Our glorious Maritime History “Boita Bandana”, but why this ritual celebrated in Indonesia

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The Bali Yatra festival is just a glimpse of Odisha's rich cultural history which is more than 1000 years old and one of the major Festivals in Odisha.
The Bali Yatra festival is just a glimpse of Odisha's rich cultural history which is more than 1000 years old and one of the major Festivals in Odisha.

The Bali Yatra festival is just a glimpse of Odisha’s rich cultural history which is more than 1000 years old and one of the major Festivals in Odisha. It not only symbolizes the ancient maritime glory of Kalinga kingdom but draws the attention of the historians as to how the cultural expansion took place with the South East Asian countries. Just let us have a brief sketch of this socio-cultural event of Eastern state of this country…

Bali Yatra means Journey to Bali, an island in Indonesia and the festival is celebrated in the coastal Odisha on the day of Karthika Poornima generally which falls in the month of November every year. It is a unique socio-cultural event with a history of more than 1000 years old bringing out the legacy of the rich maritime heritage of Kalinga with South East Asian countries and Sri Lanka that flourished well during that period. This festival is also known as Boita Bandana (Boat Worshipping Festival i.e. ceremonial sending forth of boats to distant shores).

About the festival

Bali Yatra on the banks of Mahanadi River in the Baramati fort area of Cuttack city marks the commemoration of ancestral cultural heritage and maritime legacy. The traders of Orissa (sadhabapuas) undertook voyages, along the sea trade route, on huge boats called Boita from this place on the full moon day during Nov/Dec (in the month of Karthik). Thus Kartika Poornima is an auspicious day to the people of Odisha, as the sailors used to start their bon-voyage to places like Bali, Java, Borneo, Sumatra in Indonesia and Ceylon (Srilanka) for a successful trade. Thus ‘Bali Yatra’ is not only a ritual of sailing boats on Kartik Poornima day but represent the ancient maritime tradition of Odisha and its economic glory.

This Festival in Odisha has rich ancestral tradition and symbolises the zenith of of the cultural unity. It is celebrated on Karthik Poornima on the full moon day in November – December in all over Odisha. Cuttack is famous for its celebration on the bank of the river Mahanadi. Apart from Cuttack, Odiya speaking people in different parts of the country celebrate this festival with great enthusiasm and joy.

Image result for "Boita Bandana"

On this day they sail small boats made out of cork, colored paper and banana barks lit by lamps placed inside them in a river or pond or lake nearby. The ritual of ‘Boita Bandana’ (Boat worshipping festival) to pay tribute to the Kalingan sailors is performed by the women reciting the Oriya lyrics i.e. ‘Aa-Ka-Ma-Bai, Pana-Gua- Thoi’.

The ritual by launching a paper boat or a baot made of banana peels with clay diya placed inside it is called ‘Boita Bandana’. It would be a marvelous event to watch thousands of such boats floating on the river water/water tanks and thousands of people conglomerating with colourful dresses and joyful mood. The blowing of conch, music, dance, ritual funfair and bursting crackers would be the mega events of the day and make the visitors an unforgettable event.

At Cuttack, ‘Kartikeswar’ is the son of Lord Shiva and Goddess Parvati and his images are built and worshiped on Kartik Poornima. Later in the night, the idols made in different forms are taken out with full procession and immersed in the Mahanadi river near the Shiva temple. A big fair, well known as “Bali Yatra” is held for about 10 days on the river bank.

Cuttack is the major city to host this mega event every year as the tradition made its birth at this place 1000 years ago on the banks of the river Mahanadi. Lakhs of People throng to this place during this period at the fair ground for buying and selling varieties of goods.

They enjoy boating with their family members and friends in the full moonlit night. All verities of goods, commodities and appliances signifying traditional crafts to modern appliances are available as open market for all peoples in this state sponsored annual fair. Now the annual fair of Bali Yatra is on at Cuttack which started on 6th November 2014 and the fair would end on 12th Novemebr 2014

How the tradition is linked with that of Indonesia?

There are similarities between the ‘Boita Bandana’ festival celebrated in odisha and the celebration of the Masakapan Ke Tukad of Bali. The offering of boats in memory of their maritime ancestors is also a practice in Bali. We have also a common symbolism of worship. The rice ritual of Garbhana Sankranti in Odisha is similar to that of the Mabinukukung at Bali. People of Bali worship Devi Sri as the Goddess of wealth and prosperity while goddess Lakshmi in Odisha.

Thus the trade between the traders of Odisha and Indonesia has contributed for exchange of culture, tradition and customs in the fields of architecture and fine arts. We can find the common performances of arts like the enactment at the Ramlila, leather shadow puppetry, masks, the Ikat tradition in textiles and pata painting on fabric and palm leaf which represent the cultural identity. Thus this festival symbolizes the socio-cultural relation between the people Odisha and the South East Asian islands.

Wrap up

An attempt was made to sketch out the ethos of the Odisha culture through this short form of the origination of a festival and its cultural connectivity with some foreign islands. As such Bali yatra is not a festival that is celebrated by the people of Odisha but reflects our ancient traditions and culture that exchanged with other countries. There is a need to glorify this annual event to enhance the bilateral relations among the stake holders of this glorious past.

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