16th Century Assam Tantra Practice
This is a prelude to the story of Sri Sankardev Deva.
He lived in the sixteenth century Assam called the Great Empire of Kamarupa back then.
The capital of the Empire was Pragjyotishpura, modern-day Guwahati.
Those were the days where two kings ruled Raja Nara-Narayan of the kingdom of Koch in West Assam and king Narnarayan who ruled the kingdom of Ahom.
Both were great followers of the Tantra Cult.
Human Sacrifices in Assam Temples
During Sankardev’s times, the whole of the Tantric science had taken a very heinous, distorted shape.
There are instances revealed, where, the Kamakhya temple was considered defiled after the Mughals attacked it.
For reinstating it back to its lost glory, King Narnarayan ordered a formal cleansing program of the temple.
He declared that the heads of 140 healthy individuals were to be severed as part of the “clean-up” program, where they were to be offered to the Goddess.
He arranged this sacrifice ceremony for the satisfaction of Kamakhya Devi.
This was, in fact, the darkest part of history, of any temple.
Could the king have offered the blood of his relatives for the “so-called” bloody clean-up, to satisfy the Goddess?
The best sacrifice could have been, to sacrifice his own self at the feet of the Temple Altar.
What could have been much holier?
But here is a king that commits genocide in the name of authentic religion.
A Need for Change in Assam
This was perhaps the darkest phase in the anals of Sanatana Dharma.
The act was of a pseudo-religion which was actually an act of merciless massacre.
As was the custom in those days, the families of the people who readily offered themselves for the sacrifice became the king’s responsibility.
The King compensated the families with wealth and other comforts.
He would provide all these families with amenities and necessities to equip themselves to secure their future.
Such was the misdemeanor that was passed in the name of culture and custom.
The roots of the pseudo-Tantric Dharma were so deep that people were addicted to these blind customs.
So, following the pure Vaishnava Dharma (वैष्णव धर्म) in those days, especially in regions like Assam was extremely rare.
Vaishnava Dharma makes the practitioner so sensitive that he is worried about the welfare of others.
The sensitivity of a Vaishnava is such that he does not even want to stamp an ant, even by mistake.
Such a person wants to avoid even casual violence that is a result of negligence.
The life of Sri Acharya Sankardev served as a boon for the people of Assam.
Sankardev’s Bhakti Movement in Assam brought a dramatic change.
It was a great relief for the people of Assam, from the binding violence that became severe with passing time.
Sankardev was responsible for one of the greatest reformations that occurred in the state.
History of Sankardev
Sri Sankardev was born near Nagaon in Assam.
He belonged to the Kayastha (कायस्थ) caste.
His father possessed high ideals and he became famous for following Dharma.
He is a man of Dharma.
Sankardev 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 a special interest in literature and was also a gifted poet.
His “Tarka” (तर्क) or ability to apply logic was beyond comparison.
So, even great logicians of those times could not hold themselves in argumentation against the young Sankardev.
Eduction of Sankardev
At the age of 12, Sankardev enrolled in a school.
His father, Pandit Mahendra Kandali, was a chief body, the head of the school.
In a short span, Sri Sankardev attained mastery in the principles of Indian philosophy, Sanatana Dharma, and allied sciences.
He also came in close association with a Yogi and took to the practice of classical Yoga.
However, Sri Sankardev was innately a Bhakta more than a Yogi.
The seeds of Prema Bhakti (प्रेमा भक्ति) was already ingrained within him.
So, he was the propagator of the highest form of the spiritual practice of Vaishnavas.
Soon, Sankardev started losing interest in traditional Yoga.
He was naturally inclined to the precepts and teachings of the Bhakti Marga (भक्ति मार्ग).
Bhakti marga is the path of pure devotional service.
Following his inclination, Sankardev started immersing himself in the works of Bhakti.
He voraciously read authentic books written by the elevated sages of Sanatana Dharma.
Then, he gradually developed emotions for the Vrindavana Leelas (वृंदावन लीला).
Vrindavan Leelas are the Pastimes of Lord Sri Krishna in the Holy Land of Vrindavana.
After much contemplation, he desired to visit Vrindavana now.
Grihasta Life of Sankardev
His father, Pandit Mahendra Kandali witnessed the changing moods of his son.
He noticed that his son 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 marry and undertake the responsibilities of a householder.
You have a responsibility towards your parent.
Son, you have many unfulfilled responsibilities towards your biological family at large.
After you have successfully executed these fundamental responsibilities, you are free to go wherever you want.”
Sri Sankardev was a man of Satvik character (benign and soft) (सात्विक स्वभाव).
Moreover, he was utterly obedient.
So, He agreed to the conditions set by his father.
Following the instructions, Sankardev married an extremely gentle girl called Suryavati.
She was alike her husband, a girl devoted to the Dharma of an Ideal spouse (धर्म पत्नि).
But, within a few years, Sankardev 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.
Sankardev Relieved off Duties
He continued living in the householder phase of life, the reason being the responsibility of his unmarried daughter.
So, he could never neglect that, foremost of all responsibilities.
He could possibly not abandon his daughter without first instilling values in her.
Then, he decided to get her married off to an ideal boy.
Hence for many more years, he had to continue his outward worldly position as a widowed grihastha (गृहस्थ) or householder.
Primarily he played the role of a father in those years, for the sake of his daughter.
He brought up his daughter well.
Finally, he got her married to a devotee.
Thus, after fulfilling this responsibility, he became free from all ties of the mundane world.
He distributed his property amongst his daughter and other relatives.
Subsequently, he left for pilgrimage, to fulfill his far old desire of visiting Vrindavana Dham.
It is wondrous to note that, the scriptures found in the local pilgrimage spots find a mention of Sri Sankardev in their writings.
The main pilgrimage spots that Sri Sankardev visited 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.
Thus, how 12 years as a wandering pilgrim, flew by nobody knew.
Thanks for reading!