Time to time great saints, great personalities in different fields in India were born and that is why many foreigners from earlier days onwards visited India.
A huge number of foreign travellers visited India and appreciated the beauty of our country in different ways- poetry, books, and travelogue. Megasthenes, ambassador of Seleucus Nikator was the first foreign traveller to India.
Also, India has witnessed the visit of great foreign envoys like Al-Masudi, Fa-Hien, Hiuen-Tsang, Marco Polo and Abdul Razak, and many others (byjus.com/free-ias-prep/important-foreign-envoys-who-visited-ancient-india). Anyway, among the many saints who were born in India one famous name is Srimanta Sankardev.
Today (September 8, 2021) is the punya tithi of Srimanta Sankardev, meaning the death anniversary of Srimanta Sankardev, who was born on September 26, 1449, and left for heavenly abode on August 23, 1568 ( survived around 120 years), is being observed.
He was a sixteenth saint-scholar, social-religious reformer, and a figure of importance in the cultural and religious history of India in general and Assam in particular.
It is pertinent to mention that Tithi means “a period of time during which the angle between the sun and the moon increases by 12 degrees, used in Hindu astronomy and timekeeping, and also applied to the corresponding period of time in Babylonian astronomy” (www.lexico.com/definition/tithi).
So, many who believe in tithi date vary, for example for a few years the punya tithi of Srimanta Sankardev are August 29, 2022; September 17, 2023 and September 5, 2024.
Sankardev, initially called Sankaravara was born in the Shiromani (chief) Baro-Bhuyans family at Alipukhuri near Bordowa in present-day Nagaon district of Assam. Sankardev first introduced Borgeets. Borgeets are a collection of lyrical songs that are set to specific ragas.
Also, Sankardev first conceived and developed Sattriya dance, and which was later preserved for centuries by the Sattras, is now among the classical dance forms of India. For the benefit of readers, I wish to mention that Sattras are monastic institutions of the neo-Vaishnavite tradition that serve as socio-religious and cultural centres in Assam.
An integral part of Assamese life and culture, Sattras are sources of the ancient religious philosophy and artistic expressions attached to it. The Sattras became the nodal points of the bhakti movement. Most of them were built under the patronage of the then rulers, the Koch and Ahom kings.
Sankardev’s major literacy creations inter alia are the ‘Kirtan Ghosa’, ‘Gunamala’ etc. Sankardev promoted devotion, or bhakti, and taught a doctrine of salvation by faith, remembrance and prayer instead of sacrifices or idol worship as was practised among orthodox Hindus.
To a great extent, this ‘movement’ was introduced with the objective of social reform, spiritual elevation and ethnic consolidation. This form of bhakti, called the eka-sharana-naam-dhrama (chanting of one name of God), Eka-sharana-naam-dhrama was based on four main pillars—deva (God), naam (Prayers), bhakats (Devotees), and guru (Mentor).
The basic philosophy is all devotees are equal in the eyes of God. No discrimination based on caste.
Sankardev travelled extensively across the northern regions of the Indian subcontinent to synthesise and consolidate his religious philosophy and ideas.
Some of the places where he visited were Jagannath Dham, Puri, Gaya, Kashi, Prayag, Ayodhya, Sita Kunda etc., along with his four disciples namely Sarvajoy, Paramananda, Ram Ram Guru and Baloram.
VS Agarwala of Benaras Hindu University has mentioned: “There are poets and composers, there are saints and religious teachers, there are musical masters, there are preachers, but Sankardev was a genius in whom all these qualities were rolled into one” (thenewsmill.com/srimanta-sankardev-and-his-greatness).
On his death anniversary (punya tithi), I offer my pronam to the great saint.
(The author, Dr Shankar Chatterjee is a former Professor & Head (CPME), NIRD & PR, Hyderabad)