Boitabandan And Boitabandan Remembering Odisha’s Maritime Supremacy
Recalling the glorious maritime tradition of ancient Odisha—Boitabandan and Bali Yatra—is a celebration to mark the age-old tradition of sea voyage by the Sadhabas—those people who had sailed for trade to eastern islands such as Ceylon, Java, Sumatra, Indonesia and Bali.
People in the state celebrate Kartik Purnima, the last day of holy month of Kartik in the Hindu calendar amid usual pomp and gaiety. Men, women and children in colourful clothes throng waterfronts to set sailing of tiny boats made either of banana peels, Sola or paper with lighted lamps inside to remember the state’s maritime history.
Pride and glory in actual achievements linger on in the form of traditions after every thing has faded into the pages of history. The maritime supremacy of Kalinga traders thousands of years ago is one such event. The annual ritual of sending out merchants to sea on Kartik Purnima day forms the part of the observance of Boitabandan and in some places public fair Bali Yatra is observed.
As per history, the ancient Oriya traders [Sadhabas] were used to set sail on Kartik Purnima in their boat [boita] for different islands like Bali, Java, Sumatra and Indonesia. Then the Oriya women [Sadhabani] dressed in colourful dresses used to perform Boitabandan beside the seashore—the ceremonial send-off to the sailing ships which begins on the holy day of Kartik Purnima.
Historians are of the opinion that the ancient sea voyage from Odisha were mostly commercial activities and vigorous interaction between the people of Kalinga [the then Odisha] and South Asian countries, particularly Indonesia and Bali islands. Harishapur, Tamralipi, Palur, Chelitola were great thriving ports of Kalinga and maritime trade relations were maintained with South East Asian countries during that period.
Though the ancient ports in Odisha coast have become inactive because of gradual silting up the river mouth, unhealthy hot climate and infighting between British and Portuguese merchants that resulted in maritime trade being almost extinct. But the memories are still preserved of the past tradition as a frozen frame in the form of the annual celebration of Boitabandan and Bali Yatra.
In Cuttack the shores of the River Mahanadi near Barabati fort had sprung to life to celebrate the centuries-old Bali Yatra, which began with pomp and ceremony this year. Historians reveal that in the past after successful business trips the Sadhabas used to return to Kalinga. At that time Bali Yatra was organised to felicitate the traders, the merchants used to usually sell their commodities in the Bali Yatra. Since then this event has been a regular affair without halt. Now the present Bali Yatra has transformed itself into a mega business event and a high source of income for the state.
The expense incurred by the state government on organising the fair is between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 25 lakh but the revenue earned during this week-long programme is around three times more than the investment, official sources claim. As many as 2 lakh people thronged the fair every day and the sales turnover per day during the fair accounts to almost Rs 15 crore.
Cuttack’s Bali Yatra is a fair where every thing is available under one roof. Moving around the stalls enjoying lip-smacking food like traditional Thunka Puri, Dahi Bada, Aludum and other varieties of fast food and watching the cultural programmes with friends have become a yearly precedent for the people of Cuttack. Moreover, reports say that people from different parts of state come in large number to witness and enjoy the fair.
Over 1300 stalls were erected at the fair ground this year. For the first time organiser had set up a silver filigree pavilion to showcase the famous fine art by the artisans of Cuttack city. An air-conditioned pavilion was specially erected for the purpose, which drew a huge crowd during the fair. For providing entertainment to the revelers, artistes of national and international repute were roped in to perform their cultural events at an open air stage and district council of culture took big ways to stage colourful cultural nights on all eight days of the fair.
The annual Bali Yatra fair was kicked off by the Chief Minster Naveen Patnaik at Biju Maidan, Paradeep, including the similar celebration i.e. Cheletola Bali Yatra, at Tirtol in Jagatsinghpur district on the eve of Kartik Purnima. The reports gathered from several sources inform that Boitabandan on Kartik Purnima has become a mass festival for the people of Odisha in different parts of the state, mostly in coastal regions, as it commemorates Odisha’s maritime legacy.
Paradeep Port Trust [PPT] hosted a traditional Boitabandan Utsav in the port harbour on Kartik Purnima day where Chief Minister took part in the celebration and performed the rituals.
The maritime supremacy of Kalinga Sadhabas about 2000 years ago is one such forgotten past but the annual ritual of sailing the boats to sea and waterfronts on Kartik Purnima day forms the part of the observance of Boitabandan only to recall the maritime history of Odisha.
By Kahnu Nanda from Jagatsinghpur