The official language of Assam, Assamese is the easternmost Indo-Aryan language. Though mostly spoken in the state of Assam, the language is also used in parts of Arunachal Pradesh and other northeast Indian states. Basically found along the Brahmaputra valley, Assamese sounds quite similar to Bengali, with the exception of a few, minor differences only. In fact, the old text Charya Padas is claimed by both Old Assamese and Old Bengali. To know more about Assamese language, its history, literature writing style and grammar, browse through the following lines.
There is not much information on the history of Assamese language, either in the form of historical records or otherwise. All that we know is that the initiation of Assamese and the other related languages, such as Maithili, Bengali and Oriya, came from Magadhi Prakrit. In fact, Magadhi Prakrit gave rise to four Apabhramsa dialects, out of which one further gave rise to the dialects in West Bengal and Assamese, in the Brahmaputra valley. With time, the language recorded developments and today, it is spoken by a large number of people in India.
The oldest Assamese writer was Hema Saraswati, who wrote the famous Prahlada Charita in late 13th century AD. Madhava Kandali (14th century) was another well-known figure in Assamese literature, having written a vernacular Ramayana. The prominent works of 15th century Assamese writers include Giti Ramayana by Durgavara, poems and songs from the Puranas by Pitambara and Manakara and the mass of literature called 'Mantras' (of unknown authorship). The echoes of the Bhakti Movement of 15th century, which took over the whole of India, were felt in Assam too, under the leadership of Shankara Deva.
Vishnu and his incarnation, Krishna, took the altar position in Assam, as the God of Love and the Vaishnava Renaissance followed. While Shankara Deva wrote a host devotional songs and translations from the Sanskrit canon, Rama Saraswati’s lucid translation of the Mahabharata and Vadha Kavyas (stories from the Puranas) also achieved immense popularity. This was the best thing that could happen to literature - not only was it made easier for the common people, but Assamese as a language also got a facelift.
Here, we must mention Ahoms of Burma, who ruled Assam and gradually settled penned down chronicles called Buranjis (1228 to 1824), a unique collection of prose. During this phase, a mass of technical literature on astrology, medicine, mathematics, music, dancing and so on, based on Sanskrit works, was also written. In the modern period, the political upheavals too, were felt in the literary scene. Though Bengali gained an upper hand, it was not long before the Christian missionaries, Nathan Brown and Miles Bronson, helped resume writings in Assamese.
The later half of the 19th century witnessed a flood of literary activities in Assam, the enthusiasm of which spilled over to the present century. Dictionaries, like Hema Chandra Baruwa’s Hema Kosha, were written and magazines, such as Arunodaya Samvad Patra (1846) and Asam Bandhu (1885), were launched. A fresh style of prose, based on the spoken language, became the order of the day. Anandaram Dhekial Phukan (1829-96) and Gunabhiram Baruwa (1837-95) were the two big names of this age. Short poems and novels, dramas, lyrics and folk poetry pleased the literary circles.
A generation of novelists and poets like Rajanikanta Bardaloi (1867-1939), Hiteshwar Bezbarua (1871-1931), Chandra Kumar Agarwala (1867-1938), Padmanath Gohain Baruwa (1871-1946), Benudhar Raj Khowa (1872-1935) and his contemporary Raghunath Chaudhari, wrote profusely in an age of nationalism and social reforms. The Assamese literature of today has a vibrant short-story genre. Some of the best writers of the present generation are Phul Goswami, Indira Goswami, Harendra Kumar Bhuyan, Arupa Patangia Kalita and Manoj Kumar Goswami.
Writing Style & Grammar
A variant of the Eastern Nagari script, Assamese script has its roots laid down to the Gupta script. The language had a unique style of writing, on the bark of the saanchi tree. In fact, the religious texts and chronicles in Assamese have been written on the same bark only. The spellings in Assamese, which were initially in use, are not phonetic. Instead, Hemkosh, which is the second dictionary of Assamese, is known to have introduced Sanskrit-based spellings in the language, which are deemed as standard, today.