Column: Balijatra – Symbol Of A Great Legacy

By Ashutosh Mishra

Bhubaneswar: Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik deserves kudos for demanding ‘National Maritime Heritage Festival’ status for the Cuttack Balijatra which has come to symbolise the great maritime tradition of Odisha. The coast of Kalinga, as the state was known in ancient times, was dotted with important ports which were fulcrums of trade and also enriched the state culturally by linking it with the outside world.

Tracing the maritime history of the state one of the scholars refers to the Shilpashastra which talks of two types of sea ports–pattana and dronimukha-–depending on their location. While Pattanas were situated on the sea coast where cargos were loaded and unloaded dronimukhas were located near the confluence of the river and sea. Ancient Kalinga had both types of ports.

Of all the Kalingan ports Tamralipti was the most famous and important. It was the gateway to the Malay peninsula and the East Indies and one of the reasons why Magadhan emperor, Ashoka invaded Kalinga. He wanted control of the port and through it of the flourishing trade and commerce with Java, Bali, Borneo, Sumatra, Cambodia, Indonesia and Malaysia. Trade with South Asian countries like Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Maldives also thrived.

Tamralipti is identified with the modern Tamluk in the Midnapore district of West Bengal which once formed part of Kalinga. While Mahabharata speaks of Bhima’s victory over Tamralipti Jain and Buddhist texts also make a mention of this famous port city of the yore. The port is also referred to in the Arthashastra and in the accounts of Chinese pilgrims like Fa-Hien and Hiuen Tsang.

Apart from textual references that underscore the importance of Tamralipti as a flourishing port city and trade centre there is also other evidence that testify to its international character, the most important of these being the discovery of a gold coin bearing Graeco-Roman motif from Tamluk. Excavation of pottery fragments and terracotta figurines of Roman origin further buttress Tamralipti’s claim as an international port.

Besides Tampralipti there were several other ports along the coast of ancient Kalinga through which trade and commerce with distant lands was conducted. Some of these are believed to be still lying buried in the bosom of the sea. Our historians need to delve deeper into the state’s great maritime past and carry out more excavations along the coast to bring to light some of the ancient ports still waiting to be discovered.

Since the Balijatra celebrates this great maritime tradition of the state the chief minister is fully justified in seeking for it the ‘National Maritime Heritage Festival’ status. As Patnaik rightly pointed out in his letter to the union tourism minister, the festival hearks back to the days when Sadhavas (Odia sailors) used to go on voyages to distant lands such as Bali, Java, Sumatra and Borneo for trade and cultural expansion. “The legacy is observed through the celebration of Balijatra,” he observed. It is our duty to preserve this great legacy.

(DISCLAIMER: This is an opinion piece. The views expressed are author’s own and have nothing to do with OTV’s charter or views. OTV does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same)