Bhakta Salabega

“ଆହେ ନୀଳ ଶୈଳ ପ୍ରବଳ ମତ୍ତ ବାରଣ,
ମୋ ଆରତ ନଳିନୀ ବନକୁ କର ଦଳନ।”
– ଭକ୍ତ ସାଲବେଗ

Dear Lord of the blue mountain, trample and subjugate my restless mind, like a mighty elephant destroys a lotus pond. Thus save me!
– Bhakta Salabega

Salabega (pronounced Saa-law-be-gaw), one of the greatest devotee of Lord Jagannath was a Muslim by birth. He wrote very beautiful devotional songs dedicated to the Lord. Bhakta Salbeg’s era dates back to about half a century after Kalapahad (yes, I will tell his story too, but that’s for a different time!) had wreaked havoc on Odias, in the early 1600s. Odisha was reeling under Mughal rule. Lalbeg was the Mughal subedar of the Odisha province at that time.

While returning from a conquest, Lalbeg fell for the beauty of a bathing Brahmin widow near a place called Dandamukundapur (which is near present day Sakhigopal between Bhubaneshwar and Puri). Lalbeg forcefully took away the Brahmin widow to his harem and married her. Bhakta Salabega born in 1607/08 AD was their only child. After growing up, Salabega accompanied his father to many military conquests. In one such battles Salabega was grievously injured.

On his death bed, Salabega listened to his mother who was still a Jagannath devotee and started praying to the Lord. By the grace of the Lord and under his mother’s care Salabega had a miraculous recovery and became Lord’s devotee for life. After recovery from his injuries Salabega went to Puri for Lord’s darshan but was turned away from the temple for his religion of birth. Heartbroken Salabega left for Vrindavan hoping that he would have the Lord’s darshan around a year later during Rathyatra.

When Salabega was returning to Puri during Rathyatra a year later, he fell ill midway. He was very disappointed, as now he would have to wait for another year to be able to see Lord Jagannath. So he started praying, and Lord Jagannath being how He is, obliged and His chariot Nandighosh didn’t move even an inch from where it was, till Salabega didn’t reach Puri, and was able to see Him in his own eyes.

After his death, Salabega was cremated at the same spot on Puri Badadand (grand road) where Nandighosh had stopped. His samadhi still stands there, and it is customary for Nandighosh, Lord’s chariot to stop in front of Salabega’s samadhi during Rathayatra.

Bhakta Salabega wrote many beautiful devotional songs dedicated to Lord Jagannath, each of those equally expressive of a devotee’s devotion and His greatness. “Ahe nila shaila”, pronounced “Aa-he nee-law shai-law” (the same one from where the opening lines of this post are taken) is the most well known. You can watch a much shorter and slightly modernised version of the original here.

For those of you interested in the original lyrics of “Ahe nila shaila”, below are the stanzas in Odia and their English translation.

A Russian devotee of Lord Jagannath singing His praise right outside the Singhadwar (Lion gate) of the temple in Puri, Odisha.

“ଆହେ ନୀଳ ଶୈଳ”

ଆହେ ନୀଳ ଶୈଳ ପ୍ରବଳ ମତ୍ତ ବାରଣ,
ମୋ ଆରତ ନଳିନୀ ବନକୁ କର ଦଳନ।
“Dear Lord of the blue mountain, trample and subjugate my restless mind, like a mighty elephant destroys a lotus pond. Thus save me!”

ଗଜରାଜ ଡାକ ଦେଲା ଥାଇ ଘୋର ଜଳେଣ,
ଚକ୍ର ପେଶି ନକ୍ର ନାଶି କୃପା କଲ ଆପଣ।
“When the King of elephants cried out your name in pain when his foot was caught by a crocodile, you sent your disc to kill the crocodile and rescue the elephant. Thus save me!”

କୁରୁସଭା ସ୍ଥଳେ ଶୁଣି ଦ୍ରୌପଦୀର ଜଣାଣ,
କୋଟି ବସ୍ତ୍ର ଦେଇ ହେଳେ ଲଜ୍ଜା କଲ ବାରଣ।
“After hearing Draupadi’s cries for help from the Kuru court, you saved her from being ashamed in front of the court full of men by providing her with a million yards of clothes. Thus save me!”

ଘୋର ବନେ ମୃଗୁଣିକୁ ପଡିଥିଲା କଷଣ,
କେତେ ବଡ଼ ବିପତ୍ତିରୁ କରି ଅଛ ତାରଣ।
“When the deer was in excruciating pain in the dense forest, you saved her from a grave danger. Thus save me!”

ରାବଣର ଭାଇ ବିଭୀଷଣ ଗଲା ଶରଣ,
ଶରଣ ସମ୍ଭାଳି ତାଙ୍କୁ ଲଙ୍କେ କଲ ରାଜନ।
“When the Raavan’s younger brother Vibhishan came to take refuge under you, you gave him refuge and made him the King of Lanka. Thus save me!”

ଅଜାମିଳ ଡାକ ଦେଲା ଜୀବ ଯିବା ବେଳେଣ,
ତେଡ଼େ ବଡ଼ ପାପୀ ଗଲା ବଇକୁଣ୍ଠ ଭୁବନ।
“When a grave sinner like Brahmin Ajamik called out your name while dying, you liberated him. Thus save me!”

ପ୍ରହଲ୍ଲାଦ ପିତା ସେ ଯେ ବଡ଼ ଦୁଷ୍ଟ ଦାରୁଣ,
ସ୍ତମ୍ଭରୁ ବାହାରି ତାକୁ ବିଦାରିଲ ତକ୍ଷଣ।
“Prahalad’s father (a demon named Hiranyakashipu) was terrible and atrocious, and you came out of the pillar to tear him apart. Thus save me!”

ନୀଳାଚଳେ ବିଜେ କରି ବୌଦ୍ଧ ଅଵତାରେଣ,
ବେନି ଭୁଜ ଟେକି ପ୍ରଭୁ ଯାଚୁଅଛ ଶରଣ।
“You have chosen Neelachal (another name of Puri) as your abode, residing there as the Buddha incarnation of Lord Vishnu, and are offering shelter to everyone by lifting your hands.”

କହେ ସାଲବେଗ ହୀନ ଜାତିରେ ମୁଁ ଯବନ,
ଶ୍ରୀରଙ୍ଗା ଚରଣ ତଳେ କରୁଛି ମୁଁ ଜଣାଣ।
“Thus speaks the insignificant Salabega, who is a Muslim by birth, and I am appealing under your lotus feet, please save me!”

In frame: A Russian devotee of Lord Jagannath singing His praise right outside the Singhadwar (Lion gate) of the temple in Puri, Odisha. As was for Bhakta Salbeg, it is forbidden for this devotee also to enter the temple, because of his religion of birth and foreign origin.

VERY IMPORTANT TO NOTE: Yes, you can share this work with proper attribution. But, please seek permission before using this work (not including the photo), partially or fully. YOU CAN NOT USE THE PHOTO. Believe me, asking is better than ending up in court or facing public shaming on social media. Thanks for understanding.

© Amrit Panigrahy. All rights reserved.

Published by

Amrit Panigrahy

Amrit is a freelance photographer and a storyteller.

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