The Literary Output of Madhavadeva
After Sankaradeva, the next outstanding figure in Assamese literature is Madhavadeva (1489-1596) who was, in many respects, complementary to his Guru. Like his Guru, Madhavadeva too was a prolific writer. He wrote a number of books in different literary forms and completed the religious exegesis of the Bhaktic system. His works exhibit the author's versatile scholarship and sincerity and depth of thought. There is also a graceful flow in Madhavadeva's style which is as expressive and captivating as that of his master.
Praise from the Master
Sankaradeva himself highly extolled the poetic genius of Madhavadeva when he said:
You have a remarkable hold over your pen, you can elaborate and summarise with equal ease. I, on my part, can only make abridgements.
Madhavadeva's first work Janma Rahasya is a work of about 300 verses which relates the story of the creation and destruction of the world and thus establishes the omnipotence of God.
His Bhakti Ratnāvali is a lucid Assamese rendering of Visnupuri's celebrated work in Sanskrit. As the work deals with all aspects of Vaisnavism as preached by Sankaradeva, it is considered as one of the four sacred books (cāri-puthi) of Assam Vaisnavism. The book lays special emphasis on Eka-Sarana or single minded devotion to Lord Krishna.
Madhavadeva also successfully translated the first book of the Rāmāyana of Vālmiki. The beauty of his Ādi-Kānda lies in its elegant verses and homely similies. The appropriate use of Assamese proverbs with a slight touch of humour gives the work the flavour of an original work.
Madhavadeva's Rājasuya Kāvya was composed with the Sisupāla Vadha episode of the Sabhāparva of the Mahābhārata as its basis. This book, written in a very elegant style, may be regarded as one of the finest poems of the Vaisnava age.
His Nāma Mālikā is the metrical rendering of a Sanskrit anthology of the same name which extols the merits of the Holy Nāma.
The Musician and Dramatist
Madhavadeva was a master musician who sang his own compositions with great felicity. Following his Guru, he composed one hundred and fifty-seven Baragitas or devotional lyrics all fitted to one or other of the Classical rāgas. Most of the songs furnish lovely portraits of the childhood of Lord Krishna. The eternal nature of the child is revealed in the child Krishna. The Baragitas of Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva constitute the principal corpus of devotional songs in Assamese literature.
Like Sankaradeva, Madhavadeva also took to the propagation of the Vaisnava tenets and doctrines not only through kāvyas and songs but also through visual representation. He wrote six plays depicting the childish pranks of child Krishna.
Among his dramas, the most celebrated are Cora-dharā, Pimparā-Gucovā, Bhumi-Lotovā, Bhojana-Behāra, Arjuna-Bhanjana (Dadhi-Mathana) etc. Among the suspected dramas are Keli-Gopāla and Rāsa-Jhumurā where some foreign matter was probably interpolated if they are not spurious as a whole. Like Rāma-Mālikā, a spurious work attributed to Sankaradeva,
Ādi Carita, Amulya Ratna, Gupta-mani are such wicked works that were attributed to Madhavadeva, either to make some illegitimate things legitimate or to villify some creeds or personalities.
His magnum opus
Madhavadeva's magnum opus, however, is the Nāma Ghosā which may be called the supreme achievement of Assamese Vaisnavism. The Nāma Ghosā (Chanting of the Names Divine) is also called the Hājāri Ghosā, as it contains 1000 (and one) couplets. This is the last work of Madhavadeva and contains the cream of the philosophical an ethical teachings of Assam Vaisnavism and is, therefore, held in the highest esteem by the Vaisnava devotees of Assam. Its profundity of thought, unity of outlook, music of expression and strong infusion of the poet's personality make it the most precious text in our literature. Herein Madhavadeva marshalled all his powers to establish Sankaradeva's religion on a firm and secure foundation.
The composition of the Nāma Ghosā took about thirty years and was completed shortly before Madhavadeva's Departure. Out of the 1001 verses in the book, about one-third are directly derived from Sanskrit scriptures, including the Gitā and the Bhāgavata. But these verses are reproduced in such style and with such personal touch that they can be called recreations rather than translation. On account of the use of various metrical measures, figures of speech, richness in thought and insight as well as in expression and style, the
Nāma Ghosā claims an exalted position in the field of literature.
“Nāma Ghosā is the record of religious experiences of a genuinely devoted soul and it may also be regarded as an expression of spiritual craving of a whole generation of men stirred to a religious quest by diverse cross-currents and practices of the day. It embodies the teachings of his Guru, his own findings after a careful study of the Sāstras and above all the truth he realised in his own heart.
When, on the eve of his Departure, his followers approached Madhavadeva to name somebody to whom they could look up for guidance after his Departure from the mundane world, the Saint asked them to read and re-read his Nāma Ghosā in the following words:
Look I have composed the Ghosā where I have recorded everything that I have got to say. Whoever reads and understands the Ghosā will verily find me there. I have reposited all my energy and knowledge in the Ghosāand those who know how to seek me will certainly find me there.
This shows the greatness and authority of the Nāma Ghosā.