Sankaradeva’s Bhakti Ratnakara

Sankaradeva, the propagator of pure devotion (bhakti) in Assam and the founder of the Eka Sarana school, had extracted key passages from the Bhagavata Purana and such other seminal texts as the Bhagavad Gita, and these excerpts were arranged, according probably to a plan, by the saint-scholar, along with the commentaries of Sridhara Svami (on the Gita and the Bhagavata), into chapters known as “māhātmyas,” in a compilation entitled Bhakti Ratnākara (literally, The Mine of the Gem of Pure Devotion).

samuddhṛtaṃ bhāgavatābhidhānadugdhāmbudheryannavanītapiṇḍamkṣrīśaṃkareṇācyutakiṃkareṇa buddhyā juṣadhvaṃ śitayā sudhīrāḥ ।।2।। samastaśāstrasatsāramuddhṛtya vidadhe adhunābhaktiratnākarākhyaṃ tat saṃgrahaṃ śaṃkaraḥ kila ।।3।।

An image of a manuscript copy of Sankaradeva's Bhakti Ratnakara in Sanskrit.The Bhakti Ratnakara has been termed as a “compilation of the essence” (sāra saṃgraha) of all scriptures by Gopālacaraṇa, another prominent personality of the Sankaradeva movement (who also rendered the work into Assamese but this time in prose). It has been referred to as a “book having very deep meaning” (parama gūḍha grantha) by the same author and as “scripture” (śāstra). Ramacarana also had called the Ratnakara a “great book” (mahā grantha). All these statements attest to the tremendous importance accorded to this book by the scholar-devotees of the Eka Sarana faith.

The book was rendered later on into Assamese by Rāmacaraṇa Ṭhākura who was the nephew of Madhavadeva, the foremost disciple of Sankaradeva, and a key personality of the Eka Sarana Movement in the post-Sankaradeva period.

sarbba-śāstra-sāra āni karilā śaṅkara dewe mahāgrantha bhakti-ratnākara . mahā mūrkha huẏā ma-i karilom̐ ihāra pada anugrahe īśbara kṛṣṇara ..

Bringing the essence of all primary texts (śāstras), Sankaradeva had authored
this great book entitled Bhakti Ratnakara.
I, a great fool, have now rendered it into verse,
by means of the grace of Lord Krsna.

There are altogether thirty-five chapters in the text of Ramacarana available to us. Thirty-five also appears to be the correct figure with respect to the number of chapters in the original (in Sanskrit). We must warn the reader that there have occurred several additions and interpolations of spurious nature to the manuscripts of the original work, resulting, unfortunately, in many of these spurious additions getting conveyed in modern printed editions. Text-critical studies of this unique work of Sankaradeva by scholars endowed with sufficient understanding of the import of the text would perhaps set to rest all speculation in this regard.

The Sources of the Bhakti Ratnakara

An image of a manuscript copy of Sankaradeva's Bhakti Ratnakara in Sanskrit.The scholar M. Neog has expended considerable intellectual energy in trying to trace the source of the slokas incorporated by Sankaradeva in his Bhakti Ratnakara. He has devoted a section of his book Sankaradeva and His Times: Early History of the Vaisnava Faith and Movement in AssamChapter VI, The Doctrines of the Faith: The Bhakti Ratnakara. on this topic and, in his estimation, there are, in all, 564 sloka citations in this compilationHere, we should take note of the fact that M. Neog has also taken into account some portions of extant copies of the Ratnakara that we do not consider to be part of the original, such as the chapters following the thirty-fifth one—on the glory of the Bhagavata Purana, yamas and niyamas and the ten types of bhakti. These chapters, it must be noted, are not taken up by Ramacarana for translation and were probably later accretions. and as many as 437 are culled from the Bhagavata Purana. The Bhagavad Gita accounts for 10 slokas and Sridhara Svami’s verses in his Bhavartha Dipika, 22. In the opinion of M. Neog, ‘for the most part,’ so far as the Bhagavata and the Gita are concerned, Sankaradeva quotes Sridhara Svami’s interpretation of them.

The Ratnakara is primarily a Purana based work and Sankaradeva has drawn on, besides the Bhagavata, a number of these texts such as the Brhannaradiya Purana—which seems to range next to the Bhagavata in respect of the number of verses extracted, with 27 slokas—, the Visnu Purana, the Narasimha Purana and the Matsya Purana. Apart from the Puranas, there are also a number of other Sanskrit works which have been utilized by Sankaradeva. Some of these are extremely rare. These include the Vaisnavananda Lahari, the Santi Sataka and the Yoga SaraThis work, according to M. Neog who seems to have spent considerable energy in trying to trace Sankaradeva’s citations in the Ratnakara, has become rare and is now not available. It is not the work of the same name by Vijnana Bhiksu; nor is it the one by Purusottama Tirtha. Only a few verses from it seem to have been utilized by Sankaradeva—in the twenty-second chapter of the book, on the difference between the embodied personality (jivātmā) and the Lord. .

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References (Resources Utilized in Making this Page)

The following resources were used in making this page:-

  1. Gupta, Arunava. “Preface.” The Mine of the Gem of Pure Devotion: A Translation of the Bhakti Ratnakara of Sankaradeva,
  2. Gupta, Arunava. “The Sources of the Bhakti Ratnakara .” The Mine of the Gem of Pure Devotion: A Translation of the Bhakti Ratnakara of Sankaradeva,