Notes on Assamese Literature

Assam is the north eastern most state in modern India. In the Mahabharta and Ramayana and other Puranas of  ancient times, it was known by the name PragJoytish. The modern name is associated with Ahom, the Shan tribe which invaded the Assam in 1229 AD and ruled it for many centuries. Earliest specimens of the use of language are traced to name and places inscriptions on copper plates in the reign of Kamarupa kings. Earliest form of  language is in the form of Baudha Gan O Doha, a work on Yogic practices in the 8th to 10th century can be considered as the formative phase.

The literature seems to have begun in the reign of Durlabhnarayana who was the king of Kamatapur in 13th century beginning. First Assamese book called “Prahlad Charitra” was composed by Hema Saraswati. It was in the rhyme and borrowed the inspiration from Sanskrit literature. After the Durlabhnarayana, in the reign of his son Indranarayana, two poets Harihar Vipra and Kaviratna Saraswati composed verse narratives also. Harihara’s notable work was Babrubahanar Yuddha  and Kaviratna wrote Jaidaratha Badha Kavya. The influence of Aryan literature in North West India is very clear.

Madhav Kandali, in the reign of Kachari king Mahamankiya in the 13th century, undertook the stupendous task of translating Ramayana into Assamese. Due to this effort, he was given the title of Kaviraj and called as Kaviraj Kandali. While being honest to the original text,his work is very lucid and less Sanskrit laden. He freed the literature from the Sanskrit and added the local flavor.

Joymati: The first Assamese Film

Joymati released in 1935, was the first ever Assamese langauge film. Based on Lakhminath Bezbaruah’s play on the 17th century story of Sati Joymati, the film was produced and directed by the noted Assam poet Joytiprasad Agarwala, and starred Adieu Handique and acclaimed stage actor and playwright Phani Sharma. Incidentally, Agarwala’s forefathers came to Assam from Marwar in search of setting the business in Assam.

Legend of Joymati

Joymati was the wife of the Ahom prince Gadapani. During the purge of the princes from 1679 to 1681 under King Sulikphaa (Loraa Roja) instigated by Laluk Sola, Gadapani took flight. At various times he took shelter at Sattras and the adjoining hills outside the Ahom kingdom. Failing to trace Prince Gadapani, Sulikphaa’s soldiers picked up his wife Joymati. Despite brutal and inhuman torture, the princess did not reveal the whereabouts of her husband. After continuous torture for several days she expired.

Joymati’s self-sacrifice bore fruit later. Laluk was murdered in November 1680 by a disgruntled body of household retainers. The ministers were now roused to a sense of patriotism, they made a search for Gadapani. Gadapani gathered strength came back from his exile in Garo hills to oust Sulikphaa from the throne. Joymati knew that her husband was the only person who could end Sulikphaa-Laluk terror rule. For her love and supreme sacrifice for her husband and the country, folk accounts refer to her as a Sati

Akashitora Dutta

Akashitora Dutta has pleasing personality and talent with which she has lent glamour and substance to many television programmes and films. She has tragedies in her life which she hides behind the facade of journalism and acting in serials and films.

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Model, actor and writer Akashitora Dutta, whose father Kamala Saikia was the first journalist to be killed by Ulfa militants, is working on a cathartic second novel that will lay bare the erosion of the values which the banned militant group claims to uphold. Coming 15 years after her father?s death, the novel is based on real-life events ? from the journalist?s murder to the kidnapping and killing of social worker Sanjoy Ghose.

Akashitora, now 35 and a mother of one, is writing the novel in Assamese, but it will also be published in English and Bengali. ?This is not only my story, but of all those who have suffered because of militancy. It has to be told not only to those who read Assamese, but to all in the country and outside,? she said.

The multi-faceted actor?s previous novel, Xei Prem, was moderately successful.

Akashitora, who earned a PhD from Gauhati University for her thesis on the “Changing Profile of the Educated Assamese Housewife”, laments about UFLA outfit and says that the initial Robin Hood image of Ulfa militants had become a myth. ?Her father, who was a fountainhead of inspiration, was killed in a brutal manner just because he took up cudgels against some of the wrong ideologies adopted by the outfit. she vividly remembers the days when the outfit threatened my father not to write a single word against them,? she said.

After Kamala Saikia was killed on August 9, 1991, his shocked daughter moved away from the limelight for a while. But acting was too close to her heart and she returned to tote up an impressive oeuvre of more than 45 television serials, 50 telefilms and six films.

Akashitora’s initiation into acting was on a stage in Sivasagar when she was just four. Playing the role of little Krishna, she impressed the audience so much that one admirer gifted her a gold coin. She never looked back after being adjudged as the best actress and debater in a Gauhati University youth festival in 1987. So convincing was she as a Naga woman, Kemi, in a drama staged during the festival that the name “Kemi” became her moniker, her cognomen. As a writer, Akashitora focuses primarily on women.

Latest, I heard about her is that she is going to play a special role in the forthcoming Assamese movie titled “Surjyasta”. The film was announced in December 2011.