Sankardev and Bhakti Movement in Assam

sankardev and spread of bhakti movement in assam

Initation of Sankardev

Sri Shankara Dev imbibed the principles of Bhakti and fertilized his heart with its pure moods.

At Shanktipura, the deepest desires of Sankardeva came to fruition.

He attained Deeksha (दीक्षा), spiritual initiation from Sri Advaita Acharya, one of the five great masters of the science of Bhakti.

The Vaishnava community reveres Sri Advaita Acharya as it was his hearfelt prayers alone that compelled the Supreme Lord Sri Krishna to appear in Mayapur.

Sri Krishna incarnated as Pandit Nimai, the Yuga Avatar (युगावतार), Sriman Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

During the initiation process, Sri Advaita Acharya blessed Sri Sankardev that the seeds of Bhakti in his heart shall bear the highest fruit.

Additionally, he blessed him that he shall be able to witness his ‘Ishta’ (इष्ट) and will finally enter His pastimes.”

Srimad Bhagavatham and Sankardev

When he asked for being initiated into the order of Sanyasa, Sri Advaita Acharya refused to comply.

Instead, he asked Sankardev to work amidst the common folk and proliferate the teachings of the greatest Bhakti scripture, Srimad Bhagavatham (श्रीमद्भागवतम).

He made him realize his goal of life.

He said that he (Sankardev) took birth to distribute the Holy Name amongst the common man and to establish the Power of the Holy Name in society.

Therefore, it was his goal to establish Nama Yagya (नाम यज्ञ, sacrifice of the Holy Name) within society.

After receiving Deeksha, spiritual initiation he prostrated (Dandavat Pranam) his Guru, in the manner of a fallen stick.

He held his feet in total surrender.

He said “Whatever you order Gurudev, it shall be my Dharma. (धर्म)”

Bhakti Movement in Assam

Sri Sankardev then returned to Assam, to a place named Bardhiya which was a few miles away from his place of birth.

He established a Mutt, with the help of a few disciples.

In that place, people would congregate and as a community, chant the holy names of the Lord.

His efforts towards the Bhakti movement encouraged common folks to lead a life of surrender.

They would chant and surrender to the Holy Name.

He inspired people to depend on the Holy Name completely.

Bhakti Dharm (भक्ति धर्म) or the cult of Bhakti became popular as Sharan Dharm (शरण धर्म), in that region of Assam.

Sri Sankardev also became popular by the Grace of the Lord.

Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardev, was his popular identity which meant the great-one, Sankardev.

Teachings of Sankardev

The main teaching of this Dharm was that there is only “One” without a second.

His movement preached that there is only one Supreme Lord Vishnu known as Sri Krishna.

The main teaching of this aspect of Sanatana Dharma was to accept Sri Krishna as the sole proprietor of one’s life.

One should completely surrender all that one has, at the feet of Sri Krishna.

This in fact, the Dharma said was the one point duty of every individual.

One should not expect anything from the Lord.

Instead, we should solely depend on the Will of the Lord.

If one does this with sincerity, then the Supreme Lord Himself meticulously guides His devotee.

This was his teaching.

When one succeeded completely on this path, one attains the highest form of Bhakti called Uttama Bhakti (उत्तम भक्ति).

In this form of Bhakti there was no consideration of high, low, caste and creed, gender and skin color of the people.

Inspiration to Translate Bhagavat in Assamese

Looking at the enthusiasm of the local population to embrace the Dharma, Sri Sankardev decided to translate the Srimad Bhagavatham into Assamese.

He did so, for the local citizens of Assam.

The entire Sanskrit work of the Bhakti Scripture was difficult to find in Assam.

Because, back then, Assam was the land of Kali and Tantra Sadhana.

The mass environment of the Tamasic mode of worship disturbed Sankardev.

Sankardev and the Maithili Brahmin

On one such occasion, a Maithili (मैथिलि) Brahmin visited Sri Sandkardev.

He said that “I am Jagadish Mishra and I belong to the district of Tiruhut of Mithila province and, I am ordered to meet you.

I am coming from Puri.”

Sri Sankardev replied: “Sir, Kindly let me know how I can serve you.”

The Brahmin said, “The Lord inspired me to render Srimad Bhagavatham infront of His deity.

In order, to fulfill my heart’s desire, I presented myself before my Great Lord Jagannatha (जगन्नाथ).

I started reading the Bhagavatham in front of Sri Jagannatha and completed the entire rendition in 14 days.

On the 14th night, Lord Jagannatha appeared in my dream and said: “I am happy with your service.

However, I shall be more elated if you can go to Bardhiya (Assam) and give a copy of the Bhagavatham to my dear devotee Sankardev.”

I got up quite satisfied and amazed.

To fulfil my Lord’s command, I then immediately started looking for you.

So, here I am, with a copy of Srimad Bhagavatham for you.

I have only this copy of the Srimad Bhagavatham, which I have handwritten.

Now, this copy is for you.”

Fulfilment of Desire

After hearing the words of the Maithili Brahmin, Sri Sankardev, remembered the Lord in his heart and prayed thus:

“Oh Lord, you are so compassionate and kind.

You have known my heart and out of love for me, You have immediately arranged for my pacification, a copy of the Srimad Bhagavatham!

You have done only that, which an ultra-generous being can do for the other.

What has come to me, is like, a plate full of sumptuous edibles put in front of a man who has gone hungry for days together.

This Maithili Brahmin had gone for your service and you have sent him to serve me.

You, oh Lord, are always anxious to hear Your own pastimes from the lotus mouths of Your dear devotees.

But, You have graciously sent this pure devotee for my service, so that I may be able to distribute Your pastimes amongst the common folks.

You have worried about my problems, giving it the highest priority.

Which embodied soul can be so kind and gracious?”

Thinking thus, Sri Shankar Dev offered prostrations to the Lord in his heart.

Assamese-Bhagavatham Becomes Famous

Sankardeva possessing the Srimad Bhagavatham scripture in his hands, overjoyed the Lord.

Because, the Lord shall be able to hear His pastimes from the lotus mouths of millions of devotees within the state of Assam.

Sri Shankar Dev experienced waves of ecstasy as he contemplated on the Lord.

He embraced the Mishra Brahmin in ecstasy while he was still mesmerized by the Love of Krishna.

There was a rendition of the verses of the Bhagavatham, the next day.

On this occassion, the Mishra Brahmin officially handed over the handwritten copy of the Bhagavatham to Sri Shankar Dev. 

Following that day, Sri Shankar Dev started the poetic translation of the Srimad Bhagavatham into the Assamese language.

It became the most superior work in Assamese literature even till the current day.

Following the Assamese translation of the Bhagavatham, by the Grace of the Lord, millions of households started reading this.

Moreover, people worshipped this scripture at their homes as part of devotional service.

Such was the effect and efficacy of the work of Sri Shankar Dev.

Gaudiya Vaishnavism and Sankardev

This was a parallel time, when the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition was proliferating in Bengal under the auspices of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

There was an event when Sri Shankar Dev met Lord Mahaprabhu, at Sri Jagannatha Puri.

Yet it is difficult to say whether the Cult of Sriman Mahaprabhu had an effect on Sri Shankar Dev.

It is a prevalent opinion that Sri Shankar Dev preached the philosophy of servitorship to Lord Krishna.

On the other hand, the world knows that Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu preached the precepts of conjugal love (परकीय प्रेम) to Lord Krishna.

Mahaprabhu preached Radha Bhava.

Sri Shankar Dev’s compositions, plays, Kirtans, and other supportive elements in the devotional mellow were extremely popular.

They continue to be so, even today, amongst the Vaishnava communities in Assam.

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