The Story Behind the Ratnāvali

Biographies of the Saint uniformly narrate an incident connected with the delivery of Visnupuri’s work to Sankaradeva. Kanthabhusana, a young Brahmin scholar, unable to defeat Sankaradeva in religious debate, went to Vārānasi to study Vedānta and the Bhāgavata under one Brahmānanda*. One day, a few slokas of Book XI of the Bhāgavata appeared too difficult not only for the students but also for the teacher as well. Kanthabhusana then quoted the lines of the Assamese version of Sankaradeva (Nimi Nava Siddha Samvāda) which immediately cleared the confusion.

Brahmānanda, being highly pleased with the lucidness of the interpretation, enquired of him about the renderer. When he came to know from Kanthabhusana about Sankaradeva, he sent back Kanthabhusana with a copy of the Ratnāvali, with the commentary Kāntimālā, to Sankaradeva explaining that the copy was left by his Guru Visnupuri to be delivered to the Saint of Assam. On receiving it, Sankaradeva asked Madhavadeva to translate it into Assamese and the latter accordingly translated it into lucid Assamese verses. This great work was translated between 1550-1568. There are several printed editions of this work.

*Some of the biographers of the Saint such as Rāmacarana Thākur identifies the teacher as Rāma Bhatta instead of Brahmānanda.

According to Rāmcarana:-

Rām Bhatta bulilanta Kanthabhusanak:
Kaita pāilā tumi Bhāgavatar padak.
Uttama pathana āka kone biracilā:
Kanthabhusaneo suni bulibe lāgilā.
Aamār desat āche nāmat Sankar:
Param mahanta agragani Vaisnawar.
Tente Karichanta Bhāgavatar padak.
Suni Rām Bhatta Guru pāilā ānandak.
Punarbār Guru sambudhiā bulilanta:
Sunā Kanthabhusan tumi mahā bhāgyawanta.
Mohor vacan Karna pāti sunioka:
Punarbār Sankarar pāsak yāyoka.
Sankarat janāibāhā mor namaskār:
Kalit Vaisnava Visnu sarva sāstra sār.
Ehi buli āni Ratnāwali pustakak:
Ehi puthikhāni dibā Sankarar hātat:
Sambudhi buliba lailā Kanthabhusanak.
[...]
Param gaurave Sankarar hāte dilā:
Rām Bhattar stuti-nati samaste kahilā.

Rāma Bhatta enquired of Kanthabhusana, “Where have you come by this verse- rendering of the Bhāgavata? Who has made this supreme text?” Kanthabhusana began to reply: “In our country there is a saint, the foremost among Vaisnavas, Sankara (-deva) by name. It is he who made these verses from the Bhāgavata.” Rāma Bhatta was glad to hear this. Again the teacher addressed him and said, “Kanthabhusana, you must be highly fortunate. Listen to me, and go back to Sankara (-deva) once more. Tender my salutations to Sankara (-deva). In the Iron Age a (true) Vaisnava is Visnu (Himself): it is the essence of all scriptures.” Saying so he got the book Ratnāvali and said to Kanthabhusana: “Give this book in Sankara’s hand. (Kanthabhusana) gave the book in Sankara’s hand with great joy and tendered all salutations of Rāma Bhatta to Sankara (-deva)”.

[Note : Rāmacarana identifies the teacher as Rāma Bhatta instead of Brahmānanda.]

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