Festivals!! The moment we hear this word we instantly think of holidays, get-togethers, special delicacies, celebrations, rituals and many more. Festivals are very close to our heart as they originate from ancient holy texts reminiscing the fascinating stories. These are the days which help us to relax and cherish the festive season and if this festival is conducted around the Sea then it just becomes more lively and better and that is what we call 'Sea Festivals' or even #MaritimeFestivals. Many might be hearing this term for the first time or have known it but didn't know the exact terminology.
Basically, Maritime festivals are related to sea areas which have maritime history linked to it's culture and tradition. So what does it actually mean? What are these Sea festivals that are celebrated in our country which many of us are not aware of? Let's just see what these intriguing festivals are all about.
#BoitaBandāna also known as Dangā Bhasā, is a traditional Odia maritime and naval festival celebrated annually throughout Odisha, India. The name could be translated as "to float ritual boats and worshipping with lighted lamp" and comes from the tradition of making decorated boats, which are then floated on a river as a symbolic gesture of their ancestors' voyage.
It is a major festival held on Kartik Purnima (November Full Moon Day), at Cuttack on the bank of River Mahanadi to mark the day when Sadhabas (ancient Odia mariners) would set sail to distant lands of Bali, Java, Sumatra, and Borneo in Indonesia and Sri Lanka (formerly Ceylon) for trade and cultural relations. On this day people float miniature toy boats (Boita), made of coloured paper, dried banana tree barks, and cork, as a symbolic gesture to the ancient maritime history of Odisha. The significance of 'Bali Yatra' was also highlighted by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, addressing the Indian diaspora at the G20 Summit in Bali.
According to the historian R. D. Banerjee. “The people of Kalinga were the pioneers of Indian migration in farther India and the Indian Archipelago.” The local traditions ascribe the origins of the ritual tradition to around 3rd century BC as Kalinga was a well known powerful maritime power and with strong trading links across the oceans especially during the reign of Maurya empire whose rulers coveted the region for its influence. The voyages were undertaken in vessels known as boitas, by Sadhabas. They set off for months at a time, to trade with people from these distant lands across the ocean in Southeast Asia. They would start their voyage from November and head towards Southeast Asia with the help of Northeast monsoon winds for trade purposes across different regions. After trading the ships would take the ocean countercurrent to get back to Sri Lanka in time to take advantage of the Southwest monsoon around the month of May and return home. Hence the women from the families of the travelling sailors used to perform rituals on the day of Kartik Purnima for their safe journey and return, which hereafter became the tradition of Boita Bandana (Worship of the Boats).
In current times, women in Odisha worship sea gods and float boats made out of coloured papers in rivers, ponds, lakes and seas, reciting ‘Aa Ka Ma Boi’ which symbolises three months of Aswina, Kartika and Margashira. This also highlights that during the ancient period, seafaring was predominantly patriarchal in nature. The last five days of the festival are considered auspicious, ending with Kartika Purnima. During these five days eating fish, meat or eggs is avoided and food is consumed only once in the afternoon which is known as ‘Habisa-Anna’. They also worship the deity ‘Taapoi’ but the story of Taapoi has more significance in another festival called Khudurukuni Osha which is observed during the month of August/September and is held to celebrate the return of the Sadhabas.
#NaraliPurnima is a festival mainly celebrated by the fishing communities of the Western coastal regions of India especially in Maharashtra and Konkan. It is observed on Purnima of 'Shravana' month as per the Hindu calendar. The word 'Narali' is derived from Nariyal that is 'Coconut' and 'Purnima' signifies the 'full moon day'.
On this day offerings such as rice, flowers and coconuts are offered to Lord Varuna, the god of ocean and waters as people living on the western coast of Maharashtra believe that their life is only based on sea. Fishermen decorate their boats and bring them to the shore of the sea and then extend offerings to please the deity and seek his protection from all dangers along with having a prosperous fishing season ahead. The Brahmins of Maharashtra perform the ‘Shravani Upakarma’ and keep a fast on this day without consuming any form of grains. They keep the ‘phalahar’ vrat by eating only coconut all day long. Food including coconut like Narali Bhaat or coconut rice is prepared as a special traditional food for this occasion. The sea is considered holy by fishermen as it is means of their survival, they also offer pooja to the boats. After completing the puja rituals, fishermen sail in the sea, in their ornately decorated boats and after making a short trip, they return to the shore and spend the rest of the day dancing and singing the folklore.
However, the origin of this festival is still unknown. Narali Purnima is one of the joyous festival for the fishermen community as it marks the end of the monsoon season in Maharashtra and beginning of the fishing and the water-trade amongst the fisherfolk because it was stopped by the oceanographers during the season as it is a fish breeding period. It is also believed that after this day the strength of the wind and the direction of the same changes in favour of fishermen. Nonetheless, this day is celebrated with great zeal and enthusiasm by the fishermen community as they hope to continue follow the traditions in the future.
MASI MAGAM FESTIVAL:
#MasiMagam is a Tamil festival celebrated on Purnima during the 'Masi' month of the Tamil calendar. The crowds, particularly belonging to the Irular tribe of Tamil Nadu, gather around the shores of Puducherry to witness the annual Masi Magam festival; a time when the goddess Kaniamman takes a trip to the beach.
Masi Magam is celebrated with high pomp and joy. On this day, devotees gather near holy water bodies and take a dip in the water to remove the sins of present and past life. Dipping in holy water is also believed to remove Pitra Dosh by earning the blessings of one's ancestors. Idols of deities are then taken from temples to riverside or seaside and are offered a ceremonial bath. This ritual is known as Theerthavari and is joined by thousands of devotees who carry the idols to the seashore and offer them a bath. The ritual is performed early in the morning and is accompanied by recitation of prayers, chanting of mantras, etc.
According to the Hindu legends, there are many stories related to the festival of Masi Magam. One such legend mentions a time when Lord Brahma learned about Lord Shiva’s plan to recreate the universe after its destruction. Lord Brahma requested Lord Shiva to began the recreation from Kumbakonam (a sacred temple city in Tamil Nadu state). Shiva asked Lord Brahma to fill a pot called as Kumbha with Amrit and the source energy to recreate the world and place it at the top of Mount Meru. The pot was found on the Purnima of Masi month (Masi Magam) and the recreation of the universe began from Kumbakonam. Since the festival is associated with the recreation of the universe, it is also considered the best day to begin new things and bring new hopes, eliminating all the negativity from a person's life.
All these festivals have its own unique glory with rich culture and traditions yet it is similar to each other as it is one way or other related to the sea, providing a different perspective as to how to protect the sea and respect its favour to humankind. Isn't it intriguing and mind blowing about how these different cultures and stories are inter related to sea? I think everyone of us must value this cultural heritage and should try to preserve it.
I would like to conclude by a quote that is
"To celebrate a festival means: to live out, for some special occasion and in an uncommon manner, the universal assent to the world as a whole." ~ Josef Pieper
I urge the readers to enjoy the festivals and further pass on this great heritage, especially the ones associated with SEA. HAPPY FESTIVALS!! Stay connected at www.johnsonodakkal.com