The Metrical Art of Sankaradeva

In the history of Assamese metre, no other single poet than Sankaradeva can claim of contributing so much in so many aspects.

Sankaradeva's greatest triumph in the field of metrical art lies in his invention of several entirely new verse-forms. It may be borne in mind, not even the indistinct lineaments of these verse-forms were suggested anywhere by his predecessors.

“Again, as he displays a considerable mastery over Sanskrit prosody, which is reflected in innumerable Sanskrit verses he composed for his Ankiyā Nāts, we comb up all in vain the books of Sanskrit prosody looking for probable sources of inspiration in the matter. As such, we come to the definite conclusion that all these new verse-forms are the products of his own imagination. It is the method of a painter, mixing one pigment with another to obtain the most delicate shade of the finest tint, which Sankaradeva followed as a metrical artist to get his rhythm beating in unison with the fine shades of emotion in his poetic compositions.”

Among the new verse-forms, the kusum-mālā was introduced into the realm of Assamese metre in the pages of his slender volume, Gunamālā. To give a pocket edition of the great Bhāgavata Purāna, was itself a challenge to his genius; but he rose equal to the occasion both in scholarship and in metrical artistry. He hit upon a form built on couplets of bimetrical hexamoric measures. To read a sample passage of it:

namo Nārāyan | samsāra kāran
bhakata tāran | tomāra caran
tumi niranjan | pātaka bhanjan
dānava ganjan | gopikā ranjan
[Sankaradeva, Gunamālā]

“Truly, it is like a wreath of fragrant flowers. Not only the flowers possess an equal number of petals in each of them, but also while they are being threaded through, each flower is woven into the garland with a tightening knot, so that not a single flower gets loosened. Since all hexamoric metres are endowed with a splendid lyricism, when it is combined with the jingling rhymes of all the four foot-divisions, its lyricism gets immeasurably enhanced; and when the whole thing is interspersed with the most exquisite type of alliterations, it does provide a weird music, which becomes something matchless in the whole range of Assamese metre.”

Then, in one of his very few extant Borgits, we come across yet another new verse-form, which has been named as hansa-mālā by a great grammarian. This metre consists of two verse-lines. Each line consists of 18, and the lines are invested with end-rhymes. It is a form built on trimetrical hexamoric measures with couplet rhyming. Here is a specimen couplet of the form:

divase bisay | biyākula nisi | sayane gowāi
mane dhana khuji | bimohita teri | ārati nāpāi
[Sankaradeva, Borgit]

This form demands so much of exquisite artistry that there is but only one second attempt to use the form till this date. To be more precise, it took some four centuries before another poet chose to handle the form for the second time.

Yet another new verse-form la-ni dulari or taral-tripadi is found in the lines of the afore-said Borgit:

hrdaya kamale | Hari baithaha | cinto carana nā teri
karala garala | yaica bhojana | hāmu amiyā heri
parama murukha | hāmu Mādhava | eku bhakati najānā
dāsa dāsa | buli tārahu | ehu sankara bhānā
[Sankaradeva, Borgit]

This form had to wait for not less than four centuries to be repeated by as many as three Assamese poets, viz., Chandrakumar Agarwalla, Dimbeswar Neog and Ratnakanta Barkakati, all doing it very successfully.

Another new verse-form which Sankaradeva fashioned in his own way, is known as pāncāli. The essence of its lyricism lies in the anisometrism of the two constituent verse-lines of a stanza. To describe its structure, as reflected on the stanzaic level, it combines a line of hansamālā, but invested with sectional rhymes, alongside a line of payār. Besides, its sectional rhyming is so complete that it also embraces the third foot; when it is coupled with couplet rhyming on the stanzaic level, it is but natural that it should display a sweet-saccharined melody of rhymes. To illustrate a stanza of the form:

gopinika sanga
badhāwanta dhanga
heri bhrubhanga
ramanika manoratha | purala ananga
[Sankaradeva, Patni-Prasād Nāt]

This form combines in itself the beauty of architecture and that of music in their profoundest manifestations. “There is no other verse-form in the whole range of Assamese metre which can approximate it in artistic excellence. For, with its impeccable solidity which is as sparkling as a piece of diamond, and with its easy flow which is as gay as a mountain-stream, it is something to be recognised as a piece of marvel in the domain of metrical art.”

One more new verse-form invented by him, is named by himself as jhamak. There is no second poet to harness this form. In the whole panorama of the history of Assamese metre, he alone used this new form with a rare effectiveness in one solitary piece of narrative verse. To quote a stanza from it:

eri dhanu sar
khano bali purandar kāmore adhar
kare kodhāle samar
[Sankaradeva, Indra-Balir Yuddha]

With its sharp staccato movement, it is rather eminently suitable for the delineation of the scenes of tumult and tension than of anything serene and subdued.

In the history of Assamese metre, no other single poet than Sankaradeva can claim of contributing so much in so many aspects.

He reintroduced certain forgotten verse-forms, which suffered a continued disuse for not less than a century.not only did he retrieve them from the caverns of oblivion, but also the whole credit of perfecting their rhythm goes to him.To name the verse-forms he reintroduced in Assamese metre, we observe, his poetry abounds in those of gajagati, digaksarā and ekāvali. Sankaradeva must have observed the anomalies in the distribution of units to the different kinds of syllable in all those verse-forms. In his adoption of these forms, the first thing he did was to get them streamlined in accordance with the principles of the variable moric style. Sankaradeva must have caught their dullness and monotony inherent in them. And he chose to remove the same in his own way.

“He introduced certain modulations almost consistently. These modulations, insofar as the first two verse-forms are concerned, were achieved by setting a trimoric phrasal rhythm against the bimoric movement of their metrical rhythm. It is easy to imagine the effectiveness of this type of modulation, when we bear in mind the normal staccato movement of the two verse-forms.”

As far as the ekāvali verse-form is concerned, it gained a significant suppleness of formand attained a variegated richness of rhythm.

“Thus, Sankaradeva made the largest single-handed contribution for the enrichment of Assamese metre. Apart from his opening up of a new horizon for the world of Assamese metre by his introduction of a new style, he developed the variable moric style to the point of perfection. He gave the finishing touches to all the prevalent forms; he resuscitated several forgotten forms from the limbos of oblivion. Besides, he explored the possibility of configuring the finest notes and nuances of metrical music by his several new inventions. In fine, he gave the Assamese metre all that it was wanting in, an epic dimension and a luminous lyricism.After him and of course his foremost disciple Madhava, it ceased to remain a world of namby-pamby doggerels and snip-snap verses.”

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