Srimanta Madhabdeva (1489-1596) is an important preceptor of the Mahapuruxiya Dharma known for his loyalty to his guru, Srimanta Sankardeva as well as his artistic brilliance. Initially a sakta worshipper, he was converted to Mahapuruxiya Dharma by the Sankardeva and became his most prominent disciple. He became the religious as well as artistic successor of Sankardeva after the later’s death in 1568. He is known particularly for his book of hymns, the Naam Ghoxa, as well as a large selection of songs called Borgeets.
Early life in adversity
Madhabdev was born in May/June 1489 at Letekupukhuri in Lakhimpur District of Assam to Govindagiri Bhuyan and Manorama. Govindagiri was a descendant of Hari Bhuyan (alias Haripala) who had accompanied Candivar, Sankardev‘s forefather, to Kamarupa. But he established his family (a son and wife) in Banduka, a place in Rangpur District in Bangladesh, where he became a Majinder to the ruler. On the death of his wife, he migrated to Bardowa, and married Manorama of the Bara Bhuyan clan there. But due to warfare he became homeless, and he and his wife were given shelter at Letekupukhuri by Harasinga Bora, an officer of the Ahom kingdom where Madhabdev was born. Letekupukhuri, situated between Narayanpur and Bihpuria. Harasinga Bora arranged for Madhavdev’s early education at Narayanpur.
A famine induced the family to move again, and the family was given shelter by a boatman named Ghagari Maji at Habung. Here Madhabdev’s sister Urvasi was born. After about 10 years at Habung, the family rowed down the Brahmaputra river to Rauta-Tembuwani, where Urvasi was married off to Gayapani, a Bhuyan. Soon after, Madhabdev accompanied his father back to Banduka, where he continued his education under a teacher named Rajendra Adhyapaka. Here, Madhabdev became well versed in the Tantras, Tarka-shastra, Purana and other literature associated with Saktism. Soon after, his father Govindagiri died.
Leaving his half-brother (named either Damodara or Rupchandra), Madhabdev returned to his brother-in-law Gayapani with the news and stayed on involving himself with trade in betel-leaf and areca nut. But his half-brother, who was a Majinder at Banduka, had fallen ill and Madhavdev returned there to shoulder responsibility. Here, he received news of his mother’s failing health, and he hastened back to Dhuwahat, where Gayapani had moved to along with his wife and mother-in-law after the Kacharis had uprooted the Bara Bhuyans.
Meeting with Srimanta Sankardev
Madhabdev had grown into a staunch sakta in his learning and practice, and on receiving news of his mother’s illness while in Banduka, he resolved to sacrifice two goats to propitiate the goddess. In the meantime his brother-in-law Gayapani had converted to Ekasarana Dharma and refused to procure the goats for the sacrifice. A debate ensued and Gayapani, now named Ramadasa, took Madhabdev to meet Sankardev to discuss the conflicts. The debate continued for four and a half hour, when Sankardev uttered a sloka from the Bhagavata Purana:
yathā taror māla-niṣecanena tṛpyanti tat-skandha-bhujopaśākhāḥ ।
prāṇopahārāc ca yathendriyāṇāṃ tathaiva sarvārhaṇam acyutejyā ॥
Madhabdev was convinced and he accepted Sankardev as his guru. At the age of thirty-two, he joined his scholarship, literary and musical genius to the cause of Ekasarana dharma. Sankardev accepted him as his prana bandhava (friend of the soul), and anointed him later as his successor. Madhabdev’s conversion occurred in the year 1522.
After his conversion, Madhabdev broke his betrothal and resolved never to marry.
He died in 1596 at Bhelasatra, Koch Bihar.