“aa kaa maa boi – paana gua thoi – paana gua tora – maasaka dharama mora”.
The glory of Odisha’s (erstwhile Kalinga’s) maritime heritage is commemorated by the “Boita Bandana” ritual on Kartika Purnima. “Boita Bandana” literally means sanctifying of boats. The daring ocean-faring merchants of Kalinga called “Saadhabas” used to sail the high seas in boats in order to transact trade with the merchants of Bali.
Before the merchants would embark on the long and arduous journeys, the womenfolk would gather and sanctify the sailing vessel with betel leaves and areca nuts singing “aa kaa boi ma – paana gua thoi – paana gua tora – maasaka dharama mora”. “aa kaa boi maa” refers to the months of post-monsoon months of Aashwina, Kartika, Baisakha, and Margasira when the voyage would take place; the first two months for the onward voyage and the last two months for the return voyage. After the ritual, firecrackers would be lit to ward off any evil forces that may hinder the journey. The pre-dawn moments of Kartika Purnima were specially favoured for setting off as the sea of Kartika was calmer. While the merchants were away, the women would spend the days in praying for the safety of their menfolk.
The remarkable spirit of enterprise and adventure of the ancient Kalingans finds proof in Roman and Kushana coins as also in references in literary sources. Odia tradition has many quaint rituals to commemorate Odisha’s glorious trading past.
“Bali Jatra” is a mini traditional trade-fair which symbolises the trade with Bali, “Bhalkuni Osha” is a supplication ritual to Goddess Mangala to keep the sailing traders safe and also recounts a moving tale of life of the families when their men are away, “Aakash Deep” ritual is a homage to the many small light houses that guided the trading sailors.
Memories abound of sailing beautifully decorated boats made of thermocol and paper or banana stem boats in the wee hours of dawn on Kartika Purnima in the huge lily pond at home. The morning stillness would be broken by the resounding sounds of conch-shells and ululations. Earthen lamps would be placed on decorated boats and then with the chanting of “aa kaa boi maa …” we would set them to sail in the water with much rejoicing. River banks and holy tanks see huge congregations for “Boita Bandana” on Kartika Purnima.
Wishing my friends a very blessed Kartika Purnima and a safe and prosperous year ahead!