The caritas or Hagiographies
The Vaisnavite Movement of Sankaradeva gave birth to a new branch of literature in the form of carita puthis or biographical books. These carita (or caritra) puthis are the hagiographies of the saints of the Movement. Written from a devotional point of view and recording the day to-day experiences and incidents of the saints' lives, personally witnessed by the authors or handed down by tradition, the carita puthis may be considered to be the most valuable sources of information of the Neo Vaisnava faith and movement. They contain the earliest specimens of prose in Assamese (even preceding Bhattadeva's Gita in prose). These biographies further throw light upon the social conditions of Assam during the last five hundred years.
These religious biographies are of two types:
- The carita type concentrates mainly upon the individual lives of different saints starting from Sankaradeva and his immediate followers, Madhavadeva and Damodaradeva.
- The other type mainly traces the history of the different Satras in chronological order dealing with the lives and activities of successive heads. This type is also known as Satra Vamsavali. Almost all the important Satras have such chronicles.
These biographies and chronicles are found both in verse and prose.
Biographies depicting the lives and activities of Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva are more than a score in number. Of numerous such works, those written by Ramacaran Thakur (17 th century), Daityari Thakur (17 th century), Bhusana Dvija (17th century) and Ramananda Dvija (18 th century) are most famous.
Of the several biographies of Damodaradeva, the works written by Ramraya Dvija (17 th century) and Nilakantha Dasa (18 th century) are noteworthy. In a similar way, the life of every important Vaisnava saint or religious reformer has been treated in one or more biographical works. There are a few voluminous biographies running upto several hundred pages or folios, where almost all the early Vaisnava reformers' lives and activities have been narrated. The Katha Guru Carita is one of such voluminous works.
all these types of religious biographies are not only important from the point of detailed lives and activities of the early Vaisnava reformers but are also valuable for the exposition of Vaisnavite ideals and tenets. For these reasons, the reading of carita puthis has been a part of religious services conducted on all important occasions in Satras.