BALIJATRA, the festival of boats, which is also known as BOITA BANDANA UTSAB, is one of the most important socio-religious festivals in coastal Odisha, which provides vital information about Kalinga’s glorious maritime heritage. The Festival of Baliyatra celebrated on Kartika Purnima, the full-moon day of Kartika (October-November). The festival is celebrated to commemorate the glorious past of commercial sea journeys that were organized to the islands of Bali, Sumatra and Java. Glorious maritime past is remembered and celebrated symbolically.
People throngs to water bodies to release handmade boats as part of the annual festival. History books say the Sadhabas (traders) from Kalinga, erstwhile Odisha, used to begin their business journeys to different countries through sea on the auspicious day of Kartik Purnima every year.
Their family members used to gather on the sea shore to give them a grand farewell, wishing them good luck during their journey. The state celebrates the event even today. During this festive period, the idols of “Kartikeswar” are constructed and worshipped. The festival is celebrated for five to six consecutive days.
Baliyatra literally means, “Journey to Bali” and it also suggests a festival connected with Bali. This festival is celebrated to mark the day when ancient Sadhabas (Odia Traders) sets sail to distant lands of Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo (Indonesia) and Sri Lanka for trade and cultural expansion. Baliyatra festival is also associated with legend ‘Taapoi’ and rituals like ‘Bhalukuni Osha’ or ‘Khudurukuni Osha’ and ‘Bada Osha’. ‘Khudurukuni Osha’ is observed on each Sunday of Bhadraba month by un-married girls to worship Goddess Maa Mangala for the safe return journey of the family members from sea. ‘Bada Osha’ is linked with the boat making tradition of yore. ‘Taapoi’ is deeply associated with Baliyatra festival, which preserves the traditional memories of a young maidens waiting for the return of her sailor brothers. To commemorate this glorious past of commercial Journey, this festival is celebrated on this very day.
The History behind Boita Bandana Utsab.
Baliyatra witnesses a large number of men, women and children gathering in a colorful costumes in all water bodies carrying tiny boats made up of banana peels or paper with lighted lamps inside, to launch them on the gentle waves accompanied by blowing of conch, and occasional burst of crackers. It is a symbolic gesture that they will leave for faraway islands of Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo and Ceylon (Srilanka) to which their ancestors once sailed. Odia women perform the ritual of ‘Boita Bandana’ to remind the memories of the journeys of adventurous Odias. On this festival of Kartika Purnima an Odia lyric is usually recited i.e. ‘Aa-Ka-Ma-Bhoi, Pana-Gua- Thoi’, which indicates the month of Asadha, Kartika, Margasira and Baisakha of Odia calendar. While the period from Asadha to Kartika was the season of outgoing journey and Magha to Baisakha was considered to be the season of return. Odisha’a unique cultural tradition of BOITA BANDAANA on Kartika Purnima Day. Odisha has always been known for its sadhabas (seafarer traders) who used to travel to far off Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo islands & Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Malaysia & other countries taking silk fabrics, spices, perfumes, diamlonds from Sambalpur riverbeds (Hirakud’s names origin proves it) along with them for trading.
♦ In Cuttack, Baliyatra is celebrated annually, which is a large and open air event on the bank of River Mahanadi at Cuttack adjacent to the Barabati Fort. There are several attractions for children in the fair. Food stalls in Baliyatra sale Odia delicacies, and other vendors sell toys, curiosities, and other gifts. Children float toy boats made of colored paper, dried banana tree barks, and cork in the Mahanadi River. People also enjoy boating with friends and family in the moonlight night. The Cuttack Baliyatra is attended by thousands of enthusiasts and is marked with fun.
♦ Depicting the symbol of ancient maritime glory of the erstwhile Kalinga, the festival would try to showcases the traditional art and craft of the State with full scale entertainment too. Stalls having electronics goods, handicrafts, fast foods, including Thunka puri, Rasabali and DahiBara-Aludum have all lined up to make brisk business.
♦ Tourism department of Odisha offers tours to Odisha during the Baliyatra, so that tourists can get a glimpse of Odisha’s rich cultural history and colorfully vibrant presentation of Festivals in Odisha.
♦ This festival is also celebrated with great fanfare in Paradeep, Puri, and Bhubaneswar.