The Bhakti Ratnavali of Madhavadeva

The Kirttana and the Dasama by Sankaradeva and Nām Ghosā and Bhakti Ratnāvali by Madhavadeva are the four great works anyone of which is placed on the altar (Thāpanā) instead of an image and is worshipped by the Vaisnavas of Assam.

Bhakti Ratnāvali is an outstanding work, rendered by Madhavadeva from the original work by Visnupuri in Sanskrit (consisting of 1208 slokas). It is divided into 13 Viracanas or chapters:

  1. Bhakti viracana
  2. Satsanga viracana
  3. Bhakti visesana viracana
  4. Sravana viracana
  5. Kirttana viracana
  6. Smarana viracana
  7. Padasevana viracana
  8. Arcana viracana
  9. Vandana viracana
  10. Dāsya viracana
  11. Sākhya viracana
  12. Ātmanivedana viracana,
  13. Sarana viracana

The first deals with the Bhāgavatic religion of Love and begins with Madhavadeva’s own prologue. The second and third chapters deal with the utility of noble company and analysis of Love respectively. Next nine chapters deal with the nine forms of Bhakti, and the last chapter dwells on the initiation ceremony (Sarana) and is completed in more than 1600 verses.

The original book had been composed by combining the essential tenets of bhakti as enshrined in the holy Bhaagavata with the explanatory notes of the Kāntimālā. While translating, Madhavadeva, by and large, followed the original. Only on occasions, where explanations became necessary, he made his own additions.

Sankaradeva appears to have asked Madhavadeva to render the Bhakti Ratnāvali into Assamese immediately before his last departure for Koch Behār. He left all his instructions with Madhavadeva and among other things asked him to write out the Nām Ghosā and Bhakti Ratnāvali presently.

Of all the works by Madhavadeva, it is in the Bhakti-Ratnaavali that we find the most elaborate discussion on the nature of bhakti, the nature of bhaktas and the supreme efficacy of satsanga. This discussion is made on the basis of the Bhāgavata. In the Bhakti Ratnāvali, we are offered a glimpse of the jiva’s entreaty before the Lord to save it from the tri-tāpas of existence which lead it to seek shelter (Sarana) at the Lord’s Feet:

He Krishna ito ghor samsar panthat:
Tini tāpe ātisay huyā ācho hat.
Tayu pāda-padma chāyā-chatra bine tār:
Nāhike taran ār tāp edāibār. [1174]
Tomār caran-yug chatra biparit:
Chāyā kari sarvadise barise amrit. [1175]
He Krishna tayu pade pasilo saran:
Āpad-grastak mok kariyo raksan. [1177]

Oh Krishna, I am (almost) killed in this dreadful path of the world being victimized by the three sorrows. I have no other shelter to escape from their attack save and except the shade of the umbrella of thy Lotus Feet. Thy feet are an umbrella so wonderful that they shower nectar while spreading shade on all sides. So, O Krishna, I take shelter under Thy Feet; do save the trouble-stricken one.