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Influence of medieval Indian drama on Sankardeva

Sankardeva’s literary activities and his Vaishnavite religion is a product of his vast knowledge gathered from his twelve year long pilgrimage to various parts of India. His already existing spiritual inclination got an impetus after the death of his wife followed by his daughter’s marriage to Hari, a Bhuyan scion to whom he handed over the maintenance of his household while the Bhuyan Shiromaniship to his grand uncles Jayanta and Madhab at the time of his deparature for his pilgrimage in 1481. The 32 year old pilgrim accompanied by seventeen others included his friend and asssociate Ramaram and his teacher Mahendra Kandali visited Puri, Mathura, Dwaraka, Vrindavan, gaya, Rameshwaram, Ayodhya, Sitakunda, and almost all the major sites of Vaishnavite religion in India. Sankardeva seemed to have spent many years at Jagannath Kshetra at Puri where he read and explained the Brahma Purana to the priests and other people.

Srimanta Sankardeva, Spiritual Leader Srimanta Sankardeva

There is still a debate regarding the composition of his Borgeets as it is mentioned thathe composed his first Borgeet ‘Mana Meri Ram Charanahi Lago’ in Brajavali language aat Badrikashram in 1488. However, ‘Kotha Guruchuta’ claims that his first Borgeet was ‘Rama Meri Hridaya Pankaje Baise’ composed in 1481 at the very outset of the pilgrimage at a place called Rowmari. Sankardeva’s twelve year long pilgrimage erected the edifice of becoming the part of a Pan-Indian Bhakti Movement that was emerging with full bloom during the period. As a mark of his vast knowledge resulted from his exposure to the detailed Bhagavata Purana and Sridhara Swami’s commentary Bhavartha-Dipika, Sankardeva produced his first dramatic work, a sort of a dance drama called, ‘Cihna-Yatra’, for which he painted the Sapta Baikuntha (Seven Heavens), guided the making of musical instruments and played the instruments himself. Some other biographers would like to claim that Sankardeva produced Maha Naata in the presence of Jagdish Mishra in the temple he had constructed in Alipukhuri.

Indian drama bears not so much an encouraging history which has its inception rather in a haphazard way in ancient India. As theater being an instrument of humanizing people of the time, lacked adequate luster and elegance. However, the theater in medieval India had that much zeal and developed itself into such a systematic dramatic form as to germinate the seed of the modern drama in a significant way. Medieval theater has in that way a significant role in introducing the very concept of theatrical art to the readers and audience.

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