The Legacy of Bali Jatra

The state of Odisha, or ancient Kalinga, is known for its rich & eventful history due to its maritime trade. There was a time when the coastal business communities of Odisha, popularly known as Sadhabas (seafarers) were known for their adventures. Various ancient ports in Odisha including Pipli, Tamralipti, Chandbali, Subarnarekha, Paradip, Baleswar, Palur, Dantapur, Chelitalo, Dhamra, Puri, Konark, Mahanadi, Ganjam, Chilka, Kujang, Hukitola etc had helped them a lot in their voyages for not just spreading their business to the South Asian countries, but also spreading the rich cultural diversity of Odisha.

Bali Jatra
Ancient Kalinga’s important ports of maritime trade

The Sadhabas had trade with major countries like Bali Islands, Java, Sumatra, Siam (Thailand), Kampuchea (Cambodia), Brahmadesh (Myanmar) , Sinhala (Sri Lanka), Philippines, Malay (Malaysia) & even China, Rome & Arab countries but Bali Island was undoubtedly the most preferred destination. The most common items of trading taken by Kalingan sadhabas were silk fabrics, tussar fabric, khadi fabric, mathaa (traditional dye fabric), silver filigree (rupa tarkasi) work, diamond from Sambalpur (remember Hirakud’s name), paddy, rice, cane containers (maana) & bamboo containers & in return, they were buying precious stones, clove, cardamom, cinnamon, pearl, bayleaf (tejpatta) etc.

The present Bali islands in Indonesia was known as ‘Narikela Dwipa’ (coconut islands). The discovery of various artefacts made from iron, bronze, precious red stone beads etc proves of the rich culture & handicraft industry prevalent in ancient Bali. It led to cultural & social exchange between the Bali residents with the Kalingan communities. It further resulted in a new mixed culture in Bali Islands which had marks of Kalingan culture, its society system, god worship, fruits & flowers & even similar names which made its gradual entry deep into the socio-cultural heritage of Bali islands. The worshiping style & the mythological Gods & Goddess involved in Bali has quite resemblance with their counterparts in Odisha. Devi Laxmi is known as Sri Devi in Bali. Both are worshipped with paddy bunch (dhana kenda) during the Margasir month (Nov-Dec) by both the communities.

Bali Jatra
Cultural similarities between Kalinga & Bali Islands

Although, Indonesia is now a Muslim populated country, yet, Bali is 90% Hindu island; Buddhism is the second most popular religion & Lord Shiva (Shaivisim) is the main presiding deity & is treated as the elder brother of Lord Buddha. Like in Kalinga, Lord Jagannath is also worshipped alongwith Saraswati & Ganesha in Bali. Rath Yatra is also celebrated in wooden chariots in Bali in similar fashion like Puri. All these things proves to what extent Bali culture is influenced from Odisha or vice versa, be it in dance form, ikat saree, mask making, Ramayana, Budha statue style or even our jatras (opera). Residents of Bali celebrates Maha Shivratri, Saraswati Puja (Odalon Saraswati), Durga Puja (Paiger Waesi) etc which is quite similar to Odisha. Brahmins have got the highest respect in their local community also. In Odisha, Hindu temple priests are called Pandas where as in Bali they are referred as Padandas & both still uses Sanskrit slokas in religious practices. The Vat tree is sacred both in Odisha & Bali. Even the puja items are quite similar in both the communities which includes hay (kusha), honey, ghee, earthen lamps, incense sticks etc. One of the influential God in Bali is Garuda (the huge bird which is the official carrier of Lord Vishnu as per Hindu mythology). The national airlines of Indonesia is named after Garuda and Ganesha’s image is noticed in Rupiah, their currency notes name inspired from India. Certain geographical locations in Bali which is named after Gods have same/similar names in Odisha like Mahendratanaya river, Mahendra parvat, Mahanadi river etc.

Bali Jatra
Boita Bandana for sadhabas as shown in Kalingan pattachitras

This is not the end. There’s also similarities noticed in the local terms used & the respective literature too. Common local terms in Bali such as Bai/Bu (Bou/mother in Odia), Bua (Gua/betel in Odia), Chinna (chinabadam/groundnut in Odia), Arua rice (raw rice), Pejo (Peja/rice water in Odia), Bokul (Barkoli/berry in Odia), Gondan (Genda/snail in Odia), Munh (face), Ruti (Roti in Odia), Dara (Para/pigeon in Odia) etc. Fruits & flowers used in lord offerings (Coconut, Lotus, Lily, Champa etc) are also found in Bali, maybe imported from Odisha during ancient period which creates a similar atmosphere & environment of Odisha in Bali. Like in Odisha, palm leaf literature (tala patra pothi) is also found in Bali. Local names & spoken words in Bali are full of familiar sounding words such as Yogya, Wijaya, Gajah, Utama, Purnama, Pawana, Puspa, Negara, Adi, Dakshina, Nirbhaya, Sangskerta, Agama, Kama, Padam, Aksara, Suami, Yuda, Sabda, Bahasa, Isteri, Sakti, Darma, Sarda, Gita, Raksasa, Karma, Saksi, Keling (Kalinga in Balinese) etc which have originated from Odisha. ‘Tuaan Tueen’ – a popular folk song in Odisha has also found its presence felt in Bali literature.

The social etiquette prevalent in both the communities have certain similarities like greeting others with folded hands Namaste , bowing head to elders while passing on the streets etc. The food habits in both the communities have certain similarities also like the Sajna saag (drumstick leaf curry), Manza curry (banana trunk menu), Manda & Enduri pitha (Odia traditional cakes) etc. Like Odias, Bali residents are also fond of consuming betel leaf paan & every household have wooden pan box & guest are served paan after meals. Even betel leaf is used during marriage rituals. Dress wear, printing pattern & fabric making style in Bali has influence of Odisha & vice versa. Patola Ikat fabric of Bali has quite similarities with that of our Sambalpuri Ikat style, even ikat term is derived from an Indonesian term “mangikat” loosely meaning tying & dyeing . Its believed that the ikat style came to Odisha through maritime trade. The dresses worn by brides & grooms in Bali have similarities noticed. Both Odia & Bali girls use knots in hair in similar style. The art printed/painted in Bali fabrics have marks of typical Odia art & culture.

The dance forms & nataks (drama) in Bali are mostly based on Indian puranas & similarities with that of Odisha & East Indian styles. Bali’s Boom Bong dance form is similar to Odissi. Similarly, both the folk dance of Bali – Kekaka dance (Banar nrutya/monkey dance) & Barong (Bagha nacha/Tiger dance) shares similarities with Odisha’s tribal, Paika dance & Chaiti Ghoda nacha (Horse dance). Odisha’s Gotipua dance can be well traced in Bali’s various dances. Bali also has its own version of Ramayana but with only three brothers (excl. Bharata). Odisha’s Ravana Chaya (shadow puppet dance)has inspired Wayang Kulit (shadow puppet) dance form in Bali. The mask used in various dance forms or festivals are quite similar to that of Odisha. In case of art & architecture too, there’s Kalingan influence noticed in Bali temples. Some of the temples architecture in Bali have been influenced by the architecture of Mukteswar & Baital temples in Bhubaneswar.

Bali Jatra
Maritime trading boats as shown in temple murals

Also, architectural influences from Ratnagiri monasteries, Udaygiri caves etc have been incorporated in Bali’s architecture. Like our Boita Bandaana Utsav & Cuttack’s Bali Jatra Utsav during Kartik Purnima which are both related to our maritime history with Bali islands, similar celebrations are also carried by Bali residents in the name of ‘Masakapam Kepesiha’ (sailing handmade paper boats with candles) to remember their maritime relations with Kalinga. The reason for Sabhadbas choosing Kartik Purnima day for setting off their voyages is that on that particular day, the sea remains quite calm & the blowing cool breeze naturally helps the Palatana Danga (Fabric sailing boat) in its movement. The sadhabas were returning back by Asadha month just before the rainy season advents. It’s said that Bali Islands has been named after an Kalinga King Raja Bali. Even in literary terms, Bali Dwipa means Sand Islands in Odia whose ancient name was Narikela Dwipa because of the numerous coconut trees found there. This instances are strong enough to prove the rich culture of Kalinga which had influenced a far off island & in return Kalinga has also adopted certain ritual & customs of Bali….. Aa Ka Ma Bai 🙂 !

Bali Jatra
India’s Maritime Trade route
Ref Source:
Photo: Taranisen Pattnaik
Note: This article was earlier published by me in on 4/11/2014..

About Tarani Trotter

I'm Taranisen Pattnaik, originally from Aska (Ganjam). I grew up in the capital city of Odisha – Bhubaneswar. An MBA by qualification, an Accountant by profession, but a freelancer by interest with phillumeny (matchbox collection) as my hobby. I like going to places, meeting new people & capturing the moments through my camera which helps me in my storytelling.

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