As the full moon of Kartika Purnima lights up the night sky, India celebrates the victory of Lord Shiva over Tripurasura - a trio of dreaded demons. It is said that the relieved and grateful heavens celebrated this day as Dev Diwali or Diwali of the gods. Besides this, this day also marks the birth of the Matsya/Fish avatar of Vishnu, Shiva's son Kartikeya - the valiant god of war and the human manifestation of the holy Tulsi plant.
A day of great religious fervour and festivities that brings gods, celestial beings and demons together into life on earth, Kartika Purnima also sees a curious celebration in the state of Odisha. Lit lamps placed in thousands of tiny boats made of paper, cork and banana plant stems are floated down the rivers of the land.
This ritual known as Boita Bandana or "Seeing off the boats" is in memory of ancient Odia merchants who ventured into the Bay of Bengal on this day in great ships to trade overseas. As the monsoons died, the seafaring traders took advantage of the weather to embark on their long journeys. Today their homeland remembers this era of maritime exploration and thriving trade through this festival which has a curious name - Bali Yatra or the "Journey to Bali".
The traders took Indian goods, civilisation and religion and planted them all along South East Asia right till Bali in Indonesia. Interestingly, on this very night of Kartika Purnima, people in Thailand and Bali celebrate similar festivals which involve floating of lamps in tiny vessels in their rivers and seas.
As the toy boats bob around on moonlit ripples, one cannot help but celebrate the spirit and gumption of these adventurous merchants who sailed wild seas relying only upon their experience and courage. On this night when Gods were born and evil vanquished,