One of the latest publications of the Publications Division, Dibrugarh University, is a monograph on Maheswar Neog, the scholar par excellence, authored by Dr Karabi Deka Hazarika.
The Publication Division brings out a series of books on the men of letters and this latest title is one of them. The objective of publishing this series is to introduce the readers to the life and works of the men of letters who have enriched Assamese literature and culture through their original contributions.
While admitting at the beginning that any assessment of Dr Maheswar Neog is a challenging task, Dr Deka Hazarika has adroitly discussed all aspects of Neog’s creativity and scholarship.
She sketches out an outline of Neog’s life from his autobiography and passes on to assess his major achievements as an Orientalist and scholar. Dr Deka Hazarika has pointed out that Maheswar Neog did a great deal of work to spread Assamese culture outside the state.
Bezbaroa provided the nation with self-confidence and mental strength and that tradition was brought forward by Maheswar Neog. Indian Renaissance inspired the writers in the regional languages to investigate into the distinctive features of their own languages and cultures. In the post-independence era, Maheswar Neog engaged himself in that task.
Dr Deka Hazarika, in her discussion of Neog’s contribution to Sankardeva studies, quotes Dr Mahendra Bora, “In the kingdom of Sankarite literature, he reigns supreme. The little bit of supernaturalism that remained with Sankardeva who had already been brought out from the community prayer hall by Bezbaroa, was brushed clean by Neog. Guru Sankara, while remaining at the altar for prayer, brightened up like the polar star in the academic and intellectual circles.” Many obscure recesses of Assamese culture and literature were illuminated by Neog’s research.
The author has discussed Assamology in a chapter and calls Neog the founder of this study. To define Assamology she quotes from Neog who says that like Orientology and Indology, the studies on Assamese language, literature and culture may be called Assamology. Justifying this nomenclature, Dr Neog said that research on the subjects of Assam itself could be an all-India work. Many a learned man have worked in the field of Indology but a very small number of people have been working to find out the past of Assam. The investigation of these few scholars is also not sustained.
Dr Neog did his D. Phil research on Sankardeva and His Times, Early History of the Vaisnava Faith and Movement of Assam. Dr. Deka Hazarika has pointed out that Neog gave a sense of direction to later research in the field by illuminating Sankardeva’s religious philosophy and his method of preaching his religion.
Keeping aside the divinity or the supernatural associated with the life and achievements of Sankardeva, Dr Neog establishes him as the creator of an age. The scholar has edited Guru Charit Katha from a scientific point of view. Neog’s contribution to the study of Sattriya dance and song is also quite significant.
Defining Sattriya dance, Neog said that Sankardeva added elements from local cultures to classical dance and introduced to his Satras a new form of dance. Dr Neog has written books on the history of religion, ancient Assamese society and culture and on the sacred places of Assam.
Dr Deka Hazarika has methodically discussed all these books. She has devoted one full chapter to the study of Neog’s works on Sankardeva. In the same way, she has discussed in another chapter, Maheswar Neog’s assessment of Bezbaroa. Neog has discussed Bezbaroa’s wit, humour, satire and fun systematically.
Discussing Maheswar Neog as an editor, the writer says that he edited nearly 58 books and that is a great contribution to Assamese literature. Quoting Dr Nagen Saikia, the author points out the distinctive features of Maheswar Neog’s editing of ancient texts. An outstanding work of Neog’s editing is Arunodoi, first published in 1846.
Dr Deka Hazarika has discussed Neog as a literary historian in one chapter and rightly called Asomiya Sahityar Ruprekha a very important history of Assamese literature. She has also discussed Neog as a researcher of folk culture and as a poet. The author’s judgment is fair and her opinion is clearly stated. The book is likely to be received well by the reading public.
Dr Ananda Bormudoi, a former professor of English in Dibrugarh University, is a writer and critic. He can be reached at [email protected]