It is celebrating Raja, the festival of Mother Earth turning fertile and ready for the sowing season.
Primarily an agricultural state, Odisha has this festival celebrated with much enthusiasm at homes where every unmarried girl and married woman is celebrated during this festival.
It is believed that Mother Earth goes through the ritual of menstruation during this time and hence Raja is celebrated as a festival of fertility. There is a festive air all over and the four days of the Raja festival sees a lot of home cooked delicacies too.
The festival of Rajo ( pronounced as Rawjaw ), starts with one day before the actual festival. That day is called Sajabaja ... or decking up with new clothes, flowers, etc. or preparing for decking up by getting together new clothes and ornaments.
All agricultural work is stopped from the first day of Rajaw or Pahili rajaw till the fourth day.
Women dress up, cook, eat and share numerous delicacies like Podo pitha and other kinds of pitha, rich curries of mutton and chicken, and all kinds of sweets and payesh too.
Swings are a must ... every home and backyard will have a swing set up, either on the branch of a strong tree ... usually the mango or jamun or a neem ... and girls swing on it for fun.
This resembles the Teej festival of Rajasthan, that celebrates monsoon too.
Since my mother and her siblings were a big lot in number, the huge house would fall short when it came to accomodating all of them when they visited with their families.
So many would spill over to Boro Masi's place .
But would get together as soon as the day started and we kids, more than 15 in numbers, would spend the days with numerous adventures and mishaps, that would later stay on in the family as anecdotes to be recalled during get togethers.
I remember choto Mama would set up a swing for us in one of the branches of the huge ... and when I say huge it means HUGE ... Neem trees on the bank of our pond.
The pond had a cemented border and steps on four sides, complete with cement chairs for people to sit on and enjoy the cool breeze in the summer evenings when there would be no electricity power.
It was surrounded with other strong trees like the mango and the jamun too, but this particular neem stood a little behind the steps of the pond .... which gave the elders the assurance that no child will drop into the water, while swinging.
The swing itself was a broad, wooden plank with four holes drilled into it at the corners.
Thick jute ropes would then be knotted into them and tied in the most unique way ... nobody could undo them ... they were so secure.
And the swing would be set up in the highest possible, strongest branch ... which means it was a long swing. When we gained momentum and swing way high up, we would be directly above the waters of the pond. While I have never tried it, my elder cousin brothers have often jumped from that high right into the water, with a huge splash ... that would send us young ones shrieking into the water too ... but from the steps.
Dadu had made sure there was a gradual slope and the it was cemented too, from the banks, so that the littlest of grandchild could step into the waters and enjoy.
Street food was a no no, as usual. But the older ones got to bribe the househelps to get us some anyway.
Secret messages would be passed along, avoiding the nosy elders, and we would all get together on the terrace of the third floor of the house .... where most elders avoided going due to the arduous climb ... and get one of the house helps to get us the forbidden street snacks.
One day it would be the singara + aloo chop, the Ghugni on the other. Or the much loved phuchka / gup chup ( as it called in Odiya) on other days.
But it was that one thing that everyone kept their ears perked up for .... that long tone of the man on the cycle, slowly pedaling through the quiet, lonely neighbourhoods on hot summer afternoons, two huge handis of aluminium hanging on both sides of his cycle, calling out "Alooooooo dummm dahi baraaaaa!".
And then two long trings of his cycle bell.
N didi would be up in a flash .... tip toe out of the room, and jostle and bully any one of the house helps to wake up and send the sleepy eyed fellow to buy the lip smacking Aloo dum dahi bara.
The man would make a small bowl by folding a fresh, green shaal leaf, quickly throw in some aloo dum and some break a bara / vada from the dahi vada, add some chopped onions and green chillies. a handful of spicy mixture, some more dahi and some spicy powdered masalas. A final dash of red chillies and rock salt and he hands over the leaf.
Sometimes he would add the ghugni to it too ... but not always.
By the time it would reach us, the leaf would be leaking and the precious droplets of the spicy water would be disappearing fast (which is why we sent the boy with small boxes much later ... helped by our Didima/grandmother). We would all jump in and try to get at least a couple of spoons each.
It was heaven.
And stuff that childhood memories are made of. 😃
I made a plate for myself when I had made the Aloo dom.
And sent a thought to dear N didi , who is no longer around to enjoy these sinful things that she so loved.
To make this plate of Dahi bara Aloo dom, you will have to make the Dahi bara first.
Preferably a day before.
Then you make the Aloo domm.
Then you will have to chop up some onions + green chillies + fresh coriander leaves.
Then take a plate, arrange the aloo dom and the vadas from the dahi vada.
Now add a good amount of the sour and lip smacking dahi all over it.
Then add the chopped onions + green chillies + coriander leaves.
Then add a good dose of rock salt + red chilli powder + amchur powder / lemon juice.
Now add a final spoon of the dahi and throw in some spicy mixture.
Perfect for a monsoon day or evening.
Since it is so filling, I usually have it for lunch or dinner .... especially with friends and family.
Yep ... you have to have company to enjoy this .... those close to you, those who will sniffle with you when the spice is a tad too much and those who will laugh with you thinking of long gone days.