Salabega was the son of the Mughal Subedar, Lalbeg. Lalbeg in one of the military excursions came across a young widowed Brahmin woman taking bath at Dandamukundapur. Fascinated by her youthful beauty, Lalbeg forcibly abducted her. He was in love with her and soon married her and they had a son called Salabega. Salabega was their only son.
Salabega’s mother missed her Lord Jagannath and kept her devotion for him a secret from all. But she was happy with her new life as well.As soon as he was old enough, Salabega took up fighting in his father’s campaigns. Once in a war, Lalbeg got killed and Salabega was badly injured and was battling for life. His mother prayed to Lord Jagannath and lo and behold he got cured miraculously. This incident made Salabega a devotee of Lord Jagannath.
Feeling greatly indebted to Lord Jagannath, he went to Puri to get a darshan of Lord Jagannath. However, since he was from a different religious community, the priests didn’t allow Salabega to enter the temple.Salabega didn’t fight or oppose them. Rather he transformed into a devotee believing – what’s a devotee without patience and test?
He waited for the annual Chariot festival or the RathYatra where Lord Jagannath, Goddess Subhadra and Lord Balabhadra are brought out on to the Bada Danda (Grand trunk road) as they start their journey to the Shree Gundicha Temple, which is their maternal aunt’s temple, in huge chariots allowing the public to have darshan or the holy view. They stay there for nine days and travel back to the Shree Mandira.
Folklore has it that every year Salabega kept a watch out for the chariots, he even built a small hut on that road and it’s a Mazar now. During rest of the year he used to keep visiting different religious places. On a particular year, he got delayed in coming back to Puri from Vrindavana, as on the way he suddenly fell ill. Feeling helpless and realising that he would not reach Puri in time to see the Ratha Yatra festival, he offered prayers to Lord Jagannath petitioning him to wait until he arrived. Rath Yatra was already approaching. An anxious Salabega cried out to Lord Jagannath and he had a dream in which the Lord promised him that He would wait for him. So, when the chariot of Lord Jagannath reached near the hut of Salabega, it refused to move even an inch. People tried to pull it harder but nothing happened. They even got elephants to push the chariot but a devotee’s devotion kept the wheels of the Lord glued to the exact place till seven long days.
By then, the King of Puri and all priests were worried. The head priest had a dream telling him not to worry; the Lord was waiting for his favourite child. So, for seven days, all rituals of Lord Jagannath, all pujas were done on the Chariot itself. At last Salabega came. This time, nobody stopped him from going closer to the Lord. He went and completed his darshan, and worshipped the Lord.
Although the poet was denied entry into the temple, his descriptions of the inner compound and the sanctum are among the most detailed and accurate in the devotional literature of Odisha. His song ‘Ahe Neela shaila (Oh Bluestone lord)…’ is perhaps the best description of Bedha Parikrama, or the prescribed circumambulation of the Jagannath Temple. In his composed book – Yamin he composed his bhajans while living at the same place for the rest of his life.
His devotion was such that even the devotional songs, he wrote are sung as morning prayers in the sanctum sanctorum till date. The famous one’s being ‘Ahe Nilasaila’. Thus, the title conferred on him is ‘Bhakta Kavi Salabega’ or the Devotional Poet Salabega.
After his death, his mortal body merged with his Lord.This Mazar or Samadhi located at Bada Danda in Puri is of the greatest devotee of Lord Jagannath – Bhakt Salabega.After his death, Salabega was cremated at this very location.
Salabega occupies a permanent position among the devotional poets of Odisha who devoted his life for Lord Jagannath. Till this day, as a remembrance to the unwavering commitment and dedication and devotion of Salabega, the Chariots are made to stop in front of the Mazar. It’s a beautiful way to show the world that your birth, caste, creed, nothing matters to Lord Jagannath. If you have faith enough to surrender, he has love enough to accept you: it’s always between you and your Lord, don’t bother about the world rules. Love and devotion are personal, there is no space for mundane stuff in it. His deep devotion has intensity and passion, outstanding even in the devotional literature of the Bhakti era.
The relationship between Salabega and Lord Jagannath would be remembered for times to come for his devotion towards Lord Jagannath and the loving Lord’s equal reciprocation towards him. This is why people from all the corners of the world participate and witness the Rath Yatra festival, the annual festival of The Lord to connect to the Lord directly and to receive his unadulterated love and blessings.
(The views expressed are the writer’s own)
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