Dr Maheswar Neog was an illustrious scholar and he dedicated his life towards enrichment of Assamese culture. A versatile genius, his work covered most of the branches of Indian studies – literature, language, philosophy, religion, history, historiography, hagiography, orthography, lexicography, ethnography, epigraphy, folklore, music, dance, drama, fine arts, paintings, architecture and sculpture.
Dr Neog was born in Kamarphadiya village, situated on the bank of Dikhow River in Sibsagar, on September 7, 1915. His first teacher was his father, who however, did not have a formal education. Dimbeswar Neog, the distinguished scholar was his elder brother and he received much guidance from him to hone his skills.
From a tender age Maheswar Neog displayed his brilliance and he composed his first poem while he was a student of Class III. He was rewarded every year for his splendid performance and the Inspector of Schools noticed his proficiency. He wrote an article on Assamese marriage songs when he was a graduate and it got published in The Indian Review, the research journal in 1939.
An intelligent student of Modern Indian Languages, Neog secured first class first in MA from Calcutta University. His PhD thesis was Sankaradeva and His Times: Early History of the Vaishnava Faith and Movement in Assam and his research received great commendations from both India and abroad.
Dr Neog first started his career as a school teacher. On December 1, 1948, he joined Gauhati University as the founder teacher in the Post-graduate Department of Assamese.
Dr Neog’s efforts along with Madhav Chandra Bezbarua, Gopinath Bordoloi and Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed towards the development of the University were immense. He joined the trust board and contributed much in both academic and administrative fields. Hence, he was rightly considered as one of the architects of the University. In 1978, he retired from Gauhati University as Jawaharlal Nehru Professor and then served Punjabi University, Patiala as Saint Sankaradeva Professor till 1983.
Placing Sattriya dance at par with Indian Indian classical dances,
namely Bharat Natyam, Kathak, Kathakali and Manipuri etc. was one of the great
contributions of Dr Neog. In National Dance Seminar organized by Sangeet Natak
Akademi at Vigyan Bhavan, New Delhi in 1958, Dr Neog exposed Sattriya dance of
Assam for the first time on a national level. Sattriya and Ojapali, both the
dances were presented before the connoisseur, performed by late Maniram Dutta
Muktiyar of Kamalabari Satra and Lalit Chandra Nath of Mangaldai and group.
During the display, Dr Neog explained the dance forms with complete details and
referred to the records in history about the dances in ancient Kamrup. There
was huge applause from the audience as his talk and the demonstration was
widely appreciated. Later, an expert committee was formed and being one of its
members, he strongly placed the view that Sattriya dance of Assam should be
recognized as a classical dance of India. In 1995, Sangeet Natak Akademi
bestowed on him ‘Elected Fellow’, the prestigious award, in recognition to his
Well known as a biographer, Dr Neog penned his first biographical work Sri Sri Sankaradeva in 1948. Jivanar Digh Aru Vani was his voluminous autobiographical work. He was also a creative writer and published five volumes of poetry in Assamese including Under One Sky in English. Besides, he wrote short plays in Assamese, essays and other prose pieces.
Dr Neog was a multilingual scholar and he published more than hundred books in Assamese, English and Sanskrit. He dealt on a wide variety of subjects and contributed around five hundred articles and research papers to various periodicals and journals. Some of his remarkable research works were Asamiya Sahityar Ruprekha, Guru-Charit-Katha, Prachya-Sasanavali, Arunodai, Religions of the North-East, Tradition and Style, The Art of Painting in Assam, etc. Moreover, he edited many ancient and medieval texts in Sanskrit and Assamese. Editing the old treatise on dance, Sri Hasta-muktavali by Subhankara was a notable contribution of Dr Neog.
A great exponent of the Bhakti movement in Assam, Dr Neog brought forth various aspects of Neo-Vaishnavism in his literary work. His contributions towards Sankaradeva studies were Swararekhat Bargeet (1958), Rhythm in the Vaishnava Music of Assam (1962), Sattriya Dance and Their Rhythms (1973), The Bhakti-ratnakara of Sankaradeva, History of the Concept of Bhakti, etc.
Dr Neog also presented papers and delivered academic discourses in several occasions. Some major events were Technical Sciences and Fine Arts Section of All India Oriental Conference, Indian School of Drama and Asian Theatre Centre, History and Culture Section of International Congress of Orientalists, Manipur State Kala Akademi, etc. In 1970, he was deputed by the Indian Government as a representative of Indo-Foreign Cultural Exchange Programme to visit the East European countries of Hungary, Romania etc. He went on a lecture tour for fifty days acting as a member of the Indian National Commission for co-operating with UNESCO.
Dr Neog was an active member of Asam Sahitya Sabha. He served the organization as general secretary, vice-president and later as president in 1974. His long-drawn efforts led to the construction of the Sabha’s two-storied Bhagavatiprasad Barua Bhavan in Guwahati.
On September 13, 1995, Dr Neog breathed his last. His passing away was a great loss to the state as his vision was to uplift the glory of Assam and enrich the cultural heritage. An erudite scholar, he worked with great dedication and devotion due to his love towards his motherland. He shall always be remembered for his untiring efforts and immense contributions.
[Published in ‘melange’, the Sunday supplement of ‘The Sentinel’ on 18 September 2011]