Women over generations have lived learning the art of masterfully hiding the physical and emotional changes that occur during menstruation. From throwing pads in secrecy or whispering in circles about periods, menstruation has never been an open subject for discussion. In fact, it is not until recently, that it has finally been talked about without hush tones or shame in homes, schools and in the media. 

And hence, it is pleasantly surprising, that Raja Parba, a festival centred around menstruation has been celebrated with much graciousness in traditional villages across Odisha for generations. The natural openness and willing disposition to attach no prohibition or ignominy is not only refreshing but also highly commendable. Additionally, finding an analogy of the female reproductive body cycle to that of Mother Earth and nature, is almost as if, attaching divinity to womanhood. 

On the face of it, Raja Parba may seem to be about sticking to the cultural and strictly conventional practices of menstruation. However, there is criticism of these, especially when it comes to women not entering the kitchen during their periods, not visiting places of worship or even objectifying and limiting themselves as bearers of new life. But, on the other hand, the deeper understanding of celebrating the most natural biological aspect of a woman’s life, makes Raja Parba a festival to reckon with. 

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  1. Indian cultures and traditions has always been magnificent . The colorful fabrics add another dimension to the show. Facial arrangements with accessories are yet another glorious addition to the lineup. Enters in the typical rhythmic dancing ,Katha or traditional numbers.All the sets are meticulously prepared.


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