It was a unique literary confluence of authors, translators, art connoisseurs, critics, budding writers and young people, who assembled for Pragjyotishpur Literature Festival 2023 showcasing a series of panel discussions, interactive sessions with authors, a workshop on creative writing, a thematic prize money quiz competition, a multilingual poetry recitation, launching of books and splendid cultural programs at Asom Sahitya Sabha and District Library premises in Guwahati. Organised for the first time by the Sankardev Education and Research Foundation (SERF) with the theme ‘In Search of Roots’, the three-day festival was a real intellectual & interactive treat for thousands of literary enthusiasts which propagated the rich cultural heritage of the land with a noble initiative to rediscover and redefine the legends of Pragjyotishpur.
The national-level Lit Fest (29 September to 1 October) was launched with lighting of the sacred lamp by the festival organising committee chief Phanindra Kumar Devchoudhury and National Book Trust-India chairman Milind Sudhakar Marathe, who were assisted by cultural personality Robin Kalita, non-resident Assamese writer Devajit Bhuyan, Nature enthusiast Soumyadeep Datta, etc. Padmashree awardee Gorkha writer Lil Bahadur Chetri, Konkani author Bhushan Bhave from Goa, New Delhi-based scholar Anshu Joshi, prominent television news personality Rubika Liyaquat and a large number of distinguished audience including SERF president Ramananda Das, Pragjyotishpur University vice-chancellor Smriti Kumar Sinha with others from various parts of the region graced the inaugural function.
An acclaimed author himself, Devchoudhury in his welcome address emphasised on showcasing the history, culture and languages of eastern Bharat in the right perspective. Expressing anger over the tendency of many highly educated people to undermine the heritage of their own land, Devchoudhury argued that many intellectuals try to define the Indian literature with foreign theories only to cover up the serenity of ancient civilizations. Ms Liyaquat made a strong statement that for her the motherland always comes first before her religion. She insisted on strengthening the roots for each and every Indian who might have changed their way of worshiping or adopting a different culture in the courses of time.
NBT chairperson Marathe, who himself is a versatile writer and critic, insisted on creating purposeful literature for the well being of society in general. He urged the new generation writers to come out of the colonial mindset with extensive study, interaction and resolutions for engaging in the futuristic creative exercises. The inaugural function began with a mantra invoking ‘Shipar Sandhanat’, a performance of Saraswati Vandana by teachers & students of Birubari Sankardev Vidya Niketan, a chorus by Tezpur Shilpi Samaj and a Bhoar Taal Nritya by Banalata Baishy’s Sadhana Shilpi Samaj and it was concluded by a Bharat Bandana performed by Mallika Kandali and her disciples.
The present-day Assam is the central part of the ancient kingdom named Pragjyotishpur (later also known as Kamrup), where its capital was located roughly in the present day Guwahati. The kingdom was spread to Jalpaiguri, Koch Behar, Bhutan hills (including some parts of Nepal), Rangpur, Sylhet, Mymensingh, Dhaka (now under Bangladesh), Tripura, Khasi & Garo hills, etc. Pragjyotishpur (meaning the eastern part of Jyotishpur) gets its mention in both the great Indian epics Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as in Kalika Puran, Yogini Tantra and Charyapada.
Pragjyotishpur was pronounced by Lord Ram in the critical phase of his struggles after losing his wife Seeta. On the other hand, the powerful king of Pragjyotishpur, Bhagadatta fought along with the Kauravas (against Pandavas) in the battle of Mahabharata. When it came to exist as the Kamrup kingdom, legendary king Kumar Bhaskarvarman used to rule over the land. Bhaskarvarman enjoyed a dignified and mutually respected relationship with emperor Harshavardhan (of Kanauja and Thaneswara) and often sent valuable books as gifts to Harshavardhan. He was a vibrant patroniser of ancient Nalanda University, one of the greatest centres of learning across the globe.
Pragjyotishpur itself was an abode of learning, publications and intellectual exercises as these were the oldest traditions and practices for the residents. Many valuable books were written in this part of the world, where Madhav Kandali’s Ramayana in a local language signifies the dimension and intellectual capacity of an author. The society used to promote the learning and redefining of general science, Ayurveda and traditional healthcare, Astrology, craftsmanship and both performing & visual arts. The residents still carry the legacy of ancient Indian culture, developed since the pre- historic days.
Scholarly writer Joshi from Jawaharlal Nehru University, during a conversation with researcher Namrata Pathak, spoke about the fake secularism embrassing love jihad in various higher education centres. Quoting her own novel ‘JNU Mein Ek Ladki Rehti Thi’, Joshi described the hypocrisy in the name of Marxism that still exists in the premier institution. Finally she urged the budding writers to learn how to judge the wrong and right contents in their own life and literary creations. Making themselves responsible writers to the society, Joshi hoped that the new generation would use their literary works for the process of nation building. Sahitya Akademi awardee Assamese author Anuradha Sarma Pujari, while talking to writer Nizara Hazarika, enlightened the audience on many pertinent issues.
Panel discussions on ‘Rhetoric of Empowerment: The Study of History in Search of Roots’ drew the attention of audience, where Ankita Dutta (JNU), Jyotirmoy Pradhani (NEHU), Namita Devi (Barbhag College) and journalist Rupam Barua shared their indepth views under the moderation of Jogesh Kakati. Similarly, JNU professor Joshi, Konkani litterateur Bhave and Assamese historian Robin Sharma delibarted on ‘Exploring Tradition through Literature’ arguing that some traditions (including the traditional medicinal practices of Bharat) should be redefined for the present day use.
Authors Arindam Sarma, Manika Devi, Lakshi Hazarika, Bhakarjyoti Sarma and Dhiren Sarma spoke about the contemporary Assamese literature enriched with history and tradition in an interesting session moderated by Bibhash Choudhury. Environmentalist turned writer Datta moderated a session on ‘Contemporary Nature Writing’, where Bharati Dutta, Pradosh Ranjan Saha, Pankaj Dutta, etc highlighted their experiences. Award winning translator Bipul Deuri moderated a session on ‘Regional Indian Literature: Lost and Found in Translation’, where Mitra Phukan, Indrani Laskar and Nil Mohan Roy shared their views.
Acclaimed Assamese film personalities like national award-winning director Manju Bora, acclaimed actress Malaya Goswami, film critic Ankan Rajkumar and film maker Kankan Deka put their views in the session on ‘Assam through the Cinematic Lens’, which was moderated by writer Bitopon Borbora. The speakers were unanimous in their views that the regional movies only reflect the real India. They also urged the new age film makers to adopt the transformation of film technology while working in the field. Digitation of all available Assamese (including other movies produced in ethnic languages) celluloid movies becomes need of the hour, asserted the film personalities.
Auniati Satra’s Satradhikar Pitambar Devgoswami and Rabindranath Tagore University’s vice-chancellor Amalendu Chakrabarty spoke on ‘Neo Vaishnavism of Bharata and Sankardev’, which was moderated by Purandar Barua. They put together views on many unique characteristics of Srimanta Sankardev, the 15th century saint, philosopher and social reformer, along with his prime disciple Shri Madhabdev, who shaped the culture of present day Assam. Distinguished storyteller Atanu Bhattacharyya guided the workshop on creative writing for young students. The quiz competition on India’s history and culture was conducted by Dipankar Koushik. Several promising poets including Modar Jyoti, Dhiman Barman, Sourav Saikia, Induprabha Devi, Joijeet Deka, Ganga Mohan Mili, Hangmiji Hanse, Sanjay Das, etc participated in the multilingual poetry session, which was moderated by Aparajita Pujari.
Veteran litterateur Nahendra Padun and promising writer Nayanjyoti Sarma were conferred with Pragjyotishpur Sahitya Puraskar at the closing ceremony in presence of Samudra Gupta Kashyap (chancellor of Nagaland University) and Sahitya Akademi awardee author -translator Diganta Biswa Sarma. Receiving the award, Padun recalled his literary journey saying that Mising is his mother tongue and Assamese the midwife language. Refusing to be identified as a Mising poet in the society, Padun clarified that he is an Assamese poet (as he writes in Assamese language). He also pointed out that even though ethnic writers of Assam continue creating literature in Assamese language, no mainstream Assamese writers try their hands in any tribal language. Nayanjyoti, who is a practicing physician, commented that the award has inspired him to continue the journey as a writer.
Sarma in his address discussed the eras of literature created in the West and at the same time criticized concept of the post-modern era. He lamented that this kind of western thinking has taken away Indian culture from the Sanatani values. Sarma appreciated that the Lit Fest adopted a pertinent theme, which needed a brain storming discussion in from of a wider audience. Kashyap termed the country as Punyabhoomi Bharat and revealed that when literature was created here, the western countries even did not have written languages. Sudeshna Bhattacharjya (on behalf of SERF) and Bikram Kalita (the festival organising committee secretary) thanked every participant and well wisher of the initiative.
The LitFests become very popular among book lovers, writer-authors, playwrights, music-film appreciators, social thinkers, editor-journalists etc across India, where the regional literary works are often propagated with a great enthusiasm. Now Pragjyotishpur LitFest has proudly joined the list of annual festivals comprising the Jaipur Literary Festival, Kolkata Literary Festival, Bangalore Literature Festival, Kerala Literature Festival, Pune International Literary Festival, Mumbai Queensline LitFest, Nagpur Orange City Literature Festival, Gurgaon Literature Festival, Chandigarh Literature Festival, Dehradun Valley of Words, Kumaon Festival of Literature & Arts, Goa Arts and Literature Festival, Times LitFest, etc.
Pre-events to the promising literature festival were also organised in Dhubri Bholanath College, Dibrugarh H Surajmall Kanoi College, Dhemaji Balika Bidyalaya, North Lakhimpur College, etc with great enthusiasm from hundreds of novice writers, book-enthusiasts and serious readers. Prior to this LitFest, Guwahati witnessed three editions of Brahmaputra Literary Festival. Initially patronised by the NBT and later solely organised by the State government run Asom Prakashan Parishad, those festivals at Srimanta Sankardev Kalakshetra attracted a number of foreign authors besides many national and regional literary activists.