Library System in Ancient Assam
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. Sankardeva achieved the great success in this aspect. The Satras, Namgharas and Kirtanghars were affiliated almost every Hindu household to one or other of such numberous 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 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. One such example is found, when Rani Phuleswari Konwari as well as a wife of Sivsingha established one toi (Sanskrit medium school) at Rangapur (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 were entrusted with one Gandhia 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 very essential for an Assamese gentleman to acquire knowledge of his country. Another form of manuscripts called Vamsavti which literally means geniofogical history were available in Assam. These were complied with the intention in view to recording o f a particular family with the enumeration of its ancestors. These Vamsavali was considered very essential in a 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 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. He made vigorious attempt to build up a village library system through voluntary organizations 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 defunct body as its activities failed to reach the people.
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. A new scheme “Village cum school libraries” also taken up. At first eight schools has been selected for the project. Model Library schme also is under process by the Government of Assam. Library Act is a democratic instrument through legal provision for establishing an organized network of public libraries, its structure, personnel, maintenance, services, functions, management etc. for mankind. 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 enactment of Library Act in Assam time to time. But the Library Act is not yet enacted in Assam. So every book lover want the Library Act in our state for the all-round prosperity of the state.