Eka Sarana Hari Nama—The Religion of Sankardev

The name of the religion propagatedSankaradeva was never looked upon by the followers of the faith as the inventor of a new religion. He is always the revealer and the propagator of Eka Sarana. His biographer Bhusana declares that descending on earth in the form of Sankara, Lord Hari propagated (pracāra) his own qualities. Sankara has made well-known (vidita) Krsna along with nāma dharma (v. 2). by Sankardev in the 15th-16th century Assam is “Eka Sarana Hari Nama” Following Madhavadeva, Guru Bhatima:
eka śaraṇa hari, nāma dharamakahu
rājā karu parakāśa
(IAST: eka śaraṇa hari nāma ; AS: এক শৰণ হৰি নাম), also referred to as Mahapurusism. It is a Bhagavatic monotheistic religion having Krsna (Hari) as its sole worshipable entity and sole-refuge (eka śaraṇa) in him as the only means to his grace (kṛpā, prasāda). Strongly bhaktic [see: bhaktic] in character with pure devotion (nāma, bhajana) to Krsna being the sole practice advocated, it rejects Vedic karmic practices [see: vidhi kiṅkara dharma] and historically, the key personalities and adherents of the Eka Sarana faith were subject to much persecution by proponents of dharmic ideology. It is endowed with a strong immanent spirit; it worships God not in idols but within the microcosm.

Devotees Singing Hari Nama Playing Various InstrumentsKrishna goes out early in the morning to the green fields of Vrindavana on the banks of the Kalindi driving herds of cattle along with other cowherd companionsAccording to Sankardev, only by taking sole-refuge in Krsna—the supreme immanent pure personality (paramātmā)—and engaging in his pure devotion consisting primarily in singing (kīrttana) and listening to (śravaṇa) his “birth” and “activities” would the embodied personality (jīva) be able to obtain release from nescience (avidyā) and free himself from the clutches of the illusion (māyā) of primal matter, and not otherwise.

Women singing Kirttana in the Nama-gharaDevotees Assembled in NamagharaThere are today literally millions of followers of different shades of Sankaradeva’s religion all across Assam. However how true these forms are to the original Eka Sarana faith—the one preached by Sankaradeva in his own time—is open to question. Many of these forms seem to be mere approximations.

According to Madhavadeva, he (Sankardev) had revealed eka śaraṇa hari nāma which is the “king of all dharmas.Ibid.” Further, he saysNama Ghosa, Madhavadeva. The Revelation of Truth (bastu prakāśa). that this religion was kept in an extremely secret form (āti gupta sbarūpe) prior to the advent of Sankara and that it was Hari, coming in Sankara’s form, who distributed this “supremely precious gem” to all:

parama amūlya ratna harira nāmara peḍā āti gupta sbarūpe āchila . lokaka kṛpāẏe hari śaṅkara sbarūpe āsi muda bhāṅgi samastake dila .. 100 harināma premarasa amṛta nidhika bāndhi gupta kari thaila dewagaṇe . daẏālu śaṅkare pāi tuli muda bhāṅgi dilā sukhe pāna kare sarbbajane .. 101 harināma gupta bhaila manuṣyata pūjā raila buli raṅga kare dewa sarbba . hena harināma dharmma śaṅkare bidita kari cūra kailā dewatāra garbba .. 102

The chest containing the supremely precious gem of Hari’s name
was kept in extremely secret form.
Out of compassion (kṛpā) for the people of this world, The Remover of Affliction, coming in Sankara’s form,
broke the lid and gave to all. 100
The treasure of the nectarine juice of Love of God (prema rasa) was locked up and
kept secretly by the devas.
The kind (daẏālu) Sankara, finding it, brought it up and broke the seal;
all people now drink in happiness. 101
The path of pure devotion (harināma) has become secret; our sacerdotalism (pūjā) has remained in man’s midst;”
so saying, all the devas do celebration.
By propagating such a religion (dharmma) of Hari Nama, Sankara
has smashed into pieces the pride of the devas. 102

Sankardeva’s eka sarana is rooted in the Bhagavad Gita (18.66) and the Bhagavata Purana (11.12.14-15):

sarvadharmān parityajya mām ekaṃ śaraṇaṃ vraja Bhg_18.066a
ahaṃ tvā sarvapāpebhyo mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ Bhg_18.066c Bhagavadgita. Göttingen University. Accessed April 6, 2019. http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/2_epic/mbh/ext/bhgce__u.htm.
GRETIL - Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages. Text based on the BORI edition of the Mahabharata.

In the Gita, the God-preceptor reveals the supreme secret before his devotee: ‘Forsaking completely all dharmas, Arjuna, take Eka Sarana (sole-refuge) in me alone. I will liberate you from all sin; do not grieve.’ Again, almost as a auto-commentary on his own utterance in the Gita, the lord gives the following instruction to Uddhava in the Bhagavata: ‘O Uddhava, (transcending everything) ignore Vedic injunctions and prohibitions. Renounce both pravṛtti and nivṛtti types of karmas, and give up what is learnt and what is to be learnt. With exclusive devotion to me seek Eka Sarana in me only who is the soul of all embodied beings. Protected by me, you will have no fear from any quarter.’

tasmāt tvam uddhavotsṛjya codanāṃ praticodanām /
pravṛttiṃ ca nivṛttiṃ ca śrotavyaṃ śrutam eva ca // BhP_11.12.014 //
mām ekam eva śaraṇam ātmānaṃ sarva-dehinām /
yāhi sarvātma-bhāvena mayā syā hy akuto-bhayaḥ // BhP_11.12.015 // 2006. Bhagavata-Puranam (Skandhas 1 - 12). Göttingen University. February 24, 2006. http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/3_purana/bhagp/bhp1-12u.htm.
GRETIL - Göttingen Register of Electronic Texts in Indian Languages. Input by Ulrich Stiehl.

An image of a manuscript copy of Sankaradeva's Bhakti Ratnakara in Sanskrit.In his Bhakti Ratnakara, which may aptly be called the book of Eka Sarana, in the chapter titled “The Glory of Nirguna Bhakti,” Sankaradeva has, through the commentary, termed this supreme sloka of the Gita as the essence of the entire text. That chapter is concluded with the verdict:

O all assembled people! Look at the proof furnished by the words of Bhagavanta! It is the essence of all the Vedas. Knowing this, it is the verdict that only by taking Eka Sarana at his feet and doing transcendental (nirguṇa) devotion to him is the lord obtained. Further, through other means—techniques, rituals, etc.—he is not obtained.

Eka Sarana, it must be noted, is not to be equated with the “diksa” of conventional Vaisnavism. As Sankara himself says in one of his biographies, ‘In Kali yuga, Krsna has himself incarnated and put a ban on all diksas and tantras, mantras and pujas. Out of his kindness for the people of the Kali age, the graceful one has propagated the religion of (Eka Sarana) Sravana and Kirttana.’

“Nama” refers to “pure devotion;” it consists primarily in singing (kirttana) and listening to (sravana) the “deeds” and “activities” of Krsna. Sankaradeva, in his works, has extolled these two forms of doing devotion to the Lord. However, it (“nama”) also implies the discarding of a certain material philosophy.

Sankaradeva’s religion does not operate within the karmic (dharmic) context. It is purely bhaktic in nature. “Bhaktic” relates to “pure devotion.” There is one word used to describe the Eka Sarana religion of Sankara in its practical manifestation and that is “bhajana”—pure devotion, untrammeled by karma. It is, technically speaking, not Vaisnavism which operates within the bounds of the karmic philosophy—“sruti” and “smrti,” as mentioned by Madhavadeva in his Nama Ghosa (v. 628).

The bhaktic philosophy of Sankaradeva is one that steers clear of all microcosmic emulations technically referred to as “karma.” Here, the individual personalities are considered to be minuscule parts (amsas), as it were, of God, the supreme spiritual personality and, being ontologically superior to primal matter, owe no allegiance to “her” or to her evolutes, “gods” and “goddesses” included. The “dharmic” (not to be confused with “righteousness”) philosophy, on the other hand, conceives of men as material personalities and as amsas of primal matter—to put it more precisely, as parts of the body of purusa. On the practical side, it consists in the doing of certain “ordained-duties” (karmas) which, basically, are emulations that imitate the working of the neural entities within the human body (the microcosm).For a discussion on this microcosmic basis, see this article.

The Eka Sarana faith propagated by Sankaradeva is a celebration of the pure devotion of the lord. The adherents of this faith—the Eka-Sarana-ites—aspire only for the nectar-filled devotion (rasamaya bhaktiThe term “rasamaya bhakti” or “nectar-flavored” devotion is used by Madhavadeva in the very first verse of his Nama Ghosa. The Eka Sarana devotees do not aspire even for liberation (mukti).) to Krsna, the supreme pure personality, and celebrate the “stories” of his (microcosmic) deeds through prayer and song. It is important to note that Krsna in Sankaradeva is not a historical personality but rather the supreme immanent pure personality (paramātmā)—God, seen through the prism of the microcosm, the human body. This pure devotional spirit is reflected in the often soulful prayers of the poet-devotee in Madhavadeva’s Nama Ghosa (The Proclamation of Pure Devotion), a work that can definitely be termed as the best representation of the bhaktic philosophy of the Sankaradeva-ite school:

bhajana jaẏa jaẏa jaẏa kṛṣṇa kṛpāmaẏa bhajilo tohmāra pāwe . tohmāra caraṇa- paṅkajata mana majoka mora sbabhāwe ..188.. jaẏa jaẏa rāma jagata kāraṇa jagata jīwana sbāmī . parama dewatā jāniẏā tohmāra caraṇe bhajilo āmi ..189.. anādi ananta he bhagawanta bhajo kari praṇipāta . mukuti rasako teji mahājane śaraṇa lawe tohmāta ..190..

Victories to you, Krsna, personality of grace,
I do pure devotion at your feet.
Let, into your lotus-like feet, my mind
naturally immerse itself. 188

Victories to you, Rama, creation’s supreme cause,
soul of the creation, master.
Knowing you to be the supreme controlling-entity,
we do pure devotion at your feet. 189

Originless one, ever-present in time and space, O the possessor of all opulences!
We do pure devotion throwing ourselves down before you.
Forsaking even the taste of liberation, the exemplar-devotees
take sole-refuge in you. 190

Apart from the Ratnakara, in the Krsna Uddhava Samvada rendered from Bhagavata book XI, the Nimi Nava Siddha Samvada (book XI) and Madhavadeva’s Nama Ghosa and Bhakti Ratnavali, we obtain special insights into Eka Sarana especially with regard to its practical side. There is a special chapter in the Ratnavali—the final one, entitled “Sarana Viracana” (chapter thirteen)—that highlights the supreme status of Eka Sarana bhakti. Eka Sarana has been placed at the very end of the book, ahead even of the chapter on “Atma Nivedana.” From it, we come to know that the man who takes sole-refuge in Krsna becomes free from the obligation of repayment of the “five debts” (pañca ṛṇa) of the traditional dharmic ideology. In the Ratnakara also, citing the words of the siddha Karabhajana to king Nimi in the fifth chapter of the eleventh book, Sankaradeva explains how by freeing themselves from the positive and negative injunctions of the Vedas (vidhi niṣedha), the pure devotees of Hari secure accomplishment:

O king! The ones who have, forsaking completely all karmas, taken sole-refuge (śaraṇa) in Mukunda, unlike the non-devotee ones who become servants in debt of the manes (pitṛ-s) and the gods (deva-s), in that manner they (—the pure devotees of God—) do not (become servants) . Therefore, those who have, forsaking worship to other gods, engaged in pure devotion (bhajana) at the feet of Hari, the question of their committing the sin of not doing the acts ordained by the Veda (vikarma) does not arise.Katha Bhakti Ratnakara, Gopalacarana Dvija. Acara bhrasta bhaktara mahatmya.

Echoing a similar view in the Nama Ghosa, Madhavadeva writes that, for the one who has resolved solely on the nectar-filled devotion to the supreme pure personality, his servitude to the ordained Vedic duties (vidhi kiṅkara “Vidhi” refers to the mind-organ (manas) connecting to which the pure personality (purusa) becomes embodied and attached to the gunas of primal matter (prakrti). “Vidhi kinkara dharma” refers to the “duty” (dharma) carried out by the ignorant embodied personality that has identified himself completely with the (material) neural entities of the body and is now serving, as it were, the mind-organ. It is the bondage of ignorance. In the realm of praxis, it translates into a series of external acts technically referred to as “karma-s” that basically emulate the working of the neural entities of the body. A suitable translation for the term “karma” would therefore be “microcosmic emulation.”) comes to an end from that moment of sole-refuge (śaraṇa) onwards. Madhavadeva also explains under what conditions a man’s servitude to the ordained Vedic duties is removed in each of the three cases of the striver of emancipation (mumukṣu), the monist (jñānī) and the pure devotee (bhakta):

abidyājanita sukha satyaloka ādi kari āta nirapekṣa nirantara . kewale cidaṃśa śuddhi karaṇese mātra jānā puruṣārtha mumukṣujanara ..122.. bidyā-abidyā janya sukhe nirapekṣa huẏā karila āpuna mana thira . sakala jagata iṭo bāsudewmaẏa mātra puruṣārtha jānibā jñānīra ..123.. samaste sukhaka teji puruṣottamara prema bhakatika karila āśraẏa . bhakatasawara ehi puruṣārtha manonīta āno sukha adhika pāwaẏa ..124.. mumukṣujanara yewe abidyājanita sukhe birakati bhaila ātiśaẏa . kewale ātmāta mātra sadāẏa ramaṇa kare tewe bidhikiṅkara gucaẏa ..125.. jñānaniṣṭhajane bidyā- abidyā janita duẏo sukhe birakati bhaila yewe . bāsudewamaẏa mātra dekhaẏa jagata iṭo bidhira kiṅkara guce tewe ..126.. puruṣottamara prema bhakati sukhaka mātra niścaẏa karilā yiṭojana . śaraṇa kālareparā bidhira kiṅkara guci kare sadā śrawaṇa kīrttana ..127..

The happiness that is born of ignorance (avidyā)—from the realm of the mind (satyaloka) downwards—
to be indifferent to this always;
Only the purification of the faculty of consciousness, know, is solely
the object of existence (puruṣārtha) for the ones striving after emancipation (mumukṣu). 122

To make one’s mind steady, becoming neutral to happiness
arising from both ignorance (avidyā) and knowledge (vidyā);
to view this entire creation as Spirit and only Spirit
is the object of existence, know, for the monist (jñānī). 123

Rejecting all forms of happiness, they take refuge
in the Supreme Personality’s love-filled devotion (prema bhakti);
this only is the chosen object of existence for all pure devotees (bhakta);
the happiness they obtain exceeds other kinds. 124

When, in the case of the striver after emancipation, towards the happiness born of ignorance,
extreme aversion has come about;
when, only in the self (ātman), he remains absorbed at all times,
then, his servitude to the ordained Vedic duties (vidhi kiṅkara) is removed. 125

When, for the follower of the monistic path, towards both the happiness of
ignorance and knowledge, aversion has come about;
when he sees this entire world as filled with Vasudeva—the Spirit—only,
then, from that time onwards, his servitude to the ordained Vedic duties comes to an end. 126

For that one who has resolved solely on the happiness arising from
the nectar-filled devotion to the Supreme Personality,
from that moment of sole-refuge (śaraṇa) onwards, his servitude to the ordained Vedic duties is gone,
and, from then on, he does only śravaṇa and kīrttana—the singing and listening of the names and qualities of the Lord. 127

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References (Resources Utilized in Making this Page)

The following resources were used in making this page:-

  1. Gupta, Arunava. “Eka Sarana Hari Nama—The Religion of Sankaradeva.” Sankaradeva’s Eka-Sarana Hari-Nama Dharma, https://eka-sarana.blogspot.com/p/ekasarana-hari-namathe-religion-of.html.