Tuesday December 18, 2018

Nabakalebara: When Gods take rebirth

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By Nithin Sridhar

Photo Credit: @PratyashaNithin
Photo Credit: @PratyashaNithin

Yesterday was Jagannatha Rath Yatra, one of the most important days in the celebration of Nabakalebara in Odisha. Nabakalebara is one of the unique festivals celebrated in the Hindu religion.

Once every 19 years, the old idols of Lord Jagannatha, Lord Balabhadra, Devi Subhadra, and Sudarshan are replaced with new idols. The idols made of wood represent the bodies that the Lord and his family occupy. And once the bodies become old, they are discarded and replaced with new bodies.

The whole ritual is all the more interesting because it is rooted in the most basic philosophy of Hinduism: Karma and re-birth. Can there be a better illustration of this phenomenon than Gods themselves showing this by example?

Surajit Dasgupta, a senior journalist, writes on Twitter: “The Lord demonstrates how soul passes from one body to another by being the subject of change Himself.”

One should remember that in the Bhagavad Gita (2.22), Lord Krishna (with whom Lord Jagannatha is identified) says:As after rejecting worn-out clothes a man takes up other new ones, likewise after rejecting worn-out bodies the embodied one (i.e. the Self/Atman) unites with other new ones.”

In other words, every person who has a birth will eventually die and further he will also be reborn again. Just as people change objects like shoes, clothes, or machines (in factories) when they have decayed, likewise, the Self changes its bodies once they have become useless. It takes on new bodies to fulfill its Prarabdha Karmas.

In the case of Lord Jagannatha and his family, their bodies (idols) are made of Neem wood that decays just like human bodies. Hence, by this ritual of Nabakalebara, the Lord is allowed to take on new bodies while his Self or the Tattva/essence called as “Tattvapadhartha” remains the same.

The fact that the outer bodies change but the inner essence remains the same is stressed by Lord Krishna as well. In Gita (2.21-23), he says that the Self is indestructible, eternal, birth-less, and un-decaying, and it cannot be cut, burnt, or be harmed in any way. That is, Atman, the innermost Self, is eternal, without birth and death, it is only the outer body which has birth, decay, and death.

Therefore, a person should not be attached to his body and possessions, but should dive deep into his innermost Self. The Hindu Puranams speak about various incarnations of Lord Vishnu, who takes birth as various living beings: fish, boar, half lion, dwarf, and human. These incarnations clearly depict one fact of life that death is inevitable, but it is not the end.

Just as Gods reincarnate from time to time for upholding dharma (righteousness/duty), people take re-birth to fulfill their own svadharma. So the biggest message of Nabakalebara festival is that when the old bodies are discarded, one should not feel sorrow. One should not be afraid that one must die. Instead, one must let go of the attachment to the body.

One must celebrate, like the celebration of the rebirth of Jagannatha, one’s own eventual rebirth in a new body. One must celebrate that one is finally being able to discard the old and useless body and will be able to take rebirth in a new body that would be fit to practice dharma and other purusharthas (human life purposes).

Glossary:

  1. Nabakalebara: It means “New Body”.
  2. Karma: Literally it means “actions”. It refers to the sum total of all actions, the past, present and future as well. Karmas are divided into three categories: Sanchita- actions accumulated from previous lives, Prarabdha- that portion of Sanchita, that are presently giving fruits in this life, and Agami- the present exertion of free will, that will give fruits in future.
  3. Tattvapadhartha: Literally “essential material”, and it refers to the essence or the innermost Self/Atman that manifests as Jagannatha.
  4. Purusharthas: The four hold purpose of life: Dharma, Kama, Artha and Moksha.
  5. Svadharma: The duties that a person is obliged to perform in his life, based on his temperaments and station in life.
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Puja for The Spiritualism, Not for Vulgar Entertainment

The westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures" and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those "holy books" only in the drawers of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods' idols !!!

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Hinduism
he westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our "scriptures"

By Salil Gewali

Any auspicious days in Hinduism are expected to be observed with a complete purity of action and thought. The same holds true for other religions too. As per the Hindu scriptures, the believers are required to stay away from any kind of sense gratifications, particularly when the specific days are dedicated to Gods and Goddess such as Navratri, Laxmi Puja, Krishna Janmashtami, Shivaratri, to name a few. The pathway to devotion and spiritualism should not be “desecrated” by the blot of the brazen entertainment. The scriptures logically explain why it is antithetical, and its adverse consequences.

Hindusim
Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.

 But, what a huge irony, rather a blasphemy that many people these days have started to choose the auspicious days of Gods to satisfy their base senses. Without a wee bit of regret, a certain class of people holds almost every auspicious day as the most “unmissable” occasion to booze with the friends, and what not, and stagger back home, lol! Such bizarre practices are fast catching now than ever.  Sadly, hardly any conscious people and spiritual organizations stand up and take the right measures to check such godless deviations.

What is quite unpleasant is that such a kind of unholy practices are often being facilitated by certain “Hindu intuitions” as well. On this past Laxmi Puja, the “propitious time” to perform the ritual had fallen between 6 PM to 7:53 PM. Yours truly decided to use that span of time for meditation. But hell broke loose. Apart from fireworks around, the Bollywood songs in high decibel burst forth from a certain Hindu institution quite frustrated the mission.

Hindusim
Sadhu Sanga Retreat, 2016

 One senior citizen laments – “Nothing could be irreligious than the fact that a favorable time for “puja” is also being used for the wrongful purposes. We rather expect the “Hindu institutions” to teach our children Bhajan, Kirtan, and other spiritual activities, not the loud and feverish parties and disturb others.”

Another college student adds “Having been much disturbed by the noise pollution, I have persuaded my parents to shift our place of residence to elsewhere, not at least near holy places with an unholy mission. I have started to see such institutions with the eyes of suspicion these says.” Is it that our institutions are unable to use their “discretion”, and as a result, they fail to differentiate between right and wrong?  One is deeply apprehensive that Bollywood songs and vulgar dances might as well be included as a part of the “puja ritual” as we have long accepted the fun of fireworks bursting as an integral part of Laxmi Puja which in fact is just an entrenched “misconception”.

Hinduism
Hinduism is expected to be observed with a complete purity of action

Needless to say, our roar for consumerism has almost drowned the whisper of inherent spiritualism. We are only just sending out the wrong messages. I’m afraid, the whole culture itself might be looked down with derision by other faiths. It might just become a subject of ridicule! It is no exaggeration, such negative notions against the “wrong practices” are all what we often read these days in several newspapers and social media. Do we want others to demean our profound spiritual heritage thus?  I believe it calls for a serious soul-searching.

Incidentally, the Bhagavad Gita describes such situation as the rise of “tamasic vibes”.  It warns in the strongest terms that mankind should absolutely be careful not to fall under the influence of any short-lived sense gratifications. Or else, our endeavor to “practice and preserve” the sanctity of a religion/spiritualism will be a futile exercise.

However, on the other hand, the westerners practicing Hinduism have learned a pretty well from our “scriptures” and are becoming more spiritual while we just locked up those “holy books” only in a drawer of the altar. Thus we only love to shake our “butts to the boom-boom of Bollywood”.. right in front of the Gods’ idols !!!

Salil Gewali is a well-known writer and author of ‘Great minds on India’.

Twitter:@SGewali.