Archive for category Biography

REMINISCING SARADA DEVI, THE HOLY MOTHER, WHOSE BIRTH ANNIVERSARY IS CELEBRATED AS ‘MATRI DIVAS’

‘Matri Divas’ is celebrated on the twenty-second of December to commemorate the birth anniversary of Sarada Devi, who was fondly known as ‘Maa Sarada’ or the ‘Holy Mother’. According to Swami Vivekananda, she was an illustration of an ideal woman due to her selfless service and liberal outlook towards enrichment of common people and transformation of the nation.

On 22 December 1853, Sarada Devi was born to Ramchandra Mukhopadhyay and Shyama Sundari Devi who lived in Jayrambati, a village in West Bengal. Since childhood, she was inclined to spirituality. She tried to learn the Bengali alphabet but had no access to formal education.

At the age of six, she was married to Sri Ramkrishna, who followed the path of spirituality. But she continued to stay with her parents and engaged herself in performing all the household duties. When she reached eighteen years of age, she went to Dakhineshwar to meet Ramkrishna. Her husband received her with pleasure and they stayed together living pure and religious lives.

In the year 1872, Sarada Devi was worshipped through rituals as Divine Mother and the trait of universal motherhood concealed in her got awakened. Subsequently, she began to perceive the disciples of her husband as her own children. She spent her entire life caring and serving everyone.

In 1886, Ramkrishna passed away and Sarada Devi set out on a pilgrimage. Later, she was brought to Calcutta by the disciples of her husband. The turning point of her life started as she began to receive plenty of devotees. With a compassionate heart of a mother, she embraced everyone, even people who led immoral lives.

Inspite of being worshipped as Holy Mother; she led a very simple life, doing all the household tasks all by herself. She ever remained calm and blessed one and all who came to meet her. She possessed virtues of purity, patience, wisdom, spiritual perception, universal love and compassion.

During the ultimate phase of her life, her physical condition began to decline. She became weak due to frequent attacks of malaria. On 21 July 1920, she breathed her last.

To reminisce and pay tributes to the Holy Mother Sarada Devi, ‘Matri Divas’ is celebrated every year on twenty second December. The day is observed to acknowledge every mother, who plays a vital role in the development of her children since she is the essence of creation and the first tutor of her child.

 

[Published in ‘Ezine Articles’ on 6 June 2013]

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BIR CHILARAI – THE GREAT GENERAL OF ASSAM

Bir Chilarai (1510 – 1571 AD) was a great general who belonged to the Koch royal dynasty of Assam. By his valour, he played a significant role in expanding the empire of his elder brother, Maharaja Nara Narayan.

The Koch dynasty set up their kingdom in the western part of Assam after the fall of Khen dynasty in 1498 AD and Chandan was crowned king of Kamata kingdom. Maharaja Chandan ruled for thirteen years but as he had no sons, after his death Viswa Singha was enthroned.

The reign of Maharaja Viswa Singha marked a glorious episode in the history of Assam as he was the founder ruler of the Koch royal dynasty, who newly established his kingdom in 1515 AD. He had many sons but only four of them were remarkable. Shukladhwaj, later known as Bir Chilarai, was his third son.

Born on a full moon day, Shukladhwaj had a fair complexion and hence he was called by that name. He along with his brothers learnt warfare and they all mastered the art very well. For achieving higher education, he and his elder brother Malla Dev went to Varanasi. They learnt various subjects and acquired knowledge in Sanskrit, Grammar, Literature, Law, Astrology etc.

After the death of Maharaja Viswa Singha, his son Malla Dev ascended the throne. He was better known as Maharaja Nara Narayan. Shukladhwaj was appointed army commander and he assisted his brother in extending the kingdom. A brave warrior and an exceptional general, Shukladhwaj was extremely quick in his actions. He came to be known as ‘Chilarai’ as he was swift like the bird chila or the kite in capturing the foes.

In 1562 AD, an intense battle took place when Nara Narayan crossed River Brahmaputra and attacked the Ahom kingdom. Chilarai commanded his soldiers to fight both on land and through water. The defeated king finally fled with his army and Nara Narayan achieved victory. Later, a truce followed between them.

In 1568 AD, another battle ensued when Nara Narayan attacked Gour, ruled by Soleman Karnani. But this time he had to face defeat as Kalapahar, the army commander captured Chilarai. Kalapahar with his soldiers then destroyed many temples including Kamakhya while he proceeded towards Tezpur.

Nara Narayan defeated the king of Cachar and brought his kingdom under his rule. The king of Manipur surrendered as he decided not to combat with such a powerful ruler. Chilarai then attacked the states of Jayantia, Tripura and Sylhet. He defeated the kings in the battles and killed them. Observing the condition of the neighbouring states, the rulers of Khairam and Dimoriya submitted their petty states. Thus with the help of Chilarai’s heroism, Maharaja Nara Narayan extended his vast empire and earned revenues from several rulers.

Nara Narayan attacked Gour for the second time when Akbar, the Mughal emperor sought help from him. They had an alliance with Sisya Singha Raikat and Debraj, the king of Bhutan while invading Gour. Chilarai captured Ghoraghat and seized the whole area of Gour. After defeating King Gourpasha, the kingdom was shared between Nara Narayan and Akbar.

During the second invasion of Gour, Chilarai breathed his last on the banks of River Ganga as he suffered from pox. After his death, battles subsided. It was the courageous deeds of Chilarai that led the Koch kingdom reach the zenith.

Later, Nara Narayan divided his kingdom into two parts namely, Koch Bihar and Koch Hajo. He kept Koch Bihar, the western part under his authority while Koch Hajo, the eastern part was given to Raghudev, the son of chilarai.

The birth anniversary of the great hero is celebrated every year as Bir Chilarai Divas. From the year 2005, the government of Assam has been conferring Bir Chilarai Award, the highest honour for bravery to individuals. The gallant accomplishments of Bir Chilarai in the regime of Maharaja Nara Narayan shall be remembered forever.

 

[Published in the blog ‘North-East India’ on 9 February 2012]

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BIR TIKENDRAJIT SINGH – THE TRUE PATRIOT OF MANIPUR

Bir Tikendrajit Singh was a great patriot and a prince from Manipur, a state in the north-eastern region of India, who laid down his life during India’s struggle for Independence. He was called the ‘Lion of Manipur’ as he fearlessly fought against the British.

Tikendrajit Singh was born as the fourth son to Maharaja Chandrakriti Singh and Chongtham Chanu Kouseswari Devi on December 29, 1856. Koireng, as he was popularly known as, loved freedom since his childhood. After the Maharaja’s death on May 20, 1886, the eldest son of the royal family Surchandra Singh ascended the throne of Manipur. The princes were appointed as heir-apparent, army general and police chief. Later on, Tikendrajit became ‘Senapati’, the general of Manipur army.

Tension began to develop gradually as some misunderstandings crept up among the princes and finally the royal family split up into two factions, one led by Tikendrajit himself and the other by Pakasana. The king remained unaware about the situation and chaos increased to a great extent. According to Tikendrajit, the king was in favour of Pakasana. He disliked the British attitude towards the local rulers as they expanded their empire by usurpation. So he thought of a plan and made efforts to protect the sovereignty of the state. He was also aware of the fact that the Britishers waited for an opportunity to change Manipur to a colony of their own.

On September 22, 1890, Tikendrajit along with two other princes Angousan and Jilangamba, revolted against Surchandra Singh and overthrew him. The monarch fled from the palace and took refuge in the residence of the British. Then Kullachandra ascended the throne and Tikendrajit became ‘Jubaraj’, the heir-apparent. This incident is known as ‘Palace Revolt’ in Manipur history.

Later, the former ruler Surchandra Singh, left for Calcutta but informed Tikendrajit that he was on his way to Vrindavan. After reaching Calcutta, he sent a petition to the Government for restoring his throne in Manipur. The matter was taken into consideration and British Viceroy of India Lord Landsdowne then took a decision to retain Kullachandra as the king but remove Tikendrajit from Manipur.

On March 22, 1891, Chief Commissioner J.W. Quinton reached Manipur with a troop of soldiers. A secret plan was arranged to arrest Tikendrajit but the secret got leaked and the plan failed. Grimwood, the political agent then asked the king to hand over Tikendrajit to him. King Kullachandra refused and so the British used force to arrest Tikendrajit.

Two days later, in the evening of March 24, the British troops attacked the residence of Tikendrajit in Palace Compound and killed many civilians, women and children who were watching a programme on Ras Lila. The Manipuri soldiers fought back and succeeded in their offensive struggle. Five British officers, Quinton and Grimwood among them, had to flee to seek shelter. Feelings of revenge arose among the people whose family and relatives had been killed and thus they executed all the five officers.

On March 31, the Anglo-Manipur War took place as the British Government announced war on Manipur. Three columns of the army, namely, Kohima commanded by Major General H. Collet, Silchar commanded by Colonel R. H. F. Rennick and Tamu commanded by Brigadier General T. Graham were sent to Manipur while the Manipuri army was led by Tikendrajit himself.

On April 27, the Kangla Palace was taken over by the British and Major Maxwell became the chief political agent. Later, Churachand Singh, a minor was given the throne as Manipur turned into a princely state, while Tikendrajit along with some other leaders went underground.

The British Indian Government constituted a special court formed under Lieutenant Colonel John Mitchell for the trials and the court commenced on May 11. Tikendrajit, Kullachandra and Thangal General were found guilty and were sentenced to death. Some efforts were made by Queen Victoria to save Tikendrajit but remained unsuccessful as the Governor General confirmed the death sentences of Tikendrajit and Thangal General. A protest movement was also launched but failed. Kullachandra, however, made an appeal to the Government and his sentence was thus converted into transportation of life.

On August 13, 1891, the order was announced and at 5 pm in the evening, both Tikendrajit and Thangal General were hanged before the general public at Polo Ground in Imphal. This place was later named as Bir Tikendrajit Park and to remember his heroic deeds, Manipur celebrates the day as Patriot’s Day.

Bir Tikendrajit was a true nationalist and he will always be remembered for his courage and patriotism.

 

[Published in the blog ‘North-East India’ on 12 January 2012]

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DR MAMONI RAISOM GOSWAMI, THE JNANPITH WINNER BIDS ADIEU

Dr Mamoni Raisom Goswami is a distinguished name in the world of literature. In the year 2000, she was honoured with ‘Jnanpith’, the highest literary award in India, for her immense contributions. She was an eminent writer, a prolific author, a Ramayani scholar, an editor and former Professor of Delhi University.

Born to Umakanta Goswami and Ambika Devi on 14 November 1942 in Guwahati, she was named Indira by her father in memory of Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru. She was lovingly called Mamoni by her mother. Mamoni Raisom Goswami is her pen name by which she preferred to write.

Indira Goswami studied in Pine Mount School, Shillong in the early years and matriculated from Tarini Charan Girls’ High School, Guwahati. Her first collection of stories Chinaki Morom was published when she was thirteen years of age. She graduated in Assamese Literature from Cotton College, Guwahati and obtained her postgraduate degree from Gauhati University.

She met Madhaven Raisom Iyengar, an engineer from Karnataka, who was then working on the construction of Saraighat Bridge over the River Brahmaputra in Guwahati. After getting married, they moved to Gujarat and later to Jammu and Kashmir where Iyengar was posted.

But unfortunately, just after eighteen months of marriage, Madhaven Raisom Iyengar lost his life in a car accident in Kashmir. They had no children. After the premature death of her husband, Indira Goswami suffered from acute depression, got addicted to heavy doses of sleeping pills and even made attempts to end up her life.

At this stage, she devoted her time to writing and wrote only to live. Her sufferings and struggles in life are conveyed in her book An Unfinished Autobiography written in the style of a novel. It is prescribed as a text-book by the universities in Maharashtra.

Indira Goswami first started her career as a teacher at Sainik School, Goalpara in Assam. Her teacher Upendra Chandra Lekharu persuaded her to pursue research work for peace of mind. According to his advice, she went to Vrindavan in Uttar Pradesh and involved herself in the studies of Ramayani Literature.

She worked on her PhD thesis on the topic, a comparative analysis of Ramcharitmanas by Tulsidas and Kotha Ramayan by Madhav Kandali. Later, her treatise was published as a book, Ramayana from Ganga to Brahmaputra, for which she was honoured with ‘International Tulsi Award’ from Florida University.

Dr Goswami joined the Modern Indian Language Department of Delhi University and her magnificent phase in life started. She penned most of her works during this period and her books written in Assamese were later translated into English. She went on to become the Head of the Assamese Department and after retirement, she was honoured as Professor Emeritus by the University.

The first novel penned by Mamoni Raisom Goswami was The Chenab’s Current, which she started writing in 1964 and was published as a book in 1972. The story of the novel was based on her experience while she was in Kashmir with her husband. Her experiences in life are also reflected in her novels The Blue Necked Braja and Ahiran.

In 1982, Dr Goswami received the ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’ for her novel The Rusted Sword. Her novel The Moth Eaten Howdah of a Tusker was later made into a film named Adajya which received much acclaim and awards. Her famous novels were Dasarathi’s Steps, The Man from Chinnamasta, Pages Stained with Blood, Udaybhanu, etc.

Several short stories were written by the acclaimed author and some of them were The Journey, The Offspring, To Break a Begging Bowl, Beasts, Parasu’s Well, Dwarka and His Gun, Sanskar, etc. Pain and Flesh is her poetry collection which includes her well-known poem Pakistan. Mahiyashi Kamala is her biography on Dr Kamala Ratnam.

She translated many books such as Premchandor Chuti Galpa, Jatak Katha Aru Kalam and Adhaghanta Samay. Her other works include The Bronze Sword of Thengphakhri Tehsildar, Shadow of the Dark God, The Budha Sea, Hazy Geishas and Mohammad Mucha etc.

Dr Goswami received numerous awards in her lifetime for her literary contributions. She was honoured with ‘Jnanpith Award’, ‘International Tulsi Award’, ‘Sahitya Akademi Award’, ‘Bharat Nirman Award’, ‘Katha Rashtriya Puraskar’, ‘Kamal Kumari Foundation National Award’, ”Asom Sahitya Sabha Award’, ‘Krishnakanta Handique Award’ and ‘Mahiyashi Jaymati Award’ with a citation in gold.

She also received literary awards from several states of India. She was honoured with D Litt Degree from three universities namely, Indira Gandhi National Open University, Rabindra Bharati University of West Bengal and Rajiv Gandhi University of Arunachal Pradesh. She was a recipient of ‘Sauhardya Award’ from Uttar Pradesh Hindi Sansthan.

Besides, she was conferred ‘Principal Prince Claus Laureate’ from Netherlands, ‘Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar Gold Plate’ from Asiatic Society and ‘Ambassador for Peace’ from Inter Religious and International Federation for World Peace. But she refused ‘Padmashri’ awarded to her in 2002. A film named Words from the mist was made on her life by the national award winning film-maker Jahnu Baruah.

Mamoni Baideo, as she was popularly known as, played the role of a mediator between the United Liberation Front of Assam and the Indian Government. She took the initiative of bringing the banned militant group for negotiation of peace talks. Her efforts laid to the formation of the People’s Consultative Group.

The noted litterateur passed away on 29 November 2011 at the age of 69 years. She suffered a stroke in the month of February last year and was taken to New Delhi for treatment. Later in July, she was brought back to Assam and was treated at Guwahati Medical College Hospital. There she breathed her last following a cardiac arrest and multiple organ failure.

The Jnanpith winner was bid farewell by thousands of mourners at the crematorium. A gun salute of twenty-one shots was fired in the air as a mark of respect. Her niece lit the funeral pyre and her mortal remains were consigned to flames. She was laid to rest with full state honours and her last rites were performed with Vedic rituals.

Dr Mamoni Raisom Goswami was appreciated and respected by all not only for her literary talents but for being a great humanist as well. She shall be remembered forever for her celebrated works and also for her charming personality.

 

[Published in the e-journal ‘Indian Ruminations’ on 10 January 2012]

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REMEMBERING AN ILLUSTRIOUS SCHOLAR

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
excellent contribution.

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]

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