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Faiths and Tenets

Faith and tenets :

The Bhagavata-purana, the Bhavagad - gita and the Sahasra-naima section of the Padma-purana are popularly considered to be the authorities from which Sankardeva accepted the main articles of his faith, namely, satsamga (the assembly of bhaktas as a means of bhakti), ekasarana (shelter in one gode, Visnu-Krsna, alone) and nama (kritana, or prayer, as the main form of devotion). While the Bhagavata-purana and the Bhagavadgita, and other visnuite puranas and texts also have been adapted into Assamese or cited as authorities by the Vaisnava writers, the writings of Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva and a few other works approved by them or the order provide the gospel and have a canonical authority. The Bhagavata-purana and the Bhagavadgita alone among Sanskrit works are used in the ceremonial readings. In the explanation of these two books, the Bhagavata-bhavartha-dipika' and the 'Subodihini commentaries of Sridhara-svami have been used from the beginning with such slight moderations as may be found necessary to suit the peculiar tents of the faith.


Sanakaradeva's creed is popularly known as mahapurusiya dharma, the word 'mahapurusiya, being an imitation of Skt. 'mahapaurusika' ( Bhag.-p, 1.14.37. explained as mahapuruso visnus tadiya mahapaurusika vaikuntha nathanucarah by Sridhara; Bhag,-p, 1.1.10 explained as mahapuruso visnus tadiyah by Sridhara, and rendered as mahapurusar sevaka by Madhavadeva, Namaghosa, 650) meaning that the worshipful is the transcendent Visnu, the controller of prakrita and purusa (prakriti purasa durio niyanta madhava. Namaghosa, 405) and known as Brahman , paramatman and bhagavat ( Namgahosa, 176; Bhag. - p. 1.2.11) .


The official name of the bhakti creed of Sankaradeva is ekasarana namadharma and this explains its cardinal principles , which enjoin the worship of one god, that is Visnu , especially in the incarnation of Krsna, and interdicts the votaries from the worship of any other deity, and indicates its main form , which consists of the utterance of the holy names of the god in the singing of songs in his glorification. The words of the Lord in school of Ramanuja in the Bhagavadgita , demanding unswerving devotion to him (sarvadharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja, 18.66) are to be remembered. Bhattadeva a Brahman author, cites relevant authorities to say that a votary should not take offerings to the five gods in pancayajna, for that would vitate his ekasarana, but make offerings to Visnu alone,, and that would bring satisfaction to all the gods ( Bhag,-p,4.31.14). the bhakta is not to case either adoring or hateful glances on the idols of other gods; nor should be visit places of their worship (Sankaradeva, Bhag, p-2) No hostility however, is to be exhibited by him towards the adherents of other creeds while engaging himself in the worship of Visnu, who alone is considered as being Suddha-sattava, of pureexixtence (narayanakalah santa bhajani by anasuyavah, Bhag, p. 1.2.26). It is, moreover , a religion of implicit love and faith, bhakti, and love in order to be true to itself and its object must be avyabhacharinai, chaste even as a chaste wife; it must not have behind it the idea of securing a return, not even the highest beautiful (ahaituky avyavahita ya bhaktih purusottama, Bhag, p., 3.29,12 ) . The ideal bhakta is, therefore , no aspirant to the release of his soul (muktito nisprah).

There are nine mods of bhakti (sravana, kritana, simarana, pada-sevana, arcna, vandana, dasya, sakhya, atmanivedana). Of these the Assam Vaisnavas considered sravana and kritanna to be sufficient as the religious endeavour of man towards the highest consummation possible. They are accessible to the highest and the lowest alike, and no rigid theocratic laws are to be followed by the votary; and much of the vagaries of form and formality is also reduce to the minimum . A novice (prakrta bhakta) may , if he likes , worship Visnu-Krsna in an image, for arcane is admitted as one of the nine modes of bhakti; but the most palpable image of the Lord is no stone or clay, but his ardent bhakta, whose company is to be sought by all means. One who spurns the bhakta and goes to seek salvation from an ideol is' whose' than a bull' (garuto adhama, Sankaradeva, Kirtana ghosa 3.61; sa eva \gokharah . Bhag - p. 10.48.13). The Lord, moreover, has no other image than the word (mantramurtim, Bhag. P, - 1.5.38). The ideol bhakta, therefore, worship the Lord within with but what his hear can offer ( Sankaradeva Bhakti ratnakura 9, citing Bhag. P.11.27.15).

Like a mystic , Sankaradeva realized that God lived broadcase in the general hearts of all creatures, and it is only when we miss* this* truth that we go to seek him outside (Kritana ghosa, 8.11). Idolworship does not play any important part in Sankardeva's system and this small bit of ritualism can also be done away with if the devotee wishes. The activities in the sattras consist of prayer services, divided into a day-long programme of three to fourteen parts, each called to prasanga or nama-prasanga. These are held in the congregation hall (kirtana graha, namghar), where the object of veeration is the guru-asane, with some works of the master in ancident folios. And this is how namadharma is performed. The secret formula confided by the superior to the novice ath the time of inititation into bhakticonsists of four names of the Lord; rama-krsna-hari-narayana, the initiate must cultivate intimate faith in and resign himself to the power of, four vastus, or reals, which are nama, the sacred name of Lord God, deva Visnu-Krisna, the sole refuge of the jives, guru, the religious preceptor, who directs the initiate's faltering steps to the way unto the Lord, and bhakta the intimate fraternity in whose company to seek out the Lord of Love. Of the different attitude of bhakti Sankaradeva advocated dasys, or servitude, the servant and God as the master and the servant is to know none other than God as vlaiming his all out devotion. The Radha-Krsna cult is not acknowledged in this system of Vaisnavism, nor is any sakti of Visnu to be recognized in his worship.


Sankardeva was a sudra, but accepted brahmanas as his disciples, who made such obeisance to him as spiritual guru was due to receive. This was one of his actions that could not be approved by the orthodox supporters of casteism and Sankaradeva had to render an explanation in the Koc court. Damodaradeva also was taken to book for accepting a sudra's religion . The explanation offer was that a sudra might be debarred from rendering vedic mantras to other people, but is free to give nama-mantra to any person. In Sankardeva's system, therefore, we find Brahman disciples of sudra teachers, and even people who are untouchables in other parts of India in the following of a sattra in succession to a sudra. No body , on the other hand, is to be considered as unfit for securing initiation into the cult on caste considerations. Among the disciples of Sankardeva and Madhavadeva were Candsai and Jayahari, both Musalmans; bovinda, a Garo ; Jayanada , a Bhutiya; Madhava of Jayanti of the Hira or potters profession; Srirama, believed to have been a kaivarta and Damodara a baniys. A later superior , Sriramadeva, administered ordination to some Nagas, Ahom, Kocces, Miris (Mising), Kacharis, Marans and people of many other tribes were also freely converted to the Vaisnavism of Sankaradeva's order . It is the catholic outlook of this religion that could thus unify different peoples into one spiritual fraternity, and also achieve a cultural synthesis.


Sankaradeva was a house - holder, and Madhavadeva lived a life of celibacy. One need not forsake the world they taught, to find God. If was probably the ideal of Madhavadeva's individual life that brought into being an order of ascetics (kevaliya), who formed the innermost circle within the sattras. But there could be married persons as well as monks I those establishments as divines or ordinary residents. There is no order of nuns, and women ingeneral are not allowed to mix with the men in congregations. There are, of course, instances of women holding the position of Superiors . Sankardeva's grand-daughter in law . Kanakalata made a definite contribution to the growth of the sattra system when she organized the vardowa group therein and on her own appointed twelve deputies, all men of course, as heads of sattras.


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