Mithuna Sankranti is one of the most important festivals celebrated in Odisha apart from Rathayatra. People there celebrate this occasion for a period of 3 to 4 days.
Mithuna Sankranti actually is the auspicious beginning of the third solar month. It ushers in the rainy season with Ashar along with this ritual.
The Mithuna Sankranti is actually the movement of the Sun from Vrishabha or Taurus into the constellation called Mithuna or Gemini in English and is considered to be extremely important and auspicious according to Hindu astrology.
In South India this observance is called Mithuna Sankramanam and in Odisha people call it in the name of Raja Sankranti. In 2019, the Mithuna Sankranti will be observed on the 15th of June, Saturday.
- Legend of Mithuna sankranti
There is an interesting legend behind the Mithuna Sankranti or the Raja Sankranti as it is known in many parts of the country. According to legends, it is believed that Mother Earth, or Bhu Devi, Lord Vishnu’s wife feels the pang of menstruation or has Rajah for the first three days, and on the fourth day she is given a ceremonial bath called Vasumati Gadhua. As mentioned earlier the term Rajah originally has arisen from the word Rajahswala or a woman who is menstruating. One can see the idol of Bhudevi made of silver in the Jagannath Temple of Puri.
- Customs followed during the Mithuna Sankranti
This festival is very significantly meant for the unmarried women, the potential mothers or it is all about fertility. Girls during the three days are absolutely forbidden to do any kind of physical or menial jobs. They are prohibited from grinding grains, sewing clothes, sweeping floors, walking barefoot and other activities. They are given rest. They are even asked not to comb their hair. The unmarried girls in beautiful and colorful clothes get into swings to observe this ceremony as it is believed that by swinging a girl may get a good husband. The girls also while swinging sing the Raja Gita. People play a lot of indoor games. The girls wear beautiful clothes and put on the Alata in their feet.
- The Raja Sankranti
The Raja Sankranti is celebrated for four days in Odisha. The first day is called the Pahili Raja, the second day is known as the Mithuna Sankranti, the third day is known as the Basi Raja and the fourth day is the day when all the ladies have a bath and is called the Vasumati snan.
The day before the Pahili Raja is called the Sajabaja, which is a day of preparations. On this day all the spices are ground, the houses cleaned and chores completed for the coming three days. The women in all the three days do not do any work. They eat unsalted food and observe the custom of eating uncooked food, for example the Podapeetha etc, swing in huge swings from the Banyan tree etc. on the first day the women folk wake up early, have a traditional ritual bath after putting turmeric paste and oil on their bodies. For the next three days they are in a joyous frame of mind without having to do a single thing. The women swing in various kinds of swings such as – ‘Ram Doli’, ‘Charki Doli’, ‘Pata Doli’, ‘Dandi Doli’ etc
All these three days are considered to be menstruating period of Mother Earth or the period of rest and recuperation. Looking at mother Earth as a menstruating woman, which is a sign of her being fertile, all kinds of agricultural activities remains stopped for these three days, symbolically giving mother Earth the time to rest.
Songs sung make an important part of this ritual. These songs are direct, straight from the heart and composed extempore, yet they make up an important part of the Cultural map of Odisha by their sheer lyrical beauty and simplicity. The men engage themselves in various games and entire nights’ revelries in terms of Jatra or a form of theatre and Gotipua dances are organized.
- The Vasumati Snan
The grinding stone is what is considered to be Bhudevi, or the mother Earth and is worshipped. Devotees wear traditional Oriya costume and give a sacred bat h to the grinding stone. Then the grinding stone is beautifully decorated with flowers, turmeric powder, sandalwood and vermillion or sindur; which is the mark of a married woman. After they decorate the grinding stone, fruits are offered to Bhudevi as prasads. This entire ritual has a direct connection and connotation to the unmarried women being prepared for a life of matrimony and fertility. It is also an interesting observation that Mother Earth is seen as a woman who also is in need of rest and recuperation at times.
Women play games like cards, ludos or swing, while the men play games like Kabaddi. People sing songs like Rajagita.
Almost all of Odisha’s villages wear a festive look during this ceremony. People wear new colorful clothes and almost all the houses build a make shift swing or jhula to have the women folk enjoy the three days. The women apart from new clothes, put alta, a red liquid, considered to be auspicious, on their feet. The villages all reverberate with the folk songs sung straight from the heart and become a melee of activities and fun. Pitha or a kind of dough cake is a staple delicacy made in the entire household at this time of the year and is closely associated with all the festivities surrounding the Mithuna Sankranti. It is a symbolic time of rest before being plunged in harvesting activities.