The term Nabakalevara is derived from the Sanskrit words Naba or new and Kalevara or body, literally meaning New Body. It is an ancient ritual associated with most of the Jagannath Temple when the Deities of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan are replaced by a new Deities.
Timing of the ceremony
This ceremony usually occurs every twelve to nineteen years. The Deities are made from a special type of Neem wood known as Daru Bramha. Last ceremony was done in the year 1996. Next ceremony will be held on 2015.
Locating the Sacred trees
No ordinary Neem tree can be used to make the deities. Certain well defined criteria must be satisfied by the tree before it is labelled a Daru Bramha fit for deities making. 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.
After the sacred trees are located they are cut down after appropriate ritual observance. The logs are then transported by small carts pulled by devotees all the way till the temple at Puri. Starting at an auspicious hour with the fullest of secrecy the logs are carved into deities within the Temple premises. On the midnight of Adhika Ashadha Krishna Chaturdashi the Tattva Padartha is transferred from the old deity to the new deities. Bramha or tattva padartha is a super natural thing. After this the new deities are worshiped and the old deities buried in the sand, inside temple premises. The exact procedure of the transformation of images have been mentioned in the Sanskrit manuscripts written on palm leaves which are kept in the temple. Only the three head priests of the temple have the sole responsibility of reading and interpreting them.
So the neem tree from which his deities is to be carved out should be dark; whereas the trees which would be used for the deities of his brother and sister are lighter in color; as his siblings are fair! The Neem tree for Lord Jagannath must have four principal branches – symbolizing four arms of Narayana. There must be a water near the tree – like a river or a large pond and a cremation ground nearby. An ant-hill should be close to the tree and at the roots of the tree 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 would be surrounded by three mountains. No creepers must have grown on the tree and there have to be Varuna, Sahada and Vilva trees (these three trees are not very common) close by. There have 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 (wheel)!
Rituals associated with the Nava Kalevara
The countdown to the Naba Kalebara of Lord Jagannath starts with the formation of the search party that would go out to locate the “Holy Tree”.The 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 is 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, 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 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 must have 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.
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 Dayitapati family. 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'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. This ceremony takes place three days before the great Chariot Festival. 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 Daitapatis must adhere to. These are:
The three Dayitapatis must be blindfolded. They must bind a piece of Lord Jagannath's 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 Naba Kalebar 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 Daitapati 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 Jagannaths are laid to rest in the same grave, one on top of the other. It is said 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 arc 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. The Nava Kalevar draws millions of people from across the world to Puri. Nava Kalevar is one of the biggest festivals in the country and draws the most number of people.