The Literary Output of Madhavadeva

A Manuscript from one of Madhabdeva's Works After Sankaradeva, the next outstanding figure in Assamese literature is MadhavadevaThe name of Madhavadeva (AS: মাধৱদেৱ ) is also found transliterated in various writings as “Madhabdeva,” “Madhavdev,” etc. (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 exegesis of the Eka Sarana religion. 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. Sankaradeva himself 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 Works

Madhavadeva’s works can be classified under the following heads:Based primarily on the scheme of classification suggested in the preface of Mahāpuruṣa Mādhavadeva Bākyāmṛta (মহাপুৰুষ মাধৱদেৱ বাক্যামৃত) brought out by the Śrīmanta Śaṅkaradeva Saṅgha.

Works of Theological/Philosophical NatureNarrative RenderingsPlays/PlayletsLonger Plays No Longer ExtantDevotional LyricsCompilation and Editing
Janma Rahasya (জন্ম ৰহস্য) Rāmāyaṇa Ādikāṇḍa (ৰামায়ণ আদিকাণ্ড) Arjjuna Bhañjana Yātrā (অৰ্জ্জুন ভঞ্জন যাত্ৰা), also known as Dadhi Mathana (দধি মথন) Gobarddhana Yātrā (গোবৰ্দ্ধন যাত্ৰা) Baragīta (বৰগীত) Compilation of the Kirttana
Bhakti Ratnāvalī (ভক্তি ৰত্নাৱলী) Rājasūya (ৰাজসূয়) Coradharā JhumurāThe term “jhumurā” (ঝুমুৰা ) indicates “playlet” while “yātrā” (যাত্ৰা) stands for a longer, more complete play. (চোৰধৰা ঝুমুৰা) Rāma Yātrā (ৰাম যাত্ৰা) Bhaṭimā (ভটিমা)
Nāma Mālikā (নাম মালিকা) Pimparā Gucovā Jhumurā (পিম্পৰা গুচোৱা ঝুমুৰা) Nṛsiṃha Yātrā (নৃসিংহ যাত্ৰা)
Nāma Ghoṣā (নাম ঘোষা) Bhūmi Leṭovā Jhumurā (ভূমি লেটোৱা ঝুমুৰা)
Bhojana Bihāra Jhumurā (ভোজন বিহাৰ ঝুমুৰা)

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.

The Ratnavali

His Bhakti Ratnavali is a lucid Assamese rendering of Visnupuri’s celebrated work in Sanskrit. It is considered as one of the four sacred books (cari puthi) of the Assam school of pure devotion to Krsna. The book lays special emphasis on Eka Sarana or single-minded devotion to Lord Krsna.

Madhavadeva also successfully translated the first book of the Ramayana of Valmiki. The beauty of his Adi Kanda lies in its elegant verses and homely similes. The appropriate use of Assamese proverbs with a slight touch of humour gives the work the flavour of an original work.

Madhavadeva’s Rajasuya Kavya was composed with the Sisupala Vadha episode of the Sabhaparva of the Mahabharata 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 Nama Malika is the metrical rendering of a Sanskrit anthology of the same name which extols the merits of the holy nama.

The Musician and Dramatist

Krishna goes out early in the morning to the green fields of Vrindavana on the banks of the Kalindi driving herds of cattle along with other cowherd companionsMadhavadeva 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 ragas. 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 took to the propagation of the bhaktic tenets and doctrines not only through kavyas and songs but also through dramatic presentation. He wrote plays primarily depicting the pranks of child Krishna.

Among his dramas, the most celebrated are Arjjuna Bhanjana (Dadhi Mathana), Coradhara, Pimpara Gucova, Bhumi Letova, Bhojana Bihara. Among the dramas thought to be spurious by scholars are Brahmamohana, Bhusana Harana, Kotora Khela and Rasa Jhumura. Like Rama Malika, a spurious work attributed to Sankaradeva, Adi 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.Neog, Dimbeswar. “Works of Sankardew and Madhawdew.” Jagat-Guru Śaṅkardew, 2nd ed., Śrīmanta Śaṅkaradeva Saṅgha, , p. 58.

His magnum opus

Madhavadeva’s magnum opus, however, is the Nama Ghosa which may be called the supreme achievement of the Sankaradeva-ite school of bhakti. The Nama Ghosa is the last work of Madhavadeva (written about 1568-1596) and contains the cream of the philosophical teachings of the Assam school and is, therefore, held in the highest esteem by the Krsna-ite 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 the literature.

The Kirttana and Ghosa (Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha Ed.)It is said that Sankaradeva asked Madhavadeva to write a work that would be sweet as the plum but hard as the seed within it. This is the most perfect description of the Nama Ghosa which is such excellent poetry and at the same time such nice exposition of the philosophy preached by Sankaradeva. Although the truths of this philosophy are scattered all through the Kirttana, Dasama and other works of Sankaradeva, the Nama Ghosa brings it into proper perspective and supplies a panoramic view of it within the range of one thousand (and one) couplets in one volume, as desired by his great master.

Out of the 1001 verses in the book, about one-third are directly derived from the (Sanskrit) scriptures such as the Gita and the Bhagavata.

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 Nama Ghosa claims an exalted position in the field of literature.

Nama Ghosa 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 Nama Ghosa:

Look I have composed the Ghosa where I have recorded everything that I have got to say. Whoever reads and understands the Ghosa will verily find me there. I have reposited all my energy and knowledge in the Ghosa and those who know how to seek me will certainly find me there.

This shows the greatness and authority of the Nama Ghosa.

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Editor’s Notes

This article is primarily an edited compilation from Assamese Vaisnavite Literature: Contributions of Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva by Bhaba Prasad Chaliha (see citation below).

References (Resources Utilized in Making this Page)

The following resources were used in making this page:

  1. Chaliha, Bhaba Prasad. “Assamese Vaisnavite Literature: Contributions of Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva.” Journal of Srimanta Sankaradeva Research Institute, Batadrava, Nagaon, II, .
  2. চলিহা, শ্ৰীভৱ প্ৰসাদ. “ভূমিকা.” Mahāpuruṣa Mādhavadeva Bākyāmṛita, 1st ed., Srimanta Sankardev Sangha, , pp. .10-.14.
  3. Neog, Dimbeswar. New Light on History of Assamese Literature. 1st ed., Xuwani Prakas, .