Triveni Journal

1927 | 11,233,916 words

Triveni is a journal dedicated to ancient Indian culture, history, philosophy, art, spirituality, music and all sorts of literature. Triveni was founded at Madras in 1927 and since that time various authors have donated their creativity in the form of articles, covering many aspects of public life....

Subjectivism in Assamese Literature

Prafulladatta Goswami

"There is no strict boundary between the domains generally called subjective and objective"; nevertheless we admit its existence in literary discussions. Literary subjectivism implies the lyrical element or the purely personal emotion of the subject or author who creates a piece of literature –the lyricism must be well accentuated. In it the creators have the fullest identification with the matter dealt with. It is contrasted with objectivism which signifies the narration of some object outside the subject, or the non-lyrical emotion. The two things cannot be differentiated mathematically, for both exist in the same piece of literature in variable quantities. In the poet's address to his sweetheart the subjective element predominates, while in his description of the physical attractions of the sweetheart the objective element is obvious.

The subjective element of the poem or prose-poem is a comparatively later growth; the time may vary in different countries. It is the self-consciousness or the ego-centric view of things on the part of the author which has given it birth.

Early literature was poetic and that poetic literature was more or less impersonal. The direct influence of the author’s personality was not appreciated nor intensely felt at a time when society was more or less communal. Like early society, early literature too was communal. Some of the psalms of the Bible point to definite authorship just as some of the hymns in the Vedas do. But every psalm was meant to be chanted by a large group or congregation and express a generalised emotion felt in common. Though Ernest Rhys would call communal poetry lyrical, provided the emotion in it "becomes ecstatic and fluid", it is not properly subjective; it becomes so if it reveals the cry of the individual heart as, perhaps, in the following extract from Sankardeva’s compositions:

O my Lord, prostrate at Thy feet, I lay myself down
And with a contrite heart beseech Thee to save my soul.
My soul is on the point of perishing through the poison
Of the venomous serpent of worldly things.
On this earth all is transitory and uncertain,
Wealth, kinsmen, life, youth, and the world itself,
Children, family, all are uncertain. On what shall I place reliance? 1

The religious emotion is more or less impersonal; at least, it becomes so after a limit, when it is felt by a large number of persons together. The religious emotions always point outwards and raise to the foreground some definite object, some God or Creator, it may be. The I in the Biblical psalms connotes We and it is more or less the case in all religious literature. A point to be noted is that the religious author as a rule writes for the weal or salvation of other persons. I believe it is in the expression of Madhura Rasa, or the emotion of love towards the object of adoration, that the objective element is slightly less accentuated or the emotion of love is more or less a selfish emotion. In ultimate analysis love always discovers a personal craving. It does not wish to forget the individual.

The epic too does not depict personal sentiments. The stimulus of personal feeling is lacking in the epic poet, for he gives utterance to some general reflection, to the common knowledge of a people and that at a time when concrete imagery is the rule. It is more so because the epic is a religious poem. It is what the common people is supposed to take as the embodiment of religion.

Keeping in view the above thesis, let us find out how much of Assamese literature –classical and pastoral–expresses the subjective emotions and how much the objective emotions. The age of Classical Assamese literature extends as a continuous period from the thirteenth to the seventeenth century. During these periods the Bhagavata, the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, were rendered into Assamese Pada and all the fragments or Kavyas that were composed in this period partook of the epical character. This literature was pre-eminently religious and took on a slightly romantic colouring towards the close of the sixteenth century (Ramasaraswati’s Badha Kavyas). The emotions of the individual author in this literature are forgotten in those of the larger body of the faithful. And whatever piece of wailing or weeping we may find is conventional and tangled in a cluster of concrete images. But some of the songs in Sankardeva’s plays –composed as early as the fifteenth century–may be taken subjective or lyrical. They are lyrical because there is individual dilation on a theme and because they express the poet's sense of beauty and appreciation of language.

One of them may be given in translation:

We have tired our feet by pursuing you
–In hope of supreme love;
Your harsh words take away our senses,
Why do you disappoint us?
Hearing the tune of your charming flute
It is painful to lead our life;
O Raghava, friend Madhava of our heart,
Sweet are your smiling lips.
Our bodies and minds are burning with separation,
Do laugh it away …………………….. 2

One may also detect the individual lyric cry in places in Sankardeva’s Kavyas when the Gopis or some Bhakta express their yearning for Krishna. But things become generalised very Soon. Sankardeva’s disciple Madhavdeva too expresses a general feeling when he prays:

I am ignorant in welcoming as I am ignorant in sending Thee ,
of Worship and incantation nothing do I know;
Therefore, O Lord! I become a bondsman at Thy feet;
It behoves Thee that Thou shouldst procure my salvation.
His more beautiful verses are not very lyrical.

The Madhura Rasa was not tolerated in Assam as was the Dasya Bhava, the relation usual between the Bhakta or servant and the Prabhu or Master, barring a few exceptions. This caused the absence of a body of poetry after the manner of Vidyapati and Chandidas which is more lyrical than the poetry that might have been inspired by the other systems of faith. So, though some of Sankardeva’s metrical compositions are very Sweet and most of his images of nature may be compared with advantage to the idyllic vignettes peeping through the marmoreal blank-verse of Milton, they are less lyrical than the lyrics of later Assamese poetry.

Leaving classical poetry at that, let us come to the class of pastoral songs known as Bihugits and Bongits, all spring-songs. These songs, in the form of quatrains with alternate rhymes, have been popular among the common people from very early times. Though some of them must be as old as anything in modern Indian languages, they do not bear the linguistic impress of early Assamese. Perhaps due to their floating and oral existence, they have been imperceptibly transforming themselves along with the evolution of the Assamese language. Of course they possess their peculiar idiom. The Assamese people expressed in them the promptings of love and sympathy with the changes brought about by spring. They have the freshness, tenderness and naivete characteristic of poetry that springs straight from the heart and has its inspiration in the most primal of instincts. They are a common repertoire which may be aptly utilised by the youth and the maiden in expressing their mutual sympathy. The question of authorship is immaterial, for they are wild as wild flowers and unsettled as thistle-down floating in the air.

Their songs, though often sung in groups, are, as I think, preeminently lyrical, expressing subjective emotions. They speak less of some outward object like God than of the youthful heart of the young boy or girl. The emotion of love couched in them suggests some one heart, the hope and despair of one particular soul. When the maiden sings in the following strain,

My mind settles neither at home, dear,
Nor does it settle abroad;
As the teased cotton floats in the air,
So to float do I long.

We are put in mind not of the faith felt in common by a large congregation but of one tender heart panting with the restiveness of love.

The following quatrain is more direct in its revelation:

"I shall be a bird and wing to your lake,
I shall be a fish and swim in your pond,
As perspiration shall I be on your body,
As a flea shall I fly to your cheek."

1 From Dr. B. K. Kakati's Life of Sankardeva.

2 From Rasakrida

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