The Staging of the Cihna Yātrā

Sankaradeva returned home in his seventeenth year after completing study of all the scriptures. Now past his minority, he took over the charge of the hereditary state of the Bhuyans from the paternal uncles of his father, who had conducted the affairs since the passing of Kusumavara.

After his return from the tol, Sankaradeva continued to devote himself to the study of the holy scriptures, alongside his administrative duties. He also took to Yoga for a brief period of time and so mastered the yogic practices that he could perform wonderful yogic feats. But, soon after, he found the path showed by the Bhāgavata to be the best among all (the paths). After knowing the substance of the Bhāgavata he gave up the practice of yoga.

But the first and foremost fact of Sankaradeva's early life as a leader of thought is his achievement in the theatrical performance of Cihna Yātrā. He was now in the nineteenth year of his age, in 1468, and taking over the charge of the office of the Siromani Bhuyan two years back, it so happened that Jayanta and Mādhava, the paternal uncles of his father, along with many other respected Bhuyans, came to his place and thus requested him:

You are well versed in all learning and have completed the study of all scriptures. Do give us a picture of the Vaikuntha to the immense joy of all of us.

To this Sankaradeva readily agreed.

At the age of nineteen, Sankaradeva was urged upon by his followers and relatives to show them in pictures the seven abodes (sapta Vaikuntha) of Lord Visnu. In order to fulfil this earnest wish of them, Sankaradeva composed a drama, Cihna Yātrā (literally, 'pageant in scenes') by name and depicted therein the seven Vaikunthas of Lord Visnu.

The pictures of the seven Vaikunthas were painted on sheets of cloth in various colors and positioned in the background, as is done in modern theatre. The musical instruments and appliances used in the drama such as the Khol (drums) and Tāl (cymbals) were specially constructed, as per the directions of Sankaradeva. He got prepared all the necessary accessories for the show including even the effigies and the chomukhā (masks) which were made out of bamboo etc.

Sankaradeva also imparted the necessary training to the actors, the singers (gāyan) and the drummers (bāyan). He himself appeared on the stage in multiple roles such as the Sutradhara (stage-manager) and the Lord of Vaikuntha. In the course of this opera extraordinaire, he displayed his amazing dexterity in operating musical instruments by playing simultaneously on 9 different drums (khols).

The Cihna Yātrā performance was a tremendous success. His school teacher, Mahendra Kandali, at the end of the performance, stood before the audience of ten-thousand persons, declaring aloud that Sankaradeva had become his religious preceptor, and prostrated as many as four times confirmed by the audience. This bold example was immediately followed by many others including Rāmarāma, Sankaradeva's most intimate early playmate and their family priest, his relatives and several others. They pressed Sankaradeva for initiation, sarana, and unable to avoid, he asked them to come over the next morning.

Early rendering of the Bhāgavata

Sankaradeva now felt the need of rendering at least the Tenth Book of the Bhāgavata into Assamese for the purpose of initiating people into his faith. So, he composed overnight the work Uddhava Samvāda, a verse-rendering of a small portion of the 10th Book of the holy Bhāgavata in Assamese, and initiated the people in the morning as arranged. Installing the manuscript of his Uddhava Samvāda in the consecrated space of an altar in a (prayer) hall, he made the devotees lie prostrate before the scripture and instructed them on the main factors or reals of his path. Thus was sarana formally offered for the very first time.

First, (the Guru) explained (to them) the Sarana of Krishna.
Rāmarāma guru then declared:
Hear all ye people (assembled here), hold this in your mind
we have no Guru other than our Sankara
I hereby accept Sankara as my Guru, swearing upon the truth thrice (do I declare this)
in body, mind and word (kāya vākya mane), I worship his feet.

The preaching of his religion by Sankaradeva begins here.

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