Raja (pronounced as rawjaw) is one of the most important festivals of Odisha. Raja is generally associated with the farmers and is celebrated during the onset of monsoons. The term Raja has come from Rajaswala and it falls on the first day of the month of Asadha, the start of rainy season, thus moistening the parched soil and making it ready for sowing.
Raja Parba (festival) is also one of the few festivals in the country which celebrates menstruation in women. In a way it’s a festival of empowerment and speaks against the societal taboos.
The festival spans three consecutive days. The first day is called Pahili Raja (first day), second is Raja and third is Basi Raja (the day after Raja). It is believed that the first drop of rain on the parched soil signifies that Mother Earth undergoes menstruation and all agricultural activities are stopped for three days. On the fourth day, Mother Earth is worshipped, what is locally called as “Basumati Puja”. Just like Mother Earth, girls of the household are also discouraged from doing household work during the festival. One can see groups of young girls enjoying their day out.
The entire duration is marked by a festive atmosphere which is different from rest of the festivals, in the sense it's a festival where communities and families come together. While especially the outskirts of Bhubaneswar wears a festive look, Raja is essentially a festival for near and dear ones.
Swings are an integral part of Raja. The swings may be of different varieties, such as 'Ram Doli', 'Charki Doli', 'Pata Doli', 'Dandi Doli' etc. In some places, swinging competition is held among girls of various villages. Best known places for mass swing festival during Raja are Patrapada, in Bhubaneswar, with more 120 swings swinging at a place.
Almost every Odisha village and city transforms into a great melee of colors as traditionally everybody is required to adorn new robes and girls put alta (red dye colour) on their feet. Another common sight during these times are those of swings (natural banyan, coir/plastic rope, bamboo or even of iron chains in parks), which naturally come up in every nook and corner of the streets.
Raja songs like "Banaste Dakila Gaja", though anonymous, specially meant for the festival, speaks of love, affection, respect and social behavior, are very much part of Odisha's folk poetry. The entire surrounding turns into a moment of echoing chorus songs that go up with the oscillating swing. The festival is also associated with the Odia delicacy of "Poda pitha" which is prepared in almost all households. Secondly, chewing of specially made Raja Pan (betel leaf) is a part of culture.