Raja festival is an agriculture oriented festival, mostly observed in the coastal districts of Odisha for three days. The last day of month “Jestha” is known as “Pahili Raja” and the first day of month “Asadha” is Raja Sankranti (Mithuna Sankranti) from which rainy season starts. It also inaugurates the agricultural year all over Odisha which marks the moistening of summer parched soil with the first shower of monsoon making it ready for productivity. The second day of “Asadha” is known as “Bhuin Dahana”.
During the three days women are given a break from household work and time to play indoor games. Unmarried girls decorate themselves with new fashion or traditional Saree and Alatha in feet. All people abstain from walking barefoot on earth. People play a lot of indoor and outdoor games. Girls play Swings tied on tree branches whereas aged ladies play Cards and Ludo. Many villages organize Kabbadi matches among young men.
Special varieties of cake prepared out of recipes like rice-powder, molasses, coconut, camphor, ghee etc goes in the name of Poda-pitha (burnt-cake ). The size of the cake varies according to the number of family members. Cakes are also exchanged among relatives and friends.
According to popular belief as women menstruate, which is a sing of fertility, so also Mother Earth menstruates. So all three days of the festival are considered to be the menstruating period of Mother Earth. During the festival all agricultural operations remain suspended. As in Hindu homes menstruating women remain secluded because of impurity and do not even touch anything and are given full rest, so also the Mother Earth is given full rest for three days for which all agricultural operations are stopped.
Significantly, it is a festival of the unmarried girls, the potential mothers. As per tradition, on the first day of the festival they rise before dawn, do their coiffure, anoint their bodies with turmeric paste and oil and take a bath in a river or tank. Peculiarly, bathing for the rest two days is prohibited.
Taking a break from daily routine, girls indulge in unbridled merry-making, playing on swings and other games and cards, feasting, savouring delectable pithas and chewing special paan during the festival. Moving up and down on the swings during the festival is a special feature of the Raja festival. Girls sing songs, specially meant for the festival from State’s folk literature:
“Banaste dakila Gaja,
Barasake thare aasichhi Raja,
Asichi Raja lo gheni nua sajabaja.”
Also read about Pana Sankranti.