Nabakalebara is a festival observed in the Shree Jagannath Temple at Puri at a predefined time according to Hindu Calender. Naba means new and Kalebara is body. Lord Shree Jagannath adornes a new body during Nabakalebara. It is the re-embodiment of Lord Jagannath, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra and Sudarshan when they relinquish their old bodies and assume a new one. However, the Brahmapadartha (soul-substance) remains the same. The soul or the Brahma is transferred from the old idols to their new bodies in a highly technical and conspicious manner, prescribed and inherited from generations by the Daitas and the Rakshaks. They are the up-keepers of the Shreeangas or the bodies of the trinity of the Grand Temple.
"The Nabakalebara niti is observed in a gap of 12 to 19 years. Most of the Nabakalebars are performed after a gap of almost 19 years as in 1912, 1931, 1950, 1969, 1977 and 1996. This year in 2015, we are witnessing yet another sacred occassion of the Nabakalebara Niti".
Understanding the timing of the Nabakalebara Niti is an intricate process. As per the Hindu lunar calendar when there are two Ashadh in a year called as Purusottam month, Nabakalebara niti is performed. Every five years there is an extra month making the year of thirteen months. The extra month can be any month. However, the astrologers of the Shri Mandir announce the extra Ashadh after astrological calculations. Usually, just before Rathyatra every year, the Trinity of the temple, go on an Anasara period for 15 days. This is the period when the Gods fall sick and cannot give their Darshan to the devotees. During the extra Ashadh, this period extends to upto 45 days and is known as Maha Anasara. Out of this one and a half month of three Pakshas or fortnight periods, first fifteen days or the Krushna Paksha is dedicated in carving the idols from the Neem wood and transferring the Brahma from the old idols to the new. The second fortnight is dedicated to the Patali or the burial of the old idols in the Koili Baikuntha and observation of the Asaucha Bidhi by the Daitas. The third fortnight is dedicated to the normal Anasara of the new idols when they are given the final touch to their form and painting.
The Lords of the Shree Mandir are carved out of Neem wood. They are made of two parts - the Akshara or Kutastha and the Kshara. The Akshara (imperishable) part remains intact, but the Kshara (perishable) part of the Daru Brahma remains intact for few years and then starts perishing. Therefore, the bodies of the deities are covered with different materials during the anabasara period every year. These processes are known as Phulurilagi, Jhunalagi, Tailalagi, Khalilagi, Ghanalagi and Chaka Apasaralagi etc. But still the idols wear out in course of time.
The Daru Brahma are brought out for Snana Purnima and Rathayatra every year in Pahandi which is a rigorous process. The idols are tied with thick ropes and go through pulling, hanging, dragging, shouldering, poking, climbing and throwing by the Daitas as they are quite heavy and the same old traditional methods are performed till date.
The researchers are of the opinion that the Shree Bigrahas (body parts) of the temple never had a peaceful time and many times they were saved from the external attacks by doing Patali (underground burial). These are the few reasons that necessitate the Nabakalebar of the Shree Bigrahas at a certain interval of time.
There are two types of re-embodiment ceremonies performed in the Shree Mandir. One is Sampurna Nabakalebara and another is Shree Angafita. During Sampurna or full Nabakalebara, the old idol is fully replaced by a new one and the Brahma is replaced in the new idol. However, in the Shree Angafita, the Brahma is not touched at all. The Saptavaran or the seven layers of clothes covering the idols are removed and some minor repair is done as per the necessity and again it is covered with Saptavaran and plastered with pastes of sandalwood, musk, and camphor etc. and painted like before, Shree Angafita is performed only during some special contingency.