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Assam Pays Rich Tribute to the Greatest Reformer, Vaishnavite Saint and 15th Century Polymath Guru Shankardev

Dibya Kamal Bordoloi

Dibya Kamal BordoloiOct 15, 2021, 12:45 PM IST

Assam Pays Rich Tribute to the Greatest Reformer, Vaishnavite Saint and 15th Century Polymath Guru Shankardev

Guwahati: "Jai Guru Shankar, Sarba Gunakar, Jakeri Nahike Upam, Tumhari Saranaka Renu Sata Kauti, Barek Karahu Pranam." The entire Assam today pays rich tribute to the Guru who united, enriched and reformed the Assamese society with his unmatched Vaishnavite creations on the 573rd birth anniversary of Guru Srimanta Shankardev. "Guru Abirvab tithi" is being organised across Assam by lakhs of his disciples, in hundreds of Satras, thousands of Naam Ghar. The Sankardev Sangha organises the birth anniversary of the Vaishnavite saint across Assam through its Sakhas.

The 15th and 16th century Assamese polymath, Guru Shankardev was a saint-scholar, poet, playwright, dancer, actor, musician, artist, social-religious reformer and a figure of importance in the cultural and religious history of Assam, India.Though his work could be seen influenced by many of the languages of today's Uttar Pradesh and Bihar but the language which dominates mostly is Maithili, without which his works cannot be complete. He is widely credited with building on past cultural relics and devising new forms of music (Borgeet), theatrical performance (Ankia Naat, Bhaona), dance (Sattriya), literary language (Brajavali). Besides, he has left an extensive literary oeuvre of trans-created scriptures (Bhagavat of Sankardev), poetry and theological works written in Sanskrit, Assamese and Brajavali. 

The Bhagavatic religious movement he started, Ekasarana Dharma and also called Neo-Vaishnavite movement,influenced two medieval kingdoms—Koch and the Ahom kingdoms—and the assembly of devotees he initiated evolved over time into monastic centers called Sattras, which continue to be important socio-religious institutions in Assam and to a lesser extent in North Bengal. Sankardev inspired the Bhakti movement in Assam just as Guru Nanak, Ramananda, Namdev, Kabir, Basava and Chaitanya Mahaprabhu inspired it elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent. His influence spread even to some kingdoms as the Matak Kingdom founded by Bharat Singha, and consolidated by Sarbanda Singha in the latter 18th century, endorsed his teachings.

The great Vaishnavite saint and reformer Srimanta Sankardev was born in Alipukhuri, Nagaon in 1449. His father was Kusumbar Bhuyan and his mother’s name was Satyasandhya.Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev was a saint, scholar, playwright, social and religious reformer and a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam.His major literacy creations are the ‘Kirtan Ghosa’, ‘Gunamala’ etc. The holy songs written by him are known as ‘Borgeet’. The dramas written by him are known as ‘Ankia Naat’ and Sattriya Dance at that time was a part of it. 

In the ‘Ankiya Naats’ Srimanta Sankardev used the style of storytelling through drama, mostly depicting the life of Lord Krishna and Lord Rama. The first dramatical work by him was ‘Chihnajatra’. The various ‘Ankia Naats’ written by him are ‘Kaliya Daman’, ‘Patni Prasad’, ‘Keli Gopal’, ‘Rukmini Haran’, ‘Parijat Haran’ and ‘Rambijay’ naat. When he started going to school at the age of twelve, he wrote a poem in praise of Lord Vishnu -‘Karatala Kamala Kamala Dala Nayana’ without using any vowels as he had learnt only the consonants till that time.

The ‘Sattras’ or the monasteries set by the Vaishnavite saint developed as the hub of religious, spiritual and cultural life of the people of Assam. Srimanta Sankardev used the charm of art and culture to spread his philosophy of monotheism i.e. Vaishnavism, so that it could be used as a medium of instruction. The chief disciple of Srimanta Sankardev was Sri Sri Madhavdev, who also worked for spreading Vaishnavism and contributed to his literary works including ‘NamGhosa’, ‘Bhakti Rattna’ etc.The great saint died at the age of 120 years in 1568 in Koch Bihar.


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