What Is Cuttack’s Bali Jatra, An Open-Trade Show That Takes You On A Voyage To Bali?

by Tejashee Kashyap
What Is Cuttack’s Bali Jatra, An Open-Trade Show That Takes You On A Voyage To Bali?

Bali Jatra, also known as Bali Yatra, is a festival that commemorates Odisha’s maritime history. It is regarded as Asia’s largest open trade fair. The term “Bali Jatra” translates to “A Voyage to Bali,” reflecting the historical context of the event. This year, the event will go on for 8 days, starting from November 27.

What Is Bali Jatra?

Bali Jatra traces its roots back to the ancient maritime history of Odisha. Legend has it that the festival commemorates the maritime expeditions undertaken by ancient Odiya traders to the distant island of Bali in Indonesia.

The festival celebrates the 2,000-year-old maritime and cultural linkages that existed between ancient Kalinga (modern Odisha) and Bali, as well as other South and Southeast Asian territories such as Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Burma (Myanmar), and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). It is held annually at a specific site and attracts people of all ages because it has something for everyone. Millions of people attend one of Asia’s most anticipated festivals.

The event celebrates the ancient days when Kalinga (Odisha) played an important role in maritime trade across the Indian subcontinent. On gigantic boats called “Boitas,” heroic sailors from this region would embark on dangerous trips to uncharted lands to establish trade contacts with the Roman Empire, Africa, Persia, Arabian countries, China, Japan, Burma, Ceylon, and many more. The expedition would commence on Kartika Purnima, taking advantage of the favourable breeze. Ajhala, or large cloth sails, were used to capture wind power to propel the Boitas.

The sailors’ efforts, as well as Kalinga’s leadership of marine trades, were so impressive that Kalidasa referred to Kalinga as the “Lord of the Sea” in his Raghuvamsa. Historians believe that pepper, cinnamon, cardamom, silk, camphor, gold, and jewellery were important trading products between Kalinga and Southeast Asia.

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Maritime Heritage On Display

The essence of Bali Jatra lies in its celebration of Cuttack’s maritime heritage. A significant attraction during the festival is the exhibition of traditional boats, or “Boita,” which are reminiscent of the vessels used by the Sadhabas in their voyages to Bali. These elaborately decorated boats are displayed along the banks of the Mahanadi River, offering a visual spectacle that transports visitors back in time.

While the celebration honours Kalinga’s glory days as a maritime magnate, Baliyatra also has a significant business component. There’s a vast open-air market where a wide range of commodities, including traditional handicrafts, are purchased and sold.

The table displays a vivid collection of Odisha’s practical arts and crafts. Stonework, silver filigree, woodwork, appliqué work, brass and bell metal work, dokra castings, horn work, pattachitra, papier mache, terracotta, and textiles manufactured from cotton, tussar silk, and other materials are also available. The aroma of freshly prepared delicacies wafts through the air, enticing attendees to savour the authentic tastes of the land.

The cultural programs and events organized during Bali Jatra serve as a means of preserving and promoting traditional art forms. It is a voyage not only to Bali but also into the heart of Odisha’s cultural soul.

So, have you seen Bali Jatra before?

When: Starts on November 27 (to be held for 8 days)
Where: Cuttack, Odisha

Cover image credits: Wikimedia Commons

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