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 (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.
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. To commemorate this, the festival is celebrated every year from the day of Kartika Purnima according to the Oriya Calendar.
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 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 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.
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.) 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.
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, usually launched after sunset contain 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.
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