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Vaishnava Literary Tradition of Assam from Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti's blog

Vaishnava Literary Tradition of Assam

by Dr Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti


             Assam has a rich tradition of Vaishnavite literature. The majority of the people in Assam are believers of Vaishnavite faith. So the literary activities in Assam have been dominated by the Vaishnavite literature. The history of such literature goes back to the sixth century, when Puroshottama Gajapati authored a book named Deepikâ Sanda. An emperor of the Jitari dynasty, Puroshottama Gajapati can be called the pioneer of Vaishnavite literature in Assam. Ratnapura was the capital of his empire Kamarupa, the ancient name of Assam. He wrote this book by taking ingredients from different Sanskrit treatises like Hangsakâki, Jâmal Samhitâetc. He criticised the decadent Tantrik rituals in his book. But since he was not a theoretician, there was not much theoretical analysis in the book. He predicted that there would be dominance of unrighteousness in Bhâratavarsha. 

            Haibeka adharmmakâri loka Bhâratara

            Tini dishe tini râjâ haibe anantara

[Meaning - People of Bhârata will become unrighteous. After that there will be three empires in three directions.]

            Madhava Kandali was the most prominent Assamese Vaishnavite litterateure of the fourteenth century. The intermittent period since Puroshottama Gajapati had not seen much Vaishnavite literature because of the strong emergence of Buddhism in this region. Madhava Kandali’s magnum opus was the translation of Râmâyana in Assamese in five cantos. In fact it was the first ever translation of Râmâyana in any modern Indian language. Madhava Kandali carried out the translation with faithfulness to the original, but made it concise in places. Moreover he gave a local flavour in the narratives. He was a great devotee of lord Rama. He wrote in his Râmâyana,

            Sapone sachite manyi  jnâne kâya bâkya mane

                        Aharnishe chinto Râma Râma

[Meaning - I think about Rama both day and night by intellect, body, speech and mind both in dream and wakeful state.]

            Harivara Vipra was a Vaishnavite poet belonging to the fifteenth century. He authored several Kâvyas based on the Ashvamedha Parbba by Jaimini. These included Lava-Kushar Yuddha, Babruvâhanar Yuddha, andTâmraddhvajar Yuddha. He used his Kâvyas to spread the glory of lord Krishna, because glorifying the worship of Vasudeva Krishna was an important purpose of Ashvamedha Parbba by Jaimini too. The prowess and excellence of lord Krishna was emphasized in the Kâvyas of Harivara Vipra. He remained loyal to the original, but used Assamese proverbs and portrayed a local picture in his renderings.

            Poet Hema Saraswati also belonged to the fifteenth century. He authored several small Kâvyas like Prahlâda Charita. How the tyrant king Hiranyakashipu was killed by lord Narasingha was narrated in this Kâvya.

            But the actual giant of Assamese Vaishnavite literature is Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449 AD -1568 AD). He founded a new order Eka Sarana Nâma Dharma, which preached devotion to a single God, lord Krishna. The tools of song, dance and drama were used by the saint for this purpose. He was assisted by his foremost disciple Madhavadeva in the ventures of social reform and proselytizing activities. Srimanta Sankaradeva was not only a religious preceptor, but also a social reformer, who had sanskritized the ethnic groups of the volatile North East India and assimilated them with the national main-stream. He was a great messiah, who rescued the people of Brahmaputra valley from the regressive medieval practices like human sacrifice. His ever-lasting impact is a phenomenon to be seen to be believed. His writings continue to inspire people even today. They are not only used as devotional materials, but also utilised by the litterateurs as role model.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva authored ten plays in his life. These were Chihna Yatra, Patni Prasada, Kâliya Damana, Keli Gopâla, Rukmini Harana, Pârijat Harana, Janma Yâtra, Gopi Uddhava Sambâda, Kangsa Badha and Sri Râma Vijaya. The first of these, Chihna Yâtrâ had been enacted in 1468 AD.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva helped the drama movement grow in entire India. He was the first playwright in all modern Indian languages. His plays, known as Ankiyâ plays were enacted in all over Northern India. He used the Vrajâwali form of Assamese language in his plays as well as his songs, known as Bargeet. As a result, his plays and Bargeets had a wide audience covering almost the entire Northern India. The play Kâliya Damana had such an impact in Bengal that it led to an era known as Kâliya Damana Yâtrâ era there. They even derived the word Yâtrâ from the saint’s plays. The playwrights of Mithila, the most developed intellectual centre of medieval Bhâratavarsha acknowledged the saint as the person who moulded their plays. The characteristics of the Maithili plays resembled those of the Ankiyâ plays. The playwrights like Govinda and Umapati in Mithila were influenced by the style of Srimanta Sankaradeva.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva brought about many innovations in his plays. It was he who introduced the Shânta-rasa for the first time in his plays. It had not been there in the Nâtya-shâstra of Bharata. Scholars like Ananada Bardhana and Abhinava Gupta incorporated it much later, after Srimanta Sankaradeva had already used it in his plays.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva departed from the typical norms laid down by Bharata for classical plays. For instance he incorporated scenes of eating, wedding, war, killing etc in his plays whereas such scenes were strictly forbidden in Sanskrit plays. His plays Patni Prasâda, Keli Gopâla, Rukmini Harana andSri Râma Vijaya clearly differed from Sanskrit plays on this count.The Sutradhâra or the compere of Srimanta Sankaradeva’s plays also was completely different from the Sutradhâra of Sanskrit plays. Sankaradeva’s Sutradhâra remained in the acting arena from the beginning till the end whereas Sanskrit Sutradhâra departed from the arena just after introducing the topic of the play. Sankaradeva’s Sutradhâra even participate in acting, singing and playing on the instruments like drum. His Sutradhâra keeps on explaining the story as well as its spiritual import from time to time.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva used the medium of play for his proselytizing works. His use of plays as a medium for religious preaching was a great act of innovation. In this respect, he was a pioneer in the entire world. Nobody had used this medium for proselytizing or propagational work before him. He was thus a path-finder for even Bertolt Breckht, who used this medium for propagating his socialist message in the twentieth century. Srimanta Sankaradeva’s dramatic talent can be compared only to that of Shakespeare, who came 119 years later to the realm of theatre.

    Srimanta Sankaradeva authored several Kâvyas too. These were Harishchandra Upâkhyâna, Rukmini Harana, Kurukshetra, Ajâmila Upâkhyâna. He highlighted the glory of lord Krishna and the eventual victory of the Krishna-devotees in all these. The importance of truth, honesty etc also were highlighted. Though he took the ingredients of these Kâvyas from different Sanskrit scriptures, his compositions were original in many aspects. He created new characters too.

       Srimanta Sankaradeva preached that there was only one God, who controlled the entire creation and remained within all sentient and insentient beings. He preached devotion to the one and only God, lord Krishna or Vishnu. He also suggested that devotion could be within one’s heart, not requiring any religious paraphernalia. Realization of God was an internal affair, not external. So the external worship of icons was redundant. He talked of universal love for all beings as God resided within all beings.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva’s philosophy was based on complete self-surrender to God as taught by God Himself in Srimadbhagavadgeetâ. The saint stressed that the devotees should develop the attitude of a loyal servant towards God. Humility was an imperative for them, he pointed out. He used to go out of his way to teach these values and to help the disciples internalise these. Once he had washed his aged disciple Sarvajoy when the latter urinated inadvertantly inside the Kirtanghar during the prayers. Totally engrossed in prayer, Sarvajoy was in an ecstatic mood and had no body consciousness at all at that time. Srimanta Sankaradeva washed him and changed him to a new set of cloth.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva preached a unique philosophy. Though a proponent of devotional path, he was neither a dualist nor a qualified monist. He believed in one God, but was not a monist either. Whereas Sankaracharya had felt that the world was unreal, Srimanta Sankaradeva said that the world was an exposition of the supreme entity, Brahma. Again, whereas Ramanuja said that the world was an organic part of Brahma, Srimanta Sankaradeva said that the world was identical with Brahma in intrinsic reality and only appearing to be apart from that to the non-enlightened. It was very much a creation and at the same time a characteristic of Brahma.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva’s teachings were in the line of Upanishadic philosophy of enlightenment by knowledge of the self, together with pure devotion to the supreme God as preached in Bhâgavata. He made a fine blending of the two. His teachings cannot be restricted to any particular branch of philosophy; those constituted a completely separate branch. His view to life was an integral one like Sri Aurobindo’s. He carried the entire spectrum of Hinduism in his teachings. But he corroborated his teachings so logically that it came to form a whole new school, which the present author has termed Vivartanavâda.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva’s ideological structure was pyramidal, based on Bhâgavata in the bottom and embellished by Srimadbhagavadgeetâ at the top. The intermediate range contained scope for different attitudinal inclinations. It was a marvellous presentation of the entire range of spiritual inclinations of a person. A devotee could thus evolve through it from the gross to the subtle, from mundane to spiritual and from manhood to Godhood. In fact Srimanta Sankaradeva described the twenty four incarnations of God in the very first chapter of his Kirtana-ghoshâ, which symbolized the evolution of man. His religious order was named Eka Sarana Nâma Dharma, because the concept of self-surrender and the chanting of God’s name constituted the main mode of Sâdhanâ.

            The salient points found in Srimanta Sankaradeva’s extensive writings, which have philosophical bearings, are the following.

            (1) Brahma is the supreme truth.

            (2) Brahma and Iswara (God) are the same.

            (3) Brahma or Iswara is there in every being.

            (4) Iswara and His creations are not different.

            (5) Jiva (creature) is a component of God. The former constitutes the body of the latter.

            (6) The creation is temporary, but not exactly unreal as it is a projection of God. So it cannot be ignored.

            (7) Mâyâ (illusion) is an act of God and its influence can be avoided by the grace of God.

            (8) One becomes God as one realizes the identity of God and the five elements.

            It is thus clearly seen that Srimanta Sankaradeva evolved a unique philosophy, which succeeded in bringing about a resolution of conflicts between different schools of thoughts in Indian philosophy. The creation was not non-substantive for him like Sankaracharya. Srimanta Sankaradeva saw God in His creations. At the same time he said that there was only one ultimate entity Brahma. All these subtle points made his philosophy a practical one. 

            Srimanta Sankaradeva was a great humanitarian. He addressed the entire humanity in his writings, not the population of any region like Assam or even Bhâratavarsha. He called upon the entire humanity to worship lord Hari. It was this love for the entire humanity that propelled him to oppose all types of killings. He said repeatedly in his writings that one should not sacrifice any creature, because that creature in turn tortures the sacrificer in the other world. This concept confers equality upon all creatures, not only among human beings. This clarion call by the saint was necessitated by the grave social situation prevailing in the Brahmaputra valley in those times. Even human beings were sacrificed before the deity by the Tantrics, who called the shots in the society.

            Education in those days was a priviledge available to only a limited few belonging to the upper echelon of the society. The enlightened and socially conscious disciples of Srimanta Sankaradeva constituted a microscopic minority in this vast sea of illiterate masses. But nevertheless Srimanta Sankaradeva and his followers engaged themselves in the work of propagating knowledge and wisdom in their own ways. He authored many songs, plays, prayers and philosophical writings. These contained a major portion of the course material prevalent in the then residential schools. The teachers of those schools taught mostly the religious scriptures like Vedas, Purânas, Srimadbhagavadgeetâ, the two epics etc. The teaching was not secular in those days. The essence of that curriculam was very much present in the writings of Srimanta Sankaradeva. So when his plays were enacted, when his songs were sung, when his hymns were chanted, people received the very knowledge which one received in the then residential schools and which made one educated by the standard of those days. But there were more in the teachings of Srimanta Sankaradeva than what those residential schools used to teach. That was value education imparted by him, which remains a crucial ingredient in modern education also.

            Thus Srimanta Sankaradeva was not only a religious leader like many people think, but also an educationist in his own inimitable way. He helped the people acquire knowledge of the scriptures as well as of behavioural science. There were even elements of social science in his writings albeit in a primitive form. Analysis of social conditions are found here and there in his writings. His teachings were always full of advices about an ideal life-style. There were exhortions to give up aggressive nature. He asked people to shun evil. Ethics constituted the main component of his teaching. People were also cautioned against pride. Thus he stood as a teacher of the entire society. He was a global pioneer in adult education programme. His plays, discourses and prayer meetings were always full of people. People of all age groups including ladies and old ones invariably attended these. The main message conveyed to all and sundry was that there was no intrinsic difference between man and man, all being creations of the same God.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva was a pioneer in the international movement for equal rights to women. He had supported the cause of women, much before the Western author John Locke (1632-1704) took it up. The saint emphatically said that women should be educated, way back in fifteenth century itself, when even the majority of the male population itself was uneducated. Thus Srimanta Sankaradeva was a pioneer in women liberation in the entire world. He even departed from the original writing by Valmiki in his rendering of Râmâyana Uttarâkânda in order to protest the injustice meted out to Sita by lord Rama.

            That Srimanta Sankaradeva was progressive in his thought is known from his writings. A revolt against the traditionalists was brewing in his maiden book Harishchandra Upâkhyâna itself. The people who torture women are strongly condemned here.

            Streeka durbala kare konano niskhale

            Jvalanta bahnika bândhe bastrara ânchale

                                                (Harishchandra Upâkhyâna / 75)

[Meaning - Which mean person weakens women ? He wraps the burning fire by the end of a sheet of cloth.]

            Srimanta Sankaradeva recognized the strength of women by comparing her with burning fire in this verse.

            Keli koutuhale âsilihi mora pâsha

            Krirâta karilo toka jibâ parihâsa

            Yena bhaila rangara samaya mana rosha

            Ehi tota sâdho tata nadharibi dosha

                                                (Harishchandra Upâkhyâna / 438)

[Meaning - You were beside me in enjoyment. Please forgive me for whatever derisive comments I made that made you upset during the time of frolick.]

            This description by Srimanta Sankaradeva of king Harishchandra seeking apology from his wife Saibya is a recognition of the rights of women as well as of the self respect of women. These are the harbingers of feminist thoughts. There is also proof in this book that Srimanta Sankaradeva considered women as partners of men in the intellectual pursuits.

            Karmara samayata toka mantri buli lekhi

            Rangara belâta yena toi prânasakhi

                                                (Harishchandra Upâkhyâna / 436)

[Meaning - You were my bossom friend during the time of enjoyment. I treated you like my minister during the time of works.]

            The bestowal of the rank of a minister upon Saibya by king Harishchandra implies an equal right of women. Srimanta Sankaradeva would not have incorporated such comments or descriptions in Harishchandra Upâkhyâna, had he not subscribed to that concept himself.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva’s depiction of Sita in his Assamese rendeing of Uttarâkânda Râmâyana is also a proof of his support to the concept of women’s rights. The reaction of Sita in the description of Rama banishing her is different from the depiction of meekness in the original Râmâyana. Sita accepts the order of banishment humbly in the the original Râmâyana. But the Sita of Srimanta Sankaradeva’s Uttarâkânda Râmâyana makes derisive comments to Rama.

            Awe Râma swâmi sukhe bhunjantoka râja

            Mari jâo moi nimâkhiti banamâja

                                                (Uttarâkânda Râmâyana / 23)

[Meaning - Let my husband Rama enjoy his kingdom in happiness. I, the meek one am going to die in the forest.]

            This derisive comment by Sita means that she did not accept her banishment and she derided the capacity of Rama to banish her. This expression is an original creation of Srimanta Sankaradeva. Even when Rama sent Hanumana, Bibhishana etc to the Ashrama of Valmiki for bringing Sita back, Sita spoke with vengeance. She said that there would not be a greater unashamed woman on the earth than her if she again spoke herself as Rama’s wife.

            Bolâibo gharani âro Râghavara ghare

            Nâi teve nâri nilâjini mota pare

                                                (Uttarâkânda Râmâyana / 299)

[Meaning - There would not be a greater unashamed woman on the earth than me if I again speak myself as Rama’s wife.]

            Sita also said that she would have given up her life in Lanka itself had she known Rama to be so cruel.

            Moi jeve jâno Râma enuwâ nirdaya

            Lankâte tejilo hante prânaka nischaya

                                                (Uttarâkânda Râmâyana / 303)

[Meaning - I would have given up my life in Lanka itself had I known Rama to be so cruel.]

            Srimanta Sankaradeva departed from the scriptures of Sanâtana religion by depicting the character of Sita in a protesting style. Thus he created a progressive trend on his own. We can say that the concept of feminism was embedded in this trend initiated by Srimanta Sankaradeva. Certainly he was a pioneer of feminism in the entire world.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva had composed two hundred and forty Bargeets in his inimitable style. These songs were sung by the devotees as part of their prayer sessions and also as item of cultural entertainment. Once a devotee named Kamala Gayan took the manuscript of Bargeets to his house for memorizing. A forest fire ravaged Patbausi that very year during the Chat (March-April) month. Kamala's house was engulfed by that devastating fire. With that, the entire manuscript of Bargeets also was burnt to ashes. Srimanta Sankaradeva was upset by this unfortunate incident. He asked Madhavadeva to compose some songs. Madhavadeva was an expert composer of not only Bargeet, but also of Bhatimâ and other verses. His poetic talent was equal to that of Srimanta Sankaradeva. He translated the scripture Bhakti-Ratnâwali by Vishnupuri to Assamese.

            Madhavadeva tried his best to jot down the verses of Srimanta Sankaradeva, which some or other devotees had memorized already. This way he recovered thirty four Bargeets composed by Srimanta Sankaradeva fully. Next, he tried to recover the scattered parts of the remaining songs. He went on to embellish those parts with his own compositions so as to make complete songs out of them. In total, one hundred ninety one Bargeets are now available between Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva.

            Srimanta Sankaradeva gave yet another important responsibility to Madhavadeva. It was the task of translating the first canto of the epic, Râmâyana. Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva were editing the Assamese translation of Râmâyana, which had been originally rendered into Assamese by Madhava Kandali, a reputed poet of yesteryears. Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva carried out this editing in order to save the valuable work of Madhava Kandali from being plagiarized by a contemporary author. But Madhava Kandali had translated only five cantos of Râmâyana. So Srimanta Sankaradeva decided to render the remaining two cantos also. He translated the last canto Uttarâkânda Râmâyana, while the first canto was translated by Madhavadeva. It is called Adikânda Râmâyana.

            Madhavadeva also authored a book named Nâmghoshâ. He had been asked by Srimanta Sankaradeva to write that book, where a devotee would be able to find the gist of the Eka Sarana Nâma Dharma and also get help in developing devotion. Thus this book was to be a mixture of philosophy and devotion, which was a very difficult task. But Madhavadeva made that difficult task possible by his great intellect and devotion. Nâmghoshâ continues to attract the devotees even now with its deep philosophy and sweet devotional verses.

            Madhavadeva also composed several plays. Among all the direct disciples of Srimanta Sankaradeva, it was only Madhavadeva who happened to be a playwright. So Madhavadeva could continue with the Ankiyâ play tradition initiated by his preceptor. But his plays were of a different genre and these were called Jhumurâ. He authored several plays like Arjuna Bhanjana, Bhojana Vyavahâra, Chor Dharâ, Pimparâ Guchowâ, Bhumi Lutiowâ, Râsa Jhumurâ andKotorâ Khelowâ. He also authored two Kâvyas named Râjasuya and Janma Rahasya on the instruction of Srimanta Sankaradeva.

            Madhavadeva never copied any thing from his preceptor; he created his items in his own style. The Bargeets authored by Madhavadeva were softer than those of Srimanta Sankaradeva in wording. Most of those Bargeets were centred around the activities of child Krishna. Madhavadeva’s plays also were different in style from those of Srimanta Sankaradeva.

            Ananta Kandali, a disciple of Srimanta Sankaradeva, translated a part of the tenth canto of Bhâgavata. Actually Srimanta Sankaradeva had set out to render the entire Bhâgavata in Assamese and was rendering the tenth canto at that time. But Ananta Kandali requested the saint to make him a part of the grand project. So he was allowed to render that part. Another major work of Ananta Kandali was the Kâvya, Kumara-Harana, which was based on the story of Princess Usha and Prince Aniruddha. He also rendered Râmâyana in Assamese. But his rendering was greatly influenced by the rendering of Madhava Kandali and almost an adaptation of the latter’s work.

            Ratnakara Kandali, a disciple of Srimanta Sankaradeva was an extremely talented poet. But he wrote very little. Srimanta Sankaradeva was highly impressed by Ratnakara’s literary talent and magnanimously accommodated the latter’s composition Sahasra Nâma Brittânta in his magnum opus Kirttana-ghoshâ. In other words, Sahasra Nâma Brittânta was one of the selected compositions that was prescribed for the devotees in Eka Sarana Nâma Dharma for the purpose of prayer in assembly. It listed Ishwara’s numerous names and highlighted their glory.

            Durgabar Kayastha of the sixteenth century also rendered Râmâyana in Assamese. It was as if the presence of Srimanta Sankaradeva had electrified the entire literary world and encouraged all the budding writers. Durgabar Kayastha’s Geeti-Râmâyana  was clearly influenced by the Vaishnavite philosophy of Srimanta Sankaradeva. But his rendering was not refined. These compositions were appropriate for singing in indigenous folk dance Oja-pâli only.

            Gopaladeva, a disciple of Madhavadeva, authored several plays and hymns. His plays are Janmayâtrâ, Nandotsava, Shyamantaka Harana, andUddhavajâna. His life was very interesting. He was brought up in the Ahom capital, Gargaon as a companion of the king’s son, but was hunted later due to his great physical prowess that frightened the king. So he and his mother migrated to Koch kingdom, where he came into the contact of Srimanta Sankaradeva. But he embraced Eka Sarana Nâma Dharma only after the saint passed away. He set up many Satras in different parts of Brahmaputra valley. The Satra institution is a residential centre created by Srimanta Sankaradeva for propagating the ideology of Eka Sarana Nâma Dharma. However the Satras set up by Srimanta Sankaradeva himself are known as Thân. Gopaladeva stressed on spreading the message of the saint among the downtrodden, especially the tribal people.

            Rama Saraswati was a poet of sixteenth-seventeenth century. He transcreated the epic Mahâbhârata in Assamese under the patronage of Koch king, Naranarayana. The king had sent all relevant scriptures available with him to the poet by bullock-cart. Several other poets Gopinath Pathak, Kangsari Kayastha, Gabharu Kha, Vidya Panchanan, and Pitambar also participated in this grand project. In total, eight cantos of the epic were translated. Rama Saraswati was greatly influenced by Srimanta Sankaradeva. He also transcreated Geeta-Govinda by Jayadeva. The original Geeta-Govinda differed a little from Srimanta Sankaradeva’s type of Vaishnavism, which did not give any stress on Madhura Rasa. So Rama Saraswati modified the text and minimised the stress on Madhura Rasa. All his writings exuded Vaishnavite flavour of Srimanta Sankaradeva’s type.

            Shunâ sâdhujana pada Bhârata samprati

            Krishnasevâ bine nâi Kaliyuge gati

            Mâdhavara charana pankaja kari sara

            Bolâ Râma Râma karâ purusha uddhâra

[Meaning - O the pious people, listen now to the verses of Mahâbhârata. There is no way out other than worshipping the feet of lord Krishna in the Kali era. Take resort in the lotus feet of lord Madhava. Chant the name Râma and redeem your forefathers.]

            Baikunthanath or Bhattadeva was one of the prominent Vaishnavite litterateurs of post-Sankaradeva era. He was a disciple and successor of Srimanta Sankaradeva’s direct disciple, Damodaradeva. He was the Bhâgavata reader of Barnagar town. He earned distinction by writing in prose, free from much poetic flavour. While the prose of Srimanta Sankaradeva’s Ankiyâ plays had a lot of poetic flavour, Bhattadeva’s Bhâgavata-Kathâ and Geetâ-Kathâ were prose compositions, albeit with a little implicit rhythm. He is known as father of Assamese prose. Both these grand works were done at the end of sixteenth century. While Bhâgavata-Kathâ was largely narrative in style, Geetâ-Kathâ was contemplative and it dealt with philosophy. He was a great scholar, who won many debates. He was conferred the titles Kaviratna and Bhâgavata-Bhattâchârya for his literary talent. Other Assamese compositions by Bhattadeva were Vishnu-Sahasra Nâma, and Ratnâvali-Kathâ. He authored several books in Sanskrit too. All these books highlighted the ideology of Eka Sarana Nâma Dharma.

            Purushottam Thakur, grand son of Srimanta Sankaradeva authored a book of prayer verse named Na-Ghoshâ in the sixteenth century. It was styled after Madhavadeva’s Nâmghoshâ. In fact many such compositions were done by the followers of Srimanta Sankaradeva. But very few of them survived as they did not match the beauty of the literary works by Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva. As copying the scriptures was a laborious task in those days, only the very important scriptures were reproduced. Padmapriya, daughter of Gopaladeva, who was one of the foremost disciples of Srimanta Sankaradeva, composed many prayer hymns. She is one of the first female poets in Indian vernacular literature.

            Govinda Mishra was a disciple of Bhattadeva. His major work was Krishna-Geetâ. He was a scholarly writer. His works reflected his erudition. He did not do literal translation of Geeta. He gave his own interpretations too in the verses. He also translated Bhattadeva’s Srimadbhaktiviveka to Assamese.

            Aniruddhadeva was a disciple of Gopaladeva. He authored Kâvya, treatise, hymns, songs etc. All of them reflected the glory of lord Krishna. All his works were based on Bhâgavata. The Kâvya, Puranjana Upâkhyâna was based on the fourth canto of Bhâgavata. He translated the entire fifth canto of Bhâgavata. Geetâwali, Bhaktimangal Ghoshâ, are also his important compositions. His songs and hymns became popular as he had sound knowledge of music.

            Even after the passing away of Srimanta Sankaradeva, the tradition of creating Vaishnavite literature continues in a strong manner in Assam. The Thân and Satra institution has continued with this tradition. The Satrâdhikâr, who is the head of Satra, is traditionally required to author at least one play in the style of Ankiyâ plays authored by Srimanta Sankaradeva when he assumes the responsibility of Satrâdhikâr. When we remember the fact that there are 964 Satras in Assam and each of these has seen 10 to 15 Satrâdhikârs since inception, we get a picture of enormous number of Vaishnavite literature created by the followers of Srimanta Sankaradeva till date. The followers of Eka Sarana Nâma Dharma have composed innumerable plays, Kâvyas, hymns and other writings containing Vaishnavite concepts. Every Thân and Satra in Assam is a treasure house of Vaishnavite literature. Some important examples are Shatrunjaya Kâvya by Raghunath Mahanta of Elengi Satra, translation of a part of the fourth canto of Bhâgavata by Vishnudeva Goswami of Auniati Satra, Ajâmila Upâkhyâna play by Hariramadeva of Mayamara Satra, Geetâvali by Sri Ramadeva of Kaljhar Satra, Phalgu-yâtrâ play by Yadumanideva of Bahbari Satra, Bhakti-Chandra-Mâlâ by Sri Ramadeva of Chaliha Bareghar Satra etc. Some compositions were done at the patronage of the Ahom kings too. For instance, Rama Mishra wrote a travellogue of Vrindavana, Vrindavana-Charitra in the seventeenth century.

            A distinct type of literature in post-Sankaradeva era happens to be the hagiographies. These are rich treasure of anecdotes about the life of Srimanta Sankaradeva and his immediate disciples. These hagiographies are known as Charit in Assamese. Several authors like Chakrapani Vairagi, Daityari Thakur, Ramcharan Thakur, Ramananda Dwija, Bhushana Dwija, Vaikuntha Dwija, Puwaram Mahanta etc have authored hagiographies since sixteenth century. The twentieth century witnessed the emergence of a new brand of writers who wrote about Vaishnavite traditions and ideologies in modern prose form. Lakshminath Bezbarooah wrote Tattvakathâ, a treatise on Vaishnavism. Radhanath Phukan wrote scholarly commentaries of Srimadbhagavadgeetâ and Brahma-Sutra. Bhuban Chandra Bhuyan wrote Vaishnava Dharma bâ Nâma Dharma, a valuable treatise on Eka Sarana Nâma Dharma. Ilaram Das wrote Nâmghoshâ Rasâmrit, a commentary of Madhavadeva’s Nâmghoshâ. The present author, Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti has done a comparative study of all the available hagiographies and authored Purnânga Kathâ Gurucharit, a comprehensive research-based biography of Srimanta Sankaradeva. He has also authored a commentary of Madhavadeva’s Nâmghoshâ.

            Thus the Assamese Vaishnavite literature has been enriched by innumerable writers starting from Puroshottama Gajapati to the present author, Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti.


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