Exotic Renewal Rituals for the Lords of Puri Dham: The Nabakalebara.
Nabakalebar is an ancient ritual associated with Shri Jagannath Temple, Puri, Odisha, when the Idols of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan 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 Idols are made from a special type of Neem wood known as Daru Brahma.
Preparations for the ceremony start in the month of Chaitra Maas.
Last Nabakalebar was done in the year 1996. Next ceremony will be held this year 2015. More than 6 million devotees are expected to visit the temple during the Nabakalebar of Shri Mahaprabhu.
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.
￼Photos of Nabakalebar 1996
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
30 police officers &
2 inspectors of police
The function begins after the big midday offering to Lord Jagannath. The blessings of the Lord are sought. A twelve-foot garland called Dhanva Mala made specially 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, Dayitapatis, 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 (mother) Mangala. After reaching the village, they take rest for several days and 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 Dayitapatis 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 begins 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. Other two teams consisting of three carvers each simultaneously carve the images of Lord Balabhadra and Devi. 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 this 21 days period. This continuous singing of devotional songs is called “Akhand Bhajan”. While devadasis and temple musicians do this, Brahmin priests chant shlokas from the Vedas continuously.
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.
Only descendants of the Dayitapati family carry the three new deities inside. Once they are safely inside, only the three eldest Dayitapati members can stay. No puja is done at this time and no food is offered. Of the four Jagannath 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 Dayitapatis as they are considered to be the descendants of the Dayitapati 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)
The transformation is complete once the “Brahman” or the life force (also referred to as pinda) is transferred from the old deities to the new.
There are different rules attached to this act that the Dayitapatis must adhere to. These are:
- The three Dayitapatis must be blindfolded.
– They must bind a piece of Lord Jagannath cloth around their hands before the transfer can begin.
– They should not have shaved since the first day of the search party procession.
This is considered to be the disappearance ceremony of Jagannath also. Traditionally, after a member of the family passes away, the son does not shave for ten days, out of respect for the deceased. The house is also whitewashed after the death of any family member. And since Lord Jagannath is considered to be the head of their respective households, they are required to have their houses whitewashed after this ceremony.
The children and all Dayitapati family members wear new clothes on this day of the “transfer”. This rite is considered to be the most auspicious ritual of all in Jagannath Temple. It is this ceremony itself that is the actual Nabakalebar Yatra, or transformation ceremony of Lord Jagannath. The three Dayitapati members fast and meditate the whole day inside the temple. Only after midnight does the transfer of the “Life Force” occur, and that too in total silence.
What’s interesting here is that no Dayitapati till date has been able to experience what actually is this “Brahman”.
When asked of their experience at this time, the Dayitapatis say, “It is very difficult to express what Brahman is. It cannot be seen or touched. Our eyes are blindfolded and our hands are covered with cloth when we carry it. Yet a powerful feeling is very much present, like a rabbit jumping in our hands. This is our experience. Beyond this, exactly what this Brahman is that is so powerfully felt, nobody is able to say”.
During the midnight, the old deities are carried on the shoulders of the Dayitapatis and buried in the Koili Vaikuntha before dawn.
There are three separate graves for the three deities, but all the previous Jagannath’s are laid to rest in the same grave, one on top of the other. It is believed that if anybody from outside this select group happens to see any of this ceremony, be it from a roof top or otherwise, they will surely die.
The Government of Odisha therefore orders a full blackout of light on this one night in the whole town of Puri.
On the morning of the second day the new deities are seated on the altar, the “Ratna-Singhasana”. On this second day, the daily routine of the temple finally begins again, after a lapse of nearly 58 days. Sweet-smelling flower garlands and new garments are given to the new deities, food is offered, and puja is done. Devotees can again come inside for darshan. And on the third day the new deities emerge from the temple for the biggest Chariot Festival.