The Baseli Cult of Odisha
Baseli Puja is a popular folk cult among the fishermen community, Kaivarta or Keuta, who observe it with great devotion and austerity.
The followers of the cult perform Chaiti Ghoda Nacha, a popular folk dance. Worship of Baseli and dummy horse are inexplicably connected with its ritual and celebration of the Keuta community.
The colourful festival is held for an entire month (full moon day of Chaitra in March) and ending with Baisakha Purnima (full moon day in April). The festival and dance is connected with Shakti cult. Goddess Baseli, the horse-headed goddess is considered as the tutelary deity of the fishermen community.
It is believed that the cult originated during the 10th century AD when Tantric practices of Shaivism and Mahayana Buddhism merged into one religious practise. Baseli is a form of Mother Goddess who was earlier formless.
Legend says: When the world was in deluge, Lord Vishnu could not able to find a place to rest. He reduced his form and rested on a floating banyan leaf. He created a man out of the dirt of his ear zone. The leaf could not support both. The man was drowned and swallowed by a huge demonic fish called Raghab. Lord Vishnu became angry when he found the man missing. He killed Raghab and got the man out. In the mean time Lord Vishnu transformed the banyan leaf into a horse and summoned Vishwakarma and asked him to build a boat. The Lord Vishnu said to the man that he and his community would be known as Kaibarta and he would be the king. As he was swallowed and almost got killed by a fish, so generation after generation they would kill the species of fish and live on them.
Baseli became the name of the horse and the tutelary deity of the community.