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 originof the temple.
Rudra-Jamala – Rudra refers to Lord Siva 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.
Brdhma-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 :
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 Lcnka, 9 Maharanas, 16 Brahmanas, 3 Dculkaranas, 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 Dhanva-Mala, is offered to each of the three deities. The head priest of the temple will give the Dhanva-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 Pattajoscc 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 In- dradyumna 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 finished. The king became impatient and before two weeks were over, he opened the door. The sculptor imme diately 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.
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 arc 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 parly 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.
When the tree is found, a great holy fire sacrifice is performed there to invite all the gods and goddesses to come and give their blessings at this auspicious time.
Nearby they must construct a small thatched hut in which they will now reside.
After the day of the fire sacrifice the actual cutting of the tree can begin. The Pati Mahapatra will touch the tree to be used for Lord Jagannath with a golden axe. Then the Dayitapati will touch it with a silver axe. Lastly, the head wood carver of the Maharana family will touch it with an iron axe. During the tree cutting, the 108 names of God will be chanted. These will be different names of Patala Nrusingha, who was worshipped before the appearance of Jagarmath. His name is recited at all auspicious moments because He saves devotees from all problems; prayer to Him ensures that all will end well.
The whole uncut truck of the tree is then brought to the temple. It is placed on a wooden cart made at Jagannath Temple for this occasion and dragged back to the temple by the Dayitapatis with the help of the other members of the group.
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. It. is located near the Elephant. Gate on the north side of the temple.
The three oldest wood carvers will be the main sculptors for the deity of Lord Jagannath. Three others will do Subhadra: and three others, Balabhadra. More than 50 others will assist, and also do Sudarshan.
Nobody is allowed to go to this place during these 21 days or so when the new deities are being made, not even the head priest of the temple. There is a very strong door and thick outer walls. The carpenters close the door from inside and work all day, although it is open to the sun overhead. The wood carvers are not allowed to eat. or drink water inside this holy place, so they go to the temple courtyard to cat and sleep at night During these 21 days they do not leave the temple.
Devotional songs will be sung outside the main door of the Koili Vaikuntha day and night throughout, this period. Such constant singing of devotional songs is called akhanda-bhajana. While this is done by devadasis and temple musicians, slokas from the Vcdas are chanted continuously by brahmana priests.
When the new deities, arc made, they will be carried inside the inner sanctum of the temple and placed in front of the old deities, facing them. At this time nobody can go inside for darshan, 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, 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 then 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 then 5′, and light. Sudarsana is in a long log-shaped form only. However, this log is 5′ 10″ in length.
Only the three oldest members of the Dayitapati family are present inside the temple on the most holy day of the Great Transformation Rite. Lord Jagannalh was worshipped by them first, so only they can transfer Brahman from the old deities to the new. Not even the usual head priest who attends to Lord Jagannath can be present.
This ceremony takes place three days before the great Chariot Festival.
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 dis appearance 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. So all Dayitapati families whitewash their houses at this time, as Lord Jagannath is considered the head of their household.
* The children and all Dayitapati family members wear new clothes on this day of the “transfer”. This rite is con sidered 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 Cermony of Lord Jagan nath. 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 In total silence. When asked of their experience at this time, the Dayitapatis say, “It is very difficult to express what Brahman is. It can’t be seen or touched. Our eyes arc 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”.
The old deities arc carried on the shoulders of the Dayitapatis and buried in the Koili Vaikuntha before dawn. It is felt Brahman should not be burned in the usual cremation cermony. The old deities were the abode of Brahman for at least 12 years, even though Brahman is not present there now. So they arc simply buried, and not burned. There are three separate graves for the three deities, but all the previous Jagannaths arc laid to rest in the same grave, one on top of the ther. At other times of the year devotees may go inside the Koili Vaikuntha, but the actual spots of the graves are unmarked.
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. For this reason, the government of Orissa orders a full blackout of light for this one night in the whole town of Puri.
On the morning of the second day, the town of Puri will seem lifeless, as if in mourning. The beloved old forms of Lord Jagannath, Balabhadra, and Subhadra are now gone, and people have yet to see the new ones.
The new deities are immediately seated on the altar, known as 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.
On the third day, the new deities emerge from the temple for the biggest Chariot Festival of all. The annual Chariot Festival may draw 50,000 people, but on this most sacred occasion, more then 500,000 people will be present. Naba Kalebar Yatra is so holy, it draws more people to it every 12 years than any other festival of India, except the grand Kumbha Mela, which draws slightly more and is held every 12 years in Prayag, Allahabad.
The last Naba Kalebar Yatras occurred in the year 1969 and 1978 In 1969 the wood for Sudarsana was collected from Baharana village near Nimapara, about 60 miles southeast of Puri. The wood for Balabhadra was collected from Bhakara Sahi, a street in the village of Banamalipur, which is 70 miles south of Puri. Subhadra’s holy wood came from Govindapur village, which is 80 miles south of Puri in the same district, as Banamalipur, but some 20 miles further. Lord Jagannath’s holy wood was collected from Tapanga village, near Khurda Road, which is 90 miles west of Puri. All the four sacred logs of wood had the four sacred signs imprinted on their bark. The next Naba Kalebar Yatra will be held probably in the year 1996. It. will be announced to the devotees at the time of Car Festival one year before. The actual location where the wood for the deifies will be found will again be revealed in a dream, as it has happened for centuries.