Fundamental Aspects of Sankaradeva's Religion - Guru Āsana

Another striking feature of Sankaradeva's Eka-Sarana system is the complete absence of idol-worship, even that of Krishna, in any form. Sankaradeva interdicts his disciples and followers from the worship of the deity in any form of physical representation ie images or vigraha. This again is an unique feature of Assam Vaisnavism, not to be found in the other Vaisnava sects of India.

Only His Name...

Recitation/glorification of the Lord's Name is only to be followed for:

mantramurttim amurttikam
(Bhāgavata Purāna 1.5.38)

The Lord has no image other than the Word.

The Guru Asana

In performing all religious functions, however, a sacred book, especially the Bhāgavata Purāna or any section of it rendered by Sankaradeva, particularly the Uddhava Samvāda or the Gunamālā - the quintessence of the Bhāgavata - is installed on a pedestaled tray (thagi) on a raised or elevated spot on the ground, thus forming what in Mahapurusiya vocabulary is called, the thāpanā (<Skt. sthāpana) or Guru Āsana (literally, Seat of the Guru) and homage is paid to it by recitation of the Name of God from the holy texts (officially called prasanga). The devotees bow down only before this vāngmayi image of the Lord and, during the prasanga, the sacred offering (prasād) is placed before it. At the time of initiation, the initiate is required to prostrate himself before the Guru Āsana. In the Satras and Nāmghars, the Guru Āsana is a multi-tiered wooden throne having a triangular structure, adorned with lion-elephant-tortoise motifs.

The Sole Object of Worship

In Sankaradeva's system, the sacred texts symbolize Lord Krishna Himself, and also the Guru, his teachings.

This unique practice of adoring a holy book in place of any idol of the deity finds a parallel only in the system of Guru Nanak where reverence is paid by the Sikhs to their Granth Sahib. And it constitutes a significant difference between the Vaisnavism of Sankaradeva and other schools of Vaisnavism in India. The Nāmghar does not have, as the object of worship, any idol(s) of the deity, only the Guru  Āsana.

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