Cover Story: Firebrand Revolutionary
Intro:Jyoti Prasad Agarwala was an active satyagrahi who spread the concept of freedom and spirit of non violence through various organisational programmes.
Jyotiprasad Agarwala (1903-1951) is revered as the cultural guru of Assam. Not only did he bring about a renaissance in Assamese literature and culture, he also helped the language establish its own identity and not get reduced to being an off-shoot of the Bengali language and culture. In 1935, he pioneered the Assamese film industry by making the first Assamese film “Joymoti”. His dramas, poems, short stories, journalistic writings, songs and music have inspired generations not only in Assam but also in the Northeast region. His songs and music are popularly known as “Jyoti Sangeet”. However, his contributions did not say limited to art and culture only.
In his early days, he was a firebrand freedom fighter and a revolutionary. A scion of one of the wealthiest and illustrious families of Assam, he joined the freedom movement while still a student in his teens. However from 1930 onwards, after returning from Edinburgh University, in Scotland and, Germany from where he studied economics and film making respectively, he plunged into the freedom movement with the blessings of Mahatma Gandhi who he met when he’d come to Tezpur and stayed at their ancestral home in “Poki”.
Inspired by Gandhi, Jyotiprasad formed the “Mrityu Bahini” (Death Squad) on the principles of non-violence with the motto “Karengay ya Marengay”. His patriotic songs were the inspiration behind the struggle for Indian independence in the region. During the Quit India movement of 1942, under his fearless leadership, people, particularly those from the North bank of Assam, came out courageously to face British bullets and many, like schoolgirl Kanaklata, Mukunda Kakoty etc., embraced martyrdom while trying to hoist the tricolor in places like Gohpur, Sootea, Tezpur and Dhekiajuli. He too was jailed. To prevent being imprisoned again, he continued guiding the independence movement by remaining underground. His death anniversary on the 17th of January is observed every year as “Silpi Divas” (Artists’ Day) in Assam. On the occasion people pay homage and reverently remember him as “Rupkonwar” (Prince of Enlightenment).
“Rupkonwar’s” forefathers hailed from the village of Tai in the erstwhile princely state of Jaipur. They belonged to a wealthy merchant family whose substantial wealth invited the envy and wrath of the local Zamindar who persecuted the family and forced them to flee to Churu in destitution. In 1828, Rupkonwar’s great grandfather Nabarangaram Agarwala, then a teenager, was the first from the family to come to Assam. When Nabarangaram arrived in Assam he had nothing but a burning determination to recoup the lost fortunes of his forefathers. In 1830 Nabarangaram Agarwala (1811-1865) started a small shop in Gomiri, a remote village located on the north bank of the river Brahmaputra in the eastern part of Assam. With his business acumen, enterprise he prospered rapidly. He integrated completely into the local Assamese community by getting married in their culture and adopting their language and culture. However, unlike many who at that time had migrated to Assam for work or business, married local girls and adopted local titles, Nabarangaram decided to retain his original title “Agarwala”.
Nabarangaram’s eldest son Haribilash Agarwala (1842-1916) continued his father’s legacy of assimilation, enterprise, patriotism and social service. He was the doyen of the family who took the family fortunes to new heights. He made an invaluable contribution to Assamese language and literature when in 1899 he published for the first time ever the ancient hand written manuscripts of Sri Sankardev and Sri Madhabdev.
Later Haribilash’s second eldest son Chandra Kumar Agarwala- A pioneer of Assamese journalism, in 1889 , ublished the first Assamese literary journal “Jonaki” and published the Assamese newspaper “Asomiya” to spread awareness about the struggle for Indian independence in Assam.
Having worked for socio-cultural integration of Assamese culture, the versatile genius, Jyoti Prasad’s effort is an extraordinary case of patriotism that led to community’s upliftment and national integration and will find few parallels in India.
-Pranjit Agarwala (The writer can be contacted at [email protected])