The Bali Jatra festival (also known as Boita Bandana) is celebrated in Cuttack to mark the maritime event prevalent in ancient India. It is celebrated with pomp and gaiety on a full moon day in the month of Karthik (October to November). This period was considered very auspicious. In ancient India, the Odia traders (also known as Sadhabas) would embark on a journey to distant lands like Bali, Sumatra, Borneo and Ceylon. Voyages would begin in large vessels called Boita. This boat worshipping festival commemorates the event of sending the boats to distant lands for expansion of trade.
The festival is celebrated on the banks of the river Mahanadi in Cuttack for a week. People on this auspicious day float artificial boats made of banana tree bark, colourful paper and cork in water bodies. The moonlit night provides an ideal environment for boating too. Thousands of small lit lamps in these artificial boats make it a sight to behold. Huge statues of Lord Karitkeshwar, son of Lord Shiva and Parvati are constructed and worshipped. A procession is then taken out in the evening to immerse the statues in the river.
Bali Jatra in Cuttack is celebrated annually as an open fair. It is known as one of the largest fairs in Odisha. Thousands of people from various parts of the state take part and showcase their craftsmanship. Stalls are set up in the huge ground and sell a variety of products from clothes to curios. Cultural programmes entertain the fairgoers. Odisha delicacies such as Gupchup, Barafa pan and Thunka puri are made available at food stalls. Folk songs are sung to remember the maritime ancestors and highlight the auspicious months of the voyage. Taapoi is a ritual associated with Bali Jatra in which young maidens eagerly await the return of their sailor brothers. Prayers would be offered to maa Mangala to seek her blessings for the safety of their brothers.
The Bali Jatra celebration is a standing testimony of the customs existing in ancient India. It reminds one of the healthy trade relations with the South East Asian countries and highlights India’s Maritime legacy. Thousands of people from across the state gather together and celebrate with song, food and dance.