An endeavour to memorialise first Assamese news magazine on its 175th anniversary

Brown, along with other missionaries, including O T Cutter — a printer and publisher with technical expertise — had arrived in Assam’s Sadiya in 1836, supposedly on their way to China, but decided to not move forward and in 1841 reached Sivasagar.

A monthly news magazine called Orunodoi — a first for Assam — was published from Sivasagar in January 1846, with an American Baptist missionary, Nathan Brown, as its first editor. The publication ushered in a new era in Assamese journalism and literature.

Brown, along with other missionaries, including O T Cutter — a printer and publisher with technical expertise — had arrived in Assam’s Sadiya in 1836, supposedly on their way to China, but decided to not move forward and in 1841 reached Sivasagar. There, they established a printing press, from where Orunodoi was published, with Brown and Cutter leading operations till 1882, with periodic irregularities.

Over the years, the magazine published many writers who today are considered to be the greatest literary figures in Assamese.

This month, on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of the first publication of Orunodoi, the Asom Sahitya Sabha — the apex and most influential literary body of the state — has undertaken a series of steps to bring the magazine back into the public imagination and encourage academic research and its critical analysis.

Earlier this month, the Sabha commemorated the 175th anniversary with a large public ceremony in Sivasagar, which it termed ‘Orunodoi divas’.

Asom Sahitya Sabha president Kuladhar Saikia told The Indian Express, “Orunodoi played a very important role in Assamese society and culture. It connected Assam and the Northeast to the world and published writings towards fighting superstitions and social evils, like opium addiction, and encouraging social reforms like widow remarriage.”

Saikia, an accomplished writer who won the Sahitya Akademi Award in 2015 and retired as Assam’s DGP in November 2019, said Orunodoi would publish an eclectic variety of news and articles, including news items from the United Kingdom, Myanmar, Lahore and Mumbai, which they obtained from other publications like The Times from London or the Lahore Chronicle and then translated into Assamese. “From the establishment of electrical telegraph in Myanmar to an incident of fire in a theatre to analytical pieces on women’s education — you could find everything in Orunodoi,” Saikia said.

As part of its commemorating the magazine’s 175th anniversary, the Sabha is now getting two books published, which will be edited by Basanta Kumar Goswami, a former general secretary of the Sabha.

“One will have several original editions of Orunodoi reprinted in collected form, and the second will have a collection of essays by prominent academics and literary figures on Orunodoi over the years. These essays will look at various aspects of what Orunodoi published — travelogues, news from around the world, and essays on society,” Saikia said.

Meanwhile, Goswami said Orunodoi was a very popular publication which appealed to both the intellectual and the general reader. “It contributed immensely to the development of the Assamese language in many ways. It is also very important to note that though initially it was intended to be a publication to help spread religion, it eventually turned itself into a completely secular news publication dedicated to publishing reports on science, knowledge and literature,” he told The Indian Express.

“We are coming up with the book to let people know that such a brilliant news publication came out in Assam way back in 1846.”

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