5 Facts you should know about Nabakalebara

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By now, you must have heard a lot about Odisha’s biggest festival, Nabakalebara, which celebrates the divine rebirth of a god. This auspicious festival, which will arrive on Jul 18, has a lot of mystery and intrigue attached to its history. Let us take you through some of the more interesting aspects about Nabakalebara

1. The Sacred Food!
Mahaprasad, or the Sacred Food, are food offerings prepared for the rituals associated with Nabakalebara and is told to bring virtue, purity and piety to the devotee who has it. As a stand against untouchability, the item is eaten by all regardless caste, creed and gender. ‘Mahaprasad’ is cooked by ‘Suara Sevakas’ depending on on their assessment of pilgrims expected to visit on a particular day.

The peculiarity in the rice version of Mahaprasad is that although cooked food is generally considered stale after a night, ‘Mahaprasad’ is always regarded to be fresh and thus can always be offered.

A variation of ‘Mahaprasad’ is ‘Nirmalya’ or ‘dry rice’ which is obtained by drying the Mahaprasad in the sun and storing it for days. All the food items require a certain set of instructions and rituals to prepare them.

Curiously, vegetables such as potato, papaya, cabbage, tomato, garlic, onion and chilies cannot be used for preparation of ‘Mahaprasad’ in the temple.

2. Almost Cancelled!
There was a time when the festival was close to being cancelled! In 1828, the ruling family was in a financial strain, already having lost a kingdom. To the rescue came the British Collector H.H. Alo, who requested Commissioner Pockenham to donate funds for celebrating the festival.

But even after donating 5,500 rupees, the festival still needed more money to survive.

Luckily, a kind benefactor came in and donated 300 gold coins, finally allowing the great festival to be celebrated!

3. Uncommon rituals
The rituals of Lord Jagannath are akin to that of a common man, celebrating the fact that in all of us lies this common thread.

He wakes up, cleans his tongue, takes a bath, dresses up, has breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and then finally goes to bed! Certain rituals also require medicine to be placed in front of him when he catches fever.

4. The Neem Daru Brahma Tree selection.
The Neem Daru Brahma Tree selection is a very curious and interesting one, leaving us with surprise that such a tree is found every 19 years!

The tree has to follow this long list of requisites to qualify to be made into the revered idol

• It should be dark as Lord Jagannath is dark in color. The trees used for the deities of his brother and sister should be lighter in color.
• It must have 4 principal branches symbolizing the four arms of Narayana.
• There must be a water body near the tree.
• There should be a cremation ground nearby.
• An ant-hill should be close to the tree.
• At the roots of the tree there must be a snake-pit of a cobra.
• No bird must have made nests in the tree.
• No branches would have broken or cut.
• The tree has to be located near a three-way or should be surrounded by three mountains.
• No creepers should have grown on the tree and there have to be Varuna, Sahada and Vilva trees close by.
• There has to be a hermitage and a temple of Lord Shiva in the vicinity.
• Lastly, on the tree trunk there must be natural impressions of the conch-shell and chakra or the wheel.

How do they find it you wonder? The priests, in their journey to the sacred tree, go to Mangala temple in Kakatpur Village and pray to Goddess Mangala to help them to find the sacred tree.

They will then sleep in front of the Goddess, face down. Goddess Mangala will then come in their dreams and tell them the exact locations of the sacred Neem trees!

5. Transfer of Power
Only the Daitapatis, who are considered to be the descendents of the first worshippers of Lord Jagannath, have the right to carry out the Great Transformation. This ceremony takes place three days before the Chariot Festival, or Rath Yatra, and involves the transfer of the ‘Brahman’ or the ‘life-force’ from the old deities to the new.

This rite is the heart of the Nabakalebara festival and is this considered to be the most auspicious ritual of all.

• The Daitapatis also have to follow a strict set of instructions to carry out this magical ceremony.
• They must be blindfolded.
• They have to tie a piece of Lord Jagannath’s cloth around their hands before the ceremony.
• They should not have shaved since the first day of the search party procession.
• The entire family of the Daitapatis must wear new, fresh clothes on this day
• The Daitapatis members fast and meditate the whole day inside the temple.

The actual transfer of the Brahman’ occurs only at midnight, and that too in total silence.

There is always more to learn about Odisha’s biggest festival, and there is only one way to find out. Come to Odisha and experience the grandeur of the Nabakalebara.