Odisha, Indonesia’s Bali shares commerce and culture

Cuttack, November 17: Bali Yatra, the largest mass festival, is celebrated across Odisha to mark the connection of maritime trade, culture and tradition with the ancient island of Bali (modern Indonesia).

The real Bali Yatra which refers to “Journey to Bali” had almost started after 40 AD. Bali was an island province of Suvarnadwipa (Golden Island) which is politically named Indonesia now. The valiant sailors of Kalinga (ancient Odisha) made their voyages from the Mahanadi River which joins the Bay of Bengal. Kalingas (the people of Odisha), the inhabitants of the east coast of the Bay of Bengal were aware of wind streaks and the very patterns of sea currents. The technique was later used for maritime trade before the discovery of monsoon winds by Hippalus. Before 45-47 AD, maritime trade from the coast of Odisha to Southeast Asia including Bali, Java, Sumatra, Borneo and many other islands during favorable windy seasons was a practice of people of the commercial class of Odisha.

Idol of Lord Vishnu in Bali (Indonesia)

The maritime trade of the Kalinga Empire continued to increase due to its geographical location. It was favorably littoral like the island in the Bay of Bengal. Meanwhile, the Puri, Cuttak, Paradip, Balasore and Gopalpur regions of Kalinga witnessed the growth of ports as early as the 4th and 5th century BC. Some of the famous ports of ancient times including Tamralipti, Manikpatna, Chelitalo, Palur and Pithunda enabled India to connect to other countries through the sea. Exploring tidal resources, Kalingas initiated trade links with Sri Lanka, Java, Borneo, Sumatra, Bali and Burma. Bali was one of the four islands collectively known as the Suvarnadvipanow known as Indonesia.

Gradually, the Kalingas developed large boats called the ‘Boxes’ putting aside the small ferry boats and with the help of these they traded with the Indonesian islands. These ships had copper hulls and could carry up to seven hundred men and animals on board. Interestingly, the Bay of Bengal was once known as the Kalinga Sea because it was overrun by these ships.

fire dance in bali indonesia

Since then, the Kalingas had continuous trade with the island of Bali. The exchange of goods also led to the exchange of ideas and beliefs. Merchants from Odia formed colonies in Bali and influenced its culture and ethos. This led to the growth of Hinduism in the region. Hinduism has blended well with Balinese concepts and even today ‘Balinese Hinduism’ is practiced by a majority of their people. They worship various Hindu gods such as Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha and Brahma. Shiva was considered the presiding deity and is considered Buddha’s elder brother even today.

As in India and Odisha, Lord Vishnu is worshiped here as the presiding God in most parts of Bali. Tens of thousands of temples are found in the city of Bali where gods in different forms are worshiped like Hindus. Rice is the first bhog offered to deities since Yugs (ages), as Mahaprasad is offered to Lord Jagannath in the Puri temple of Odisha.

Indonesia’s airport, which is now the greatest monument of writing Odisha-Bali cultural ties, is Garuda Airport. It was named after the mythologically sacred bird Garuda.

Apart from religious practices, Odisha and Bali have a number of similarities in their popular culture.

The Ramlila, Danda and Rasalila of Lord Sri Krishna are now played in Bali on special occasions. Fire Dance, a typical Indonesian dance drama, is regularly performed at social functions where the legends of Ramayan and Mahabharat are presented amidst dances with oil torches (masala). The fire dance as analyzed by cultural critics closely resembles the basics of the Odissi dance and the Banati, the fire dance widely prevalent in the Puri of Odisha.

Rama Lila show in Indonesia

Bali Yatra, a festival that commemorates Odisha’s rich maritime history, is now celebrated across the state. In the historic town of Cuttack, week-long events as well as an outdoor fair are held starting on Kartika Purnima, the full moon day of the month of Kartik as a major festival.

On the other hand, the Bali Yatra is celebrated in Bali Indonesia as ‘Masakapan ke Tukad‘. It has many similarities with the Odisha Bali Yatra. Note, the feast organized in a grandiose way symbolizes the maritime excellence of their ancestors.

Pedagogue, Manjushree Das who works on it ‘Bali travel diary’ stated that Odisha and Bali had socio-cultural bondage since ancient times. It is the result of the historic maritime trade between the east coast of Odisha and Bali since time immemorial. One can find significant similarities in trades, culture, lifestyle and traditions between the two landscapes.

The distribution of Buddhist settlements, the development of tens of thousands of temples and the discovery of varieties of pottery, beads and inscriptions along ports and trading centers indicate an active maritime exchange between Odisha and Bali, Das added.

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