15 May Discourse analysis of Srimanta Sankaradeva’s Kirttana-Ghoshā
Kirttana-Ghoshā is the magnum opus of Srimanta Sankaradeva (1449-1568), the medieval saint litterateur from Assam. Discourse analysis of this classical treatise is a challenging task. It is because discourses are sequences of related utterances or writings, whereas the Kirttana-Ghoshā has several such sequences. We have also to remember historicity in this study. While Srimanta Sankaradeva belonged to 15-16th century, the present analyst is a person of 20-21st century, with implication of socio-cultural orientation. When we study the socio-cultural functions as elaborated in the text of Kirttana-Ghoshā, we have to remember that we are studying the writings of Srimanta Sankaradeva with our tools developed in 20-21st century. That will remain a limitation of the present study.
Kirttana-Ghoshā is compilation of several chapters of devotional hymns composed over a long period in the 16th century. In our earlier view, the work probably began sometime during 1509-1516 and continued almost till the litterateur’s demise in 1568. The present author presented the view of 1509 as the possible starting year since the Sattra institution came up in full fledged form in that year and also the saint alluded to writing the chapters of Kirttana-Ghoshā only after getting the scriptures from Jagadish Mishra from Tirhut; Mishra had arrived after the Sattra institution had come into being. (Dr Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti, 2003) Dimbeswar Neog however thinks that the work was started in 1468 itself when the saint initiated the first batch of disciples by making them prostrate before his composition Gopi Uddhava Sambāda, which happens to be one of the chapters of Kirttana-Ghoshā. (Dimbeswar Neog, 2008) If Gopi Uddhava Sambāda composed in 1468 really happens to be the chapter Gopi Uddhava Sambāda of Kirttana-Ghoshā then writing of this book must have started in 1468. Thus it took almost a century to compose the content of this epic treatise. But its chapters were scattered among the devotees as Srimanta Sankaradeva gave those away to his disciples for memorising and copying, since these hymns were used in community prayers.
The compilation work of Kirttana-Ghoshā was carried out by Ramcharan Thakur about four decades after the demise of Srimanta Sankaradeva, under the supervision of Madhavadeva. Ramcharan had to go around the Brahmaputra valley to gather the chapters, which were preserved by the ardent followers. The entire text of Kirttana-Ghoshā is written in Assamese language prevalent in the medieval times. The original text was prepared in Sānchipāt and reproductions too were done in the same method for several centuries. The first printed edition was brought out in 1876 by Haribilas Agarwala (1842-1916) of Tezpur, which was printed in Kolkata. Thereafter numerous editions have been published.
The text for the present discourse analysis has been taken from the printed hard-bound edition titled Kirttana-Ghoshā āru Nām-Ghoshā by Srimanta Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva, edited by Suryakanta Hazarika and published by Bani Mandir, Guwahati in 2004. It was printed in Guwahati. This edition has been chosen as it has recruited in the task of reproduction the service of several important persons including a scholar of Sankaradeva studies Bhimkanta Konwar and a scion of Sattra Prafullapran Mahanta.
According to French social philosopher Michael Foucault, discourse analysis gives stress on power relationships in addition to focusing on the meaning of a given discourse. These are expressed through analysis of language and behaviour, as there is a relationship between language and power. Power is linked to the formation of discourse within specific historical periods. Such discourse analysis explains how the social groups, as expressed through language, is affected by various sources of power. This approach tries to understand how our society is shaped (or constructed) by language, which in turn reflects existing power relationships. The analysis attempts to understand how individuals view the world, and studies categorizations, personal and institutional relationships, ideology, and politics. Discourse analysis is preferred to traditional forms of analysis which fails to account for the political implications of discourse. This discourse analysis also uncovers the layered speech or written content.
Discourse analysis is a study of social life through the analysis of language used in the text. Thus it has cultural, anthropological, linguistic, gender and psychological aspects too. Power and polity are embedded in all these facets, which we need to explore. A discourse is not necessarily an explicit narrative, which is all the more probable in a semi-feudal background that Srimanta Sankaradeva lived in. So a discourse analysis of his Kirttana-Ghoshā is a challenging task. In any case the study of Kirttana-Ghoshā has a great historic importance as it is a classic of Assamese literature. Moreover it came from the pen of such a person who created the currently prevailing social structure of Assam. Thus while he was composing his text about the society, he was simultaneously creating his target society. He was not only a narrator but also a creator. This is unprecedented in the history of literature. Srimanta Sankaradeva’s discourses shaped his society. The saint litterateur had a profound grip on the society by way of being the ruler of a big area in middle Assam in his early days and by being the head of a religious order in the later days.
Srimanta Sankaradeva composed the hymns of Kirttana-Ghoshā and for that matter his other books in order to convey the message of his religious philosophy Vivartanavāda. This philosophy was embedded in his preaching conveyed to the followers of his religious order. His order is known as Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma. The emergence of this order was the call of the day as religious persecutions and atrocities on women had assumed an unimaginable proportion. Even human beings were sacrificed in several temples of Brahmaputra valley. The saint litterateur started preaching devotion to a single God without the requirement of any priest and other paraphernalia. He was also highly critical about sacrifice of living being. Also he accorded a respectable status to women and declared this concept in his writings. All these and other concepts were incorporated in his books. Kirttana-Ghoshā happens to be the most important among those books as it became a handbook for the followers of Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma. It is found almost in every home in Assam. One of the reasons for this unprecedented popularity is that the hymns of this book are used in the prayers by the followers. The musical lyrics have added to the popularity.
Let us now take up the structure of Kirttana-Ghoshā’s text. Every chapter in the book has several sections. Every section has a refrain which is termed Ghoshā, followed by verses which are termed Pada. The Ghoshā is repeated after every verse. During community prayer, the Ghoshā is repeated by all the assembled devotees, while the Padas are recited by the lead singer alone. The last one or more Padas contain suggestions to the audience/readers about the ideal life of a devotee. These concluding verses are repeated once again, with all the devotees joining this time, in view of its importance. It is these concluding verses that characterises the religious nature of the literature; otherwise it could have been easily termed as a Kāvya or something like that. Different chapters are arranged in different metres. Most of these metres were composed by the Srimanta Sankaradeva himself. He composed the metres in appropriate way befitting for recital. Over time these have become popular in Assamese literature, especially devotional literature. The metres used are Jhunā, Jhumuri, Dulari, Pada, Shabi, Dashākshari, Ashtākshari, Kusum-mālā etc. Among these, Kusum-mālā was own creation of Srimanta Sankaradeva.
The main features of Kirttana-Ghoshā can be described as given below :
1. The contents of Kirttana-Ghoshā are narratives taken from Sanskrit treatises. Many mythological stories are narrated in the book.
2. The text of Kirttana-Ghoshā is presented in vernacular language in order to reach a large audience.
3. The language is not embellished in the book. It is simple and lucid.
4. There are several recurring themes in Kirttana-Ghoshā. These are ethics, non-violence, compassion and egalitarianism.
5. There are a lot of educational elements in Kirttana-Ghoshā.
6. The purpose of Kirttana-Ghoshā is to convey the message of refuge in single almighty embedded in Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma, that is devotion to lord Krishna. The belief in multiple deities is specifically countered.
7. The life of lord Krishna is an important content of Kirttana-Ghoshā. The entire book is declaration of lord Krishna’s glory. The author declares himself repeatedly as Krishnara Kinkara, servant of lord Krishna.
8. Author of Kirttana-Ghoshā preaches a particular type of worship of lord Krishna, that is chanting and listening to lord’s name and attributes. These are presented as a means of redeeming the devotee of all sins. The chapter Ajāmilopākhyāna is such an example.
9. Lives and deeds of different devotees of lord Krishna are narrated in Kirttana-Ghoshā. The chapters Kangsa-badha, Rāsa-krirā, Kāliya-damana, Shishu-lilā etc are such examples.
10. Author of Kirttana-Ghoshā conveys the message that those who behave like adversaries for the worshippers of lord Krishna, are eventually vanquished. The chapters Kangsa-badha, Kāliya-damana, Kālayabana badha, Jarāsandhar juddha etc are such examples.
11. Kirttana-Ghoshā conveys the message that the devotees of lord Krishna are always protected by him. The chapters Rāsa krira, Gajendra upākhyāna, Prahlāda charitra, Bipraputra ānayan etc are such examples.
12. The book emphasizes on getting over social divisions like caste hierarchy.
13. Human birth in Bhāratavarsha is termed as a great luck as this land is suitable for spiritual Sādhanā.
14. Ego is treated as a serious obstacle in the path of devotion. Getting over ego is highlighted in the book.
15. There is emphasis on non-enmity with other beliefs.
16. The author declares his authorship at the end of the chapters. In so doing he hides his caste or other affiliation. In fact there is a call in many chapters for transcending caste.
17. The author exudes an attitude of benevolence throughout the text.
Let us next examine the features of different chapters in Kirttana-Ghoshā. The scripture starts with the chapter Chaturbingshati avatāra. This chapter describes the twenty four incarnations of God. It also conveys the philosophy of Vivartanavāda. Thus it assumes special importance as it sets the tone and standard of the entire book. This very first chapter starts with the verse Prathame pranāmo Brahmarupi sanātana/ Sarva avatārara kārana Nārāyana. That means I bow to the everlasting supreme entity in the form of Brahma as well as Narayana, who is the cause of all incarnations. Both attributeless supreme entity Brahma and attributeful supreme God Nārāyana are mentioned in the same breath, thereby stressing the most important feature of his philosophy Vivartanavāda that both are the same. So the readers are mentally prepared that they are onto a synthesis of Vedānta and Bhāgavata. That Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma is a completely new path is highlighted right from the word go. Devotees are at the same time advised by the phrase Sarva avatārara kārana that they should go beyond the attributeful manifestations. This clearly sets the Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma order apart from all other devotional orders pertaining to Sanātana religion, popularly known as Hinduism. The choice of word is also so interesting. This very first chapter starts with the word Prathame, which means ‘at the outset’.
The second chapter Nāma aparādha describes the demerits incurred by the devotees if they commit lapses in devotion. The demerits earned by the adversaries of devotional cult in their unwarranted activities are also elaborated. The chapter highlights the redeeming character of God’s name, how it can rescue a person from the clutch of demerits like ego, pride, cruelty etc. The gradual impact of God’s name is elaborated, how it first cleanses the sinner, then generates merit, leading to yearning for God, ultimately to merger with the supreme absolute. The culmination of devotee in merger with the supreme absolute is as per the Vivartanavāda philosophy. Chaitanya murti purnānanda Hari is an interesting description as Chaitanya murti means personification of the conscience and purnānanda means complete bliss. These are the qualifications of the personal God Hari. There is also a clarion call to the people to take refuge in lord Hari. The expression Harira nāma jagatara nidhi which means that the name of Hari is wealth of entire world also conveys the universality of the order; it emphasizes that entire humanity has access to the God’s name.
The third chapter Pāsanda mardana declares the glory of chanting the lord’s name and attributes. It looks like a continuation of the second chapter. It speaks about the redeeming nature of God’s name and highlights the demerits of those people who pose obstacles to the path of devotion. The rituals like Mantra Tantra is alluded to as insufficient and full of flaws in religious pursuit, as the followers of the Tantra cult were in the forefront of adversaries. Thus a comparison of Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma with other orders is presented in this chapter. Practices like Dāna Sanyāsa (philanthropy and ascetism) etc are not condemned, but the devotional path is projected as an easier and comfortable means for the same goal. There are also practical guidance like advice for performing selfless works and dedicating those to God. Nishkāme kariyā sakale karma / Vishnuta arpiba sisava dharma. That means one should dedicate all deeds to Vishnu as religious tasks after performing those selflessly.
The fourth chapter Dhyāna barnana gives elaborate guidance to devotees about meditating on the appearance of lord Krishna. It draws an imaginary picture of the Vaikuntha where lord Narayana dwells, surrounded by his great devotees. The author presents a friendly image of God for the devotees, as he says Bhakatara bandhu jagata-bāpa /Bolā Hari Hari haroka pāpa. That means God is friend of the devotees and father of the world; chant the name Hari and get rid of sins. This friendly (bandhu) image of God is unique in the Bhakti order. While it is a metaphorical presentation of the almighty God, the author hints that this God is actually identical with the the supreme absolute, the attributeless Brahma. He says that Chaitanyamaya shuddha rupa dhari / Parama anande asanta Hari. That means lord Hari remains in utmost bliss by assuming the pure form of conscience. So there are distinctly two layers of meaning in the discourse of Kirttana-Ghoshā. It is presented simultaneously to both the lay public as well as the intelligent people with philosophical orientation.
The fifth chapter Ajāmilopākhyāna describes the power of God’s name, how it can redeem even a great sinner. A Brahmin priest named Ajamil goes astray and remains immersed in mundane pleasures, forgetting all his religious duties. But he is redeemed from the demerits of all his indulgences just because he uttered the name of God, that too by sheer fluke, as he was calling his youngest son named after lord Narayana. Pāpi Ajāmile Nārāyana buli pāile kena sadagati. That means what a great end was achieved by sinner Ajamil just by uttering Narayana. That Ajamil was not remembering God but was only remembering his son did not matter. Mere utterance of God’s name was enough to cleanse him of all demerits. The author also sings glory of human birth in Bhāratavarsha, the holy land.
The sixth chapter Prahlāda charitra and seventh Gajendra upākhyāna describe how the devotees of God are always protected by him. Prahlada was a prince, who was persecuted by own father Hiranyakashipu for being a devotee of God. Ultimately God appeared as Narasimha and vanquished the tyrant Hiranyakashipu. Elephant king Gajendra on the other hand fell into the grip of a crocodile, Grāha, whereupon he prayed to God. Lord Hari rescued Gajendra from the clutch of Grāha. These two incarnations Narasimha and Hari are presented as rescuer of the devotees in distress. What is required is complete trust in the supreme almighty. The confidence of Prahlada that God was there even inside the pillar was embodiment of that belief. Sāvāto āsanta jagata svāmi / Sphatikara stambhe dekhoho āmi. That means the master of the world exists everywhere; I can see him in the pillar of crystal. Again Gajendra is rescued from Grāha only after he submits himself completely to God. Shundre merāi padmagota uparaka tuli / Gajendre sharana lailā trāhi Hari buli. That means the elephant king took refuge in lord Hari by holding upward a lotus by his trunk and saying ‘save (me) lord Hari’. So the main emphasis in both the chapters is on unwavering confidence and trust in God. Moreover getting over ego is highlighted as ego can never co-exist with devotion. Gajendra had to get over his ego as an invincible being. Āmi hena Gajendra jagate jāka kahe / Mahāgarbe bhramante pāileka jalagrāhe. That means the mighty elephant king that I am, was caught by water crocodile while roaming around with great pride.
The eighth chapter Haramohana and ninth chapter Balichalana highlight the necessity of the devotee to get over ego. Illusion being an attribute of God, may pose as an obstacle in the path of devotion. Illusion can be conquered only by God’s grace, which befalls the devotee only on overcoming ego. This is what links these chapters with the preceding seventh chapter Gajendra upākhyāna. Thus the nature of a necklace is seen in the chapters, one being linked with the other. In Haramohana it is the plight of Shiva and in Balichalana it is the plight of king Bali which are shown as exemplary cases for the benefit of devotees. Ego of both knowledge and power drive one astray from the path of truth. One does not see the truth when engulfed by ego. Shiva goes nuts when he eyes the Mohini form of God and literally runs after her. On the other hand king Bali considers himself as the ruler and owner of earth, heaven and hell.
The tenth to fifteenth chapters Shishu lilā (and its annexure Kāli damana), Rāsa krirā, Kangsa badha, Gopi Uddhava sambāda, Kujira bāncha purana, Akrurara bāncha purana narrate different deeds of lord Krishna during his incarnation. That God fulfils the honest desire of the devotees and protects them in adverse circumstances is driven home in these chapters. A notable feature is that all the adventures performed by lord Krishna as mentioned in these chapters took place during his childhood. That so many chapters were dedicated to the childhood of lord Krishna highlighted the point that the glory of God was not due to any physical valour but the omnipotence of God. Another point is that God becomes subservient to his devotees. Hena dekhi prabhu Nārāyana / Snehe lailā apuni bandhana (Shishu lilā). That means on seeing that, lord Narayana accepted bond of own accord out of love. While powerful adversaries cannot vanquish God, the love of devotees can make him their supporting force. When the Gopa boys were surrounded by wild fire, they took refuge in lord Krishna; consequently he brought them out of that fire. The Rāsa krirā chapter describes the ardent desire of the Gopis to have the bliss of supreme God, lord Krishna. Kuji and Akrura are devotees of lord Krishna, who are blessed with boons in the chapters Kujira bāncha purana and Akrurara bāncha purana.
The sixteenth chapter Jarāsandhar yuddha and seventeenth chapter Kālayabana badha narrate how lord Krishna vanquished the adversaries of his devotees. God treats the adversaries of his devotees as his own adversary. Jarasandha and Kalayabana were powerful kings who had suppressed people with extreme violence. They suffered from huge ego and treated lord Krishna as enemy. They attacked Mathura, the place where lord Krishna lived alongwith his kins and devotees. Eventually both the kings were vanquished. But they were not vanquished by God himself but through others. While Krishna’s brother Balobhadra and other kins defeated Jarasandha, sage Musukunda killed Kalayabana. Jarasandha used to attack Mathura again and again, but lord Krishna let him go away after defeat as his end had not yet come. In case of Kalayabana, lord Krishna took him away to the cave of sage Musukunda in order to prevent bloodshed in Mathura.
The eighteenth to twentieth chapters Musukunda stuti, Syamantaka harana, Nāradara Krishna darshana describe how lord Krishna blessed his devotees with spiritual realization and removed the veil of ignorance for them. King-turned-sage Musukunda, king Satrajita and sage Narada pray to lord Krishna with utmost devotion. Their prayers reflect the aspiration of the individual self for communion with the universal self. Lord Krishna also gives many valuable advices to his devotees in turn. He tells Musukunda that if a devotee gives up devotion and remains busy with practice of yoga, mundane inclinations may afflict that devotee again. Yogaka abhyāse jito bhakati ere / Tāhārese mana dunai bishayata pare. That means one who gives up devotion due to practice of yoga is attracted by mundane attraction again. Again lord Krishna reminds king Satrajita about futility of mundane wealth; all that belonged to Satrajita were actually owned by lord Krishna only. Tomāra sarvasva save mora / Niyā mani erā chintā mora. That means everything of yours actually belong to me, so take the gem and stop worrying about me. When Narada was overwhelmed by the omnipresence of lord Krishna, he was consoled Nakarā muni āta kisu kheda. That means O sage, do not grieve over it.
The twenty first to twenty third chapters Bipraputra ānayana, Dāmodar Biprākhyān, Daivakira putra ānayan describe how lord Krishna fulfils even the mundane wishes of his devotees. A Brahmana’s sons died immediately after birth; this happened ten times. Lord Krishna retrieved them from death after even the great archer Arjuna could not protect the family from the clutch of death. Similarly lord Krishna brought back from heaven Daivaki’s deceased sons, who happened to be his elder brothers. A poor Brahmin named Damodar, who happened to be lord Krishna’s class-mate during his days in the residential school of Sandipani, was also treated with great affection on his visit and then showered with a lot of wealth. These three chapters depict the fruit of devotion and love for God, that mundane wealth comes automatically to a pious person. The most significant narrative among these three chapters is that in Bipraputra ānayana where lord Krishna and Arjuna meet lord Narayana or Vishnu, paying their obeisance to him. It was thereby conveyed that lord Krishna was incarnation of lord Narayana. Adbhuta rupa dekhi Dhananjaya / Kampilā sharira bhailā bismaya / Ātmāka Krishne darashana pāi / Pari pranāmilā māthā dawāi. That means Dhananjaya was surprised and shivered on seeing the strange form; Krishna paid obeisance by lowering his head on getting the vision of his own self. Another significant point is that Daivaki’s deceased sons were again retuned to heaven after uniting with her. This highlights the point that the destiny cannot and should not be altered; divine intervention should not be invoked for personal wishes.
The twenty fourth chapter Veda stuti is a eulogy of God. The entire narrative is presented as that given by the Vedas. They sing eulogy of lord Narayana, who is also addressed as lord Vishnu. They submit that they too are like other creatures and were born from the supreme almighty. They also submit that all the creatures are part of the supreme almighty. The chapter is a philosophical analysis of the relationship between God and his creations, from the perspective of Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma. The author presents his religious ideology in this chapter, because of which this chapter assumes special importance. For example it is alluded to in this chapter that the devotees can worship the supreme almighty Brahma, which is attributeless. Ānande Brahmaka jitojane bhaje swami. That means one who worships Brahma with happiness. This is in tune with the equality of attributeless supreme entity Brahma and attributeful supreme God, as mentioned in the first chapter. Thus everything is coherent in the book.
The twenty fifth chapter Lilā mālā and twenty sixth chapter Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha prayān are narratives of what lord Krishna performed during his incarnation and how he folded up his life. While Lilā mālā describes the life events from birth till before death, Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha prayān describes the events leading to the destruction of Yadu dynasty and finally the departure of lord Krishna from earth. There are different allegorical narratives in these descriptions. For example lord Krishna is said to have sixteen thousand one hundred eight wives. Shorasha sahasra ashtādhika ekashata / Krishnara mahishi save parama bhakata (Lilā mālā). That means sixteen thousand one hundred eight wives of Krishna are all great devotees. It is humanly not possible and therefore it seems the author hints at 16,108 attributes or something else. The chapter Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha prayāna proffers some practical advices to the devotees regarding how to proceed in the path of devotion. Samasta bhutate Vishnubuddhi nohe yāwe / Kāya bākya mane abhyāsibā ehibhābe. That means one has to practise in body mind and word an equal vision in all beings and see lord Vishnu in everyone.
The twenty seventh chapter Bhāgavata Tātparya is a short chapter which describes how saint Shuka narrated the holy scripture Bhāgavata to king Parikshita. He drives home the gist of that scripture. That lord Krishna is the supreme God and only he should be worshipped is the main theme of the chapter. Krishna bine nāi apara deva / Jāniyā Krishnaka kariyo sewa. That means there is no God other than Krishna; worship him knowing that. Refuge in the ultimate God is the central theme preached here. Devaro ishvara Hari tānta mahā jatna kari lawe ekasharana sākshāta. That means Hari is the God of even the deities; take sole refuge in him with utmost care.
The chapter-wise analysis has shown that there are numerous discourses in Kirttana-Ghoshā. But there are several common threads linking them. The most important among these is the concept of Supremacy of lord Krishna, which pervades the entire content of the book. The inclusion of other episodes is like inclusion of numerous sub-plots in a novel by way of their being linked to the main plot. For example while the glory of Bhāgavata is sung in the book, Bhāgavata itself is nothing but illustration of lord Krishna’s glory. Three chapters Bipraputra ānayana, Dāmodara Biprākhyāna, Daivakira putra ānayan describe how lord Krishna helped some distressed people. The chapters Shishu lilā, Rāsa krirā, Kangsa badha, Gopi Uddhava sambāda, Kujira bāncha purana, Akrurara bāncha purana, Lilā mālā and Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha prayān narrate the life and activities of lord Krishna. The chapters Musukunda stuti, Syamantaka harana, Nāradara Krishna darshana describe how lord Krishna blessed his devotees. The chapters Jarāsandhar yuddha and Kālayabana badha narrate how lord Krishna vanquished the adversaries. Thus the main discourse of Kirttana-Ghoshā is always lord Krishna. In the chapter Jarāsandhar yuddha the author categorically says that life and works of lord Krishna is the main theme. Mādhavara janma-karma / Āta pare nāhi dharma. That means there is no religion beyond birth and deeds of Madhava.
There are numerous philosophical analyses throughout the book. The chapter Vedastuti says Mukuta kundala jena suvarnara bhinna nuhi misā mātra nāma rupa yata / Āhankāra panchabhuta tomāta prithaka nuhi prabhu paramārtha bichārata. That means the crown and the earring are not different from gold, but only different in name and form; just like that five elements and the ego are not different from God in spiritual analysis. The chapter Haramohana also says Tumi kārya kārana samasta charāchara / Suvarna kundale jena nāhike antara. That means you are the cause and the effects, you are the movable and immovable beings, just as there is no difference between gold and earring. The chapter Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha prayāna says Trigunā māyāka kari āshraya / Ātmāta srajā yata jivachaya. That means God creates all creatures with the help of his illusion equipped with three attributes. That the supreme being is present in all being is also conveyed n Haramohana chapter. Tumise kevala satya misā save āna / Jāni jnānigane kare hridayata dhyāna. That means you only are true and everything else is false; knowing that, the wise ones mediate on you in their own hearts. This is clearly a synthesis of Jnāna-mārga and Bhakti-mārga, a special feature of Vivartanavāda. It is a unique feature of his devotional treatise that we find repeated mentions of the attributeless Brahma. The chapter Sri Krishnara Vaikuntha prayāna says Tejiyā sangsāra naya dekhe save Brahmamaya tevese tomāta yāya lina. That means one merges in you only when one gives up mundane attachment and sees everything as full of Brahma. Another verse in the same chapter says Tumi ācharibā Bhāgavata dharmachaya / Jnānanishtha huyā save eribā nishaya. That means you should perform the duties prescribed by Bhāgavata, whereupon knowledge will dawn and you will get rid of mundane affairs. This shows how the saint combined the path of devotion and knowledge.
Four corner-stones of Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma are Guru (preceptor), Deva (God), Nāma (Name of God) and Bhakata (Devotee). Importance of these four corner-stones in the path of devotion is highlighted in Kirttana-Ghoshā. Different verses of the book reflect it. Company of devotee (Bhakata) is highly stressed upon. Vishnu bhakatara sanga laibā prathamata / Guru māni shushrusha karibe bhālamata (Prahlād charita). That means one should first take the company of devotees of Vishnu, and attend upon them properly, considering them as preceptors. Similarly the role of a qualified preceptor (Guru) is highlighted as a guide in the path of devotion; what is more, God himself is equated with the human preceptor. Bāhire bhitare tumi Hari guru / Āsāhā chaitanyarupe (Prahlād charita). That means preceptor Hari is present both inside and outside and he exists as conscience. Chanting God’s name (Nāma) is given the highest importance. Jnānato karmato kari samprati / Hari kirtanese parama gati (Pāsanda mardana). That means chanting Hari’s name is better than knowledge and activities and this only confers the summum bonum. Kali-yuge ito mahā upāya / Harināma laile mukuti pāya (Daivakira putra ānayana). That means this is the best way in Kali era; one gets salvation by uttering Hari’s name. Above all the necessity of complete surrender to God (Deva) is preached throughout the book as God is both the creator and sustainer. Harise parama deva Harikese karo seva / Srajantā pālantā save Hari (Haramohana). That means Hari is the supreme God and one should worship him only; he is the creator and sustainer. Jāniyā Krishnara charane sharana / Pashiyo sudrirha mati (Daivakira putra ānayana). That means one should take refuge in the feet of lord Krishna with great determination.
The glory of God’s name is an important feature of Kirttana-Ghoshā. That God’s name cleanses the devotee of the demerits is a recurring theme in several chapters. While all other chapters mention it without fail, the fifth chapter Ajāmilopākhyāna gives special emphasis to this theme, It starts with the verse Harira nāmara shuniyo mahimā / Sabadhāna kari chita. That means one should listen to the glory of Hari’s name by steadying one’s conscience. The devotees are thus reminded to hear about the glory of God’s name carefully. Bhāgavata Tātparya says Jitojane nāma smare sakala pātaka hare anāyāse pāwe mukutika. That means one who remembers name of God is cleansed of all sins. The chapter Nāma aparādha assures the devotees that if one takes refuse in God’s name, all sins of one are cleansed. Nāmata sharana lawe bāreka / Nāme hare tāra save pāteka. That means if one takes refuge in God’s name even just once, all one’s sins are removed by the name. Thrust on God’s name is so high that the author even repeats his words in some places. The chapter Ajāmilopākhyāna has such an example. Harira nāmese nāmese nāmese / Jivana āwe āmāra. That means name of Hari alone is our lives now. That God’s name is the life of the devotee is declared here with emphasis. God is presented as the ultimate saviour. In the chapter Prahlāda charitra the author says that lord Hari is the only redeemer. Hari bine nāhi āura durgati-tārana. That means there is no redeemer other than Hari. It may be mentioned that Srimanta Sankaradeva used the names Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, Narayana, Hari etc to denote the same supreme God. Daivakira garbhe upajilā Nārāyana (Kangsa badha). That means Narayana was born in Daivaki’s womb. Birth of Narayana in Daivaki’s womb means that Narayana is equated with Krishna. So Akrura worships lord Krishna addressing him as Narayana. Namo Nārāyana karoho seva. That means I bow to Narayana.
The status of devotees is elevated to a very high position in this book. The author places them in a high pedestal. Uddhave bandilā Gopira dhuli / Āve murhajane ninde ki buli (Pāsanda mardana). That means while even Uddhava praised the Gopis, how can the ignorant ones criticise them. Needless to say, Gopi is a metaphor for the devotee. These Gopis are highly praised by Uddhava for their utter devotion. Nandara Braje yata Gopijāka / Shire bando tāna padadhulāka (Gopi Uddhava Samvāda). That means I worship the dust of all Gopis’ feet in the Braja land of Nanda. The devotees are termed as purifier for others. Dekhila mātrake bhakate pavitra kare loka nirantara (Akrurara bānchā purana). That means all the people get purified just by the sight of a devotee. The chapter Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha prayāna even says that one should take the company of devotees if one aspires for salvation. Karmabandha erāibe prabandha yāra āse / Vaishnavara sanga sito laibe prathamata. God further declares that he and his devotees are identical. Bhakatese mora hridi jānibā nishchaya / Bhakatajanara jānā āmise hridaya. That means he resides in the heart of the devotees and the devotees remain in his heart.
It is quite obvious that the second chapter Nāma aparādha and third chapter Pāsanda mardana had the background of the adversaries of Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma in the author’s mind as both these two chapters speak about the demerits of the people who pose obstacles to the path of devotion. Srimanta Sankaradeva and his followers were continually harassed by the priest community as the new order dispensed with the intermediaries, thereby putting livelihood of the priests at stake. Those who condemn the devotees are said to be enemy of God’s name itself. Bhakataka nindā kare adhama / Jānibā nāmara drohi parama (Nāma aparādha) That means the lowly ones condemn a devotee; know that he is the worst adversary of God’s name. Devotees are advised to avoid such adversaries. Pāsandese ninde Vedara bāni /Tāra smbhāshana eribā jāni (Pāsanda mardana). That means the evil one criticises the sayings of Veda; so avoid the greetings of such people. A notable feature is that the comparison with Dāna Sanyāsa in Pāsanda mardana is only about the degree of performance as the saint did not face acute opposition from any ascetic or philanthropist in his life. Such practices are not condemned when compared with Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma but the devotional path is only projected as an easier means for achieving the same objective. The opposition to the path of devotion is highlighted through the sixth chapter Prahlāda charitra also, which is incorporated to highlight the fact that such opposition keep on occurring from time to time; it was a sublime message to the devotees that they were fortunate that their persecution was not as severe as that of Prahlada.
In spite of bitter experience with the adversaries, there is stress on non-enmity with other beliefs by Srimanta Sankaradeva. The chapter Pāsanda mardana says Anādari āna dharma samprati / Diyo upadesha Hari bhakati. That means give advice about devotion to Hari, without deprecating other religions. This magnanimity pervades the entire book just as it was prominent in the life of the saint. Srimanta Sankaradeva pardoned all the priests who had brought allegations against him in the court of both Ahom kings and Koch king.
Srimanta Sankaradeva terms Bhāratavarsha as a holy land and sings glory of human birth in this land. Such allusions are found in the fifth chapter Ajāmilopākhyāna, Balichalana etc. Bhāratata janma pāi bilambaka nujuwāi sadāya ghushiyo Hari Hari (Balichalana). That means one should not waste time and chant Hari Hari after getting birth in Bhāratavarsha. Si si kadāchita manushya howaya Bhārata barishe āsi (Ajāmilopākhyāna). That means one gets birth as human being in Bhāratavarsha very rarely. Janma labhi Bhāratara māje / āka brithā karā kona kāme (Shishu lilā). That means why do you waste this life after getting birth in Bhāratavarsha. Again he says Kaliyuge bhāgye Bhāratata bhailā nara (Rāsa krirā). That means it is a great fortune to get birth in Bhāratavarsha in the Kali era. Bhārate durlabha naradehā pāyā nabhaje tomāra pāwa (Musukunda stuti). That means one does not worship you even after getting the rare human birth in Bhāratavarsha. He says Bhārate manushya janma nuhike senthare (Veda stuti). That means one does not get birth in Bhāratavarsha as human being very easily. Kaliyuge bhāgye bhārata bhailā nara (Rāsa krirā). That means it is a fortune to be born as human being in Bhāratavarsha in the Kali era.
Human birth is highly praised as a precious one by the saint in different places. Manushya janmaka napāya senthare / Āka brithā karā kino abhāgi (Nāma aparādha). That means one does not get human birth so soon; why do you waste it. Devaro durlabha ihena janmaka byartha karā kona kāme (Ajāmilopākhyāna). That means why do you waste this birth that is rare even for the deities. Āura ki senthare Bhārata-bhumita / haibā manushya janma (Ajāmilopākhyāna). That means will you again get born as human being soon in Bhāratavarsha. Again, Durlabha manushya janma nakarā biphala (Prahlāda charitra). That means do not waste the precious human birth. Devaro bānchani ito manushya janma (Prahlāda charitra). That means this human birth is desired even by the deities. Durlabha manushya janma pāilā kata bhāge (Gajendra upākhyāna). That means you have got this rare human birth due to great luck. Durlabha manushya janma nakariyo brithā / Karā Hari kirttana eriyā grāmya kathā (Kālayavana badha). That means do not waste the precious human birth; recite name and attributes of lord Hari giving up mundane discussions.
Illusory nature of the mundane life is reiterated time and again in the book in order to encourage people to embark on the path of devotion. Māyāmaya ito putra-bhāryā-kalevara (Prahlāda charitra). That means these son-wife-human body all are illusions. Māyāmaya putra-dārā-geha / Ketikshane pare ito deha (Syamantaka harana). That means these son-wife-house are illusions; this human body also may fall any time. Yata suta dhana jana save Vishnumāyā (Gajendra upākhyāna). That means all sons wealth and manpower etc are only illusion of Vishnu. The entire chapter Haramohana is an exercise to drive home the point that illusion is a work of God himself and even divine personalities cannot escape it. Shiva ran naked after Mohini, who was a manifestation of lord Narayana himself. So it is necessary to have the blessings of God in order to surmount the illusion of the mundane lives. Putra dārā dhana sharira svajana / Savāro āse biyoga (Balichalana). That means son wife wealth physique and relatives all are mortal. The chapter Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha prayāna says Yata dekhā yata shunā yateka manata gunā save māyāmaya swapnasama. That means everything that you see or hear about or think about are all illusions and like dreams. That any illusion prevails or goes away at the will of God only is shown in the chapter Shishulilā. Lord Krishna’s mother Yashoda realises him as God, only to be overwhelmed by maternal emotion the very next moment. Nuhikanta mora putra mānusha / Ehekente Vishnu ādi purusha / Karilā Vaishnavi māyā bistāra / Guchila Vishnujnāna Yashodāra. That means my son is not human, he is the ultimate entity Vishnu; then Vishnu’s illusion got over, Yashoda lost the Vishnu feeling. It was under the spell of this illusion that she tried to tie Krishna with rope.
Ethics is an important component of the discourse. There is a message in the sixth chapter Prahlāda charitra that people should give up demonic nature. Hena jāni asura svabhāva save eri / Samasta prānika pujā Vishnu buddhi kari. That means one should give up all demonic nature and worship all creatures by treating them as Vishnu. There is also an expectation or rather warning throughout the book that evil would be destroyed at the initiative of God. Kalira sheshata haibā Kalki avatāra / Kāti māri mlechshaka karibā bundāmāra (Chaturbingshati avatāra). That means the Kalki incarnation will appear at the end of Kali era and cut asunder all unrefined people. Bhakatajanara rakshāra hetu / Dushtaka nāshāha Garudaketu (Kangsa badha). That means lord Garudaketu destroys the evil people in order to save the devotees.
Empathy and egalitarianism are very important messages of the book. Prahlāda charitra contains the lines Samaste bhutate dekhibeka Nārāyana, that one should see God in all beings; obvious corollary of this is that the love for God should be extended to all beings. In fact he says it too. Kukura garddabharo ātmā Rāma / Jāniyā savāko pari karibā pranāma (Sri Krishnar baikuntha prayān). That means one should pay obeisance to even dog, fox and ass, as God resides in them too. Of course it is only metaphorical; the author means that one should not be cruel to the animals. There was also a hidden meaning embedded in it. The author tried to drive home the point that the brutal killing of animals by the then Tantric worshippers in the valley was not a holy work; rather it was against God. The magnanimity of the author is reflected in almost all the chapters. The chapter Sri Krishnara Vaikuntha prayāna says that one should not look for the caste of either the Brahmin or the pyre-lighter and treat both the donor and thief equally. Brāhmana chandālara nibichāri kula / Dātāta chorata yena drishti eka tula. It is because of this attitude that there is no differentiation among the devotees in the Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma order.
Denouncement of the regressive social custom caste is an interesting feature of the book. It is found in the chapter Prahlāda charitra. Even pyre lighter is projected as superior to a Brahmin if the former is a sincere devotee of God. Jito chandālara kāya bākya mane sadāye sumare Hari / Āse brāhrabrata jito brāhmanara si si shreshtha tāto kari. That means the pyre lighter who remembers Hari with body mind and sentence is better than a Brahmin who observes twelve rituals. The author emphasizes that one transcends caste by dint of devotion to God. The chapter Pāsanda mardana says Nalāge deva dwija rishi huibe / Nalāge samasta shāshtra jānibe / Misāta mare āna karma kari / Howanta bhakatite tushta Hari. This means that one need not be a Brahmin or a sage or a scholar of the scriptures, devotion is enough to please God. Thus the ego of high caste or knowledge is subtly criticised. The chapter Bhāgavata tātparya says Mahāpāpi āti adhama jāti / Tāko nāme kare pabitra āti. This means that the devotional cult was an instrument which cut asunder the evil of caste system. Of course the revolution took place only within the order as the writ did not apply outside the order. The saint categorically assured such people that they would be ‘cleansed’. Jito mahā mleshcha jāti sio shuddha howe āti mukhe mātra Harināma laya. That means even the unrefined people are cleansed just by uttering the name of Hari. The phrase shuddha howe means getting cleansed. Even one belonging to the lowest echelon was cleansed if one uttered the name of lord Hari. Of course this cleansing was alluded from the social point of view, not for the saint, who was already propagating an egalitarian ideology. His writing was a message to the people at large only. His perspective was very clear. Whoever happened to be a devotee of God happened to be the most highly placed person in hierarchy. Sehise kulina Vedaka buje / Jāhāra mukhe Harināma sije (Pāsanda mardana). That means only that person is of high caste, whose mouth utters the name of Hari. Another hint in this verse is that devotion to lord Hari is the actual message of the Vedas; thus it was also a call for true interpretation of the Vedas. So he tried to say that there had been a lot of misinterpretation of the holy scriptures.
The concept of salvation finds mention many times in the book. Devotion to God is claimed to earn salvation for the devotee. Save karmabandha haiba kshina / Antakāle mota jāibi lina (Prahlāda charita). That means binding of all your past deeds will become nullified and you will merge in me. Aneka janmara karmabandha kari kshina / Eri tanu tekhane Krishnata gailā lina (Rāsa Krirā). That means one merged in Krishna then and there leaving one’s body after the bond of all past deeds became nullified. So devotion is claimed to cut asunder the karmabandha or bindings of past activities. Moreover the type of salvation is also hinted at in these writings. It is necessarily lina mukti, where the devotee merges with God. This is repeated in several chapters in order to highlight that the devotees are assured of the Summum Bonumm of life, which is salvation in Sanātana religion. Moreover a special advantage is shown that devotion to God can redeem one from the impression of not only the present birth but Aneka janma, numerous previous births. Pāyā mahodaya dekhi Brahmamaya / Vishnute gailanta lina (Dāmodara Viprākhyān). That means one merged in Vishnu on seeing everyone as Brahma, upon the dawn of great fortune.
The equity between attributeless Brahma and attributeful God, an important feature of Vivartanavāda philosophy is harped in this context. The chapter Haramohana says it categorically. Tumi paramātmā jagatara isha eka / Eko bastu nāhike tomāta byatireka. That means the attributeless Paramātmā and attributeful Iswara are the same. The chapter Pāsanda mardana says Kevale kirtane sangsāra tari / Bandha sindi howe āpuni Hari. That means the devotee himself becomes God by surmounting mundane bond through chanting God’s name. Thus the goal of devotion is same as that of path of knowledge. That Bhāgavata and Vedānta say the same thing is declared categorically in this chapter. Purāna surya mahābhāgavata /Vedāntaro ito parama tattva. That means Bhāgavata is the gem of the Purānas and its essence is the same as that of Vedānta.
The friendly (bandhu) image of God presented in fourth chapter Dhyāna barnana is a counter to the prevailing conception of God given by the Tantra cult, which thrived on the image of the deity as perpetrator of punishment rather than a benevolent one. But the laity had to be convinced that God of devotional order was in fact the supreme omnipotent one. The depiction of the rich ambience of Vaikuntha was done with that purpose. Thus God was projected as both all-powerful and friendly one, so that common people were attracted to the order. There was in fact example of a person named Govinda Garmali abandoning the Tantra cult since he was persecuted there.
There are so many metaphors used in the book. Gajendra of Gajendra upākhyāna is an elephant under the clutch of a crocodile. The mighty elephant is actually the creature under the spell of illusion, the crocodile being that of illusion. The Eka Sarana Nāma Dharma order uses the metaphor of elephant as that of sin, since the sculpture of an elephant being overpowered by a flying lion is embedded in the altar of Kirtanghar. So when Gajendra submits to God, that means the sinner has surrendered to God seeking redemption. The description in the chapter Rāsa krirā describes metaphorically the union of the individual self with the universal self as the Gopis are none but individual selves aspiring for union with the supreme almighty. The weapons of lord Krishna are personified in the chapter Jarāsandhar yuddha. Āila astrachaya chakra pramukhye / Krishnaka namilā āsi Dāruke. That means the weapons including the disc arrived and charioteer Daruka prostrated before Krishna. Thus it is clear that all these are nothing but metaphors. They are the instruments for annihilation of the evil. Of course one can also interpret that the weapons were brought by Daruka in the chariot. We can thus create several texts out of the original writing. But the personification is more probable as it is echoed in the chapter Vipraputra ānayana. It describes Chakra ādi ashtre murtti dhari / Sewa kare Vishnuka āvari. That means the personified disc and other weapons surround and prostrate before Vishnu. The chapter Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha prayāna also says in similar tone Murtti dhari astra chaupāse āse. That means the weapons personified are on four sides.
The author gives high status to women, unlike their dominated status in the contemporary society. The chapter Sri Krishnar Vaikuntha prayāna says that Stri-shudro kare yadi āmāta bhakati / Tāhāta kahibā ito jnāna mahāmati. If the women and the people belonging to the lowest echelon of the society worship me, tell them this great knowledge. This was quite revolutionary in the medieval time, when these two sections of the society had no access to formal education. There is yet another strong message in the chapter Rāsa krirā which declares a revolt against the suppression of the women in the then society of Brahmaputra valley. That the Gopis came out of their house at night all alone to meet lord Krishna was a powerful message to all those people who suppressed women. It may be mentioned that honour of women could be violated by the Bhogis who were selected for sacrifice before deity. The author must have included the elaborate details of this chapter deliberately. It certainly exudes a feministic flavour.
Kirttana-Ghoshā is full of metaphor and simile. The Ajāmilopākhyāna chapter is one such chapter containing both. The noses of the heaven’s messengers are compared with the flowers of sesame seed. Nāsā tilaphula. This is an example of metaphor. Their eyes are compared with the leaves of lotus flower. Padma patra sama āyatalochana. That means the eyes are rectangular like the leaves of lotus. Their countenance is compared with the Sun. Surya sama. These two are examples of simile since the word sama is used for comparison, whereas in Nāsā tilaphula the nose is presented as identical with the sesame flower. But in the chapter Prahlāda charitra, the same comparison between eye and lotus is done by metaphor. We come across Padma-netra and Kamala-netra there. In the chapter Kāli-damana also we find Kamala-lochana. It is very clear that lotus is a favourite metaphor of the author. Gajendra of Gajendra upākhyāna also holds a lotus by the trunk while praying to lord Hari. Here the lotus is a symbol of one’s pure heart. Shundre merāi padmagota uparaka tuli / Gajendre sharana lailā trāhi Hari buli. That means the elephant king took refuge by saying “save O Hari”, holding a lotus upward by the trunk. The feet of lord Krishna are also compared with lotus by Charana-kamala, Pādapadma etc in the chapter Shishulilā. These repeated allusions to lotus send message to the devotees that they should be like lotus, pure and unblemished even surrounded by the evils.
Another simile is found in the context of household with mundane interests in Prahlāda charitra. It is equated with a dark well. Griha andhakupa sari. Residence (Griha) of the non-believer is like (sari) a dark (andha) well (kupa). The same chapter uses the metaphor of sea in the context of life. Samsāra sāgara. Just as the sea is difficult to cross because of unexpected storm etc the life is also very difficult to live out because of unforeseen crises. Yet another simile in the same chapter is between life and river. Bhava Baitarani. The mythological Baitarani river has to be crossed by the soul after death, it is said in the scriptures. In this simile, life is compared with that of Baitarani river. One has to surmount severe problems while living itself, because of which the Baitarani river is used as a simile. Though there is an actual river named Baitarani in Odisha, the allusion here is about the mythological one.
The author also uses allegory in this magnum-opus. The chapter Rāsa krirā is the best example of allegory. It contains great hidden meaning which is relevant in the context of the philosophy preached by the author. The outward narrative of the Gopis dancing with lord Krishna is actually intended to convey the eternal pursuit of individual self to merge with the universal self. The Gopis renounce everything to meet lord Krishna. But at the same time they are physically present at home also. Mohilā gopaka Krishnara māyā / Kāshate āse dekhe nija jāyā. That means the husbands find their wives beside them by the illusion of Krishna. This clearly shows that it is not a bodily exercise, but a spiritual exercise. So they all come together in their pursuits. Krishnaka prārthaya Gopi eka thāi hui. That means all Gopis get together at one place praying for Krishna. No damsel will join her competitors in pursuit of the beloved. This joint effort is another hint that it is spiritual. Ultimately it is salvation. Aneka janmara karma-bandha kari kshina / Eri tanu tekhane Krishnate gaila lina. That means they merged in Krishna right then by discarding the body, getting over the binding of their deeds over so many births. The narrative in the chapter Lilā mālā about sixteen thousand one hundred eight wives of Krishna is another example of allegory. It may be an attempt to denote numerous attributes of Godhood. This narrative is continued in the chapter Naradara Krishna darshana. Lord Krishna lives householder’s lives with sixteen thousand wives simultaneously, which is witnessed by Narada. This too is an allegory. It conveys that all different types of people are nothing but manifestations of God. This is exposition of Srimanta Sankaradeva’s philosophy Vivartanavāda, which says that all creatures are nothing but expressions of God. It is also significant that the narrative in Lilā mālā mentions one hundred eight more wives than in the chapter Naradara Krishna darshana. This is a significant number with spiritual meaning. It is believed by the Vaishnavites that lord Krishna had one hundred eight Gopi devotees in Vrindavana, because of which the devotees count one hundred eight beads in rosary. But Krishna of Lilā mālā is not different from Krishna of Naradara Krishna darshana. It is only that the Gopis are not counted in the latter as they stayed back in Vrindavana. But why they are counted as wives is a matter of further analysis. Moreover the Lilā mālā chapter alludes to one lakh sixty one thousand eighty sons of Krishna, which is again an absurd figure. Thus these are certainly intended to convey implicit meaning. The text cannot be accepted in face value. That the number of sons was derived by multiplying the number of wives by ten probably indicates the ten organs of human beings. In other words, it is conveyed that all the organs of all people do nothing but God’s work only.
Srimanta Sankaradeva used many idioms and phrases in his writing, most of them being his own creations. One such idiom Eri āla jāla is used in many chapters including the chapters Kangsa badha, Sri Krishnara Vaikuntha prayāna, Haramohana, Bhāgavata tātparya etc. For example the chapter Sri Krishnara Vaikuntha prayāna says Jāniyā āna āla jāla erā. It means giving up unnecessary involvement as well as lethargy. Devotees are asked to shun unnecessary mundane involvement as well as lethargy. However since the saint always dissuaded the followers from giving up household lives, he must have meant lethargy in this idiom. The chapter Bhāgavata tātparya contains the phrase Āyu jāya āle jāle. That means life is spent out in lethargy. The chapter Kangsa badha also contains the line Manushya janma nenā āla jāle. That means do not waste the human life in lethargy. A popular idiom Kathā chobāi is used in the chapter Ajāmilopākhyāna. It means chatting, though the literal meaning is chewing the conversation. This must have been taken from the common scenario of Assam where villagers keep chatting while chewing betel-nuts. Thus the idiom portrays the local picture. Kathā chobāi is not chewing the conversation, but conversation during chewing, a common village scenario of Assam. Use of such idioms took the book to the mass people as they identified with the content.
Many phrases used by the author became very popular and started to be used in common parlance in Assamese literature. One such phrase is found in the chapter Prahlāda charitra. The phrase is Āpuni bayasa haile buddhi haiba bhāla. It means that one will automatically get matured upon growing old. This shows the creativity of the author. The common phrase Bhayate jena kāmpe hāta bhari is found in the chapter Shishulilā, which means hands and legs shake out of fear. Another popular phrase coined by the author is Mānikaka bikā kāsara mole (Nāradara Krishna darshana). That means you are selling the gem at the price of glass. The author himself has written it more than once, that too with variations. Mānikyaka bikā kānsaka lāgi (Nāma aparādha). That means you are bartering the gem for glass. Yet another phrase coined by the author which has become very popular is Talabala kare basumati (Prahlāda charitra). That means the earth is shaking. Another one is Chawarata tāra gāla phāre (Balichalana). That means the tight slap tears the cheek. While it is presented in third person, it is a common dialogue when presented in first person, found anywhere in the countryside during heated argument when one threatens another of slapping. Yet another phrase is Kobāi āji tora phāribo sāla (Shishulilā). That means I will tear your skin by beating. This is another sample of dialogue in quarrel. These show the keen observation of human behaviour by the author.
Srimanta Sankaradeva was very liberal in the use of words. His philosophy of accommodating all sections of the society was reflected in his literary works also. Though his religious philosophy was culled from the Sanskrit treatises of Sanātana religion, he was not fastidious about using only Sanskrit-origin words in his writings. He used not only non-Sanskrit ethnic words, but also words of Arabic and Parsi origin. Katowāl, Pheri, Kotapā, Jhinjiri, Dari, Darāi, Daribāra, Yavana etc are some such words of Arabic and Parsi origin. This shows his modern attitude and acceptance of the social reality as there had already been some demographic changes during his time. The author was certainly a person rooted to the ground. He gives evidence of that by his acquaintance with the indigenous flora and fauna. We find elaborate details of trees, fruits and flowers in the chapter Gajendra upākhyāna.
Different verses in Kirttana-Ghoshā give ideas about the social context. For example the verse Mānikyaka bikā kānsaka lāgi (Nāma aparādha) gives a glimpse about the form of market. It asks why you are bartering the gem for glass. So it is evident that there was bartering in those days. The description of natural environment also proves the indigenous background. The flora and fauna described in the book, especially in chapters like Haramohana are those of the Brahmaputra valley. The chapter Ajāmilopākhyāna not only describes the glory of God’s name but also presents the decadence among the priest community, who happened to foster the regressive customs like sacrifice of living entity. But it was certainly not an anti-Brahmin exercise as the chapters like Bipraputra ānayana, Dāmodara Biprākhyān prove abundantly; they depict the stories of pious Brahmins. It may be noted in this context that almost all leading Brahmin scholars of Brahmaputra valley became disciples of Srimanta Sankaradeva.
To sum up, Kirttana-Ghoshā is a great treatise on the values and social structure of Bhāratavarsha, with special reference to the Assamese society, whose traits find repeated mention in different chapters. The book highlights the tenets of Eka sarana Nāma Dharma and narrates different episodes from scriptures to substantiate those ideas. Life and deeds of lord Krishna is one of the main contents of the book as he is projected as the supreme almighty who is to be worshipped. Ethical and reformative ideas are also present in the discourse. Repeated criticism of caste hierarchy is a strong proof of that. The whole literary initiative is an attempt to change the mindset of the then people who were groomed in Tāntric environment of sacrifice of living beings before the deity. Getting human birth in Bhāratavarsha in the Kali era is also declared as a great fortune. Overall the author tries to wean away the people from regressive customs. In the process he also sets a high standard for Assamese literature by his unique style, highly enriched by phrases, idioms, metaphors etc. It is a trend-setting literary work that remains unsurpassed till today.
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2. Natun Poharat Asomiyā Sāhityar Buranji, Dimbeswar Neog, Shuwani Prakash, Guwahati, Ninth edition, 2008
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4. Srimanta Sankaradeva : a multi-faceted genius, by Dr Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti, Purbanchal Prakash, Guwahati, First edition, 2015
5. Srimanta Sankaradevar kriti aru darshan, by Dr Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti, Aank Baak, Guwahati, First edition, 2018
6. Sankari Sanskriti aru darshan, by Dr Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti, Krantikaal Prakashan, Nagaon, First edition, 2018
7. Sankaradevar ekasharana tattva, by Dr Sanjib Kumar Borkakoti, Kareng Prakashan, Moran, First edition, 2003
8. Kirttana-Ghoshār bhāshā bichāra, by Bhabendra Kalita, in Asomiyā bhakti sāhitya, edited by Kailas Das & Dr Rajita Kalita Maral, Srimanta Sankaradeva Sangha, Nagaon, First edition, 2006
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