Simply put: In the name of the Lord, what’s been going on in Puri?

The Nabakalebara, divine re-embodiment of Lord Jagannath, happens once every 12-19 years.

Written by Debabrata Mohanty | Published: July 2, 2015 3:09 am
Nabakalebara, Jagannath temple, Nabakalebara festival, Jagannath yatra, Odia Hindu calendar, Jagannath of Puri, india news, indian express explained The halo of mystique and divinity around the ongoing festival has been shattered by allegedly self-serving ‘servants of the Lord’, and some BJD politicians.

What is Nabakalebara?
It is a key festival in the Odia Hindu calendar, marking the demise and re-birth of Lord Jagannath of Puri. Naba is New; Kalebara is Body. Nabakalebara becomes necessary as the neem wood from which the deities — Jagannath, Balabhadra and Subhadra are made — decays over time. Nabakalebara happens when there are two Ashadhs in a year. The process begins with a few chosen servitors of the Lord going out in search of neem trees for the idols. The logs are ferried to the temple on bullock carts in an elaborate procession. After the deities are sculpted inside the temple, four servitors — Badagrahis or bodyguards — transfer the Brahmapadartha (soul) from the old idols to the new ones in the dead of night. The old deities are simultaneously buried inside the temple. The new idols make a public appearance a day before the Rath Yatra. The whole process takes around 2 months. The last Nabakalebara happened in 1996. This year, the Nabakalebara process began on March 29.

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So, what is the problem?
Servitors and politicians have turned the holy event into a spectacle of grandstanding and oneupmanship. One of them debunked the legend of a “dream” guiding the search for the neem trees on a local TV channel, and some of them placed their personal hundis near the trees and by the roadside to solicit money. When the logs were being carted to the temple, Animal Husbandry Minister Pradip Maharathy got on to the bullock carts, and Law Minister Arun Sahu flaunted his proximity to the servitors by eating with them. The sacred soul-transfer was carried out in the daytime, even as 100-odd servitors fought among themselves. While only four Badagrahis were supposed to be present in the closed room during the soul-transfer, nine were actually present, including a father-son duo. Subsequently, it emerged that most servants of the Lord had taken mobile phones inside, and a fight had broken out over touching the mysterious Brahma. Pictures of Brahma and the deities being buried appeared in social media, hurting the sentiments of lakhs of devotees. The government has now barred the father-son servitor duo from temple rituals, ordered a probe into the appearance of Brahma photos in social media, and appointed a senior IPS officer to oversee the Nabakalebara process until the Rath Yatra of July 18.

Why is Lord Jagannath so important to Odisha and its people?
The Lord is part and parcel of the social, religious and cultural ethos of the people of the state — the “First Odia”, so to speak. Politicians starting out on election campaigns seek His blessings first, and ordinary households invite Him to weddings in the family before anyone else. Of the 98 lakh visitors to Odisha last year, more than 70 per cent went to Puri to visit the Jagannath temple. He is seen as the God who, just like ordinary mortals, takes birth and dies. He is also quintessentially Odia — starting the day with an elaborate breakfast, followed by a heavy lunch and a siesta. He then has snacks, followed by dinner, after which he retires for the day. Anyone disagreeing with the ways of the Lord risks popular opprobrium.

What has been the fallout of the Nabakalebara scandal?
The Congress, seeing an opportunity to attack Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik, last week organised a near total Odisha bandh. Since Tuesday, the BJP has begun a week-long rathyatra to campaign against the government’s mismanagement of the event. But Naveen is unlikely to be affected politically.

So, can Naveen actually turn the issue to his advantage?
The last Nabakalebara happened 19 years ago, and the scandal has possibly cost the government the opportunity to turn it into a Kumbh Mela-type spectacle — building infrastructure and publicity, drawing in visitors, and showcasing Puri. Preparations are late, but Naveen can still clean up the temple management, which is currently full of servitors with criminal antecedents. The scandal is a great clean-up opportunity — and a chance to turn the twelfth century temple into a better managed institution.

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  1. K
    Karuna mishra
    Jul 3, 2015 at 3:53 am
    Pandas have been badly behaving to devotes from years. They are not civilised and their behaviour is not human and they donot show any religious value to tourists. When we go to Puri temple with all our respect for Lord Jagannath, they misbehave us in the name of faith. how can we tolerate such bad behaviour and how many days in the name of faith ?
    1. R
      Jul 2, 2015 at 8:46 am
      Hope this writer wants to have some fame by writing small things
      1. R
        Jul 2, 2015 at 5:22 pm
        It is a matter of faith. Everything is fair in faith including sacrificing and killing. Rites and rituals may not have any relevant and logical meaning but faith by itself is beyond meaning of meaning. Better we leave everything to the people who have faith in their faith. More we discuss, more we get regretful to all acts of the faith.
        1. Homma Ramachander
          Jul 2, 2015 at 11:45 pm
          Faith and faithfulness is like a cancer. It comes in the way of acquiring truthful knowledge. s long ago believed that the sun went round the earth. And when Gallileo told the truth that the earth goes round the sun he was prosecuted by the catholic priests. These fools do not want to know the truth. They would fool the gullible people[ whose numbers abound] for their own advantage. These fools are in greater numbers. As MIRZA GHALIB the persian poet said:- " jab Lakho teddy may CHOOTIYE mauled Chhotiye banane waloo ki kya kami ?????? well said and aptly It applies to the" faithful" chootiyes of today. stone Gods, Wooden painted gods and INVISIBLE Gods and gods !!!!! and the faithful Chootiyes and neys !!!
          1. V
            vinod gupta
            Jul 18, 2015 at 1:57 pm
            Eid as Main Page News, while Puri Rath Yatra, this one which is occuring after 19 years, finds mention in secondary pages. Salute to secular media ......
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