Salabeg - A great Muslim devotee of Lord Jagannatha
Bhakta Kavi Salabeg
A great Muslim devotee of Lord Jagannatha
Sri Vrindavana candra bhaja se ye asesa devaraja
asesa ausadhira ghara bhajile nisce hebu para
“Just chant the name of Vrindavana Candra. He is the Lord of all the demigods who are always ready to carry out His order. He is our treasure, who possesses the wonderful panacea for all diseases. If you worship Him, if you surrender to Him, you will definitely overcome your illness. This is the one and only cure for you.”
Salabeg, a great Muslim devotee of Lord Jagannatha was born as son of ruthless Muslim aggressor Lal Beg, who was appointed by emperor Jahangir to invade Orissa and specifically to desecrate the sanctity of Jagannatha Temple in Puri in order to undermine the faith and conviction of the devotees. However, Lal Beg’s own son Salabeg, since his youth became an unflinching devotee of Lord Jagannatha, whose longings and unalloyed devotion took the form of unique compositions of devotional bhajans that were imbued with heart-wrenching cries for the mercy of Patita Pavana Jagannatha in the mood of utter humility!
By arrangement of Lord, several astonishing pastimes happened including - (1) forceful abduction and unusual marriage of Salabeg’s mother, Lalita (who was formerly a Brahmin lady) while Lal Beg was passing by a village with his army intending to attack Jagannatha temple at Puri, (2) disclosure of Lalita’s previous identity to Salabeg after he was gravely wounded in a battlefield that she formerly came from ancestral family worshipers of Lord Gopinath, and her unusual marriage, (3) Lalita’s plea to Salabeg to surrender to Gopinath and amazing description of the beauty of Lord Krishna, (4) appearance of Lord Krishna in Salabeg’s dream and curing of his wounds, (5) Salabeg’s decision to dedicate his whole life to glorifying merciful Lord Jagannatha and his travel to Puri, (6) unflinching devotion of Salabeg to Lord Jagannatha despite repeatedly rebuked, humiliated and ill-treated by the servitors of the Sri Mandir, (7) articulation of his grief in the form of sorrowful songs saturated with deference and submission, and determination to attain lotus feet of Lord Krishna in spite of his fallen position, (8) astonishing pastime of disappearance and reappearance of Shyamsundar deity at Balasore to give darshans to Salabeg when he temporarily decided to leave Puri to go to Vrindavana, (9) Salabeg’s avid desire to see Lord Jagannatha at Ratha-yatra in Puri while he was in residing in Vrindavana, and stopping of Lord Nandighosh Ratha cart during Bahuda Yatra (return Yatra of Lord Jagannatha after 9 days) and refusing to move an inch further in spite of fire sacrifices, kirtana performances and the endeavours of the largest elephants to pull His cart, until Salabeg reached Puri!
Salabeg’s Samadhi is situated at Balagandi in Puri on the Grand Road itself where Lord Jagannatha Rathayatra happens every year. Samadhi is near the Balagandi Chata Matha. Every year the Chariot of Lord Jagannatha stops at Chatamatha, or the samadhi of Salabega (near Mausima temple) during His travel!
It is ironic that one of the most famous devotees of Lord Jagannatha in all of Orissa was born in a Yavana family and hence was not allowed entrance into the Sri Mandir. The devotee-poet Salabeg, who lived in Orissa during the 17th century, was a Muslim whose longings for his Lord took the form of breathtaking devotional songs. Aptly written in vipralambha-ksetra (Jagannatha Puri Dhama), the place of separation, his compositions are soulful expressions of the bittersweet feelings stemming from Salabeg being barred from freely taking Darshan of Lord Jagannatha.
As evidenced by his poems, Salabeg’s mother came from a Brahmin family. His father was a Muslim named Jahangir Quli Khan, or Lal Beg, a prominent figure in the Moghul army and a close friend of emperor Jahangir. Although Orissa was under strong Moghul influence since Sultan Firuz Tughlug invaded Orissa in 1360 and desecrated the Jagannatha Temple, the devotee community continued to worship Jagannatha as the Lord of the Universe. This was a great cause of annoyance for the Mullahs, the Muslim holy men in the Delhi court. Therefore they tried to persuade emperor Jahangir that in order to undermine the faith and conviction of the devotees, he should spoil the sanctity of the Puri temple and the deity. Impressed by his friend Lal Beg’s ruthless attitude towards the Hindus, Jahangir appointed him the subadar, governor, of West Bengal and Orissa.
Intending to attack the temple of Lord Jagannatha in Puri, Lal Beg started off with an army of soldiers from the Barabati fort in Cuttack. While army was passing by the village of Danda Mukundapur, by the arrangement of Lord, Lal Beg’s eyes fell on the youthful beauty of a widow Brahmin lady bathing in a roadside pond amongst some lotus flowers. Captivated by her charms, Lal Beg lost his composure. He abducted her like a famished tiger catching a deer, and, temporarily postponing his campaign against Jagannatha, he carried the girl back to his palace. Although the young lady tried again and again to escape, she was repeatedly foiled by the superior strength of her captor. Exhausted and defeated, and seeing no other choice, she finally agreed to be his wife but only on the condition that he desist from attacking temples and dwellings of brahmins.
The name of the fair widow was Lalita. She was the daughter of Madhava Rath and Sulakshan, who hailed from a high-class Brahmin line. When Lalita was but a child, Madhava and Sulakshan had given her in marriage to Bandhu Mishra, who died a few years later, leaving her a young widow. Following Muslim custom, Lal Beg renamed his newly acquired wife as Fatima Biwi, and she soon gave birth to the subadar’s son. Sharing his own name, Lal Beg called their child Salabeg. Salabeg was born on Radhastami, 16 September 1592. In accordance with family tradition, Lal Beg raised him to be a warrior like himself.
Lal Beg’s family pleasures did not last long. A Mullah from Delhi brought many allegations against him, and the order was dispatched that he should immediately quit Orissa. On his way from Cuttack, Lal Beg was killed by an aggressor on 4th April 1608. Lal Beg’s successor, the new subadar, was directed to stamp out the Gajapati rule from Orissa and establish Moghul administration. To accomplish this, the Muslim army was in ceaseless war with the Oriyas. Lal Beg’s son, Salabeg had completed his military training, and in course of these wars established himself as an able warrior.
In one battle, Salabeg became gravely wounded. When medical treatment was ineffective, Salabeg told his mother that he would rather die than continue to suffer. Understanding his agony, Lalita feared death of her only child. Seeing no means of recovery for Salabeg other than the mercy of Gopinath, the Lord of her native village, she pleaded with her son to worship Lord Krishna:
sri vrindavana candra bhaja se ye asesa devaraja
asesa ausadhira ghara bhajile nisce hebu para
“Just chant the name of Vrindavana Chandra. He is the lord of all the demigods who are always ready to carry out His order. He is our treasure, who possesses the wonderful panacea for all diseases. If you worship Him, if you surrender to Him, you will definitely overcome your illness. This is one and only cure for you.”
Salabeg’s eyes opened wide with wonder. “Mother, Krishna is a Hindu god. Why will He listen to me? How could you, a faithful Muslim, suggest this?” In reply, his mother revealed to her Muslim-raised son the story of her unusual marriage. While narrating the long-ago incident of her abduction, she broke into tears and her voice choked. Nothing remained a secret to Salabeg.
With flattering voice, he said, “Mother, since you carried me in your womb, this body belongs to you. I will definitely carry out your order. However, I don’t know anything about your Vrindavana Chandra. Where does He stay? What does He look like? How can I meet Him?”
Lalita happily smiled and replied, “My dear son, listen to me and I will explain to you everything that I learnt from my father about Him. Ever-youthful Gopinath resides in Vrindavana. His father is Maharaja Nanda, and Yashoda Rani is His mother. His family rules over a village of gopas and gopies, but in actuality all living beings are His subjects. His gopi beloved is beautiful Radhika, who is dearer to Him than His own file.
“Krishna is bluish like a rain cloud and His dark skin is more radiant than lightening. He has an extremely charming figure, and His curly black hair is adorned with a peacock feather. His forehead is decorated with brilliant yellow goracana tilak, and His ears are ornamented with shark-shaped earrings. His eyes resemble lotus petals. Always attired in an outfit of molten gold, He stands bent in their places and holds a flute in His hands. Yogis meditate on His lotus feet; the whole world bows to Him; whoever takes shelter of Him need have no fear. My dear son, just meditate on that form and start chanting His name.”
Salabeg questioned how Gopinath could hear him from far away in Vrindavana. In reply, his mother quoted a well-known Oriya saying, “emanta svarupa ata-i yahin cintiba tahin thai – The wonderful nature of Lord Krishna is such that you’ll find Him wherever and whenever you think of Him,” she said, “If you raptly meditate upon Him, leaving aside all fear and confusion, certainly within 12 days He will answer your prayer.”
Mother and son agreed that for 12 days Salabeg will worship Lord Krishna – and if nothing changes for the better they would both end their lives. With great sincerity and seriousness, Salabeg immediately started meditating on Vrindavana Chandra, just as a drowning person in the middle of the ocean catches hold of a boat.
Salabeg kept praying. Twelve days passed, but there was no relief from the pain. Salabeg, growing impatient, questioned his mother, “Why has Gopinath not helped us in spite of our worship?” His mother said in consolation, “The activities of the Lord are extraordinary. His mercy often comes in the form of suffering. He does this to examine our patience. One who withstands that test actually gets His mercy, and one who is cheated. Don’t be disheartened. Surrendering to His lotus feet is the only recourse left for us.”
Seeing the anxiety of his son, Lalita beseeched Lord Krishna with utmost humility, “O Lord! With great miracles You have delivered innumerable persons from their tabulations. There is nothing unknown to You. please open up Your heart towards us. Without Your mercy we are certainly doomed.”
That night Gopinath appeared in Salabeg’s dream and gave him a handful of vibhuti, sacred ashes, instructing him to smear them over the wound. The next morning, Lal Beg’s son woke up with ecstatic symptoms all over his body. As he recollected the dream, tears of love rolled down his eyes and his voice choked up with transcendental emotion. After close examination, he found no sign of any wounds on his body. Delighted, he woke up his mother and excitedly narrated to her the whole incident.
Getting a new life by the mercy of Gopinath, Salabeg made up his mind to dedicate his whole existence to glorifying such a merciful Lord. With his mother’s blessings, he immediately started his journey to Sri Ksetra Jagannatha Puri dhama, immersed in chanting about his Lord, and oblivious to all external surroundings.
Yet, when Salabeg reached Puri, he could find no shelter. None, that is, other than Patita Pavana Jagannatha, the saviour of the fallen. He was repeatedly rebuked, humiliated and ill-treated by the servitors of the Sri Mandir as well as by local priests and temple leaders. The temple pandas did not let anyone in who belonged to another religion, and Lal Beg’s son was no exception. Even though there is no discrimination of caste or creed before the Lord Himself, due to his Muslim birth and true to the established, prevailing local custom, the personal servitors of the Lord would not allow him entrance to the Jagannatha Temple.
Being the object of the temple pandas contempt did not cause Salabeg to accuse them – rather, he articulated his grief in the form of sorrowful songs saturated with deference and submission, and occasionally with sulky determination to attain Vrindavana Chandra in spite of his fallen position. Salabeg was not only prevented from entering the bada deula, the big temple of Jagannatha, but neither would any other matha or Hindu house give him a place. Salabeg decided to temporarily leave Puri to take shelter of Sri Vrindavana Dhama. Before leaving Sri Ksetra, he begged for the order of Niladri Bihari Jagannatha with the following song:
kahe salabega jatire yavana
tini daru ajna hela jibi vrindavana
“The outcast, fallen Salabeg is seeking the permission and blessings of the three Lords to visit Vrindavana.”
On his way, Salabeg stopped at Balasore for a few days. According to local history, a curious event took place during his visit. During the evening prayers one night, Salabeg longed to have darshan of the deity residing in the Shyamsundar Temple. Being a Muslim, he was not allowed to enter the temple compound, which was surrounded by high boundary walls. When the priest later went to put the Lord to rest, he was astonished to find that the deity had disappeared from His throne.
That same night the king had a dream. He saw Salabeg waiting outside the boundary walls of Shyamasundar’s temple, eager for darshans. The next day, the king had a hole bored through the wall so that Muslim devotee could see His Lord. Local history has it that when Salabeg looked through, the deity miraculously reappeared on the altar, giving immense joy to the bhakta-kavi Salabeg! After a short stay in Balasore, Salabeg continued his journey towards Vrindavana, singing:
jivanare thibi jebe jibi vrindavana
darsana karibi jai sri-madhusudana
radha-kunda syama-kunda karibi snahana
parikrama karuthibi giri-govardhana
anande Yamuna jala karibi mun pana
mun niki bhajibi jehu mukati bhajana
rahasara dhuli ange karibi lepana
kunje kunje taru-mule karibi sayana
radha-krsna veni bhinna nohe kunja-vana
kahe salabega hina jatire yavana
“I live only to go to Vrindavana and behold Sri Madhusudana. I will take bath in the holy waters of Radha Kunda and Shyama Kunda and circumambulate Govardhana Hill. With great ecstasy I will drink the water of the Yamuna and I will chant the glories of the Lord, the bestower of liberation. In the place of Sri Krishna’s rasa dance I will smear dust all over my body, and I will take rest beneath the wish-fulfilling trees of all the forest bowers.”
During his nearly year-long stay in Vrindavana, Salabeg was constantly immersed in hearing about the Lord’s activities. He especially relished devotional poetry depicting the playful pastimes of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna. He composed a number of poems during his visit.
While residing in Vrindavana, Salabeg developed an avid desire to see Lord Jagannatha at Ratha-yatra in Puri. However, he realized that he was setting out too late. It would not be possible for him to reach Puri in time to see Jagannatha on His chariot. By the time he would arrive, even the return Ratha-yatra would be finished. Still, hoping against hope, he immediately set off on foot for the month-long journey towards Puri, composing on the way a poem full of lamentation and hankering. This song later became one of the most famous bhajanas in Orissa:
jagabandhu he gosain
tumbha sri carana binu anya gati nahin
satasa pacasa kosa cali na parai
moha jivajaen nandighose thiba rahi
ratha cari pase lambe mukutara jhara
jhala mala disuthai prabhu cakadola
baisi pahacha tale bikahue bhata
darsana teniki thau kaivalye mukata
age cale balabhadra madhye canda mukhinre
asuci kalia pache gahala lagaire
kahe salabega hina jatire yavana
ehimate ajna heo sri-vrindavana
“Jagabandhu, my Lord, Friend of everyone in this world! I have nowhere else to go than seeking shelter at Your auspicious lotus feet. Fifteen hundred miles is too far a distance for me to cover. Till I arrive there and get a glimpse of You, do remain on the Nandighosh. Shimmering and bright, tassels of pearls hang out on all four sides of Your chariot, O my round eyed Lord! On the twenty-two steps are sold the holy cooked rice. Even a grain can give me emancipation. Let me have some at first, before I proceed to get Your sight. Brother Balabhadra leads the way. In the middle comes the sister with pretty moon-face; mingling with the noisy crowd, the dark one follows behind. Says Salabeg, I am yavana, an outcaste and fallen. Do heed my supplication, O Lord, grant me residence in Vrindavana.”
After finishing his song, Salabeg immediately felt rejuvenated and singing his heart out, glorifying and petitioning his Lord, he ran all the way to Puri. The 10th day in the fortnight of the waxing moon in month of Asadha (June-July) had arrived. The grand festival of the Bahuda-ratha, the return Ratha-yatra, was celebrated with all pomp and ceremonies. Making their way through the dense crowd were the three chariots of Baladeva, Subhadra and Jagannatha Dev, on their way back to the Sri Mandir.
Abruptly, Nandighosh stopped. Bhava-grahi-janardhana, the Lord who accepts the essence of His devotee’s mood, refused to move an inch further. In spite of fire sacrifices, kirtana performances and the endeavours of the largest elephants to pull His cart, Kalia Thakur, the Black Lord, decided to stay in Balaganthi (an area about two-thirds of the way from the Gundica Temple towards the Sri Mandir, near the Mausima temple). Incomprehensible to anyone else, the Lord of the universe chose to wait for His dear devotee Salabeg, tolerating the searing sun and torrential rain, and postpone enjoying the luxuries that awaited Him in the Sri Mandir.
Yearning to meet the Lord of his heart, Salabeg at last reached Sri Ksetra. When he arrived at Balaganthi and understood that Jagabandhu, the friend of the world, had waited for him, he became overcome with emotion. Shedding profuse tears of ecstasy, and at the same time condemning himself severely for his unmerited wish, he begged apology for inconveniencing the Lord – in the form of a song that he composed right there in front of Nandighosh:
Ahe rathabara cadha mo karama ete poda
Mo pain sahila Prabhu kete kasana
Jatire mui yabvana ksama dosa nava-ghana
Bala-ganthi pathe Prabhu kara gamana
Salabega hina svabhava
Dina-hina yavana re ede saraga
“O Jagannatha, ascender of the chariot! I am doomed! I am a Muslim by birth, yet You have gone to so much trouble for my sake. O Lord, like a refreshing bluish rain cloud! Please forgive my offenses and quickly depart for Your temple on the road from Balaganthi. Salabeg says, “I have a low, despicable nature. Still, O Lord, You show great affection to all, including a wretched yavana like myself.”
Word spread far and wide that Kalia Thakura had waited in Balaganthi for his bhakta, a low-born poet who had just arrived from Vrindavana. Hundreds of people thronged to the Grand Road to see Salabeg. Even the King of Puri came and stayed to witness how after Chakadola granted darshan to Salabeg. Nandighosh finally proceeded, soon to reach the main entrance of the Sri Mandir.
For the rest of his life, Salabeg stayed at that place where Lord Jagannatha stopped His chariot to show His affection for His devotee. After Bhakta Salabeg left this world, the ceremonies of placing his body into Samadhi at Balaganthi were conducted according to Vaishnava rites by the Jagannatha temple. For his Samadhi tomb, situated to the north of the Balaganthi Chata, a plot of land was donated by the then King of Puri, Maharaja Narasinghadev. The gajapati maharaja also gave some land for the upkeep of the Samadhi and decreed that two pieces of khata-chula-jagannatha-maha-prasada (a large dry sweet, about 5 inches in diameter) should be offered at the Samadhi of the bhakta-kavi daily. Salabeg’s samadhi on the Grand road of Puri stands as a silent and solemn reminder of the affectionate exchanges that take place between the Lord and His devotes – those humble souls who consider themselves the most insignificant and have no shelter in this world but Him.
In his hundreds of poems and prayers composed in Oriya, Sanskrit, Hindi, Bengali and Brajbuli languages, Salabeg presented himself as Lord Krishna’s most wretched, degraded, aspiring servant, and depicted Lord Jagannatha as his eternal master, Sri Krishna in Vrindavana. A distinctive last line that conveys the bhakta-kavi’s mood and represents a regularly occurring theme in his poetry is: kahe salabega hina jatire mu yavana – Salabeg says, “I am a low born Yavana.” All his poems contain at least one reference to his fallen background.
The Muslim-born poet’s bhajanas are imbued with the spirit of unalloyed devotion, and are often ornamented with unique and unusual metaphors. Frequent topics of his compositions include descriptions of Yashodanandan’s childhood pastimes; the rasa dance; the wonderful activities of Bamsi Bihari, the transcendental flute player; and especially descriptions of Gopinath’s separation from Srimati Radhika and Her girl companions.
Salabeg’s compositions are still preserved after 400 years in the hearts and on the lips of the people of Orissa. Any Oriya speaking people, whether in villages or cities, can sing at least a few lines from his Jagabandhu He Gosain. Even today, in the Sri Mandir, after mangala-arati and following Sri Jayadev’s Gita-govinda, Salabeg’s Ahe Nila Saila, “O Blue Mountain”, is enthusiastically performed for the pleasure of Shyamasundar Jagannatha. For those who are similarly not allowed entry to the abode of Vrindavana Chandra, and for all Gaudiya Vaishnavas who, following in the footsteps of the Lord’s closet associates, are learning to cultivate dainya bhava, the mood of utter humility, Bhakta Kavi Salabeg’s work is as relevant as ever, his bhajanas being heart-wrenching cries for the mercy of the saviour of the most fallen, Patita Pavana Jagannatha:
As saintly devotees come together,
To loudly chant Hari’s names in prayer,
Says Salabeg, by birth lowly and meek
“May my restless mind always concentrate
On Lord Jagannatha’s reddish lotus feet!”
[Ref: Sri Krishna
Kathamrita No. 13 – Patita-Pavana: The Most Merciful Lord – Gopal Jiu
Salabeg’s Samadhi at PuriSalabeg’s Samadhi at PuriBahuda Yatra of Lord Jagannatha at Puri after Lord's 9 days stay at Gundica Temple
Directions to Salabeg’s Samadhi: Salabeg’s Samadhi is situated at Balagandi in Puri on the Grand Road itself where Lord Jagannatha Rathayatra happens every year. Samadhi is near the Balagandi Chata Matha. Every year the Chariot of Lord Jagannatha stops at Chatamatha, or the samadhi of Salabega (near Mausima temple) during His travel!
Hill - II
O Blue Hill!
Strands of green dayana leaves
Adorn your shapely arms,
Sitting on leopard skins
Spread around the holy basil plant,
Countless yogis sit in meditation.
They sing hymns in your praise
And chant your name keeping count.
Viewing the grand avenue
My soul is filled with gratitude for you.
My heart is not content with rice or sweet,
For it, a taste of sour gruel, is quite a treat!
Batons of split cane
Crack aloud in the Lions Gate,
Dispelling at their touch
All the mortal sins.
Anxious to get a sight
Of Lord Sri Jagannatha,
They all move forward
Each pushing the other.
Happily did I climb
The twenty-two steps
Dried rice offerings of the Lord
In stalls on both sides were displayed!
Every mouth is eager to devour
A morsel of the sacred Kaivalaya,
This heavenly food they all share together,
Be he a priestly Brahmin or a lowly sweeper!
Sitting atop the lion
The elephant presses it down,
How I wish my eyes to behold
The auspicious sight
Of the crow being transformed
Into the four-armed Lord
When it fell into the holy tank unwarned!
From behind the pillar
On which the Lord's carrier-eagle sits
Behold the charming sight of the Lotus face.
See how rubies, diamonds, pearls and emeralds dazzle on His heart,
On which he sports the pretty tiger-nails in a pendant.
Lord Jagannatha's celestial consort
Carrying offerings in a golden plate,
The pretty black-faced Lord does circumambulate
To him she offers her prayers devout,
As the saints and holy ones all round,
Hari's name, do chant aloud.
Says Salabega, who hails from the lowly
'May my mind always concentrate
On your charming lotus feet!
I pray to Lord Sri Jagannatha,
Shower on me your blessings but once
O Lakshmi's divine consort!'
Sri Jagannatha Puri Dhama Parikrama: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=11947
Sri Khira Chora Gopinatha Temple at Remuna: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=16963
Sri Alarnath Temple at Brahmagiri: http://www.dandavats.com/?p=22618
Sri Krishna Kathamrita No. 13: https://blservices.com/product/Sri-Krishna-kathamrita-no-13/
Holy Pilgrimages: www.Holy-Pilgrimages.com
Holy Dham: www.HolyDham.com
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare |Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare ||