Salabega lived in the first half of the seventeenth century. He was born c1607-1608. He was the son of the Mughal subedar Lalbeg who was briefly in charge of Odisha at Cuttack in the early 17th century. On one of his expeditions to Puri, he was overcome with passion looking at the beauty of a Brahmin widow returning from her bath at Dandamukundapur and forcibly abducted her. Salabega was later born to the widow.
It is believed that the poet suffered from some incurable ailment and through prayer to Lord Jagannatha, as advised by his mother, he was miraculously cured. Soon thereafter, he seems to have seen developed disinterest in worldly matters and spent his time in singing the praise of the Lord.
Salabega, being the son of a Muslim, was denied entry into the temple but his deep devotion was answered by his dear Lord in
his manifestation as Patitapabana inside the Singhadwara. He was always eager to witness the Rath Yatra so he could get a glimpse of his Dark Darling. Once he was held up on way while returning from Vrindavan during the festival period. Salabega prayed earnestly to the Lord that he should wait for him on the Nandighosha chariot till he reached the Bada Danda so that he would not miss the opportunity of seeing his Lord. The Lord waited there and gave darshan to Salabega, his dear devotee on the Bada Danda, near Balagandi. The poet is supposed to have been buried at this site and a small memorial stands here even today. Every year the chariot of Lord Jagannatha stops here for a while in the memory of this tender relation of the poet and his ishta devata, Lord Jagannatha.
Salabega composed numerous devotional songs. Most of his compositions are prayers and hymns to Lord Jagannatha and Krishna. He also authored songs in praise of Shiva, the Mother goddess, and some incorporating mystic thoughts, particularly those conceiving the divine as void. Many of his songs, deal with the Krishna Leela, as given in the Srimad Bhagabat and various Puranas. A good number of these deal with the romantic dalliance of Krishna with the Gopi maidens and Radha, while a few are inspired by the vatsalya rasa, the sweet motherly feeling of Yasoda for child Krishna.
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 Orissa. His song “Ahe Neelagiri..” is perhaps the best description of Bedha Parikrama or the prescribed circumambulation of the Srimandira. Many of the historical events of the period are recounted in his songs. The poet refers, with deep anguish, to the depredations of the marauders in their attacks on Puri and the repeated attempts to loot and desecrate the Srimandira. These frequently necessitated shifting the deities outside the main sanctum and the poet captures the situation of one such occasion with graphic details in the song “Kene gheni jauchha Jagannathanku…”
History is witness –
Whenever the devotees have prayed, Lord Jagannath “The God of the Universe” is always there with him. The great Jagannath culture is a unique unifying system that assimilated and incorporated in its fold the influences of divergent religious creeds and sects. Lord Jagannath, the very source of existence for the Hindus and specially Odia’s in particular, is never a sectarian deity. Beginning as a tribal god, he has in course of time become a part of the Aryan culture and has been held in high veneration by the Buddhists, the Jains, the Saivites, the Saktas, the Vaishnavites, and the Ganapatyas and even by the Sikhs and the Muslims. Where else the world needs an example of a Hindu deity having a Muslim disciple- the example of ‘Bhakta’ Salabega comes first. He is the one among the greatest disciple of Lord Jagannath. People offer prayers by chanting Salabega’s devotional poetry. Bhakta Salabega was born to a Muslim father and Brahmin mother. He wrote many prayers glorifying Lord Jagannath which are most heart touching. He was not allowed to enter the temple of the Lord in Puri because he was a Muslim. However, this did not stop him from thinking of Lord day & night. He eagerly waited for the Ratha Yatra (The Car Festival) when Lord Jagannath will come out of the temple to meet his devotees to have a glimpse of him.
Once during the car festival, Salabega was out of town and could not reach in time to see the Lord on the chariot. He prayed to Lord Jagannath to wait inside the chariot until he could come and that’s what Lord did. It is also said that Lord Jagannath had also waited all year long for this moment too. How could he move without seeing his dear devotee Salabega? Another such event occurred in Balasore, a city in Odisha. Salabega was coming from Delhi to Puri through Balasore and was staying near the temple of Shyamsundar.During evening prayers Salabega wanted to see the Lord inside but was not allowed to do so since he was a Muslim. One evening the priest found that the Lord was missing from his throne.The same night the king of Balasore had a dream that a great devotee of the Lord was waiting outside to have a darshan of Lord. He then made arrangements for a hole to be drilled in the wall so that Salabega could see the Lord. As soon as he stared at the throne of the deities, the deities reappeared.
” Naaham teesthaami vaikunthe, yoginaam hridaye na cha Madbhaktaa yatra dhyaayanti tatra teesthaami naarada-
Neither have I stayed in heaven nor even in the heart of saints. I reside in that place where my devotees pray / worship. “
Also Read – Sai Jagannath Temple, Cuttack – BBSR Road
Listen to Sankha Kahe Mun Jagannatha