Symbolism of Yajna and Bali in Nabakalebara

Asit Mohanty & Sibkumar Das

The preparation of ‘yajnakunda (pit for yajna) for the ‘yajna’ performed near selected ‘daru’ tree starts with the drawing of ‘mandala’ or sacred designs representing the cosmos at its base by the acharya of the ‘yajna’. These designs are drawn with ‘muruja’ that are traditional organic colours in powder form. A bed of kusha grass is laid on this ‘mandala’ at the base of the ‘yajnakunda’.


It is believed that goddess Laxmi reclines on this bed of kusha grass. Over it, the fire representing Lord Vishnu termed ‘Vaishnabagni’ is placed. This fire is also considered to be the ‘virya’ or life force of Lord Vishnu. This ‘yagna’ of Nabakalebara termed ‘Banajaga’ is again metaphorical representation of the Purush and Prakriti theory of Indian philosophy. Prakriti or Mother Nature is represented by goddess Laxmi, while Vishnu represents the Purush or the ultimate energy of the universe. Coming as it does before the process of death and rebirth of Sri Jagannath during Nabakelabara, this ritualistic ‘yajna’ reminds us that this world is nothing but a manifestation of eternal energy in the laps of Mother Nature on the altar of mortal creation.

‘Purnahuti’ or final offering of this ‘yajna’ is followed by floral offering and some ‘gupta niti’ or secret rituals at the base of the ‘daru’ tree, which include symbolic animal sacrifice. This is done through sacrifice of an ash gourd, which is called ‘kushmanda bali’.

Four sticks are fixed to an ash gourd to make it look like a standing animal and a small stick added to form its tail. The ash gourd thus transformed to look like a standing animal is cut down from the middle by the billhook consecrated with ‘astramantra’ beforehand. After this sacrificial offering, the pulp inside the ash gourd is cut down into small pieces. These small pieces are then mixed with black gram and turmeric and presented as sacrificial offering to ‘dashadigapala’ (the protectors of the ten directions) and ‘bhutas’ (spirits moving around).

In his research document on Nabakalebara, German researcher Roland Hardenberg has described the ‘yajna’, ‘kushmanda bali’ and felling of the ‘daru’ tree as obliteration of one existence with the simultaneous birth of another. All the three rituals mentioned above are sacrifices that initiate the process of rebirth of the new deities.

Sacrifices during ‘yajna’ are symbolic representation of the surrender or destruction of our animosities before the deities. In a way, ash gourd represents the human brain. Like the human skull, it has a hard outer covering and its inside is gelatinous. Human brain is the basis of all our mortal experiences, emotions and actions. ‘Kushmanda’ sacrifice tells us that a new life commences when we offer our brain or the very basis of our identity to Almighty.

According to Dr Hardenberg, a real animal sacrifice, similar to this ash gourd sacrifice ritual, occurs inside Sri Jagannath temple during Nabakalebara. This animal sacrifice is performed at the end of a ten-day long ‘pratistha yajna’ on the premises of the temple. This ‘yajna’ continues along with the construction of the new idols. ‘Matsyabali’ or sacrifice of live fish is a secret ritual conducted after the completion of the construction of the new idols and before ‘purnahuti’ by Gajapati Maharaja in this ‘pratistha yajna’. It precedes the ‘jibanyas bidhi’ or process of invocation of life in the idols.

It is again a symbolic representation of Yogic and Tantric philosophy. Fish or ‘matsya’ is one of the ‘panchamakara’ of tantra. It represents Ida and Pingala ‘nadis’ inside the backbone, which are intertwined like two slimy fishes. Sacrifice of Ida and Pingala leads the way for appearance of ‘Sushumna’ nadi through which life force can rise to the ultimate level to bring in a new birth of consciousness. ‘Matsyabali’ represents this.


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