The whole month of Kartika (October-November) is considered to be the most sacred among all the twelve months of the year. During this month all the pious Hindus refrain from eating fish, meat or egg. All of them take pre-dawn bath and visit temples as a matter of routine. The last five days are considetd more sacred in which there is wide participation. Taken together the days are called ‘Panchaka’, the last day being the Kartika Purnima. Every day they take food only once in the afternoon which is known as ‘Habisha’.
For all the five days the women after purificatory bath in the early morning draw beautiful flower-designs around the chaura (a small temple like structure with a Tulasi plant overhead) with colour powders produced indigenously. Fasting for the day is commonly observed. Most of the Shiva temples get crowded with devotees offering prayers to Lord Shiva who is said to have killed the demon Tripurasura on this day. Group-singing of kirtans and loud beating of Mrudanga and cymbals continue for the whole day.
Another festival that takes place in the morning is significant to the ancient history of Odisha. This reminds the maritime glory of the State. In olden days the Sadhabas (Sea traders) used to sail off to distant islands like Java, Sumatra, Borneo, Ceylon etc. for their trade by huge boats (Boita). The women of the community were giving them a hearty send off on this day. The days are now gone, but the memory is still alive. Now, people float tiny boats made out of cork and coloured paper or bark of the banyan tree while reminiscing the past glory. This is called ‘Boita Bandana’.
The next fortnight of the month is spent propitiating the dead ancestors. In every evening, a covered but perforated earthen pot carrying an earthen lamp inside is hoisted to a pole to help guide the ancestral spirits to descend on their respective villages and homes. The members of a family light a bunch of jute-stalks with the invocation “Oh ! the ancestors come in the darkness and go in the light.” This is called ‘Badabadua Paka’.
In the city of Cuttack and some other places huge images of Kartikeswar are built and worshipped. At night they are taken out in procession and are immersed in the river Mahanadi, near a Shiva temple. Exactly at this place a big fair known as ‘Bali Yatra’ is held for about three-four days. The name of the festival has two significances. Some are of opinion that on this day the Sadhabas were sailing off to Bali and therefore, the name. Some others believe that Sri Chaitanya the great vaishnavite saint of Bengal on his way to Puri landed on this day at Cuttack after crossing the sand-bed (Sand is Bali) of the river Mahanadi.
Thousands of People congregate at the fair-ground where innumerable varieties of goods are bought and sold. People also enjoy boating with friends and family in the moon-lit night.