Majuli Cultural Landscape Management Authority
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Preserved manuscripts in a Sattra

The practice of worshipping religious scriptures led to the emergence of paintings in manuscripts. The word manuscript is derived from two Latin words manu and scripture which means 'band written'. The art of painting in manuscripts developed in the Majuli in response to the religious movement of Neo Vaishnavism under Shri Shankaradeva. The art of painting manuscripts was patronised by King Shiv Singha (1714 A.D.) in the royal court. The theme of all the manuscripts is the life and the events related to the life of lord Krishna. He is either the centre of the painting or is conceptually related to the content of manuscripts. Illustrations together with written literature helped in comprehending the text easily and make the text interesting. The illustrations are rich in color and detailed in expression.Paintings were done in the Sattra especially on the ceiling and walls of the namghar. There are references of paintings done on the walls, ceiling, beams and posts in the biographies and specimens of this type are still found in the Sattras.

There are three styles of manuscript writing which are popular in this region :-

  1. Gargayan script- this style was popular during the reign of the Ahoms around Gargaon in the Sibsagar area. This type of script is very artistic in character. Well-educated writers were patronized by Ahom kings to practise this school of script.
  2. Kaithali - this style is associated with the Kayastha community. Suvankazri, Kitabar Manjari and Hasti Vidyarnava by Sukumar Bankayastha are the examples of this style script. In lower Assam, the kayasthas are known by the title of Lahkar and hence known as Lahkari script or letter.
  3. Bamunia- The writer of Bamunia scripts were the Sanskrit scholars or people associated with the study of Sanskrit(Devanagari) and Kamrupi script. In the script of their writing, there is an influence of the structure of Later-Brahmi or evoluted Kamarupi script.

This art of paintings and manuscript writing was patronized by the Ahoms and also by the Sattras. The Ahoms mostly patronized the translation and original works of secular nature, while the Sattras prepared the Assamese rendering of the Bhagwat Purana, the epics and other Puranas bearing religious significance and importance in the context of Neo Vaishnavism. The earliest illustrated manuscript of Assam is the Adya Dasama of the Bhagwat Purana rendered into Assamese by Shri Shankaradeva, Chitra Bhagwat (Manuscript with painting).


Manuscript on sanchipat (sanchi bark)

Together they prepare the surface of manuscripts, colors and write texts in different styles. Historically, the Ahom kings used to patronize and support their own copyists under the supervision of a royal officer called likhakar barua meaning superintendent of scribes. The royal court also attached a set of compartments called gandhiya bharal for the preservation of royal manuscripts records and letters of the palace. The various styles of manuscript writing were developing different artistic schools with different artists expressing their artistic penmanship. However, though there is influence of devangari, their script shows that they exhibit the style and structure of the modern Assamese script. In Bamunia script the letters show the similarity with Kaithali and Gargaon style. Example of this style of scriptwriting is to be found in Subodhini Tika of Bhagavata Gita by Sridhar swami or Bhakti Ratnavali by Mahadeva. The origin of the Assamese script developed from the Brahmi script. The script was associated with old Sanskrit language. The three stages of development of Assamese script are:
  1. Early Period: 5th to 13th Century
  2. Middle Period: 14th to 19th Century
  3. Present Period: From of 19th Century (with the publication of Arunodoi in 1846) to present time.

The writing of scripts on the bark of sanchi or tula pat had some specific rules -The writings were generally done from the reverse side of the leaf. A margin on all four sides was left on both sides of each sheet and on the left side of each leaf numbers were given as identification. Hence on each and every paper there was a small central whole with some empty portions called salabindha (Nabhi).
Part of the word or sometimes part of the even letter or compound letters are found written separately in two lines. In the manuscript there was no use of coma (,), semi-colon (;), note of interrogation (?), note of exclamation (!) or other marks as in its modem form. They would only use stop marks indicated by single line (I) or double lines (II) and also by colon (:) marks. Stress was practically on pronunciation and often the sense or meaning of the writing was determined from the manner of pronunciation. In case of a mistake they did not remove it from the paper.

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