Where was the devotee Shankar Deva born?
As was the custom in those days, there were people who offered themselves as sacrifice in the temple and in return their families were taken care by the King. The King compensated the families with wealth and other comforts with which these families secured their future. Such was the misdemeanor that was passed in the name of culture and custom. The roots of the pseudo Tantric Dharma was so deep that people were addicted to these blind customs and were not ready to forsake it at any cost, even if it meant, a total destruction of all other noble value systems. The unfortunate thing is that even to this day, there are families who are steeped in these dark concepts and hold on to this transgression, as if it were their very life.
The following of the pure Vaishnava Dharma (वैष्णव धर्म) in those days, especially in regions like Assam was extremely rare. The Vaishnava Dharma makes the practitioner so sensitive that he is worried about the welfare of others. The Vaishnava, or the practitioner of the Vaishnava Dharma is so careful that he does not even want to stamp an ant by mistake. Such a person wants to avoid even casual violence that is a result of negligence. The life of Sri Acharya, Shankara Dev’s life served as a boon, a great relief for the people of Assam. He was responsible for one of the greatest reformations that happened in the state that defined the narrative of Bharath at a later time.
Sri Shankara Dev was born near Nagaon in Assam. He belonged to the kayastha (कायस्थ) caste. His father was recognized in the place as one who was in line with his ideals, a man of Dharma. Shankar Dev was a handsome individual with well-formed limbs, extremely attractive. In addition to his physical beauty he was also a talented individual par excellence. He had special interest in literature and was also a gifted poet. His “tarka” (तर्क) or ability to apply logic was unprecedented and even great logicians of those times could not hold themselves in argumentation against the young Shankar Dev. At the age of 12, Shankar Dev was admitted in a school run by Pandit Mahendra Kandali, by his father. In a short span Sri Shankar Dev attained mastery in the principles of Indian philosophy, Sanatana Dharma and allied sciences. He also came in close association of a Yogi and took to the practice of classical Yoga. However it should not be forgotten that Sri Shankar Dev was born with the seeds of Prema Bhakti (प्रेमा भक्ति) already ingrained within him, the highest form of spiritual practice of the Vaishnavas. Shankar Dev was now losing interest from traditional Yoga.
He was naturally inclined to the precepts and teachings of the Bhakti Marga (भक्ति मार्ग), pure devotional service. He started immersing himself in the works of Bhakti, as established by the sages of Sanatana Dharma. He gradually developed emotions for the Vrindavana Leelas (वृंदावन लीला) (Pastimes of Lord Sri Krishna in the holy Land of Vrindavana). He desired to visit Vrindavana now. His father witnessed the changing moods of his son, who was now a budding Bhakta (devotee of the Lord) (भक्त). He ordered thus “Very well, you can go to Vrindavana, but not at this point. You have a lot to achieve in life. It is time for you to get married and undertake the responsibilities of a householder. You have a responsibility towards your parents and towards your biological family at large. After you have successfully executed these fundamental responsibilities, you are free to go wherever you want.”
Sri Shankar Dev was a man of Satvik character (benign and soft) (सात्विक स्वभाव). Moreover he was utterly obedient. He agreed to the conditions set by his father. He married an extremely gentle girl called Suryavati. She was a girl who was devoted to the Dharma (धर्म पत्नि) of an ideal spouse. But within a few years, Shankar Dev lost both, his father as well as his wife. This event triggered the highest indifference to the ways of the world within him. He had developed the mood of a Bairaagi (बैरागी), a recluse. He intended to take up the Dharma of Sanyasa (become an ordained renunciant) (संन्यास); however nature forced him to continue his current life, the way he was at the current moment. The reason was that, he had a young daughter, a responsibility that could not be avoided at any cost. He could possibly not abandon her without first bringing her up with values and getting her married to a suitable individual. Hence for many more years, he had to continue his outward worldly position as a widowed grihastha (गृहस्थ) or householder, as a father, primarily, for the sake of his daughter.
He brought up his daughter well and got her married to a devotee and thus became free from the responsibilities of the mundane world. He distributed his property amongst his daughter and other relatives and left for pilgrimage. He spent 12 years as a wandering pilgrim. It is wondrous to note that, the scriptures found in the local pilgrimage spots find a mention of Sri Shankar Dev in their writings. The main pilgrimage spots which were frequented by Sri Shankar Dev were Sri Nawadwip Dham, Shantipur, Sita Kund, Gaya, Kashi, Sri Prayagraj, Ayodhya, Mathura, Vrindavana, Badrikashrama etc. Wherever he went, he found the holy association of the local sadhus. He listened to them with rapt attention and imbibed within him, the values that they spoke of.