Assamese literature is the body of writings spoken chiefly in the Assam state of India. Prahlada Charitra is probably one of the earliest Assamese write-ups written by the 13th- century poet Hema Saraswati. In this, the story from Vishnu- Purana was written in heavy Sanskritized style.
The first recognized Assamese poet was Madhava Kandali, from the 14th century, whose most recognized work is a translation of Sanskrit Ramayana and who wrote Devajit (a story about Lord Krishna). After the beginning of the bhakti movement, Sankaradeva, whose most of the Assamese Literature Books were works of poetry and devotion still read, became very popular.
One of the first plays written in the Assamese language was playwright and lexicographer Hemchandra Barua’s Kaniyar Kirtan (The Revels of an Opium Eater) in 1861, about opium addiction. His plays addressed social issues very widely. Barua also wrote Bahire Rongsong Bhitare Kowabhaturi (Fair Outside and Foul Within) was written in the same year. The year 1940 is marked as a shift toward psychological narrative, but World War II affected the literary development in Assam very badly, almost ending.
When writers resumed after the war, the long break finished that era of writing. Along with the influence of Western literature, the area of most unexpected growth was the development of the novel. The short stories never came off the screen. However, writers began experimenting with an aesthetic that reflected the contemporary world. By the start of the 21st century, different forms of literature such as biography, travelogue, and literary criticism had also taken a good hold in Assam.
The first reference to the language of Assam was found in the account of famous Chinese monk-cum-traveller Xuanzang. He visited during the reign of Kumar Bhaskara Varman of the Varman dynasty and the Kamarupa Kingdom. While visiting Kamarupa in the 7th century, he also noted that the region’s language was a bit different from the language of Middle India, which was Magadha.
In the 12th-14th century period, the works of Ramai Pandit (Sunya Puran), Bhavani Das (Mainamati Gan), Sukur Mamud (Gopichandra Gan), Boru Chandidas (Krishna Kirtan), and Durllava Mullik (Gobinda Chandra Git) held a strong grammatical relationship to Assamese. Their expressions and use of adi-rasa are found in the later Panchali works of Mankar and Pitambar. The fully differentiated Assamese literature finally emerged in the 14th century.
Pre-Shankari literature Between 1300-1490 AD
This period witnessed the flourishing of two kinds of literary activity: translations and adaptations, and choral songs (Oja Pali), which were great theatre attractions.
Shankari literature between 1490-1700 AD
The Shankardeva or Shankari era is an era of greatest recognition in Assamese literature, incorporating the literary works produced mostly as pertinent to the Neo-Vaishnavite movement, which propagated the Ekasarana Nama-Dharma. Sankardeva’s contribution to Assamese literature is multidimensional and widely spread through different genres of literature. He produced a large body of work in Assamese Literature. Although there were other writers before him who wrote in the common language, Sankardev only introduced this and inspired other writers like Madhavdev to carry on where he left off. His other prominent literary works include the rendering of eight Assamese Literature books of the Bhagavata Purana, including the Adi.
Dasama , Harishchandra-upakhyana, Nimi-navasiddha-samvada, Bhakti-ratnakara, Anadi-patana, Bhakti-pradip, Gunamala and many plays like Cihna Yatra, Rukmini haran, Keli gopal, and Kurukshetra yatra.
Bhattadeva, another notable writer of this period, is now known as the father of Assamese prose. Katha Bhagavata, Katha Gita, Bhaktiratnavali, Bhakti Viveka etc., are his prominent works in the Assamese Literature books.
Post-Shankari literature between 1700-1826 AD
With the expansion of power and borders of the Ahom kingdom, other literary works other than Neo-vaishnavite centric started gaining popularity rapidly in the 18th century. At the same time, the tradition of composing works based on Sanskrit scriptures continued to prosper. Raghunath Mahanta was one of the most important figures of this period. His well-known works include Katha-Ramayana, Adbhut Ramayan and Satrunjoy- all of them are based on the Ramayana. The translation of texts related to practical knowledge included the translation of Srihastha Muktavali on Dance and mudra by Such and Ojha, translations of Kamaratna- Tantra, and Bhaswati by Kaviraj Chakraborti. Hastividyarnava, authorised under the patronage of king Siva Singha and translated by Sukumar Barkaith, is strictly based on the Sanskrit text Gajendra-Chintamoni written by Sambhunath. Books like Ghora Nidaan and Aswanidaan by Surjyakhari Daivajna were also compiled during the same period.
This is the period of the prose chronicles (Buranji) of the Ahom court. The Ahoms had brought with them an instinct for historical writings. From the early 17th century onwards, court chronicles were written widely. These chronicles /buranjis broke away from the style of the religious writers. The language is typically modern except for slight alterations in spelling and grammar.
Effect of British rule on Assamese Literature
In 1836 the British imposed Bengali rule in Assam after the Bengal Presidency occupied and annexed the state. Due to language imposition, the progress of education in Assam continued to be slow and highly defective, and many Bengalis were employed in the different schools of Assam. The writing of textbooks in Assamese for school children did not get any approval, and Assamese literature naturally suffered in the growth. Because of the sustained campaign in 1873, Assamese was reinstated as the state language. In recent times, along with the growth of Guwahati as a political and commercial centre of Assam, the Standard Assamese has drawn away from its roots in the Eastern dialect.
Assamese literature is the body of writings in Assamese literature spoken chiefly in Assam state, India. The history and present state of Assamese Literature is discussed briefly in the article above. Hope you found this article helpful.