Nabakalebara Festival of Odisha

Nabakalebara Festival of Odisha

Question - What significance does ritual of Nabakalebara have in the cult of Lord Jagannatha?

Meaning: Naba means 'new' and Kalebara is 'body'. The ancient ritual of changing the bodies (idols) of the deities Jagannatha, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshana in the great Jagannatha temple of Puri is called Nabakalebara.

Function: The deities are wooden. So they are prone to decay. Through this ritual they relinquish their old bodies and assume new ones. Symbolically, it signifies the Hindu belief that when the body gets old, the soul (Brahma) releases it and takes up a new one.

Time: A 65 days' long ritual, it takes place in the year which has the Adhika masa (intercalary month), the extra month i.e. two lunar months of Ashadha. The gap between two such years ranges from 12 to 19 years.

Preparation: It is preceded by the search for four suitable trees by the priests of the great Jagannatha temple. According to the ritual they first go to the temple of goddess Mangala in Kakatpur who reveals the location of these trees to the priests. Dark-colored, straight-trunked trees with the symbols of shankha (conch), chakra (wheel), gada (mace) and padma (lotus) are chosen for this purpose. There are many other requisites that need to be kept in view before carving idols of the deities from the trees.

The Festival: After the new idols are sculpted by the Maharanas (sculptors) they are called Daru Brahma meaning the divine in the form of wood or the wooden deities. These trees are then bathed along with the old idols on Snaana Poornima. The oldest servitor of the temple shifts the Brahmapadaartha, the divine substance, from the old body to the new one. But he is supposed to do it blindfolded and others are also not allowed to see the process as it is believed that a person witnessing it dies. A blackout is ordered for the town of Puri that night to prevent any accidental witnessing.

Administrative Measures: This festival attracts devotees in crores and, hence, the arrangements are also elaborate. A lot of money is spent. This year the festival starts on the 18th of July. The gap this time is 19 years as the last one had taken place in 1996. The Chief Minister is trying to get all the projects associated with this region completed before Nabakalebara starts. He also seeks the help of the Prime Minister for the improvement of the railway infrastructure.
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