Gunamala - The Bhagavata In A Nutshell.
The Gunamala, the 'Garland of Praises (for Lord Krishna)' written by Sankaradeva is a magnificent composition capturing in racy, rhyming and sonorous verses, the essence of the Bhagavata Purana. It is a sacred text for all Assamese Vaisnavas and is often placed in the thapana (pedestal) or the Guru Asana (sacred throne) in the Namghar as the object of veneration.
This monumental work was authored by the Saint within the span of a single night !
How The Work Came Into Being
King Naranarayana, whose court Sankaradeva regularly visited, one day assembled the scholars of his kingdom and asked if any one could give him all the teachings of the Bhagavata Purana within a narrow compass, so that they might be recited within a few hours specifically, within the time it took for one to cook one's meal. Almost all the scholars shook their heads at the utter impossibility of the task. A few among them conceded that such a Herculean task could be performed but the sheer enormity of the Bhagavata Purana (consisting of 18,000 verses in Sanskrit), however, would demand a period no less than several months. “It is like trying to stuff an elephant into a pot (bhuruka), they said.”
The king then turned to Sankaradeva. The Saint simply replied that It shall be done. He went, wielded his pen the entire night and returned the very next day with his Gunamala . This beautiful nutshell-rendering he then recited before the king and his vast assembly within three hours, amidst the plaudits and wonder of the royal audience.
A Synopsis of the Text
First Part This part consists of hymns to Lord Krishna. The poet describes the might and the glory of the Lord and (very) briefly recounts the incidents of God in his different avatars.
Second Part In this part, the poet describes how the Earth, oppressed with over-population, prayed to Brahma for remedy and the latter approached Bhagavan who proposed to take avatar to demolish the mighty hordes of demons and the tyrants. King Kamsa of Mathura, the mightiest tyrant, heard an aerial voice announcing his death at the hands of the eighth child of Devaki. Kamsa put into prison Devaki and her consort Vasudeva and had their seven children killed, one after another, immediately they were born. Krishna descended from heaven and was born as the eighth child of Devaki. Vasudeva removed the child in the dark and stormy night and concealed Him at the house of Nanda and Yasoda of Gokula and brought away their infant girl that had just been born without their knowledge. Kamsa killed this infant and had no suspicion that the eighth child of Devaki was still safe. Lord Krishna performed many miraculous feats in Gokula. Kamsa kept thinking that he was now secure and free from danger.
Third Part In this part, the poet Sankaradeva describes how Narada revealed to Kamsa that Devaki's eighth child was alive and growing day by day in Gokula and that he was destined to slay him in in fullness of time. Kamsa, indignant and panic-stricken, sent huge and terrifying asuras and raksasas (monsters) to kill Krishna. All his attempts to kill boy Krishna having failed, he deputes Uddhava to invite Him to Mathura. The Lord, on receiving the message of Kamsa, comes to Mathura. The poet goes on to describe the Lord's triumphant entry into the city of Mathura.
Fourth Part Here, the poet describes how the Lord Krishna appeared in the council hall of Kamsa, defeated the strongest wrestlers there in mortal combat, and how He finally seized the tyrant king himself and slew him.
Fifth Part The poet, in this penultimate part, describes how the Lord killed the other tyrants and enemies of humanity and mankind. Krishna met the Pandavas in Hastinapura and held consultations regarding their dissension with the Kauravas. It was here that Krishna sowed the seed of the famous Kurukshetra war. It was this war which carried off millions of men and lightened the burden of the Earth.
Sixth Part Sankaradeva makes no mention of the grim incidents of the Kurukshetra war . Suddenly he comes to the end of the divine leela of Krishna with consummate art and dramatic skill. The Lord bethought Himself that He extirpated millions of tyrannous men in the Great War, but still had in existence His own Yadava (Yadu) clan which was also a huge burden on the Earth by themselves. He, therefore, led the vast hordes of the Yadu race to the Pravasa lake. There, the Yadava men bathed lustily and drank wine heavily so that a dreadful fight took place among themselves, in the course of which all of them got wounded and died. Having thus completed his mission on earth, the All-knowing , All-doing Benevolent Lord Krishna, the destroyer of evil, iniquity and injustice leaves for Vaikuntha, His celestial abode.