by B.K Malik

The religious history of Odisha is unique and different from other parts of India. It is different not because of its language, but because of its distinct regional tradition which is characterized as an unbroken cultural development. Perhaps due to its geographical location it was partly able to withstand the Muslim conquest till 1568, more than three centuries longer than most other parts of North and central India. And even during the heyday of the Muslim rule under the Mughals, the distance from Delhi allowed Odisha to preserve her regional tradition and cullture till 1803.

Another outstanding feature of Odisha is 16th persistent existence of a strong tribal element throught its history. Even at present 25 percent of its population consists of tribal people and also they constitute Odisha therefore population of India about 15 percent of the total has often been regarded as an excellent example of Hindu-tribal dichotomy in India. At a superficial level this characterization might be correct. But a more scrutinizing analysis reveals to what an extent the regional tradition of Odisha is characterized by an uninterrupted tribal Hindu continuum. This characteristic feature of the culture of Odisha still finds its lasting manifestation in the Jagannath cult of Puri. The archaic iconography of the cult images on the one hand and their highest Hindu iconolgy on the other as well as the existence of former tribals (dalits) and Vedic Brahmins amongst its priests are by no means an anti thesis. But a splendid regional of the synthesis the local and the all Indian tradition

In the present paper there is an attempt to discuss whether secular features do really exist and are précised in the Jagannath Culture. We have listened to very importance episodes of Gaddess Lakshmi’s visit to the house of an Untouchable women devotee, Lord Jagannath visit to the house of an Untouchable saint. Bhakta Dasia and halting of Chariot for the devotees namely Balaram Dasa and Salabega. In this paper special attention has been paid to the contribution of Bhakta Salabega to the religious tradition Odisha.

The History of Odisha in 16th and 17th century A.D. was very important and during this period so many literary works of different poets, the role of Panchasakhas and Bhakta Kabi Salabega are considered very important in the history and culture of of Odisha. Born and brought of in a critical time Salabega, created a new Socio-Religious atmosphere in the 17th century A.D. His contribution to the Socio-Religious life was very significant and he had definitely occupied a prominent position as a sincere devotee of Lord Jagannath.

In the beginning of this period Islam gave a very inner awakening and carefulness to Hinduism. It helped to direct the socio-cultural onslaught on the Brahminical supremacy and encouraged declining the religious patronage of Hinduism. The great contribution of Muslim royal dynastices to Delhi was the introduction and propagation of Islam in India. Thus in such a critical time the rise of Salabega was an important event for the reformation of Society. In the childhood Salabega was brought up amidst Islamic culture but getting inspiration from his mother during the time of his illness, he developed a strong sense of devotion towards Balamukunda, a Hindu deity. The poems of Salabega are quoted in ‘Pada Kalpatarus’ of which one is written in Odia (1542). The second poem shows traces of Bengali and the third (2972) shows traces of BraJabhaka. A fourth poem, written entirely in Brajabuli, is quoted in (Aprakasita Padaratnavali) from the ‘Padarasara’.

According to the Odia tradition Salabega was the son of Lalbag Muslim a father and a Hindu mother. He became a devout Vaishnava even in his early youth, and after his mother’s demise he lived at Vraja. The Brajabhaka influence in one of his poems also shows that the poet must have retired to Brindaban

He started composing ‘bhajans eulogising the lovable aspects of Lord Srikrishna. After his return from Brindavana, he composed a few more bhajans and chaupadis on Srikrishna’s childhood activities and the amorous sports. These are supposed to have been his primary compositions. Then he stayed at Srikshetra for a considerable period and after witnessing the car festival and other festivals of lord Jagannath and hearing his glory from other devotees, he must have composed his bhajans based on lord Jagannath in the second phase of devotional career. In the last phase of his life, generally the poets get themselves involved in the discussion of the true knowledge of God and the mystery of human life. Salabega was no exception to this. Ho must have composed these groups of poems in the third phase of his life.

Salabega’s bhajans on Lord Srikrishna, ‘Brahmajanans’ his poems on Siva and Sakti are the valuable works for the Socio-Religious reformation in the medieval Odisha in 17th Century. Having been greatly absorved in ‘Krishnarash’, Salabega must have desired to go to Brindavan, his place of getting solace and satisfaction by seeing the memories of Radha and Krishna. After being cured from his illness with the grace of Srikrishna, the Lord of Brindavan, Salabega desires to go there and to take a holy bath at Radhakunda and Shyamakunda. He also aspires to drink the holy water of the Yamuna and to have a round on the Gobardhan hills. He wants to make his life pure happier by establishing his association even with the sands and Kunjabana of this place that has been associated with Srikrishna from very early time. Then the poet has been greatly saturated in love and devotion to Bala-Mukunda form of Srikrishna. There he must have had many anecdotes about his childhood activities. The Childlike behavior of Srikrishna towards his mother must have fascinated Salabega. He composed few Chaupadis describing the amusements of Lord Srikrishna. He writes, Yosoda tries to feed the child Srikrishna who does not like to take all these as he remains busy in playing with others. Yosoda calls on the Gopis and allures the child to have a round on the house with these gopis as soon as he finishes his food. Salabega desires to take shelter under the lotus feet of that child Srikrishna.

Sometimes Radha has complained against Krishna about his particular dress which creates a strong reaction and sensation in her minds. Therefore she, out of sensitiveness and wounded pride, has requested Srikrishna to give up of such type of dress. Even if he does it he should also take care not to use the Jasmines on it as it would hurt her sentiments. The ornaments or his waist, the sandals and has majestic movements create a lot of sensations in her mind. Salabega imagines such as beautiful appearance of srikrishna by meditating on this feet in his heart.

Santilata Dei in his book “Vaishnavism in Orissa” refer to that, the post-Chaitnya period up to the 19th century A.D. Witnessed a large number of Padavali writers, who produced numerous songs on Radha – Krishna theme of different songs. Bhakta Kabi Salabega was one among them. Salabega had cherished the greatest ambition of visiting Brindahana, the abode of Krishna, where Krishna performed rasakrida. The composition of Salabega in the 17th century greatly influenced the poets like, Banamali and Gopal Krishna of the latter period, who had also strong inclination and devotional love towards Lord Srikrishna. Even some poems of Banamali appears to be the original writings of Salabega, if a comparative study, is made as regards to choice of words and language by both of them.

From the Dardhyatabhakti Rasamruta of Rama Das, it is known that, as soon as Salabega was cured from his illness, he led the life of a Sanyasi and went to Purusottam Kshetra to make his life pleasant amidst the saints and the sages. He accepted Sri Jagannath as Srikrishna and composed his songs in his honour and dedicated himself on the feet of Lord Jagannath. He refused to enter into the Jagannath temple, as being a son of Muslim. So he was deeply remorse. Hence he wrote in grief, ‘Oh black eyed one’ let this life be ended for being deprived of your darsana’.

This poet’s desire to see Lord jagannath was, however, fulfilled during the car festival. He could see the deities in the car and was, overwhelmed with joy. His grief of not being permitted to enter into the temple of Lord Jagannath due to his excommunication from the society was, however, removed and he was convinced that all his sins would be definitely washed away on the holy sight of Lord Jagannath.

Salabega was also greatly worried over the removal of Jagannath from Puri (Nilachal) on account of the repeated invasions of Mughals. The Gajapati of Odisha, protects the temple from these on slaughts. Therefore the Sevakas of the deity took cave to shift them to a secluded place. When arrangements were made to sand the deities to the place on a bullock-cart this became very much unbearable on the part of Salabega and hence he composed, where are you taking Sri Jagannath? Whom shall we offer our prayer?

Though, Salabega is a famous devotee of Srikrishna, a few of his bhajanas, have also been dedicated in honour of Sri Ram, an incarnation of Lord Vishnu. But they are very few in number. He has been greatly inspired and influenced by Hanuman to Sri Ram and has composed a song in his honour, by imagining himself as Hanuman and offering at his lotus feet and imparting a number of advice to Ravan through himself.

After composing songs in honour of Sri krishna, Sri Jagannath and Sri Ram, when he became old he must have been influenced by the spiritual heritage of the country. Salabega belonged to the first part of the 17th century, was long associated with a group of devotees of his contemporary period and during this period he must have been attracted towards the worship of the ‘Sunyabrahma. Hence in the latter part of his writings it is natural that he must have composed songs on the true knowledge of God.

In his ‘Anakar Bha Jans’ Salabega has disclosed the real mystery of human life. Man comes and goes alone at the time of his birth and death. During his short stay in the world he gets himself involved in the worldly life and becomes puzzled. Hence Salabega advises such type of men to take shelter at the lotus feet of Srikrishna to be free from this busy and sordid world.

Salabega has imagined the soul (Jive) and the Supreme soul (Parma) as the ‘parrot’ and ‘myna’ and has tried to glorify the importance of Sri Ram in the life of a human being otherwise this parrot like man can one day be swallowed up by the time – like cat’. Human beings never realize important mystery of their life and hence they cannot aspire for a free and fair place in the heaven. In almost all his bhajnas he had advised the people to realize the transitoriness of this world and side along with it to dedicate themselves at the feet of Sri Ram and Sri Krishna and lord Jagannath. In one of his bhajanas, he has compared the human body with a flower and has stated that the significance of this flower lies only on the lotus feet of the God. Thus through his ‘Ankar bhajanas’ Salabega has expressed his proficiency and uncommon experience with the world, considering from all point of view.

Salabega was not only the devotee of Lord Jagannath, Srikrishna and Sriram but also the devotee of Siva and Devi. But from some of his bhajanas it is known that, he has invoced the Goddess to get the sight of that Nandabala the son of Nanda. In his bhajanas he has described the Goddess as four handed at beautiful, having been seated on a lotus pedestal and holding a lotus, its stem and Japamala’. To feel the existence of lord Jagannath, Sri Krushna and Sri Ram, Salabega must have composed his bhajanas in honour of the Devi, thinking him as the Gopi of Dvapara age. A few bhajans of Salabega have also been recently found out in which he invoked Siva to free him from this moral world.

In a deep devotion and love Salabega wrote that Srikrishna, Sri Ram and          Sri Jagannath, all are one God. He said “Oh Lord! you like the devotees more than your life, The devotees are your parents, friends and brothers. Oh Lord my father is a Mughal; my mother belongs to Brahmin family. I am born in a family that no Hindu receives water from me. Kindly save me from this humiliation. I do not know anything in this world other than your Lotus – feet.

Salabega has been greatly interested to see the car festival of Lord Jagannath, while he was far away from Puri but has not been able to the sight of the car in his inner eyes. He could see the chariot of Balabhadra in front line, that of Subhadra in the middle and the chariot of Jagannath in the rear passing through the Grand-Road with pomp and grassers. Hence he prays to Lord Jagannath to give him’ darsan’ during the time of Car-Festival as there is no alternative to see him elsewhere because, of his birth in low caste. It is believed that lord Jagannath’s chariot stopped near Balagandi till arrival of the great devotee, Salabega from Brindhavan. This expression of the poet suggests his unhappiness and criticism of the contemporary society, based on discrimination and inequality between the Hindus and Muslims. He prays God to make it egalitarian and save the society.

In one of his bhajanes Salabega describes, “Oh, Jagannath! I do not ask you anything except a small piece of land from the Saradhabali. I do not want anybody but you. I also do not like to hear anything but your greatness. Excepting your songs, I do not even like to sing the song of others. I do not like to smell anything but the discarded tulasi, the flower and camphor from your feet. I always recite your name and ultimately. I pray that let the bird of my life fly away on this holy place of yours.

Thus the bhajanas of Salabega written in 17th century are considered the jewels of the Odia literature so for as their lucid language, thought and the style of music and sense of devotion are concerned. Undoubtedly this can be considered as a glorious period of the Odia literature that was written by a poet, brought up in Muslim surroundings sometimes in three hundred years before. Though prior to Panchasakhas and some other scholars were born and composed their monumental works like the Mahabharata, the Jagomohan Ramayan, the Bhagabat and the Adhyatma Ramayan etc. Under these circumstances the rise of Salabega as a poet can be undoubtly regarded as an auspicious movement in Odia literature though he was a Muslim poet, who wrote some ‘Jananas’ and ‘bhajanas’ expressing paths and devotion to God, is one example of Hindu-Muslim unity. Though he was a Muslim, in course of time he came in contact with a number of seers and sages of the contemporary time. He knows the languages of Odia, Urdu, Bengali, and Brajaboli. One can be astonished to see the mastery of Salabega over the Odia language. He was an expert poet in composing verses. Simple, forceful and delicious with no trace of artificiality in them. He has also shown his extraordinary skill in using old and indigenous words in most of his compositions. The style of Salabegas sentence formation also highly heart touching and the learned readers will be definitely astonished by listening to the beautiful compositions of Salabega, consisting of very simple, forceful and soothing words of common nature.

Thus Salabega occupies a prominent place not among the ideal devotes but also among the distinguished poets of Odisha, he was more associated with the common people than the reputed persons of the society. Hence he preferred simple language which would be easily understood by one and all. He had a definite command over the Sanskrit language. He was the author of the famous ‘Patitapavan Satakam’ which is widely in vogue all over Odisha. His fine description of ‘Patitapavan Satakam’ attracted the attention of many people. Without having sufficient knowledge in Sanskrit it would have never been possible to compose such a work in Sanskrit.

Thus when the medieval society was in bad condition, the rise of Salabega was an important chapter in Odishan history. His bhajans and Jananas attracted the attention of the masses.  His songs are extremely sentimental, heart throbbing and completely melodious. They have become more delicious with the application of the Odisi’ Ragas and Raginis. His language is simple and forceful. His bhajans are appreciated by the people of all walks of life. Thus he spread the idea of mutual harmony, toleration, co-operation and compromise among the Hindu and Muslims through his devotional Bhajans and Jananas.

Salabega aimed at religious harmony, human unity and social unity. He laid more emphasis on the Bhakti. Before God all men are equal, all religionists to be treated equal. Salabega is the glaring example of the above statement. Though he was a Yavan and opposed by the Pandas and the prevailing the then social condition to enter into the Jagannath Temple but he became a great devotee of Lord Jagannath through his pure love and devotion. His tomb-stone at Badadanda is a symbol of Hindu-Muslim unity and it opened the eyes of the people of the then society. Large number of people became his followers. He attracted the attention of all communities and castes. No one can imagine that Salabega was a Muslim and his father was formidable plunderer and veritable religious fanatic. Salabeg himself revealed his identity in some of his widely acclaimed bhajan of Odisha. Salabega says “I am Yavan“, My father is the son of a Mughal and mother, the daughter of a Brahmin. I am born in such a family that the Hindus do not even take water from me.

He preached the message of love and unity in the society. If God created all men. He did not certainly discriminate between man and man. He believed the equal status of Hinduism and Islam. He preached against the religious differences as well as caste system. The right to approach God is not the monopoly of a particular section of society, but is freely granted to whose characterised by sincerity of heart. His influence was close and seep to the society.

Thus Salabega initiated the incentive for social reform. His sense of social unity is remarkable. Large numbers of people read and recite his bhajanans and Jananas. However, from his language, thought and style it is known that he must have composed many bhajanas during his life time. As a Muslim poet of devotion he ranks among the reputed poets like Kabir, and Ramananda of contemporary period. His equalitarian thought, if translated into practice the social transformation would usher in the world. It can be surmised that Salabega was, on the whole a poet of the mass, an ideal devote, reformer, the creator of an age of now Literature.


[1]. Nilamani Mishra and Laxman Panda, Salabega, Rashtrabhasa Samavaya praiasan, Cuttack, P – 34.

[2]. U. N. Lunila, Evolution of Indian Culture, Laxmi Narayan Agrawal Educational publisher, Agra, 1992, p 332

[3] . Sukumar Sen, History of Brajabuli Literature, Chapter-XXI, P. 463.

[4]. Nilamani Panda, Laxman Panda, Op.cit, P. 38

[5]. “Jibanare thiba Jebe Jibi brundaban.

Darasan Kariba Jai, Sri Madhusudhan.

Radha-Krishna Bhirnna, Nohe kunjaban.

Kahe Salabega hina, Jatire Jaban”

Nilamana Mashra, (ed) Bhakta kabi Salabega: Jibani o Padyabali, Dharma Grantha Store, Cuttack, 1994, P. 38

[6] Sunapua Nachaire, Khaina Labani Sara.

Nahin Nahih boli, Srikrushna halai khanti karunare.

Sunayatatiarey gotika adham Sachini nabat khina.

Kaya boli Maa Sarapuli, Nei dainty ranga adhire.

Nilamani Mishra, (ed) Op.Cit’ 1991 p. 40.

[7] Jaya Tume Nand Kala Kahnai, Mo Namey Murali eaiba Nahin.

Sisire Tumar Mayur Pucha, Bame Auijai Bandhiba Nahin.

bame aujai bandhiba Jementa, Punja mali khanjib nahin.

Nilamani Mishra (ed), Op.cit, 1994, p. 43.

[8]. Santilata Dei ‘Vaishnaviss in Orissa’, Punthi Pustak, Calcutta. 1994, P. 97.

[9] Kene gheni jauchha Jagannath amaku

Ambhe drasan karibu kahanku.

Nilamani Mislra & Layman panda, Salabega, Rastrabhema Samayavya Prakasana, Cuttack, P. 42.

[10]. Nilamani Mishra and Laxman Panda, ‘op. cit’, P. 43.

[11] Nilamani Mishra and laxman panda, op.cit, P. 43.

[12] Eka to bhakata Jiban, Bhakata nimante tora sankha chakra chihna.

Bhakata to pita mata bhakata to bandhu. Bhakata nimante tore nama kripasindhu.

Kahey Salbega hina Jatirey mun Jiban, Srirangachranbinu na Janai aana.

Nilamani Mishra, Op-Mt 1994, P. 105.

[12] Jagannath hey kichhi magunahin tote, Magunahin Tote, Magunahin dhana, magunahin Jana. Maguchhi Saradhabaliru hate.”

Nilamani Mishra, ‘Op-Cit., 1994, P.70

[13] Jagabandhu hey Gosaain,

Tumbha Sricharan binu Annya gati nahin.

Satas panchas kosa chali naparai,

moha jiba jaye Nandighose thiba rahi,

Jagabandhu hey Gosaaie.

Nilamani Mishra, Op. Cit, 1994, P.70.

[14]B. C. Roy, ‘Orissa Under Moughals’, Punthi Pustak, Calcutta, 1981, P. 175

[15] Jagannath hey kichhi magunahin tote, Magunahin dhana, magunahin Jana. Maguchhi Saradhabaliru hate.”

Nilamani Mishra, ‘Op-Cit., 1994, P.70

[16] B. C. Roy, Orissa under Mughals, Punthi Pustak, Calcutta, 1981, P. 175

[17] Nilamani Mishra and Laxman Panda, ‘Op. Cit, p.28