- Anuradha Dutta
To discuss the relevance and importance of the Ekasharana Naam Dharma in few pages is a nearly impossible task. As we all know this sect of Baishnavism came into existence at a time when the masses were lost in the misinterpretation of dharma and exploitation was prominent in the name of dharma, people embraced it and the followers of this religion are still abundantly found all across the State of Assam. It was propagated by Mahapurush Srimanta Sankardeva in the 15th-16th century. Ekasharana Naam Dharma is a neo-Vaishnavite religion. The philosophy of this faith rejects focus on vedic ritualism and focuses on total devotion to Krishna through congregational listening and singing his name and deeds that is Naam - kirtan. Non-adherence to the varna system and rejection of Vedic karma marked its character. Although this religion is often seen as a part of the Bhakti movement, it has its own root. This school of vaisnavism does not worship Radha with Krishna which is the central concept of other Vaishnava schools.
The holy text of this sect is Bhagavat of SrimantaSankardeva. The most important religious text is the Bhagavata, especially the Book Daxama. This work was transcreated from the original Sanskrit Bhagavata Purana to Assamese in the 15th and 16th centuries by ten different individuals, but chiefly by SrimantaSankardev who rendered as many as ten Cantos (complete and partial) of this holy text.Three other works holds special importance in this religion: Kirtan Ghoxa, composed by Sankardev; and Naam Ghoxa and Ratnavali, composed by Madhavdev.These books are written in the Assamese language.Which made the philosophy of this religion reach the masses better.
The object of devotion in Ekasarana Dharma is Krishna, who is the supreme entity himself. All other deities are subservient to Him. Brahman, Vishnu and Krishna are fundamentally one. Krishna is alone the supreme worshipful in this system. Sankaradeva’s Krishna is Nârâyana, the Supreme Reality or Parama Brahma and not merely an avatara of Visnu. Krishna is God Himself. It considers Narayana (Krishna) as both the cause as well as the effect of this creation, and asserts Narayana alone is the sole reality. From the philosophical angle, He is the Supreme Spirit (Param-Brahma). As the controller of the senses, the Yogis call him Paramatma. When connected with this world, He assumes the name of Bhagavanta. Moreover, some of the characteristics usually reserved for the impersonal God in other philosophies are attributed to Narayana with reinterpretations.The embodied self, called jiva or jivatma is identical to Narayana. It is shrouded by maya and thus suffers from misery. When the ego (ahamkara) is destroyed, the jiva can perceive himself as Brahma. The jiva attains mukti (liberation) when the jiva is restored to its natural state. Among the five different kinds of videhamukti, the Ekasarana rejects the Sayujya form of mukti, where the complete absorption in God deprives jiva of the sweetness and bliss associated with bhakti. Bhakti is thus not a means to mukti but an end to itself, and this is strongly emphasised in Ekasarana writings—Madhavdeva begins his Namaghosha with an obeisance to devotees who do not prefer mukti.
Narayana often manifests through avatars, and Krishna is considered as the most perfect one who is not a partial manifestation but Narayana himself. It is in the form of Krishna that Narayana is usually worshiped. The description of Krishna is based on the one in Bhagavat Puran, as one who resides in Vaikuntha along with his devotees. The form of devotion is infused with the dasya and balya bhava in the works of Sankardev and Madhabdev. The sari vastu or the Four Principles defined this religious system are: Naam , Deva, Guru, Bhakat. Sankardev defined the first, second and fourth of these, whereas Madhavdev introduced the third while at Belaguri when he accepted Sankardev as the guru for himself and for all others who accepted his faith. The four principles are revealed and their meaning explained at the time of initiation (xonron-lowa).
The most important religious text is the Bhagavata, especially the Book ten (Daxama). This work was created from the original Sanskrit Bhagavata Purana to Assamese in the 15th and 16th centuries by ten different individuals, but chiefly by SrimantaSankardev who rendered as many as ten Cantos of this holy text. Three other texts find a special place in this religion: Kirtan Ghoxa, composed by Sankardev; and Naam Ghoxa and Ratnavali, composed by Madhavdev.
The religion fissured into four sanghati (samhatis or sub-sects) soon after the death of SrimantaSankardeva. Sankardev handed down the leadership to Madhabdev, but the followers of Damodardev and Harideva did not accept Madhabdev as their leader and formed their own group (Brahma sanghati). Madhabdeva at the time of his death did not name a successor. After his death three leaders formed their own denominations: Bhabanipuria Gopal Ata (Kaal sanghati), Purushuttom Thakur Ata, a grandson of Sankardev (Purusasanghati) and MathuradasBurhagopal Ata (Nika Sanghati). They differ mostly in the emphasis of the sari vastus (four fundamental principles).
The Brahma sanghatiwas developed as a result of Damodardev and Haridev moving away from Sankardev’s successor Madhabdev’s leadership. Over time this sanghati brought back some elements of Brahminical orthodoxy. The vedic rituals which are generally prohibited in the other sanghatis are allowed in this sanghati. Brahmins too found this sanghati attractive and most of the Sattras of this sanghati have traditionally had Brahmin sattradhikars.
The Purushsanghati was initiated by the grandsons of Sankardeva—Purushottam Thakur and Chaturbhuj Thakur—after the death of Madhavdev. The emphasis is on Naam. Sankardeva has a special position among the hierarchy of Gurus. Some brahminical rites as well as the worship of images is tolerated to some extent.
This sanghati was initiated by Padma, Mathuradas and Kesava Ata. The emphasis is on sat-sanga. This sanghati is called Nika (clean) because it developed strict codes for purity and cleanliness in religious matters as well as in general living, as laid down by Madhabdeva. Idol worship is strictly prohibited and it gives special importance to Madhavdev.
The Kala sanghati, initiated by Gopal Ata (Gopalldev of Bhavanipur) and named after the place of his headquarters Kaljar, placed its emphasis on Guru. The sattariya of this sanghati came to be considered as the physical embodiment of Deva, and the disciples of this sect are not allowed to pay obeisance to anyone else. This sect was successful in initiating many tribal and socially backward groups into the Mahapuruxiasect.
Although the faith fissured into four sanghatis the main philosophy of the Eksarana Naam Dharma remains same. It still unites the people and guides its followers through the path of peace and salvation like Maharush Srimanat Sankardeva intended it to do.