Naba Kalebar Yatra of Sri Jagannatha


BY: SUN STAFF - 29.6 2020

A three-part study of the ancient Naba Kalebar (Navakalevar) Yatra rites of Lord Jagannatha at Puri Dham.

The Naba Kalebar Yatra of Lord Jagannath occurs only every twelve years. Sometimes as many as 500,000 come from all parts of lndia and the world to see this great festival. The budget exceeds $500,000, ten times that of the annual Chariot Festival, Rath-Yatra. In this special year, not only are new chariots for the three deities of Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra made, but so also are the Deities themselves.

Many rituals are performed In connection with this transformation from the old Deities to the new. The actual rites to be followed can be traced back to ancient Sanskrit manuscripts written on palm leaves. These are kept in the temple and the three head priests have the sole responsibility of reading and interpreting them. They are:

Niladri-Mahodaya - Niladri means "Blue Mountain", and Mahodaya means "Great Rising". It deals with the origin of the temple.

Rudra-Jamala - Rudra refers to Lord Shiva and jamala is a book of rituals. It tells of the rituals connected with the deity Balabhadra.

Tantra-Jamala - Tantra refers to esoteric forms of worship, mystic practices having spiritual power. In it are contained many diagrams that draw these powers down through their visual forms. Every day in the temple such diagrams are drawn in front of the deities where the offering of food is placed. It also contains instructions on the worship of Subhadra.

Brahma-Jamala - This deals with the rituals to be followed in the worship of Lord Jagannath.

The exact date of these palm leaf manuscripts is undetermined. It is known that ancient sages wrote them after attaining deep meditative states, and did not consider themselves the authors. The following rituals of transformation have been drawn from these sources and are given in the actual sequence that they are performed in the temple. Up to the present time they have been kept as well-guarded secrets inside the temple community itself. It is not usually permissible to discuss these sacred rites with outsiders.

As Jagannath must be made of wood, at the time of Naba Kalebar Yatra the priests must first locate an appropriate tree. No ordinary tree can be used. Certain extraordinary requirements must be met.

In the palm leaf manuscript Niladri-Mahodaya, it is stated that the holy tree will be found in a particular village every 12 years. The name of this village is actually given for every 12 year cycle. Suppose the year is 1996. The name of the village where the wood will be found has been mentioned thousands of years before. But for verification, it must also be confirmed in a dream revealed to the head priest while on the search.

Only the Neem tree is suitable for carving the deities. Its Sanskrit name is daru. One of the main slokas to Lord Jagannath ends with this prayer:

Brahma-daru namami

The search party which will go to find the holy tree out of which the new Jagannath will be carved must consist of 1 member of the Pati Mahapatra family, 20 Dayitapatis,1 Lenka, 9 Maharanas, 16 Brahmanas, 3 Deulakaranas, 30 police officers, and 2 inspectors of police.

This function will start after the big midday meal is offered to the deities.

The blessings of Lord Jagannath must first be given. On this day a twelve foot garland, called Dayana-Mala, is offered to each of the three deities. The head priest of the temple will give the Dayana-Mala of Lord Jagannath to the oldest member of the Pati Mahapatra family. He will lead the procession on foot, carrying this huge mala in his arms or on his head. On finding the sacred tree, the garland is placed on top of a coconut offering in front of the holy lire.

Descendants of the Bitarachha Mahapatra family, Dayitapaties, and the Pati Mahapatra will bind a piece of Jagannath's garments on their heads as a turban, indicating that Lord Jagannath Himself is going with them.

The Mekap family of the temple will touch Lord Jagannath's sandals to the foreheads of all members of the search party.

Another priest in the temple of the Pattajotchi Mahapatra family will give cloth used by Jagannath 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. They are descendents of the first wood carver who sculpted the original Jagannath for King Indradyumna in ancient times. It is said this man was a divine being sent for this one task only. He agreed to carve the deities on the condition, that he would not be disturbed until he was finished. The king became impatient and before two weeks were over, he opened the door. The sculptor immediately vanished, leaving the deities half-made, and so it is that this half-made form is worshipped today. The Lenka and Maharanas also wear cloth from Jagannath as a turban on their heads.

Jagannatha Puri Dham

The procession begins from the altar in front of the deities. Then it proceeds to the palace of the king half-way down the Grand Road of Puri to receive the king's permission to go.

The procession continues to the gardens of the temple, known as Jagannath- Ballabha, a ten minute walk down Grand Road from the King's palace. They stay here for two days to do meditation and prayer. All their needs during their stay are provided for by the head of this monastery.

After two days, the search party starts out for Kakatpur, a village about 50 miles from Puri on the road to Konark via the town of Pipli. They may rest in a monastery known as Deuli Matha if they are tired. It is some 30 miles from Puri. The group must go first to Kakatpur, because the only temple to Mother Vimala outside the temple itself is located there. She is Vimala, but her name is Mangala, meaning "Auspicious One". 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.

When the search party locates the places, they may find many trees, but the sacred symbols will be found on only one. The search may take from fifteen days to one month. During this time, they eat the prasada of goddess Mangala, and sometimes provision is made for mahaprasad to be brought from Puri. They go back to the Vimala temple at night to sleep.

Source: Saumya Ranjan Swain