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Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Bali Jatra 2014 (Odisha's Largest Fair)

Crowds set my heart rate soaring. I even start getting nauseous and my palms get cold with all that sweating. It is due to this reason that I avoid crowded places and even train journeys to whatever extent possible. Maybe it boils down to that childhood trauma of being separated from my father in a Puja mela. Even though it was only for a few minutes, those memories continue to haunt me at times. So, when I decided to visit the Bali Jatra fair this year, it took a solid resolve and a desire to put those demons to rest. "Some things just need to be done. Even if it feels like a kick in the ass."

Most of my Odia readers would be well aware that being the largest trade fair in Odisha, the Bali Jatra is host to various artists and craftsmen of Odisha. The cultural programs are attended by eminent artists from all over India. Though it is not as popular as the Puskhar Mela or the Boat races of Kerala, the Bali Jatra has its fair share of tourists from outside the state. This fair is held on the Gadagadia ghat ('Gada' refers to the dilapidated Barabati fort) of the river Mahanadi and pays tribute to the rich maritime trade legacy of erstwhile Kalinga. 'Bali Jatra' literally translates as a journey to Bali or the distant lands where the sailors (known as 'Sadhabas' in local lingo) of Kalinga had established their trade links. However it is not uncommon to come across an ignorant person who puts Bali Jatra as a fair held on 'bali' (which means sand). Kartik Purnima is supposed to the holiest day in the Hindu calendar and the traders used to set sail on this particular day after worshiping their boats (also known as 'boita'). Hence the tradition of Boita Bandana or the symbolic sailing of paper/thermocol boats on Kartika Purnima.

The entrance to the fair grounds is in the shape of a gate which upholds a huge boat. The crowd start flowing in around 2-3 pm and peak time is usually from 6-9 pm. Though the crowd thins out after that, the fair goes on till the wee hours of the morning. With almost 1300 stalls and maybe an equal numbers of vendors displaying their wares, it almost takes the entire duration of the fair, that is seven days, to browse through it. Also, one must visit the Barabati Stadium and the Barabati fort which are situated very near to the fair grounds.

Once we entered the fair grounds, we encountered vendors selling almost everything from paper toys to hangings to artificial flowers. The stalls were taken up by the big and medium sized enterprises/traders of Cuttack and Bhubaneshwar. Home electronics, cooking ranges, furniture, two-wheelers, furnishings, cosmetics, home decor, name it and one will find it here.

However, we headed straight to the 'Pallishree' section of the fair which showcased the Handicrafts and traditional wares belonging mostly to Odisha and few other states of India. There were stall displaying Filigree work, brass artifacts, bamboo paintings, Sambalpuri sarees, Pipili hangings, and various pottery items.

Sambalpuri Weaves in gorgeous colors/patterns

All the shopping and bargaining had made us hungry and yet we were feeling reluctant to move away from the beautiful handicraft stalls. Finally when we could not take it any longer, we headed towards the Food Plaza held by Ruchi Foods. They were selling lassi in various flavours, milkshakes, biryani, tikka, chicken nuggets, spring rolls, malpua-aludum, etc.  In addition to the hygiene factor, they had something to suit everyone's tastebuds. However Bali Jatra is famous for its Thunka puri-chenna tarkari and Cuttacki Dahi bara- Alu dum, and the more adventurous folks should not miss it. There were also quite a number of stalls selling Mathura cake, lanka chop (Mirchi bajji), Kulfi, fried crabs and various chops.

Can you see the fried crab hanging in the middle ??

After a quick bite, we rushed to explore more stalls. As it was almost five, people had started flocking and it was getting increasingly difficult to take at dekko at the displays. Since we were staying near to the place, we decided to return home and get some rest. By the time we were back, the crowd had thinned out and it was easier to get a close look at the stalls. After picking some junk jewelry, a pair of mojdis, a few puja items, some artificial flowers and ceramic ware, the shopaholic in each of had reached an Utopian state. Happily trudging back home, I could not resist casting a last look at the fair grounds. One day is just not enough to soak in the flavours of Bali Jatra.

Great collection of junk jewelry at great prices

Manna with Goddess Lakshmi painted on it

Various moulds for making Rangoli/Muruja


  1. what a beautiful post it is . and it gives a special happiness that "special Mathura Cake " is there . not exactly my city but neighbournig . nice coverage

  2. Even I thought it was something to do with Bali. While in South India Bali refers to Mahabali a demon king, who was killed by Vamana on Bali Padyami(Diwali) which is celebrated just few days before Kartik Purnima.


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