Sankaradeva (Sankardeva, Shankar Dev, Mahapurusa Srimanta Sankaradeva), is one of the leading saint-reformers of India. He was the founder as well as foremost exponent of the Neo-Vaisnavite Movement (NVM) in the eastern part of this country, more precisely, in the region now known as Āssām, in the 15 th - 16th centuries of the Current Era. Historically, he was one of the earliest leaders of the NVM, a senior contemporary of Guru Nānak of the Punjab and Sri Caitanya of Bengal.
Sankaradeva is a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam:
Mahapurusha Srimanta Sankaradeva [1449-1568], saint-scholar, playwright, social-religious reformer, is a colossal figure in the cultural and religious history of Assam, India. He is credited with providing a thread of unity to Assam straddling two major kingdoms (Ahom and Koch kingdoms), building on past literary activities to provide the bedrock of Assamese culture, and creating a religion that gave shape to a set of new values and social synthesis. [Wikipedia]
Sankaradeva propagated a form of Vaisnavism known as Eka-Sarana-Hari-Nāma-Dharma, popularly referred to as ‘Mahāpurusism’, which considers Lord Krishna to be the One, Eternal and Absolute and stresses upon unqualified devotion to Him. He spread the liberal and humanistic doctrine of bhakti for the very first time in Assam. The religious system of Sankaradeva is strictly monotheistic and the worship of deities other than Krishna is strictly prohibited.
Sankaradeva is one of the most versatile saint-poets of india. His was a multi-dimensional personality:
There are poets and composers, there are saints and religious teachers, there are musical masters, there are preachers; but Sankaradeva was a genius in whom all these qualities were rolled into one.
The Bhakti movement of religious devotion spread as one of its greatest proponents Shankaradeva was born in the mid-15th century in Assam. He was a scholar, poet, painter, composer, musician, playwright, actor, dancer, and choreographer; he interpreted the Bhagavata Purana and preached recitation of the Name of Krishna. Shankaradeva's chief disciple Madhavadeva promoted Vaishnavism in his Namaghosha and wrote devotional plays.[Sanderson Beck]
The environment in which the genius of Sankaradeva blossomed and bloomed was stirring and exciting, pregnant with far-reaching developments in every sphere of life in Kāmarupa, the then North-Eastern India. His many-dimensional contributions proved to be lasting value. He helped in various ways in giving a characteristic stamp and ethos to the life and society of Assam and thus has been rightly acclaimed as the father of the Assamese way of life, viz, spiritual, religious, aesthetic, cultural, sociological and literary too.
Indeed, Sankaradeva was:
like the glorious sun under whose warmth of mind Assam blossomed like a lotus of thousand petals (sahasradala kamala). It is difficult to imagine how deep and widespread was the influence of Sankaradeva on the cultural renaissance that burst forth in Medieval Assam.
Basically, Sankaradeva was a saint of the highest order who made a passionate protest against the atheism and dualistic theology as well as the ritual-burdened form of worship to replace them with the simple religion of love and devotion. For the needful, he accepted literature as the vehicle of communication to the masses. Thus, a literary movement along with the Bhakti movement took automation and thus he became a tremendous trend-setter in every walk of life.
The Sankaradeva Movement accelerated the pace of a renascence of literature and fine arts like music and painting. It brought about a new and comprehensive outlook on life and a distinctly healthy tone to social behavior:
The dignity of the individual endeavor of man as a distinct religious being and not as thrall of theological despotism was declared. Assam discovered herself as an integral part of the holy land of Bhāratavarsa, and gloried in that discovery.
Sankaradeva thought and realised the divine majesty in expanding new orbits and poured forth his spiritual experiences in words of great beauty to share them with the common people. His popularity was brought to every door. He had received the message of the Bhāgavata and mingling it with the devotion of his own heart he created a religious literature that has few equals. It was Sankaradeva who brought divine Krishna to the common masses as their Bhagavan. He inundated with his charming lyrics not only in the state of Assam but also sent out their beauty and fragrance to the neighbouring provinces where the aroma of Sankaradeva continues to live even today.
Perhaps no other poet’s writing has woven itself in the mental texture of a people as that of Sankaradeva in Assam. Millions of Assamese people have found in his writings a moral code of social conduct and also a way of life. His writings have become a living faith, and Jai Guru Sankara, a sacred mantra for salutation as well as salvation.