Boita Bandana Reminds the World of Orissa’s Super Nautical Past

Subhas Chandra Pattanayak

Post-independence politicians have reduced Orissa to a state of inanity. But there was time when Oriyas were the only people of India that had established their dominions abroad and were regarded as the most active seafaring community fetching immense profit from other parts of the globe through trade and commerce.

History speculates that Asoka had invaded Orissa (known then as Kalinga) for capturing her busy ports, though in reality he – a wicked man of Magadh engaged in empire building for the Vedic supremacists – had attacked this land of Buddha to desecrate his birthplace near the Dhauli Hill, as Buddhism. originating from Orissa, bearing the democratic character of her tribes and hence being the national religion of Oriya race, was till then the only obstacle to spread of Vedic autocracy. However, whatever be Asoka’s design, Buddhism spread from Orissa beyond the seas because of Orissa’s nautical excellence, the history admits.

In these pages focus is put on how Melaka was established by Oriya prince Hambira.

There are many instances of how different places beyond Mahodadhi (the sea of Orissa as then was known) were named after important places of Orissa as the Oriyas had established their domains there.

Just for an example, Dr. Nihar Ranjan Roy’s ‘Brahminical Gods in Burma’ may be looked at.

“The ancient name attributed to old Prome is Srikshetra, so often mentioned in the Mon records as Sikset or Srikset, and by the Chinese pilgrims as Si-li-cho-ta-lo; and Srikshetra is the holy land of Puri on the ancient Kalinga coast.” it notes.

“Likewise” it says, “the earliest colonization of the Malaya Peninsula and Java had probably been made from Kalinga, for the Hindus of the Peninsula and the islands were and are still known as Kling.”

Analyzing archaeological remains Dr. Roy says, “The two examples from Tholan, now housed in the Rangoon Mu- seum, are decidedly Indian in form and composition as also in execution, done no doubt locally by Indian artists or by artists trained under Indian masters. They seem to have very intimate artistic affinities with the most recent finds of Brahminical and Mahayanist divinities from Orissa by Rai Bahadur Ram Prasad Chanda, B.A., now housed in the Indian Museum.” – Ibid.

Malaysia was known as Kalinga, declares ‘The Age of Imperial Kanauja’, published by Vidya Bhavan at p.414.

These sample quotes make it clear that spread of Buddhism and Oriya culture beyond the country’s boundary had occurred during the nautical reign of Orissa. Oriya nation has not forgotten those splendid days.

This splendid soil has been ruined by the British invaders and the post-independence politicians that have plundered it of its wealth and resources. This was the soil that the British had not dared to desecrate with its filthy feet till rest of India had fallen to its bag. And this is the land that was the first to raise its swords to oust the British.

The British historian G. Tooynbee in his work ‘A Sketch of the History of Orissa’ notes, “It was not long long, however, before we had to encounter a storm which burst with so sudden furry that as to threaten our expulsion, if not from the whole of Orissa, at least from the territory of Khurda”. But in fact the British was threatened of expulsion from entire Orissa as people’s revolt in different corners of the land indicates. Knowing that the “disposition of the inhabitants of Orissa will always present formidable obstacle to the suppression of these disturbances either by military or police” (W.Forrester’s Report to Robert Kar, Para 18), the British had to withdraw its bloody stance and make treaty with the leader of the first freedom fight on the soil of Orissa, whereby it also earned recognition as the government. Once recognized as such, it divided Orissa into parts and annexed bifurcated parts to neighboring provinces in the name of administrative management where reduced to linguistic minorities, the Oriyas got ruined. Their lands were grabbed by non-Oriyas, their industry and commerce plundered. Their ports were killed, their ships and boats were destroyed.

Yet, the British had to admit, as E.Watson, 4th Judge, Calcutta Court of Circuit had wrote to W.B.Bayley, Secretary to Government in the Judicial Department on 3 May, 1817, “….the boats were by far the best that I ever saw in any part of India”.

People of Orissa led a prolonged peaceful fight against nasty neighbor conspiracies and succeeded in persuading the British to reconstitute their State on language basis and Orissa became the first linguistically formed province of India.

But after independence, unscrupulous political leaders, who had no sacrifice for reconstruction of Orissa, emerged as rulers and under their selfish reign, the land has been so weakened that the people are unable to revolt against all out loot going on by non-Oriyas in this regime.

Yet, the people have not forgotten their lost maritime. On the full-moon day of Kartika every year, as the rainy season ends, they celebrate Boita Bandana, floating toy ships and boats on water bodies nearest to their homes.

Sri Laxmi Prasad Pattanayak has captured for us the event celebrated at Bindu Sagara, the famous mega tank in old Bhubaneswar, on 21 November 2010. We are glad to place a few:

In the early morning, people arrive to blowing of conches and traditional fan fare.

Women consecrate the ceremonial boat and then the men representing the merchants of the past take over the charge.

and the women see them off.

Families including kids and the aged women participate actively in the Boita Bandana.

And Oriya race rests waiting for the next year to repeat the celebrations.

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