With all roads leading to Bali Jatra (voyage to Bali) in Cuttack, Odisha Sun Times walked down the memory lane of Odia film industry to bring to you the three films that kept the tradition of seeing the merchants off with the ritual of Boita Bandana on Kartika Purnima alive by depicting folklore and capturing its essence through songs.
Aji Kartika Punei Dina Re Majhi Kata Mari (Shree Shree Mahalaxmi Puja – 1959): Sarat Pujari’s debut film based on Odia mythology was produced under the banner of Utkal Chalachitra Pratishthan and directed by Biswanath Nayak. While the film revolved around the tale of Goddess Laxmi leaving the temple to teach brothers, Lord Jagannath and Lord Balabhadra, a lesson, it was ‘Aji Kartika Punei Dina Re Majhi Kata Mari, Ojhala Udei Jaa Re’ that sang the glory of the erstwhile Kalinga’s maritime heritage. The song, which set the tone for the film, refers to the business trips by merchants to Java and Sumatra and trading in crops and minerals. The lyrics by Satya Narayan Parida also speak about exchange of ideas between countries. While Sandhya Mukherjee lent voice to the song, the music was composed by Nachiketa Ghosh.
Boita Bandana (Kanakalata -1975): The song, Boita Bandana, in the film describes at length the making of Boita (boats) for overseas voyage. It calls out to Bindhani Bhai (the artisan), asking him to take wooden planks and use glue and nails to fix it and the importance of the sail and the two sticks it is clamped to. It also talks about the offerings at Maa Mangala, especially applying on the sindoor (vermilion), before starting the voyage. With the perfect measurement of the Baoita, the song flaunts the efforts gone into its making while wishing the merchants good luck. The products the merchants traded on also find mention in the song composed by Balakrushna Das with Bhikari Bala and Shikander Alam as singers. It also includes the Boita Bandana ritual by wives of the merchants. A lively song, it presents all emotions encompassing the ritual in right dose. The lyricist Kalicharan Patnaik has incorporated words used by people involved in the boat-making process.
Sata Daria Pare Re Boita Bhasi Jaa (Tapoi – 1978): This movie about two Sadhaba brothers, based on folklore, is the closest in depicting the life of merchants on voyage to Southeast Asian countries. The other thing that set the film apart is use of colloquial language, ajhana, daria pir, bir karama, picked from father of modern Odia literature Fakir Mohan Senapati’s autobiography Atma Jeevan Charita. These words have been extensively used in the songs, Sata Daria Pare Re Boita Bhasi Jaa and Bhinei Babu Bhinei Babu, with the stamp of Akhaya Mohanty that make them all the more endearing. Sata Daria Pare Re Boita Bhasi Jaa has been filmed with the merchants starting the journey and their wives bidding them farewell by applying sindoor (vermilion) on their forehead. The relationship that Tapoi shares with her seven brothers is also depicted in the song, which celebrates the pride of Odia merchants, storms they face during the journey and their faith in Maa Mangala to steer them to safety.
Legend has it that merchants from Odisha sailed out to foreign countries like Bali, Java and Sumatra on business trips. They started the journey in mid-November, when winds blew in favourable direction on Kartika Purnima and aided the sail of their boats, and reached the islands of Java/Bali by mid-January. After conducting business for two months, they steered the boats homeward in mid-March, which allowed them to reach Sri Lanka in time to catch the early south-west monsoon winds in May that would take them to Odisha coast.
As a result of this cultural exchange, Odisha shares many similarities with Balinese culture. The Sambalpuri weaving has its Balinese counterpart in Balinese tie-and-dye weaving techniques. Also, a sect of Balinese Brahmins calls themselves ‘Brahmin Boudha Kalinga’. If Bali Jatra marks the commencing of the annual journey to Bali, a festival, Masakapam Kapeish, held in Bali commemorates the return of the traders to Kalinga.
(Information courtesy: Surya Deo, Film Historian)