Posts filed under ‘Maa Samleshwari, Balangir’
Dr. Chitrasen Pasayat
Sambalpur, above and beyond the seat of Buddhism and Hinduism, is also abode of other religions and communities such as Muslims, Christians and numerous indigenous tribal communities. With this multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-lingual composition, Sambalpur has always preferred the path of social accommodation and social integration. In Sambalpur, as a consequence, people of diverse religious faiths have inhabited collectively in harmony. It may correctly be identified as the most pluralistic society. The present essay is an effort to appreciate how the autochthonous groups and their religious traditions (Little Tradition) have been effectively wrapped up in the regional Hindu society and culture (Great Tradition). Moreover, this paper is an attempt to understand how afterward these traditions have played most noteworthy role in the process of state formation in the regional level i.e. in the erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya or kingdom during medieval period. In Sambalpur, as discussed elsewhere, the ruling class was always aware of the fact that communalism would weaken the state and would cause disharmony in social life and would divert the attention of the people from formation of a separate Sambalpur Rajya. So, attempts were made to integrate the indigenous communities into one fold under the broad umbrella of Hinduism. What’s more, their deities were acknowledged, exalted and glorified to the Hindu status by the ruling class of Sambalpur in order to appease the local subjects so that the ruling class could consolidate their power over the natives and exercise their suzerainty over this area. Understandably, in this process of building unified Sambalpur Rajya indigenous communities with their religious traditions were successfully absorbed in the mainstream of the Hindu Great Tradition through its branches like Saivism, Vaisnavism and Saktism. The area of our study i.e. Sambalpur is the headquarters town of modern Sambalpur district. It is situated on the left bank of the river Mahanadi.
From the earliest time, Sambalpur has been celebrated as the land of Tantrik Buddhism. It is an ancient town and it has the global reputation of being a Tantra Pitha. When Buddhism as a religious-cultural power began to decline in several parts of India, Sambalpur shouldered the vital responsibility of the continuation of this faith in its new form i.e. Tantrik Buddhism. In this context, it may be mentioned that the existence of Sambalpur may be dated back at least to the early Christian era. The Greek Geographer Ptolemy (middle of the second century A.D.) in his book the Geographike refers to a town named Sambalaka located on the bank of the river Manada. Ancient Sambalaka and Manada are identified with modern Sambalpur and the river Mahanadi respectively (O’Malley, 1909:20). The suffix Pur has been later supplemented by sanskritising the original name Sambala when this region has come under the Chauhan rule (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:2-3). Likewise, the Samalei Pitha may be supposed to be much older and the aborigines may have worshiped the deity since time immemorial. Sambalpur is intimately linked with the spread of Tantrik Buddhism both in India as well as overseas. It is recognized to be the land where the Sambara Tantra was advocated by a famous Siddha called Pitopada who is as well regarded to have conquered the Siddhi of invisibility at Sambala (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:446). Sometimes, in the eighth century A.D., Indrabhuti was the king of Sambalaka / Sambalpur and was believed to have patronized Tantrik Buddhism. He was the author of the manuscript the Jnanasiddhi. His sister Laksmikara / Laksminkara is also reported to be Tantrik Buddhist perfectionist. She is celebrated as one of the 84 Siddha–Gurus in Tantrik Buddhism and as the propounder of a religious faith called Sahaja-yana, consequently, building a grand name and reputation for herself. It implies that by the time of medieval period, the land of Sambala / Sambalaka / Sambalpur was one of the key seats of Tantrik Buddhism.
There is no denying the fact that the Vajra-yana of Indrabhuti and Sahaja-yana of Laksminkara flourished and prospered in Sambalpur region in the eighth century A.D. At that time, Sambalpur might have developed a very high standard of Tantrik culture. Most probably, Samalei Pitha was an essential part of that great cultural tradition. In the Garbha-griha (inner sanctum) of this temple, “the image of Samlai is a large block of stone in the middle of which is a projection with a narrow groove regarded as the mouth. On both sides of this are depressions covered with beaten gold leaf to represent the eyes” (O’Malley, 1909:218).The fierce and typical shapeless rock made to appear like the face of Samalei Devi (goddess) with two gold leaves in the forms of eyes and in the middle a projection resembling the mouth of a cow recommends some influence of Tantra. In this context, mention may be made of Panda (1996:37) who has recognized some noteworthy points that in front of the Garbha-griha of Samalei Gudi (temple), there is a pillared hall wherein a pair of human foot prints with two eight-petalled lotus-rosette motifs on both sides is engraved on a stone panel. This pair of footprints is worshipped as Sitala-mata. Such footprints are found to be imprinted on stone slabs at Ghudar and Ranipur-Jharial in the district of Bolangir and Narsinghnath in the district of Bargarh. Panda (1985:106) viewed that admiration of footprints of Siddhacharyas was very widespread and common to the Tantrik School. His view may be corroborated by the opinion of Patel (2004:42) on footprint emblem discerned in the site of Ranipur-Jharial. Patel accepts as true that it is reminiscent of early Buddhist worship of anoconic diction. In this respect, availability of footprints in crude form at Rampad on the riverbed near Sambalesvari temple carries significance to a great extent. For that reason, Samalei Pitha had Buddhist connection. In other words, Sambalpur had made Tantrik Buddhism a potent spiritual power and effective cultural force in the Indian sub-continent. In view of this, Sambalpur might be recognized as one of the important urban centers with intercontinental reputation in between the second and eighth century A.D. it seems that, Tantrik Buddhism continued to triumph in Sambalpur till about 13th century A.D. long after Buddhism had vanished from many parts of India.
Reportedly, Laksminkara had married Sevole, the son of the king Jalendra of Lanka / Lankapuri. But, Laksminkara preferred the career of a Tantrik Buddhist perfectionist and practiced Tantra Sadhana in Lankapuri which was regarded as Mahayogapitha or a great centre of Tantrik Buddhist Yoga. Continuous meditation and Tantra Sadhana for seven years in the cemetery of Lankapuri Mahayogapitha made her properly enlightened and she distinguished herself among the people of India and abroad as Bhagavati Laksminkara or Goddess Laksminkara because of her Uttama Siddhi or excellent attainment. Lanka or Lankapuri is identified with modern Sonepur or Subarnapur (Mishra, 2003:87-88). Lankesvari, therefore, may be recognized as Laksminkara as the former nomenclature appears to be a corruption of the latter. A legend also ascribes Goddess Samalei to Lankesvari. Furthermore, Chaurasi Samalei are important deities of the Keutas, the fishermen caste of Bolangir (Senapati and Sahu, 1968:107). This notion of Chaurasi (84) Samalei prevalent among the Keutas (fishermen) of west Odisha very probably refers to 84 Siddha-Gurus in Tantrik Buddhism. In view of this, Goddess Laksminkara may reasonably be identified with Laksminkara i.e. Samalei or Samalesvari who has been worshipped by the local people in Sambalpur. Raja Ramai Dev founded the kingdom of Patna in the fourteenth century. Within a very short span of his military career, Raja Ramai Dev became the chief of the cluster of eighteen Garhs (forts). Patna was an important State in west Odisha under the Chauhans since fourteenth century. By the sixteenth century, almost the whole of west Odisha came under the political sway of the Chauhan Rajas of Patna who occupied as many as eighteen Garhs (Athara-Garh) under them. The twelfth king Raja Narasingha Dev handed over to his younger brother Balaram Dev the territory lying north of the river Ang / Ong (O’Malley, 1909:21; Senapati and Sahu, 1968:3). It is said that one rainy night when the Rani of Narasingha Dev was in the throes of childbirth, Balaram Dev swam across a hill-stream named Mayabati, which was flowing in between the capital town of Patnagarh and the village Barapada, and brought the nurse from that village to attend the Rani. It was reward for this courageous and faithful service that Raja Narasingha Dev gave the northeastern part of his dominion to Balaram Dev. Later on, there arose a quarrel between the two brothers concerning the extent of their respective territories. However, it was cordially settled by the intervention of the Queen mother. Tradition goes that the Queen mother took her both sons to the bed of the river Surangi and asked the elder and the younger to sit on her right and left laps respectively. After that she told them that the river Surangi should be taken as her own body (Ang). The elder brother should enjoy the territory to the right of the river and the younger one to the left of it. Both the brothers acknowledged the decision of their mother and from that time onwards the river was called Ang and was regarded as the natural frontier between Patna and Sambalpur territories.
It appears that Raja Narasingha Dev placed the Sambalpur region under the charge of his younger brother Balaram Dev to check the aggression of Haihaya power of Ratanpur (Senapati and Sahu, 1968:52-53). In other words, Balaram Dev was given the Sambalpur tract where he, later on, assumed the power and founded the state of Sambalpur, which became most powerful of the Garhjat cluster and from that time onwards, the importance of Patna declined (Senapati and Sahu, 1968:3). Accordingly, Balaram Dev became the first Chauhan Raja of Sambalpur Rajya about the middle of the 16th century A.D. “The town is named after its tutelary goddess Samlai, who was installed here when it was founded; and local tradition asserts that this name is derived from the fact that a cotton tree (simul) grew at the place where her image was set up” (O’Malley, 1909:1). Thus, as per the prevailing tradition, Balaram Dev discovered the image of Samalei beneath a Semel (silk cotton) tree. The botanical name of this tree is Bomax malabaricum. Because of phonetic resemblance between Semel and Samalei some scholars give credence to this tale that the deity worshipped under a Semel tree has come to be recognized as Samalei. Oral tradition relates that Raja Balaram Dev was given a grant of this area by his elder brother Raja Narasingha Dev of Patnagarh. Balaram Dev “first established himself at a place in the Bargarh tahsil which he called Nuagarh, i.e., the new fort. Next, as his power grew, he made a new capital at a larger place called Baragarh, or the big fort, the modern Bargarh” (O’Malley, 1909:21). Thus, he established himself first at Bargarh on the bank of the river Jira. Bargarh is on the National Highway No.6 and is about 50 kms. to the west of Sambalpur. The original name of this place was Baghar-Kota as identified from an inscription of the 11th century A.D. It was called Bargarh probably from the time of Raja Balaram Dev who made it for some time his headquarters and constructed a big (Bar / Bad) fort (Garh) for its protection. Later on, Raja Narayan Singh, the last Chauhan Raja granted this place in Maufi (free hold) to two Brahmin brothers Krusna Das and Narayan Das, sons of Baluki Das who was killed in action by the Gond rebels led by Bandya Ray and Mahapatra Ray. The grant is known as the Sri-kata / Sir-Kata grant (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:510). Etymologically, the word Sri-Kata or Sir-Kata is a combination of Sir and Kata. The word Sir means head and Kata means cutting. In other words, the award is meant for sacrifice of life.
However, Raja Balaram Dev is believed to have shifted his capital from Bargarh to Chaunrpur, “a village lying opposite to Sambalpur on the southern bank of the river Mahanadi” (O’Malley, 1909:21). In all probability, during this phase when Raja Balaram Dev carved out a new Rajya out of the territory of his elder brother he named it Huma Desa. Thereafter, the time of foundation of Sambalpur Rajya was about the year 1570 A.D. (Panda, 1996:35).
As per the legend, the village Chaunrpur is supposed to be the seat of Raja Balaram Dev previous to his coming to Sambalpur. One day while hunting, Raja Balaram Dev crossed the river Mahanadi. When he arrived at the left bank an attractive hare appeared before him. Raja Balaram Dev set his hounds at the innocent creature. But the outcome was contrary to his expectation. After some time, Raja Balaram Dev discovered his hounds repulsed by the hare. He had not anticipated such a scene. Struck by the most timid of animals, he thought that there might be some supernatural power in the land. That night Goddess Samalei appeared in his dream and said, “Why do you appear so sad? Don’t think that there appears to have been a mistake. I am Lankesvari here. Worship me. Your expectations and hopes will be fulfilled.” Next day, Raja Balaram Dev discovered the deity in the form of a stone. Afterward, he decided to build his Gad or Garh nearby. Having built a Gad he installed in it the deity Samalei. The place where her image was set up was a Kud (island) on which stood a Semel tree and hence was called Semel-Kud while the deity was named Samalei. Similar narratives are recorded by O’Malley (1909:217) and Senapati and Mahanti (1971:2-3) in their Sambalpur Gazetteer.
Afterward, Samalei has been sanskritised to Samalesvari. Etymologically, the name Samalesvari is a combination of Samala and Isvari. The word Samala refers to Sambala or Sambalpur. Accordingly, Samalesvari means Isvari of Sambala in the reigns of Chauhans. In other words, Sambalpur is acknowledged as the land of Samalei and she is the reigning deity of Sambalpur “A similar legend is still current regarding the foundation of Kharagpur, the city of the hare, in the Monghyr district” (O’Malley, 1909:21; Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:2-3). Be that as it may, identical stories prevail about origins of other places of Odisha like Cuttack, Talcher and Baripada. Matching story is also associated with detection of deities like Banibakreswari of Kuapada village under Delanga block in Puri district and Barala Devi of Balasakumpa village in Phulbani district. This is why, it is hard to estimate the accurate time and locate the exact place of the origin of this myth (Pasayat, 2003:10-12). Nevertheless, this story attests the fact that the aboriginal religious shrine like Samalei has received royal patronage. Raja Balaram Dev enshrined Samalei Devi inside his Gad. During his reign, Seva-Puja (Puja services) was provided from the royal treasury. In other words, State funding of Seva-Puja has been introduced since then. Subsequently, the present temple was built during 1657-95 A.D. in the reign of Raja Chhatra Sai (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:548). In view of this, it may be suggested here that Samalei Pitha already existed when Raja Balaram Dev arrived here. Perhaps, the temple was in a dilapidated condition. So, Raja Balaram Dev extended royal patronage and rebuilt the temple. Afterward, Raja Chhatra Sai had also most probably rebuilt or renovated the temple.
There is no denying the fact that Raja Balaram Dev adopted this Sakti-Pitha and extended royal patronage. But, the most significant development in the period of Raja Chhatra Sai (1657-95) was endowment of forty villages for the regular worship of Samalei Devi. Names of some villages have been collected from the natives. These are Jayaghanta, Kalamati, Ambasada Katapali, Nunia Jampali, Karpula Senapali, Chaunrpur etc. In other words, Raja Chhatra Sai made a permanent arrangement for the maintenance of the Samalei Gudi. It means that recognized steps have been taken by the Chauhan rulers for the state-funding of the Seva-Puja in Samalei Gudi and she has been elevated to the status of Rastra-Devi and called Sambalesvari i.e. Isvari or presiding deity of Sambala or Sambalpur. However, the landed property assigned for the performance of the daily and special Puja of Samalei Devi have been converted into personal property by the priests. This had been possible, most probably, during the British rule, either by hiding or destroying the copper plate grants. Any how, the priests are now managing the Seva-Puja of Samalei Gudi. Allegedly, the temple has no landed property at present (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:548).
It may be understood with exactitude that in the 15th and 16th century A.D., after collapse of the Ganga empire of Odisha, a strong pull towards political fragmentation as well as decentralization of power took place to a certain extent due to the partition of ruling chiefs who ended up as independent potentates. In the frontier zone of uncertain control like Daksina Kosala (roughly modern west Odisha) the indigenous tribal chiefs and chiefs of obscure origins took advantage of weak central authority; they assumed power and formed several small Rajyas (Deo, 2003:96). Formation of a separate Bargarh and subsequently Huma Desa and finally Sambalpur Rajya by Raja Balaram Dev in the 16th century A.D. was the product of the partition of the ruling family of Patnagarh. In all probability, this was a forested area and inhabited by aboriginal people when Raja Balaram Dev first arrived here. He was a reputed warrior. Owing to military necessity, the administration of this tribal dominated, hilly and forested part was entrusted to him by his elder brother Raja Narasingha Dev, the-then Chauhan Raja of Patnagarh. Raja Balaram Dev was successful to consolidate and strengthen the Chauhan rule in this part of the Rajya and he carved out a new Rajya out of the country of his elder brother. Subsequently, he and his successors extended and strengthened Chauhan rule in Sambalpur Rajya. In order to sustain a separate and independent Sambalpur Rajya, most probably, Raja Balaram Dev and his successors had to depend upon the Bhagas (share) and Bhogas. They had to influence the local tribal people to become settled agriculturists, so that production would augment because tribal economy based on hunting and shifting cultivation cannot maintain a Rajya as analysed somewhere else by Deo (2003:96). To legitimize their status as Rajas and to their share (Bhaga) of the produce, the Chauhan rulers granted lands to Brahmins and temples, which contributed to altering the agrarian situation, formation of hierarchical social order and also encouraged Brahminisation or Hinduisation of society in this area. In view of this, it may be recommended that Samalei Pitha previously existed when Raja Balaram Dev arrived here. Perhaps, this religious Pitha was in a decaying state. He extended state patronage and rebuilt or renovated this Pitha. Later on, Raja Chhatra Sai was also, most probably, instrumental in rebuilding or renovating it. As a result, the temple of Samalei or Sambalesvari became an important apparatus of Hinduisation in Sambalpur.
“There is a tradition that the country was invaded by the Muhammadan general Kalapahar…The story is that when Kalapahar invaded Odisha (A. D. 1568), the priests of Puri fled with the images of Jagannath and buried it on the Mahanadi to the south of Sambalpur. Kalapahar followed them to Sambalpur with his army, but could not force an entrance into the fort. While encamped outside it, his force was destroyed by the goddesses Samlai and Patneswari; for the former assumed the form of a milkmaid and sold curds and milk to his soldiers, while the latter appeared as a malini or gardener and sold them fruit. Milk, curds and fruit spread desolation in the army, for cholera broke out; and Samlai put Kalapahar to flight, capturing among other things his drum, the sound of which had the reputation of making the limbs of the Hindu gods and goddesses off their images. The drum, ghanta or big bell, and ghulghula or small bell taken by Samlai are still to be seen in her temple; while the tombs of Muhammadans who accompanied Kalapahar are pointed out at Sankerbandh, where his army encamped” (O’Malley, 1909:22).
It is believed that the priests buried the images on the Mahanadi in Soneur or Subarnapur, which is situated to the south of Sambalpur. It is said that the incident took place when Chhatra Sai was the ruler of Sambalpur. But it is also said that it took place during the reign of Balabhadra Dev. When the soldiers of Kalapahada drank the milk and curd, which spread desolation among them, at this hour, Raja Balabhadra Dev of Sambalpur drove back Kalapahada effectively. Accordingly, Samalei Devi satisfied Kalapahada’s thirst for quest to destroy the image of Lord Jagannath. It would not be out of place to mention that matching stories prevail in other shrines of Odisha namely Chalhakhai Devi at Kulada in Ganjam district, Dahikhai-Chamundai Devi at Rambha in Ganjam district. This tale is also associated with Danteswari Devi at Bastar in the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh (Pasayat, 2003:20). It may be suggested that the foundation of this narrative is a feat of imagination. This is why, it is complicated to identify the place wherefrom and classify the time when this tale has initially been conceived and later adopted in other religious shrines. Nonetheless, we cannot disregard the information that this tale has singled out the supernatural power and deeds of Samalei Devi. It has established socio-cultural affiliation between the aborigines and the caste Hindus. By assimilating such stories into Samalei cult, the aboriginal people identify themselves as part of the larger Hindu religious culture, thus, contributing to Hindu cultural unity at a larger level which had facilitated at the time of state formation in Sambalpur.
Samalei at Sambalpur is a shapeless rock made to appear like a face. It may be believed to be a big piece of head-like stone structure. According to the oral tradition, Daksa arranged a Yajna. He invited all the deities and relatives to be present at the function. But he did not call his own daughter Sati and son-in-law Lord Siva, for the reason that Sati married Lord Siva against the desire and wish of Daksa. When Sati came to know about it, tears rolled down her face. When she settled down she got down at her father’s residence to attend the ritual ceremony without invitation. Unfortunately, Sati was received with dihonour and disgrace. She protested and accused her father for his neglect and disregard shown to her husband. Daksa broke into anger and cursed Lord Siva as a beggar, ashman, Yogi, king of goblins and so on. Sati could not put up with such abuse and insult; she jumped into the Yajna-Kunda. Consequently, Lord Siva became furious and started his Tandava bearing the corpse of Sati on his back. It was terrible and the destruction of the entire universe was imminent. So, Lord Visnu came out to protect the mankind. He instructed his Sudarsana Chakra to slash the dead body of Sati into pieces. When Lord Siva became conscious, Lord Visnu consoled him and the anger of Lord Siva cooled. Thereafter, Lord Siva retired alone to his abode Kailas. The corpse of Sati hewn into a number of pieces and wherever a fragment touched the earth, a Sakti-Pitha i.e. shrine of mother goddess sprang up. It is understood to be the head of Sati, which is enshrined and worshipped in the Samalei Gudi of Sambalpur.
Though mythological origin of the Sakti-Pitha at Sambalpur is connected with the most famous Daksa-Yajna story, originally it is not reported or recorded in any of the epic tradition of the Hindu religion. There is no denying the fact that the image of Samalei Devi is a large block of stone. There is also a projection with a narrow groove in the middle of the stone image of the deity. This projection is supposed to be the mouth of the deity. On both sides of projection are depressions covered with beaten gold leaves, which symbolize the eyes of the deity. Moreover, the image of Samalei Devi does not bear a resemblance to any other Sakti goddess found in Odisha. There is a Parsva-Devata of Samalei identified as Pitabali who is understood to be the deity of tribal people namely Kandhas (Senapati and Mahanti, 1971:547). The above account of Samalei Devi recommends us to accept as true that she is a non-Brahmin deity, formerly worshipped by the aborigines of Sambalpur. Addition of Daksa-Yajna narrative is very likely a later improvement to add to Samalei some supplementary doses of Sanskritik fundamentals. This may be recommended to be an excellent illustration of localization or parochialisation of renowned Daksa-Yajna account to validate the faith of the aborigines with the Hindu epic tradition (Great Tradition) of India. By identifying Sambalpur with the manifestation of Sakti as Sambalesvari and her mythical and miraculous actions, the local people identify and classify themselves as component of the larger Hindu culture (Great Tradition), thus, contributing to cultural unity and consolidation of Chauhan rule in Sambalpur.
There is one more story, which indicates the dietary pattern of Samalei Devi. On one occasion, the priest was offering prayers to the goddess. His small daughter was standing by his side. The priest had fruits and flowers on a plate. All of a sudden, the priest discovered that the deity had disappeared. Looking up, he found the deity devouring his girl child. He was dumb-founded. Thereafter, the priest threw the plate right away at the face of the deity. As a result, the face of the deity turned to back side. So, the deity is thought to be facing away from the main entrance and that is why there is no face on the front side. Interestingly, this tale with little variation is found in the following religious shrines namely Kanaka-Durga at Piteipur village in Jagatsinghpur district, Janlei Devi at Hinjilikatu in Ganjam district and Kumari Devi at Bonai in Sundargarh district. In addition, the narrative is associated with Chandrahasini Devi at Chandrapur in Bilaspur district of the neighbouring state of Chhattisgarh (Pasayat, 2003:19). However, the meaning of this tale is more important for our study. This story is meant not only to frighten children away but also suggests the practice of severe form of blood sacrifice and influence of Tantra on this Pitha. As per the oral tradition, once upon a time human beings were sacrificed before Samalei Devi. It is said that once a Siddha Brahmin arrived at Sambalpur. Priests of Samalei Devi caught him for sacrifice before the deity. The Brahmin told the priests to leave him alone and no one else before the deity inside the Garbhagriha so that Samalei Devi could munch him if she required. Accordingly, the Brahmin was not beheaded and rather left alone and alive in the Garbhagriha and the doors were closed. The episode went contrary to the interest of the priests. Next morning, the Brahmin came out from the Garbhagriha alive and unhurt. The account spread quickly throughout the Rajya that the Brahmin had contended and pleased Samalei Devi and the deity had blessed him. Maharaja Baliar Singh heard this incredible and miraculous incident; he gave order to bring to an end the practice of human sacrifice before Samalei Devi. Since then, buffaloes were sacrificed before the deity. Now a days, Buka (he-goat) and cock are familiar sacrificial objects in Durga Puja, Chaitra Purnima and other occasions in this Sakti-Pitha. This may be understood to be the process of legitimization of Brahmin priests in the non-Brahminik Samalei Gudi and minimization of severe practice of blood sacrifice in this Pitha.
According to the tradition, Samalei was worshipped in the beginning by the natives belonging to Sahara and Jhara communities living on the bank of the river Mahanadi. The chief occupation of these people was to collect diamonds and gold from the riverbed of Mahanadi. On one occasion, they found a big piece of stone under the deep water. They brought it out with the hope to extract diamonds and other valuable stones from it; they positioned it under a Semel tree on the bank of the river. Later on, they realized it as a deity in the shape of a stone. Thence, they started worshipping her (Dash, 1962:227). Although, Raja Balaram Dev adopted the local deity, he did not reject and exclude the traditional servitors of the deity from the temple cult, which was emerging as a testimony to Sanskritisation or Hinduisation of Samalei Devi. He appointed the Saharas, the traditional worshippers of the deity as the priests and Jharas as the servants and holders of canopy of Samalei Devi (Sae Deo, 1985:7-8). Saharas are generally considered to be untouchables in the social hierarchy of this culture area. In villages, the Jhankar worships Samalei as village deity. Though the Jhankars do not belong to any specific caste or community they are, in fact, non-Brahmin priests who also worship other village deities namely Mauli, Budhi–Ma and Gram-Pati. Previously, Jhankars were granted rent-free lands for their service in the villages. All these combinedly point out that Samalei has the personality of a non-Brahmin deity. Most probably, the rulers intended no harm to the sentiments and feelings of the aborigines. In view of this, it may be suggested that Saktism has taken all care to adopt and approve the features of the aboriginal or local religious cult i.e. Samalei. In other words, numerous local indigenous communities with Samalei tradition of erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya have been deeply attracted towards and absorbed in the mainstream of the Indian cultural tradition through Saktism i.e. Great Tradition. Saktism coupled with Saivism has formed the centre of the integration of Indian civilization and has a great influence on the regional religious culture of Sambalpur i.e. Little Tradition.
A very important characteristic of the development of religious system in Sambalpur region during the medieval period is the introduction of Tantrik elements in worship. As it has been discussed earlier, historical and archaeological remains attest the fact that Sambalpur region has been a stronghold of Saivism and Saktism united with Tantrism. Furthermore, severe practice of blood sacrifice at this Pitha, absence of caste distinction, employment or engagement of tribal or non-Brahmin priests, installation of the guardian deity (Samalei) in the Garbhagriha (sanctum sanctorum), belief in the replica or proxy divinity (Chalanti Pratima) of the main deity, annual or periodical journey (Yatra) of the Chalanti Pratima, spirit possession or descending of Samalei Devi through human beings etc. suggest some connections with the Tantra. As it is discussed elsewhere, Sambalpur as well as Samalei Pitha has been identified with an important seat of Tantrism where a very high standard of Tantrik culture had developed during the Buddhist and pre-Chauhan period. But, thereafter, particularly during the Chauhan period the unique blend of Saktism, Saivism, Tantrism and Sanskritik or Brahminical culture rose to a new height in Sambalpur region. Most probably, the Chauhan Rajas have brought their own faith with them. But they have not enjoined on common people of this area to believe and follow their faith and worship their deity rather they have reckoned their own faith with that of the locality. It was not what they practiced and worshipped but what they felt under what they believed that was important. The Chauhan Rajas have taken all care to retain the primitive character of this Pitha like aniconical image of the deity, non-Brahmin priests of the deity, blood sacrifice and the like. By constructing or renovating the temple, they have introduced elaborate rituals in a orderly manner. By giving rent-free land grants to the temple they have ensured regular and expected Seva-Puja for the deity. They have also manufactured myths wherever required to classify the deity as a Hindu goddess. In all probability, they have cautiously followed this principle under political expediency with a view to pleasing the local subjects.
In this context, mention may be made of Asapuri Devi who is the tutelary goddess of the Chauhan Rajas all over the country. Raja Ramai Dev, the first Chauhan Raja of Patna Rajya identified her as Patanesvari in Patna or Patana-gad meaning Isvari of Patana. Since then Patanesvari has been the tutelary goddess of the Chauhan Rajas of the Patana-gad or Patana house. In the same way, Raja Balaram Dev established Sambalpur Rajya. He also extolled the local deity Samalei as Sambalesvari meaning Isvari of Sambala or Sambalpur and the Raja accepted her with his own tutelary goddess. This way, the Hindu scholars and priests hinduised the local name of the deity i.e. from Samalei to Sambalesvari. According to this name, she is the deity of all who dwell in Sambalpur. In other words, the deity represents a larger society wherein people of various ethnic background stay together. Thus, the deity has become the source and symbol of unity and integrity mainly between the aboriginal people and caste-Hindus in Sambalpur. It may be understood that the Chauhan Rajas have made it their principle to esteem and extol the deities of the aborigines or natives wherever they have established their kingdoms and expanded their territory. Samalei, the deity of the autochthonous people has been hijacked by the ruling classes and used as tool to exercise their authority and control over the latter. Not only Samalei of Sambalpur but also Asta-Sambhus in different parts of erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya namely Bimaleswara at Huma, Kedarnath at Ambabhona, Biswanath at Deogaon, Balunkeswara at Gaisama, Maneswara at Maneswar, Swapneswara at Sorna, Bisweswara at Soranda and Nilakantheswara at Niljee have been adopted and given royal patronage in the reigns of Chauhan Rajas. Temples have been constructed and elaborate rituals have been introduced in these temples. Rent-free lands and villages have been granted and regular Seva-Puja of these deities has been ensured. This fundamental principle has made them admired and popular among the local inhabitants and also helped them to expand, consolidate and strengthen the Chauhan rule in Sambalpur region.
It may be noted here that Patanesvari temples are found only at few places like Patnagarh, Bolangir and Sambalpur whereas the number of Samalei Gudi or Samalesvari temples in Sambalpur is quite large. Besides the Samalei Gudi to be found in Sambalpur, Barpali and Subarnapur, the deity occupies a pivotal position in the religious life of the common people through out the length and breadth of the land of Samalei i.e. Sambalpur. She is being commonly worshipped under a tree in the form of a stone in the vicinity of almost each and every village of erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya. This indicates the extent of reverence shown to Samalei in every part of Sambalpur region. In villages, Samalei is worshipped by the Jhankars who enjoy rent-free lands for their Seva-Puja as mentioned earlier. Moreover, many indigenous, aboriginal, native, local, folk or tribal communities with their religious traditions (Little Tradition) of Sambalpur region have been successfully absorbed in the mainstream of the Hindu Great Tradition through Saivism, Saktism and Vaisnavism and helped in the process of state formation during medieval period in erstwhile Sambalpur Rajya. Bose (1941:188) has correctly pointed out, “Hinduism has grown by the incorporation of many tribal cults, until it has become a kind of federation of religious beliefs and practices…which goes by the name of Hinduism”. In sum, it may be concluded that as most of the rulers originated from one of the local groups it was easy for them to raise their deity to be the state deity or Rastra-Devata. In this process, it has helped them to legitimize and consolidate their political power over this area. Deities have become the linkage between the ruler and the ruled. The patronage of local deities and their elevation have helped the ruler to spread the narrative that the local deity has been pleased with the new ruler or the deity has blessed the ruler or the ruler has pleased the deity. They have successfully used the emotional attachment and religious sentiments of the local communities to the deity. This has helped the ruler to mobilize support of the local people and to legitimize their position and status in this area. This pattern has emerged partly because the rulers have needed the support of the local communities for their numerical strength and partly because of the fear of the deity whose wrath might result from absence of worship. The incorporation of local communities into the wider social order and their indoctrination proceeded in multifaceted manner through ceremonial and enactment of hierarchical relations. So, multiple simultaneous processes of Hinduisation, Tribalisation and localization / parochialisation are found linking between the Hindu Great Tradition and the local Little Tradition of Sambalpur. These processes of diffusion, acculturation and assimilation were never one-way flow from Hindu Great Tradition to local Little Tradition alone. In Sambalpur area, simultaneous process of acculturation and de-culturation has been observed down the ages. It has proceeded through complex processes of interaction, which are confirmed by myths, legends and historical evidence.
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Dr. Chitrasen Pasayat resides at 152, Vijay Vihar, Nuagaon Road, PO: Sishupalgarh, Bhubaneswar, Odisha, 751002
Thanks to Raj Kumar Bhoi for the pictures: