The Bhakti Movement: Assam, Part 3


Sakha Krishna
Assamese Painting

Jan 15, 2012 — CANADA (SUN) — A serial presentation of the Bhakti Movement's development in India.

While living in Patbausi, in the Koch kingdom, which was more tolerant of Vaisnavism, Srimanta Sankardeva made many disciples. Among them were Sarvabhauma Bhattacharya; Ananta kandali, a Sanskrit scholar who translated parts of the Bhagavata Purana; and Damodardeva, who founded the Brahma Sanghati sect of Shankaradeva's naam-dharma religion.

Among the many literary works produced at Patbausi was the completion of his Bhagavata Purana, a translation of Ramayana, and continued work on his Kirtana-ghosha. He also wrote four dramas: Rukmini-harana, Parijata-harana, Keligopala and Kalidamana.

Srimanta Sankardeva

Shankaradeva then took a large part of 117 disciples out on pilgrimage, traveling again to Jagannath Puri, but not to Vrindavan this time. On his return, he had to go into hiding because the Koch king was now also receiving complaints about his preaching. On one occasion, being made to approach the throne and given an accounting of himself to the king, Shankaradeva composed and sang this prayer to Sri Krsna, now known as Totaya or Deva-bhatima:

    madhu daanava daarana deva varam
    vara vaarija locana cakra dharma

He proceeded to defeat his critics, and the king set him free. Shankaradeva was well over 100 years old by this time. After the debate, he arranged to have a woven artwork created, Vrindavani-vastra, depicting Krsna's Vrindavana-lila pastimes, and he presented it to the Koch king.

In 1568 A.D. Shankaradeva departed, leaving behind a unique branch of the Bhakti cult in Assam, and elsewhere.

Gopala Krishna
19th c. Bronze, Assam

Doctrine of Eka-sarana

In Lord Krishna's Teachings and Sankaradeva, Bina Gupta describes Srimanta Sankardeva's philosophical doctrine of eka-sarana in this way:

"Krishna, according to Sankaradeva, is the One-Eternal-Absolute, the root and the essence of not only this universe, but of countless universes of which He is the guardian. Nothing lies above Him. From the philosophical angle, He is the Supreme Spirit (Param-Brahma). As the controller of the senses, the Yogis call him Paramatma. When connected with this world, He assumes the name of Bhagavanta. Similarly, on the psychological plane, He is the presiding deity of the conscience (citta) following Whom the jiva secures the highest good. Based on different angles of vision, the same Reality Krishna takes on different names. As a historical person, He is Vasudeva-Devakiputra. Just as ice, water or vapour is the same thing basically, so also there is not a difference between Krishna, Visnu and Narayana. As the only Conscious Spirit, He pervades every item of His creation. He is at once both immanent and transcendent.

But perhaps the most important truth from the point of view of the jiva is that only Krishna is above maya and its 3 gunas (qualities). Hence it is only by taking shelter at Krishna's feet that the jiva can free itself from the clutches of maya. Sankaradeva cites from theological sources to show that even gods like Brahma and Siva are not above the 3 gunas of Prakriti. Only Mahapurusha Krishna who is above both Purusa and Prakriti is above maya, He being its controller. It is in the light of this truth that Sankaradeva exhorts the people to seek refuge only in Krishna. For, by worshipping those who are themselves under Krishna's maya, one cannot obtain salvation. Thus is grounded the doctrine of eka-sarana - the same philosophy expounded to Arjuna by the Lord at Kurukshetra.

Eka-saranam is the key message of the Gita and Sankaradeva also repeatedly exhorts us to take eka-sarana in Krishna, discarding allegiance to all other gods and goddesses. Indeed the worship of any deity other than Krishna, in the religious system of Sankaradeva, constitutes a definite breach of faith in the Lord."


Lord Krishna's Teachings and Sankaradeva by Bina Gupta, Guwahati
Article on Krishna Janmashtami, The Assam Tribune, Sep 2009


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