HAPPY RAJA, ENJOY
As the scorching heat of June reaches its zenith making the parched earth desperately looks at the rain god for succour, it's time to celebrate the mass festival of Raja.
The three-day festival begins on the last day of Jestha in Odia calendar (around the middle of June). The first day of the festival – Pahili Raja – is believed to be connected with the Mother Earth and fertility, while the next day is in fact the first day of Ashadha (rainy season).
During the three-day festival, basically a rural and agrarian festival, the farmers stop all farm activities and engage themselves in merry making. It is pure food, fun and frolic and is devoid of any rituals. For the farming community, the festival is kind of a recreation, a short holiday, before the start of monsoon and hectic agricultural activities.
Though Raja is celebrated across Odisha, the pomp and show is more visible in coastal parts. It is entrenched in the socio-cultural life of the state. Even the state government declares holiday during the festival, which provides a big boost to businesses. Shops provide attractive discounts while restaurants offer 'Raja special' food to customers. Odia films makers release of their films during the Raja to make good collections at the box office.
The festival is a celebration of womanhood as girls are accorded a royal privilege in the form of new clothes, jewellery, cosmetics and abstinence from household chores. They are showered with gifts from family members and relatives. Young unmarried girls wear their finest dresses to visit relatives and friends. They relax on swings, sing songs and move around with gay abandon. Men also participate in the revelry, playing kabaddi, football and cricket.
Rapid urbanisation has however changed the taste and colour of the festival to some extent. Girls in cities no more put 'alita' (a red dye considered to be auspicious) on their feet and smear sandalwood paste on their forehead as per the traditional practice. But they buy new clothes, footwear, cosmetics and jewellery. Boys, on the other hand, concentrate more on delicious food.
The traditional Odia sweets like 'pitha' (cakes), made of rice flour, jiggery, coconut and black gram, and 'ladoo' made of jiggery, puffed and flattened rice are still available during Raja, but Pizza and noodles too has made their appearance. This is due to the changing taste among urban children in the recent years. This is also the reason why traditional dishes are not being made in urban households. Food lovers can be seen enjoying delicacies like chakuli pitha and mutton curry in restaurants and polishing off the meal with a round of ice-creams and pastries, while grandmas lament the good old times when they savoured homemade delicacies like 'arisha', 'manda' 'kakara' cooked in the house with much efforts.
But 'Raja Pana' (special betel offering) still rules the roost during the festival. It is getting better and expensive by the year. But nobody complains when it is Raja. Happy Raja!