Nikunjalata Chaliha
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Nikunjalata Chaliha is one of the women whom contributed to Assamese literature with her colorful writings. She was born probably on 1877. The father of Nikunjalata was late Damodar Baruah of ‘Namtial Dynasty’ and her mother was Lambita Baruah, daughter of Maniram Dewan, the famous martyr who laid down his life in the struggle of Indian independence. Nikunjalata was married to Raibahadur Kaliprasad Chaliha after the death of his first wife, who was incidentally her own sister. After marriage Nikunjalata had to look after a huge family of about thirty members including her father-in-law. She had to face tough hazard in running that large family. But in spite of these difficulties, she never lost her keen desire and interest in education. She started learning how to read and write from her nephew Anandaram Baruah and due to her untiring effort, she, in no time, was able to learn English language along with Assamese and Bengali.

In spite of the rigid social regulations of the pre-independence era, she worked for the good of the society. She used to teach the girls of her locality how to read and write and also the domestic chores like cooking and sewing. It was in her days the ‘Jaimati Divas’ was celebrated with pomp and show. Though her activities she, very aptly, proved that one can work for the country even remaining behind the curtain. Nikunjalata’s daughter-in-law and her eldest daughter Kamalaya Kakoti also worked for the people. They can be created for their humble effort to publish the first women magazine ‘Ghar Jeuti’. Both of them were the joint editors of that magazine.

The Anganbadi centre for women and children training is situated in the gate of the Sibsagarh town. It was established by Dr. Nirmala Chaliha in memory of her mother. Innumerable women, now-a-days, are receiving training at different traits in this centre. The president of the centre was her youngest daughter-in-law Amiya Chaliha and the secretary was her grandson Satyabrata Chaliha. Her son and grandson donated the buildings of Sibsagar town primary school in memory of this learned personality. Nikunjalata, with her little learning, contributed really a lot to Assamese literature. She was also a good singer of devotional songs. She tried to teach these songs of her children and grand children. Here is an example of her evening prayer:

Pranamo deva Govinda |

Jugala pada aravinda ||

Ghanata dasana rupe viparita |

Archila kauti alaka ||

(Oh, God, Govinda I am bowing down at your feet and submitting myself to your beautiful self)

‘Stutimala’ was Nikunjalata’s only published work comprising forty seven beautiful prayer songs. Laden with deep spiritual fervor, the book became very popular among the singers of devotional song. In the preface to the book she mentioned that all the songs were written from her memory. It was her earnest desire to leave them in the hands of her descendants and relatives. But unfortunately she could not materialize her dream during her life time. Afterwards Jadav Prasad Chaliha published those songs and distributed the book among all her kiths and kin on the occasion of her first death anniversary. In 1967, her youngest daughter, Dr. Nirmala Chaliha published the second edition of the book. The diction, style and devotional outpour in the composition of the songs of ‘Stutimala’ distinctly suggests the popularity and familiarity of ‘The Kirttana’, ‘The Dasama’ and ‘The Nama Ghosa’ of Sri Sankaradeva and Madhavadeva among the womenfolk of Assam. A deep influence of these masterpieces over the minds of the women of Assamcan also is felt. Through these songs Nikunjalata made her total submission of God which shows that she was a selfless devotee. Another special feature of these songs was that each of the line had its beginning with a vowel.

Nikunjalata Chaliha was also an ideal mother. Among her ten children, the eldest died at the age of seven. Her second son Tara Prasad Chaliha was a Barrister and first Indian chairman of the Local Board. Her third child was the editor of ‘Ghar Jeutu’ and her name was Knmalalaya Kakoty. Her fourth son Jadav Prasad Chaliha was the congress president of Assam, M.L.A and first chairman of A.F.C and A.P.C.A. His wife Deva Bala Chaliha was also an inspiring woman. Her fifth child was Labanyaprava, the wife of late Sitaram Barbara. Her sixth son Guruprasad Chaliha was a tea planter and was working President of co-operative Banking Union. Her seventh child Hemaprova was the wife of Trailokya Nath Bhuyan and her eighth child was Hiranyaprova who was the wife of Prafulla Baruah the famous tea planter and one of the MPS of Assam. Her ninth child was Dr. Nirmala Chaliha and the tenth child was Bimala Prasad Chaliha, the former chief Minister of Assam. It is a great merit on the part of Nikunjalata Chaliha to rear all the ten children with proper guidance and careful education without any help from her husband.

Nikunjalata Chaliha was endowed with an amazing strong intellectual power. She breathed her last on 9th of April, 1948 in the residence of her son. It is ‘Stutimala’ the collection of devotional songs that grants her a remarkable place among the women of Assam.


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