Library System in Ancient Assam

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Assam was known as Kamrupa or Pragjyotishpura in ancient times which has a strong heritage of culture, civilisation and education. There were learned pandits in the early period in Assam. The rulers encouraged the scholars to write manuscripts on different subjects, and these were kept in good preservation
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 Dibrugarh University in ancient Kamrupa present Assam

Partha Pratim Mazumder 

The present state of Assam bears testimony to the scholarship and the high standard of the literary achievement of the scholars of Kamrupa of that time and the patronage of the monarchs. In ancient times, the rulers of the state have a keen interest and love for education, books and libraries. From the earliest times the leaves, barks of trees and blades of metals were used as writing materials. The folios which were made from the bark of Agaru, also known as Sanchripat since the sixth century till the beginning of the last century. Bhaskar Barman, the ruler of Kamrupa, sent a number of valuable presents to Harshavardhana, the ruler of Kanauj. During the region of king Naranaryana of Koch Bihar, the Vaisnava religion was spreading throughout the undivided Assam. Srimanta Sankardeva, the (1445-1566) initiator of Vaishnava renaissance in Assam, brought a new movement of Assamese culture and education.
At that time manuscripts were written and copied at the patronage of royal sovereigns. The Koch King Naranarayana was a great patron of art and letters. The great saint presented two unprecedented institutions, i.e., Satra, Namghara and Kirtanghara, on where religious as well as sacred books were kept. Through this system, at that time, the adult illiterates and neo literates were attracted for informal education. Sankardeva achieved great success in this aspect. The Satras, Namgharas and Kirtanghars were affiliated almost every Hindu household to one or other of numerous such institutions. The Satras were used to be a repository of books mainly of the followers of the faith.
During the Ahom period the rulers, who were enlightened person also regards the books and library as sacred ones. They used to keep them in a holy place called "Gandhi Bharat'. The practice of writing Buranji, the meaning of which in tai language is "Ignorant learn store" was prevalent in Assam. The writing or compiling of Buranji or Chronicles was seriously patronised by the Ahom Kings who ruled Assam for long six hundred years. Besides collecting Buranjis, Ahom wrote books on subjects of varied interest such as scripture, folklore, medicine, and science of house building and tank excavations etc. A provision in training in manuscripts writing and copying the same was also available owing to the patronage of the ruling king. One such example is found, when Rani Phuleswari Konwari, as well as a wife of Sivsingha, established one toi (Sanskrit medium school) at Rangpur (Sibsagar town) known as "Barrajar Panthsald. All necessary items such as pen, inkpot, books etc. were kept ready for use and the maintenance of those we're entrusted with one Gandhi Barua, an officer appointed by the administration. The sacred tradition that prevailed in Assam during that period, every family took pride in possessing manuscripts, historical and religious. It was considered essential for an Assamese gentleman to acquire knowledge of his country. Another form of documents called Vamsavti, which means geological history were available in Assam. These were compiled with the intention in view to the recording of a particular family with the enumeration of its ancestors. This Vamsavali was considered essential in an Ahom family of positions as it was customary to read family history in their marriage ceremonies.
In Pre-independent period The British rulers used to establish departmental libraries for their conveniences. Besides the family archives and Satra libraries, collection of manuscripts in village Namghara served the people to a considerable extent in matters of giving religious instructions along with the knowledge of different scriptures. The concept of a library in the modern period has started in the year 1903 as the Assam Government public library was set up at Shillong during the period of British Raj basically to serve the Government officials. Kumudeswar Borthakur, a retired school teacher, was a renowned figure in the growth and development of library services in Assam. He visited the state of Baroda for the upliftment of a well-established library system in Assam with a great mission. Lokapriya Gopinath Bordoloithe then prime minister of Assam favoured Borthakur in this mission. He was folly cooperated by some other political leaders and social workers in his mission. He organised one valuable meeting for development of public libraries in Assam in Guwahati. A massive gathering, including illiterates and scholars, attended the same. This was the beginning of Assam Library Association. It may be stated without any hesitations that the association saw the light of the day only because of this great personality of Borthakur. The British ruler had also established some libraries at the district headquarters with different names such as Victoria Hall at Dhubri, Goalpara, Guwahati and Holiday home at Nagaon etc. The concept of library services gradually began in rural areas. The students of the rural areas took the initiative and responsibility of establishing libraries in their respective villages. Different voluntary organisations had created with a library mission which still exists appropriately. Borthakur attended the All India Library Conferences held at Baroda from time to time, and his return from such conferences helped him to imbibe with the idea of establishing more and more libraries in Assam. His fight was alone one, but its success was excellent. His contribution to the growth and development of libraries in Assam was not only tremendous but also quite remarkable. Only for his great efforts, Government established various libraries in Assam.
However, in Assam Public Library movement had steady growth. In the year 1938 "Sadow Assam Puthibharal Sangha" Assam Library Association (ALA) was started under the dynamic leadership as well as the enthusiasm of the educationist late Kumudeswar Borthakur. He made a vigorous attempt to build up a village library system through voluntary organisations throughout Assam. Annual Conference of the ALA was held at Dibrugarh, Tezpur, Nagaon, Jorhat, Golaghat, Bokakhat and Mangaldoi between 1937 to 1959. The Eighth Conference was held at Gauhati in 1964. Two more sessions of ALA were held at Guwahati in 1994 and 2004. Now the ALA is almost a dead body as its activities failed to reach the people.
Public Library Services in the real sense of the term was initiated in Assam during the First Five Year Plan. India just after independence started a Nationwide Scheme "Free Book Service to All" under the patronage of the first Prime Minister, Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru. The National Government of India after assuming power in the centre decided to spend a right amount of money for the improvement of library services in the country Government of Assam welcomed the scheme "Improvement of Library Services" sponsored by the Government of India and in 1954 established the first State Central Library (SCL) in Shillong, the then capital of Assam. Thus, by 1955, there were only two Government Libraries. In 1956, the old Public Library was amaigwas amalgamated with the SCL. Thus, the library movement got a start in Assam. By 1961 all the then existing seven districts wore covered under the P.L.S viz., at Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tezpur, Nagaon, Guwahati, Silchar and Dhubri. To extend the library services to rural areas, three Book Mobile Vans were purchased to organise Book Mobile Services, i.e. deposit Centres in remote areas. 1984, the Government of Assam has created a separate Directorate of library services for the improvement of library services throughout Assam. At present, the Central state library and the office of the Directorate of library services are functioning in the buildings of District library at Guwahati. There are now 2489 Panchyat and 26,247 (Census 2001) villages in the State and for this the Directorate of library services, Assam proposes to include the communities, under the "Rural Library Scheme" by establishing the Panchayat libraries in a phased manner. At first, 50 Panchayats are selected for the purpose. At present 204 rural libraries are taken over by the Government of Assam. A total of 714 village libraries to be taken over by the Government but this was not maintained during a short period. A new scheme "Village cum school libraries" also taken up. At first, eight schools have been selected for the project. Model Library scheme also is under process by the Government of Assam. Library Act is a democratic instrument through legal provision for establishing an organised network of public libraries, its structure, personnel, maintenance, services, functions, management etc. for humanity. Various states of India (Total 19) including our sister states Mizoram, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh have been enjoying the fruits and corns of the Library Act. Starting from the Dr S.R.Ranganathan's draft bill for Assam: 1964 several drafts have been submitted by the library stalwarts to the Government for the enactment of Library Act in Assam from time to time. But the Library Act is not yet enacted in Assam. So every book lover wants the Library Act in our state for the all-round prosperity of the nation.
(The writer is Assistant Teacher in Assam)