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Written by Prabhukalyan Mohapatra   

Orissa's Bali Yatra Festival
Orissa's Bali Yatra Festival

This picture is from Bali Jatra(Festival) of Cuttack. We can see people roaming around in different mood.

 Bali Yatra literally means "journey to Bali". This festival is held in Orissa, particularly in the city of Cuttack, to mark the day when ancient Sadhabas (Oriya mariners) would set sail to distant lands of Bali, as well as Java, Sumatra, Borneo (all in Indonesia), and Sri Lanka for trade and cultural expansion.

Orissa Review * November - 2007 

Orissa province, known as Kalinga in ancient

times, was commanding a very high position in

the maritime activities of India in the past. Brave

and adventurous Kalinga sailors were making

daring voyages to different far-off lands of the

world and had maritime contacts with Roman

Empire, Africa, Persian coast, Arabian countries

in the West and China, Japan, Siam, Champa,

Burma, Ceylon etc in the East. Besides, the

countries with whom the people of Kalinga

maintained enduring commercial and cultural

relationship were the islands of Java, Sumatra,

Bali and Borneo collectively known as

Suvarnadvipa or modern Indonesia. Orissa's

glorious maritime past has been proved from the

excavated materials like Roman coins, Kushan

coins, Chinese ceramic sherds found from

different parts of Orissa in the recent past.

Some socio-religious festivals prevalent in

coastal Orissa also provide vital information about

Kalinga's glorious maritime heritage. Festival of

Baliyatra on Kartika Purnima (full-moon day of

the month Kartika ie. Oct-Nov) is one of them

on which 'Boita Bandana' (ceremonial send off

to the merchants sailing in boats) festival is

observed throughout Orissa. Even now toy boats

lit up with candles are floated ceremonially by the

women-folk of Orissa on all available water

courses in the same fashion in which the ladies of

yore used to send their men on voyages wishing

them well.


Baliyatra literally means a 'Voyage to Bali'.

And it also suggests a festival connected with Bali.

But people of Orissa, on this auspicious day,

become nostalgic about their past associations

with Bali and the glorious maritime tradition of

trans-oceanic voyages they undertook to South

East Asian countries. Large number of men,

women and children attired in colourful costumes

throng all water bodies carrying tiny boats made

up of banana peels or paper or solapitha with

lighted lamps inside to launch them on the gentle

waves accompanied by blowing of conch,

ululations by women and occasional burst of

crackers. Oriya women perform the rite of 'Boita

Bandana' to evoke the memories of the voyages

of adventurous Kalingans of yore and create a

truly romantic mood.


Bali of Indonesia and Kalinga (Orissa) of

India have influenced each other's culture to a

great extent. There are many similarities between

the culture and life-style of the people of these

two countries. Both Bali and Orissa boast of their

culture, tourism, graceful dance forms, art and

handicrafts, temples and monuments, distinctive

style of architecture and tie-die technique, elegant

textile designs etc.


Baliyatra festival of Orissa has some parallel

with 'Masakapan Ke Tukad' festival of Bali where

similar floating of toy boats in memory of maritime

ancestors is made. Likewise 'LOYKRATHONG

or LOY Brah Prahdip' festival of Thailand

consisting of ritualistic floating

of boats in the month of

December has similarity with

Orissan custom.


On Baliyatra festival of

Kartika Purnima an Oriya lyric

is usually recited ie. 'Aa-Ka-

Ma-Bai, Pana-Gua- Thoi'.

Aa-Ka- Ma-Bai connotes the

month of Asadha, Kartika,

Margasira and Baisakha of

Oriya calendar. While the

period from Asadha to

Kartika (July - September)

was the season of outgoing

voyage and Magha to

Baisakha was considered to be the season of

return voyage.

Apart from other places of Orissa, Baliyatra

is celebrated with much pomp and grandeur in

the historic city of Kartika Purnima. Some opine, Oriya Sadhabas

(sea traders) were sailing off to Bali on this

auspicious day at the end of the turbulent

monsoon season for which it is named as such.

Others say, Sri Chaitanya, the great Vaishnavite

Bengali Saint, first landed in the soil of after crossing

the sand-bed (Bali) of Mahanadi

river on his way to Puri on this auspicious day.

Lakhs of people congregate in the famous

Baliyatra festival of innumerable varieties of goods are bought and

sold. People also enjoy boating on the river

Mahanadi with friends and relatives in the moon-

lit night during this festival.


Though the ancient ports in Orissa coast

have become inactive due to gradual silting of the

river mouths and maritime trade is almost extinct,

yet the racial memory still preserves the past

tradition through annual celebration of Baliyatra.

This festival is still celebrated throughout Orissa

as a commemorative ceremony of the past glory.


Baliyatra festival is also associated with

legend 'Taapoi' and rituals like 'Bhalukuni Osha'

and 'Bada Osha','Akasadipa' festival which speaks volumes

of Orissa's glorious maritime heritage. While

'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.

Similarly, 'Akasadipa' festival is celebrated to

remember the artificial light houses along the coast

of Orissa, legend 'Taapoi' is deeply associated

with Baliyatra festival which preserves in race

memories the romantic stories of young maidens

waiting for the return of their sailor brothers.

To revive and refresh the memories of

Kalinga's maritime glory, a boat expedition was

organized on the Kartika Purnima ..of 1992.

History was recreated when seven member crew

on board a 13 meter long yatch sailed for Bali

from Paradeep port of Orissa retracing the ancient

trade route of Kalingans.


The flag off ceremony

of the expedition was held at Paradeep port on

10th November 1992, the day of Kartika

Purnima. 'Boita Bandana' ballet, evocative of

ritualistic send off of the merchant ships of the

past was performed amidst ululations and blowing

of conch shells by women. Thousands of people

cheered the sailors of sending out decorated

yatch, INS SAMUDRA before dawn which

revived the old tradition as a measure of goodwill

for the people of Indonesia and to promote

tourism. The event, a modest attempt to

rediscover the cultural ties between two countries,

drew the attention of national and international

media to a great extent. The yatch, INS

SAMUDRA, covered a distance of 5810 nautical

miles over a period of about 17 weeks highlighting

the glorious trans-oceanic voyage of Kalingans.

The expedition witnessed a 'grand finale' at Bali

of Indonesia where a cultural festival having

seminars, exhibition and presentation of Orissan

performing arts were held for three days.

An attempt was made to recreate the ethos of Orissan

culture through presentation of its dominant styles

of architecture, handicrafts and folk dances so

that Indonesian people could get a glimpse of the

art form of this culturally important state of India.

The spirit of enterprise and adventure was

remarkable among the people of Orissa in ancient

times, who cherished the ambition of founding

colonies in distant lands of South East Asia and

Ceylon. Kalingan Sadhabas (sea-traders) were

a prosperous community having trade and

commerce link with many countries of the world.

The festivals like Baliyatra, rituals such as

'Khudurukuni Osha', 'Bada Osha' and legend

'Taapoi' reminds us the maritime glory of ancient

Orissa. Those glorious days are now gone but

the memory is still alive.


Writer is a Bhubaneswar based Freelance Journalist

who lives in Qr No: VR 3/2, Unit-3, Behind R.B.I.,

Bhubaneswar, Orissa.

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