Cuttack: Today marks the full moon day of the Hindu month of Kartika, i.e. the holy Kartika Purnima. On daybreak men, women and children across coastal Odisha head to the nearest water bodies to set afloat toy boats with lamps, betel leaves, crackers, fruits and coins.
Known as Boita Bandana or Boat Festival, the tiny boats are set afloat with the traditional song of “Aa ka Ma Boi, Pana Gua Thoi; Pana Gua Tora, Masaka Dharama Mora” on their lips.
In days of yore, traders known as Sadhabas used to set off in huge boats called Boitas from the ports of Odisha to the distant ports of Bali, Sumatra, Borneo and Sri Lanka. The traders would take advantage of favourable winds and sea currents in the winters to ply their trade with distant lands. The boats were given a hearty send-off by the womenfolk with prayers for their wellbeing and safe passage. The memory of these expeditions is kept alive in the festival of Boita Bandana, where replicas of the seafaring boats of yore are set afloat in ponds and water bodies.
Today’s celebration signifies the mass commemoration of the maritime glory of the people of Odisha, which was known as Kalinga in ancient times. But some believe the tradition is meant to offer prayers to the ancestors.
During the holy month of Kartika, pious Hindus refrain themselves from eating fish, meat or egg. The last five days of the month are very important and known as “Panchuka” and the very last day is being celebrated as Kartika Purnima. Today marks the end of their abstinence, wherein they feast on non-vegetarian items tomorrow, i.e. on ‘Chada Khai’.