Salabega lived in the first half of the 17th century. Nilamani Mishra, who has written a comprehensive account of the poet and his works, determines the birth of Salabega between circa AD 1607-1608. Salabega was the son of the Mugual subedar, Lalbeg, who was overcome with passion looking at a Brahmin widow returning from her bath at Dandamukundapur. He forcibly abducted and married her. Salabega was later born to this widow.
It is believed that the poet suffered from some incurable ailment and through prayers to Lord Jagannatha, as advised by his mother, he was miraculously cured. 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 Lions’ Gate. The poet identified Jagannatha completely with Sri Krishna. He was always eager to witness the Ratha Yatra so he could get a glimpse of his Lord. Once he was held up on way while returning from Vrindavan and prayed earnestly to the Lord that he should wait for him on the Nandighosha chariot till he reached Puri. The Lord waited there and gave a darshan to his dear devotee Salabega on the Bada Danda, near Balagandi.
Salabega composed numerous devotional songs but not all of them have survived. Most of his compositions are prayers and hymns to Lord Jagannatha and Krishna. A good number of these deal with the romantic dalliance of Krishna with the gopis and Radha, while a few are inspired by the vatsalya ras, the sweet, motherly feeling Yashoda had for child Krishna.
His deep devotion has intensity and passion, outstanding even in the devotional literature of the Bhakti era. 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. This frequently necessitated shifting the deities outside the main sanctum and the poet gives graphic details in the song ‘Kene gheni jaucchha Jagannathanku…’
Extracted from ‘Blue Hill: Hymns to Lord Jagannatha’, Rupa 2004
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