Dr Satyajit Das
The contributions of Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva and his chief disciple SriSri Madhavdeva towards the formation of the greater Assamese nationality are significant and tremendous. About five hundred sixty-seven years ago, Sankardeva was born in Batadraba of the Nagaon district, Assam. The spiritual, social and cultural ideals of Sankardeva influenced the Assamese social and national life and thus through it, he established a new horizon in the history of Assamese nation building. Sankardeva's basic tenet of religion 'Ek Sarana Naam Dharma' (religion of shelter in one God and his name) provided a new reformative path for the social life of Assam and its nationality. His ideal played a major role in upgrading the Assamese nationality into a great cultured nation.
About six hundred years ago today, the disorderly social system, social hierarchy, social disparity, caste discrimination, unruly political situation, incontinence, deformative religious system, violence, untouchability as well as superstitions were the major social and religious evils deteriorating the social values and degrading humanism to a great extent in all over the state of Assam. The prevalent religious system had largely impacted the masses who were exploited by the rich and the upper class and caste of the society. In the name of religion, the worshipping and propitiating of many gods and goddesses, sacrifices of animals, and even human sacrifice had created anarchy among the general people. Because of this type of anarchy, the entire Assamese society had been changing into a narrow societal system. So, in this critical and momentous juncture as well as degraded and unquiet ambience, Sankardeva and his chief disciple Madhavdeva together led the religious and cultural movement for overcoming all the social evils as well as religious deformation. This movement is considered a cultural renaissance and social revolution. Sankardeva had presented the ideal of monotheism which was prevalent during that time in other parts of India and also among the mass people. Both Sankardeva and Madhavdeva had taken the responsibility to reform society through this movement. So, they had tied up the entire nation irrespective of caste, creed and religion and unified various tribals and non-tribals scattered in the hills and plains of Assam. This social revolution as well as cultural renaissance is called the Neo-Vaishnavite movement. In this movement, not only spiritual and religious thoughts but also all the components of arts and culture were comprised in it.
At that time, Sankardeva accepted all his followers as his disciples belonging to different castes and communities. Among them, Narottama of Nagas, Govinda of Garos as well as Chandasai of Muslims were noteworthy.
Srimanta Sankardeva with his chief disciple SriSri Madhavdeva as well as other disciples of different castes and communities collectively had been disseminating and publicizing the 'Ek Sarana Naam Dharma' in the entire state of Assam. The main objective of Sankardeva's 'Ek Sarana Naam Dharma' is to worship and propitiate the Lord Srikrishna by chanting his heroic and well deeds among people.
To fulfil this objective, Sankardeva established a new type of community prayer hall called 'Naamghar' which was also famed as a national institute of the Assamese community and society. This unique type of national institution is mainly a religious one where all types of discussion and activities including spiritual, moral, social, and judicial as well as arts and culture are discussed and practised here. Naamghar is such a liberal stage where nullifying the caste discrimination and caste hierarchy, all the communities can gather together in the same and unique position without any category and disparity.
Through the Naamghar, Sankardeva facilitated the transformation of the deformed Assamese society into a reformed one. Through this, it was possible to unite all the diversified communities. The Naamghar represents a noble society of devotees irrespective of castes and communities. Later on, Sankardeva advised his chief disciple Madhavdeva to establish 'Xatra' for continuing the activities and purposes of Naamghar in an organized manner to a greater extent. Xatras have played a major role in reshaping the concrete foundation of a strong social-cultural-spiritual, economic and democratic system in Assamese life.
Later on, for reforming the society by Sankardeva and Madhavdeva through religious as well as spiritual ways, literature and culture were also considered essential media. Both of them composed and narrated poetry, songs, verses, dramas, music and dances. Through all these, they disseminated the internal thoughts, philosophy and ideal of Lord Srikrishna and his activities and heroic deeds among the masses through a very simple language called 'Brajabali' generated by Sankardeva himself.
All the literary and cultural creations, compositions and works have emphasized the worshipping the 'Lord Krishna', the only supreme entity of this universe through chanting his name with 'Sravana-Kirtana'.
Then, there were lots of communities, including tribals and non-tribals, living in various plains and hills of the entire state who were attracted by the literary works, arts, cultural creations as well as 'Ek Sarana Naam Dharma' religion of Sankardeva and Madhavdeva and so they adopted to become disciples of them and followers of neo-Vaishnavism.
Thus the neo-Vaishnavism movement has been contributing largely toward a greater Assamese nationality formation. Because, through establishing Xatras and Naamghars by Sankardeva and Madhavdeva, it was very easier to the unification of various castes and tribal communities in a common stage under the same ideology as well as unique spiritual thoughts and cultural feelings. In "Ek Sarana Naam Dharma", there is no place for the division of the disciples into upper and lower castes and also rich and poor.
Thus, Srimanta Sankardeva and SriSri Madhavdeva formed the greater Assamese Nationality as well as greater Assamese society. It is significant to note that Sankardeva has written in his version of Bhagavata as follows:
"Kirata-Kachari Khasi Garo Miri
Zavana Kanka Gowala
Asoma Muluka Rajaka Turuka
Kocha Mleecha Chandala".
The meaning thereby that the Assamese nationality is composed of the various tribes like Kirata, Kachari, Khasi, Garo, Miri, Zavana, Kanka, Gowala, Rajaka, Turuka, Koch, Mleecha and Chandala.
So, Srimanta Sankardeva and SriSri Madhavdeva are recognized as the architect of the building of greater Assam. Their idealism has been leading the different races, castes and tribes to re-establish the state of Assam as a spiritually and culturally great colourful as well as a resourceful state among all the states of the country.