Nama Ghosa—the Book of the Names Divine

The Nama Ghosa (Nāma Ghoṣā) is the epitome of Srimanta Sankaradeva’s creed and tenets. It appears to be the last work of Madhavadeva, the Saint’s foremost disciple, written about 1568-1596. Also referred to as the Hājārī Ghoṣā (meaning 1000 couplets) or simply the Ghoṣā, it is one of the four sacred texts (cāri puthi) of Assam Vaisnavism.

Essence of Assam Vaisnavism

It is said that Sankaradeva asked Madhavadeva to write a work that would be sweet as the plum but hard as the seed within it. This is the most perfect description of the Nama Ghosa which is such excellent poetry and at the same time such nice exposition of the philosophy of Vaisnavism as preached by Sankaradeva.

The Nama Ghosa gives briefly the essence of the tenets of Eka-Śaraṇa Hari-Nāma Dharma. It consists of 1001 couplets, composed in various metres and logically arranged in different sections. It lays stress mainly on the merit of practising bhakti. It upholds the superiority of chanting of the Name of the Lord over all religious practices. Nāma means the Name of Parama Brahman (Supreme Reality) in the form of Sri Krishna endowed with all the best attributes that can be conceived by the range of human knowledge and experience. Ghosa means refrain or the burden repeated at the end of the section of a poem. Hence, Nama Ghosa means the Chanting of the Names Divine.

More than a theological work, the Nama Ghosa actually reflects the spiritual experience of a sincere devotee. Following the instructions of his Guru Sankaradeva, Madhavadeva obtained the highest beatitude and realised the relationship of God, soul and the world. All his spiritual findings and achievements reflect in the Nama Ghosa.

A Systematic Analysis

In the Nama Ghosa is presented a systematic analysis of the primary elements of the faith of Srimanta Sankaradeva—Guru, Deva, Nāma and Bhakta. The whole scripture has been devoted to a thorough discussion of these elements. Madhavadeva, through reasoning based on the supreme fact contained in all sat-sāstras alone, is able to clear all confusion arising in the mind of the spiritual aspirant, and give all-convincing answers to questions relating to God, the nature of His working, the forms in which He manifests Himself, the relationship between God and embodied-self (jiva), the supreme duty of mankind, etc.

Sacred Sources

In laying down and upholding his principles in the Nama Ghosa, Mahapurusa Madhavadeva followed mainly the Mahā Bhagavata, the Gitā, the Vedānta and the other sacred sources. In a nutshell, the Nama Ghosa is full of extracts and essence of all sat-sāstras which prevailed in the spiritual and philosophical realm of India from time immemorial.

The Nama Ghosa as Philosophy

The philosophy of Madhavadeva as revealed in the Nama Ghosa divides itself into different sections, namely, māyā, its nature and effects; cosmology; the Brahman; means of self-realisation; psychology of the jiva; the goal of human life.

At the very outset, Nama Ghosa explains that just as a dreaming man believes in the dream world which is his own creation, the individual self under the influence of māyā forgets its true nature—the pure self—and takes the unreal world, a creation of māyā as real. Madhavadeva says:

Thy avidyā (illusion), Oh Hari, has so bewildered and bewitched me that I do not know Thee in Thy essence (or Reality).

He clearly says all that is seen and extended in forms is nothing but māyā, and as such all of it should be rooted out from the mind.

According to Hinduism, the creation of the world is not out of nothing. The Nama Ghosa says that quite distinct from Purusa and Prakriti and yet the cause and upholder of the two is Paramesvara Nārāyana. There are two tattvas: the ksara (perishable) and the aksara (imperishable). But superior to both is The Supreme Purusa Uttama Lord Hari Who is otherwise called Paramātman, the Immutable Supreme Self, and the Lord upholds the three worlds having interpenetrated them.

Thus there exists nothing but Parama Brahman. Parama Brahman alone is true in essence. He is all-pervading, in all space and in all time. Madhavadeva says:

I bow down to Thee again and again, O Eternal Unstained One! Thou art the Reality, the ever-lasting Nārāyaṇa, the Infinite without beginning, the Absolute without (material) attributes. Thou art Bhagavanta, the Supreme Puruṣa, Who has no antecedent or subsequent, neither beginning nor end. Thou art the only consciousness that thinkest out the whole universe.

In short, the Nama Ghosa maintains that the universe is nothing but a manifestation of God.

The Nama Ghosa says that Parama Brahman is Eternal, Infinite, Good, Benevolent, Permanent, All-pervading, one without a second, and beyond all change. In essence, all apparent variety in name and form is nothing but Brahman. Brahman is beyond space, time or causation. It is absolutely pure, perfect, impartite, and indestructible. It is of the nature of pure consciousness. Anything which is not in the beginning and not at the end necessarily does not exist in the middle. Thus Brahman is like the vast expanse of the sky, the beginning or the end of which is unfathomed. It is Brahman that creates, preserves and destroys the universe. The Brahman is both immanent and transcendental. It pervades all the three worlds and is yet apart from them. It is beyond the three qualities, beyond merit and demerit. It is Sama, Narottama, Nirvikāra, Niranjana. Above all, Brahman is Sahajānanda, Svarupānanda and Paramānanda.

The Nama Ghosa as Literature

The Nama Ghosa has its unique position in the literary field. It is highly rich in thought and insight as well as in expression and style. It consists of metrical measures such as rhymed couplets called pada, ghosā, chavi, lechāri, dulari, etc. It is composed in such a metrical measure as to make the devotee well disposed towards piety, righteousness and practice of chanting the Name. Its measure blended with musical appliances has been so artistically introduced as to modulate the tune of the heart.

The language of the Nama Ghosa is lucid and simple. It contains various figures of speech such as simile, metaphor, apostrophe, exclamation, allusions, etc. The allusions are corroborated from various sastras suited to the Vaisnavite bhakti path. Its style is quite simple and natural and yet chaste and full of literary beauties. In thought, it is a lore of solemn and sublime essence of the Bhakti path and insights of human knowledge. Its spirit awakens the inner feelings and helps a man in approaching God.

Its Universal Appeal

It contains universal forms of prayer. Its instructions and counsels are applicable to all human beings irrespective of caste and creed.

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