King rarayan had made up his mind. He would seek religious initiation from Srimanta Sankardeva. The decision crystallized as the king heard the great Vaishvite saint describing the Vishwarupa of Lord Krish. It is the supreme form of the Lord that may be divined by direct revelation, the form in which the infinite Universe is contained within and emerges from the Lord.
No human mind can appreciate the scale of such a spectacle; even Arju, the greatest of warriors, quaked with terror at the sight and implored Lord Krish to assume his normal form. Such a description is beyond ordiry human language. Yet Guru Sankardeva, in simple, clear and beautiful words, was rrating to the king this episode from the Bhagavad Gita. His heart overflowing with spiritual fervor, King rarayan was convinced he had glimpsed the essence of Vishnu in the person of the saint before him.
“O sage! Verily I see within you the form of the Lord you have so eloquently described. I have resolved to seek religious initiation at your feet. Please grant me this wish,’ said the king.
As he heard these words, Sankardeva was seized by a great inner turmoil. He recalled the first time he had met the great Koch king, whose fame had long spread far beyond the realm. The saint’s niece Bhubaneswari was married to crown prince Chilarai, the king’s beloved brother and redoubtable general. Enraptured by the borgeets his wife often sang, Chilarai had enquired about Sankardeva. After discussing theological matters with the Vaishvite saint, the crown prince had then taken religious initiation from the Guru.
From his brother, King raraya soon heard about the peerless learning, the supreme qualities and greatness of spirit of Srimanta Sankardeva. At his invite, the Vaishvite saint arrived at his court. The king heard with wonder about various scriptures, and how the Gita embodied the highest of religious teachings. Deeply impressed, the king had then installed Sankardeva as Borbhuiyan to administer Patbausi.
There were detractors who had tried to poison the ears of the king. They spoke bitterly about how Sankardeva was going against the scriptures, how he was inciting his devotees to give up worshipping idols of gods and goddesses as well as yags and sacrifices. King rarayan had no recourse but to summon Sankardeva. The saint entered the court with devotiol songs on his lips which were beyond the capacity of his opponents to explain. After three months of religious debate and discourse, he prevailed. The king was now fully convinced that no religious scholar could be Sankardeva’s match.
On another occasion, the king had challenged the scholars at his court to summarize the teachings of Bhagavata and explain it within a single day. The scholars declared it an impossible task, akin to encapsulating an elephant within a tiny earthen vessel.
But Sankardeva worked through the night, extracting the essence of Bhagavata to describe the sublime qualities of Lord Krish. After ‘Gumala’ was read out at court, Sankardeva was acknowledged to be the greatest of all scholars.
And now, King rarayan wished to enter the spiritual realm through religious initiation at Sankardeva’s feet. Anguished, the saint replied: “Your majesty! Pardon me but what you ask for is impossible. The demands of statecraft and religion do not mix. And how can I ask you to give up your Raj Dharma? Without your hands to guide — your kingdom will be laid waste, your subjects will suffer. If I give you initiation, a sin will befall me.”
But the king was not to be deterred. All attempts by Sankardeva to reason with him failed. With a heavy heart, the saint instructed the king to fast and observe austerities the next day. The initiation ceremony would follow the day after.
King rarayan was overjoyed; so was crown prince Chilarai. The subjects looked forward eagerly to the day their beloved king would assume a spiritual mantle. But Sankardeva knew in his heart of hearts that his last days had come. He was determined never to see the day his great friend and benefactor, the noblest of sovereigns, bow at his feet. And so it happened. It began with a painful swelling on Sankardeva’s body that day itself. Soon he was racked by a terrible fever. The anxious king agreed to put off the initiation ceremony for a few days. The disciples flocked to be at the bedside of the saint.
Uttering constantly the me of the Lord, Sankardeva passed away on a Thursday evening. The year was 1568. King rarayan was left heart-broken.
Under the great Koch king’s patroge, Srimanta Sankardeva completed some of his greatest works to be forever revered as a saint, scholar, poet, playwright and socio-religious reformer. King rarayan has gone down in history as an ideal morch, a paragon of royal virtues, wisdom and benevolence. The story of their friendship continues to endure.