The word Nabakalebara is mentioned in Shreemad Bhagwad Geeta. It states that like every human being who is subjected to the cycle of life and death, Lord Jagannath too is not beyond that. He too can’t leave the bondage and is the part of the cycle of material being.
“…v?s??si j?r??ni yath? vih?ya
nav?ni g?h??ti naro ‘par??i
tath? ?ar?r??i vih?ya j?r??ny
any?ni sa?y?ti nav?ni deh?…”
So, as the person who puts on the new garment and discards the old ones, the soul too accepts the new body and gives up the old one.
This same philosophy is applied to Shri Jagannath who undergoes a grand ceremony of body changing which is celebrated in most the temples of lord Jagannath, Puri, Orissa in a year having the extra Asadh month as per the Hindu calendar. The ceremony calls for the making of a new set of idols of the deities- Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan.
This whole magnificent process of body change ceremony (Brahma Parivartan- Soul transfer) is a luxurious celebration in itself called as Nabakalebara. Usually it takes place once in 12 years, with the shortest period being 8 years and the longest is 19 years. Lastly, the Nabakalebara took place in 1996.
The idols are made out of the Neem wood and so naturally they undergo the process of decay with the time and the need to replace the old idols arises. The neem trees from which are idols are made are called Daru Brahma/Holy Daru and not any ordinary neem tree could be selected for the same. There are several strict criteria on the basis of which the neem trees are selected for fabrication of idols.
Currently, the ceremony is in progress; it started on 29th March with Banajaga Yatra and the ‘Holy Darus’ have been identified and are in process to be brought to Puri. On 29 April, the location of Lord Jagannath’s daru was announced to be Kharipadia under Raghunathpur block in Jagatsinghpur district.
The ceremony will conclude with Rathayatra followed Suna besa on 27 July, with many other rituals being held in between on specific dates. 4-5 millions of devotees are expected to take part in the ceremony held in the temple complex of Jagannath Puri.
Come let’s unearth the facts about this festival of the commemoration.
A Brief History
The exact year as when Nabakalebara was started is not known but the legends says that whenever there were attacks by foreign invaders (Muslims, Afghans) the idols were buried at some place to protect it from them and after the danger was averted, they were retrieved, but were made new and then only reinstalled in the temple. One story is that the King of Yayati found the idol buried by the invaders but in the state of decay, so he got the new idols crafted and then installed in the temple. Another story goes like this- A saint named Besara Mohanty gathered the charred remains of the image and carried it to Kujang and according to the Jagannath temple chronicle sources, Ramachandra Deb, Raja of Khurda, took the sacred remains from Kujang and sanctified it within the new image of Jagannath.
Selecting the Holy Darus:
No ordinary Neem tree can be used to make the idols of deities. Only the trees that satisfy certain criteria are called as Daru Bramha and are fit for making idols. Locating the four holy trees requires divine intervention. As per the tradition, the Priests of the Jagannath Temple worship Maa Mangala at the Kakatpur Mangala Temple who would appear in their dream to reveal the location of the holy trees.
The daru of Jagannath:
The tree selected for lord Jagannath should not have any human settlement nearby and be dark in colour (as the lord himself is). The trunk of the tree should look straight having four clear branches symbolizing four arms of the Lord.
Also, the tree should have a river flowing by or a pond close by, an ant-hill should be close to the tree, at the roots there must be a snake-pit of a cobra, no bird must have made nests in the tree and no branches would have broken or cut. The tree has to be located near a three-way or surrounded by three mountains. No creepers must have grown on the tree and there have to be Varuna, Sahada and Vilva trees (rare trees) close by. There has to be a hermitage and a temple of Lord Shiva in the vicinity. The most amazing requirement is, on the tree trunk there must be natural impressions of conch-shell and chakra!
The daru of Balabadra:
The tree for Balabadra should be light brown in colour. The tree should have seven branches looking like the form of a canopy and the hood of a cobra and the divine marks of a plough, pestle and the weapons of Balabadra.
The daru of Goddess Subhadra:
The tree meant for Goddess Subhadra should be yellow in colour. It should have five clear branches and bear the mark of a lotus flower with five petals.
The daru of Sudarsan:
The tree meant for Sudarsan should be reddish in colour. It should have three branches with a mark of a Chakra on one of the parts of the tree. The tree should also form a depression in the middle.
The Key Events after the selection of the Holy Daru:
After selecting the trees, they are covered with white cloth, worshipped and then felled. Everything is done with prescribed ritual. Wood is then carried on wooden carts surrounded by the beating of drums and cymbals to a temporary carving shed in the Koili Baikuntha near the temple. Here, the trees are worshipped everyday and Prasad is offered till Debasnana Purnima.
An oblation at the Jagannath temple is carried out before the carving of the idols gets started; the logs are given a bath on this day which is called Debasnana Purnima along with the old idols. The temple is then closed for the devotees. The carpenters (vishwakarma) start making idols for all the deities starting from the idol of lord Jagannath. After the carvings are completed they are circumambulated in the temple. The next day the new and the old images are kept at one place facing each other to initiate the process of transfer of Brahmapadartha embedded in the heart of old idols to the new images. All this is done with utmost secrecy and total dark out (even priests are blindfolded) as it is said that whoever sees this will die. There is black out in the entire town. The old idols are buried at the Koili Baikuntha.
The new images of the four deities are covered with 7 substances “Saptavarana” – sandalwood paste, musk, resin, silk and so forth. The artists then paint the images with indigenous colours.
Netrotsava: (Opening of eyes)
After the painting of the idol is completed, the eyelids of the deities are formally opened in a ritual known as “Netrotsava”. Thereafter, a procession is taken out to let people view the new idols and have the divine darshan called “Naba jaubana darshan”.
The grand Rathyatra takes place the next day of Netrotsava, where the chariot carrying the deities are on display for general public’s view.
Suna Besha (golden attire of Lord Jagannath)
On the third day of Rathyatra, the event of Sun Bhesa is held when the deities reach the singhdwara and decorated with golden ornaments.
On Dwadasi tithi, Adhara niti is performed when the Adharapana bhoga(a sweet drink) is offered to the deities. On the evening of Asadha Sukla Chaturdasi tithi, the deities are taken into the Temple in a traditional procession called Pahandi amidst gathering of thousands of devotees.
The ritual of the Chaturdha Murti is called ‘Niladri Bije’, the return journey to Shree temple. It is the welcome festival of Lord Jagannath to the temple.
This ancient grandiloquent ritual ceremony is remarkably one of the biggest festivals held in the world and attracts millions of people whenever it takes place. It is celebrated with splendour and shine and has been a substantial part of the Odiya culture.