Every community has their own literature, both in written as well as in oral form. Similarly, the Assamese language also has folk songs, folk-tales, ritual songs etc, in oral form in abundance. The folk songs, folk tales etc, are still continuing amongst people of ritual, generation after generation in oral forms, inspite of the pressing influence of the modern civilization. There are various types of literature in oral form, which have enriched the field of Assamese literature.
It is very difficult to ascertain the exact date of the Assamese folk literature. But most probably, the date goes back at the earliest to a period in between 600 and 800 AD.
There are two types of folk literature available viz., (a) individual-expressing individual feelings and emotions and (b) Those group that are mostly passed on to this date mostly in group form.
Amongst the individual types of folk literature, Banagīt is the one and most prominent. These Banagīts are primarily the expression of individual youthful feeling and emotion. These songs were generally sung on the open stage, open field or in isolated places. These songs are generally performed with the onset of (Rangali bihu) - the spring season.
It is generally seen that the folk literature are mostly found to express feeling, emotions etc, of a group. There are various types of oral literature in Assamese as shown below-
1. Ballads: Assamese ballads are mainly divided into three broad sections viz. (a) Historical ballads, (b) Mythological and (c) Imaginative ballads. Amongst the historical ballads, Borphukanar Gīt, Maniram Dewanar Gīt, Gaurinath Sinha’s Gīt, Horadatta and Viradatta’s Gīt etc are prominent. However, it is very difficult to ascertain the exact period of mythological ballads in Assamese folk literature. It is assumed, however, that the song of ‘Jana-Gabharu’ is the oldest one. Amongst the imaginative ballads in Assamese folk literature, the prominent are Phul konwarar Gīt, Kamala Kunwari’s Gīt, Madhumatir Gīt etc. All these three types of ballads are narrative in nature.
2. Lyrics: Among the lyrical ballads in Assamese Lilavati’s song, Jayadhan Bania’s song, Baramahi’s song etc are prominent. These songs were sung in lyrical tune. In these songs, the sad plight of the young woman whose loved one was living away for a long time is expressed beautifully.
3. Hymns: Amongst the hymns in Assamese folk literature ‘Ani-nam’, ‘Subachani’s gīt; ‘Apechari gīt’, Lakhimi Sasbah’ gīt etc are popular. These songs were mainly restricted to the women folk of the society. When someone gets chicken pox, the women in order to appease the Goddess’ and her seven sisters, “Aai-nam” was sung to get the blessing for the welfare of the patients. For despair and sufferings, the women sing ‘Subachani’s Gīt’ to satisfy the goddess Subachani. Simplicity of the language and the sincerity of feeling are the special characteristics of these songs.
4. Ritual songs: Among the ritual songs, ‘Biyagīt’ or marriage songs are prominent in Assamese folk literature. In a traditional Assamese marriage, various rituals are performed during the whole celebration. On such occasions, the women sing different types of songs. It is a pleasant situation to watch and hear the two groups of the brides and the grooms- engaged in verbal duel through songs composed extempore, more often than not, making amusing reference, arguments and counter argument’s between the two sides. The “Biya Gīt” or marriage songs have smacked the Assamese folk literature, which contributes valuable assets. It was seen that on such marriage songs, the ideal of conjugal life, the separation of the bride from her parents, hopes and desires of a woman’s life and a beautiful picture of domestic life is very beautifully depicted.
5. Festival song: The festival songs of the Assamese folk literature are in oral form. The prominent are “Bhekuli Biyar Gīt” (marriage song of Frog); “Maha Khedar Gīt” (The song to drive away mosquito), Upanayan Gīt, Chuḍākaran Gīt - The song of goddess manasa etc. Simplicity of language and sincerity of feelings are the special characteristics of these songs.
6. Folk songs: Among the folk songs in Assamese, Bihu song is the most prominent and popular. Bihu is the national festival of the Assamese people. Three Bihus are celebrated in a year. They are- Bohāg or Rongāli Bihu, Kati or Konagli Bihu and Māgha or Bhogali Bihu. Of the three Bihus, religious rituals are more conspicuous in Kati Bihu. In Maha Bihu, religious rituals go hand in hand with merry making while in Bohag Bihu merry making gets more prominence. The Bohāg Bihu begins on the last day of the month of Chaitra and continues upto sixth day of Bohāg i.e. first week of April. Young man and woman would give vent to their joyous feelings with the advent of spring and dance and sing under trees or by the side of a river. The festival is an expression of the joy of people, to welcome the spring season. The Bihu songs reflected the rural agricultural life of the Assamese people.
Besides Bihu songs, another prominent folk performance in oral form is Goālpārā folk song. Goālpārā is an important district of western Assam, which is adjacent to west Bengal. Goālpārā is famous for its rich and diverse folk culture. The main theme of the Goālpārā folk song is the relation with animal (elephant) etc and love.
7. Lullabies: Lullabies are also part of the folk literature. There are many lullabies in Assamese folk literature in oral form. Lullabies are associated with the songs, which were sung by the mother to quite infants. These lullabies are also known as “dhainām”. These songs were mainly imaginative, which can attract the tender minds of the children.
8. Sayings: In Assamese oral literature, various sayings are associated with the name of the person called “Dāk” and his remarkable sayings mainly concern with the daily life of the members of the agricultural society. The basic text of ‘Dākar Bachan’ is the wisdom of many and the wit of none. They are in couplets, where one line is added to another to make the line complete. The whole exercise in ‘Dākar Bachan’ is to say a lot using few words. The lines are spelt out very clearly with their inherent meaning.
9. Folk tales: Folk tales play a very important role in the folk literature. Assamese folk literature is also very rich with folk tales. These tales are described mostly in narrative styles. Tales are still continuing mostly amongst the illiterate sections of the society, generation after generation in oral form. The folk tales do not have a specific structure or foundation. The person by his own limitation and capacity, describes those tales. Different folk tales depict different stages of the society and its people.
The folk tales exposes the superstitions beliefs, likings and dislikings, anger etc, prevailing in the community, which are skillfully narrated. Incidentally, it also focuses indirectly the moral ideals and truthfulness. Among the folk tales in Assamese folk literature, the tales of Tezimala, Tula and Teza, Kamala Kūwari etc are very popular.
The chief characteristic of the oral literature is that there is no specific writer of these. These are continuing amongst the illiterate sections of the community, generation after generation in oral form. This oral literature are mostly found to express the feelings, thought and emotions of a group, rather than an individual because, the people in ancient time expressed their feelings in group, when they celebrate the festivals like Bihu etc. They join together to sing and dance and enjoy the occasion in groups.
1. HISTORY: CARYĀPADA:
The first instance of written Assamese literature is found in the Caryāpadas. These were written in the form of lyrics mainly with a view to publicise the primary rules, regulations, chief customs and traditions of Buddhism. These lyrics, sung according to different classical ragas are also known as Caryāgit or Bouddhagan or Doha. Scholars have ascertained that these Caryāpada were written during the period from eighth century A.D to twelfth century A.D.
1.1. PRE-VAISHNAVITE LITERATURE:
Instances of pure written Assamese literature are hardly to be found in a chronological order after the Caryāpada unto the fourteenth century A.D. Ofcourse it was in the fourteenth century itself that a number of poetic geniuses like Hem Saraswati, Rudra Kandali, Harihar Bipra, Kaviratha Saraswati and Madhava Kandali were born. It was during this period that the written literature evolved. Before this period, there was only the oral tradition of literature except the Caryāpada. The works of Hem Saraswati are generally recognized as the first written literature in Assamese language. Of the pre-Vaisnavite Assamese poets, Madhava Kandali deserves special mention, for it was during this period that Madhava Kandali translated the Ramayana by Valmiki into Assamese language. Incidentally, this translated version of the Ramayana is the first one among the modern Indian languages and also the regional languages of the Northern India. Before this, the Ramayana was translated only into Tamil and Kannada languages.
1.2. VAISHNAVITE LITERATURE:
The literature produced during the period from the last part of the fifteenth century A.D to the last part of the seventeenth century A.D has been termed as the Vaishnavite or the Neo-Vaishnavite literature. Because Srīmanta śaṅkardeva was the “Guru” of the poets of this period, some scholars have termed this age as the “śankari Age”. Srīmanta śaṅkardeva (1449-1568) was the founder of this age. He was the writer who gave Assamese prose a concrete literary status for the first time. The greatest contribution of śaṅkardeva to Assamese literature is the Kirtana and the Dasama. The Kirtana is a favourite reading for readers of all ages mainly because of its captivating theme and lucid description. This work infact contains the essence of the Gita, the Bhāgawata and the Purānas. On the other hand, the Dasama may be given the first place among the translated works of śaṅkardeva. This book contains the stories of the birth of lord Srikrishna, his childhood and many other attractive stories related to his life and miraculous activities. Some of the other major literary works of śaṅkardeva are - Ram Vijaya, Pārijāt Haraņa, Patni Prasād, Kāliyā Damana, Keli Gopāla, Rukmiņi Haraņa and Cihna Yātrā. All these are plays. His other prose works are Haricandra Upākhyān, Bali Chalan, Guņamāla and Bhakti Ratnākar.
śaṅkardeva was the founder and the chief publicist of the Vaishnavite religion. The lyrics composed by Sāṅkardeva may be classified as the Bargīt and the Bhatima. He composed about 250 Bargīts. But most of these Bargīts were burnt down and only about 35 remained orally. These lyrics do have a special distinction of their own because of the sublimity of the themes, lucidity of expression, gravity of the classical ragas and restraint of imaginative power. This is why these lyrics have been called “Bargīts” (Noble Numbers). śaṅkardeva was also the pioneer in the field of Assamese dramatic literature. He composed his plays and also introduced the theatrical performances of “Bhaona” (a typical Assamese drama).
Another prominent figure in the field of Assamese literature during this period was Mādhavdeva (1489-1596), disciple of śaṅkardeva, who also authored several books, Bargīts and Bhatimas. His major works are: Namghosha, Chordhara, Pimpora, Guchowa and Bhumi Letowa.
After śaṅkardeva and Mādhavadeva, the written Assamese literature took a concrete shape both in terms of form and content. Some other major writers of this period are – Ananta Kandāli, Rām Saraswati, Ratnākar Kandāli, Gopāl Ātā, Srīdhar Kandāli and Bhattadev. Of them, Rām Saraswati created a class of poetry called the ‘Badhakāvya’, which had a distinctiveness of its own. He took the stories of the killing of the asuras or the demons from mythology as the themes of his ‘Kavya’. Bhaṭṭadeva, for the first time took prose as the sole medium of expression in literature. Therefore he is called the ‘Father of Assamese prose’.
1.3. PANCHĀLI LITERATURE:
Although most of the poets during the Vaishnavite age created their literary works being influenced by the Vaishnavite ideology, still there emerged a number of poets who were not directly influenced by that ideology-rather they stood aloof from the Vaishnavite ideology. This is why these poets are known as the non-Vaishnavite poets of the Vaishnavite age while their literary works are called “Panchāli literature”. The word panchāli has been derived from Sanskrit Panchāli or Panchālika, meaning “a puppet”. It may be due to the fact that their poems (mostly lyrics) were sung or recited by the ‘players’ with poses and gestures and with the help of dance and music taking the puppet dance as the model and so came to be known as ‘Panchāli literature’. The distinguished poets belonging to this class are - Pitāmvar, Mānkar, Durgavar and Sukabi Nārayandeva.
1.4. CARITPUTHI AND GENEOLOGY:
A particular category of written Assamese literature came into being during the period from the last decade of the sixteenth century to the beginning of the eighteenth century. This category came to be known as Caritputhi, containing the biographies of the religious preachers like Srī Srī śaṅkardeva and Mādhavadeva. The two main characteristics of the Caritputhi are that the writers of a Caritputhi were led by a tendency of hero worship, making their subjects above all kinds of criticism on one hand. On the other hand, they presented the subjects as more than human, having the power and capability of performing miraculous tasks. In any case, these may be said to be the earliest instances of biography in Assamese literature. Most of these works are written in poetic form while a few of them are in prose. Datas available till date reveal that these works will be around 30 in number.
Like the Caritputhi, the genealogies composed in poetic form are also a distinctive class of literature written during this period. In these genealogies, one may find chronological description of a royal family or some feudal and aristocratic families like those of the religious Gurus and Mahāntas.
1.5. LITERATURE DURING THE AHOM AGE:
It was during the Ahom age that the scope of written Assamese literature got noticeable expansion. The Ahoms contributed a lot in giving the royal status to the Assamese language. Dramas, Poems, lyrics and prose works were composed during this age too. Moreover, charit literature, historical works, Sakta literature, literature related to practical aspects of life and Islamic literature were also developed during this period. Similarly, prose works also saw its noticeable development. A good number of works composed in Sanskrit language related to Medical Science, Astronomy, Mathematics, Dance and Architecture were also translated into Assamese language. However, the most notable and infact a unique contribution of the Ahoms to Assamese literature was a kind of historical literature known as the “Buranji”. Although, their works cannot be said to be the scientific history in modern sense, the fact, however, remains that there are much materials of modern history in these works.
1.6. MODERN ASSAMESE LITERATURE:
It is generally held that Assam came under the British rule in 1826, according to the Iyandaboo pact. Since then, Assamese literature and also the academic world gradually came under the western influence and thus the modern age in Assamese literature also began. The American Baptist Missionaries offered the greatest contribution to the flowering of modern Assamese literature. It was due to the efforts made by them that the first Assamese journal ‘Arunodaya’ was published in 1846. Prior to this, Atmaram Sarma translated the Bible into Assamese in 1813 at the behest of these same missionaries. This Bible printed in Srīrāmpur is the first Assamese printed book. A good number of other remarkable works were also composed and printed through the efforts made by these zealous missionaries. Of these, mention may be made of “A Grammar of Assamese Language”, “Assam Buranji”, “Grammatical Notices of the Assamese Language”, “Asamiya Larar Mitra” and “A few remarks on Assamese language”. Miles Bronson, a missionary, compiled a dictionary entitled “Engraji- Asamiya Abhidhan” in 1867. This was the first Assamese dictionary containing about 14,000 words and it was the only guide of Assamese language till 1900.
Some of the noted writers of this period are- Anandarām Dhekiāl Phukan, Nidhirām Farwell, Gunabhirām Baruah, Hem Chandra Baruah, Bholānath Dās, Lambodar Borā, Bishnupriya Devi and Padmāvati Devī Phukanni.
The appearance of the journal ‘Jonaki’ was definitely a significant event in the field of development of Assamese literature. ‘Jonaki’ was published in1889 in the form of a monthly journal, being edited by Chandrakumar Agarwālla. ‘Jonaki’ brought the romantic ideology and form of English romantic literature to Assamese literature. Infact, modern Assamese literature in the true sense of the term was born with the publication of ‘Jonaki’. Two other journals- ‘Rāmdhenu’ and ‘Awahān’, which appeared after ‘Jonaki’, also contributed to a great extent towards the nourishment and development of modern Assamese literature.
Assamese literature in the twentieth century underwent a great number of changes, both in terms of form and content, obviously, due to the changed spirit of the changing time. While it reflected the fundamental changes brought about by the two great wars to the mankind as a whole on one hand, the literature in all genres went on being influenced by the western thoughts and philosophy on the other. Various kinds of experiments were made and are still being made both in terms of form and content.
In this section, we propose to discuss the origin and development of different genres in Assamese literature from the beginning till date. For doing so, it would definitely be convenient to proceed periodwise. The discussion will include the major tendencies of the literature of particular age along with the major writers and their works.
Instances of written Assamese literature before the fourteenth century are really rare. There are only some verses known as ‘Caryāpada’ as the instance of written literature during the period from tenth or eleventh century to fourteenth century A.D. Altogether, 46 in full and 1 in fraction Caryās written by 24 Buddhist pundits have been recovered so far.
These Caryās, meant to be sung are tuned to classical ragas. Each Caryā is like an enigma. Although the surface meaning appears to be very easy, the inner meaning is very hard to discover. The main theme of a Caryā is that, one has to leave every sort of worldly interest and to place one’s mind and heart in the space leaving aside all outer differences. The language of the ‘Caryāpada’ contains some characterization of Bengali, Maithali and Oriya languages too.
2.1.1. DAKAR VACHAN (Sayings of Daka):
Dakar Vachan may be cited as another instance of the written Assamese literature composed by Daka, a legendary figure whose date and place of birth is shrouded in mystery. It is also difficult to ascertain the exact period in which these sayings were written. However, scholars are of the opinion that most of the sayings were composed before the fifteenth century. These sayings, mainly reflecting the picture of an agrarian society, contain valuable and experience based advice relating to different practical aspects of life like religion, politics, agriculture, health and sanitation, classification of males and females, different rules and regulations prescribed by religion, concepts of God and heaven and hell, astronomy, previous symptoms of different seasons and the like.
2.1.2. LITERATURE OF INCANTATIONS:
This kind of literature, supposed to be written during the period between the eleventh century to the fifteenth century is also an important part of the earlier Assamese folk literature, which contains the picture of the medieval Assamese society with its popular customs, practices and traditions, its belief in the supernatural elements in varied forms including tantras (magical practices) and mantras (incantation). Written mainly in the colloquial language, these mantras were used for increase of harvest, downfall of enemy, welfare and development of one’s family including fulfillment of one’s sexual desire etc.
2.2. PRE-VAISHNAVITE AGE:
Poetic literature flourished during the fourteenth century. The contemporary kings and rulers mainly patronized the poets of this age. Assamese language began to take a concrete shape and became capable of expressing the thought and content of lofty literature. The poets of this period took their materials from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and a few other mythological works. Although the works of the poets of this period may be said to be translation in a sense, however, they painted the picture of a particular situation or atmosphere with local colour and thus tried to entertain the popular mind. The major poets of this age with their works are mentioned below:
Sl.No. Name of the Poet Works Remarks
1 Hem Saraswati ‘Prahlād Charita’
2 Kaviratna Saraswati ‘Jayadratha Badha’
3 Rudra Kāndāli ‘Sātyaki Prabesha’
4 Haribara Bipra ‘Babrubāhanar Yuddha’ ‘Lava-Kushar Yuddha’
5 Madhava Kāndāli ‘Rāmāyana’
2.3. VAISHNAVITE LITERATURE:
Vaishnavite movement in Assam was started by Srīmanta śaṅkardeva towards the last part of the fifteenth century. In fact, he affected a total renaissance in the national life of Assam as a whole. It was at a time when chaos and disorder prevailed in every sphere of life, particularly due to the emergence of different religious sects, dialects and varied customs and social taboos and absence of any moral and spiritual sense, that a state under utter immorality and licentiousness came to rule the life of the people that a personality like śaṅkardeva appeared on the scene to set things right. He was the founder of ‘Eka-Saran Nama Dharma’, that urged upon the people to be the devotees only of Lord Vishnu.
All Vaishnavite saints including śaṅkardeva took the help of literature, mainly with a view to preach and clarify their religious ideals among the people. Not withstanding the fact that most of the writings of the writers of this age are translation, they composed original writings in different genres like drama, lyrics and prose. In the case of translation works too, they often deviated from the originals and made additions and substractions without following any hard and fast rules, mainly with a view to paint their works with local colours and also to arouse religious sentiments in the minds of the readers. At this point, one must mention that śaṅkardeva was the first Assamese dramatist, who was also a pioneer in evolving an artificial literary language called ‘Brajabali’, which the writers of this period used in their writings. The writers of this period took materials for both original and translation works, from the Mahabhārata, the Rāmāyana and other mythological and historical works. According to literary genres, the works of the Vaishnavite age can broadly be divided as follows:
iv) Carit-puthi (biography) and
All the writers of this period were led by their main aim and objective, which was to make the people educated, cultured and religious minded and above all, to make them imbued with the ideals of Vaishnavism. Naturally, they had to control their imaginative faculty and as such their works suffered from certain limitations.
The major writers of the Vaishnavite age, also known as śankari age after the name of śaṅkardeva along with the works are mentioned below:
Sl. No Writers
Verses/ Lyrics Plays Caritputhi Prose Others
1. śaṅkardeva (1449-1568) A.D.
2.Rukmini Haran Kāvya
4. Amrit Manthan
5. Ajāmil Upākhayān
7.Bargīt & Bhatima
i) 1st, 2nd, 6th (Ajāmil Upākhayān) 8th (Balichalan, Amrit Manthan) 10th, 11th & 12th chapters of the Bhāgawata &
ii) Uttarakānda of the Ramayana.
4. Rukmini Haran
4. Bhakti Ratnakar (Song)
5.Nimi Navasiddha Samabad
2. Madhavdeva (1489-1596)
3. Rajsuya Kāvya
5. Bhakti Ratnāvali
2 Pimporā Guchowā
4.Bhumi Letowā Nāt
2. Ananta Kandali
1. 6th & 10th Chapter of the Bhāgawata (Translation)
3.Kumār Haran Kāvya
4. Mahirāvana Badh Kāvya
6.śeśh Daśam 1.Sitar Patal Prabesh
4. Ram Saraswati a) Based on the translation of the Mahabharata-
1. Adi Parba
2. Sabha Parba
3. Ban Parba
4. Udyog Parba
5. Drona Parba
6. Karna Parba
7.Gadā Parba and
(b) Having no direct link with the mahabharata
1. Vijay parba
2. Manichandra Ghosh Parba
3. Puspaharan Parba
4. Kālkubja Soshak Badh
5. Bhim Charit
6. Baghasur Badh
7. Kulachal Badh
8. Janghasur Badh
9. Jatāsur Badh
10. Panchali Bibāh
11. Sindhura Parba
13. Aswakarnar Yuddha
14. Khatasur Badh
15. Vyanjan parba
Among the few minor contemporary poets of ‘śaṅkari age’, mention may be made of Pitāmbar Kayastha, whose main poetic works are ‘Kirāt Parba’ and ‘Virāt Parba’. There was Ratnakar Kāndāli, whose chief poetic works are ‘Sahashranam Britānto’, ‘Brahmagita’ and ‘Gitakirtan’. śriīdhar Kāndāli had two works to his credit - ‘Kankhowa’ and ‘Ghunusha Kirtan’.
2.4. NON-VAISHNAVITE LITERATURE (Sixteenth Century):
A few poets during the period from the last part of the fifteenth century to the early part of the sixteenth century, not influenced by the Vaishnavite movement gave birth to a kind of literature that came to be known as ‘Panchali’ or ‘Ojapali’ literature. This literature can be divided into two categories – the first one describes the power of Manasha or Padmadevi (Goddess of Snakes) and the second one narrates stories from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and so on. In any case, both categories were composed in the same style and is performed by a group of five persons called ‘Ojapali’. The major poets of this trend with their major works are listed below:
i. Mythological Branch:
Sl.No. Poet Works Remarks
1 2 Pitambor Kabi
3. Bhāgawata (10th Chapter)
4. Markandeya Chandi
1. Giti Ramayana
2. Beula ākhyān
No. 2 is related to Manasha
ii. Manasha Branch:
1. Padma purana
2. Beula ākhyān
2.5. VAISHNAVITE LITERATURE: post śaṅkardeva period:
One hundred years after the demise of śaṅkardeva and Madhavdeva, i.e. the seventeenth century can be called the age of the origin and development of Caritputhi (biography) and the prose literature. Translations from the Mahabharata, the Ramayana, the Bhāgawata and other mythological works continued along with composition of plays, lyrics and verses. But the most remarkable characteristic of this period was the emergence of Caritputhi, prose literature and of history for the first time in Assamese Literature. A religious institution called ‘Satra’ (a Vaishnavite monastry) got importance and vastly expanded after the death of śaṅkardeva and Madhavdeva. The Vaishnava saints, in course of time came to be regarded, as ‘Avatars’ and it became a regular affair in the ‘Satras’ to hear to the descriptions of the lives and achievements including their power to perform miracles. As time went on, this practice was followed by the founders of different ‘Satras’ and thus the practice of writing the ‘Carit’ (character) got a firm footing, popularity and development.
The prose literature appeared for the first time towards the first decade of the seventeenth century. Baikunthanāth Bhāgawat Bhattacarya (Bhattadev) is regarded as the father of Assamese prose literature. No instances of prose literature are to be found in the different regional language of the contemporary northern India. Works in other genres, except Caritputhi and prose literature, were composed, following the literary style introduced by the literary stalwarts of the preceding century. No novelty is to be found, either in the application of rhythm or in treatment of the themes or in the narrative technique. While one can discern lucidity and simplicity in the scholarly written works of this period, there are however lack of originality and creative talent on the part of the authors.
Although a few historical works like ‘Banghgoria Buranji’, ‘Purani Asom Buranji’ and ‘Asom Buranji’ are supposed to have been written during the seventeenth century, however, this genre took a concrete shape and flourished only in the eighteenth century. A very few works on Mathematics and Astronomy were also composed and translated during this period.
This infact is a kind of biography that mostly glorified the lives and works of the subjects, ignoring their manly vices and shortcomings. Most of these are written in verses while a very few of them were composed in prose that was restraint. This genre can be classified into two. One gets a detailed description from the birth to death of a particular saint in the first category, while the second category contains the descriptions of life and achievements of more than one saint. These works also throw sufficient light on the contemporary socio-cultural atmosphere. The major writers of this genre with their works are listed below-
Among the poets of the royal court of Kochbehar, mention may firstly be made of śrīnāth Dwij, who translated Adiparba, Droupadi Swayamvara and Drona Parba of the ‘Mahābhārata’ into Assamese. He was a scholar poet. Kavi Sekhar composed ‘Kirat Parba’ of the ‘Mahābhārata’. Dwij Kaviraj translated ‘Bhiśma Parba’ and a part of ‘Drona Parba’. Dwijram also translated ‘Bhiśma Parba’.
Among the major lyricists of the seventeenth century, mention may be made of Rāmcharan Thākur, Doityari Thākur, Gopāl ātā, Sri Rām ātā, Rāmānanda Dwij, Bor Jadumani, Sanātan Dev, Aniruddha, Chaturbhuj Thakur, Purusottam Thakur and Padmapriya. These lyricists were obviously influenced by Bargīts (songs celestial) in terms of the themes, narrative style, language and in the use of rhetorics. While most of these were written in Brajabuli language, some of them also used Sanskrit simultaneously. Although the theme of most of the lyrics was on the childhood of Lord śrī Kriṣhna, a very few of them contained the story of Rāma and Sitā or some other minor themes. One noticeable aspect of these lyrics was that the character of Rādhā entered the lyrical texts during this period and thus “śringara Rasa” got a place in it.
2.7. CHANGE OF TASTES & COLOUR: (1700-1826):
Assamese literature changed its colour with the advance of the eighteenth century. Although translation works of the stories and episodes from the Rāmāyana, the Mahābhārata and the Bhāgawata continued along with the composition of Caritputhis, plays and lyrics, however, there emerged certain changes. It was during this period that some other genres appeared in the field of Assamese literature mainly due to the patronage of the Ahom Kings and lords and noblemen. They are (a) translation of mythological works containing (a) “śringara Rasa” (b) Sakta literature (c) History and (d) Applied Knowledge. A brief sketch of the literature produced in this period is given below.
Literature related to the Rāmāyana and the Mahābhārata (in verse):
Sl.No. Writers Works Remarks
1 Raghunāth Mahanta 1. Kathā Rāmāyana
2. Abdhūt Rāmāyana
2 Laxminath Dwij 1. śanti Parba
3 Prithuram Dwij 1.Musal Parba
4 Subhanath Dwij 1.Dharma Sambād
5 Vidyachandra Kabirakhar 1.Haribanśa Ch.Xix of the Mahabharata
6 Sista Bhattacarya 1.śiśupāl Badh
7 Vishnuram Dwij 1.Data Karna
8 Sagarkhari Doibanja 1.Kurmāvali Badh
Over and above the mentioned ones, there were a few other minor poets who translated different chapters of the Rāmśyana and the Mahābhārata in Assamese, by their non additions and substractions and portraying them with local colours wherever they thought to be necessary. Among them, mention however, may be made (their works in brackets) of - Dwij Vaidyanāth (Vanaparba), Dwij Mahinath (Prasthānik parba), Mśdhavcahndra (Swargārohan parba), Joidev Dwij and Brahmasundar (Sabhāparba), Dwij Laxmiram (Karnaparba), Dwij Raghurām (Bhiśmaparba and śantiparba) and Dwij Kaviraj (Bhiśma parba). All these poets enjoyed the patronage of King Harendra Nārāyana Cochbehari. Mythological works also were translated on a large scale during this period. Of these, more than one poet translated Brahmavaivarta purana, namely: Kaviraj Chakravorty, Baloram Dwij, Durgeswar Dwij and Ratikānta Dwij and his associates. Kavirāj Chakravorty’s other works include ‘Gitagovinda’, ‘Sankrasur Badh’, ‘śakuntala’ and ‘Bhaswati’. Some minor and anonymous poets also translated different parts of ‘Padmapurana’. Two books namely ‘Dharma Purana’ and ‘Kām Kumār harana’ (a play in Sanskrit) are credited to Kavichandra Dwij. Among the other notable translators of this generation (with their works in brackets), mention may be made of Bhubaneswar Vacaspati (Briha/tnārdiya Purana), Ramgovinda (Portion of Brahmānanda Purana and Vishnu Purana), Parasurām Dwij (Vishnu Purana), Ghanashyam Khargharia Phukan (Kalki Purana) and Kalidasa (Yamagitā).
2.8. PROSE LITERATURE:
Development of prose literature went hand in hand with that of poetic literature. Almost half of the literature during this period was produced in prose. The prose literature of this age may broadly be divided into four categories as follows: (i) Historical prose (ii) Caritputhis and Geneology (iii) Religious Prose and (iv) Miscellaneous prose.
2.8.1. HISTORICAL PROSE:
Historical prose literature may broadly be divided into two-Hisotry of Assam on the Ahom Kingdom and History of neighbouring states or countries. The first characteristic of this genre was that, these works were written in dialects. The second noticeable characteristic has been the objectivity of the writers, while third one has been the description of any event etc, with minute details. Words from Arabic and Persian vocabulary were used in an adopt manner. On the other hand, no major differences in the narration of different events etc among different histories prove their authenticity. Speeches, spoken by different persons were given in direct form. The historical works composed during the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries are as follows:
2. Purani Asom Buranji: Relates events from the beginning of the Ahom reign to the death of Gadādhar Singha (1696).
3. Tangkhungia Buranji: Authored by Srīnath Duwārā Borbaruah relates the events from the reign of Gadādhar Singha upto the reign of Chandrakānta Singha.
4. Deobhai Buranji: Relates the events of the early part of the Ahom reign and the political relations with the neighbouring states.
5. Tripura Buranji: Authored by Ratnā Kāndāli and Arjun Das Bairaji (in 1724), who were sent as emissaries to Tripura by Rudra Singha, this work authentically relates the history of Tripura, contemporary political situation and customs and traditions.
6. Kachari Buranji: Relates the history of the Kachari Kingdom from the earliest period to the reign of the king Tamraddhaj, a contemporary of Rudra Singha.
7. Jayantia Buranji: Relates the history of the Kahsi and the Jayantia Kingdom from the earliest period to the reign of the Jayantia King Laxmi Singha, a contemporary of the Ahom King- Siva Singha.
8. Asom Burani-(i): Relates in details, the history from the earliest period to the reign of Gadadhar Sngha.
9. Asom Buranji(ii): Relates the history from the days of Jayaddhaj Singha to the reign of Gaddhar Singha.
10. Asom Buranji Puthi: Authored by Kashināth Tāmuli Phukan and Radhanāth Barboruah, this work relates the history from the earliest period to the advent of the British.
11. Kamrup Buranji: Carries detailed description of the struggle between the Ahom and the Moghals during the seventeenth century along with a few legendary descriptions of kings of the pre Ahom age.
12. Padshah Buranji: Contains the history from the downfall of Prithviraj Chouhan to the days of the Moghal emperor Aurangzeb.
13. Satsori Asom Buranji: Seven histories written in different periods have been complied in this work.
14. Sabraminar Buranji: Authored by Harkānta Baruah Sadramin, this work contains all the major events in brief of the Ahom reign from the beginning till the end.
On the whole, apart from giving a clear picture of the political scenario of the time, these works also throw much light on the contemporary social customs and traditions.
Of the Caritputies, written in prose during the eighteenth century, mention may be made of “Katha-guru Charit” edited by Upendra Chandra lekharu”, ‘Bordowa Guru Charit’ published in Banhi by Laxminath Bezbaruah, ‘Santa Sampuada’ by Govinda Das and ‘Sat Sampradayar Kathā’ supposed to be written by Bhattadev. These were composed in the refined and modified form of dialect. Use of comparisons, examples, quotations from the verses, phrases and idioms and direct speeches are the most notable characteristics of these works and these inturn made them interesting and enjoyable readings.
2.8.3. RELIGIOUS PROSE WRITINGS:
Over and above ‘Kathā Rāmāyana’, which has already been mentioned, there are a few more like ‘Kathā Ghosa’ by Parasurām, translation of the portion of ‘Padma Purana’ and that of ‘Sattattantra’, which are the mentionable ones. The writers of later two are anonymous. Another anonymous work ‘Tirtha Kaumudi’ narrates the geographical and historical descriptions of different holy places all over India and distances to the these places from the kingdom of Jayantiā.
2.8.4. PROSE WRITINGS ON APPLIED KNOWLEDGE:
Of the prose writings on applied knowledge composed during the Ahom period, the notables are ‘Hastividyama’ by Sukumār Barkath (1734), ‘Ghorā-Nidan’ (1740) and ‘Bhaswati’ by Kaviraj Chakravorty. A few others are ‘Ankjar Arya’ on ‘Mathematics’ ‘śrī Hasta Muktavali’, on dance and ‘Kamaratna Tantra’. Of sermon literatures, mention may be made of ‘Hitopadesha’ and ‘Niti Latankur’ translated from Sanskrit by Bageesh Dwij. Rudraram Dwij translated ‘Nitīratna’, originally written in Sanskrit by Achārya Kavisekhar.
2.8.5. GENEOLOGY AND CARITPUTHI IN VERSE:
< br> The historical kavyas (verses) written under the patronage of the Coch Kings are known as “Rājvanśāvali” or “Vanśāvali”. Of these, ‘Darrang Rajvanśāvali’ (1791) by Suryakhari Doibanja, ‘Kharga Nārāyanar Vanśāvalki’ (1803) by Ratikanta Dwij and ‘Gandharva Nārāyanar Vanśāvali’ (1840) by Suryadev Siddhanta-Bagīsh relate the Vanśāvalis of the branch states like Bijni, Darrang, Beltola, Rani and so on besides that of Cochbehar. The poetic imagination of the writers have coloured these works, composed in verses. Of course, imagination has not overpowered the historical facts. However, there is a tendency of hero worship on the part of the writers.
The eighteenth century saw remarkable development of Caritputhis, which along with the Vanśāvalis are complimentary to the histories. Here too, one finds a tendency of hero-worship on one hand while in some cases, the writers have also portrayed these subjects with supernatural elements. The following are the major works of this genre written from the early part of eighteenth century to the early part of the nineteenth century.
Writers Works Remarks
1. Nilkanthadas Damodar Carit
2. KrishnaMisra Damodar Carit
3. Jaynarayan Laksmipati Carit
4. Bhaūadev Kathāgūru Carit
5. Purusaūram Thakur Bordowa Carit
6. Purnananda & others Gopaldevar Carit
7. Jaynarayan Ramgopal Carit
8. Ramakanta Banamalidevar Carit
9. Ambarish Dwij Keshavdev Carit
10. Bhadracharu Das Anantorai Carit
11. Vidya Ojha
2.Aai Kanaklata Carit
12. Aniruddha Das Guru Bornana
13. Banes war & Dibakar Dwij Haridev Carit
2.8.6. TANTRIK AND SAKTA LITERATUARE:
It was during the reign of the Ahom King Rudra Singha that Sakta religion took its root in Assam and with this, Sakta literature also came into being. However, works of this genre are very few in comparison to Vaishnavite literature. The major writers of this genre (with their works in brackets) are as follows: Ananta Acharya (Ananda Lahari), Ruchinath Kāndāli (Markandeya Chandiand Kalki Purana), Banganath Chakravorty and Madhusudhan Misra (Markandeya Chandi), Ramachandra Borpatra (Yogini Tantra) and three works namely ‘Kālika Purana’, ‘Guptamoni’ and ‘Guptasar’ are by anonymous writers.
2.8.7. PLAYS AND LYRICS:
Nothing new is observed in the plays and lyrics composed during this period. The writers followed the main style set by the Vaishnavite poets. No originality of these writers is seen in the development of plots or in the art of characterization or in the use of dialogues that were mainly composed in verses. Knowledge of Sanskrit language of the writers also appears to be poor. The dramatists mainly followed the model set by śaṅkardeva, instead of that set by Madhavdeva. The major play-wrights (with their works in brackets) of this period are: Ruchidev (Kumar harana and Satskandha Rāvana Badh), Harendra Das (Durvasa Bhojana and Bālichalan), Madhava (Bhisma Niryatan) Jaydev (Sindhu Yātra), Kamalchandra (Kutachal Badh), Lashmināth Das (Kumar Harana Nat), Gopikanta (Karna Badh), Lashmikanta Das (Harmohan), Harendra Dev (Putana Badh and Durvāsā Bhojana), Lashmināth (Narasingha Yātra) and Purnakānta (Sindhu Yātra). Some other playwrights of this period were śrī rām (Subhadra Harana), Lashmidev (Ravana Badh), Ramchandra Atā (Kangsa Badh), Bhāvadev (Sambhasura Badh), Gopāl (Jarāsandha Badh) and Raseswar (Brittasur Badh).
While the ‘Bhoana’ performances enjoyed a special adoration during this period, a kind of Sanskrit plays in imitation of the Vaishnavite plays were also composed under the patronage of the Ahom Kings. Of these plays, mentionable ones are ‘Dharmodays’ by Dharmadev Bhatta, ‘Kam Kumor Harana’ by Kavichandra Dwij, ‘Bighnesh Janmodaya by Kavi Surya’ and ‘Sankhasur Badh’ by Deen dwij. A kind of musical plays called ‘Dhura’ was also composed in imitation of the Bengali jatra towards the end of the eighteenth century.
Lyrics were also composed. However, these were more or less, imitation of the lyrics composed during the Vaishnavite period and as such lacked originality. More than five hundred of such lyrics have been complied in ‘Sri Ram Aru Ramanandra Gīt’, ‘Gīt Mandakini’, ‘Jadumanidevar Gītghosa’, ‘Sanjakarottar Gīt Sankalan’ and ‘Bhaktihgīt pad Sanchayani’ edited respectively by Dr. Birinchi Kumar Barua, Rajeeblochan Goswami, Kumud Chandra Mahanta, Dr. Keshavananda Goswami and Dr. Satyendra Nath Sarma. Some historical folk songs like ‘Jaymati Kunwarir gīt’, ‘Padum Kunwarir gīt’ and ‘Gourinath singhar gīt’ including the ‘Zikirs’ by Azan Phakir belong to this period.
2.8.8. SUPHIST LITERATURE:
Due to frequent attack of Assam by the Muslims, political relation was established and the process of cultural exchanges started. In course of time many of the Muslims did not return to their native places and stayed back here. As such, those of the Muslims naturally influenced the socio-political and cultural aspects of the life of the Ahoms. The Muslims religious saints including Azan Phakir composed the ‘Zikirs’ in Assamese, mainly with a view to publicize the Islamic religious oideology. ‘Zikirs’ were followed by ‘Zaris’, which are pathetic in tune narrating the misfortune of Hassan and Hossain at Karbala. Three other works, namely ‘Mrigāvati Carit’ by Ram Dwij,’ ‘Chandrāvali’ by Pashupati Dwij and ‘Madhumālati’ (anonymous) have mediated Hindi Suphist verses as their base.
‘Purna Bhāgawata’ by Krishnananda Dwij, ‘Vaishnavi Gita’ by Balkanta, ‘Narad Carit’ by Vishnu Das and ‘Bhakti Premāvali’ by Norottam Thakur are religious writings. ‘Ashok Carit’ by Kamdev Vipra, ‘Lashmi Carit’ by Jagannāth Dwij and ‘Mohamoha Kavya’ by Rāmānanda Dwij are supposed to have been written during the late seventeenth or the early eighteenth century.
2.8.10. END OF AN ERA:
It is generally held that Assam came under the British rule after the Iyandaboo pact which was signed in 1926. As such, literature also changed its colour and taste and this change was fundamental with the advent of the Christian missionaries. The seeds of modern Assamese literature were sown in 1836. However, a few writers went on working, following the earlier style and tradition. Mention may be made of Dutirām Hāzārika (Kali Bharat Buranji), Biseswar Baidyadhip (Belimar Buranji), Lalit Chandra Goswami (Kelirahashya) and Purna Kanta Sarma (Nala Carit).
3. ASSAM VALLEY LITERARY AWARD:
The most prestigious literary award in Assamese literature is the Assam valley literary award. The major Literary Trust awards this award introduced in 1990, for creative literature. The award carries an amount of Rupees Two lakhs in cash and a citation and a specially made trophy.
Copyright CIIL-India Mysore