By Mandara Vishwanath
In contrast to the ban on menstruating women at the Sabrimala Ayyappa temple of Kerala, Odisha has been popularly celebrating the Raja Parba festival – of the menstruating Mother Earth – since Tuesday this week.
Think about it. A festival that considers the planet as a menstruating woman.
Derived from the word Rajaswala (menstruating woman), the festival lasts four days: Paheli Raja, Mithuna Sankranti, Bhu Daaha and the final day of Vasumati Gadhua, when Bhu Devi, Mother Earth and wife of Lord Jagannath, is given a ritual bath. The first three days are the menstruation days, while the last day is when heavy rains are expected to cleanse her body after being fallowed, slashed and burnt, preparing her uterus for the next birth, i.e., the next harvest. During this sensitive period, the land is allowed to rest by not performing any agricultural activities like ploughing or plucking plants or flowers. Thus we prepare for further productivity.
Today, women and children celebrate by playing indoor and outdoor games like ludo, cards and on swings. They are honoured as they take rest from office or house work and dress up in new clothes. Here’s the icky bit: the festival also focuses on young unmarried girls being ‘groomed’ to be potential mothers and caregivers, and they are apparently encouraged to eat only certain foods, not bathe, not walk barefoot, etc.
So here’s an ancient festival that has been adapted to our modern times, commendable in not only not ignoring but celebrating women’s bodily processes. Even as it continues to propagate the old patriarchal narrative of personifying the land as a menstruating woman who needs to be ‘cleaned’ and slotted into motherhood. Yaay?