Home ART & CULTURE The Significance of the term ‘Kalebara’

The Significance of the term ‘Kalebara’


Asit Mohanty & Sibkumar Das

To understand the metaphorical and spiritual concepts enshrined in the Nabakalebara rituals, we have to delve deep into the word ‘kalebara’. The word commonly denotes body. But the choice of this word to name the unique Nabakalebara ritual of Sri Jagannath is not arbitrary. There are several other abundantly used Indian synonyms for ‘kalebara’ like ‘sharira’, ‘deha’ and ‘bapu’.

jagannath nka ratha upare suna besha. (20)

It is significant that ‘kalebara’ has been found to be the most suitable term to describe the intricacies of Nabakelabara despite the availability of several other synonyms for the word. Deeper etymological analysis hints that ‘sharira’ denotes that which corrodes. Anything that shows signs of growth or ‘upachaya’ is ‘deha’. That which is capable of sowing the seed of life is ‘bapu’. The meaning of ‘kalebara’ thus is etymologically different from these words.

Experts say the word ‘kalebara’ has emerged from the Sanskrit notation ‘kale sukre varam sreshtham’. In an article on the issue, former Sanskrit professor of Utkal University Prof. Gopalkrushna Das has said; “That which is best in ‘kale’ or as per essence of life is ‘kalebara’. It is a synonym for that state of a body when ‘sukra’ is at paramount state. ‘Kale’ and ‘sukra’ are considered to bear the same meaning.”

Although ‘sukra’ means semen in common parlance, the term denotes the essence of life in the spiritual realm. Indian philosophy states that the human body is constructed of seven ‘dhatus’ or basic materials, ‘sukra’ being the most subtle and powerful among them.

‘Saptadhatu’ or the seven core materials include ‘rasa, asruk, mansa, meda, asthi, majja and sukra’. So, the body in which ‘kale’ or ‘sukra’ is powerful and strong is ‘kalebara’. The question that inevitably follows is: how can ‘kale’ or ‘sukra’ deteriorate in Sri Jagannath, who represents the essence of the whole universe?

We may feel the principle of ‘vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya navani grhnati naro’parani/ tatha sarirani vihaya jirnanyanyani samyati navani dehi” Bhagvad 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) is not applicable to Sri Jagannath’s Nabakalebara. His ‘kalebara’ cannot deteriorate as His essence is believed to be indestructible. Nabakalebara’, therefore, is explained as a ‘leela’ or play of Sri Jagannath as per His own wish.

The idols of Sri Jagannath temple are not reconstructed because of the deterioration of ‘kalebara’. In contrast, our bodies or ‘kalebara’ deteriorate and have to meet death so that our souls take up new bodies for evolution. Therefore, the Nabakelabara is just a ‘leela’ of the Almighty Jagannath to depict the cycle of birth and death in this mortal world. It is an attempt to make us accept death as a part of life. It shows that there is no reason to fear death in this mortal world. The body that has manifested is sure to deteriorate and get destroyed. It will come and go. This is the eternal truth of existence.

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