Op-Ed: Tirade Against ‘Bol Bom’ Has No Rational Basis

By Sandeep Sahu

Suddenly, ‘Bol Bom’ bashing has become fashionable among a section of the people in our state. As in most other cases, the opposition is voiced by those who never had the experience of being part of it. Do they even know what it takes to complete a ‘Bol Bom’ trip, the toll the arduous trek takes on the body and the feeling of serenity that one is left with at the end of it all? I dare say they don’t.

It is a little intriguing why such scorn and venom should be reserved for this ritual undertaken by lakhs of people during the holy month of Shravan when we seem to take a lot that should invite our wrath in our stride.

Let us examine the grounds on which it is being opposed and condemned. The reason cited by most naysayers is that it is ‘not part of Odia culture and tradition’. But it is not clear why that should be objectionable when we are absolutely fine with several other rituals which are also ‘not part of Odia culture and tradition’? Are New Year celebrations, the worship of Satya Sai Baba and ‘lehenga choli’ and ‘sangeet’ ceremonies in marriages part of our tradition? When we have happily assimilated these ‘non-Odia’ traditions without any reservations, it is not clear why ‘Bol Bom’ should rile us so much? Culture is not something static; it is a process of evolution as one community adopts the traits of others. And this is true not just of Odisha or India, but the whole world.

Some of those who have led the charge object to the commercialization of the ‘Bol Bom ritual’. They say ‘Bol Bom’ was introduced and popularized by Marwaris eager to make a fast buck through the sale of saffron dresses and other implements required to undertake the ‘Bol Bom’ trek. Let us assume that the charge has substance. But then which religious or social occasion has not been commercialized? Look around you and you can see the colourful rakhees – at prices ranging from Rs 20 to Rs. 200 and more – all over the place. Is this not commercialization? As per Odia tradition, Go Mata is worshipped and a white thread is tied on its neck on the occasion of ‘Gamha Purnima’. But we have merrily ‘imported’ the north Indian culture of Rakhee Purnima when sisters tie rakhees on the wrists of brothers, haven’t we? If New Year and Christmas cards don’t constitute commercialization, one does not know what it is?. But these out and out commercial enterprises never seem to rile us. The ground of commercialization thus does not hold.

There are others who feel it is nothing but an excuse for ‘kaanwarias’ to gorge on ganja. While it is nobody’s case that tons of ganja don’t go up in smoke during ‘Bol Bom’, does anyone in his senses really believe that so many people undertake the backbreaking journey just to smoke ganja? If the idea is to just take ganja, one could as well do it where one is, without stretching the body and limbs to the limits of endurance. What about the lakhs of women who participate in the ritual? Are they also attracted by the prospect of having ganja?

One objection is that those who go on a ‘Bol Bom’ trip are motivated not by religious fervor, but simply want to have some ‘fun’. It is possible many of the first timers are drawn to it because of the ‘fun’ element. But having endured the stress and stress on the body inflicted by the journey, this writer can assure you that the ‘fun’ element vanishes in the first couple of kilometers after which it becomes an endurance test. Imagine walking in pitch darkness, often in rain, for 20-30-50 kms on a road, a ‘bahungi’ on your shoulder with two pitcherfuls of water slung on either side with your destination nowhere in sight. Any mundane or unholy thoughts you may have at the start quickly goes out of the window. What remains is a state of serenity that you have never experienced before. Did you say ‘fun’? Go try it out once and you will certainly come back chastened and disillusioned!

Even if we assume that people are not motivated by religious or spiritual feelings and go on ‘Bol Bom’ to have ‘fun’, why should that be a problem? Take it as an ‘adventure sports’, if you please. Lord Shiva, I am sure, would not mind!

While returning from Ghangapatna after attending a social occasion late on a rainy Sunday night last year, I was struck by the number of women, including teen age girls, on the road. Some had no male relatives accompanying them, at least not within shouting distance. Given the state of women’s safety in the state, I was naturally concerned about their safety and wondered what motivated them to take this tough journey fraught with danger. Surely, they were not having ‘fun’ or freaking out on ganja!

As the incident in which a ‘kaanwaria’ was arrested for raping a girl recently shows, there are rogues and charlatans among ‘Bol Bom’ devotees. But is it right to condemn all ‘kaanwarias’ because of the misdeeds of a few? Is it not true of society as a whole? Do we shun and condemn society because of a few black sheep?

I would humbly request those who have launched what amounts to a virtual tirade against the ‘Bol Bom’ phenomenon to undertake – and, more importantly, complete – a trek first before railing against it. I am sure they will change their opinion after the experience.

(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.)