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Hindu Bhakti Songs In Assam – Essay On Hindu Devotional Literature And Compositions In Assam

Hindu Bhakti songs in Assam are more than a 1000 years old. This northeastern state of India had a strong presence in Hindu devotional literature and compositions from 10th century CE.

Between the 12th and 16th century, there was a religious and cultural upsurge in India, resulting in the Bhakti movement. The saints who led this movement for reform preached a new faith based on the worship of Vishnu, Krishna and Rama. The leader of this movement in Assam was Srimanta Sankaradeva (15th century CE), the central figure of Assam Vaishnavism, an erudite Sanskrit scholar, and an unusually gifted translator of the great Sanskrit classics.

Sankaradeva And Hindu Bhakti Songs In Assam

Sankaradeva lived in Puri for several years during his pilgrimage. Returning home, he started preaching Vaishnavism and writing books on the subject. He rendered into Assamese the first, second and eleventh skandhas of Srimad Bhagavata Purana. One of the outstanding literary creations of Sankaradeva was Kirtan Ghosha, which turned out to be the most popular devotional poem in Assam, very much like what the Ramacharitamanasa of Tulsidas is for the people of North India.

Sankaradeva composed 240 songs known as bargeet (holy songs) of which many were destroyed in a forest fire; only 34 of them survived. Bargeet is the classical compositional form of Assam, containing lofty spiritual thoughts set to tune and rhythm. Sankaradeva also wrote six one-act plays. The language of Shankaradeva’s plays and songs was not pure Assamese; it was the language called Brajawali – a mixture of Assamese and Maithili (and Braja). Sankaradeva evolved this language for his plays and songs to create a pan-Indian appeal. His greatness rests not solely on his writings; he shaped Assamese society and renovated its culture.

Madhavadeva And Hindu Devotional Literature And Compositions

Another leading figure in the history of Assam’s bhakti movement was Madhavadeva (1489-1596), the chief disciple of Sankaradeva. The contribution of Madhava Deva to Bhakti literature is both significant and distinguished. He was a prolific composer and wrote 157 bargeets, in distinctive ragas (mood melodies).

Namagosha, considered an outstanding classic of Vaishnava movement, was the highest literary achievement of Madhava Deva, running to 1000 verses. These beautiful verses with their spontaneous poetic expression are unique creations. In some, he praises his Guru Sankaradeva, in others, he surrenders himself to the merciful God Krishna and calls himself a sinner and prays to Narayana to save his individual self. Madhavadeva set all the verses of Namaghosha to music and the devout Assamese Hindus sing these in their homes even today.

Other Popular Assamese Hindu Bhakti Song Composers

After Shankara Deva and Madhava Deva, two other poets that deserve mention are Ananta Kandali and Ram Saraswati, who were followers of Sankaradeva. Ananta Kandali was an eminent poet of the Vaishnava tradition. He rendered into Assamese the sixth and the last part of the tenth book of Bhagavata Purana besides also translating the Ramayana into Assamese. Rama Saraswati, known as the ‘Assamese Vyasa,’ was another distinguished poet of the Vaishnava period. He was a poet at the court of king Narayana, under who patronage he rendered most of the parvas of the Mahabharata into Assamese. In all this literary creations, the glory of Vishnu – Krishna is proclaimed. Vaishnava literature continued to develop in Assam up to 17th century CE.

Vaikunthanath Bhattadeva, the foremost writer of the post-Sankaradeva period, is regarded as the father of Assamese prose. By translating some of the philosophical treatises of Sanskrit literature, Bhattadeva gave Assamese literature a special significance in literary history.