Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev
Mahapurush Srimanta Sankaradev (1449 – 1568) was a great Assamese saint, scholar, poet, playwright, social reformer and founder of Vaishnavism in Assam. He inspired the Bhakti movement in Assam and united people through his neo-vaishnavite movement – Ekasaran Naam Dharma. Sankardev enriched Assamese language and literature through his poetry, dramas (ankia naat) and songs (borgeet & bhatima). He was also the father of Assamese classical dance – Sattriya Dance.
Sankardev was born in 1449 at Alipukhuri near Bordua of Nagaon district, Assam. Sankardev lost his parents at an early age was raised by his grandmother Khersuti. He attended tol (school) of Mahendra Kandali. He wrote his first verses Karatala kamala, even without formal education on all the vowels. He studied grammar and Indian scriptures at the tol. Shankardev wrote his first work – Harish chandra upakhyan, during his days at the Mahendra Kandali’s tol.
Sankardev was physically strong and there is a legend that he could swim across flooded Brahmaputra, one of the largest rivers in the world. He left the tol in his late teen years. Then he started to attend his responsibilities as the Shiromani Bhuyan. Later Sankardev moved to Bordowa and married his first wife Suryavati. Few months after giving birth to a girl child, Suryavati died.
Then in 1481, Sankardev started his first pilgrimage journey. He visited Puri, Mathura, Vrindaban, Gaya, Ayodhya, Dwaraka, Sitakunda, Rameswaram etc. He spent many years at Puri. The first pilgrimage of Sankardev lasted 12 years. After returning home in 1493, Sankardev reluctantly took the responsibility of Shiromaniship. But soon he handed over all his responsibility to his son-in-law Hari. Sankardev remarried at the of 54 and moved his residence from Alipukhuri to Bordowa. The name of his second wife was Kalindi. Sankardev’s second pilgrimage started in the year 1550. He was accompanied by more than 100 disciples including Madhavdev. On the request of Sankardeva’s wife Kalindi, the group returned within 6 months.
Sankardev used Krishna as a form to preach devotion to a single God, who can be worshiped solely by uttering his various names (naam). It is called Eka sarana. Sankardeva’s most celebrated disciple was Madhavdev, an equally-talented saint from Lakhimpur, Assam. Sankardev’s famous debate with Madhavdev, which ended with Madhavdev’s conversion to Vaishnavism, is often cited as the single most epoch-making event in the history of the neo-Vaishnavite movement in Assam. As part of Ekasaran, Srimanta Sankardev started a system of initiation (Sarana) into his religion. He faught against anti-social elements like caste system. He gave saran to people of all castes and religions, including Muslims. The people who practice his religion are called variously as Mahapurushia, Sarania or Sankari.
Koch King Naranarayan once ordered arrest of Sankardev. But Chilarai, the General of Koch army, saved him from certain arrest. Later Sankardev impressed Naranarayan with his words. The King honoured Sankardev with a seat next to him. He was also allowed to freely speak of his religion. On the request and patronage of King Nara Narayan and Price Chilarai, Sankardev supervised the creations of the Vrindavani vastra, a 60m x 30m woven cloth that depicted the playful activities of Lord Krishna in Vrindavan.
The literary work of Sankardev extends from Bhagabat to Gunamala. He crated many dramas known as Ankia Naat. Sankardev is the creator of Sattriya Dance, one of the classic dance forms of India.
After living a long, eventful life that shaped Assamese culture and Vaishnavism, Srimanta Sankardev passed away in the year 1568. The cause of his death was said to be a bish phuhora (painful boil). He was 120 years old.
Works of Srimanta Sankardev:
Poetry: Kirtan ghosha, Harischandra upakhyana, Kurukshetra yatra, Ajamilopakhyan, Kamajay, Bali chalana, Gopi-uddhava-samvada, Amrta-manthan etc.
Drama (Ankia naat): Cihna Yatra (lost), Patni-prasada, Janma-jatra (lost), Kangsa-badha (lost), Rukmini Haran, Keli Gopal, Sriram Vijay, Parijat Haran, Kalia Daman etc.
Translation: Bhagavat (Book VI, VIII, I, II, VII, X, XI, XII, IX, partial X & XI, XII), Ramayana (Uttarakanda)
Other books: Bhakati Pradip, Anadi Patan, Gunamala, Bhakti Ratnakar, Nimi-navasiddha-samvad
Songs: Borgeet and Bhatima
Dance: Sattriya dance was first conceived and developed by Sankardev
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