Society that gave Assamese tradition its first home

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By The Telegraph Online
  • Published 16.07.04

During the swadeshi movement, which created ripples in Assam as well, Prof. Padmanath Bhattacharya Vidyavinod, scholar and pioneer researcher in the history and culture of the state, mooted the idea of establishing an antiquarian society comprising the geographical territory of erstwhile Pragjyotishpura-Kamrupa. This ancient kingdom included parts of present day West Bengal and Bangladesh, besides Assam.

The concept attracted a group of enthusiasts trying to preserve materials related to art, history, literature and culture of the province.

In the first week of April 1912, at the Kamakhya conference of the Uttar Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, the idea crystallised. A resolution was unanimously adopted to set up an organisation to preserve and promote research on matters related to archaeology, ethnography, language, literature, history and culture of the region that formed the ancient kingdom of Pragjyotishpura-Kamrupa. Thus was formed the Kamarupa Anusandhana Samiti which was also to be known by a secondary title, the Assam Research Society.

The samiti that was established with a meagre contribution of Rs 25, donated by Babu Sasadhar Ray of Calcutta High Court who had presided over the Kamakhya conference, was destined to play a pivotal role in promoting historical research and preserving artefacts.

Since its very inception, a number of prominent personalities were associated with the samiti. Chandra Nath Sarma was the founder secretary. The list of patrons read like a veritable who’s who of the age and included Maharaja Jitendranarayan Bhup Bahadur of Cooch Behar, lieutenant-governor of Orissa and Bihar Sir Edward Gait, Commissioner of Assam Valley Lt Col P.R.T. Gordon, chief commissioner of Assam Sir Archdale Earle, Raja Prabhat Chandra Barooah Bahadur of Gauripur and a galaxy of reputed scholars.

The samiti started its work with a missionary zeal and began to collect inscriptions, puthis, ethnographical objects, relics, and manuscripts from the vast Pragjyotishpura-Kamrupa region.

The preservation of these precious collections necessitated the construction of its own building. When all early efforts to persuade the government to immediately establish a museum to store these objects failed, the samiti decided to construct its own building. The estimated cost of construction, Rs 20,000 was raised with generous contributions from various donors the principal contributor being Raibahadur Naupat Rai Kedia of Dibrugarh.

When Lt Col P.R.T. Gordon, the then commissioner of the Assam Valley and honorary provincial director of Ethnography, Assam formally inaugurated the samiti’s building with a silver key on November 19, 1917, he practically opened a new chapter in Assam’s rich tradition of preservation of historical records.

The samiti’s activities attracted the attention of serious scholars of Indology throughout eastern India. So much so that a branch of the Kamarupa Anusandhana Samiti was established at Rangpur (now in Bangladesh) with Babu Surendra Chandra Roychoudhury as its secretary. the Asiatic Society of Calcutta organised exhibitions of the samiti’s collections and kept a close link with it till 1950.

Assam did not have any museum till 1940 but the purpose of a museum was being served by Kamarupa Anusandhana Samiti. This small sapling developed into a full grown plant when with the excellent and rich collection of artefacts, manuscripts, miniature paintings, puthis, buranjis, chronicles preserved at the samiti, the government established the Assam State Museum in 1940 at the initiative of Rai Bahadur Kanaklal Baruah, who took up the cause for a museum in Assam with philanthropic zeal.

However, Kamrupa Anusandhan Samiti was not dissolved even after the establishment of Assam State Museum. It still retains its exclusive identity and continues its activities from the same old Assam-type building which is situated on the western bank of Dighalipukhuri in the centre of Guwahati.

Dipankar Banerjee