By Swami Harshananda
Śaṅkaradeva is the brightest star of the Vaiṣṇava Movement in Assam and north-east India. His contribution is not less than that of Śrīkṛṣṇa Caitanya who lived in A. D. 1485-1533 in Bengal and Orissa. He was born at the village Ālipukhuri. His parents were Kusumbara and Satyasandhā. He lost his parents at a very early age. Then he was brought up by his grandparents. He got a good education in a Sanskrit school and developed his god-given talents in music, painting and composing poems. He was then married and had a daughter. His wife died immediately afterwards.
Śaṅkaradeva went on a long pilgrimage at the age of 33. His travel duration spread over twelve years. He visited many places including Kāśī, Vṛndāban, Mathurā, Kurukṣetra, Dvārakā and Rāmeśvaram. During these visits, he noticed a strong current of Vaiṣnavism everywhere due to the influence of saintly poets whom he met for short period. The sages who converted his Śākta moorings to the Vaiṣṇava creed were:
He was perturbed by the force of his close relatives to marry for a second time after returning back home. However, the chance arrival of Jagadīśamitra, a great pundit and a travelling mendicant, helped him regain his balance and peace. Jagadīśamitra stayed with him and taught him the Bhāgavata. Śaṅkaradeva’s was now completely converted to Vaiṣṇavism till now. This inspired him to translate the Daśamaskandha into the Kāmarupi language in simple verses. Recurring political troubles forced him to migrate to safer places and settle down at Belguri on the bank of the stream Dhoasuti in North Lakhimpur.
Though Śaṅkaradeva adopted Vaiṣṇavism as his religion he evolved his own form of it and developed a new sect. He carved a wooden image of Kṛṣṇa, called it Madanagopāla and established it in his prayer-hall with elaborate ceremonies. The prayer-hall was called ‘nāmaghar’. He started his own form of initiation called ‘śaraṇa’. This had three categories or aspects:
In other prayer-halls built under his supervision or guidance, he installed the Bhāgavata-book instead of Kṛṣṇa’s image on a wooden pedestal. This new method averted the need for formal worship only by a brāhmaṇa and associated rituals. All devotees, irrespective of caste or religion, could offer a simple service to the book before congregational prayers called kīrtan. The simple process of initiation he adopted was to transmit the mantra "hare krsna, hare rāma". The Bhāgavata was adopted not only as the scripture but also as an object of worship.
According to Śankardeva, Krishna is the supreme god who is a puruṣa, puruṣottamma, parmeśvara and narayaṇa. He is eternal, omniscient and omnipotent. The puruṣa or jivas, individual souls, his anśas or parts. He is the originator of the insentient prakrti. Śankardeva lays a great stress on bhakti and dāsyabhakti The most important aspect of this is ekaśarantva. Though moksa or salvation is accepted, the devotee is indifferent to it since he enjoys devotion to God much more.
Śaṅkaradeva did not write commentaries on the prasthānatraya but he has left quite a few works for the posterity. They are:
- Bhaktiratnākara in Sanskrit
- Kīrtana in simple verses suited to music
- Gunamālā, a synopsis of the Bhāgavata
- Añkiānāt, one-act dramas
- Translation of a part of Mārkandeyapurāṇa
- Number of devotional songs known as bargits
Except the first, all the other works are in the Kāmārupī or Assamese language. A work named Nāmaghosa by his chief disciple Mādhavadeva gained great respect from the followers and became popular.
The Bhakti movement which he started gradually spread in the whole country. However, it also split into six major groups in course of time. Institutions known as satras also came into being associated with this movement.
- He lived in A. D. 1486-1568.
- It is in Nowgong district, Assam.
- He lived in 15th century A. D.
- He lived in 12th century A. D.
- Daśamaskandha is the tenth book of the Bhāgavata containing Kṛṣṇa’s story in great detail.
- It is Assamese.
- It is in Assam.
- Bhagvadgitā 15.7
- Dāsyabhakti means considering oneself as the dasa or servant of God.
- Ekaśarantva is the total surrender or dedication towards god.
- Bargits are the varagitā, ‘excellent songs’.
- The Concise Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Swami Harshananda, Ram Krishna Math, Bangalore