CULTURE - MANUSCRIPT WRITING
The prime materials used for manuscripts are:
- Sanchi or Tula pat: bark of this tree is used for writing the manuscripts.
- Homemade ink from Silikha (terminalia citrina), cow urine etc,.
- Matimah (Phaseous raditus): for preparing the base of Sachi leaves.
- Fibers from the fruit of the coconut tree: to make brush or pen for writing.
- Reeds, thin bamboo, peacock feathers used as pen.
Preparation of base: The tree of about 15 or 16 years' growth and 30 to 50 inches in girth measuring about 4 feet from the ground is selected. From this the bark is removed in strips which are 6 to 18 feet long and 3 to 27 inches wide. The strips are rolled up separately with the inner or white part inside and are dried in the sun for several days. They are then rubbed by hand on a board or some other hard substance so as to facilitate the removal of the outer or scaly portion of the bark. After this they are exposed to the dew for one night. Next morning the outer layer of the bark (nikari) is carefully removed, and the bark proper is cut into pieces of a convenient size varying between 9 to 27 inches in length and 3 to 18 inches in breadth. These are put into cold water for about an hour and the alkali is extracted, after which the surface is scraped smooth with a knife. They are often dried in the sun for half an hour and when perfectly dry, are rubbed with a piece of burnt brick. A paste prepared from the matimah (local pulse, Phaseous raditus) is then rubbed in and the bark is died yellow by means of yellow arsenic. This is followed again by sun drying, after which the strips are rubbed till they are smooth. The process is now complete and strips are ready for use.
Preparation of ink:
The ink is prepared mainly from silikha plant. A few fruits of similar variety may also be used to prepare ink. Fruits are kept in an earthen bowl filled with water for few days. The bowl in turn is kept in a non porous basin for a few nights. After a few days, the water turns black and percolates through earthen bowl and gets collected in the non porous bowl. Iron Sulphate or blood of Kusiya (local variety of fish) may also be added to this ink.
The ink thus prepared is as deep as Chinese black. It is also water proof and does not fade even after long exposure. Traditionally only a dark reddish color or hengul haital was used in the manuscripts. Among the other colors used in Assamese miniatures are the hengaul (Vermillion red), haital (yellow arsenic yellow), kharimati or dhabal (for white) and golden color (either from gold of through mixing red, yellow with La chaloa). Fibers from the fruit of the coconut tree are used for making brushes.
Nearly 3000 manuscripts are preserved in the Sattras, village Naamghar and house-holders of the Majuli Island. Traditionally, a special storage area called gandhiya bharal was allocated for keeping the manuscripts. Presently, a dedicated space as storage area for manuscripts is located within the Sattras. Manuscripts are wrapped in white paper and with cloth to protect it from dust and insects. Manuscripts have been sorted on the basis on the content. Each set is labeled as per the subject of the manuscript. Brief inventory of the manuscripts exist in each Sattra and an enhanced data base is under process by the governmental organization IGNCA (Indira Gandhi National Center for the Arts). In the Sattras of Majuli, 8 important drama (Nat) of Shankaradeva are preserved. The dramas such as Kali damana (Subjugation of the serpent Kali), Patni Prasada (favour to Wives), Keli Gopal (Sport with the milkmaids) Rukmini Harana (Abduction of Rukmini), Parijata Harana (The theft of the flower Parijat) and Rama-vijaya (The Conquest of Rama) are still performed.
The Hostividyavarnava in Auniati Sattra, the Anadi Patana in Purani Chamaguri Sattra, the Bhakti Ratnawali in Kamalabari Sattra, Chittra Bhagawata and four others in Dakhinpat Sattra, Chitrabhagawata in Bengenaati Sattra are still preserved. The Narasingha and Bah Jengani Sattra and also the Kathbapu Sattra also preserve these pictorial manuscripts. (refer inventory of manuscripts in annexure 5.) The art of manuscript writing is continuing in each Sattra of Majuli Island. It is one of the prime concerns and responsibilities of the Sattras to train and educate the younger generation of the Bhaktas. Proficient Bhaktas are trained under the supervision of the masters of the Sattra. Hence, the Sattras act as main centers for the promotion of traditional form of manuscript writing and painting in its original form.
MATERIAL RESOURCE BASE
Required material for manuscript writing is locally available. Plant species like Sanchi or aloe tree and Silikha are used for preparing base for writing, ink and color respectively. These species grow naturally on the island. The climate and soil condition in Majuli supports their growth. Within the Sattra complex, Sanchi trees are planted by the Bhaktas near the Hatis and the maintenance of these trees is also their responsibility. Silikha trees are also located along the many pathways on the island. Requirement of materials for manuscript writing at the Majuli Island is fulfilled at the local level.