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Saturday, 4 January 2020

Margazhi Blogotsavam: Day 19: Polymath Guru of Assam: Srimanta Sankaradeva

Kusumbar Bhuyan and his wife Satyasandhya were a pious couple living in Ali Pukhuri, in Assam. For many years, they had no child; after fervent prayers to Lord Shiva, they were blessed with a baby boy in October 1449. Grateful, they named the child Sankarvara (boon of Sankara – another name for Lord Shiva). 

Srimanta Sankaradeva: Assam's Famous Saint
Image courtesy: Indiafacts.org
Sankara lost his mother in early childhood. When he was 7 years of age, his father too passed away. The orphaned child was brought up lovingly by his grandmother Khersuti. 

At 12 years of age, Khersuti got him enrolled in the local tol (school) bring run by Mahendra Kandali.  Here, he learnt and soon mastered Sanskrit, studied the Vedas, Upanishads, epics and puranas and attended the discourses of several learned and holy men. All of this sowed the seeds of bhakti in young Sankara.

Soon after he joined school, Sankara composed his first poem in glory of Lord Vishnu, using only the vowel “a” and the consonants which was all he had learned by then!

Sankara's first composition
Mahendra Kandali was astounded at the lyrical beauty and profoundness of the bhakti in the young boy’s poem.

One day, the teacher saw Sankara sleeping in the school courtyard. When he went closer, wonder of wonders! A cobra was shading the child from the hot sun with its raised hood! Kandali realized Sankara was no ordinary boy, and that he was destined for great things. Kandali changed the boy’s name to ‘Sankaradeva’ and that was the name by which he grew famous in the whole of Assam.

After finishing his schooling, Sankaradeva returned home, and along with his administrative duties as the village head, continued reading the scriptures. At 21 years of age, he was married to Suryavati. A year after the birth of their daughter, Suryavati died, and this turned Sankaradeva’s mind even more towards the spiritual path. When his daughter was 9 years old, he gave her away in marriage, and handing over his responsibilities to his son-in-law, Sankaradeva set out on a pilgrimage that would last 12 long years.

Moving throughout the country, covering the important centres of Rama and Krishna bhakti, Sankaradeva imbibed the several aspects of bhakti, and grew stronger in his personal spiritual practice. At Badrikashrama, he was moved to compose the first ever devotional song, now popular as Borgeet. 

“Man meri Rama charanhi lagu” – “Rest my mind, on the feet of Rama” – is Sankaradeva’s first and most famous composition in Brajabuli which is a dialect comprising Assamese and Maithili languages.

Sankaradeva returned home, and at the insistence of his relatives, married again, but refused to take on the administrative responsibilities. Instead, he got constructed a simple temple with a thatched roof, and stayed there, immersed in his spiritual practices.

Naamghar - simple places of worship designed first by Sankaradeva
Sankaradeva was not just a Guru, he was also a social reformer, and helped to unite the many different ethnic groups and brought calm to the volatile Northeast region. Rebelling against the ideas of animal sacrifice and blind idol worship, Sankaradeva turned the Assamese towards Krishna bhakti. He established sattras (monasteries) and preached the concept of Eka Sharana Naama Dharma, asking the devotee to worship one God – Krishna – with the attitude of a servant to the master (daasya bhakti). 

Sankaradeva’s power was such that evil people would undergo a transformation by his very presence. Chandsai was King Naranarayana’s tailor, and very arrogant. He always poked fun at Sankaradeva, and mimicked him. Once, Chandsai was ordered by the King to stitch a jacket for Sankaradeva, and so, against his wishes, had to visit the saint. When Chandsai came to Sankaradeva’s house, from afar, he saw the saint having 4 arms and a golden glow around his head. The next moment, Chandsai was a changed man, and he wept and wept, lamenting his wrong deeds in insulting an incarnation of God!
Till today, Sankaradeva continues to be revered in Assam but unfortunately, is unheard of in the rest of the country. The seeds of bhakti sown by him in Eastern India were the foundation for the bhakti edifice constructed by later-day saints such as Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Kabir, Ramakrishna Paramahansa and Swami Vivekananda.

Can we develop the single-minded devotion that Sankaradeva preached?

Rather than getting lost in ritualistic aspects and wordy debates about philosophical aspects, can we surrender to the Lord as His servant?

References

Srimanta Sankaradeva: Vaishnava Saint of Assam By Bimal Phukan

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/mahapurusha-srimanta-sankaradeva-life-philosophy-works-borkakoti/

6 comments:

  1. So divine. Very fascinating & captivating narration.
    Pranaams to this great saint, unknown to me till today.
    Thank you anu for another gem.
    🛐

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 🙏🙏🙏 I found out recently too!

      Delete
  2. Hari bol 🙏🏻🙏🏻🙏🏻 Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
    Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare 🙏🏻🌈 💐

    ReplyDelete

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