The Chosen One
By Aditya Nag
‘The wheels move only as per the wishes of Lord Jagganath. If he so desires the ‘Ratha’ or chariot will move, if he doesn’t even a thousand elephants would not be able to budge it.’ That’s how the saying goes in Puri when the Holy Trinity step out for their annual visit from their abode to Gundicha Temple. Yes, such a thing has happened, not once, but many a times in recorded history. One such incident happened in the 17th century when the Rathas of the Lords did not move for more than three months (if we are to believe our folk tales) Why? Well because the Lord wanted it.
We bring you the story of why it did not move. Lord Jagannatha’s influence has been huge in the sub-continent and also in the realm of Hinduism. His fan-following is beyond any religion and one of his biggest devotees was a Muslim poet by the name of Salabega, who later on was known as ‘Bhakta Salabega.’ This 17th century poet is immortalized in Oriya culture as Lord Jagannatha’s greatest follower. So great was Salabega’s devotion to the Lord that it is said, He the Lord of the Universe came out to meet him when Salabega was denied entry into the Puri Temple.
In the year 1592, a Moghul army under orders from Akbar marched towards Medinipur in modern day West Bengal, led by Raja Man Singh the first, of Amber, to seize areas formerly under Afghan control(Bihar,Jharkhand,Odisha). Men from all parts of the known world formed this multi-ethnic and multi-religious force of Akbar sent to fight Nasir Khan, who had dared to attack the Jagannath Temple in Puri. Man Singh’s forces attacked Nasir Khan and decisively defeated him on 9th April 1592 in a battle near Medinipur and effectively annexed Odisha to the Mughal Empire and the Bengal Subah(Province). That done, Man Singh appointed an upcoming young military officer called Lalbeg as the commander of Cuttack.
History provides very little information on Lalbeg, but it is said that he was the commander of the garrison at Cuttack and was responsible for law and order in Mughal held Odisha, which also included safe passage of pilgrims to the Jagannath temple in Puri. When Lalbeg was on his patrols, he once came across a beautiful widowed Brahmin taking a bath at Dandamukundapur(village near Puri). Fascinated by her beauty, Lalbeg married her forcibly and a few years later they were blessed with a son, Salabega.
Born into a martial family, Salabega received military training and was soon fighting alongside his father. During one of the battles Salabega was grievously injured and he was brought to his mother, who chanted the name of Lord Jagganath and Lord Krishna as she nursed her beloved son back to health. He was filled with curiosity and wanted to know about Lord Jagannath, so he set out to Puri to meet this God who has no hands or legs but his power and charisma pulled devotees from all sects to Puri to see him.
When he reached Puri he was denied entry into the Puri Temple due to his Muslim birth. Soon he was ostracized by his own community for visiting Puri Temple and later despised upon by the Brahmin priests. With nowhere to go, the young Salabega started composing poetry right there in front of the Puri temple in reverence to Lord Jagganath and Lord Krishna. The only time he could see the Lord in person was during the ‘RathYatra’ and Salabega was thrilled to see his ‘Kalia Dhana’ and composed songs on him and each passing year his songs gained in popularity amongst the lakhs of people who visited the temple annually.
Considering his deep devotion towards the Holy Trinity and Lord Krishna some people advised him to visit Brindavan-Mathura to know more about Lord Krishna and also learn the nuances of Sanskrit and Brijbhasa poetic metre. Salabega left Puri and travelled to Brindavan on a year-long journey. After his stint at Brindavan, Salabega headed back for Puri, as he longed to see the Lord. As he inched closer to Puri he fell sick some 800kms before Puri. He was informed that the Rath Yatra, the only time when Salabega could see the Lord, had already begun. Upon hearing this he let out a shriek in anguish since he would not make it in time and then a miracle happened.
The place where Salabega used to stay was called Balagandi which is on the Bada Danda road between Puri Temple and Mausimaa Temple. It was here that every year Salabega would stand and watch his beloved ‘Kalia’. As Salabega recovered Lord Jagannath appeared in his dream and told him. “I shall not go until you have come to Puri and seen me. My Chariot shall stay in front of Balagandi till you appear. No legion of men, no army of elephants shall make it budge. I will proceed only when you come and chant and touch the ropes of the chariot.”
Meanwhile the Chariot of Lord Jagannath(Nandighosha) ground to a halt exactly in front of the place where Salabega had stayed. The priests called upon the people and soldiers to pull and heave the chariot but It would not move. Finally the priests called upon the King who is after all the fist servitor of the Lord. ‘Kalia’ appeared in the king’s dream and told him that the chariot shall only move when Salabega the poet appears in front of his chariot to pull. Finally after many days Salabega reached Puri and headed straight to his beloved ‘Kalia Dhana’. As soon as he pulled the ropes of the chariot, the wheels started to rotate. Soon a huge crowd along with the King shouted in joy “Bhakta Salabega the greatest devotee of Lord Jagannath.” We do not know the exact date of his Bhakta Salabega but his prose and poetry are sung by millions of devotees across the world. His contribution to Oriya poetry is one which cannot be matched even in modern times.
We at ‘Coffee Bytes’ must share one small detail with our readers too. While writing this article sitting inside our office the writer noticed an anomaly a bunch 5 ISKCON volunteers passed by with a cordless mic and musical instruments and guess what they were “Hare Rama, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Hare Hare.” Coincidence or a small way in which the Lord reaches out to you? Who knows!