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Jyoti Prasad Agarwala: The Pioneer of Modern Assam

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শিল্পী মই তিনিও কালৰ
অনাগত ভৱিষ্যতৰ

আদিতেই যাত্রা কৰি অনাদিলে যাওঁ,
ধবংসৰ মাজেদি মই
ৰূপান্তৰেদি ৰূপ পাই
নৱতম সৃষ্টিৰ শলিতা জ্বলাওঁ।

     -জ্যোতিপ্রসাদ  আগরওয়ালা

Fondly known as ‘Rupkonwar’, Jyoti Prasad Agarwala was born on June 17, in the year 1903, to Marwadi parents Paramananda Agarwala and Kiranmoyee Agarwala at Tamulbari Tea Estate in the Bengal Province of British India. That was the period when flowers of momentous developments were blooming throughout the nation.

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As a child, Jyoti Prasad Agarwala showed extraordinary talent. He was gifted so creatively that he wrote his first play, Sonit Konwori, at the age of 14 which was a modern version of the mythological story of the love between Usha and Aniruddha and was later included in the curriculum at Gauhati University. He enjoyed singing, reading, acting and recitation. Soon after completion of his studies in junior school and college in Assam and Calcutta Agarwala moved to Edinburgh in 1926 to pursue his graduation in Economics. However, he returned even before the accomplishment of his course. And while returning to India, he spent seven months at the UFA studio in Germany learning film-making.

When Agarwala, returned to Assam he continued his activities for Indian independence that had disrupted his studies earlier and in 1932 he was imprisoned for fifteen months. He established the Chitraban Studio at the Bholaguri Tea Estate and began filming the movie Joymoti around the end of 1933 where he broke all the patriarchy and stereotypes by launching the first women named Aideu Nilambar Handique in Assamese Cinema. This was the first film from Assam which was based on a play by Laxminath Bezbarua about the heroic Ahom princess Sati Joymoti imprisoned and tortured by a repressive Ahom swargadeo.

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Some of his other notable works included karengor ligiri, nimati koina, rupalim, labhita and besides, has also had written almost 300 songs which are collectively called ‘Jyoti Sangeet’.

Jyotiprasad Agarwala’s family background and the cultural environment of Tezpur during his formative years, combined with the impact of nationalist ideas and Western education, were important influences on his works. The idea of building a ‘modern’ Assam was a recurrent theme in his writings. He became one of the foremost advocates of a distinct Asomiya (Assamese) identity and worked towards the revitalisation of the culture of the Asomiya people. He did this through experiments in the fields of folk music, dance, arts and crafts. He set up his own film studio at the Bholaguri Tea Estate, created sets out of indigenous materials, used local forms of music and dance, and chose themes located in local history.

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Along with his contribution in the fields of music, film and literacy, Agarwala’s contribution to the sociopolitical spheres of the nation stands commendable.Imbued with nationalistic fervour from an early age and a great sense of social responsibility, Jyotiprasad actively participated in the freedom struggle.

During the Non-Cooperation Movement of 1921–22, Jyotiprasad, along with Chandranath Sarma, travelled extensively in the rural areas, enrolling volunteers for the INC, raising funds and spreading the nationalist message. During the Quit India Movement of 1942, Jyotiprasad’s fiery speeches and political activism at the grassroots level helped in inspiring and mobilising the people.

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Having his roots from a Madwadi family, Agarwala’s contribution towards the Assamese society will be left unforgotten. Despite his demise at the relatively early age of 48 on January 17, 1951, he was a major figure who gave both shape and direction to the development of a distinct Assamese culture and identity. It is in recognition of his efforts and in celebration of his life, that January 17 is observed as Silpi Divas (a day for the celebration of art and artists) throughout the state of Assam.

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Visuals by: Rahul Haloi

Article by Swagata Borah, The North-Eastern Chronicle

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