The Nama Ghosa as Literature

The dominant metaphor of bhakti in the Nama Ghosa is that of rasa. It is like nectar, like water to thirsty souls, like honey. And bhakti itself is like a “river of love” expressing the glory of the celestial world and it is Sankaradeva who made it over-run its banks through the whole world (Verse 371). There is again an enchanting image of bhakti as a lake of sweet water with bees drunk on the honey of lotus-flowers and swans crooning the Name of God (Verse 644). The verb repeated most often is “to drink” (Verses 111, 219, 237, 244 etc.). But this sublime experience comes only to him who has prostrated himself absolutely at the feet of the world’s master. Hence the next important metaphor is that of the slave, the servant, who takes refuge in the service of God. There are traditional gestures of submission like taking straw grass in one’s teeth, holding the master’s feet, and in one striking instance, of selling oneself as a slave:

O Banamali! Buy me with the money called Nama, what lordship is that which would not buy a slave offering himself? Buy me, O Lord! Buy me, for your own service. I require no other price than Nama. (Verses 541-542)

There is no discernible structure in the text which still makes a profound impression of unity. Traditionally the verses have been strung together into sections under headings such as Namaskāra (Salutation), Nindā (Condemnation), Ātma–Nindā (Self-Reproach), Kheda (Lamentation), Upadeśa (Self Counsel), etc. Though all of them constitute a world with its own atmosphere, there is no linear continuity like that of a tale or an argument. But there is a good deal of repetition of themes as well as phrasing. No doubt, the repetition reinforces the effect aimed at. But it also suggests the possibility of a cyclical structure, common enough in the traditional Indian tale, whether oral or written.

There is also a kind of dramatic dialectic linking up different sections. The praise of the Guru is followed by the condemnation of the false preceptors. The misery of worldly life is set over against the bliss of bhakti dedicated to God. Self-reproach is followed by a resolve to overcome weaknesses and devote oneself solely to Nama. Bhakti is paired with mukti, maya with God’s gracious revelation of the Truth, and so on. The different themes are expressed in appropriate metrical form and tonal atmosphere, so that the whole work strikes one as rich orchestral composition. Of course, all the verses are chanted musically in an appropriate manner. But the passages translated from the Gita constitute perhaps the most sublime and exalted moments in the work. It is as if from the depths of his sense of his own degradation and unworthiness, the devotee rises to the very heights of exalted meditation here. The variety of diction and the author’s easy mastery over various kinds of it are amazing. In imagery it does not have the rich sensuousness of some of Sankaradeva’s works but the austerity here is deliberate and controlled. Whenever he chooses he surprises and delights the reader with a sharp and vivid image. The call of the world upon the senses is controlled as the author’s intention is to point beyond it.

Stanzaic quatrains of varying length are interspersed with rhymed couplets. But within the same metrical form there is great variety, ranging from colloquial briskness to musical evocation of pathos, from sublime majesty to lyrical beauty. The grave, measured tones of exalted meditation are in contrast with the desperate intensity of self-reproach that stops barely short of the energy of street-quarrel. The entire varied exercise leads gradually towards the absolute self-surrender and ecstatic freedom of the end. The Nāma Chanda or the ecstatic repetitions of the Names of God from verses 852 to 977 would have been a monotonous incantation anywhere else. But as it is carefully prepared for and anticipated it gives the impression of sweet intoxication. All the obstacles to Nama have in the mean time been met and overcome, and all the reasons for it have been affirmed, until all doubt is dispelled and we are ready to join the ecstatic celebration of the greatness and glory of the divine being.

[Source: The Rhetorical Strategy of the Nama Ghosa by Hiren Gohain]

Verse exercises through meter and rime its power in moving human emotions and in giving impetus to work according to its sentiment or rasa. Madhavdeva’s Nama Ghosa contains the sentiments of peace (santa) and pathos (karuna) and none of the seven other sentiments described in the rhetoric of language. It is difficult to give to those who are not versed in Assamese, an idea how far Madhavdeva was successful in preserving the sentiments mentioned above in his whole scripture. It can simply be said that they are the suitable rasas (sentiments) for a religious scripture and the verses can give peace to a departing soul and bring tears in the eyes of the reciter and the hearer when they are properly chanted.

As regards figures of speech (alamkara) in composition there are almost all the figures in the verses of the Nama Ghosa. Madhavdeva made use of them to make the thought and language readily intelligible, more touching and capable of rousing the reader to action. There are to be found in it simile, metaphor, apostrophe, interrogation, exclamation, allusion, etc. They are impressive and appropriate. The allusions are not confined to one scripture but are from almost all the scriptures, epics and Puranas. Consequently to have a thorough grasp of the Nama Ghosa one should not only know the scriptures but their significance as well.

As regards style of the scripture under review, it is simple, at the same time expressive, sonorous but not tame. It is full of varieties in meter and rime, and in thought and diction. It contains nothing superficial and trivial. It may be said that the style, as sublime as the conception which is grand, has been expressed in a language which is terse, simple and forceful and has been illuminated by striking figures of speech.

In short, considering all the points, it can be safely said that Madhavdeva’s Nama Ghosa is an artistic composition in words as well as in thought artistically expressed. As regards the theme, the scripture under review will not fail to secure a high position in the world literature.

[Source: The Nam-Ghosa and Its Place in Literature by Rameswar Barooah]

Top ↑