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Baliyatra, the little known connection between India and Indonesia

Baliyatra literally means ‘A voyage to Bali.’ This festival takes place in Cuttack, Odisha, to celebrate the maritime history of Odisha and its ancient trading links in Bali, Indonesia.

art and culture Updated: Nov 11, 2018 10:22 IST
Kabir Singh Bhandari
Kabir Singh Bhandari
Hindustan Times, Delhi
Baliyatra,Balijatra,India and Indonesia
Most people don’t know about the unique connection which Bali has with India, commemorated every year in the form of a festival called Baliyatra.(Unsplash)

When we think of Bali, the first notion that comes to our mind is that of an exciting holiday destination. You can visit spots which are diverse in nature, whether it is the Besakih Temple or the Ubud Monkey Forest. However, what most people don’t know is about the unique connection which Bali has with India, commemorated every year in the form of a festival called Baliyatra.

Baliyatra literally means ‘A voyage to Bali.’ This festival takes place in Cuttack, Odisha, to celebrate the maritime history of Odisha and its ancient trading links in Bali, Indonesia. This year Baliyatra shall take place on November 23.

“The festivity begins In the wee hours of the auspicious ‘Kartik Purnima’ morning in November with womenfolk congregating in large numbers for a riverside ritual on the banks of the Mahanadi to launch little midnight floats - in symbolic commemoration of the traditional farewell that used to be accorded to the brave sea-farers of yore on the eve of their annual voyage to Bali - with a song in their heart and a prayer in their minds for a safe journey of their men then and welfare of the family now.”

Bali normally conjures up images of exotic holidays. (Unsplash)

“This customary ritual is followed by a week-long carnival of commerce, culture and much celebration,” explains Sudip Sen, Director, Resource Indica: Roots & Revelations.

But why do most Indians not know about it?

“Bali-yatra’ is an age-old festival that is traditionally celebrated in Odisha and awareness of the same has till now been limited to the people of Odisha. But it merits general awareness in India and Indonesia,” says Sen.

‘Bali-yatra’ still takes place and is celebrated across cross Odisha including the modern-day port town of Paradip.

Scenes from the riverside ritual in Odisha. (Sudip Sen)
Women getting the boats ready during the riverside ritual for Baliyatra. (Sudip Sen)

Sidharto Reza Suryodipuro, who is the ambassador at the Embassy of the Republic of Indonesia in Delhi, elaborates on the significance of Bali Yatra in the current scenario and how India and Indonesia have always been close.

“There are many reasons why India and Indonesia have been very close throughout history-since the time of Rama and Sita, the Pandavas and Kaurawas; since our sailors, traders, religious teachers, and learned men arrived in each other’s shores.” “By celebrating Bali Yatra, we seek to revive the old connectivity and people to people contact which became the basis of emotional closeness between the people of Odisha and Bali. Today, when you visit Odisha or Bali, you can see how the cultural traits and habits of the close relationship still remain, as if frozen in time,” says Suryodipuro.

The author tweets at @shadowwarior and be reached at kabir.bhandari@htdigital.in

First Published: Nov 11, 2018 10:21 IST