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Padmanath Gohain Baruah

by Babul Tamuli

Padmanath Goain Baruah was the first president of Asom Sahitya Sabha, the biggest literary organisation of Assam. A pioneer in nationalist movement in Assam his immense contributions to the domain of Assamese language and literature made him one of the greatest persons of 20th century Assam. Considering his towering personality and profound knowledge he is regarded as the Pitamaha (great grandfather) in Assamese literary world. In recognition of his outstanding contributions to the Assamese literature and society, the British government gave him Raibahadur title, a rare honour conferred for the first time to an Assamese person. He was also the first literary pensioner of Assam.

Padmanath was one of the brightest students who went to Kolkata in the last part of the 19th century to pursue higher study. There he became an active member of Asomiya Bhasar Unnati Sadhini Sabha, set up by a number of Assamese students for the uplift of Assamese language and literature. Due to his ill luck he could not complete his BA examination but there he learnt the lesson of nationalism. Returning home he dedicated himself for the uplift of his mothertongue and wrote a number of books in various styles and forms.

The school education of Padmanath started in a Bengali medium school at his birthplace Nakari near North Lakhimpur town. Following the advice of a section of people the British government introduced Bengali as a medium of instructions in the schools of Assam replacing Assamese in 1836. After relentless effort of a number of nationalist leaders Assamese was reinstated in 1872. But want of textbooks created another problem in Assamese medium schools of the State. To solve the problem Padmanath with his friend Panindranath Gogoi wrote a number of textbooks in Assamese language. But untimely death of Panindranath led Padmanath to complete the mission alone. To meet the necessities of the Assamese students and teachers he wrote a number of textbooks on history, geography, moral science, teachers hand book and a book on physical exercise including life and works of many stalwarts of Assamese Society. He also edited Jivani Sangrah, a rare book in Assamese literature.

Padmanath left an indelible imprint on Assamese literary world as a founder of modern Assamese novel. His novel Lahori, published in 1892 is regarded as the first Assamese novel. Though a number of his predecessors wrote few novels in Assamese but from literary point of view Lahori is regarded as the first Assamese novel. Taking a glorious chapter of Assam history he wrote another novel Bhanumoti first published serially in Bijulee, a monthly magazine edited by Krishnaprasad Duwara. He also proved his dexterity as a poet and Lila kabya, Jurani, Phular Saneki bore testimony to his calibre.

As a playwright Padmanath was comparable to none in Assamese drama and theatre. He wrote a number of dramas on local plots and events. Picking up a number of glorious chapters from Assam history he wrote historical dramas like Joymoti, Gadadhar, Lachit Borphukan and Sadhani. On the basis of the legendary love story of Usha and Aniruddha he wrote a mythological drama called Ban Raja. In his social drama Gaonburha he neatly described the economic condition of Assamese people under the British rule. His comedy Teton Tamuli and Bhoot Ne Bhram created spontaneous overflow of laughter among the readers and audiences.

His magnum opus, Sri Krishna is the most precious contribution to the Assamese language and literature. Collecting substances from Bhagavata, Purana, Harivansha, Gita and Mahabharata he wrote it in the last part of his life. Not considering as an incarnated person Gohain Baruah analysed the multifaceted personality of Sri Krishna in modern perspective and established him as a perfect man. According to renowned critic Dr Mahendra Bora, Gohain Baruah’s Sri Krishna is an epic drama, novel as well as an autobiography. No other writer in any part of the world so lucidly wrote a book on a legendary person like Sri Krishna.

A flagbearer of journalism movement in Assam, Gohain Baruah was closely associated with a number of Assamese journals and magazines. While studying in Kolkata, he with Krishnaprasad Duwara brought out an Assamese monthly called Bijulee. Later he became its editor and ran it for more than three years. In 1901 he with Joydev Sarma published a weekly called Asom Banti from Tezpur. At a most critical period Asom Banti played a leading role in Assamese language and literature. Acting as a mouthpiece of Assamese society it brought to the focus many important issues to the British government. In 1906 Gohain Baruah published a monthly called Usha. Many stalwarts like Hemchandra Goswami, Satyanath Bora, Sarat Chandra Goswami etc. regularly wrote in the magazine that heralded a new era in Assamese literature.

The multidimensional life of Padmanath Gohain Baruah was not confined only in literary world. A reputed teacher, social organiser and reformer he was an active member of Asomiya Bhasar Unnati Sadhini Sabha which later gave birth to Asom Sahitya Sabha. He was instrumental in expanding the Sabha in Assam. While he was a teacher at Kohima he founded a branch of the Sabha at Naga hills. He was also a secretary of Ban Stage, the centurian theatre hub of Tezpur for long seven years. He founded Ahom Sabha and represented the first Assam Legislative Council, as an Ahom member.

Courtesy: The Assam Tribune (November 2006)

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