Srimad Bhagavatam (XI.27/12) prescribes that deities may be installed and worshipped in stone, wood, iron, metal, painting, drawing and pictures, psychic as well as precious gems.

The images of painting/drawing etc. are to be worshipped for a year. Wooden images are worshipped for a span of twelve years; metal for a thousand and stone for ten thousand years.

The deities of Lord Jagannath, Baladeva, Devi Subhadra and Sudarshana at Jagannath Puri are thus changed once in 12-19 years. This renewal of the deities is called “Nava Kalebara” or “New Body”.

All material elements are expansions of the energy of the Supreme Lord and the Lord can manifest Himself through any such element when the Deity form is carved as per the injunctions of the scriptures. So the Deity form is non-different from the Lord. As the sun can act through sunshine and thus distribute its heat and light, so Krishna can appear in His original spiritual form in any material element. It is stated in Padma Purana: Anyone who considers the Deity in the temple to be merely made of stone or wood invites ill fortune into his life.

Nava Kalebara Ritual

The Nava-kalebera ceremony takes place when two months of Ashaad fall in a single year. The Solar Calendar has 365 days a year whereas the lunar year has only 354 days (29.5 days x 12 months). So as to synchronize the two calendars once in 32 months (to be precise 32 months 16 days and 08 ghadis; 1 ghadi = 24 minutes) an additional month is added to the lunar calendar. This extra month is known as the Adhik Masa (also known as Purushottam Masa or Malla-masa).

The Nava-kalebera takes place when this Adhika masa falls in the month of Ashaad. This usually occurs every twelve to nineteen years. The Deities of Sri Jagannatha, Baladeva, Subhadra,  Sudarshana and Sri Madhab are changed during that year. Thus there are actually 5 wooden deities that are changed.

Historically, the first mention of Nava Kalebara can be traced out from Madala Panji (Chronicle of the Jagannath Temple at Puri) in relation to the invasion of Raktabahu and the evacuation of the deities to Sonepur where they lay buried underground for 146 years. Thereafter king Yayati brought back the deities and solemnized Navakalebara. The date is 950 A.D. or 10th century A.D.

The second was in 1568 A.D. after the invasion of Kalapahad (the general of Suleman Karrani). Raja Rama Chandra Deva of Bhoi dynasty brought the “Brahma Tatva” from Kujanga Garh and constructed the new images in Neem wood (Daru) at Gopaljew Mandir of Khurda Garh palace wherein the Brahma or the “Soul” of the deity was transferred from the old to the new one and installed on the Ratna Singhasan of Shri Jagannath Temple in the year 1575 A.D. (Orissa Review Jan.2014)

There are two types of Navakalebara. The first one is the carving of new deities in which the sacred Brahma Tatva or the Spiritual Substance is transfered and other is Sri Anga Phita which means renovation of the images. It is revealed that in 1893 there fell two Ashaad months where the images were not changed. Although the wooden images existed but the cloth cladding on the upper portion of divine body were only changed which could be called as “Sri Anga Phita”, a partial Navakalebara. (Orissa Review Jan.2014)

In none of the temples in India where deities are worshipped does such a system of renewal of the images exist. Of course, the system of worshipping wooden idols itself is rare.

Daru Brahma

The proper procedures for the replacement of the Deities are mentioned in the Sanskrit manuscripts written on palm leaves which are kept in safe custody in the temple.

Only the 3 head priests of the temple have the responsibility of reading and interpreting them. The ceremony begins with the process of looking for the suitable trees for carving the new Deities. There are very specific and well-defined criteria to be satisfied by the neem (margosa) tree to qualify as Daru Brahma (Divine Wood) suitable for carving the Deities.

  • The Neem tree used for the Deity of Lord Jagannatha should be dark.
  • The tree must have 4 principal branches symbolizing the four arms of Lord Narayana.
  • There must be a water body near the tree and also a cremation ground.
  • There must be an ant-hill close to the tree.
  • At the roots of the tree there must be a snake-pit of a cobra.
  • No birds should have made their nests in the tree.
  • No branches of the tree should have been broken or cut.
  • No creepers must have grown on the tree.
  • In the vicinity there must be trees like Varuna, Sahada, Bilva (these are not very common trees)
  • There must be a temple of Lord Shiva in the vicinity
  • On the trunk of the tree there must be natural impressions of conch-shell and chakra

The Daru of Sri Baladeva should be light brown in color with seven branches looking like the hoods of the cobra and should have the divine marks of pestle, plough and the weapons of Baladeva.

The tree trunk for carving the Deity of Subhadra Devi should be pale in color with five branches and the divine mark of a lotus flower with five petals.

The Deity of Sudarshana is carved from the tree truck which is reddish in color and has three branches and a mark of chakra.

The search for Daru Brahma

On the tenth day of the bright fortnight in the month of Chaitra (the day following Rama Navami) the servitors of the Lord begin their journey in search of the Divine Wood – Daru Brahma.

The group is composed of Dayitas, Patimahapatra, Dadhakarana, Deulakarana, Padiakarana, Maharana, Lenka, Rajaguru and Brahmin priests along with a few other servitors and administrative staff of the temple.

The Patimahapatra receives the garland of authority (ajnamala) from the four Deities and hands it over to the leaders of each of the three groups going out in search of the trees to make the Deities of Jagannatha, Baladeva and Subhadra. He retains the garland of Sudarshana with himself.

After taking the permission of the Gajapati Maharaja (king of Puri), the groups start from the Jagannatha Vallabha Math in Puri and go to the temple of the Goddess Mangala at Kakatpura about 50 kms from Puri.

Locating the right tree to make the Deities requires divine intervention. So they pray to Mother Mangala, who appears in their dreams and reveals the location of the trees.

The making of the Deities

Once the trees are located and all the criteria are met, they are cordoned off from the public, wrapped with red, blue and yellow clothes respectively and worshipped with many elaborate rituals.

Then on a particular day and time, they are cut as per the ritualistic procedure and transported by small wooden carts specially made for the purpose and reach the temple at Puri before Snana Purnima.

They are kept in a shed in the western part of the temple in a place called Koili Baikuntha. This is where the new Deities will be made and the old Deities will be interred in the ground.

When the ruling Deities of Lord Jagannatha, Baladeva, Subhadra and Sudarshana receive their ceremonial bath in the Snana Mantapa on Snana Purnima, the new ‘darus’ also receive a bath. The anavasara period that follows the snana-yatra extends over a period of 45 days instead of the regular 15 days (due to the adhika Ashaad masa).

During this period the new Deities are carved out of the sacred wood in utmost secrecy inside a special enclosure created in the temple premises.

The carving is completed in 21 days and on all these days there will be continuous singing of the glories of Lord Jagannatha. The devotees who carve the Deity reside in the temple for these 21 days and eat the maha-prasadam only once in the night.
Once the Deities are carved, they are taken inside the temple and placed in front of the old Deities again on a particular day and time. The Daityapati performs the ritualistic “transmission” of the “Brahma Tatva” or Divine Substance from the old Deities to the new ones thereby consecrating the new deities.

The transfer of the “Divine Substance” is done in a closed and locked room with the Badagrahi Dayitapati and Pati Mohapatra Sevak. Their eyes are covered with a cloth and even their hands are wrapped with a special type of cloth. They are not supposed to touch or feel the Divine Substance.

All the ceremonies after the bathing festival (Snana Jatra on full moon of the Jestha) up-till Netrostava are performed in secret. The period is called Maha Anavasar during Nava kalebara

It is said the Brahma Tatva of Lord Baladeva and Devi Subhadra are probably shaligram shilas, whereas that of Lord Jagannatha is different.

When the transfer is completed all the Dayitapatis of Shri Jagannath Temple start a period of mourning as if a close relation had died. They observe this period of mourning for 11 days for the ‘departed’ deities and on the 12th day more than thousand people are fed Mahaprasad signifying end of the mourning period.

Then the old Deities are carried to the Koili Baikuntha at the midnight and buried there before dawn.

The new Deities are then wrapped with 7 protective layers of cloth with medicinal herbs (like sandal wood paste, neem powder etc.) and then the painting is done. This is called saptavarana.

Finally the Brahmin priests perform the Netrotsava and give the Deities a purificatory bath before they give darshan to the devotees.

Nava-kalebera 2015

Nava-kalebera is one of the biggest festivals in the world. It attracts millions of devotees from across the world to Jagannath Puri.

It is expected that more than 5 million pilgrims will visit Puri in June this year to participate in the Nava-kalebera.

In the Hindu pantheon, the culture of Shri Jagannath worship has a separate and unique identity. He is one amonstg us and His Nava Kalebara presupposes the death of old God and the birth of the new God.

Divinity continues.  

Jai Sri Radhey

Jai Guru