Factors that led to the development of Assamese poetry
When Modernity arrived as a postcolonial intervention in the tradition bound Assamese society in the wake of the British occupation of Assam in the nineteenth century, it found an intellectual vacuum to fill in. Before the British came, the society itself was in disarray following the decline of the six hundred year Ahom rule and the oppressive invasion of the Burmese. The literature was in a moribund state slowly declining after reaching a great height during the neo-Vaishnavite period in the sixteenth century. Modernity, which was the manifestation of the western rational thought that saw great industrial progress, found this vacuum well-suited to bring in new impulses.
But there was still an unbroken continuity of lyric impulse in our folk life and its feeding fount was nature. Though rational thought became the guiding light in matters of societal progress, it was romanticism with the foregrounding of imagination that attracted the Assamese poetic mind. Romantic impulses blended creatively there with the pre-existing lyric sediments giving form to the new Assamese literature. By the forties of the 20th century however, perceptions of the new poets started changing.
The Second World War impacted the world in a decisive way. Market centers started developing into urban conglomerations causing movements of people from the villages to such centers, illicit trading of goods became a new phenomenon and even flesh trade proliferated. Besides, the gap between the comparatively well-to-do and the poor became more pronounced and overall, a harsh social reality impacted the tranquil life of a society that was comfortably adjusting its life to the changes brought about by a slow-paced modernity. After India's independence, the problem arising out of the issue of the state's official language, the gaps occurring between social expectations and the slow pace of economic development, the rise of unemployment accentuated by the failure of the economy to create proper job opportunities for a growing educated population that harboured middle class dreams of upward mobility etc. created a sense of modern uncertainty in the society. An awareness of social class division also came to the fore. In this scenario, a new poetry had to spring up, particularly since romantic poetry lost its vigour and expressiveness through repetitions of themes and diction and soporific rhyme schema. The principal practitioners of this kind of poetry also started becoming silent, some of them being snatched away by death and the others bewildered by the uncertain changes taking place around them.
Spread of Assamese Poetry
As a result of the spread of the western system of education and the consequent impact of western ideas on the minds of the people, Assamese poetry underwent radical changes in both form and content. Assamese literature was influenced by the Romantic Revival in England, and the result was a new and unprecedented florescence of Assamese literature, rich and varied, vital and vigorous. The old and narrow outlook yielded place to catholicity, formalism to a variety of attractive and new patterns. There were innovations in diction, rhythm and imagery, potent instruments of poetic consciousness, and what emerged from these innovations was something novel, invigorating, powerful and brilliant. Assamese poetry entered into a romantic period of large and lofty dreams of Utopias and El Dorados, daring hopes and sky scraping aspirations. The new poetry sang of freedom for all from political dependence, social injustice, religious bigotry, of the dignity of the individual, and of the unity of the nation.
This is pre-eminently true of modern Assamese poetry over which the influence of the English Romantic Revival was doubtless very wholesome. Its love of beauty developed in the Assamese poets a fuller appreciation of the scenic grandeur of their country. Similarly, its interest in antiquity imbued the Assamese poets with a deeper understanding and a more intense love of the national heritage.
Poets who contributed in development of Assamese Poetry
A leading poet of this new movement was Kamalakanta Bhattacharya (1858-1936). In the poetry of Kamalakanta Bhattacharya there is the triple strand of the patriot, philosopher and social reformer. For the first time in Assamese literature, he sounded the clarion call of liberal patriotism. Chandrakumar Agarwala (1867-1938) is another votary at the shrine of Beauty. His poetry breathes a love of beauty, a joy in living and a spirit of optimism, issuing forth from a warm, sympathetic and tender heart. While older poets believed beauty to dwell in the ambrosial bliss of the heaven of the hereafter modern poets discover the same beauty in the heart of Nature. Ananda Chandra Agarwala (1874-1940) translated poems from English which read like the original. He also wrote several narrative poems of absorbing interest based on folk-tales. Hiteswar Barbarua (1876-1939) wrote long narrative poems in blank verse and a number of sonnets, modeled after English types. Raghunath Chaudhari is (1879- ) known as the bird-poet of Assam. His very first collection of poems, Sadari (The Darling), shows a preference on the part of the poet for birds, flowers and gardens. Another literary stalwart of the 19th century was Hemchandra Barua (1835-96), who has rightly been called the father of modern Assamese language and literature. He brought great devotion to his work coupled with organisation, assiduity and diligence. His Grammar of the Assamese Language (1856) and Hemkos (Dictionary), the first standard work on lexicography, laid a sure foundation for the future development of the language.
Development of Assamese Poetry is an ongoing process and still in progress.
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