The Master Literateur.
Sankaradeva was a literary genius. His writings heralded the Renaissance in Assamese literature and also inaugurated a new era into the social and political, cultural and religious life of the state. These works of the Master have lost none of their appeal in the course of the last half millennium and remain the most popular and the most revered works for the Assamese.
The poem Karatala kamala kamaladala nayana written without any vowel, except of course a, is attributed to the first year of Sankaradeva's school-life, and perhaps also of his teens, and may be dated 1462. It is a splendid description of Krishna who exhibits lotuses in his hands, feet and eyes etc.
Hariscandra Upakhyan is known to be his first regular Kavya “planting the four boundary pillars for Vaisnavas”. It is said to have been written not long after completing his education and may be dated 1467.
Cihna yatra, an one-act opera, using the stage with scenes as is done today, was Sankaradeva's next literary adventure distinctly assigned to 1468. Unfortunately this literary piece is not preserved to us, but his contemporary biographers give us vivid and life-like description of this one-Act play with its tremendous effect on the thousands of audience.
Uddhava Samvad, a small epic of 177 verses in all, may also be assigned to 1468, as it was almost a simultaneous work with Cihna Yatra, having been written to initiate the first batch of his disciples.
Rukmini Haran (Kavya) appears to be the next work which Sankaradeva wrote. Alongwith Hariscandra Upakhyan, it enjoyed tremendous popularity. Sankaradeva took the theme of his Rukmini Haran Kavya from Harivamsa and incorporated the Bhagavata into it, and calls it a “compound of milk and honey.”
Bhakati-Pradip (Garuda Puran) is also considered to be another early work of the Saint.
Odesa Varnan is also quoted as one of the early works of Sankaradeva, although it now exists only as one of the appendices of the Kirttana-Ghosa. It was a verse-rendering of the Brahama Purana which was most probably done during or after Sankaradeva's twelve-year's tour all over India.
The Holy Kirttana
The Kirttana-Ghosa, Sankaradeva's magnum opus, is actually an anthology of more than two dozen epics of various magnitudes beginning with Caturvimsati Avatar and really completed by Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha Prayan followed by apendices including Odesa Varnan. The chapters of this masterpiece were penned in different periods of time and at different places. Certain chapters are definitely early works of the Saint while the others may have been completed later.
Renderings of the Bhāgavata
As a theologian, Sankaradeva made the Bhāgavata-Purāna the main canon of his vaiśnavism and his works include a creative translation of a large part of that text. Sankaradeva freely transcreated the Skandhas (Books) of this supreme holy text instead of just resorting to literal translations, with a view to localising the episodes from this great work.
His Anadi Patan consisting of 300 verses, is from Bhagavata, Book Three. Brhat Ajamil Upakhyan from Book Six, Bali Chalan from Book Eight of the Bhagavata, by Sankaradeva consist of 375 and 616 verses respectively, and are shaped by him to suit his own theme.
He also rendered the famous Book Ten (Part One), better known as the Adi Dasama,the Story of Shri Krishna. The Dasama ranks alongside the Kirttana as the most famous work of Sankaradeva.
Book Eleven in 427 verses was rendered as Nimi Nava Siddha Samvada, and Book Twelve as a gist in 539 verses. The remaining parts of the Bhagavata as those of Book Ten, were allowed or ordered by him to be completed by other great Mahapurusiya luminaries like Ananta Kandali.
The Dramas and the Songs
China Yatra was followed by Patni Prasad. Then came Parijat Haran, Rama Vijaya, Kaliya Daman, Rukmini Haran (the drama), and probably a few more. But we must be warned that like some epics there are some dramas too, distinctly spurious and unfortunately attributed to Sankaradeva.
Bõrgīts by Sankaradeva, as extant, are comparatively few in number, as out of the original 240 Bõrgīts a good majority was burnt by wild fire that caught the houses.
The important addition of Uttarakanda by Sankaradeva to the original five cantos of the Ramayana by Madhava Kandali represents yet another literary achievement of the Saint.
The exquisite Totaya (hymn), Madhu-Danava, composed extempore in Sanskrit by Sankaradeva before Maharaj Naranarayana, and his grand Gunamala written in the racy Kusum-Mala metre in 376 verses at the request of the king, his great anthology Bhakti Ratnakara in Sanskrit, are among the most illustrious works which Sankaradeva himself penned in verses.
The Kirttana was first published in 1876 by Harivilas Agarwala of Tezpur. Harinarayan Dutta Baruah of Nalbari compiled all of Sankaradeva's works together and published them in a single volume in 1953 under the title Sri Sankar Vākyāmrita. Another compilation of the complete works of Sankaradeva under the title Mahapurusa Srimanta Sankaradeva Vākyāmrita, based on a thorough comparison of several early manuscripts and critically edited by a group of Vaisnavite scholars, was published by the Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha in 1998.
Amongst the literary compositions of the Saint , Bhakti Ratnākara is in sanskrit, and his Bõrgīts, the devotional lyrics and the Ankiyā -Nāts- one-act plays, are in Assamese Vrajawali. The rest of his compositions are in Assamese and they have given a new power to that language.
All of these works, without exception, deal with the supremacy of Krishna and self-surrender for the One Lord, discarding other gods and goddesses.