The Mystery of the ‘inverted human’ in Nabakalebara

Asit Mohanty & Sibkumar Das

Spiritual metaphors are integral elements of Nabakalebara. One of the many ways that they are given expression is through the pictorial form. It is the image of an inverted human figure. This ritualistic image is drawn on the trunk of the selected ‘daru’ trees. It is an important ritual that takes place after ‘kushmanda bali’ or sacrifice of ash gourd and before the cutting of the ‘daru’ tree.

Daru Brukhya

After completion of ‘yajna’ near the ‘daru’ tree, its residual holy ash, holy water and residual ghee are massaged over its trunk.  It is ‘suddha snana’ or consecration of the tree. A white cloth is put around the tree trunk. Each selected ‘daru’ tree is worshipped with the mantra of the deity whose idol is to be carved out of it. Then the picture of ‘olata-manushya’ or inverted human figure is drawn on the trunk of ‘daru’ tree. A bunch of kusha grass dipped in sandalwood paste is used to draw this figure.

The metaphor of the inverted human figure is not new to Indian philosophy. Human body has been identified with inverted tree. Nabakalebara identifies a tree with an inverted human figure. Its existence has been described through synonymous metaphors in ‘Bhagabad Gita’ and ‘Kathopanishad’. The first shloka of the Chapter XV of ‘Bhagavad Gita’ is:

‘Urddhwamulamadhahshakham ashwottham prahurabyayam/ chhandamsi yasya parnani yastam veda sa vedabit’

It means ‘This existence is like a peepul tree, its roots actually represent its top, its branches are originally its base, and those who know it are real masters of Vedas.’

‘Kathopanishad’ proclaims ‘Urddhwamuloabakshkha esoaswothah sanatanah’. According to it, this world is symbolically represented by a peepul tree. Its base is its apex and abode of Almighty ‘Param Brahma’, which is indescribable but is the ultimate basis of existence. The existence created by Almighty manifests under this symbolic tree.

Ancient scriptures depict our body as an inverted tree or ‘olata vriksha’. Brain is accepted as the base and our appendages as its branches. The ‘Sahasrar’ chakra at the top of the brain is accepted as the abode of ‘Param Brahma’. Several immortal lyrics based on this metaphor like ‘olata vrikshe kheluchhi lotani para….’ is part of traditional Odia folklore.

During Nabakalebara, new idols are made out of the main trunk of the ‘daru’ trees. The hands of idols are crafted out of the major branches of the respective ‘daru’ trees. The drawing of an inverted human figure on the ‘daru’ tree equates it with humans like us. This inverted human figure is an effort to keep alive the intricate spiritual concepts of Bhagavad Gita and the ‘Kathopanishad’ among the common mass.

Next: The Symbolism of ‘Ashwamedha Yajna’ in Nabakalebara



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