Primarily observed by girls and young women, Raja holds great cultural significance for Odisha. They take a break from chores, put on new clothes, and engage in activities like swinging on decorated rope swings, playing traditional games, and relishing delicious treats. However, that appears to be a thing of the past now.
The celebration, which was once a cause for great fervour, is gradually losing appeal and vitality. The cause has been attributed to a number of factors, including the influx of villagers into cities, the influence of modern lives, and the lack of interest among the younger generation in traditional festivals.
With just a few days to go before Raja, Sunday POST discusses the decline of a pompous festival with women of various age groups.
‘The true fun lies in celebrating it at
home and with friends and cousins’
With age come wisdom and a desire to pass down the values of culture to future generations. In her 90s, Pramoda Sahu remembers, “Raja has always been a time of togetherness and cohesion. As I get older, I realise the importance of passing on our cultural heritage to the younger generation. So, I taught my only daughter and granddaughter the significance of Raja, urging them to appreciate the values it represents and uphold them in the future.”
She stated, “During our time, every girl in my neighbourhood was excited for Raja before a month. We used to go to the nearby markets with our mother and aunts and buy sarees for ourselves. On the day of Raja, we get up before sunrise, and as per rituals, we apply turmeric paste and oil, bathe, and wear our new clothes. Then we apply mehendi, and kumkums to our forehead. Now I also see kids in our neighbourhood and even my granddaughter doing these, but in western clothes. Applying ‘alata’ is out of fashion, they assert.”
Pramoda finds it quite amusing the way the traditional festival is celebrated in cities. “I see many foundations and social groups organising events at different places, asking girls and women to take part. But the true fun of Raja lies in celebrating it at home and with friends and cousins,” she points out.
‘Raja today is a fusion of traditional
and contemporary elements’
Homemaker Mamata Sahu, in contrast to Pramoda, is content with how the celebration has changed over time.
“In my younger days, Raja placed a greater emphasis on agriculture. Our activities revolved around paying homage to the gods, engaging in lively folk music, and playing age-old games. Although the core customs are still followed, the present generation has adopted both traditional and contemporary features. While celebrating the festival, they now incorporate aspects of Western fashion and global influences,” claims the 50-year-old.
“Watching how seamlessly they combine the old and new is simply remarkable. It is amazing to see how they have adapted to the times. Raja currently exhibits an effortless integration of tradition and modernity, where elements from the past and present coexist. This transformation adds a vibrant and dynamic flavour to the festivities, breathing new life into the age-old customs,” adds Sahu.
‘Raja takes on a new form,
being flexible with the times’
Another Bhubaneswar homemaker, Sumitra Mohanty, also discusses the variations in Raja celebration styles.
“Compared to our times, which was deeply rooted in customs, conventions, and rituals, the celebration today shows noticeable changes. The times we live in, though, are characterised by this progression and ongoing change. Most people live in metropolitan settings, where nuclear families are becoming more and more common. The urban environment provides a wide range of activities and pastime pursuits. As a result, everyone now prefers their own special ways to celebrate holidays, and Raja is no exception,” according to Mohanty, a woman in her late 40s.
“The time when making pithas, kheeri, and other Raja delicacies needed a lot of work is long past. These delicious delights are now readily available at our fingertips, making it more convenient to take part in the festivities. Numerous events are being held by various organisations to celebrate the festival. The ardour surrounding Raja is still present, but it has changed as a result of the times,” she continues.
She concludes by saying, “Despite the changing social dynamics and the modernisation of customs, the importance of Raja has not diminished. This indicates the festival’s lasting cultural significance and adaptability. The current situation emphasises on the introduction of new traditions connected to Raja. It represents the capacity of people and communities to change with the times while holding on to the core of their cultural heritage. The fact that Raja is celebrated in a different way shows how dynamic our culture is and how open people are to adapt while still upholding their treasured customs.”
‘The lively spirit is quite rare today’
On her social media accounts, 24-year-old Odia influencer Tanistha Panda frequently highlights Odia culture. “Over the past few years, I have noticed tremendous changes in the way Raja is celebrated. There used to be swings hanging from tree branches in every temple and in almost all villages, but that is no longer the case. In the past, I would play gleefully on them. Nobody appears to have time to enjoy old-fashioned treats like ‘poda pitha,’ dress up, decorate their feet with ‘alata,’ or just hang out with other girls these days.
She adds, recalling her Raja recollections, “I have been celebrating Raja at Banki for years, and it has become an annual tradition. This peaceful town in Odisha, home to Goddess Charchika, holds a special place in my heart as my favourite Raja destination. I first became aware of the significance of the Raja celebration, which openly celebrates women and the normal menstrual cycle, when I was studying in Standard VII. The celebration also represents Mother Earth’s three-day menstruation cycle.
“The vibrant spirit that used to accompany the festival is now rarely seen,” she says in reference to Raja’s lost shine.
“Even more drastic changes than we have seen have been witnessed by our elders. They try to instill excitement in the younger generation, but it frequently disappears in the daily grind. It is painful to see girls skip creating different kinds of pitha (cakes) and going to each other’s houses during Raja. However, Raja continues to be a festival that unites and offers happiness to everyone, irrespective of their background,” Tanistha concludes.
‘The vibe hasn’t diminished’
Upasana Mohanty, a 23 year old student, refuses to accept that Raja’s charm has faded with time. She claims that even now, the entire state is still experiencing the celebratory intensity of these three days. “There has been a marked difference between how Raja is observed in cities and in rural today compared to past generations. When it comes to celebrating it in cities, younger generations use more creative methods,” says Upasana.
She goes on to add, “I don’t think that the popularity of the Raja festival is waning. Rather, it is being celebrated in a more ostentatious manner. Star-rated hotels are presenting creative events, and many government agencies have been organising shows to inform the younger generation about their significance. Yes, the way it is celebrated now is completely different from the way it was before. But the vibe hasn’t diminished,” adds Mohanty.
Upasana continues, “What I have heard from my mother and grandmother was that they used to not take a shower for three days in a row, comb their hair, walk barefoot, get involved in household activities, and on the fourth day they would take the ceremonial bath. The festival was all about taking ample rest and relishing good food.”
Taking pride in the state’s tradition and culture, she signs off by saying, “I think it’s important for younger generations to learn about and appreciate our customs associated with the festival. Menstruation, which remains a hush-hush topic for many, is celebrated here through a festival. The festival is also a symbol of fertility and regeneration. This festival is one of its kind, and everyone in Odisha as well as those who reside outside the state should be proud of this celebration because it is unique.”
Madhusmita Sahu, OP