Saturday, June 7, 2014

[Assam] Bhakti movement and Sankardev - `The Sacred Scriptures of Monikut`- Brajavali Hymns

Shrimanta Shankardeva 
                            Bhakti movement and Sankardev

In the early part of the 15th century many parts of our country witnessed a decadence of socio-religious life. Superstitions and malpractices in various forms in the name of religion vitiated the society. Predominantly inhabited by heterogenous groups of people, they believed in the existence of various Gods and Goddesses and followed diverse shade of cultural life. Political
disintegration coupled with religious degeneration afflicted the society, bringing it to a very low ebb. At this crucial juncture, a galaxy of saints and seers emerged at the scene to save the society from the clutches of these evil forces in medieval India. Ramananda of Allahabad (1440-1470), Kabir of Kashi (1398- 1518), Vallabhacharya (1479-1531), Sri Chaitanya of Navadweep, Bengal (1458-1533), Tulsidas of Uttar Pradesh (1583-1623), Guru Nanakdeva of Punjab (1469-1539) are few among them. Their ideals and teachings brought about a socio-religious upheaval which was known as Vaishnavism.

The Vaishnava cult that swept along the length and breadth of the country in medieval era is popularly called Bhakti Movement as it is based on complete devotion (bhakti) to Lord Vishnu. According to K Damodaran, renowned scholar and critic.The keynote of the movement was bhakti (devotion) to Lord Vishnu and his avataras, Rama and Krishna. But it was not a purely religious movement.The Vaishnavite doctrines were essentially the idealist manifestations of the socio-economic realities of the times’. Derived from Vedantic philosophy, it gave birth to a practical spiritual philosophy by admixing ‘naive philosophical mysticism’of Upanishada and ‘practical devotional mysticism’ of Srimatbhagavata.

In Assam, Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev (1449-1568) initiated the movement and gave a new dimension to the Assamese Society. Inhabited by people belonging to different castes and communities the region at that time was an abode of Saktism and tantricism. People believed in the existence of various Gods and Goddesses and practiced many esoteric rituals. The blood sacrifice for the deity was a common ritual for the people who were ignorant, illiterate and
plunged in deep darkness of superstition. Sankardev with his innovative thinking preached the ideals of Bhagavata and advocated for worshipping the supreme God, not other than Vishnu in the form of Lord Krishna. He was of the view that Vishnu was the expression of all forms of God. Therefore, there was no need to offer worship to other Gods and Goddess who were supposed to be other manifestations of the divinity. Sankardev was absolutely monotheistic and he followed the doctrine of ‘eka-saran-nam-dharma’. He showed the people a new way to divinity through ‘nam’ (prayer) and kirtan’ (recitation). According to Sahityarathi Lakshminath Bezborua, ‘The Vaishnava school did not try to start a new philosophy, but based its teachings on Naradiya Pancharatna and the Bhagavata and laid stress on a life of purity, high morality, worship and devotion to only one God who is above all-the Creator, Preserver and Destroyer’.

Sankardev twice went to pilgrimage and visited many holy places of northern India. There he met many, learned scholars, saints and sages and came to the contact with the Bhakti Movement which already flourished in the region. His in-depth study of many scriptures and discussions with many scholars and philosophers made profound influence in his mind. He read ‘Bhakti ratnavali, a doctrinal treatise wrote by Vishnupuri Sainyashi of Trihutta. The book made a deep impact in his mind. Impregnating with the ideals of Bhakti Movement, he planted its sapling in Assam and created an unprecedented upsurge in Assamese society.

Sankardev was a staunch follower of monotheism. The doctrine of his cult was based on complete surrender with devotion to a primeval entity called Vishnu. All other objects in the world are mere manifestation of that supreme entity. The universe and the materialistic world has only empirical existence. On the basis of the commend of the Gita, he propagated the principle of ‘eka deva eka seva, eka bine nai keva, that means there is only one God, make obeisance to one, there is none other than one God.

Sankardev resolved Bhakti as the guiding force of life. He regarded it as mother, father, brother, kith and kin as described in the Bhagavata. According to him, the other name of Bhakti is the motion (gati), the faith (mati) and wealth (vitta) which is also the highest desire of life. There is no other way of attaining salvation except surrendering at the feet of God. He recognized Nam’ (prayer), ‘Deva’ (God), ‘Guru’ (preceptor) and ‘Bhakat’ (disciple) as the basic principle of Bhakti and called them as the four pillars of Vaishnavism.

The neo-Vaishnavite Bhakti movement initiated by Sankardev in the early part of the 15th century did not confine only in preaching and practicing of ekasaran-nam-dharma’. To spread the ideals of Vaishnava cult, he made systematic attempt through the media of art, culture and literature and it ushered in a golden age in Assamese society. In order to bring the message of
his new religion closer to the masses he wrote a number of books in different literary forms in Assamese, Sanskrit and Brajavali. This made his religion more popular and brought cross sections of people under the periphery of single religious perimeter.

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