Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Puri, Mar 8:
With only 21 days left, countdown for the Banajaga Yatra, the journey to search for daru (neem tree) for making of idols – considered the opening chapter of the Nabakalebara process of Lord Jagannath, the presiding deity of Odisha has begun.
The Yatra, as per tradition, is scheduled to commence on the tenth day of the bright fortnight of Chaitra, which falls on March 29 this year.
Preparations for the Banajaga Yatra were delayed due to bickering among the Daitapati servitors.
With office bearers of the Daitapati Nijog (body of Daitapati servitors) succeeding in resolving the issue between themselves preparations for the Banajaga Yatra has gathered steam.
The committee constituted by the Nijog, on Saturday initiated the process to give final shape to the steps to be taken for its smooth conduct.
The warring factions among the Daitapatis came under the umbrella of the Nijog especially after the constitution of the 11 member committee for the conduct of the Banajaga Yatra and Nabakalebara Yatra as a whole.
The committee, apart from the Nijog’s president, secretary, four Badagrahis (body protectors of the deities from among the Daitapati servitor community) as its members, has five senior Daitapati servitors in it.
Four sub-committees have been formed to function under this committee and those are- Nabakalebar Banajaga Committee, Nabakalebara Mahotsav Committee, Mahanabasra Niti (ritual) Committee and Finance Committee.
After the end of the bickering, senior office bearers of the Daitapati Nijog have held discussions on the different stages of the Banajaga Yatra apart from its secret rituals.
The Banajaga Yatra exercise begins after a mid-day offering to Jagannath. A 12-foot garland called Agnya Mala is especially prepared for the Lord and his siblings. Post worship, the garland is handed over (Agnya Mala Bije) to the Pati Mahapatra family which leads the procession comprising of a posse of priests consisting of some Daitapatis, Pati Mahapatra Sevak, brahmin priests, Viswakarmas (carpenters), Lenka, Kahalia, Deula Karana, Tadhau Karana and temple police .
The procession halts at the palace of the former king of Puri to fetch gua maharda (a betel nut and Mahaprasad symbolizing the king’s order to proceed on the journey in erstwhile days). After spending the first night at Jagannath Ballav Math, Puri, on the next day around mid night the team will proceed to Kakatpur.
On reaching there, the team after having darshan of Maa Mangala and completion of other rituals, will stay at the Deuli mutt. Then team will begin chanting (jaap) of swapnabati mantra, construction of yagnashala and holding of yagna (sacrificial fire) and Sudarshan Sanket.
The eldest Daitapati sleeps inside the Maa Mangala temple, and in his dream, Maa Mangala, the presiding goddess of Kakatpur is supposed to inform him about the exact location of the neem trees.
After being blessed by Maa Mangala, the Badagrahis will divide themselves into separate parties and move out in different directions looking for the darus.
Nabakalebar, which literally means a new body, involves the replacement of the idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan with new ones. It happens when there are two months of Ashadha in the Hindu calendar, like this year.
This happens once in every 12-19 years – the last Nabakalebar was held in 1996. In the ceremony, not only are the idols replaced but Brahman “supreme power” too is transferred from the old to the new through secret rituals.
Darus are no ordinary neem trees. Since Jagannath is dark, the tree from which his idol is to be carved also has to be dark.
However, as Jagannath’s siblings are fair, the wood for their idols should be light in colour. The Jagannath tree should have four principal branches, symbolising the four arms of Narayana.
There must be a water body near the tree as well as a cremation ground and an anthill. At the root of the tree there has to be a snake pit. No bird must have made nests in the tree; and no branch should be broken or cut. The tree has to be located near a three-way fork on the road or should be surrounded by three mountains.
No creepers must have grown on the tree and there have to be Varuna, Sahada and Bilva trees (these trees are not very common) close by. Finally, there has to be a Shiva temple in the vicinity.
Once the trees are identified, at an auspicious moment, accompanied by sacred chants, they are felled after symbolic chopping by axes made of gold.
The logs are then brought to the Koili Baikuntha (graveyard of the Lords) inside the Jagannath temple in sagadis (carts) by the Daitapatis for carving. Before the carting away of the logs to Puri, the leaves, branches etc. of these trees are buried in the earth.
The Banajaga Yatra chapter of the Nabakalebara process ends with the reaching of the darus at Koili Baikuntha.
With the end of the Banajaga Yatra chapter begins the second chapter of the Nabakalebara Mahotsav – carving of idols of the deities, bisarjan (burial of old idols after Brahman parivartan ) etc. inside the temple premises.
The transformation ceremony takes place three days before the celebrated Rath Yatra, when the ‘Brahman’ or the life force (also referred to as pinda) is transferred from the old idols of the deities to the newly carved idols.
The transformation is guided by a set of rules: the designated Daitapatis are blindfolded; a piece of cloth binds their hands before the transfer begins and they are not allowed to shave after the first day of the search procession.
At midnight, the old idols of the deities are carried by the Daitapatis on their shoulders and buried before dawn, a ritual that nobody can witness, or else he is destined to die. For this reason, the state government carries out a full power blackout on this night in the entire town of Puri.
The following morning, the new deities are seated on the altar titled ‘Ratna Singhashana’.
The date for this event is on July 16. Two days later, it will culminate in the great chariot ride of the deities. Thereafter, it will be business as usual for the temple after a gap of 58 days.