Assamese literature has a glorious and deep-rooted past Popular folk compositions of wisdom and light hearted mirth like the Bihu songs, ban-gets, the cradle songs, and the pastoral ballads, characterised by spontaneity and simplicity, are early specimens of unwritten Assamese poetry. The aphorisms of Dak Mahapurush, wise maxims om economic activities as well as social behaviour, constitute the earliest didactic compositions in Assamese, so far recorded in books. Assam has an unbroken heritage of written literature starting from at least the 13th century. The earliest known patronage of such efforts had come from the Kamata royal court since two of the earliest Assamese poets Harivara Vipra and Hema Saraswati wrote benedictory verses in praise of the Kamata King Durlabh Narayan.

In the 14th century emerged Madhava Kandali, an extremely powerful and sensitive poet on whom was bestowed the patronage of the Barahi King Mahamanikya Kandali rendered the Valmiki Ramayana into most graceful and elegant Assamese verse. It is interesting to note that of all the versions of Valmiki’s great epic into other Indian languages, Madhava Kandali’s was the earliest.

But the most glorious period of Assamese literature was the 15th and 16th centuries, when rose to the fore two uncommon luminaries- Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva, both of whom are being considered Mahapurushas by the people.

Both being great Sanskrit scholars, Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva took Assamese language and literature to unprecedented heights of artistic excellence. What is more, the high spiritual and artistic ideals combined with a whole some sense of direction held aloft first by Sankaradeva and then by Madhavadeva, inspired a whole lot of creative writers, both during their lifetimes and after. As a result, Assamese Vaishnavite literature is exceptionally rich in volume, range and flavour. Literature of Shakta affiliation as well as works on various secular subjects also equally developed through the centuries.

Apart from poetry of which Assamese literature possesses many real gems like the Kirtana-ghosha of Sankaradeva and the Namghosha of Madhavadeva, the two field in which it excels are drama and prose. The plays written by the two Mahapurushas are recognised as the earliest specimens of purely vernacular dramatic literature in the sub-continent.

As for prose, Assamese literature has a would-standing for at least one particular reason. It was as early as the sixteenth century that Vaikunthanath Bhattacharyya, more popularly known as Bhattadeva, rendered the Bhagavata and Gita into such mature prose that evoked spontaneous and unstinted admiration from the most enlightened quarters.

Indeed the prose Bhattadeva composed in the sixteenth century is unique in its kind. …… It is a priceless treasure that Assamese prose literature developed in the distant sixteenth century which no other literature of the world reached except the writings of Hooker and Latimer in England, “ says Acharya Prafulla Chandra Roy.And then Rabindra Nath Tagore is on record, saying : “ You may very well be proud of the author of this book who could handle prose in such a remarkably lucid style more than a century before we had any prose book in Bengal.”

Historical literature is yet another wealth of Assam. This tradition of writing buranji, as history is called in Assamese, is the contribution of the Ahom dynasty. These are chronicles of royal courts and noble families first written in the Tai language and then in Assamese. Assamese buranji literature is unique in the whole of India not only because they contain invaluable historical material, but also because they represent an unmatched literary style.

Sir G. A. Grierson, the eminent scholar, commenting on this unique character of the buranji, said : “The Assamese are justly proud of their national literature. In no department have they been more successful than in a branch of study in which, India , as a rule is curiously deficient.

The historical works of buranjis are numerous and voluminous. A knowledge of buranjis was an indispensable qualification for an Assamese gentleman.”

The history of modern Assamese literature begins with the merger of Assam with British India in 1826. The initial years were difficult, especially with the British making Bengali and not Assamese the language of the schools and courts from 1835 to 1871. This situation however was reversed and Assamese was restored to its rightful position, with the American Baptist Mission taking a lead role. The Mission also brought out the first Assamese newspaper, Orunodoi in 1846. The Mission’s efforts to promote Assamese literature was followed by the nationalistic zeal and single-minded devotion of literary stalwarts like Ananda Ram Dhekial Phukan, Lakshminath Bezbaroa, Padmanath Gohain Barual, Hem Chandra Goswami. Chandra Kanta Agarwala, and others.

Modern Assamese literature is as the literature in any other major language in India. People like Birendra Kumar Bhattacharyya (also only winner of the coveted Jnanpith Award), Bhabendra Nath Saikia, Syed Abdul Malik, Homen Borgohain, Nava Kanta Baruah, Devkanta Barua, Nirmal Prabha Bordoloi, Nilmani Phikan, Mmoni Raisom Goswami etc. have been recognized as writers of great repute all over the country.As for the tribal languages, Bodo has developed noticeably in the last few decades. But the other tribal languages are also no less poor, taking intoconsideration the fact that each is a rich storehouse of oral folk literature,with myths, legends, tales, songs, proverbs, riddles, lullabies and rhymes..

The Asam Sahitya Sabha, the biggest literary body in Eastern India, is the organisation which plays the most important role in co-ordinating efforts of the writers and bringing the masses closer to the written word. In fact the annual sessions of the Sabha are worth seeing going by the fact that they draw crowds in lakhs, thus proving the Sabha’s mass following.

The Bodo Sahitya Sabha on the other hand is a pioneer body in co-ordinating the activities of Bodo writers, Of late, the Asam Sahitya Sabha and the Bodo Sahitya Sabha have taken up joint programmes to encourage writers coming from the tribal Communities.