The central laksana (characteristic) of the Bhagavata is Asraya (Shelter; Sole-Refuge). It is this Asraya which constitutes Eka-Sarana (Saranam Asraya). All the remaining nine laksanas like sarga (primary creation), visarga (secondary creation), manvantara, posana, etc aim at the Tenth One viz. Asraya. Thus, without doubt, the Srimad-Bhagavata serves as the primary material for the study of Eka-Sarana. The different parables and stories of the Bhagavata may be used as illustrations of Eka-Sarana. In Gajendropakhyana, for instance, the predicament of the Lord of the Elephants is used metaphorically to illustrate how even the man addicted to power and pelf may obtain easy release from samsara by taking Eka-Sarana in Krsna. In the Kirttana beginning, কৃষ্ণ ৰাম জয় জগবন্ধু জগন্নাথ | কৃষ্ণৰ চৰণে বন্দী ৰৌক মোৰ মাথ || (O Krishna! Rama! O Jagannatha, Friend of the World! Let my mind remain ever enslaved at Thy Feet!), Sankaradeva so beautifully recreates the taking of Sarana in Hari by the embodied-self (jiva) hitherto struggling to extricate itself from the jaws of death (through activism):-
Gajendra took Sarana crying, 'Save, O Hari!'
In Sankaradeva's rendering of the Bhagavata, we have, perhaps, the greatest stress laid on Eka-Sarana among all the renderings of this venerable text. Of course, the scholars must now investigate the literature and ascertain the veracity of such a supposition. In His upadesas (sermons, exhortations) particularly, which serve almost as an independent class of compositions by themselves, Sankara Guru continually exhorts the sabhasada ('men in the assembly', reader) to take Eka-Sarana in Krishna.
Following His Guru, Madhavadeva also, in His Nama-Ghosa, renders some of the slokas from the Gajendra episode in the long meter the soulful recitation of which evokes pathos and moves the listener to tears. Yet, the grief of Gajendra is the grief of all jivas afflicted by the tri-tapas, the three sorrows:-
Both historically and philosophically, the Bhagavata begins from where the Mahabharata [Gita] ends. The Bhagavata Story starts from the point where the Mahabharata story concludes. Philosophically, Lord Krishna’s concluding precept to Arjuna at the battlefield of Kurukshetra (“Seek Refuge unto Me alone; I shall certainly deliver you from all sins.” – BG. XVIII/66) forms the basis of the Bhagavata discourses. (pp.3) [The Bhagavata, Chandan Lal Dhody]Now, among all Skandhas (Cantos) in the Bhagavata, of supreme importance is the Ekadasa (Eleventh) Skandha which contains the conversation or dialogue (samvada) between Krishna and Uddhava - the Krishna-Uddhava Samvada. It is the heart of the Bhagavata. Here we have the auto-commentary of the Lord on His own utterance in the Gita.
Apart from the Bhagavata, some other important source-materials for Eka-Sarana from the Sankaradeva school are:-
- Bhakti Ratnakara, Sankaradeva's doctrinal treatise (Assamese translation by Ramacarana Thakura) - may aptly be called the Book of Eka-Sarana. Sankaradeva ends practically every chapter with the exhortation of Eka-Sarana. In the chapter entitled ‘The Glory of Nirguna Bhakti’, Sankaradeva has offered his own commentary on the Supreme Sloka of the Gita and has termed it the substance of the entire Gita.
- Nimi Nava Siddha Samvada, Sankaradeva (based on Chapters of Canto XI)
- Nama Ghosa and Bhakti Ratnavali, Madhavadeva - The Ratnavali is particularly important and must rank alongside the Ratnakara as one of the best expositions of Eka-Sarana. There is a special chapter in it, the final one, entitled Sarana Viracana (chapter 13), which highlights the supreme status of Eka-Sarana Bhakti. It is very striking how Eka-Sarana has been placed at the very end of the book, ahead of even the chapter on Atma-nivedana or self-resignation to God. From it, we also come to know that the ones who take Sarana in Krishna are exempt from the repayment of the ‘pancha-rina’ or the ‘five debts’ mentioned in the smriti texts.
- Katha Bhagavata, Bhattadeva, Chapter 12, Canto XI, pp. 598-599, and indeed the entire rendering