Assamese is now the official language of Assam, a north-eastern state of India. And this Assamese or Ahamiya literature has now flourished with poetry, songs, novels, short stories, documents and other writings in the Assamese language. It also includes popular ballads in the older forms of the language during its evolution to the contemporary form. The literary heritage of the Assamese language can be traced back to the 10th century in the Charyapadas where the earliest elements of the language can be discerned, along with the old Bengali origin.
The history of the Assamese literature may be broadly divided into three periods—Early Assamese literature, Mediaeval Assamese literature and Modern Assamese literature.
Early Assamese Literature (10th to 13th century)
The Charyapadas, the mystic ballads of the Sahajiya Buddhists of around 10th century, are believed to be composed in Kamarupa in Assam. These bear strong affinities with old Assamese along with old Bengali and old Oriya literature. The spirit of the Charyapadas is found in later-day Deh- Bicaror Geet and other aphorisms in Assam. In the 12th-13th century period the works of Ramai Pandit named as Shunya Puran, and subsequently Krishna Kirtan of Boru Chandidas, Gopichandrar Gan of Sukur Mamud, Gobindachandrar Geet of Durlava Mallik and Mainamatir Gan of Bhavani Das that are claimed to be the early writings of Bengali literature bear a strong linguistic relationship to Assamese, Their expressions and the use of adi rasa are found in the later Panchali works of Mankar and Pitambar. These works too are claimed as examples of both Bengali and Assamese literature. After this period of shared legacy, a differentiated Assamese literature finally emerged in the 14th century.
Early Mediaeval Literature (1st half of 14th century)
Two kinds of literary activities flourished in this period—one is characterised with translations and adaptations, and the other as choral songs.
Harivara Bipra, a court poet of the king Durlabh Narayana (1330-1350) of Kamata is known to be the first Assamese poet, and his works Babrubahanar Yuddha (based on the Mahabharata) and Laba-Kushar Yuddha ( based on the Ramayana) provides the first traceable examples of Assamese literature.
They, though translated works contain local descriptions and embellishments, an essential feature of all translated works of this period. For example, his Babrubahanar Yuddha refers to some elements of the Ahom Kingdom which at that time was a small kingdom in the undivided Lakhimpur region. Similarly, in Laba-Kushar Yuddha he departs from the original Ramayana and focuses the local customs. Other works of this period are Hema Saraswati’s Prahlada Charitra and Hara-Gouri Samvada, Kabiratna Sarabati’s Jayadratha Vadha, Rudra Kandali’s Satyaki Pravesh. All these works are associated with king Durlabhanarayan of Kamata and his successors.
Late Mediaeval Literature (2nd half of 14th to 16th century)
The major work of this period that left a lasting impression is Saptakanda Ramayana composed in Assamese by Madhava Kandali in the court of a 14th century Barahi Kachari King Mahamanikya. Chronologically, Kandali’s Assamese Ramayana comes before the Bengali translation of Krittivas (15th century) and the Awadhi translation of Tulsidas (16th century). This work became the standard literary language for much of the following periods. The metrical form (14 syllables in each line with a rhyme at the end of each foot in a couplet) became a standard in Assamese poetic works that somehow continued till the modern times. In this Assamese version of the Ramayana, Kandali infused the local colour, the homely issues and the rhetoric from the local milieu instead of the heroic narrative of the original Ramayana.
The other aspect of Assamese literature of this period is choral songs. It is composed for a popular form of narrative performances called Oja pali, or Panchali, a precursor to theatrical performances.
Pre-modern Literature (17th to 19th century)
This is a period of prose chronicles (Buranji) of the Ahom Court. The Ahoms had brought with them an instinct for historical writings. And thus, in the Ahom Court, historical chronicles were at first written in their original Tibetan-Chinese language, but when the Ahom rulers adopted Assamese as the court language, the chronicles began to be written in Assamese. From the beginning of the 17th century onwards, court chronicles were written in large numbers. These chronicles or Buranjis, as they were called by the Ahoms, broke away from the style of religious writers. The language is essentially modern, except for slight alterations in grammar and spelling.
Modern Assamese Literature (20th century onwards)
The modern Assamese period began with the publication of the Bible in Assamese prose by the American Baptist missionaries in 1819. The British imposed Bengali in 1836 in Assam after the state was occupied in 1826. Due to a sustained campaign, Assamese was reinstated in 1873 as the state language. Since the initial printing and literary activity occurred in Eastern Assam, the Eastern dialect was introduced in schools, courts and offices, and soon came to be formally recognized as the standard Assamese. In recent times, with the growth of Guwahati as the political, cultural and commercial centre of Assam, the standard Asamiya has moved away its roots from the previous dialect and has flourished in the Sibsagar dialect of Eastern Assam.