It was 4 in the morning when my eyes opened up…
I vividly remember the sound of ‘Ghanta’ and ‘Hulahuli’ as the surrounding reverberated with the enchanting sounds of Sadhus and women emitting a deafening aura of pure faith. The din ringed in my ears. I kept my eyes open as I got used to the darkness around. The dream was surreal and as the sound slowly ebbed away I realized, it was that time of the year again. My favorite time. An overwhelming feeling of homesickness sank in as I realized I had been away from home for so long that I had stopped counting the years now.
The sleep in my eyes had completely vanished. I could still visualize the figurines from my dream moving around slowly. Stepping down the bed I frantically searched for the bottle of water. Finally finding it I had a gulp and sat gazing into darkness lost in oblivion.
Sleep was long gone, I looked again at the watch it was only 10 minutes past 4. Giving up all pretenses on a sleep I got up and switched on the lights. Sat on the study table and opened the laptop. Googled the words ‘Kartika Purnima in Odisha’. As some search results popped up I instantly clicked onto some of the links.
There was a constant sense of loss from within and I was trying to figure out what exactly was the reason that had so mutinously disrupted the mundane routine of my daily life.
The knowledge I had heard soothes the burns of a man with understanding and logic. As the screen was flooded with information on Kartika Purnima
I read along : This festival is held in Odisha to mark the day when ancient Sadhabas (Oriya mariners) would set sail to distant lands of Bali, as well as Java, Sumatra, Borneo (all in Indonesia), and Sri Lanka for trade and cultural expansion. They sailed in large vessels called Boitas.
Wikipedia is sometimes reminiscent of the grandparents who used to tell stories of the past to their grandchildren. The information had a mystic effect on me as I drifted into an ocean of nostalgia. To the stories of Sadhabas and their voyages, as the sweet melodious voice of my grandmother flooded my ears and I transcended into the kid holding her hand springing with joy as I held a tiny boat in my hand and soaked in the freshness of dawn and a gentle cold breeze that brushed my face and hands and feet not much unlike today but only a million times better. As I clung onto my granny’s hand she imparts what will be lifelong memories to me as she goes on to describe the rich history of Kartika Purnima.
The era when Odisha was Kalinga and the ancient Sadhabas who would set sail during this time to the distant lands in hopes of trade and when their ships called Boitas set adrift, their near and dear ones prayed for their life and the safe return of the traders and as a demarcation of this, the wives and kins of the Sadhabas used to set sail tiny boats laden with lamps, fruits and heaps of prayers, along the rivers.
A cold wind swept by my window and I jolt back upright and glare into the present. The screen was blistering with facts. As I prowled Wikipedia it showed how the Sadhabas preferred this particular time to set sail for their journey, the scientific cause being to take advantage of the favorable wind blowing during this time.
I let go a smirk as I imagined how my granny would react if I told her there is a scientific link to every religion. Although she had a fierce belief in religion but I believe the people at that time were far smarter than the smartphone era of today. Belief in religion never made a person ignorant; it only enriched their experience in life.
I closed my eyes and smiled as memories of those days came flooding out of my memories.
We had reached the river and I struggled in the clamor as hundreds of people had gathered to set their wishes and prayers set sail. I looked around in awe as I wondered what was it so wonderful apart from setting the boat in the river that drew so many crowds. My mother came up from nowhere and asked me to strip and get a dip in the river. This woman is crazy I used to think most of the times. She showed me how people were having their bath in the river as it was considered holy and cleansed you of all negativity and sins that you have committed. I looked at my mother in shock and gave a stern reply “I think the number of times father has bashed me for my mischievous I am already cleansed” at this both my mother and granny burst out laughing. My granny smiled and said it would be ok if only I could sprinkle some holy water on my head and body. That being quite a bargain to escape from the freezing water I agreed. She sprinkled some water and we set back home.
The sun had peeped from its hide as the chirping of the birds was growing louder. We reached home and an old man snatched me from my granny and put me around his hips. He asked me if I knew why people were thronging the temple so early in the morning. I declined with innocence aplomb. He gave a broad toothless smile as the Tilak on his head glistened with defying radiation. The old man, the Sadhu filled me in how Lord Shiva had defeated a dreaded Asura on this day and overjoyed with this victory of good over evil the Gods decided to celebrate with illuminations and burning of crackers.
A bird came and sat by the window lane and started chirping instigating me to ponder on the present and brought me back to my senses. I looked further at my laptop screen and found that Shiva in his form as Tripurantaka (“Killer of Tripurasura”) killed Tripurasura on this day. Overjoyed the gods declared the day as a festival of illuminations. This day is also called “Dev.-Diwali” – the Diwali of the gods.
I realized I still didn’t know the name of the old man, we used to call him BabaChua with a Bengali accent .This man stayed in our house during the month preceding the Kartika Purnima. During this month, several Sadhus used to come to my hometown from the borderlands of Digha and west Bengal to sing prayers of Gods and in return, people used to give donations to one’s capabilities and seek blessings from these men. Each of these men carried an aura be it in their looks or the prayers they sing that you cannot help but be enthralled by their devotion. Their forehead glistened with the markings of Tilak and a glaze in the eyes that bore a nonchalance which was an epitome of immense understanding and peace. Such was the intensity of their prayers that I used to watch my grandmother shedding drops of tears mesmerized by the beauty of the divine history they recite in their songs.
The silence of the present was only ripped apart by the momentary chirps of the birds that seemed to drag me to the past where somewhere at this point of time the air was getting clamoured with the sounds of Hulahulis, the beating of the drums, the reverberating sound of the conch shell that seemed to reach beyond infinity and the aarti.
As soon as the temple priest came out with the aarti my mother used to drag me from somewhere and cup her hands around the flame and wipe them on my head. I used to flow in the moment oblivious to the intensity of the moment; little did I know then that it was blessings in the purest form as her closed eyes calmly wished for the long life and health of her child.
It was hard to jerk off that face and drag myself back to the present. As I read on it showed how Bali jatra the famous festival is celebrated on the banks of Mahanadi River in Cuttack to commemorate the rich maritime history of Kalinga. Bali Jatra is celebrated annually as a large open fair near the Barabati Fort area. It is said to be the largest fair of Odisha state. There are several attractions for children, and food stalls selling Oriya delicacies (Cuttacki Dahivada Aludum, Thunka puri, Barafa pan, Gupchup, etc.), and other vendors selling toys, curiosities, and other gifts. Every year millions of people from all over the nation came to experience it. The glamor, the festive mood, the toys, the giant wheels had a magical effect on me as I used to beg my parents to take me to the jatra.
The sun had sent its first rays to touch the surface of the earth. Remnanting an effervescent beauty. I stood up and walked towards the balcony drooping down with a heavy weight brought about by responsibilities and the insane chase for success and money. As I laid my weight on the railings drops of tears rolled down my eyes, the breeze was smooth and gentle as if consoling me for the burden that Time had laden on me.
I wondered, like me, how many would have lost themselves chasing their dreams in this constant struggle of life and more often willingly shying away from the ethos of our very own identity. But someday somewhere the ghosts of our past will catch up. In reality or in a dream unearthing a hatchet long-buried to taunt and remind of a cherished past that has made us who we are. And then we will have nowhere to hide. The dream was a call to get out of the cocoon of meaningless luxuries and embark on a tryst with redemption for all the moments lost out in making memories. Money can be made.
The dawn engulfed me in its complete form and I embraced it with equal élan. There was a distant humming of a train passing by as the railway tracks shuddered reminiscent of the Hulahulis and the sound of conch shell of my bereaved past, of Kartika Purnima.
I smiled and turned back to the room and checked for the first available flight back home. Taking a queue from the Sadhabas of the age old past who set sail with a galore of hopes and dreams and a promise to return to their loved ones.