Being Women

Ever Heard Of The Bali Jatra In India? The Largest Maritime Festival Of Odisha

Bali Jatra, the popular festival of Orissa celebartes the state's history of maritime trade

My first impression of Bali Jatra

“Hey! How long were you in Cuttack?” I asked my husband.

“Two years,” he replied.

I heaved a sigh of relief. Venkatesh would know a thing or two about Odisha. But what about me? All I have are beautiful memories of a trip with my parents way back in 2008. However, try as I might, I knew I couldn’t do justice to the travelogue even if I attempted one.

As I prodded my husband to share some interesting snippets about the state, he came up with Bali Jatra. I perked up my ears. Bali? As in Indonesia?

He nodded his head. I began to jot down the details eagerly.


The story behind the Festival

The festival dates back to the era when the region was called Kalinga, and trade was carried out with South East Asia. Mariners, or Sadhabas, set out on boats to distant lands like Yawadvipa (as the islands of Java were known then) & Ceylon (modern-day Sri Lanka). The voyage would commence around Kartik Purnima, as the winds were conducive for sailing.

To commemorate this, Odias celebrate Bali Jatra. Around the end of October or the beginning of November, they assemble on the banks of the Mahanadi and other areas where maritime trade used to be conducted. The children float miniature boats, recalling the rich legacy left behind by their ancestors. Large and open fairs are held during this time, where hawkers from different districts peddle their wares.

As Venkatesh continued, I marvelled at India’s glorious history & traditions. What a sight it must have been to behold when the womenfolk and children gathered near the boitas (or the boats) to give a rousing farewell to the men. Centuries have gone by, but the celebrations persist. And why not?

Bali Jatra reminds the people of the rich maritime history they inherited from their forefathers.

Even women mariners (Sadhabanis) embarked on a trade

As I looked up Google to find out more about this, I was delighted to come across the fact that even women mariners (Sadhabanis) embarked on trade with the neighbours. The mariners traded in goods like coconuts, spices, and precious stones, among other things. They possessed a deep knowledge of our epics and imparted this to their South Asian counterparts.

Coming to the present, only the remnants of history remain. But it is heartening that the people have not forgotten it. Amidst gorging on kulfis, samosas, and rasgullas, nuggets from the past somehow find their way inside the boisterous hearts. As the children giggle and watch the toy boats bobbing up and down the great Mahanadi, their grandfathers must be smiling down from the heavens.


Venkatesh left Cuttack in 2005, but he recalls fondly the two years he spent there. Until today, I had not heard of Bali Jatra. But I can visualise the cheerful crowd, making merry along the way, subtly proud of their glorious past.

There is so much to learn about Odisha. I  tell my husband, “Next time, I know where I am going for our vacation.”

He smiles. It’s a homecoming of sorts for him. As for me, I fervently hope that I get a chance to witness Bali Jatra in all its splendour and glory.

By Narayani V Manapadam

“Narayani is an IT Professional lost in the dreary world of Excel. When time permits, she loves to get lost in the maze of Word(s). But nothing makes her happier than being a cat momma to her beloved Uttam.”

She can be contacted at

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One Response

  1. This write up has brought back memories of so many of the good old days. Thank you for writing so well.

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