Nām Ghosā - the Book of the Names Divine
The Nām Ghosā (Nāma Ghosā) is the epitome of Srimanta Sankaradeva's creed and tenets. It appears to be the last work of Madhavadeva, the Saint's foremost disciple, written about 1568-1596. Also referred to as the Hājāri Ghosā (meaning 1000 couplets) or simply the Ghosā, it is one of the four sacred texts (cāri puthi) of Assam Vaisnavism.
Essence of Assam Vaisnavism
It is said that Sankaradeva asked Madhavadeva to write a work that would be sweet as the plum but hard as the seed within it. This is the most perfect description of the Nām Ghosā which is such excellent poetry and at the same time such nice exposition of the philosophy of Vaisnavism as preached by Sankaradeva.
The Nām Ghosā gives briefly the essence of the tenets of the Eka-Sarana Hari-Nām Dharma. It consists of 1001 couplets, composed in various metres and logically arranged in different sections. It lays stress mainly on the merit of practising the bhakti cult. It upholds the superiority of chanting of the Name of the Lord over all religious practices. Nām (Name) means the name of Parama Brahma in the form of Shri Krishna endowed with all the best attributes that can be conceived by the range of human knowledge and experience. Ghosā means 'refrain' or the burden repeated at the end of the section of a poem. Hence, Nām Ghosā means the Chanting of the Names Divine.
More than a theological work, the Nām Ghosā actually reflects the spiritual experience of a sincere devotee. Following the instructions of his Guru Sankaradeva, Madhavadeva obtained the highest beatitude and realised the relationship of God, soul and the world. All his spiritual findings and achievements reflect in the Nām Ghosā.
A Systematic Analysis
In the Nām Ghosā is presented a systematic analysis of the primary elements of the faith of Srimanta Sankaradeva - Guru, Deva, Nāma and Bhakta. The whole scripture has been devoted to a thorough discussion of these elements. Madhavadeva does not take anything for granted nor does he make assumptions of any sort. Through analytical reasoning alone and by basing his arguments on solid logic, he is able to clear all confusion arising in the mind of the spiritual aspirant, and give all-convincing answers to questions relating to God, the nature of His working, the form in which He manifests Himself, the relationship between God and man, why devotion to God becomes important, etc.
In laying down and upholding his principles in the Nām Ghosā, Mahapurusa Madhavadeva followed mainly the Mahā Bhagavata, the Gitā, the Upanisads, the Vedānta and the other sacred sources . In a nutshell, the Nām Ghosā is full of extracts and essence of all sāstras upholding the Vaisnava cult which prevailed in the religious and philosophical realm of India from time immemorial.
The Nām Ghosā as Philosophy
The philosophy of Madhavadeva as revealed in the Nām Ghosā divides itself into different sections, namely, māyā, its nature and effects; cosmology; the Brahman; means of self-realisation; psychology of the jiva; the goal of human life.
At the very outset, Nām Ghosā explains that just as a dreaming man believes in the dream world which is his own creation, the individual self under the influence of māyā forgets its true nature - the pure self, and takes the unreal world, a creation of māyā as real. That is why, Madhavadeva says:-
Thy avidyā (illusion), Oh Hari, has so bewildered and bewitched me that I do not know Thee in Thy essence (or Reality)
He clearly says all that is seen and extended in forms is nothing but māyā, and as such all of it should be rooted out from the mind.
According to Hinduism, the creation of the world is not out of nothing. The Bhāgavata says that the world is created, made to stay and dissolved by Krishna. The Nām Ghosā solves the problem by saying that quite distinct from Purusa and Prakriti and yet the cause and upholder of the two is Paramesvara Nārāyana. In this world, the ‘inhabiter’ or the ‘indweller’ (Purusa) has two forms; the Ksara (perishable) and the Aksara (imperishable). The Supreme (Purusa Uttama) is otherwise called Paramātman, the Immutable, and the Lord upholds the three worlds having interpenetrated them.
Thus there exists nothing but (Param) Brahman. Param Brahman alone is true in essence. He is all-pervading, in all space and in all time. Madhavadeva says:-
I bow down to Thee again and again, O Eternal Unstained One! Thou art the Reality, the ever-lasting Nārāyana, the Infinite without beginning, the Absolute without (material) attributes. Thou art Bhagavanta, the Supreme Purusa, Who has no antecedent or subsequent, neither beginning nor end. Thou art the only consciousness that thinkest out the whole universe
In short, the Nām Ghosā maintains that the universe is nothing but a manifestation of God.
The Nām Ghosā says that Param Brahman is Eternal, Infinite, Good, Benevolent, Permanent, All-pervading, one without a second, and beyond all change. In essence, all apparent variety in name and form is nothing but Brahman. Brahman is beyond space, time or causation. It is absolutely pure, perfect, impartite, and indestructible. It is of the nature of pure consciousness. Anything which is not in the beginning and not at the end necessarily does not exist in the middle. Thus Brahman is like the vast expanse of the sky, the beginning or the end of which is unfathomed. It is Brahman that creates, preserves and destroys the universe. The Brahman is both immanent and transcendental. It pervades all the three worlds and is yet apart from them. It is beyond the 3 qualities, beyond merit and demerit. It is Sama, Narottama, Nirvikāra, Niranjana. Above all, Brahman is Sahajānanda, Svarupānanda and Paramānanda.
The Nām Ghosā as Literature
The Nām Ghosā has its unique position in the literary field. It is highly rich in thought and insight as well as in expression and style. It consists of metrical measures such as rhymed couplets called Pada, Ghosā, Chhavi, Lechāri, Dulari, etc. It is composed in such a metrical measure as to make the devotee well disposed towards piety, righteousness and practice of chanting the Name. Its measure blended with musical appliances has been so artistically introduced as to modulate the tune of the heart.
The language of the Nām Ghosā is lucid and simple. It contains various figures of speech such as similie, metaphor, apostrophe, exclamation, allusions, etc. The allusions are corroborated from various sastras suited to the Vaisnavite bhakti cult. Its style is quite simple and natural and yet chaste and full of literary beauties. In thought, it is a lore of solemn and sublime essence of the Bhakti cult and insights of human knowledge. Its spirit awakens the inner feelings and helps a man in approaching the kingdom of God.
Its Universal Appeal
It contains universal forms of prayer. Its instructions and counsels are applicable to all human beings irrespective of caste, creed and race.