India is synonymous with festivals. Not a single month passes without any sort of celebration. However, have you noticed that women are the midpoint of all the festivals? This means besides the responsibility of performing all the rituals, they are also engaged in preparing the traditional delicacies. It won’t be an exaggeration to say that most of the festivals do not provide respite for them from daily chores.

Whether it is Raksha Bandhan, Karva Chauth, Vat Savitri, Teej or Bhai Dooj, these festivals are the constant reminders of the Indian patriarchal system. Though things are gradually transforming, we do have some celebrations that honour womanhood in India. One such example is a three-day festival of Raja Parba celebrated in Odisha. For the uninitiated, Raja Parba is not just a festival but a celebration of one of the most hushed topics in India — menstruation. As the state indulges in the festivities of Raja Parba amid Covid-19 restrictions from Monday, here we will not only tell you about its significance in the current times but also list down a few more celebrations of womanhood across India.

Raja Parba: In Honour of Menstruating Women

Raja Parba is a traditional yet progressive festival. Raja is an abbreviation for Rajaswala, which means menstruating woman. The festival draws a parallel between a woman and Mother Earth (Bhudevi), who is considered to be menstruating during the three days of the festival. As Bhudevi is on a resting phase, women are also given relief from household work. They deck up in ethnic dresses and adorn their feet with alatha. Just like menstruation plays a crucial role in women’s fertility, these three days are vital for Mother Earth’s fertility. Agricultural activities are forbidden during the festival as Earth is allowed to replenish and rejuvenate itself. While women in India are still trying to uproot the stigma related to menstruation, imagine the entire state celebrating it with fanfare and gaiety.

Ritukala Samskara or Ritusuddhi: A Celebration of Menarche

Ritukala Samskara or Ritusuddhi is a coming-of-age ceremony for girls after menarche. Celebrated in Andhra Pradesh, the people of the state happily announce their daughter’s first menstruation unlike the rest of India. Also known as the half-saree function, it marks the transition of the girl into a woman. Friends and relatives are invited and the girl is showered with gifts. The maternal uncle presents her the first saree, langa voni. The ceremony is an opportunity for the family members to celebrate and enjoy a feast. While men across India learn about menstruation either from books, friends or partners, it is delightful to see the family normalising the conversation around the same.

Navratri: Honouring Feminine Power

The nine-day festival of Navratri which falls during the Hindu calendar month of Ashvin marks the celebration of the feminine power. Goddess Durga is worshipped as a form of Shakti, the embodiment of nurturer, purity and vigour. The celebration varies across India. However, on the ninth or eighth day, the northern region honours nine pre-pubescent girls considering them to be the nine avatars of Goddess Durga. It is believed that the supreme deity of the cosmos resides inside them because of their innocence. Devotees wash the feet of girls with their hands, colour them with alatha and offer them sattvic meal on banana leaves. At the end of the ritual, devotees touch their feet to seek blessings and offer them gifts. In a country where female foeticide is still practised, Navratri is a gentle reminder about neutralising gender stereotypes.

Ka Pom-Blang Nongkrem: Ceremony Monitored by Priestess

The annual festival of Khasi tribe in Meghalaya is celebrated for five days. It is a celebration to please the goddess Ka Blei Synshar for a bumper harvest and prosperity. Goat is sacrificed and offered to Syiem of Khyrim, the administrative head of the Khasi state. The entire ceremony is managed by the eldest sister of the king, Syiem Sad, who is also the chief priestess.

For the unversed, Khasi, the largest ethnic community of Meghalaya, is one of the few communities in the world that practise matrilineal descent.