Sarana and Bhajana: From Scientific Perspective
Sarana and Bhajana are two initiation ceremonies of the Vaisnavas of Assam commonly known as the Sankaris or Mahapurushiyas. The Sarana ceremony is regarded as an entry to the Mahapurushiya sect. The word Sarana traces it origin to the Bhagavad Gita (18.66) where it is found:
sarva-dharman parityajya mam ekam saranam vraja aham tvam sarva-papebhyo moksayisyami ma sucah
Sarana is different from Diksa as Sarana gives more importance to complete surrender to the Supreme Godhead and listening to (Sravana) and reciting (Kirttana) of the Lord’s Name. According to Ramacarana Thakura, after the staging of the Cihna Yatra, many aspirants came up to be initiated:
bolanta amaka tumi sarana karayo nama guru bhakta deva amaka dekhayo
Sankaradeva immediately translated the text from the Tenth Canto of Bhagavata Purana as the Gopi Uddhava Samvada. This Text was placed in the altar to initiate the neophytes to the Cari-Vastu or the Four Reals.
Bhajana or second initiation is followed after Sarana. Senior devotees are initiated into Bhajana. Similarly, in some Satras, third, fourth initiation (saru-bhagi-mala-vastu, bar-bhagi-mala-vastu) are also followed.
After Sankaradeva, many new factors were included which made Sarana and Bhajana not only a gateway to the Lord but also to hygienic and healthy practices.
In various Satras the rituals of Sarana are different, varying across different sub-sects or samhatis; still, many practices followed by the Bhaktas are found to be common.
I have tried to focus on some of them in brief:
- Brahma Muhurta: Waking up in the Brahma Muhurta i.e. forty-five minutes before sunrise to chant Nama is very beneficial for the body. Ayurveda claims that after night’s rest, our mental faculties are fresh with new energy, and becomes fertile in the quiet atmosphere of the morning. This condition is particularly supportive of physical health, mind, heart, eyesight and memory. According to studies, at the time of the Brahma Muhurta, the percentage of oxygen is 41, of nitrogen, 55, and of carbon di-oxide, 4. After sunrise, domestic activities, vehicles, etc. contribute significantly to pollution.
- Saucacar: Bathing after defecation is a hygienic process which removes dirt from the body. It is compulsory to bath daily unless a person is ill.
- Taila Mardan: Applying oil before bathing is very beneficial to the body. It clears substances from the skin and facilitates the same to transfer heat from its inside to outside. Oil is applied after taking mati-pani. This is now being substituted by moisturizers.
- Guru Sewa: Guru Sewa includes meditation and is an important part of the daily rituals practised by a Bhakta. In the scientific view, meditation sharpens the mind by increasing its focus; it also releases accumulated stress that is in the body. It lowers high blood pressure, lowers the levels of blood lactate reducing anxiety attacks, decreases any tension-related pain such as tension headaches, increases serotonin production that improves mood and behaviour, improves the immune system, increases the energy level as you gain an inner source of energy.
- Food: Eating food only from initiated disciples is seen among many Bhaktas. A reason may be that the Saraniyas or Bhajaniyas follow the rules of hygienic food preparation while cooking.
- Vegetarianism: Many Bhaktas follow strict vegetarianism after initiation. A few are also seen abstaining from onion and garlic as they are categorized under the rajasic and tamasic types of food. Being vegetarian has several healthy benefits. Vegetarians are seen to live longer than persons eating flesh.
- Removing fowl and swine: Many initiates give up keeping fowl and swine, as they are considered unclean. They carry a variety of germs and diseases. The deadly avian-flu and swine-flu are transmitted by fowl and swine respectively.
There are many other practices followed by the Bhaktas, differing across Satras and samhatis. Unknowingly these were all based on scientific principles. Though today most of these have been edited or omitted, following a minimum standard would surely help the devotee live in a better, healthy way.
[For other documents and articles on the Sankaradeva Movement, visit