Boita Bandana – Kartika Purnima in Odisha

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Boita Bandana is celebrated in the lunar month of Kartika in Odisha.  It falls roughly in the months of October and November. Kartika ushers in an abundance of sacred vibes & auspicious activities throughout the length & breadth of India.

Of all the days in the month of Kārtika, the full-moon day, or Purnima is believed to be one of the most auspicious. The practices & rituals observed during this period are diverse with common as well as unique elements as per the regions or the people who celebrate them. Varanasi Celebrates it as Dev Deepawali, Goa celebrates it as Tripurari Purnima and Tamil Nadu celebrates it as Karthikai. 

A common practice during this holy month is lighting lamps and submerging oneself in a spiritual way of life.

Boita Bandana of Odisha

The coastal state of Odisha celebrates Kartik Purnima in a unique way. As the dawn breaks in the wee hours of this full-moon day, Odia people congregate in large numbers at various water bodies across Odisha.

Boita Bandana celebrations in Cuttack
Baliyatra Mela is said to be the largest fair in Asia. The picture of the front gate of Baliyatra 2019 is taken on the evening time on 15th November 2019 in the Baliyatra ground of Cuttack City of Odisha, India

As far as the eyes can see, it is a colorful & vibrant sight filled with little boats with a lighted lamp. Boats carry various symbolic offerings floating on the water. The air is filled with the divine smell of oil lamps & incense sticks. Auspicious sounds of the ‘hulahuli’ – traditional ululation by the womenfolk, and various chants can be heard.

Different Names

This is the ritual of the ‘Danga Bhasa’ or floating-a-boatceremony, also known as ‘Boita Bandana’. It refers to the auspicious worship rituals done for a boat/ship at the beginning of its voyage. Another name for this is ‘Bali Jatra’ meaning the voyage to the island of Bali in Indonesia.

Even most Odiā expats living across the globe, away from their birthplace, also commemorate the legacies of their illustrious ancestors through this unique festival.

Floating the boats for Bali Jatra
Floating the boats for Bali Jatra

The most important ritual of Boita Bandana is floating little hand-made boats. They are usually made of plantain or banana stems and other similar natural and traditional materials. Boats are laden with various offerings such as flowers, coins, ‘Kaudis’ or cowries, ‘Pana’ or betel leaves, ‘Guā’ or betel nuts, etc, along with a lighted lamp. It is floated while saying some specific words like “āā kā mā bai pāna Guā thoi”.

Remembering the Sadhabas

Boita Bandana echoes the collective consciousness & memories of the past. It commemorates the legacies of the Kalinga Sadhabas – the maritime merchants & seafarers. For centuries, they had a maritime trading relationship with various regions scattered across the Indian Ocean realm.

This heritage-based festival is a unique remembrance as well as a tribute by the Odia people to the ingenious & indomitable spirit of their Kalinga Sadhaba. These ancestors established Kalinga’s ‘soft power’ in far-off regions across the Indian Ocean. 

Kartika Purnima has a special significance associated with the legacy of the Kalinga Sādhabas. This is the time when the Sādhabas set sail to far-off Islands & lands by taking advantage of the favorable direction of the monsoon winds blowing over the Bay of Bengal & the Indian Ocean. Winds at this time were conducive for the Sādhaba ships to make a smooth voyage towards Sri Lanka, Indonesian islands, & various places in the Southeast Asian mainland.

Kainga Sadhabas

The beginning of such maritime voyages was marked off by different auspicious rituals. This was for sending off near & dear ones who were venturing out into the vast expanse of the ocean.

The hustle & bustle of the ship’s crew loading different commodities could be seen.  Textiles, gemstones, diamonds, pearls, beads, frankincense, beeswax, kingfisher feathers, ivory, elephants, etc., were carried trade. They ready the ship for the long & challenging voyage ahead.

Women of the Sadhaba families, perform various rituals for the well-being of their men. This created a vibrant scene at the docks & ports on the Kalinga coast in those bygone eras.

The prosperity, name & fame of Kalinga was mainly because of the trade enterprises of these industrious Sadhabas. They nurtured collaboration & amicable relations with so many different people across the vast expense of the Indian Ocean.

The riches that they brought home from overseas trade kept Kalinga prosperous for quite a long time. The ports and cities on the Kalingan coast served as important pulse points as well as gateways for trading merchants. 

Kalinga Ships

We get a mention of large multi-story ships in the Sadhaba chronicles. It gives us an idea of the flourishing trade and shipping industry in those times.

The crew in the Sadhaba boita or ships had navigators, sailors, supervisors, maintenance crew, and odd-job workers – headed by a chief/captain. In addition, there were miscellaneous passengers such as artisans, sculptors, scholars, and various skilled workers.  They even had warriors to ensure the ship & its crew’s safety. 

Akash Deepa

Along with this heritage festival of Kartika Purnima Danga Bhasa, there used to be another popular tradition – the ‘akasha-deepa’ or a ‘lamp-in-the-sky’.

A lit lamp was placed in an earthen pot filled with sand and with little holes pierced on it. It was hoisted on a tall bamboo/wooden makeshift pole after nightfall. It was left to show the flickering light throughout the night.

Most homes along the Kalingan coast including the rivers as well as the Bay, hoisted such lights throughout the month of Kartika. Together, they were useful to the boats & ships traversing the riverine or sea pathways of the Kalingan waterways during those dark nights.

This akasha-deepa tradition is also a strong remnant of the maritime heritage of the Kalinga Sadhabas.

According to another belief, these flickering lights show lights to the departed ancestors visiting the earth realm to visit their family from ‘pitr-loka’ during the ‘pitr-paksha’ period. Although this ‘akasha-deepa’ practice used to be more prevalent till a few decades ago. With changed lifestyles, sadly this popular tradition has become a rarity. 

Traditions such as Danga-bhasha (‘floating-a-boat’) and akasha-Deepa have similar counterparts on the western coast or the Konkan coast of India, but each region has its own distinctive stories & flavors.

Boita Bandana and Jagannath

For ages, Odisha has been home to indigenous faiths like Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shākta, Bouddha, Jaina, Sābara, etc. The Jagannāthasanskruti of Odisha is believed to be a rich amalgamation of all such faiths.

The Kārtika month traditions followed by most Odias esp. the elderly & women, pretty much revolve around the rituals & traditions mostly in line with Jagannāth culture. 

Nagarjuna Besa of Jagannath
Nagarjuna Besa of Jagannath

The deities at Sri Mandira or Jagannath Puri are dressed up in a variety of attires or ‘besa’ throughout the year. They get special ‘besa’ attires during this holy month of Kartika. In the year in which Kartika month has six days of ‘Panchaka’ instead of five, the deities have the rare and unique ‘Nagarjuna Besa’ where they are dressed like ‘Nagarjuna’. 

People observe the Kartika brata or fast piously for the whole month. This includes waking up & taking a bath before daybreak, visiting temples for the ‘darshan’ of deities, etc, Most devotees prefer traveling to Puri and similar holy shrines to observe this pious brata/vrat.

The ‘Tulasi’ plant or holy Basil is worshipped just like how it is done in the rest of the country during this month. Reading/listening to the Kartika Mahatmya story from the ‘Skanda Puranais also a favored task. Householders who are not able to visit Sri Kshetra or other ‘teertha sthalas’, chose to follow most Kārtika rituals piously at home. 

Fasting

The discipline in life is also gets reflected in the food consumed during Kartika. Fasting and eating ‘habisya’ or habisa food prior to evening is followed by the habisyali  – the person observing habisa fasting. This special food preparation is sans any turmeric or other common spices and vegetables. It is usually prepared with a select handful of varieties of local, seasonal, and indigenous produce.

Many Odias eat sattvic food sans onion, and garlic during Kartika month. Most Odias abstain from consuming fish during the entire month of Kartika.

People who don’t follow this during most of the month, at least diligently follow the last five days – the ‘panchuka’ or ‘panchaka– with a complete vegetarian sāttvic diet. The panchuka is also referred to as ‘baka-panchuka’ as the Odias believe that even the fish-loving bird Crane/Stork abstains from consuming fish during these last five days.

A variety of beautiful rice-powder art designs kārtika muruja’ similar to ‘rangoli’ or Kollam is created near the ‘tulasi chaurā’. The designs are of various regional, traditional, and heritage-based motifs reflecting the cultural heritage of the people.

Thus, Kārtika Purnimā traditions in Odisha showcase her glorious maritime heritage. 

This is a guest post by Preeta Rout. She is an independent researcher on the socio-cultural heritage of India and Odisha. She curates and presents various lesser-known facts about Odisha. 

3 COMMENTS

  1. This is a well-written and informative article about the Boita Bandana festival in Odisha. The author, Preeta Rout, does a great job of explaining the history and traditions of the festival, as well as its significance to the Odia people.

    The article begins with a description of the festival itself, which is celebrated on the full moon day of the Kartika month. During the festival, people float small boats made of banana stems or other natural materials on water bodies. The boats are laden with offerings such as flowers, coins, and betel leaves. This ritual is said to commemorate the voyages of the Kalinga Sadhabas, who were maritime merchants and seafarers from Odisha.

    The article also goes into detail about the preparations for the festival. In the days leading up to Boita Bandana, people clean their homes and decorate them with rangolis (rice powder designs). They also prepare special foods for the festival, such as habisa, which is a dish made without turmeric or other common spices.

    Boita Bandana is a colorful and vibrant festival that is an important part of Odia culture. The article by Preeta Rout provides a comprehensive overview of the festival and its significance.

    Overall, this is a great article that I would recommend to anyone who is interested in learning more about Boita Bandana.

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