By Dr. Gopa Nayak
Through this festival, Odisha must boast about her exceptional contribution to Indian culture and to humanity at large where the most common and yet abhor able fact of menstruation has been so beautifully woven into the manifestations of nature through mother earth
When I write about Raja I cannot escape my own subjectivity in applauding it a festival that is symbolic of a very distinctive brand of feminism that Odia culture emanates. The sheer fact that menstruation is a celebration and that the fertility of Mother Nature is synchronized to the procreating female is an exceptional ode to feminism.
The fact that this festival is celebrated with fervor is testimony to the fact that in spite of its contamination through standardization into the Indian-ness as well as modernization through westernization Odia culture has retained its core values. What I mean by Indian-ness is the fact that almost all feminist literature coming out of India hammers at the lack of respect for women manifested in different forms. Rapes and honour killings are still very much the norm and discrimination of all kinds is happening to women from all the different socio-economic backgrounds. Apart from being born and brought up in Odisha recently I was in Odisha for three years and then shifting to another culture very much in India, I can vouch that not only the status of women but the way feminism is handled in Odia culture is unique. Yes there are case of rape and molestation in Odisha as well but I have never felt it in the same scale as other states of India. The negative bias towards woman, be it a woman driver or a woman colleague is very distinctively different in places outside Odisha. The kind of respect that a typical Odia girl gets in her family and later as a wife and mother has no parallel in other parts of India and the world beyond.
With reference to westernization, the unique thing in our culture is that celebration is communal never personal. I am sure during this festival when wearing new clothes is the norm many young girls must have bought western clothes. Many traditional thinkers pooh pooh this trend among youngsters. However that should not deter us from appreciating the fact that girls are pampered during this festival. This practice in itself is a cultural and societal adoration of feminism. In no western culture have I felt this trend. If I am not wrong people in western societies wear new clothes when they have an occasion and mostly the occasions are very personal.
Modernization has given us many good and bad things and these trends should certainly be examined critically, more so by educated people, writers included. However, in the bargain we should not throw the baby out with the water. The challenge is to retain the essence of our culture which is constantly being molded by modernization. The educated and so-called modernized writers living and writing in Odisha should never forget to highlight the uniqueness of this aspect of their culture in the garb of practicing modernization.
It is time, Odisha and Odias should be proud of their Raja festival which is a unique attribute of their culture to adore feminism. Through this festival, Odisha must boast about her exceptional contribution to Indian culture and to humanity at large where the most common and yet abhor able fact of menstruation has been so beautifully woven into the manifestations of nature through mother earth. ‘Raja’ the word itself and the connotations around it glorify feminism in a subtle and surreal manner by bringing it within the purview of every human being and making a cause worth celebrating.
Dr Gopa Nayak is an academician, a researcher and a writer. She has a DPhil from the University of Oxford and is currently serving as Director of English Language Centre at O.P. Jindal Global University.