Bālijātrā (also Bōita Bandāṇa) literally means A Voyage to Bali. This festival is held in Odisha (a state in eastern India), in the city of Cuttack at Gadagadia Ghata of the Mahanadi river, to mark the day when ancient Sadhabas (Odia mariners) would set sail to distant lands of Bali, as well as Java (at the time of the voyage known as "Yawadvipa"), Sumatra, Borneo (all in Indonesia), and Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) for trade and cultural expansion. To commemorate this, the festival is celebrated every year from the day of Kartika Purnima (full moon day of the month of Kartika) according to the Odia Calendar.
On Kartika Purnima, which comes around the end of October and November, people of Odisha gather near banks of Mahanadi, Brahmani river, other river banks, ponds, water tanks and sea shores to float miniature toy boats, made of colored paper, dried banana tree barks, and cork, as a symbolic gesture of their ancestors' voyage. These toy boats, usually launched early in the morning contain traditional paan and small oil lamps, which are lit and placed inside them, to provide an attractive sight during the festival. People sing a song Aa ka ma boi, pan gua thoi... to remember the early maritime history of Odisha. The song tells about four months that are important for marine merchants of Kalinga (the 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. This is the specific time that was considered auspicious by the Sadhabas to begin their voyage in vessels called Boitas. The voyage is begun on Kartika Purnima 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.
Bali Jatra is also associated with Taapoi and rituals like Bhalukuni Osha or Khudurukuni Osha and Bada Osha. Taapoi is closely associated with the Bali Jatra festival, which recalls traditional memories of young maidens waiting for the return of their sailor brothers.
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 Asia. There are several attractions for children like toy stalls, giant wheels, differnts games, maut ka kuan (literally well of death) and food stalls selling Odia delicacies (Cuttack Dahivada Aludum, Thunka puri, Kulfi, Gupchup, Mathura Cake, Banarasi Paan etc.) from different parts of the state, and other vendors selling toys, curiosities, and other gifts. Bali Jatra also provides a lot of cultural programs. Every year millions of people from all over the nation come to experience it.
- Greater India, for more information about Indian cultural influence in Southeast Asia
- Suvarnabhumi, a legendary eastern land of gold in classical Indian folklore located somewhere in Southeast Asia
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