Asit Mohanty & Sibkumar Das
‘Kalebara’ or body is the key word. The prefix ‘naba’, meaning new, has been added to it to coin the term ‘Nabakalebara’. Indian scriptures describe ‘kalebara’ as ‘agamapayi’ or that which manifests and vanishes. Creation and destruction are the two defining truths of any living body. Anything that is created ultimately meets death. Bhagavad Gita, which is said to be the essence of all the Vedas and Upanishads, proclaims that ‘Atma’ or soul transcends birth and death. ‘Atma’ remains intact as it is indestructible and eternal.
The well-known shloka in the second chapter of Bhagavad Gita named Sankhya Yoga states:
vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya navani grahnati naro’parani
tatha sharirani vihaya jirnanyanyani samyati navani dehi” Bhagwad Gita 2:22
“Just like a person discards old and tattered clothes to wear new ones, so does soul discard old and tattered body to take up a new one”.
The deities that we worship are nothing but metaphorical representation of the omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent eternal energy. When worshipped in this mortal world through some worldly representation like idols, Sri Jagannath, although a devata (God) is also a ‘dehi’ or the carrier of a body. In his Odia Bhagavata, saint Jagannath Das had remarked ‘Martya mandale deha bahi, devata hoile marai’. [“Everyone, including gods, has to experience death if they take birth in this mortal world as ‘dehi’.] So, the bodies of the prime deities of Sri Jagannath temple also experience death when they deteriorate with time.
As depicted in Bhagavad Gita, Sri Jagannath also sheds his worn-out body to take up a new one. Nabakalebara is a practical and metaphorical demonstration of this theory depicted in Bhagavad Gita. The core material of the deities called ‘Brahma Padartha’ is transferred to new idols just like the soul is said to travel from an old one to new.
Indian spiritual philosophy, as propagated by Bhagavad Gita, is based on the karmic theory and the immortality of the soul. It is claimed that the soul has to go through continuous evolution through rebirths to realise its ultimate eternal identity. No being can escape from this cycle of life and death, which is the outcome of ‘karma’ and ‘karmaphala’ or cause and effect. In a way, Nabakalebara rituals try to make us accept death without fear. They tell us that when even the deities we worship have to go through the process of life and death, we have to accept it as an essential event in the eternal flow of life. Because of it, we get a sense of equanimity with all living beings in this world that experience life and death.
But the question is: how come death and rebirth are simultaneous for the deities during the Nabakalebara of Sri Jagannath? This again is related to the karmic theory of Bhagavad Gita. We get entangled in the cycle of life and death due to our unfulfilled desires and outcome of actions that we do because of those desires. When our desires and the reactions of our actions end, we reach the state of nirvana or salvation. Souls search for an appropriate family and environment for their evolution to end their desires and reactions of past karma. A soul that has attained nirvana but still takes birth because of own wish for a special cause is called an Avataar.
But Sri Jagannath as the ultimate doer is envisioned to be beyond the forces of karma and desire. So, for the deity, there is no need to search for any other suitable body. He takes rebirth in His old form in a new body. So, death of old deities and rebirth of new ones are simultaneous. The Nabkalebara rituals inspire us to strive to reach the state of nirvana where life and death become a game in the inexorable march of Time.
NEXT: The Significance of the term ‘Kalebara’