Odisha Sun Times Bureau
Puri, Mar 17:
A joint team of the Shree Jagannath Temple Administration (SJTA) and the Daitapati Nijog today travelled through the route that would be undertaken by the Banajaga Yatra team on its barefoot journey to Maa Mangala shrine at Kakatpur via Konark in Odisha to take stock of the preparedness and development of infrastructure for the Nabakalebara Yatra of Lord Jagannath in July.
The Banjaga Yatra, considered the first chapter of the once-in-a-generation festival, is scheduled to begin on March 29.
The team comprising SJTA chief administrator Suresh Chandra Mohapatra, other officials of the SJTA, Daitapati Nijog’s president Ramakrushna Dasmohapatra, secretary Premananda Dasmohapatra, some young and senior Daitapatis left the Shree Jagannath temple premises and reached Jagannath Ballav Mutt where the about 100-member Banajaga Yatra team will make its first night halt after the start of the barefoot walk via Konark en route to Kakatpur. The team then visited Ramachandi, Konark open air auditorium, Shankareswar Shiva temple, Deuli Mutt and Maa Mangala temple at Kakatpur to take stock of the preparedness and infrastructure development work for the Banajaga Yatra.
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 as per tradition, commences on the tenth day of the bright fortnight of Chaitra. The auspicious day falls on March 29 this year.
The Banajaga Yatra exercise begins after a mid-day offering to Jagannath. A 12-foot garland called Agyan Mala is especially prepared for the Lord and his siblings. Post worship, the garland is handed over (Agyan Mala Bije) to the Pati Mahapatra family, which leads the procession comprising a posse of priests consisting of some Daitapatis, Pati Mahapatra Sevaks, 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 (betel nut and Mahaprasad symbolizing the king’s order to proceed on the journey in bygone days). After spending the first night at Jagannath Ballav Math, Puri, the team will proceed to Kakatpur around midnigh the next day.
On reaching there, the team will first have darshan of Maa Mangala and complete other rituals before staying 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 Maa Mangala, the presiding goddess of Kakatpur, is supposed to inform him about the exact location of the neem trees in his dream.
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 every 19 years – the last Nabakalebar was held in 1996. In the ceremony, not only are the idols replaced but Brahma “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 are lighter 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, they are felled after symbolic chopping by axes made of gold amid sacred chants at an auspicious moment.
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 darus reaching Koili Baikuntha.
The end of the Banajaga Yatra chapter marks the beginning of 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 enforces 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’.
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.