By: Arup Saikia
Sankardeva was a scholar-saint, the tallest Assamese polymath of eastern medieval India and the greatest unified magnetic icon of Assam. General prevalent conception or field of discussion about a religious preacher or social reformer is various holistic welfare deeds he or she does for society. But Sankardeva’s profound insight and foresightedness, with many more yet to propound until now, continues to grow with time and change with climate. Development needs transformation, transformation begets beauty and scientific explanation adapted for new era.
Sankardeva’s everlasting contribution is very relevant in all the times across religion, geographical location and generation. Vrindavani vastra woven by Mathura Das Burha Ata along with other weavers under the guidance of Srimanta Sankardeva is perceived to be a prelude to designable cloth industry. Childhood activities of Lord Krishna embroidered on Vrindavani cloth is not an easy task. Many such avenues are lying in Assam for new generation to revolutionize indigenous cloth industry following the skills of Sankardeva internationally.
A cultural icon – Sankardeva created a new form of dance which starts with an exercise performed over the soil. And hence is known as Mati (soil) Akhora (rehearsal). The conception of ‘Mati Akhora’ mostly remained within periphery of narrow outlook as classical dance only but its physical movement with immense medical attributes have been generally overlooked. Fruit of his dance have been tapped widely everywhere and marketed as modern physiotherapy. Likewise, ‘Chinha Yatra’, first medieval drama in picture can be asserted as doorstep of modern drama or cinema. Chinha means symbol and Yatra means drama.
No event is socially more important in Assam than vaishnavite revolution led by Sankerdeva. Its impact and influence is so penetrating that even in remote tribal household a verse from ‘Kirtan,’ a religious book of Sankerdeva, can be heard in Assam. Nowadays in any Hindu festivals of Assam across sects and races, it has become a trend for professional singers to sing the hymns from ‘Kirtan’. The unification of greater Assamese society lies in this mindset that no particular Assamese community, caste, race or sect wholly contributed to the growth of Vaishnavism and that it is equally contributed and embraced by all.
As the fall of Constantinople opened the floodgates of renaissance in Europe reflecting scholarly progressive ideology of Italian polymath Leonardo Da Vinci and Michelangelo. Similarly, Assam also witnessed Indian renaissance in the name of Bhakti Movement. The partial breakdown of strict caste-based classification of society like manumitted black slaves of Europe is direct effect of renaissance. The deepest and most lasting cultural product of Assamese renaissance is ‘Bhaona’. Bhaona has been unifying Assamese society socially, economically and culturally since many years. Socially many professional titles have been created from Bhaona like Pathak, Gayan, Borbayan etc. It not only was a storehouse of cultural and traditional knowledge, but was also a powerhouse of employment generation. The demand in Bhaona performances, resulted in the booming of certain professions including makeup artists, manufacturers of costumes, firecrackers etc.
However, Sankardeva was not a typical hermit as we think. He was an avid traveller and had twice set off for a pilgrimage-travel. He also married twice symbolizing his family bond. As Ashoka was ascetic nevertheless served as a king, Sankardeva was a man who maintained sublime family life simultaneously following his ideals strictly. Unfortunately, Borduwa has become an enclosure for the Srimanta. It is high time for all the Assamese people to break the barrier of Borduwa to disseminate the iconic personality cult of Sankerdeva. (The author is an alumni of Delhi university and director of English Bhaona and can be reached at email@example.com)