The Poet Salabega
Jagannatha is Krishna, and His transcen¬dental pastimes are unlimited and beyond comprehension. He showed special mercy to His poet-devotee Salabega, whose example illustrates the Lord’s eagerness to reciprocate with His devotees. Born in the beginning of the seventeenth century, Salabega was the son of the widow of a Hindu brāhmaṇa and Lalbeg, a merciless commander of the Moghul Empire. Although his ruthless father intensely hated the Hindus, Salabega’s mother was a fervent devo¬tee of Lord Jagannatha, and she taught her son about the Lord.
Once, as a child or young man, Salabega became very ill, and the attending physicians thought he would die. Salabega miraculously recovered when he heard some devotees singing bhajanas (devotional songs) about Krishna and Jagannatha and he began chanting Jagannatha’s names. This was a pivotal moment in his devo¬tional life. He remembered his mother’s descrip¬tion of Visnu’s rescue of Gajendra, the king of the elephants, when chased by a crocodile. Like Dhruva Maharaja and Sri Prahlada, Salabega had intense childlike faith in the mercy of the Lord.
As he grew older, Salabega learned to sing and compose devotional songs for the pleasure of Ja¬gannatha, whom he sometimes called Kalia, “the dark darling.” He eventually lived in Vrindavan, but he became anxious to see Lord Jagannatha in Puri. Because of his Muslim birth, Salabega was denied entrance to the Puri temple, and he returned to Vrindavan in disappointment. Lord Jagannatha is known as Patita Pavana, “the savior of the fallen,” and so He comes out from the temple every year during the Rathayatra festival to bestow his merciful glance upon all creatures. Salabega planned to visit Puri during the Rathayatra festival.
On the way to Puri, however, he fell ill. Lamenting at the thought that he would miss the opportunity to see Jagannatha, he prayed that Jagannatha would wait for him, a sentiment prevalent in one of his songs: satasa pacasha ko¬sha cali na parai/ moha jivajaen nandi-ghose thiva rahi. “It is very difficult to walk the 750 koshas [the distance between Vrindavan and Jagannatha Puri] to see You. Please remain on Nandighosa until then.”
Just then, a miracle occurred. Lord Jagan¬natha’s cart, called Nandighosa, stopped, and no one could budge it. Jagannatha waited for the arrival of His dear devotee Salabega, who had the opportunity to sing directly to his dark darling and look at Him to his heart’s content. Those who had criticized Salabega for his low birth were humbled as they saw the greatness of Salabega’s devotion.
Salabega often returned to compose songs for Jagannatha at the spot where the Lord had stopped. Today, his samadhi (tomb) stands nearby on Grand Road.
Salabega’s devotion apparently brought the Lord of the universe under his control. In tribute to this pastime, even to this day Lord Jaganna¬tha’s cart stops at Salabega’s samadhi on Grand Road during the Rathayatra procession.
Salabega’s example teaches us that birth does not matter, that pure devotion transcends social status, such as being a brāhmaṇa. After all, we are not these bodies but spirit souls. To show the world that anyone can become Krishna’s pure devotee, Prabhupada wanted his followers, most of whom were not brāhmaṇas by birth, to be brahminical in devotion and behavior.
Even the most neophyte devotees of the Lord can taste the sweetness of the Lord’s reciprocity. It is said that when we take one step toward Krishna, He takes a hundred steps toward us. When we remember that Vamanadeva, Krish-na’s incarnation as a dwarf brāhmaṇa, crossed the entire universe with two steps, Krishna’s hundred steps toward us are particularly sig¬nificant. Even though no one is truly eligible to serve the Supreme Lord, He is so merciful that He accepts the devotee’s humble attempts. The Lord is more eager to reclaim His conditioned parts than they are to return to Him, and He helps His devotees return home, back to God¬head: “Those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form—to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Bg. 9.22) Even if a devotee does not become completely purified in this lifetime, he or she will be able to continue on the path of devotional service in the next life. Spiritual gains, unlike material gains, are never lost.
The easiest way for us to feel Krishna’s re¬ciprocation is through hearing and chanting His names: sravanam kirtanam. When Krish¬na descended as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, He made pure love of God, prema, available to everyone through the chanting of the holy names. In degraded Kali-yuga, the current age of quarrel and hypocrisy, this is the best meth¬od to achieve perfect Krishna consciousness. It is the yuga-dharma, the prescribed activity for the age. Krishna’s names are endowed with all His potency, which means He is present in His names. When we chant attentively, He will come to dance on our tongues. What greater reciprocation do we need than this?
— Mohini Radha Devi Dasi graduated from Columbia University with a degree in English literature in 2004. She is a disciple of His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami and lives with her husband, Narada Rsi Dasa, in New York City.
The Poet Salabega
The Poet Salabega