Samalai And Sitalasasti

Kailash Chandra Das


Samalai was one of the most famous female deities of Orissa in the medieval period. In the famous Mangala Stuti of Orissa she is presented as one of the twelve Durgas(Dwadasa Durgas) of Orisa. She is also known as Samaleswari in many texts. There has been considerable disagreement among the historians and men of Sanskrit studies about the origin of this name. Acording to one view from the name Sambala Sambalai or Samalai was originated. According to another view Somalai or Somalesvari was originated from Soma. Late Siba Prasad Das on the basis of the text of Ptolemy did not accept the Aryan nature of the deity and stated that she was the deity of the tribal groups like Savarai and Mundas inhabiting in the northern bank of the river Mahanadi. Later on she became the presiding deity of the Chauhan kingdom of Balaram Deb in Sambalpur. According to Prahlad Pradhan Samalai was originally Kharamunda and her worship was confined to the tribal groups of Western Orissa. This view of Pradhan has been refuted by Jitamitra Singhdeo and Kaviraj Prayag Datta Joshi who that the view was based on strange imagination. They identified the deity with the Goddess of Sambaragarh who was brought to Patnagarh by the Chauhans. Acording to them she was Sakambari=Isvari=Sambaresvari which in course of time became Sambalesvari. Ram Prasad Mishra in this connection presents a different view. According to Mishra-Samalai has nothing to do with its ancient name Sambhala or Sambalaka for her origin as a tutelary goddess may be assigned to a much later period.In many of the Sanskrit and Oriya works of pre-independence ex-state period this goddess is depicted as Somala,Somalai and Somalesvari and not as Sambala,Sambalai and Sambalesvari. Her present names in the second category of nomenclatures are undoubtedly a result of their confusion by the people of this area in a later period. It is Samalesvari who derived her present name Sambalesvari from Sambalpur and not the vice versa. According to R.P.Mishra Sambalpur region is described as Sambaravadi Mandala in Jatesinga and Dungri copper plate grant of Mahasivagupta Yayati II. Considering the location of Bodasambar and the Buddhist monastery Parimalgiri in Padmapur of undivided Sambalpur district Mishra has rightly identified Sambalpur. Samalei has some connection with the development of Buddhism in that zone.

The popular tradition relating to Sambalpur and Samalei has ben recorded by L.S.S. O`Malley as early as 1909 in the Benmgal District Gazetteers,Sambalpur. Acording to this traditional account Sambalpur derives its name from the goddess Samalai Devi,its tutelary deity,who was installed there by Balaram Deb,the founder of the town and the first Raja of Sambalpur. Legend relates that Balaram Deb who had been given a grant of this part of the country by his brother, the Raja of Patna, established himself at a place called Chaurpur on the northern bank of the Mahanadi. One day while hunting he crossed the river and set his hounds at a hare, only to find after a long chase that they had been repulsed by it. Struck by this extra-ordinary exhibition of courage by the most timid of animals, he concluded that there must be some supernatural virtues in the land. He therefore determined to make his capital there, and having built a town, installed in it the tutelary goddess of his family. The place where her image was set up was an island(Kud) on which stood a cotton tree and hence was called Samalkud while the goddess was given the name of Samalai. Local tradition asserts that where the Raja`s dogs were repulsed by the hare, is a spot known as Badiraj, in front of the old city police station near the Balibandh tank and that the old town founded by Balaram Deb was between the city police station and Samalai Devi`s temple.

On the basis of the traditional account one can present a speculative analysis on the origin of Samalai. The goddess Samalai represents different phases of Hinduization. The place called Samalkud was probably connected with a tribal group and it was the main centre of their religion and culture in early medieval phase. The choice of this site as a capital seat by a Hindu king like Chauhan Balaram Deb was actually to connect his root with the tribal population of Sambalpur. The importance of this site as depicted in the tradition (the extra-ordinary courage of timid animals) was necessary for the Chauhans of Sambalpur for legitimation of their authority. In medieval period in Odisha the selection of capital seat by a king after finding an extra-ordianry exhibition(like the hounds and hare of the Chauhan king) was a common story(similar story was also connected with Anangabhima Deva, the Ganga king`s capital Abhinava Varanasi Kataka as narrated in Madalapanji) whose main purpose was to provide justification for the selection of the capital seat in another area. The acceptance of the deity of that zone as the tutelary deity was another part of the legitimation of the authority. The goddess Samalai represents different phases of the process of Hinduization-the tribal wave, Buddhist wave and Chauhan wave from outside. She combined both regional religious process and outside religios process. The root was definitely native(tribal), the Buddhist and Chauhan religious waves only fostered and strengthened her position as a presiding deity in the Chauhan kingdom of Sambalpur.


The image of Samalai 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. The temple itself is a square building standing on a high plinth and surmounted by a spire. It has a verandah on each side and four domes at the corners and is built of stone cemented with mortar.

Culturally the temple of Samalai is associated with the famous Nuakhai festival. The Nuakhai festival is observed in the second fortnight of Bhadra on a day fixed by the astrologers. Cakes are made and offered and a little new rice mixed with milk is taken. The Jhankar(priest) provides the rice for he reserves one plot in which to sow early rice so that it will be ripe by this time. The villager`s go to Samalai`s temple where they present a cocoanut and also offer rice to the goddess.


Sitalasasti is another important part of the cultural life of Sambalpur people. The festival was well known in the colonial phase. A report regarding this occasion has been published in the Utkala Dipika of 10th June 1882 by Shyama Sundar Pattnaik. The Sitalasasti occasion was confined to the Saiva centres of Balinkeswar and Lokanath in the 19th century Sambalpur. In 1932 this occasion created great stir in Sambalpur. The colonial masters became alarmed at some unpleasant development during this occasion. According to the extract from C.L.Philip`s Fornighty D.O No. 228-H, dated 12th June 1932 there was some local friction over the Sitalasasti procession between the Jhadua and Odia Brahmins, the former being dissatisfied with the orders of the Deputy Commissioner prohibiting what was known as Baithaki. This was an innovation introduced into the Jhadua procession in 1929 and caused a lot of trouble. As a result, the orders of Goodridge governing the conduct of these processions were restored. The Jhaduas did not like this and it deprived them of an opportunity to annoy the Odia Brahmins. They sent out a number of telegrams and petitions on this matter, but the Deputy Commissioner refused to interfere having already passed final orders in 1931. The Jhadua Brahmins as a protest against the stopping of their Baithaki dance did not hold their Sitalasasti festival in 1932. Instead they held a Rukminibibaha festival on the 15th June 1932. There was a meeting of the Jharuapara people which protested against the cruel and humiliating order of the Deputy Commissioner dated the 8th June 1932 and in a resolution under the leadership of Natabara Parichha demanded to stop the festival. The members also sent a copy to the Governor of Bihar and Odisha. This was an important occasion when the colonial authority by prohibiting Baithaki wounded the religious feeling of the Hindus.


  1. O`Malley L.S.S. 1909. Bengal District Gazetteers, Sambalpur , Calcutta.
  2. Confidential Files of the Government of Bihar and Orissa, 1932, File No.221, Acc. No.366(Odisha State Archives, Bhubaneswar)
  3. Utkala Dipika, 1882.
  4. Pradhan, Prahlad, 1980. “Samalai or Samalesvari”(in Odia), Panchajanya(Odia Quarterly magazine), Bhubaneswar, Vol.I, No.III.
  5. Singh Deo, Jitamitra Prasad and Yoshi Prayag Datta, 1982. “Samalesvari”(in Odia), Asantakali(Odia Magazine), Calcutta, 33d year, march-April.
  6. Singh Deo, Jitamitra Prasad, 1987. Cultural Profile of South Kosala, Delhi.
  7. Mishra, Ramprasad, 1991. Sahajayana, Punthi Pustak, Calcutta.