It’s that time of the year when Puri, the abode of Lord Jagannath, buzzes with activity. Pilgrims from across the world throng to the eastern part of the country to be apart of the world famous RATH YATRA. However, there is something different about this year’s Rath Yatra (Car Festival). Devotees of Lord Jagannath will have the unique opportunity to watch new deities, courtesy NABA KALEBARA (the reincarnation) of the Lord, which usually takes place three days before the Rath Yatra, starting on July 18.
An ancient ritual that has been in practice since ages, NABA KALEBARA means new body. According to tradition, the wooden statues of the deities —- Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra and Devi Subhadra —- are replaced by new idols and thir souls transferred. It is not an annual ritual. It takes place once in 12-18 years depending on the Hindu almanac.
The preparations for this grandiose ceremony start with the search of neem trees, out of which the idols of the deities are carved out. These are not ordinary neem trees. The DARUS(neem tree) of three deities have different specifications and features. While the log of the neem tree, to be used for Lord Jagannath, has to be dark in colour (since he has a dark complexion), the other two logs for Lord Balabhadra and Devi Shubadra ( who have fair complexion) should be of a wheatish hue. There are other stipulations too. The tree o be used for the idol of Lord Jagannath should have four principal branches symbolising the four arms of Lord Vishnu ; there should be no nest of birds in that tree ; a water body such as a river or pond should exist nearby and much more. Identifying these trees is an arduous task. It is believed that the trees are located only after divine intervention by Goddess Mangala, who appears in the Head Priest’s dream and reveals the location.
Once the trees are located, the entire trunks along with the branches are placed in a wooden cart, dragged by the priests of the Temple premises and kept in a secret place. The carvings of the deities which are spread over 21 days are done by the oldest sculptors of the Temple. The work is done with utmost confidentiality. No one, not even the Head Priest of the Temple, is allowed to visit the spot where the sculptors are at work.
Following the completion of these idols, the deities are carried inside the inner sanctum of the Temple and placed in front of the old idols. This is again a very private affair.. The worshippers who conduct this ritual are blindfolded, their palms covered with cloth, so that they even don’t know what they are carrying. This ritual, which is conducted after midnight, usually takes place three days before the Rath Yatra. The whole process of transformation culminates with the burial of the old deities. It is believed that if anyone tries to watch any part of this ceremony, he/she will surely die. It is only after the new deities are seated in the RATNA SINGHASAN that the gates of the Temple are thrown open to the public for the grand darshan.
The Odisha Government is making elaborate arrangements to make the 1st NABA KALEBARA of the millennium a grand success. Nearly 2.5 million devotees are expected to throng Puri to witness the famous festival, and be a part of this unique festivity.