''Nabakalebara'' - Puri Jagannth temple's symbolic ritual of changing old deities!!

Balabhadra,Subhadra and Sudarshana at Puri Temple,  economictimes.indiatimes.com

India has countless Hindu temple festivals and the traditions vary from states to states. Among the temple rituals, Nabakalebara ritual st Puri Jagannath temple is an exciting one that drws lots of devotees.

Nabakalebara  is an ancient ritual closely associated with  Lord Jagannath Temple of Puri, Odisha. It is nothing but a  symbolic recreation of the wooden forms of four Hindu deities-Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra, and Sudarshana at Jagannath Temple, Puri, replacing the old ones. Unlike many Hindu temple, in particular, in South India, only wooden images are being worshipped in the sanctum of Puri temple. Such wooden images  are periodically replaced reverentially.  Nabakalebara - ''the change of physical form''  (in Odia: naba meaning new and kalebara meaning body) is an important ritual that takes place  during the eighth, 12th, or 19th year after the previous Nabakalebara. 

Neem tree for making Gods. rathyatra.fullodisha.com

Puri Rath Yatra. nabakalebara.gov.in

When the full moon occurs twice during the month of Ashadha, that is the year of  Nabakalebara. As per the Hindu Calendar,  every three years a lunar month is excluded from the calculation to maintain a balance between lunar and solar years. This period is called Ahimsa or Malamasa. A year with an extra month (adhimasa) is considered auspicious for the ceremony, which typically falls every twelve to nineteen years. It has been a tradition here for centuries that the four deities undergo the symbolic ritual of Nabakalebara in the year in which the adhimasa falls. 

 The deities are carved from a special type of neem wood, known as Daru Bramha. After choosing the right wood, preparations for the ceremony will  start in the month of Chaitra. The last rituals took place  in 2015, 19 years after the 1996 ceremony. Such rare ceremony attracts a large gathering of people. In 2015, it is reported, that about 3 million people witnessed this great event. 

Jirna bera parityaga meaning (in Odea) "the leaving of the old deity and the consecration of the new one ". It is tantamount to a person, wearing a new set of clothes and shedding off the old and useless ones. According to temple rituals, the deities are changed as per temple Shastas. This philosophical aspect is applicable to Puri Jagannath temple. In this regard, for centuries the temple secretly follows some secret protocols and there exist provisions for changing the deities - replacing the old ones with new ones. The deities are made of neem tree besides a combination of Musk, Sandalwood, etc. So, they undergo change of Vigraha  before Adhikaadha.
When choosing the neem tree certain criteria need to be met before choosing the right tree - Daru Brahma fit enough for making the deities. It is said the right tree is chosen by the temple priests after praying at Maa Mangala  at Kakatpur Mangala temple. A divine intervention occurs when the Goddess appears to them in the dream, revealing the location of the holy tree. 

Agama shastras pertaining to  Vishnu worship, such as the Vaikhanasas, also gives importance to  the change of wooden deities under a specific astrological combination. In the case of stone or metal deities  necessity does not arise to change deities unless they are damaged or have some kind of Dosha (blemish). This is not so in the case of wooden deities and they need to be  changed within a specific number of years and their power must be ritually transferred to the new ones.

About making wooden deities, the trees are cut after a ritual and the small logs are taken in carts pulled by the devotees to the temple premise.  Beginning on an auspicious day, the logs are carved into deities within the temple compound. On the midnight of Adhika Ashadha Krishna Chaturdashi, the tatva Padartha is transformed from old deities to the new ones. Brahma or Tatva Padartha  is believed to be a supernatural thing. 

Nabakalebar is all about the transformation of the deities of the Puri temple Odisha into  new bodies. The new wooden idols of Jagannath, Balabhadra, Subhadra and Sudarshan are welcomed to the temple in celebration. The old idols are ritually buried in the sand  Koili Baikuntha in the temple in accordance with century-old Odia scriptures.

On the 2nd day morning, the deities are seated on the altar- the Ratnasingasana . The daily worship protocols begin at the temple after a lapse of 58 days.  The new deities wear new dress and  new flower garlands . Now puja is done and food is offered.  On the 3rd day, the new deities emerge from the Temple  for the biggest and spectacular Rath festival. Puri Rath Yatra (Chariot festival) is one the very few greatest temple events in India.