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Going places, literally

Book title: Genesis of Ancient Toponymy of Central and Lower Assam.

Author: Sarat Kumar Phukan

Publisher: Publication Board Assam

Pages: 1,136

Price: Rs 650

Former deputy inspector-general of Assam police Sarat Kumar Phukan did not forget what he studied in his college and university days. It was his urge to carry on with his academic pursuit of toponymy that inspired Phukan to collect the names of places in central and lower Assam, study their meanings and origins and write the voluminous book Genesis of Ancient Toponymy of Central and Lower Assam.

According to the author, “This work is a long cherished aspiration of my fruitful years of stay in central and lower regions of Assam. It comprised the districts of Darrang, Udalguri, Morigaon, Kamrup, Nalbari, Barpeta, Goalpara, Bongaigaon, Chirang, Baksa, Kokrajhar, Dhubri and parts of the districts of Sonitpur and Nagaon.” It is evident from it that the book contains the meanings and origins of prominent places in all these districts along with their geographical locations.

Though the book is not of the read-in-one-sitting kind, it is informative and a reader can rely on it. And it can surely be a good guide for any inquisitive person to get into the subject and know numerous facts associated with places in Assam.

According to the author, cultural complexity and mixed information was a major hindrance for him in compiling the book. “Since the field is wide and culturally complex, most of the source materials are fragmented, distorted and often mixed with one another. Hence it was awfully difficult to find the roots of some of the words,” the writer says.

He also says that as his work was mostly dependent on field investigation and local sources, it may not be entirely free of unexpected disputed data.

Unlike a dictionary, Phukan discusses the names in different chapters, like names of places in central and lower Assam referred to in ancient inscriptions, ancient place names of westernmost Pragjyotish-Kamrupa, toponyms connected with early states, administrative divisions, ancient cities, towns and minor cities, villages and religious institutions. Besides, he also brings the hydronymy and oronymy of central and lower Assam and also toponymy connected with caves.

In the chapter Toponyms Connected with Religious Institutions, the author mentions all major and minor religious institutions right from Kamakhya in Guwahati to Kantojiu temple in Bangladesh. He discusses how various religions and faiths like Saivism, Saktism, Buddhism, Jainism, Vaishavism, Islam and Christianity came to the region and more and more people embraced these. In this chapter, he moves beyond the boundaries of Assam.

Sometimes, incorporation of myth and legend associated with the names of the places helped a reader understand the origins of the names better. For instance, while writing about Dubi, a place in Kamrup district, the writer not only says that Dubi means “deep in water” or where a battle was fought between Koch King Biswa Singha and the chiefs of the Bhuyans, but also writes about a local legend that says that it was a place where an old Shivling went under water in 4th century AD.

Despite all the difficulties the writer faced while compiling it, the book is a praiseworthy attempt and could have been a more valuable document if he had covered the entire state.