The Bhāgavata X, Purvārdha: Ādi-Dasama

Sankaradeva's rendering of the 10th Book (the first half) of the Bhāgavata, popularly known as Ādi-Dasama, forms one of his chief contributions to the religious poetry of Assam. Next only to the Kirttana, which also covers some of the anecdotes of this book, Sankaradeva's Ādi-Dasama is the most popular Vaisnava scripture by virtue of its sustained story interest, rich poetry and fine versification.

The Super-Excellence of the Ādi-Dasama

Of all the books of the Bhāgavata rendered by Sankara, the Ādi-Dasama (the first part of Book X) enjoys universal popularity. This book describes the incidents of Krishna's early life, such as Child Krishna's killing of demons, His sports, His tending of cattle with his friends in forest glades, His childish pranks such as the stealing of butter, milk and curd, His quarrels with the milk-maids, and the various chastisements he had from his foster-mother Yasodā. Though permeated with religious emotion, the Dasama gives an intensely human and realistic picture of child life, a mother's love and grief for her little son, and other themes that eternally move the human heart. It should, however, be noted that, unlike as in Vaisnavite literature of other provinces, Rādhā does not appear in these scenes, nor does she find a place in the whole of Sankarite literature.

That Sankaradeva himself desired it to be among the chief authoritative literature of the Order is evident from a large number of original passages, known as upadesas (admonitions). Each of these may be considered as an independent lyric having for its subject topics such as the futility of human life, the all-powerfulness of Krishna, the glory of Bhakti, the purity of the ekāntika dharma, the super-excellence of nāma-dharma as especially suited to the Kali Age. The ideas contained in these passages are directly or indirectly connected with some Vaisnava scripture. For instance, the ten effects of Nāma, as enumerated in the Padma Purāna, Svarga Khanda, Chapter 34 , are detailed in one of these upadesas.

In the rendering of the slokas, he often adopts the expository style of Sanskrit commentators by first giving a gist of the idea contained in a verse or group of verses and then setting to elucidate its meaning.

Splendid Versification

Idiomatic phrases, homely expressions and even similes, wherever they are used, are applied with aptness and effect. From a close study of the verses, the work possesses the vivacity of original poetry born out of real poetic and religious experience. Sankaradeva, in many places, adds matter from his own imagination, to make a particular picture or scene lively or complete. In other places, matters are inserted to make the work self-complete. As Sankaradeva left the latter half of this Book to be rendered by another disciple-poet Ananta Kandali, he puts a short account of the later life of Krishna on the lips of Nārada, who comes to visit the child God on the eve of the latter�s departure for Vrindāvana. The pathetic sentiment had a special appeal for the poet, and he practically revels in scenes and words with that sentiment.

A Composite Work

Among the finest portions of poetry of the work are those known as the Rāsa-kridā and the Gopi-Uddhava Samvāda. They are the renderings of the Chapters 29-33 (rāsa-pancādhyāya) and Chapters 40-47 respectively. To all intents and purposes, these two portions may be considered as two independent works. Sankara models them up each with a distinct beginning (with benediction and introduction of the subject) and a conclusion. He also endows them with independent names, in the body of the text, namely, ‘Kāma-jaya Krishna-keli’ and ‘Gopi-Uddhava-samvāda’ respectively. The latter portion is often copied out in independent manuscripts and treated as an independent work. The biographers of Sankaradeva consider the ‘Gopi-Uddhava-samvāda’ as a work composed in Sankara�s 19th year just after the Cihna-Yātrā performance.

A New Life and Color

Many of the characters of the original Sanskrit work are given new life and color in Sankaradeva. Krishna�s sportiveness, for example, increases; and Nārada�s character with his instigating the villains to bring about their own ruin is emphasized. He also makes other changes pertinent to his creed. In depicting the vision of Vaikuntha and its Lord, as seen by Akrura under Yamunā waters, Sankaradeva speaks of the great devotees that attend on the Lord but drops the mention of His saktis, Sri, Pusti and others.

Descriptive Skill at Its Peak

The descriptive power of Sankaradeva is seen possibly at its best in this work. The original pictures of the Sanskrit text never suffer in the rendering. The description of Mathurā, for example, is reproduced with much vigour and beauty. The actions, mainly fights, are worked out in detail. The scene of the cowherds� eating tāla fruits provides much broad humour; while there is an unfailing play of wit in the painting of hideous forms, as those of Putanā on her death and of Vyomāsura. Brilliant are the pen-pictures of human form as that of Yasodā, or of divine form as that of the four-armed Visnu in His celestial abode. There is a serenity and softening affection in the vision of child Krishna�s beauty, to which Sankara turns again and again in course of his work.

Superb Representation of the Divinity of Krishna

The divine nature embedded in the incarnation finds superb representation in the Ādi Dasama. In the episode of the ‘Govardhana-dhārana’, for instance, when the total destruction of Gokula seems imminent, Krishna�s heart is filled with great compassion for His people and the cattle. Without further delay, he uproots the Govardhana hill and with one hand holds it aloft like an umbrella “with as little effort as that of a child holding a mushroom”. The people and the cattle take shelter under the hill.

Krishna�s revelation of His divine form at this crisis of creation entering at Gokula finds adequate expression at the hands of a poet who can manipulate the Assamese language at his own sweet will:

Sundara pāndura ganda kundalara kānti
Adhara rātula dānta mukutāra pānti
Rucira cibuka kambukantha manohara
Kaustubha sosita yena nava divākara
Cāru syāma tanu pita bastre biracila
Yena nava meghakhanda taditajadita
Bahala baksata manimukutāra hāra
Karai jalamala jilimili pecandāra
Srivatsara pankti prakāsita gandasthale
Āpādalambita banamālā jale gale
Koti sasānkato kari prakāsai sarira
Samudrakotita kari dekhi jurāi jiva
Eka hāte padma āura hāte gadā dhari
Eka hāte sabāko abhaya denta Hari
Eka hāte giri govardhanaka ullāsi
Sabāko nirekhi cānta mahā snehe hāsi
Dhenugano ānande cāhanta Krishnamukha
Amritaka piyāi yena nāhi eko dukha
Shrā loma nayanara sravai jala
Citrara putali yena sarira niscala

The beautiful, fair cheeks dazzling like the kundala;
Reddish lower lip, teeth like a row of pearls, graceful
Chin, conchlike neck shining with the kaustubha like
the newly risen sun; the eye-filling darkish blue form
clad in yellow as though a new piece of cloud is wrapped
in lightning and in the broad breast, the necklace
glitters and sparkles on the cheeks, the
srivatsa lines and the garland of wild flowers shining
on the body and suspended from head to foot. The
body stands revealed shining like more than a crore of
moons, a crore of Madana cannot equal Him in beauty.
His looks spread balm on soul more than a crore of amrita.
In His one hand, a lotus and in the other, a mace; with
One hand, He bids people have no fear; with another He
Keeps in poise the Govardhana hill and gazes on all
With a great compassionate and loving smile. The cows
Also gaze on the face of Krishna with ecstatic joy as
Though they are drinking nectar, bereft of pain; their
Fur stands upright in horripilation and they stand
Motion-less like human-forms in a picture.

Here the spiritual world is adumbrated in a concrete form, and the literal and the allegorical are fused into one image. Such spiritual transfigurations are everywhere present in the Ādi-Dasama and other works of this remarkable poet of the Vaisnavite middle ages.

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