Pre-Vaishnavite era of Assamese literature


1st July 2011


There cannot be a specific date of birth for a language or literature. Early Assamese literature can strictly be categorized within the period commencing from 6th century A.D. and culminating in 15th century A.D. As far as Assamese language is concerned, the Buddhist Charyapadas are the earliest example of its literature. The Charyapadas pertain to Buddhist songs penned within the period of 8th to 12th centuries. These writings, by the way, correspond to Oriya and Bengali languages as well. The phonological and morphological characteristics of these songs bear exceedingly powerful semblance with Assamese some of which are survive to this date. There were some works during the period 12th and 14th century, which kept the literary tradition flowing after the Charyapada. They are Sunya Purana by Ramai Pandit, Sri Krishna Kirtana by Baru Chandi Das, Gopichandrar Gaan by Durllava Muilik etc.

After the Charyapadas, the early Assamese literary period was once more split into the


  1. Pre-Vaishnavite and
  2. Vaishnative sub-periods.


The history of Pre-Vaishnavite literature covers a period of about 200 years. After 14th century, the period is named as Pre-Vaishnavite era when 'Kavya' or poems flourished. Poets like Madhab Kandali, Hema Saraswati, Harivar Bipra, Rudra Kandali and Kabiratna Saraswati used to write benedictory verses on subjects from the epics and the puranas. In the hands of these poets, the Assamese literature attained an identity of its own in 14th century. ‘Sarjapada’ is considered as the common example of first written things in Bengali, Oriya and Assamese literature. ‘Prahlad Charit’ by Hemchandra Saraswati is acknowledging uniquely as the first written literature in Assamese literature.  ‘Hara Gauri Sangbad’ is another book of poetry by Hem Saraswati. In the time of the King Indranarayana (1350-1365) of Kamatapur Harihara Vipra and Kaviratna Saraswati composed ‘Asvamedha Parva’ and ‘Jayadratha Vadha’ respectively. Another poet Rudra Kandali translated ‘Drona Parva’ into Assamese. But the most well-known and versatile poet of the Pre-Vaishnavite era is Madhav Kandali. He translated Valmiki’s ‘Ramayana’ into Assamese (Katha Ramayana, 14th century), under the patronage of Mahamanikya, a Kachari king of Jayantapura. This translated version of the Ramayana is the first one among the modern Indian languages and also the regional languages of the Northern India. Before this, the Ramayana was translated only into Tamil and Kannada languages. Srimanta Sankardeva and Madhavadeva, stalwarts of Assamese literature, along with their followers enriched the literature of Assam to a large extent through devotional hymns, myths, legends, and play. Dramas gained popularity around this time. Vaikunthanath Bhattacharyya, popularly known as Bhattadeva contributed with the prose in Bagawat Gita. Other significant literary works of Pre-Vaishnavite era are ‘Satyaki Pravesh’ by Rudra Kandali, ‘Babrubahanar Yuddha’, ‘Lava-Kushar Yuddha’ and ‘Tamraddhajar Yuddha’ by Harihara Bipra and ‘Jayadratha Bash’ by Kabindra Saraswati.