Deities at Jagannath temple in Puri replaced after 19 years in elaborate ceremony

PURI (TIP): The four deities in the 12th century Jagannath temple in Puri were replaced earlier this week with new ones after 19 years with four temple servitors infusing life into them, marking the end of the two and half month old process of Nabakalebara festival.

“The events since last night is most significant part of the Nabakalebara, during which the soul of the Lord was transferred,” said chief servitor of the temple, Gajapati Maharaj Dibyasingh Dev, who participated in some parts of ritual last night inside the temple. The Nabakalebara (re-embodiment) of the fours deities, replacing the old idols with new ones – is an elaborate process in which they relinquish their old bodies and assume a new one.

The Nabakalebara is observed in a gap of 12 to 19 years. The last time Nabakalebara happened in 1996. The Nabakalebara process started on March 29 with the servitor starting their journey for the search of neem trees from which the idols were carved. This time, the neem trees were found in Jagatsinghpur and Khurda districts.

Four Badagrahis (body protector-cum-servitors) transferred soul from the old idols into the new idols of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Sudarshan made from neem wood this afternoon after an elaborate ritual that started last night. Though it was supposed to happen at night under cover of darkness, the process was inordinately delayed as the carved idols could not be made ready before midnight. Since last night the temple was shut for everyone except 100-odd servitors who took part in the process till the gates opened at 5.20 pm.

“It was an emotional moment for us,” said Jagannath Swain Mohapatra, one of the four servitors who transferred the Brahmapadartha(soul) from the old idol to the new. “It was a very difficult task to do as we had to bid goodbye to the old idols.” Mohapatra did the ritual for Lord Jagannath. During the transfer of the soul, eyes and hands of the servitors were covered with cloth-bands so that they can’t touch and see the Brahmapadarthas at the time of their transfer. The old idols were buried in Koilibaikuntha (also known as the graveyard of the deities) area of the temple premises. Like post-death rituals in Hindu households, the servitors who took part in last night’s event, would get tonsured after 10 days and mourn the death of old idols. “It’s unparallelled anywhere in the world,” said the Gajapati Maharaj.

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