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Sankaradeva and His New Vaishnavite Order

Context: Sankaradeva was born in Nagaon district’s Batadrava, also spelt Bordowa, in September 1449. He lived for 119 years and died at Bheladonga, now in West Bengal’s Cooch Behar district.

Analysis

  • The saint-reformer founded a new Vaishnavite order within Hinduism.
  • He was the greatest spiritual leader of Assam, who simplified the modes of religious practices with great emphasis on ‘Bhakti’ and he made it accessible to every members of the society by rendering the Holy Scriptures into the language of people.
  • Sankaradeva is a religious reformer who brought his disciples to the pure monotheism of his Vaishnava faith.
  • Sankaradeva specially discussed about the orthodox nature of Hindu Religion.
  • The doctrine preached by Sankaradeva is termed as Ek-Saran Nama Dharma, means believe in one God, i.e., Vishnu.
  • The worship of other God and Goddesses are prohibited in his religion.
  • According to him, the supreme God is Krishna, who is the saviour of all.
  • As the faith derived its source and inspiration from the Srimad-Bhagavata purana, the system is called the Bhagavati Dharma.
  • In Sarana system, the devotees can maintain direct communications with the lord without the help of anybody.
  • Sankaradeva discarded the system of idol worship and he gives prime emphasis on recitation or chanting of the holy names of the deity.
  • In the initiation process, he introduced four elements e., Guru, Deva, Nama and Bhakat which are devotionally known as ‘Icari Bastu’.
  • He advised his followers not to exhibit any aggression towards the adherents of other Creeds and said, “Parara Dharmmaka Nihiṁsibᾱ Kᾱdacit”, (Never ever bear hatred towards others’ religions) Sankaradeva thus brought a great social reform by spreading secular ideas.
  • It was because of the formative movement of Sankaradeva that the stigma of casteism and untouchability could not attain such criminal proportion in Assam as prevailed in other parts of India till date.
  • Vaishnavism is one of the oldest religions of India in which people believe on Vishnu, as the Supreme God.
  • The followers of Vaishnavism believe that Vishnu takes diverse incarnations (Avataras) from time to time, which is an important feature of the Vaishnava Cult.
  • The followers of the Neo-Vaishnavism Believe that divine grace could be achieved only through devotion which was open to all classes and castes and one can attain salvation through knowledge and rituals (karma).
  • The Neo-Vaishnavite movement initiated by saint Sankaradeva in Assam in the first decade of the 16th century and reached its climax towards the middle of the 17th century.
  • It started on the theme of working towards the upliftment of the backward classes and minimization of the rigidity of caste distinctions.
  • The first attempt to bring the backward tribes, castes and classes into the fold of Vaishnavism was made by Srimanta Sankaradeva himself who accepted his disciple irrespective of their caste, tribe, class or religion.
  • To achieve his goal, Sankaradeva established a new democratic order through the institution of Namghar, which is considered as the centre of the intellectual and cultural activities of villagers.
  • Sankaradeva kept his neo-Vaishnava faith aloof from the pull of politics of the time and remain as a common man.
  • He declared a principle that he would never be a guru of a king.
  • Though Sankaradeva received patronage from Maharaja Naranarayana of Koch Bihar, he strongly refused to accept the king as his disciple.
  • So, Sankaradeva was a believer of secularism in politics.
  • Even, neo-Vaishnava faith developed a new kind of Philosophy, art and music in the form of ‘Borgeets’, ‘Ankiya Nats’ or ‘Bhaonas’ (a theatre form introduced for the first time by Srimanta Sankaradeva and which became increasingly popular with the masses, centred around themes from the Bhagavata-Purana and the Ramayana) as well as the ‘Satriya Dance’ as modes of conveying the principles of ‘Ek-Sarana-Nama-Dharma’, based on the devotion to one single God ‘Lord Krishna’ or ‘Vishnu.’
  • He made a great effort to make accessible his ideas among common masses and so in most of his works, he used the Assamese language of the period, so that common people could read and understand them easily.
  • But for theatrical cause in his songs and dramas he used ‘Brajavali’, which is an artificial mixture of Braj language and Assamese.
  • The fundamental teachings and tenets of Neo-Vaishnavism were expounded by Sankaradeva and Madhavdeva in their great works, ‘KirtanGhosa’ and ‘Nama Ghosa’
  • Moreover, some followers established Satra institution to spread the Vaishnava Faith in the later period, which takes a key role in spreading the ideology of Vaishnava faith in Assam.
  • It is a religious institution or religious centre which is unique and special to the Eka sarana tradition where religious teachings, beliefs and spirituality are imparted.
  • The name of Satra was used in the sense of an assembly of devotees.
  • It is the place where the people from different castes and tribes are stayed and preached the God through congregational prayer and religious discourses.
  • The main aim of Satras is achieving cultural integration with various ethnic tribes and communities of Assam.
  • Again, to spread the secular and democratic ideas, the leaders of Neo-Vaishnavite movement established Kirtanghar or Namghar (the village congregation hall) institution, which became a significant feature of every Assamese village in Assam over time and served as a centre of spiritual, intellectual and cultural activities of the villagers.
  • The Namghar becomes the venue for congregational chanting of prayers or ‘Nama-Prasangas’, singing of ‘Borgeets’or classical devotional songs composed by Srimanta Sankaradeva and his disciple Madhavdeva and enactment of ‘Bhaona’ on various occasions irrespective of caste, class etc.
  • In Namghar, all sorts of quarrels and disputes among the members of the village community were settled by the villagers themselves.

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