Mahapurush Sankardev—The Light of Our Nation
Jaya Guru Sankara Sarba Gunakara Yakeri Nahike Upama Tohari Charanaka Renu Satakoti Bareka Karoho Pranama
It truly is a great privilege to write about Mahapurush Sankardev—though I must add the disclaimer that my knowledge of this great man is a mere drop in the ocean.
Mahapurush Sankardev, the Light of our Nation, was born in Bordowa in 1449 AD and died in Kochbihar in 1568 at the grand old age of 120 years. He was and is the heart and soul of all Assamese people irrespective of age, religion, caste or creed. Today we survive and identify ourselves as Assamese only due to the epic work of Sankardev. Our Assamese language and very identity were at stake around 70-80 years ago. It was Lakshminath Bezbaruah and Nabin Bordoloi who revived the Assamese language and the nation as a whole with the help of the Kirtan of Sankardev, one of the oldest books of the Assamese language—older even than the oldest Bengali writings of Chaitanya Deva’s school.
Sankardev, the greatest of mother Assam’s sons, was one of the most significant Saints of medieval India. In addition, he was one of the masterful Sanskrit scholars and debaters of his time in the country. He commanded the highest respect amongst both his followers and contemporary scholars. Hence, they knew him as ‘Mahapurush’ (the Super Human).
In addition to his scholastic abilities, he was also the creator of Assamese music (including musical instruments), drama, and the Satriya Dance. An accomplished playwright, Sankardev wrote, staged, and performed in his own plays. He was a prolific writer and has provided the backbone of Assamese literature. Among his talents, he could also be called a great philosopher, writer and painter. His creativeness and dexterity contributed to that masterpiece of cloth-weaving—the Brindabon Bastra—a unique piece dedicated to the life of Lord Krishna—made at the request of the Koch King Narnarayan.
Mahapurush Sankardev was a great reformer—providing both social and religious renewal to Assam and wider India. This was at a time when the nation and Assam in particular was suffering from social and religious turmoil. It was Sankardev who, by his divine love and power and his manifold contributions, united all states of Assam—the bond which, unfortunately, has broken in modern times reigniting ancient enmities.
Sankardev also instituted Nam Ghars and Satras all over Assam and North Bengal—through which he promoted his teachings and beliefs. These helped to remove religious and racial hatred through the promotion of tolerance. In Guru Sankardev’s court, in addition to Brahmin and caste Hindus, he attracted disciples from the Muslim, Garo, Kachari, Naga, Bhutia, Kaibarta communities among others. The doors of his Satras and Nam Ghars were open to all castes. It was Sankardev who asked his Muslim disciple to erect the first pillar of his first Satra at Bordowa.
Today in the 21st century, we are once again facing a period of tremendous upheaval and turmoil. The world is engulfed by fear of terrorism, war and lust for power. Weapons of mass destruction are in the hands of nations—which puts humanity in peril. Sankardev and his teachings are as salient now as they ever have been in the past.
Mahapurush Sankardev’s ideology had conquered the heart and mind of the Father of the Nation himself—Mahatma Gandhi—and his disciple Acharya Vinoba Bhave. I shall conclude by quoting the moving tribute to Sankardev by Mahatma Gandhi, while on a mission to eradicate untouchability in the land of the great Saint:
A great Vaisnava revival under Sankardev in the sixteenth century has made Assamese people kindly, tolerant and humane. There is no sign anywhere of that form of untouchability which is to be found in South India. Assam, indeed, is fortunate for Sankardev has five centuries back, given the Assamese people an ideal, which is also the ideal of Ram-Rajya.
Sankar Jayanti Celebrations in the UK
We have been celebrating Sankar Jayanti in the UK since 1983 when the late Mr. Padmadhar Deka and my mother, the late Mrs. Subhadra Bala Kakati—who were both devoted Vaishnavites—visited the UK. Mrs. Rini Kakati, who organized the first Sankar Jayanti, and members of the Assamese community in the UK co-operate in celebrating the event with great enthusiasm.
Before she left the UK in 1985, my mother spoke of her wish that we should continue to celebrate the Jayanti. Since then, a day-long celebration has taken place on an annual basis. Organized by the Sankar Jayanti Celebration Committee, it has attracted increasing popularity over the years amongst both Assamese and non-Assamese alike. We have been fortunate enough to have had the attendance of several Assamese scholars at the celebrations over the last 21 years. These have included: Dr. Nagen Saikia (ex-President of Assam Sahitya Sabha), Dr. Lakhahira Das, Dr. Ramnath Das, Dr. Nirupama Borgohain, Mr. Dilip Sharma, Mrs. Sudakhina Sharma amongst many others. I would like to personally thank Dr. Karuna Sagar Das for sponsoring some of them.
Dr. Audrey Cantlie, Reader of Oriental Studies at the University of London and a close associate of Assam as well as a great follower of Sankardev, regularly attends the ceremony—giving excellent lectures on the revered Saint.
I am extremely proud to have been associated with the birthday celebrations of our great leader Mahapurush Sankardev in the UK for the last 21 years. It is truly an honor that has given my wife, Mrs. Bhabani Kakati, and me, immense pleasure and gratification.
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