The Four Pillars of Shankarite Philosophy

Deepak Bhuyan

Having observed the life and deeds of Shankardeva (1449-1568) everyone will speak without having any hesitation that he overcame many dreaded disasters and resentments in establishment of Krishna culture for the greater interest of the masses. The contradictions with feudal class, dissidents of orthodox section, bifurcated socio-political situation gave immense obstruction in every aspect of his constructive contemplations. But amidst various bottlenecks he instilled Krishna culture into the mind of the people which was popularly known as Neo-Vaishnavite religion of Assam. The inspiration from Koch King Naranarayana does not deny the domination of the feudalistic attitude of other kings and kingly persons of the then society of medieval North East India. But our contemporary writers have not given the required elaboration on the subject to focus on the reality and actuality of the subject concerned. However the discussion of these subjects is to be done in a separate platform. So, coming to my subject, it must be penned as follows.

The catholic spirit of unison was the main back-bone of the Neo-Vaishnavite movement of Srimanta Shankardeva which he innovated for the common people of the then medieval society of Assam. In the yoke of feudalism the socio-economic condition of common people was in a deplorable state because of the prevailing social system in which the common people faced disaster from two sides, firstly, because of economic weakness and secondly, on account of caste distinction. Class and caste discrimination was maintained in a strict way. This polarization of ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ sapped the society of growing vitality. In such a grim situation, Shankardeva innovated his newly devised socio-cultural-religious system with a view to re-establish the decayed love and piety along with humanistic zeal.

The democratization of social system was the prime objective of Shankardeva’s Krishna culture. In this context we get the catholic sprit of uniting all under one umbrella with the feeling of socialistic completeness. One of his verses shows us this spirit of his magnificent system of Krishna culture:

kirata kachari khasi garo miri yawana kanka gowal asama maluka rajaka turuka kuwaca mlecha chandal ano jata nar krishna sevakara sangata pabitra hoi bhakati labhiya samsara taria baikunthe sukhe caloi

Kirata, Kachari, Garo, Miri, Gowal etc. obtain the highest position in society through assimilation with the devotee of Krishna. The said peoples were treated as untouchable in the medieval Assam. But Shankardeva proclaimed unequivocally that:

dhanya dhanya chandalini matita uttama nedekhilo bhakata parama tora sama tirthako pabitra kara ata kona chitra tora sanga paile huibo jagate pabitra

The salutation of Shankardeva to the Chandalini (treated as extremely untouchable in medieval India) is unprecedented in the social history and theological literature of medieval India. The Chandalini (untouchable woman) who has a holy mind (matita uttam) is to be adored because of her sanctity of mind and heart. She is nonpareil as a devotee of Krishna. Such a Chandalini devoted to Krishna can purify even the shrines (tirthas) by her mere presence and obtaining her company, the entire world would get sanctified.

Such pronouncements of Krishna culture tend to address two fundamental needs of society: first, the establishment of democracy and second, the eradication of social impediments like untouchability. Through [the addressing of] which each and every individual of society can enjoy the fruits of this democratic and catholic benevolence. Liberation [in Shankarite philosophy] does not mean only the liberation from the life-death circle but also the liberation from all sorts of age-old suppression, inequalities and man-made socio-economic discomforts.

Unison gives the strength of advancement to the human society. The unison of man with man leads to the unison of man with Supreme Brahman as demonstrated by Shankardeva. The world is a united whole where the unison of its inhabitants are naturally conditioned. But because of inhuman unnatural behavior this unity is badly disrupted causing various social disasters. To get rid of all such disasters, Shankardeva showed the path of Krishna culture where the truth of life can be seen through the unison of mind and heart of every living being. Shankardeva writes:

kukura srigala gardhavaro atma ram eteke sabaka pari kariyo pranam

Even dogs and asses are verily the creation of God, carry the same Soul (Atma) like us, and therefore treat them as one of us. ‘Kariyo pranam’ means ‘salute them’, but this line can be treated as the message of non-violence. There are many verses with such lessons on non-violence to be showed to the animal kingdom. The most holy unison can only be created through such thinking and behavior.

To show the strength of this unison of devotees Shankardeva relates that:

ekanta bhakata sabe nirguna krishnara guna gawe sada basiya jathat baikunthako parihari yogiro hriday eri thaka hari sakhyate tathat

Where the devotees chant the Name of God daily, the Supreme Brahman resides there leaving even the heart of the Yogi and even Baikuntha. It is the highest expression of the united effort of devotees for the benefit of self, soul and the social system. Where the Supreme Brahman resides there will not be aroused any discomforts or disasters. Society is composed of various racial, linguistic, ethnic denominations. But the person who wants to follow the path of Krishna culture will have to forget all these differences for making the Holy Unison of dedication and devotion to Lord Krishna.

Aldous Huxley expressed that the Vaishnavite preachers taught that a life of mere external ritualism without the spirit that is to underline and actuate the outer life is a fraud. It is described by Lord Krishna as mithyachara or a religion of untruth. Having searched the external ritualism and the spirit we can express the essence of Shankardeva’s Krishna culture as a culture of inner humanistic arousal where the spirit revels in the truth and treasures of life.

The catholic spirit of unison, non-violence, democracy and devotion are inter-woven in the philosophy of Shankardeva. No one strand can be separated from the others. People generally speak adoring Shankardeva that he democratized [only] religion. But such comments and improper assessments act as a barrier to grasping his gigantic personality and the essence of his philosophy. The practice of democracy cannot be a part of religion alone. It spreads to the various spheres of society overflowing from religion. It was religion which had created the infrastructure of our society. So to reform society the reformation of religion is needed.

The enforcement of democracy in the orthodox religious platform was not an easy matter. In this context Shankardeva achieved the unique distinction of success in implementation of democracy in the socio-religious field of medieval Assam through which we have achieved our present status of modernity or progressive fraternity. Let the Shankarite philosophy remain blooming among us in its four aspects of Catholic Spirit of Unison, Non-Violence, Democracy and Devotion.

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