Sankaradeva—The Great Integrator
A quote from Gandhiji:
..Our leading men traveled throughout India...what do you think could have been the intention of those far-seeing ancestors of ours... They knew that worship of God could have been performed just as well at home. They taught us that those whose hearts were aglow with righteousness had the Ganga in their own homes. But they saw that India was one undivided land, so made by nature. They, therefore, argued that it must be one nation. Arguing thus, they established holy places in various parts of India, and fired the people with an idea of nationality in a manner unknown in other parts of the world.
Sankaradeva’s religious tour covered all the holy places of India, even places like Rameswaram in the extreme South, and the influence of his work extended beyond Assam.
Tribes and Races Come Together as One
Due to the catholicity on the part of the Neo-Vaisnavite Movement regarding caste system, the bond of friendship and fraternity among the tribals, such as the Tibeto-Burman peoples, and races, became solid and firm and the Assamese society became more extensive. In his translation of some of the verses of the Bhagavata Purana, Sankaradeva departs slightly from the original in enumerating the tribes sanctified by the company of the Vaisnavas, replacing the unfamiliar tribes by the tribes living in Assam. He writes:
kirāta kachāri khāsi gāro miri yavana kanka govāla acama maluka rajaka turuka kuvāca mleccha candāla āno pāpi nara krishna sevakara sangata pavitra haya bhakati labhiyā samsāra tariyā vaikuntha sukhe labhaya
The original sloka:
kirata hunandhra pulinda pukkasa abhira kanka yavanakhasadayah yo anya ca papa yadurpasrayasrayah uddhayanti tasmai prabhavisnave namah
As a matter of fact, the Neo-Vaisnavite Movement of Sankaradeva not only preached Vaisnavism among the non-Aryan people, but also successfully brought them into the fold of the one Assamese society. Sankaradeva’s religion embraced all peoples of society. His movement was indeed cosmopolitan and the Guru had Brahmins as also Muslims as pupils.
Then there is the clean record of Assam as far as religious communalism is concerned. Hindus and Muslims have been living here through the ages in an atmosphere of amity that is hardly to be met with anywhere else. One particular day each year in the Camariyā Sattra, there is a tradition of Hindus and Muslims partaking of the holy offering or prasada from the same basin.
These pleasingly positive traits of the Assamese social setup would not have been there but for the enduring benign influence of the greatest son of Assam, Srimanta Sankaradeva.
He unified the diverse racial, social and cultural elements with his wonderful capacity for synthesis. And it was he again who had imbued the newly-welded society with the spirit of liberalism and open-heartedness that have stood the test of time.