Nabakalebara: An Age Old Tradition
It is an ancient ritual associated with Jagannath Temple, Puri, Odisha, India (60kms from the city of Bhubaneswar) when the Idols of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarsana are replaced by a new set of Idols.
A year which has two months (Adhika masa) of Ashadha as per the Hindu Calendar is auspicious for conducting the ceremony. This usually occurs every twelve to nineteen years. The Deities are made from a special type of Neem wood known as Daru Brahma. Preparations for the ceremony start in the month of Chaitra. Last ceremony was done in the year 1996. Next ceremony will be held on 2015. More than 5 million devotees are expected to visit the temple during the Nabakalebar of 2015.
No ordinary Neem tree can be used to make the deities . Certain well defined criteria must be satisfied by the tree before it is labeled a Daru Brahma fit for deities making. Sankha (conch), Chakra (disc), Gada (mace/club), Padma (lotus) are the required marks on the tree to be designated Daru Brahma.
Locating the four holy trees requires divine intervention. As per long standing tradition the Priests of the Jagannath Temple (Puri) worship Maa Mangala at the Kakatpur Mangala Temple. It is said the Goddess appears to them in their dreams revealing the location of the holy trees. The countdown to the Nabakalebar of Lord Jagannath starts with the formation of the search party that would go out to locate the “Holy Tree”. Search party consists of 1 member of the Pati Mahapatra family 20 Dayitapatis 1 Lenka 9 Maharanas 16 Brahmans 3 Deulakaranas 30 police officers & 2 inspectors of police
The function begins after the Big Midday Offering to Lord Jagannath. The blessings of the Lord is sought. A twelve foot garland called Dhanva Mala made especially for this day is offered to the lord and His siblings. After worshipping the Lord, the garland is given to the Pati Mahapatra family, who is meant to lead the procession.
He would from then on carry the huge garland until the sacred tree is located. Upon spotting the tree the Garland is placed on top of a coconut and offered to the Tree. Apart from the garland, the robes of Lord are given to the descendants of Bitarachha Mahapatra family, Dayitapaties, and the Pati Mahapatra who would tie it as a turban on their head while going on the procession. Both the garland and the clothes are significant in the sense that it is indicative of the Lord himself traveling with the team. Patta clothes used by the Lord are also given to the Lenka family representative and the nine Maharanas who accompany the group. They are the actual carpenters who build the new chariots every year and who will make the new Jagannath deities as well. Once the Mekap family members touch the forehead of each members of the procession with the Lord’s sandal, the procession officially takes off.
Their first halt would be the palace of the King of Puri (Gajapati) where they are required to seek his permission to continue on the holy mission. After staying here for two days and doing meditations and prayers, the team starts out for Kakatpur, a village 50 miles of Puri to the famous temple of Maa Mangala. After reaching the village, they take rest for several days while the oldest. Dayitapati sleeps inside the temple. He has a dream during this stay in which goddess Mangala tells him the exact location where the trees can be found.
The tree for each of the four deities will be in a different place. This may take as long as 15 days to one month. During this entire period the group would eat the prasada of goddess Mangala. But sometimes provision is made for MAHAPRASAD to be brought from Puri. King Cobra (Naga) is found at the foot of the daru (designated tree) as per the selection criteria.
Once the tree is located that fulfills all the required conditions, a yagna is performed in front of it. Now the team moves to a temporary thatched hut nearby and stays in it till the trees are felled. The cutting of the tree would commence at an auspicious time and with prescribed rituals. The Pati Mahapatra first touches the tree with a golden axe followed by the Dayitapati who touches it with a silver axe. Lastly, the head wood carver of the Maharana family would touch it with an iron axe. During the tree cutting, the 108 names of God are chanted incessantly. Once the tree is felled, the entire trunks along with its branches are placed in a wooden cart and dragged by the Daitapatis and the others in the group to the Temple. The logs are kept inside the temple in a place known as Koili Vaikuntha. Koili means “burial ground” and Vaikuntha means “Heaven”. It is the place where the old deities will be buried and the new ones made.
The carving of the images begin with three oldest 7 of the main wood carvers setting on to work on the image of Lord Jagannath. The three oldest wood carvers will be the main sculptors for the deity of Lord Jagannath. The images of Lord Balabhadra and Devi are simultaneously carved by other two teams consisting of three carvers each. More than 50 carpenters work as assistant to the main carvers. The work is done with utmost confidentiality and not even the head priest of the temple is allowed to visit the place of work. There is a special enclosure inside the temple premises where the carving of the Lord is done. The enclosure is open on the top but is attached with very strong doors. The wood carvers are not supposed to consume anything (eat, drink or smoke) once inside the enclosure. The carvings are completed in 21 days and during these 21 days the carvers are not supposed to leave the temple premises. They would sleep in the temple courtyard in the night and have their dinner in the form of Lords Mahaprasad.
Devotional songs are sung outside the Koili Baikuntha day and night during throughout this 21 days period. This continuous singing of devotional songs is called “Akhand Bhajan”. While this is done by devadasis and temple musicians, shlokas from the Vedas are chanted continuously by Brahmin priests. When the new deities, are made, they are carried inside the inner sanctum of the temple and placed in front of the old deities, facing them. This is again an act that is done with utmost confidentiality as nobody is allowed inside for a Darshan of the Lord, not even the temple priests. The three new deities are carried inside only by descendants of the Daitapati family. Once they are safely inside, only the three eldest Daitapati members can stay. No puja is done at this time and no food is offered. Of the four Jagannath’s height is 5′ 7″, and His outstretched arms measure 12 ft. across. He weighs so much that when they carry Him, 5 persons must be on each arm, 20 on His backside, and more than 50 in front pulling. Balabhadra is a bit lighter. His height is 5′ 5″ and His arms are also 12 ft. across. Subhadra is less than 5′, and light. Sudarsana is in a long log-shaped form only. However, this log is 5′ 10″ in length.
The rights of the Great Transformation are accorded only to the Daitapatis as they are considered to be the descendants of the Daitapati who was the first worshipper of the Lord Jagannath (Juggernaut word is derived from this word). This ceremony takes place three days before the great Chariot Festival called Rath Yatra (Chariot pulled by humans to this day).
About the Author
Nisruta believes that she is a typical small town girl, born and brought up in Bhubaneswar popularly known as the City of Temples. Travelling is an inseparable part of her soul. She is foodie, shopaholic and a travel freak. She loves writing about each and every episode of her life. She believes that wherever you go, go with all your heart because to travel is to take a journey into yourself. She says that the world is a book, those who do not travel read only a page of it.