Boita Bandana is celebrated in the lunar month of Kartika in Odisha. It falls roughly in the months of October-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.
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 divine smell of oil lamps & incense sticks. Auspicious sounds of the ‘hulahuli’ – traditional ululation by the womenfolk, and various chants can be heard.
This is the ritual of ‘Danga Bhasa’ or ‘floating-a-boat’ ceremony, 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.
The most important ritual of Boita Bandana is floating little hand-made boats. They are usually made of plantain or banana stem 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 commemorate the legacies of the Kalinga Sadhabas – the maritime merchants & seafarers. For centuries, they had the 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.
The beginning of such maritime voyages were 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 he 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 beings 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.
We get a mention of large multi-storey 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, 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 for ensuring the ship & its crew’s safety.
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 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 an 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-bhasa (‘floating-a-boat’) and akasha-deepa have similar counterparts in the western coast or the Konkan coast of India; but each region has its own distinctive stories & flavors.
Boita Bandana and Jagannath
Since ages, Odisha has been home to indigenous faiths like Vaishnava, Shaiva, Shākta, Bouddha, Jaina, Sābara etc. The Jagannātha–sanskruti 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 the lines with Jagannāth culture.
The deities at the 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. 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 day-break, 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 Purana’ is also a favored task. Householders who are not able to visit Sri Kshetra or other ‘teerthasthalas’, chose to follow most Kārtika rituals piously at home.
The discipline in life also gets reflected in the food consumed during Kartika. Fasting and eating ‘habisya’ or habisa food prior 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 varieties of local, seasonal, and indigenous produce.
Many Odias eat sattvic food sans onion, 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’ are 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 is showcase her glorious maritime heritage.
This is a guest post by Preeta Rout. She is an independent researcher on socio-culural heritage of India and Odisha. She curates and presents various less known fact about Odisha.