On the auspicious Kartika Purnima (full moon day) people of Odisha celebrate 'Bali Jatra' (A voyage to Bali). As the name suggests, this ceremony has an age-old connection with Bali, Indonesia!
On this day both men and women congregate near the Mahanadi river, one of the major rivers of East Central India to offer prayers for the safety of the sailors who started a voyage on this day. Though there aren't any sailors, people make small boats out of paper, banana stems and cork and place diyas (small lamps) on them and float them in the river.
This age-old tradition has an interesting connection with Bali as mentioned earlier, but a lot of people won't be knowing how the festival is linked to Indonesia.
By the end of the second century BC, a lot of Indian sailors, who were aware of the monsoon winds and ocean currents started taking the southern route through the Indian Ocean to reach Indonesia. This voyage started from the brackish water lagoon Chilika Lake in Kalinga (present day Odisha). This voyage was done to obtain spices, pearls, gems, silk, camphor, beeswax and sandalwood from Bali for trading. It took months to complete this trip.
As the sailors started their journey on the auspicious Kartik Purnima day, it was a tradition that women gathered near the river banks to offer prayers for the safe journey of their husbands and other family members.
There is a mention of this tradition in the book, "The Ocean of churn", written by Sanjeev Sanyal. “By the end of the second century BC, Indian mariners appear to have learned enough about the monsoon winds and ocean currents to attempt a more southern route across the Indian Ocean to the islands of Indonesia. Odisha’s Lake Chilika was an important starting point for this voyage,” his narration says.
The trade relations between the Kalinga (now Odisha) and Indonesia were so strong that it is believed that two islands of Indonesia, Java and Bali, got their names from Odia kings!
As the port city of Bali was an important trading point for Odisha this festival is known as Bali yatra (or Bali Jatra), which means, 'a voyage to Bali'. Till today, even though the sailing days are over, the voyage is being celebrated with grandeur in the form of a festival with cultural events on the banks of the river Mahanadi to commemorate yesteryear’s prayerful farewell for the sailors from the land.