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The Nineteenth Century Renaissance in India and Lakshminath Bezbaruwa of Assam (1864-1938)
বেজবৰুৱাৰ স্মৃতিৰ মৌ সৰা কথা
Lakshminath Bezbaroa as a Writer of Farces
Nationalism in Bezboroasque literature and 19th Century Assam
বেজবৰুৱাৰ পদুম কুঁৱৰী : এক অৱলোকন
চুটি গল্প আৰু বেজবৰুৱাৰ ' পাটমুগী '
The Nineteenth Century Renaissance in India and Lakshminath Bezbaruwa of Assam (1864-1938)

Suniti Kumar Chatterji

The nineteenth century in the history of India has been of very great significance in the development of the culture and mentality of the people of India, although in the political and economic spheres her position was at a very low ebb. This century witnessed the establishment and full consolidation of British power in India—the erstwhile merchants of the 17th and early 18th centuries became de facto rulers of a great part of India, and the Herrenvolk, who were able to subjugate the people of India not only politically but also to a large extent spiritually. The intellectual emancipation of the lndian people was the greatest boon which came to India in the wake of British rule, and this formed what may be called the silver lining to the cloud. There were other periods in the history of India which were great when we think of the intellectual as well as spiritual attainments of India and her material as well as military progress and prowess: e.g., the Mohen-jo-Daro and Harappa age, and the period of the Vedic Samhitas. Then after that we have the great centuries during the lst millennium B.C. (subdivided into the period of the Upanishads, and of the Buddha and the great philosophers and thinkers), followed by the age of the Imperial Guptas, the age of the development of Tamil Culture in South India during the greater part of the first millennium after Christ and of the contribution of the early Andhra or Telugu and the Kannada dynasties, enriching the ancient civilization of India; the period of Rajput hegemony in North India, and of the glorious revival of Hindu culture in the Vijayanagara empire in South India (1340-1565); and subsequently, we have the two and a half centuries of Mogul rule and achievement. All these have their proper place in the sequence of history and culture in India. Each of these ages has its own special character and cachet, and the sequence can be perfectly understood. There were periods of depression also: e.g., immediately after the establishment of the Turks in Northern India, the 2nd half of the 17th century in the Deccan, and the rule of the decadent Hindu and Muslim states of the 18th and early 19th centuries. But the 19th century is unique in this way that here we have what may be called a new type of intellectual awakening in India, a sort of a true Renaissance. This was made possible by the contact of the mind of the Indian élite, particularly in Bengal, with the mind of Europe, through the medium of the English language and its literature.

A great period of intellectual and spiritual ferment, and earnest and active desire to find her own soul—this was what made its advent in India, when the effete and decadent states of India came in conflict with the British and were receding into the background. These Indian states were leaving the arena entirely to the foreigners from beyond the seas, with their superior knowledge and organisation and intellectual vigour and élan. The story is quite easy to follow. Intelligent people belonging to the upper classes, particularly in Bengal, where the English were first established as the ruling power after Plassey in 1757, were listless, and they were unhappy with the state of affairs in their own state and country. They found the Englishman in India forging ahead and easily acquiring a superior place. "What bread doth Caesar eat that he became so great'?"-this was the question which filled the mind of the thinking Indians: and the answer was, their knowledge—the science and intellect of Europe, and their power of organisation. They were anxious to get a share of this knowledge which was the basis of their power, and they realised that they could have it only through the learning—the science and the humanities—of Europe, which then could come to them through the medium of the English language alone. Thus the coming of the English language acted as a sort of a magic wand to rouse the spirit of India.

The English people after they came to power were not at first very much interested in giving education of any sort to the Indians- unless it was along their own traditional lines, through Persian and through Sanskrit. Nobody at that time thought seriously of bringing education to the masses, not even the peoples of Europe in their own countries. So, naturally, even after peace and order were preserved, under the domination of the English, education of the people was not the immediate concern of the English rulers in India. But it was the Indians themselves who wanted to know and to train themselves up for the altered conditions of modern life, as these presented themselves before them at the end of the 18th and beginning of the l9th century. Through Hindu enterprise, the first great institution to teach English and to bring in the European system of training to Indian youth- the Hindu College was started in Calcutta in 1817. This was an epoch-making event, and it began to prepare the cultured and thinking people of India for the great role they had to play in bringing India in line with the rest of the world.

The first 50 years from 1800 to 1850, presented a stage of preparation, during which a number of eminent pioneers came into the field. They were mostly in Bengal, and some of them were also in Bombay as well as in Madras. There was one great man in Jhansi - Raghunath Hari Nevalkar. Governor of Jhansi under the Maharashtrian ruler the Sindhia from 1765 to 1796, who before 1780 did a most wonderful thing-quite unexpected and unheard of in his age, by teaching himself English and trying to learn European sciences through the medium of a work like the Encyclopaedia Britannica which came out in 1778 in its second edition. He had realised that the pre-eminence of the English and other Europeans in the political and economic domains of India was due to their superior knowledge of science and technology, and he wanted to make this knowledge available easily to his own people-for their intellectual and economic as well as military uplift. But somehow after he was removed from his position as Governor of Jhansi, his pioneer attempts failed, and the scientific laboratory (the first of its kind in India) and the extensive library and an observatory he had built at Jhansi were dispersed or destroyed.

But it was in Bengal that the greatest amount of progress in this line was made, and this benefited not only the people of Bengal but also that of the whole of India. Other provinces took up the task which Bengal

intellectuals had started, and we have, particularly during the second half of the 19th century, a new awakening for the whole of India centering around the study of. English and its literature and the European Humanities and Sciences.

During this period of preparation up to about 1850, we have in Bengal a number of great thought-leaders whose influence was pan-Indian. We have in the first instance a man like Raja Ram Mohan Roy, aptly described as "The Father of Modern India." Then we have a great Sanskrit scholar, and an orthodox Hindu too, like Raja Radhakanta Deva, who was a great educationist and a compiler of that very famous Sanskrit lexicon, the Sabda-kalpa-druma. Then there was Iswarchandra Vidyasagar, who aimed, as much as Ram Mohan Roy, to broaden the Indian mind and spirit by grafting on it English education side by side with the traditional Sanskrit studies. They were all great men in different walks of 1ife- not only in education, but also in social reform and progress as well as in nationalistic feeling and patriotic fervour. The second half of the 19th century has been unique for India, and for the whole of Asia, too; and if we look upon human intellectual endeavour all over the world as a single entity, this intellectual awakening of India has also had its great significance and its repercussions on the intellectual life of humanity at large. This is now being slowly recognised in all the domains of life.

After the initial period of preparation, so to say, the active transformation of the Indian mind started, and was accomplished to a very large extent during the second half of the 19th century. Particularly during these twenty-five fateful years, from 1850 to 1875, Bengal, and with her the contiguous provinces of Eastern India, though to a much lesser extent, produced a galaxy of eminent men, some of them were quite geniuses of an international character.—in the dilferent walks of life, intellectually and spiritually particularly. We have quite along series of writers and thinkers, poets and novelists, historians and essayists, artists and scientists; and in number and in importance they would be hard to match anywhere in the world, in any period of the world's history, when we think that during these 25 years—leaving aside the times before 1850 and also after 1875, we have had men like Haraprasad Sastri (1853 ), Bipinchandra Pal (1855), Asutosh Chaudhuri (1858 ), Jagadishchandra Bose (1858), Praphullachandra Ray (1860), Akshaykumar Baral (1860 ) Akshaykumar Maitreya (1861), Rabindranath Tagore (1861), Swami Vivekananda (1862), Dwijendralal Roy ( 1863 ), Kedarnath Banerji (1863 ), Ramendra Sundar Trivedi (1864), Kamini Ray (1864), Asutosh Mookerjee ( 1864), Kshirod Chandra Vidyavinod ( 1864), Ramananda Chatterji (1865 ), Hirendranath D-atta (1868 ), Pramatha Chaudhuri (1868), Abanindranath Tagore (1871), Prabhat Kumar Mukherji (1873), and the great Sarat Chandra Chatterji (born a year later, 1876). Lakshniinath Bezbaruwa (1864) can certainly be reckoned as one of this illustrious band, although he belonged to Assam and wrote in Assamese. He was a great link between Assam and Bengal. Prior to 1850, we note the advent of such great sons of Bengal and India as Iswarchandra Vidyasagar (1820), Akshaykumar Datta (1820), Rajendralal Mitra (1822), Maikel Madhusudan Datta (1824). Bhudeva Mukherji (1825), Rangalal Banerjee (1827 ), Dinabandhu Mitra (1830), Ramakrishna Paramahamsa (1836), Bankimchandra Chatterji (1838), Hemchandra Banerji (1838 ), Dwijendranath Tagore (1840 ), Girishchandra Ghose (1844). Kaliprasanna _Sinha (1845), Nabinchandra Sen (1847), Rameshchandra Datta (1848 ), Rajkrishna Ray (1849), and others.

During the present decade (1960-1970), we are now celebrating one or more centenaries of our great men every year. We are reminded of Periclean Athens and Elizabethan London when we think of the literary and intellectual development in Calcutta during the third and fourth quarters of the 19th century.

Bengal naturally, with Calcutta as the centre of British rule and British power and British culture in India, took the lead in this matter, and the intellectuals of Bengal were in the forefront of this new development. What is now Uttar Pradesh (or United Provinces of Agra and Oudh) was known as the North-Western Provinces of Bengal, and Bengal comprised not only Bengal proper but also Bihar and Orissa as well as Assam; and even when an extended Assam was separated from Bengal in 1874, under a Chief Commissioner, it became just a pendant to Bengal. The people of the North-Western Provinces were not so very much interested in the intellectual ferment which permeated Bengal. But with Banaras as one of their centres, the people of the North-Western Provinces, particularly in the eastern districts, all looked upon Calcutta as their ultimate source of inspiration in intellectualism and of progress in modernism. Panjab was still under the Sikhs right up to 1848; and though in Western U.P. and Panjab as well as the states of Rajputana and Madhya Pradesh (Central Provinces) the progress towards modernism

was very slow, owing to the absence of the leaven of English, the intellectuals of the North-Western Provinces throughout the whole of the second period, the 19th century, as well as of Orissa and Assam were closely linked with those of Bengal. Through some thoughtless mistake, both in a knowledge of the realities and in state-craft, the Bengali language was made the medium of administration and education in both Assam and Orissa, which were looked upon as parts of Bengal. This mistake was rectified later on-but from 1826 to 1873, the administrative languages for the Assamese people were English and Bengali, and Assamese children at school were taught through the Bengali language. Owing to the closeness of these two languages to each other, and because it was a Government order, the Assamese people and Assamese students accepted Bengali, but from the beginning this was under protest which grew in volume as the years passed. Similar was also the case of Orissa. But the fact of the thing was that almost right down to the end of the 19th century, the mental mould of three generations of Assamese and Orissan young men who were mostly educated in Calcutta, or through the English language (with Bengali in the oiling), in Gauhati and Cuttack, was the same as that of the Bengalis. They never considered themselves to be Bengalis, certainly; and they were conscious of their separate linguistic and cultural entity as they had their sense of duty to_ their own past history which was different from that of Bengal: Assam was virtually independent up till 1824, and Orissa was under the Marathas up to the year 1803, while Bengal came under the British in 1757, having been under the Turks and Afghans and Moguls from North India from the 13th century to the middle of the l8th.

The intellectual atmosphere and the cultural milieu which gave to Bengal and India the giants of Bengali literature during the second half of the last century also gave to Assam its greatest personality in modern Assamese literature, the real builder of modern Assamese literature in all its various aspects, namely, Lakshminath Bezbaruwa. He was not alone in this. He had some peers of his own in the field ; and they also nobly supported the development of the intellectual life and of the literature and culture of Assam. Similarly, in Orissa also there were the creators of modern Oriya literature whose names (like those of Gauri Sankar Ray. the journalist, Radhanath Ray, the poet, Madhusudan Rao, the poet, and Phakir Mohan Senapati, poet and novelist) are as illustrious as those of Bankim Chandra Chatterji and Maikel Madhusudan Datta, Ramesh Chandra Datta and Girish Chandra Ghosh and the rest in Bengal. So far as the North-Western Provinces are concerned, we have among other names; slightly less illustrious, that of the great Bharatendu Harish Chandra, who was the real builder of a modern and a national literature using the Hindi language; and Bharatendu can also be called another great personality in the domain of Indian literature in Eastern India during the second half of the 19th century.

Lakshminath Bezbaruwa was thus an illustrious son of India, and a member of the galaxy of the great men and women who raised high the name of India during the last century. Although the Bengali people, by virture of their numerical preponderance and their first response to the culture of Europe, dominated the scene in Eastern India, Assam and Orissa were equally associated as parts of Eastern India in this intellectual revival and literary and artistic, cultural and spiritual renaissance. When Lakshminath started his schooling in Assam, for over a generation the Assamese-speaking people were being brought closer to Bengalis by their being made to have their schooling through the Bengali language, and not through their mother-tongue, Assamese. This was a great evil, but not an unmixed evil. It meant, what was very important for the cultural building-up of the Assamese men and women, a closer participation in the wider intellectual life of the numerically bigger people who belonged to the same linguistic circle. Although Assamese history was -different and the Assamese way of life had also its independent development from that of Bengal, yet there was their common heritage of Hindu culture and Hindu way of life, Hindu religion and Hindu philosophy, which transcended all linguistic and provincial differences. In any case, in spite of the righteous protest against the enforcing of Bengali as the language of the school in Assam, there was no difficulty in co-operating with the Bengalis and participating in a wider cultural life which embraced specially Eastern India.

Lakshminath Bezbaruwa in this way picked up Bengali from his very early age. But while in Assam, as a sensitive boy with an artistic soul as well as a penetrating vision, he easily became alive to the great and good things in the social and cultural life of Assam. He belonged to the Assamese élite, being born in an exalted and well-to-do Brahman family which was distinguished for its Sanskrit learning and skill in Hindu medicine, besides being fully responsive to the call of the Vaisnava religion which had become the most profound influence in Assamese life. It was the faith of the Mahapurushiya sect, which was founded by Sankaradeva and continued by his disciple Madhavadeva (15th-16th centuries). Sankaradeva was in a way a Chaitanya, a Kabir and a Nanak, all in one, for Assam, and his profound faith in the One God, who is Vishnu, or Krishna, was one of the elevating forces in Assamese life. Lakshminath used to enter into the religious and artistic life of the satrras or Vaishnava temples and monasteries of Assam which were havens of plain living and high thinking, and of religious and mystic life and experience, where the Assamese Hindus found all spiritual solace. The atmosphere of the life of the people of Assam was still full of the memories of their days of independence. The Assamese were never wholly subjugated by the Muslims, and it was only the Burmese, during the first quarter of the 19th century, who raided and virtually conquered their country, and treated the population most cruelly. The surroundings of Assamese Hindu life were at the same time much more liberal and flexible than of Hindu life in Bengal, although among the upper classes orthodoxy was still a force to be reckoned with. During his school days in Assam Lakshminath had teachers, both Bengali and Assamese, and fortunately he had a Bengali teacher, Chandramohan Goswami, who was a very good master of English and a very fine teacher and disciplinarian, who also obtained the spontaneous respect and affection of his pupils. Lakshminath had mentioned that he had one great defect--he was addicted to drink, which was, according to Indian standards, quite an unpardonable vice, particularly in a teacher. On the whole, he received the best that was available for him in Assam, in the matter of education. After that, as it was customary in those days, because there was as yet no strong tradition of a college education in Assam, he had to come down to Calcutta for his studies in college or university. This stay of his in Calcutta for his college and university training was the second great turning point in his intellectual and aesthetic life. During his boyhood's days in Assam, under the affectionate care of his father in an orthodox Hindu and Vaishnava home, full of the fine atmosphere of religion and devotion which was so natural because it was traditional and spontaneous, he had unconsciously imbibed to the fullest the deep spiritual culture of Assam, and this he developed later in life intellectually by study and knowledge. He immersed himself in the midst of all the intellectual movements in Calcutta which filled the air. Reform of Hindu society was one of the most passionate urges of a section of young men of the times. The new world of Europe was discovered through English literature, and this brought out the hidden forces of the Indian mind among both the Bengali and the Assamese young men of the better and of the higher intellectual type. It was frequently with the young men of those days that the English classics which they began to read in college opened for them the doors to the magic world of European literature. The same was the case with Lakshminath Bezbaruwa. The beauty of English poetry first came to him, when he was reading at college as one of his text-books, Palgrave's Golden Treasury of English Songs and Lyrics. Then the Bengali literary renaissance was at its height. Bankim Chandra and Maikel Madhusudan Datta, Rangalal Banerjee and Hem Chandra Banerjee were already in the ascendant, and the great solar luminary of modern Indian literature, Rabindranath Tagore, had already risen to lighten up the domain of Indian literature and Indian thought.

Lakshminath plunged himself into this stream of intellectual awaken ing, and with" two of his fellow provincials from Assam he tried to bring the message of this culture to his own people through their mothertongue. The Assamese students who were studying in Calcutta-although their number was not very large-formed themselves into a Society for the Development of the Assamese Language (Asamiya Bhashar Unnati Sadhini Sabha), and they placed certain high ideals before them. Lakshminath Bezbaruwa and Chandrakumar Agarwala as well as Hemchandra Goswami began to start writing both creative and reflective literature of a new type in Assamese.

More than any place in Assam, Calcutta became the real centre of a progressive literary and cultural movement for the Assamese people; and the real modernisation of the mind of Assam began with Lakshminath Bezbaruwa and his group. This group included most of the promising Assamese students who had come to Calcutta for education. The Society they had started for the development of the Assamese language and its literature did pioneer work of a most valuable kind. Under the editorship of Lakshminath, two journals were published, one after the other, and they ushered in a new epoch in Assamese literature-the Jonaki or 'Moonlight', and the Bahi or 'The Flute'. Assamese literature really turned the corner towards its modern development with these papers during the last decade of the 19th and the first two decades of the 20th century.

Lakshminath was a person with a great independence, and he could not stand any kind of injustice. While he appeared in the Law Examination, he was forced to start a case against the University of Calcutta for what was palpably an unjust measure. After the students had appeared at the examination, according to the rules of the university, when a certain percentage of marks were already fixed as the minimum for a pass, this percentage was raised by a number of marks. This was a sensational case started by an ordinary student from far-way Assam; and just to maintain the prestige of the university, Lakshminath was made to lose the case. He became so disgusted that he left the university giving up the idea of studying law, and took up a new profession, that of business. He took up the timber line with a compatriot from his part of the country, Bholanath Barooah, and for a long time he was in this firm of Messrs B. Barooah & Co. In connexion with his business he had to stay in Calcutta, and it is later that he on his own had an establishment at Sambalpur (formerly in the Central Provinces, now in Orissa) which became a second home for him.

Lakshminath was quite a pioneer in many forms of literature in Assamese. Of him it may be said, as Dr Samuel Johnson had said about Oliver Goldsmith, that "there was no branch of literature which he did not touch, and there was nothing he touched which he did not adorn." A cursory glance over his published works would show the range of his literary output. He was primarily a prosateur, although he published some beautiful lyrics and songs which are unique of their kind in Assamese. He was also a humorist and a satirist of social life and social ways. He had a broad sympathy for humanity, and this sympathy was illumined by his good-natured humour. He created a unique type in Assamese literature, and that was the personality of Kripabar Barbaruwa. The Kripéibar volumes are racy of the Assamese soil, and they are so very popular that they have given to Lakshminath the sobriquet of "Charles Dickens of Assam." He wrote one novel, and besides brought out two collections of folk-tales, and seven dramas. He has a number of penetrating studies of the great religious personalities of Assam like Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva. His several volumes of serious essays, literary, cultural, political as well as religious, are also outstanding creations in modern Assamese literature. And above all, one of the finest books in Indian literature is his Autobiography (Mor Jiwan-Sowaran).

Lakshminath Bezbaruwa's life was not a sensational one- it was that of a highly cultured gentleman who was in business, but who by his pen brought about an intellectual and even a spiritual renaissance in Assam. His influence has been working silently, and with the passing of decades his importance is becoming more and more strongly established in the domain of Assamese literature and culture.

There have been some very fine studies of his work and his life. But there should be a study of Lakshminath in the background of the modern 19th century Renaissance of Indian literature and Indian thought, It has had a nationalistic background, although this renaissance accepted at the same time all the great things of Europe and the West which came through the English language and literature. As I have said before elsewhere, here we have both Yoga or Addition of Good Things from the Outside which we require, and Kshema or Conservation of all Great and Good Things in our own Culture.

To my mind, Lakshminath Bezbaruwa's most intimate and most human work is his Autobiography. Here is disclosed in a very straight forward, and one might say, in a naive, artless manner, a rare personality. which was that of a great and good man with high ideals in life and thought, and who was at the same time a most loveable man. The plain unadorned manner in which he has given an account of his marriage while a student in Calcutta with a niece of Rabindranath Tagore forms a most beautiful little romance in life and in literature. His parents at home in Assam were anxious that he should marry in Assam in an Assamese Brahman family, and this was the orthodox Hindu caste usage which he was expected not to break. But in Calcutta, through force of circumstances, which he has narrated with such unconscious art in his book, his marriage was settled with a grand-daughter of Maharshi Devendranath Tagore. His domestic life was most happy, al:hough he had not met his wife before the actual ceremony of his wedding. The marriage took place on March ll, 1891 at the residence of the Tagore family in Calcutta, presided over by the venerable patriarch, Rabindranath's father. The ritual was a beautiful combination of the orthodox Hindu or Vedic rite (within the reformed atmosphere of the Maharshi's rigidly monotheistic Brahma faith) and the customary Bengali Hindu rites of folk origin. 'After the ancient Vedic ritual of the sapta-padi or "seven steps" taken by the bridegroom and the bride together, with the reading of the Vedic mantras, was gone through, there were the stri-achar or "women's rites", and then the subha-drishti or "the Auspicious Look" (when under a closed awaning the couple had their first look at each other when their eyes must meet), and the young wives and daughters of the house chanted the traditional lines-"Come, come all, let us welcome the bridegroom, all gold he is, by blowing the conch-shell. See, friend, do not lose your heart under this canopy." Lakshminath has given all these details in his Autobiography, and there cannot be any better commentary to his sense of happiness in his wedding and in his wife.

His love and respect for his wife, and the fact that he owed to her so much for his happiness in life, comes out beautifully in this book. Lakshminath bore a most loving and sincere tribute to her personality, her character and her accomplishments. After years of married life, he noticed that his wife was never capable of telling a falsehood, and that she was held in great affection and esteem because of her piety and her religious character. And so it was remarkable, that according to her own statement, she had a dream of Lakshminath as her future husband long .before their marriage. In this matter, Lakshminath got over his scepticism and indulged in a mystic digression in his Autobiography, which in its simplicity and sincerity is a fine expression of his exaltation of married love to a supra- mundane plane. It is remarkable that some of the sons-in-law of the Tagore House turned out to be most eminent men in literature and in life, like, for example Pramatha Chaudhuri, the eminent Bengali lirterareur (who married Indira Devi, the daughter of Rabindranath's second elder brother Satyendranath Tagore); Sir Asutosh Chaudhuri, elder brother of Pramathanath, distinguished High Court Judge and literary man (who was married to Pratibha Devi, the eldest daughter of Rabindranath's third elder broiher, Hemendranath Tagore); and Lakshminath himself (who was married to Prajnasundari Devi, the second daughter of Hemendranath Tagore): and we should also mention Krishna Kripalini (who was a young barrister from Sindh and who had worked with Mahatma Gandhi, and then joined Rabindranath's University of Visva-Bharati at Santiniketan in 1934 as a Professor, and married Nandita Devi, grand-daughter of Rabindranath Tagore himself, in 1936 -her mother Mira Devi, being the Poet's second daughter). It is significant that when Maharshi Devendranath Tagore, the poet's father, blessed the young couple after their marriage, he gave a golden pen to Lakshminath, wishing him as his blessing that he would create great literature through this pen: to the bride, his grand-child, Prajna-devi, he gave some lovely roses, and touching her head wished for her that her good name might spread like the fragrance of the flowers: and that was a prophecy from a sage and a saintly man which was more than fulfilled. Lakshminath has recorded this beautiful incident in his book.

Lakshminath Bezbaruwa always maintained the independence of his mind and character and the dignity of his people. Married into the Tagore family, which was among the élite in the whole of India, he retained his sense of pride in his own family and its social and cultural atmosphere and antecedents. In this connexion, he has mentioned one little incident in his life (at two places in his Autobiography, which shows that he appreciated the position very much). His Headmaster in the school at Sibsagar, in Assam, was a Bengali gentleman named Chandramohan Goswami, who had a great affection for him, and he also had the proper respect for his master at school. His teacher met him in Calcutta after his marriage, and the master told his former pupil that he was very glad that he had married into the Tagore family. But he admonished him to maintain the dignity of his own family also: 'Tell them that your own people are as eminent in Assam as the Tagores are in Bengal; and in any matter, do not accept any inferiority." This advice made Lakshminath very happy, and he made his respectful salutation to his teacher by touching his feet at these remarks, and he has made this observation- "How noble is the heart of a Bengali of the highest class !"

Lakshminath came most closely within the cultural orbit of the Tagore family by his marriage, and in literature this family was unquestionably the leading one in modern India fifty years ago. Its position was much further advanced by the advent of Rabindranath. It was expected that Lakshminath would be absorbed in the Tagore tradition and became a writer in Bengali; But Lakshminath had a very vivid sense of pride and affection for his own language and its culture and for the history and institutions of Assam. All this was while he took an active part in the cultural life initiated for Bengal and India within the Tagore family through music and the drama, through lyric poetry and literature of thought and power in all the walks of life. He always stood up for the separate cultural identity of Assam, although it was within the common East Indian and pan-Indian orbit. There used to be discussions which were conducted with some warmth with some young men of his wife's family about the position of Assamese vis-a-vis Bengali, and he never subscribed to the idea that Assamese was a form of Bengali. Rabindranath Tagore himself used to take part in these discussions. But when he realised that Lakshminath was very strong on these points, he did not take any further active part in these talks. Years later, when he met Lakshminath and his wife- his niece Prajnasundari-at Shillong in Assam, he made an observation, in a spirit of mock-seriousness, that Lakshminath and others have detached Assamese from Bengali, and that has deprived Bengali writers and publishers of a large number of their likely readers. But Rabindranath fully appreciated the position of Lakshminath and the importance of the work that he was doing for the rehabilitation of Assamese and creating high literature in it. After the passing away of Lakshminath Bezbaruwa in 1938, which was just three years before Rabindranath himself died in 1941, Rabindranath wrote thus : "When each province or linguistic area within India will have the fullest wealth of its own language coming out with all brilliance, then alone among these provinces the interchange of their best gifts will be complete and perfect, and in this way alone the bridge of unity based on mutual respect will be established. During his life this great service of Lakshminath Bezbaruwa was a tireless one. I only express this wish that through his death may this great influence of his continue to have greater and greater strength." And .this has actually happened in Lakshminath Bezbaruwa's life, and also after his having been joined to the Immortals. We should look upon Lakshminath as one of the great names in the history of the modern Indian literary and cultural renaissance- as a person who was fully appreciative of all great things in literature, not only in his own language, Assamese, but also in the sister-language Bengali, as well as in the great Mother and Nurse of all Indian Speech, Sanskrit; and moreover, as one whose life was an embodiment of sweetness and light.

Lakshminath Bezbaruwa has been given by the literati of Assam the sobriquet of সাহিত্য-ৰথী, Sahitya-rathi, an epithet which is rather in the epic and heroic vein, as it means "a chariot-borne Warrior in the Field of Letters", like the heroes of the Mahabharata and the Iliad in the field of battle. I would like to give him also another epithet which would be quite in keeping with his pre-eminence in his own domain where he has attained immortality: বাঙময়-দেশিক (Vanmaya-désika, or "the Master and Guide in Letters", or বাঙময়-বিলাস, Vanmaya-vilasa, or "the Grace of Letters"; and we might add the word অসম, Asama, to it, to mean both "incomparable" and "Assamঅসম বাঙময় দেশিক or অসম বাঙময় বিলাস Asama-vanmaya-desika or Asama-vanmaya-vilasa.

Suniti Kumar Chatterji (1890-1977) was a prominent Indian linguist, educationist and litterateur.
(Article Source: Lakshminath Bezbaroa, The Sahityarathi of Assam, Edited by Maheswar Neog Edition I, August 1972)