Home ART & CULTURE What is Nabakalebara and why is it unique?

What is Nabakalebara and why is it unique?


[At a time when the faith of the average devotee has been badly shaken in the wake of the unsavoury happenings during the ongoing process of Lord Jagannath’s Nabakalebara, there is perhaps a need to separate the temporal from the spiritual to restore the trust in the sanctity of this great tradition. Starting today, odishasuntimes.com will run a series on the spiritual underpinnings of the elaborate and intricate web of rituals connected with the Nabakalebara, the grand festival involving a change of bodies for the deities of the Lord Jagannath Temple in Puri. Penned by Asit Mohanty, the Editor of ‘Paurusha’ and an acknowledged authority on the Jagannath Cult, and senior journalist Sib Kumar Das, this series attempts to focus on the meaning and significance of each ritual and its place in the overall context of the Nabakalebara.]


lord jagannath


Asit Mohanty & Sibkumar Das

Although a religious ritual, the Nabakalebara of Sri Jagannath is a unique phenomenon. It can be termed a depiction of the essence of the Indian philosophy or ‘Sanatana Dharma’ that is metaphorical and yet practical.

As we all know, Puri, also known as ‘Srikshetra’, is one among the four revered ‘dhams’ of Hinduism instituted by Adi Shankaracharya.

It is interesting to note that while the worship of the Almighty through idols in temples is an integral part of Hinduism, nothing like Nabakalebara is observed in any other Hindu temple. In no other temple are the main idols made of ‘daru’ or wood either.

As per Indian philosophical tenets, this world is a manifestation of ‘Sthabara and Jangam’ or ‘Chara and Achara’ that denotes a combination of the animate and the inanimate. Similarly, the omnipresent divinity manifests in this world in two ways. One is as an Avatar like Matsya, Kachhapa, Baraha, Narasimha, Balaram, Krishna, Rama etc. The other is ‘Archa’ or deities meant for worship.

Srimad Bhagavat elaborates such idol worship. Lord Krishna tells Uddhava- “Deities are of eight types; they can be made of stone, wood, metals like iron, silver or gold, can be created from clay or sandalwood paste, can be made of sand, they can be murals or paintings, idols can also be crafted out of precious jewels and can be the image created in one’s mind.” In ‘Agni Purana,’ it is mentioned that idols can be crafted from seven types of materials, namely; clay, wood, stone, iron, jewels, sandal and flowers. In other scriptures, there is description of the process of construction of idols from an alloy of metals like iron, gold, silver, aluminum, brass and lead.

Except idols created by individuals through mental conception, all other idols have a definite life span. They are not free from corrosion. So, these idols have to be replaced from time to time. This is Nabakalebara or the change of body.

The four key idols of Sri Jagannath temple – Sri Jagannath, Sri Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Sri Sudarshan – are different from idols of other temples as they are made up of ‘daru’ or wood. Idols in other temples are completely reconstructed and replaced when they start to crumble. But in Puri, the Nabakalebara rituals are only meant for the idols made up of ‘daru’ or wood. The core material or ‘Brahma Padartha’ is taken out of the old wooden idols and placed in the new ones.

The essence of the philosophy of body and soul described in ‘Bhagavad Gita’ is the foundation of Nabakalebara ritual of Sri Jagannath.

To be Continued……