Bhima Bhoi – The Saint Poet of Sambalpur


India is a spiritual country.

India is a holy land. Even the Gods keenly desire to be born here. When Alexander was coming towards India through the dense jungle path, he saw, at many places, men with saffron clothes and long beards sitting under the trees with closed eyes in silence. Alexander was astonished and asked his soldiers, “Who are they and what are they doing?” His soldiers said that these men were muni, rishis, sadhus, or sants, whatever they were called. They are doing penance, and by penance, they become very powerful in spiritual matters. Please don’t disturb them.

Since ancient times, India has been such a land. The saints represent the real India. Their knowledge (Gnana) is true religion. Such a saint was Bhima Bhoi of western Odisha, Sambalpur. He was born in Madhupur in Rairakhol of Sambalpur district in 1850. He belonged to the Kandha tribe. Due to poverty, Bhima Bhoi was unhappy in his early life. He even went to the forest daily to graze cattle. Once, while he was grazing cattle, he fell into a deep well. He prayed to God for rescue. God appeared and asked Bhima to hold his hand to come out of the well. Bhima Bhoi refused and said, “Please forward your feet by which you had pressed King Bali to Patala Lok in Satya Yuga.” God did exactly that, and Bhima Bhoi came out of the well by holding God’s feet. This is the power of Bhakti (devotion).

At the age of twelve, he left his job and went to Kapilas for penance. There he met Mahima Swami, whom he revered as his Guru. After working in the Joronda region, Bhima Bhoi established his ashram at Khaliapali near Sonepur. He attracted many disciples. He had a family: a wife, a son, and a daughter. Bhima Bhoi died in Khaliapali in 1895.

Bhima Bhoi, like his Guru Mahima Swamy, was a worshipper of Nirguna Nirakara God, who is Alekha (indescribable), formless (Arupa), shapeless (Nirakara), and pure (Niranjan). According to him, the supreme being resides in the void (Shunya). Bhima Bhoi’s followers came from all sections of society.

Bhima Bhoi was a writer of Bhakti poems. He was a mystic poet. His insight was deep. In Odisha literature, two men have done the plinth work. One was Santha Kabi Bhima Bhoi, and the other was Sudramuni Sarala Das. Like Wordsworth, Bhima Bhoi was also a lover of nature. Both could see the presence of God in nature.

Bhima Bhoi wrote more than 100 collections of devotional poems. But today, only 12 survive. One of his stanzas became very famous, indicating his altruistic desire, and became a writing on the wall in Parliament House, New Delhi. This stanza is:

Praninka aarata Dukha apramita
Dekhu dekhu keba sahu
Mo jibana Pachhe narke padithau
Jagata udhara heu.

(I cannot see the agony of others. Let my own life go to hell, but the world should be rescued.)

Bhima Bhoi was deeply mystic. His thoughts came from the core of his heart and spiritual experience. Some of his words and concepts are very hard to comprehend. Two examples are Amana Mandir and Barabandhanara Kirtan. Amana Mandir means where the mind (mana) cannot enter. But Bhima’s mind could enter.

Barabandhanara Kirtan means twelve binding rules of Kirtan. But Bhima Bhoi did not elaborate on it. We are to investigate it. Likewise, Bhima Bhoi was so mystic that we are simply unable to fully understand him. Bhima was a literary genius.

In the realm of spiritual writings, Bhima Bhoi attained great heights. Some of his notable works are Stuti Chintamani, Padma Kalpa, Brahma Nirupana Geeta, Adi Anta Geeta, Nirbeda Sadhana, Bhajana Mala, etc. Bhima Bhoi was a milestone in Odiya literature. He is unique and incomparable. He is rightly called Santha Kabi – the Saint Poet of Sambalpur.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

Radhakanta Seth is an Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a Freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolkata.