Bhabananda Deka: The Pioneering Assamese Economist–Scholar–Litterateur–Educationist | The Sentinel

- by Sneha Hazarika | Melange, The Sentinel | April 13, 2014

To all avid research scholars and students of Assam Economics, Principal Bhabananda Deka is a very familiar name as the pioneer of study and research on Assam’s Economy in its local language. For the uninitiated, we must add that he has a total of one hundred and fourteen books on topics ranging from Assam economics, economic theory, heritage and tribal culture of Assam and Northeast, Education, Vaisnavite literary study, Philosophy, Religion, Education and Political Science which had already attained iconic status among the Assamese intelligentsia.

Yes, this legendary personality was the first Assamese Author on Assam Economics and Civics, as well as a renowned Litterateur, Research Scholar and Educationist. He had been rightfully bestowed with the title of ‘Asom Ratna’ (‘Jewel of Assam’) by his admirers and senior intellectuals of Assam as he had served the cause of Assam and Assamese all throughout his outstanding life

Principal Bhabananda Deka was widely known and acclaimed as a teacher of outstanding character and merit, and apart from his brief stint in the Indian bureaucracy for the cause of his home state and its literary mission, he spent his life in establishing a very high standard in education delivery system and bringing the higher education closer to the underprivileged rural folks all over the state of Assam. It is really incredible that he is the only Assamese Educationist to have taken up the challenges of setting up four higher institutions of learning in far–flung areas of Assam covering almost the entire Brahmaputra valley right from upper Assam to lower Assam.

His authority and command over Assam economics is a universally accepted fact, and scholars, students and governmental policy makers hugely benefited from his in–depth extensive research on this vital topic for almost five decades. It is also significant that he published many research papers on phase wise economic study of Assam extending up to five centuries from the time of Srimanta Sankardev, encompassing periods of 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th centuries– both pre and post–independence phases. A historic compilation of some of these research papers was published for the very first time in book format on the occasion of golden jubilee of Assam economics study.

He also authored the first comprehensive Assamese Dictionary on Economics and Commerce. Many of his books on Economic Theory, Assam Economics and Indian Economics had been widely recommended as text–books by almost all Universities and Boards of North East India besides Assam. However, his enviable success as economist and educationist could not overshadow his zeal in studying other topics of interest, as reflected by his innumerable research papers and articles published in leading newspapers, periodicals and research journals, besides his wide ranging selection of books.

His writings started appearing from early 1960’s in the legendary Assamese literary journals of mid–twentieth century like ‘Awahan’ and ‘Ramdhenu’, and by the end of that decade his was widely accepted as one of the prominent litterateurs of the famous ‘Ramdhenu–Awahan Era’. His traditional upbringing in the frugal monastic tradition drew his attention towards the unexplored vast reservoir of Vaisnavite literature left behind by middle age Saints and social reformers like Srimanta Sankardev, Madhabdev, Damodardev, Haridev and Bhattadev. He devoted his entire life in bringing these gems of Assamese literature as well as the philosophies propounded by these saints to the domain of modern literary study. In the process, he not only authored several biographies on these saints in English and Assamese, but accomplished the monumental task of translating the timeless Assamese literary classic ‘Kirtan Ghosa’ of Srimanta Sankardev into simple and lucid English prose for the benefit of the modern English readers of the world.

Followers of his work remember, Principal Deka as a true spirited leading light on the intellectual horizon in India of the 20th century who had enriched the society with his wisdom, path–breaking research, and historic achievements on the social front to such an extent that his contributions and personality will continue to inspire all the future generations to work for the development of their motherland and its people. Principal Bhabananda Deka had dreamt of a pure, peaceful, developing greater Assam, and all his research and literary works reflect that insurmountable love for his motherland.

It is worth remembering everyday the memorable services rendered by Principal Bhabananda Deka for the cause of propagating the glory and effect of the Assamese language and literature everywhere. He was also the first and only Assamese Senior Class–I Officer to be appointed to head the newly constituted Assamese Department of the Indian Constitutional body ‘Union Public Service Commission’ (UPSC) in the late 1960s, in New Delhi. During his sojourn in this highly coveted chair in the capital, he realized that Assamese language and literature had not found its rightful place in the Indian capital and its intelligentsia. He vowed to correct this injustice during his short tenure in Delhi and he made up his mind to firmly establish Assamese as a leading Indian language in the capital city. The obvious outcome of this historic oath was in the form of introduction of the Assamese subject and Assamese medium in the all India level competitive examinations conducted by the UPSC to select the top bureaucrats to serve Indian government, which had benefited many generations of Assamese civil service aspirants in the following decades.

Principal Bhabananda Deka was also instrumental in setting up of the Assamese Department within the Modern Indian Languages Department in the Delhi University in 1969, and also paved the way of establishing the highly prestigious Srimanta Sankardev Chair in that Department almost four decades later. In this manner, Principal Bhabananda Deka carried on serving his people and he did it remarkably without the privilege of public attention or publicity, by convincing two eminent organizations like the UPSC as well as Delhi University about the heritage and long literary tradition of Assamese language and its literature.

He also undertook an extensive study of several ethnic groups and communities and their dying culture in the Brahmaputra valley and surrounding hills in Assam and Meghalaya. This long and tedious unheralded research yielded in several Research Papers and books on Hajong, Karbi and Lalung or Tiwa communities, bringing the unique tradition and heritage of these tribes to the forefront of intellectual attention. His comparative study of different religions and philosophies of the religions of all around the world and its outcome in the shape of many research papers and books also played a crucial role in asserting communal harmony and social amity amidst different religious groups in these trying times of religious intolerance that has engulfed the whole world of the modern times.

He was also instrumental in the production of first one hour documentary film on the life and works of Srimanta Sankardev in 1996 which was subsequently screened in the USA, Canada and other countries, and is currently preserved in the National Museum of Switzerland.

His masterly works for the growth and development of Assamese literature had earned him literary honours and recognitions in the shape of presidentship of the undivided Kamrup District Sahitya Sabha, the premier literary body in Assam. The Assam government also recognized his vast literary contributions by bestowing upon him the Literary Award on the occasion of the golden Jubilee of Indian Independence on 15 August 1997. Subsequently, the state government also conferred upon him the Literary Pension as a leading litterateur of the state in the year 2004.

During his lifetime, a novel ‘Bhaba Ananda Sambad’ was authored upon his illustrious life, which managed to win an award by the Assam Publication Board. A full–length film ‘Portrait of a Pioneer Assamese’ on his life and works is also currently under production, and would celebrate his glorious life till the year 2006.