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"Saraswati Puja (Basant Panchami)" to be celebrated by Lucknow Oriya Samaj on 22nd January, 2018

 
Untitled Document

Nabakalebar : When God acquires a new body

“Just as one gives up worn out clothes and puts on new ones, even so does the embodied self give up decrepit bodies and enter new ones,” says the Geeta. The gods of the Hindu pantheon are but a reflection of human existence encompassing all its facets.  So if we human beings have to ultimately give up our bodies just like worn-out clothes, can the gods be far behind? In this perspective the holy deities of the grand temple at Puri are more close to fate that the embodied soul on this earth has to undergo. They also have to periodically discard their bodies and acquire new ones.

The word 'Nabakalebar' denotes 'the new body' in Oriya language and the four deities of the grand temple (Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan) undergo exactly the same on the great occasion. The wooden idols of the deities are buried and new ones are carved out by following the prescribed rites as mentioned in the centuries old scriptures found in the palm-leaf manuscripts of the temple.

This change-over of bodies takes place once every 8 to 18 years depending on the almanac positions as per the Hindu calendar. It is usually held in a year when the month of Asadha is followed by another Asadha. Accordingly the previous 'Nabakalebars' took place in the years 1969, 1978, 1969 and 1996; and the forthcoming one will be held in the year 2015.

All set for 2015

Although the forthcoming Nabakalebar will be held 4 years hence, the preparations for the same are afoot now itself. It shows the magnificence of the celebration that is going to be held in the grand temple of Puri on that occasion. On the 5th February in 2011 the Chief Minister of Orissa convened a high level meeting to discuss the modalities for the Nabakalebar celebrations of 2015.

The famous Rathyatra that is held in Puri is witnessed by a massive number of 5 lakh devotees every year. This number is expected to swell by about ten times during the Nabakalebar of 2015 which is immediately to be followed by Rathyatra.  As a part of the preparations, the process of beefing up security arrangements in and around the 12th century temple have already commenced.   

The chief administrator of the temple says that in view of anticipated participation by an unprecedentedly huge number of devotees that year, the state government has started planning for the festival four years ahead.

Identifying the holy tree

The most arduous part of the rite is to identify the appropriate trees out of which the idols of the deities are to be carved out. The rituals prescribed in four ancient Sanskrit manuscripts named, Niladri Mahodaya, Rudra Jamala, Tantra Jamala and Brahma Jamala are followed in the identification process. Only Neem tree is suitable to be used for the purpose.

The log of the Neem tree out which the idol of Lord Jagannath (who is dark in complexion) is to be carved out should be dark in colour, while the remaining trees which are to be used for the other deities (who are fair in complexion) should be of normal whitish colour.

The tree to be used for the idol of Lord Jagannath should fulfil many conditions. It should have four principal branches symbolizing the four arms of Vishnu. There should be no nest of birds in that tree. Any water body such as a river or a pond should exist nearby. There should also be a cremation ground in the vicinity. Also there has to be a snake pit and ant hill near the root of the tree. No creeper should have mounted on it. There should be a natural impression of sankha (conch shell) and chakra (wheel) on the trunk of the tree. Identifying such a tree demands a high degree of perseverance and luck. However the interesting part of it is that the location of such a tree is indicated to the head of the search team by Goddess Mangala in a dream.

The Search Team

The search team is formed as per directions mentioned in the scriptures. It consists of (a) A senior member of the Pati Mahapatra family, (b) 20 daitapatis (descendants of the tribals who took care of Lord Jagannath in the jungles of Koraput long before he came to the grand temple of Puri) (c) 1 Lenka (d) 9 maharanas (carpenters) (e) 16 Brahmanas(priests) (f) 3 deula karanas (g) 32 policemen.

Before commencement of the journey in search of the sacred tree, the blessing of Lord Jagannath is sought. A 12-feet long garland called Dhandamala is offered to the deity and then it carried along by the leader of the team (pati mahapatra) throughout the journey as a mark of the Lord's command to search the tree. The holy robes of the Lord are also worn as turban by all the principal members of the team. The procession commences after a member of the Mekap family (who does the make-up for the deities) puts the mark of pasted sandalwood on the forehead of each in the search team.

The procession first halts at the palace of the king of Puri to seek his permission to commence the journey. Then all proceed toward the Jagannath Ballabh garden where they halt for two days for making prayers and meditations seeking the success of their mission. Then they proceed on their mission and undertake the journey on foot.

Mysterious Dream

Over the long history of Nabakalebar it has still remained a mystery how the location or possible direction toward which the team should proceed to find the auspicious tree is revealed to the oldest accompanying Daitapati in a dream when the group makes a stopover at Kakatpur, the abode of Goddess Mangala, located 50 miles away from Puri.

After reaching the place the members of the team observe fast and stay there for some days while during the nights the oldest Ditapati sleeps inside temple. Maa Mangala appears in his dreams and reveals the directions in which the holy neem trees could be found for the deities.

Based on the revelations made in the dream the search team decide in which direction to move and carry their journey on which may last for about 15 days to a month.

The tree is found

After the tree with the auspicious marks conforming to the scriptures is located, a yagna is held in front of it. Steps are taken to fell the tree by following the prescribed rituals. All the members of the team live near the tree itself by constructing make-shift huts until the task of felling of the trees is completed.

On the day following the yagna the felling takes place. First of all Pati Mahapatra touches the trunk of the tree with a golden axe. Then the senior most daitapati touches it with a silver axe. Lastly the head carpenter touches it with an iron axe and then the cutting of the tree begins. Until the entire tree is felled there is continuous chanting of 108 names of Patal Nrusingha by the Brahmanas.

The huge trunks are then carried to Puri in a cart dragged by all the Daitapatis. After reaching Puri the trunks are kept in a garden named Koili Baikuntha inside the temple complex. Te word 'Koili Baikuntha' means 'burial ground' and it is here that the old bodies of the deities would be buried after the new ones are carved out.

Carving of the idols

The task of carving of the idols of the deities is entrusted to three oldest sculptors of the temple. While the work is in progress no one other than the sculptors is allowed to see it. The entire area of Koili Baikntha is barricaded and entry of outsiders is strictly prohobited during the period of about 21 days during which the sculptors complete the work. The carvers are also not allowed to come out of the place and they stay there itself during the entire period.

The idols that are carved out conform to the standards that have been followed in the temple over the centuries. The idols are carved in a manner such that the height of Lord jgannath is 5' 7” while his outstretched arms measure 12 feet. The height of Lord Balabhadra is 5' 5' while that of Goddess Subhadra is 5'.

The Brahma Pinda

What is Brahma Pinda still remains an unresolved mystery. There are debatable views. When the wooden idols of the deities are changed once in a while over the years, a holy mass representing the divine spirit lying at the navel of the old idols is taken out and shifted into the new idols. This is the same mysterious holy mass that has remained with the idols since time immemorial.

After the newly carved idols are carried into the sanctum sanctorum the transformation rite takes place in the presence of the Daitapatis only. They are the authorized ones to transfer 'Brahma' from the old idols to the new. Even the head priest is not allowed to remain present on that occasion. This event takes place three days before the Rath Yatra.

The daitapati who carries 'Brahma Pinda' from one idol to the other is also blindfolded so that even he cannot see what he is carrying. The transfer of the life force takes place only after midnight.

This is how a Daitapati explains how he felt during transfer of the life force on the occasion the earlier Nabakalebar: “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 Brahma is that is so powerfully felt, nobody is able to say.”

The sacred burial

On the day the old idols are buried in the Koli Baikuntha garden of the temple, a pall of gloom shrouds the entire city of Puri. It is said that no one else than the Daitapatis should see the burial rites and if anyone other than them happens to see this then he is fated to die soon. So strong vigil is maintained and the district administration imposes complete black-out in the city in the night when the event takes place.

The day following the burial is observed by the citizens of Puri as a day of mourning. There are no movements in the streets. All in the city appear melancholic. Their beloved and highly revered deities have gone while they are yet to see them in the new form.

The grand darshan

After the burial of the old deities the new deities are immediately seated in the Ratna Singhasan. The next day the rite of coronation of the Lord and his siblings takes place by following the directions mentioned in ancient scriptures of the temple.

On the third day of the coronation the grand Rath Yatra takes place and millions of devotees are able to see the Lord in the new form. It is a rare occasion and being one among the first ones to be able to see the deities in their newly acquired body while they are seated on the huge chariots is considered very auspicious.

The temple administration is all set to hold the Nabakalebar festival of 2015 in a grand manner. The servitors of the temple are getting prepared to carry out their duties in the best possible manner on the occasion while innumerable devotees around the world are eagerly looking forward to be the blessed ones to be able to witness the grand celebration.

- Nihar Ranjan Satpathy
Andhra Bank,
Vidhan Sabha Marg, Lucknow