The glory of Maa Samaleswari is widespread across the length and breadth of the western Odisha.One of the popular legends reveals that goddess Samlei is being worshipped on one bank of the river Mahanadi since time immemorial.Greek traveller Ptolemy of the 2nd century has made mention of the place as’Sambalaka’. Later in the middle of the sixteenth century Balaram Dev ,the first ruler of the Chauhan dynasty founded the Sambalpur city and fort and accepted Maa Samlei as his presiding deity.Since then the glory of the goddess has gradually spread in the nook and corner of the whole of western Odisha.
Myth has it that since Lord Siva is being worshipped as ‘Ashtashambhu’ in the area mostly in the districts of Sambalpur and Bargarh,Maa Parvati also expressed her desire to get worshipped over here.Accordingly she settled herself in seven places.The Samlei Peetha of Sambalpur is one of them. The enormous popularity of Maa Samlei in the western pockets of Odisha and nearby areas has given rise to myrid of legends, folk tales, beliefs and anecdotes . But What makes Her more towering than history and myths is that she has been enshrined in the heart and soul of the local people to such an extent that no other deity except Lord Jagannath commands as much respect, reverence and devotion from the people as Maa Samlei.
In addition to the temples of Lord Jagannath and Lord Siva, the temple of Maa Samlei is a common sight in the villages of the area.Besides Sambalpur there are temples in Sundargarh,Sonepur,Khariar,Laida and other prominent places dedicated to the goddess. The temple of Maa Samlei is situated in a calm,quiet and scenic atmosphere in the village of Laida approximately fifty kilometres from the city of Sambalpur. Devotees, not only from the nearby villages but also from far off places flock to have a darshan of Maa Samlei at the time of Nuakhai,Dussehra and other occasions.The temple is very old enough to have remodelling and renovation at the earliest.The goddess is worshipped daily with’Bhoga’.
Generally it is seen that in the old Siva and Devi temples of western Odisha,the priests continue worship as per family tradition from generation to generation.In the old and mediaeval periods the kings,Zamidars and Gountias had made arrangements in terms of land so that the ‘Bhogaraga’ and other activities of the temple could be managed smoothly.But the priests of the temple of Maa Samlei at Laida are appointed from time to time.The main gate of the temple faces the village.The mobile number of the priest is written on the main gate for the convenience of devotees and tourists.
The serene atmosphere of the temple can be experienced immediately on crossing the main gate.In addition to verdancy of trees,there are temples dedicated to Chamundeswari and Hanuman in the premises.Management of the temple and the festivals is smoothly conducted by a committee.Since tha Laida region is mostly peaceful nothing untoward happens on the occasion of gatherings and festivals. ‘Bael Jatra’ is the main festival of Maa Samlei over here.The Management Committee has undertaken many developmental works of the temple in the past and has further such plans in times to come.There is a motorable road from Sambalpur to Laida.Since Laida is a main village of the area,it is well connected by road with places like Katarbaga,Rengali,Kuchinda, Bamra and Jharsuguda.
One more noticeable religious tradition of western Odisha, which is also seen in our state and country, is that both the Devi and Saiva cults run side by side.Sticking to the tradition there is a Siva temple in Laida. Since Siva is Father and Devi or Parvati is Mother, their temples can be seen together in most places.Their marriage ceremony in the form of Shital Shashthi Jatra is quite popular with the masses.Maa Samlei occupies a prominent place in the hearts of the people of the area having been an emblem of deep religious faith and devotion. She is at a stretch Parvati, Manikeswari, Sureswari, Ghanteswari, Chandrahasini, Mahaluxmi, Mahasaraswati and Jagatjanani. Maa Samaleswari of Laida is but a manifestation of the great Devi cult and tradition in the western part of Odisha.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
Mr. Prafulla Kumar Majhi,
Retired Asst. Director, A. I. R, is an eminent Scholar and freelance writer in English & Odia. His areas of interests are sociocultural, economic, literary, historical and analytical studies and writings.