Puri: Thursday is the preparation day (Sajabaja) and Friday the first day (Pahili Raja) of Odisha’s three-day-long mass festival Raja. Though the festival is observed with a lot enthusiasm all over the state, it has always been a little special in Puri district owing to its tradition.
But this year, the charm of the festivity is seen missing Thursday itself. The devastation caused by cyclone Fani still fresh in their minds, people do not seem to be in the mood to celebrate the agrarian festival. Then again, there are no old trees left to hang swings around and without swings, Raja is said to be meaningless.
This festival has strong ties to women. They are not supposed do any household work during these three days. Relishing baked cake (poda pitha) and chewing betels, they engage themselves merrymaking and playing swings. At mango orchards, old trees are known to hang a variety of swings. And girls throng those orchards, enjoying swings from dawn to dusk. At some places, competitions are organised and girls, women and even young men take part in them to add zest to mood of the festivity.
This year, all these activities are visibly missing in almost all the parts of the district. There used to be a huge ‘chakunda’ tree and a banyan tree in front of Brahmagiri panchayat office and Panchudola field respectively where people used to hang swings from these trees and these two places used to be points of great attraction.
But this year these destinations have lost their attractions as cyclone Fani damaged both these trees.
Similarly, an ancient banyan tree at Bahagabati shrine at Konark used to attract Raja revelers in great numbers. Several swings used to be tied to the branches of this tree. But the cyclone has uprooted it, leaving no other suitable option left.
A number of other places where there used to be large trees are either damaged or uprooted by the cyclone Fani. Some prominent cases are amphitheatre premises of Bakulbana in Sakhigopal and Deuli mutt in Kakatpur among others.
There used to be a huge mango tree in Deuli mutt premises at Kakatpur and the mutt management would hang swings from its branches. Those who would come visiting the Maa Mangala temple and the mutt would also enjoy the swings. “Even though the tree stood up to the cyclone, it has no branches left to hang swings,” said mutt manager and priest Mituranjan Dixit.
There used to be a huge peepal tree on the bed of Prachi river. Bajapur villagers would put up several swings on this tree. This tree has been uprooted.
“We have grown up playing swings from the branches of the peepal tree on this river bed. The tree is no more. There is no such tree nearby to tie swings. This year our Raja festival would be devoid of all its signature merrymaking,” rued Lipika Sahoo of Bajapur.