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Library system in ancient Assam

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Partha Pratim Mazumder

In ancient time Assam was known as Kamrupa or Pragjyotishpura which has a strong heritage of culture, civilization and education. There were learned pandits in early period in Assam. The rulers encouraged the scholars to write manuscripts on different subjects and these were kept in well preservation. The present state of Assam bears testimony to the scholarship and the high standard of literary achievement of the scholars of Kamrupa of that time and the patronage of the monarchs. In ancient rimes the rulers of state has 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 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 ie., 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.

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 sacred place called “Gandhia Bharaf’. 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 patronized by the Ahom Kings who ruled Assam for long six hundred years. Besides compiling 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.

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 o f library in modem period has started in the year 1903 as the Assam Government public library was set up at Shillong during the period o f 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 upliftment o f 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 organized one valuable meeting for development o f public libraries in Assam in Guwahati. A huge gathering including illiterates and scholrs attended the same. This was the beginning o f 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 head quarters with different names such as Victoria Hall at Dhubri, Goalpara, Guwahati and Holiday home at Nagaon etc. The concept of library services gradually began to the rural areas. The students of the rural areas took initiative and responsibility of establishing libraries in their respective villages. Different voluntary organizations had established with a library mission which are still exist in a proper manner. 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 estsblishing more and more libraries in Assam. His fight was alone one but its success was excellent. His contribution in 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 a steady growth. In the year 1938 “Sadow Assam Puthibharal Sangha” Assam Library Association (ALA) was started under the dynamic leadership as well as enthusiasm of the educationist late Kumudeswar Borthakur.

Public Library Services in the real sense of 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 center decided to spend a good 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 Govt 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 7 (seven) district wore covered under the P.L.S viz., at Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Tezpur, Nogaon, Guwahati, Silchar and Dhubri. With a view to extend the library services to rural areas three Book Mobile Vans were purchased to organize Book Mobile Services i.e. deposit Centres in remote areas. An 1984, the Government of Assam has created a separate Directorate of library services for the improvement of library services through out Assam. At present the state Central library and the office of the Directorate of library services are functioning in the buildings of District library at Guwahati. There are now 2489 Gaon Panchyat and 26,247 (Census 2001) villages in the State and for this the Directorate of library services, Assam proposes to include the villages, 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 were not maintained during short period.

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