Bālijātrā (also Bōita Bandāṇa (Oriya: ବୋଇତ ବନ୍ଦାଣ) literally means Journey to Bali. This festival is held in Odisha, in the city of Cuttack at Gadagadia Ghata of the Mahanadi river, 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. They sailed in large vessels called Boitas.
The festival marks its beginning at Kartik Purnima which comes around the end of October and November, and goes on for a period of seven days right from the full moon. This is the specific time that was considered auspicious by the Sadhabas to begin their voyage in vessels called Boitas. The scientific cause of starting voyage on Kartika Purnima is to take advantage of the favorable wind blowing during this time. Ajhala or big fabric sails were used to harness the wind power to move the Boitas.
In Cuttack, Bali Jatra is celebrated annually as a large open fair near the Barabati Fort area. It is said to be the largest fair of Odisha state. There are several attractions for children, and food stalls selling Oriya delicacies (Cuttacki Dahivada Aludum, Thunka puri, Barafa pan, Gupchup, etc.), and other vendors selling toys, curiosities, and other gifts. Every year millions of people from all over the nation come to experience it. During Bali Yatra, children float toy boats made of colored paper, dried banana tree barks, and cork in the Mahanadi, ponds, water tanks, etc., to commemorate the voyage of their ancestors to Indonesia. These toy boats, that are usually launched after sunset with small oil lamps, are lit and placed inside them, provide a very attractive sight during the festival. People sing a song Aa ka ma bai, pan gua khai... to remember the early maritime history of Odisha. The song tells about four months that are important for marine merchants of Kalinga (earlier name of Odisha).
This festival is also celebrated with great fanfare in Paradeep. Bali Jatra bears testimony to the rich maritime legacy of ancient Odisha. It is also known as Boita Bandana Utsab, or the festival of boats.
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