Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik greeted the people of Odisha on the occasion of Raja festival, which got off to a quiet start on Sunday sans the usual enthusiasm due to the COVID-19 crisis.
The three-day festival, marking the celebration of womanhood, was devoid of the usual excitement and extravaganza as youngsters chose to observe it indoors with family, in view of the social-distancing norms due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the weekend shutdown imposed in 11 of the 30 districts in the state.
Taking to Twitter, Naidu wished for peace, prosperity and good health for all.
"Greetings on the occasion of Raja Parba! During this three-day Odia festival, people celebrate the advent of monsoon and worship Mother Earth. May this Raja Parba bring peace, prosperity and good health for everyone," he said in a tweet.
The prime minister on Twitter wished that the festival would strengthen the spirit of brotherhood in the society.
"Greetings on the very special festival of Raja Parba. May this occasion strengthen the spirit of joy and brotherhood in society. I also pray for the good health and well-being of my fellow citizens," Modi said in a tweet.
Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik described the Raja festival as a unique tradition of honouring nature, the earth and women.
"Let us make Raja Parba very special this time by staying home and adhering to all rules of COVID-19," he said in his message.
Union Petroleum and Steel Minister Dharmendra Pradhan also greeted the people of the state and said the Raja Parba is closely associated with the culture, farm economy and youngsters of Odisha.
The coronavirus pandemic appeared to have played a spoilsport on the opening day of the three-day festival.
The second-weekend shutdown in 11 districts on Saturday and Sunday seemed to have robbed the Raja festival of its sheen as young girls and women refrained from venturing out, riding swings in groups and visiting friends and relatives.
Outdoor games, community programmes and special events to serve traditional Odia delicacies were also missing.
The 11 districts -- Ganjam, Puri, Khurda, Nayagarh, Cuttack, Jagatsinghpur, Kendrapara, Jajpur, Bhadrak, Balasore and Bolangir -- where the weekend shutdown is in force, account for around 80 per cent of the COVID-19 cases in Odisha.
Ganjam district, which has reported the return of the highest number of migrant workers, has recorded 682 COVID-19 cases, followed by Khurda (355), of which state capital Bhubaneswar is a part.
The authorities in all these 11 districts have taken measures to strictly implement the restrictions to ensure that people stay indoors.
The COVID-19 curbs and the weekend shutdown in the 11 districts notwithstanding, people celebrated Pahili Raja, the first day of the fertility festival, with their family members and loved ones in their houses.
"We are unable to move out and celebrate with friends because of COVID-19. However, to keep the tradition alive, we are celebrating in our house with the family," said Prachi, a young student from the Gouri Nagar area in Bhubaneswar, where the markets remained shut and the roads deserted since Saturday.
As a precaution against COVID-19, the district administrations in Cuttack, Khurda and Ganjam have clamped tough restrictions on any form of congregations during the Raja festival.
In the state capital, Raja Doli (swing), outdoor games, playing cards have been prohibited by the Bhubaneswar Municipal Corporation (BMC).
Shops have been asked to ensure social distancing norms on Monday and Tuesday.
"In a bid to prevent people from congregating, we have clamped prohibitory orders under section 144 of the CrPC around Barunei and Ugratara pitha in the district," Khurda Sub-Collector Shantanu Mohanty said.
The Ganjam district administration has also imposed curbs.
"Any kind of gathering for a celebration like Raja Doli, Mela and traditional games related to the Raja festival in the district is strictly prohibited from June 11 to 16," Ganjam District Collector V A Kulange has said in an order.
He has also said sponsoring organisations for these types of gatherings should also be discouraged.
Similarly, Cuttack District Collector BC Chayani has appealed to people to refrain from moving out of their houses to celebrate the Raja festival. Even inside the houses, they should not gather in large numbers, he has said.
The Cuttack Municipal Corporation (CMC) has issued special guidelines for shops during the Raja festivities on Monday and Tuesday, officials said.
The government toughened its stance as hundreds of people disregarded the social-distancing norms in different parts of the state on Friday and crowded the markets for shopping.
Following a mad rush in the markets, authorities ordered the shops to close.
The three-day festival is celebrated in Odisha to honour womanhood. It is based on the belief that Mother Earth, which is worshipped for its fertility, menstruates during these three days and she is given a ceremonial bath on the fourth day.
The festival is celebrated in a big way in the coastal and tribal regions of the state.
During the festival, women dressed up in new attires skip household work and make merry.