GUWAHATI, April 18 - The origin of paintings in ancient Kamrup - conventionally attributed to late 16th century or 17th century AD, based on the evidence of sanchi puthis (manuscripts on sanchi leave) - could actually be far older than is generally believed.
According to Ashok Sarma, a researcher on ancient Kamrup, the oldest extant painted manuscript belonging to ancient Kamrup is found in the Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita � a book of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism.
�The manuscript is said to be of 11th century AD. The manuscript was prepared in the regnal year of the Barman king Harideva Barman (his State belonged to ancient Kamrup � southeast of today�s Bangladesh). This manuscript is now preserved in Varendra Research Museum at Rajsahi in Bangladesh. Another manuscript of Panchvingshatisahasrika Prajnaparmita completed in the regnal year of the same king is now preserved at Boroda Museum,� he said.
Interestingly, the style of this manuscript is quite different from that of Astasahasrika Prajnaparamita.
Reasoning that the above-mentioned manuscripts are properties of Kamrup, Sarma said that the records of Kalika Puran, Jogini Tantra, Rangpur Gazette and Bhattasali, and Dr Nirmalprabha Bordoloi's authoritative works confirm that those areas belonged to ancient Kamrup.
Sarma added, �Scholar like Wilson wrote ��it is a singular and as yet, investigated, circumstance that ancient Kamrup seems to have been, in a great degree, the source from which the tantric�the Veda and Purana proceeded.��
At page No. 372 of the Jaschkis Tibetan English Dictionary, it is written that ��.the southern school or Hinayana, the language of whose scripture is Pali, subsequently absorbed and assimilated, by its stronger vitality, the northern school, which, through intermingling with the Tantric doctrine of Assam had followed into corruption...�
Citing another instance, Sarma said that from the Tibetan historian Taranath, one can learn that Upasaka Bhatanta Asvabhava, who came from a trading family, developed a strong desire for studying the Mahayana dharma and had come to Kamrup for the same reason.
�From Taranath, we again learn that art reached a high watermark during the eighth and ninth century AD in eastern India, where two eminent artists Dhiman and his son Vitapala came from the place within the territory of then Kamrup. They were masters in stone carving and metal, as well as in paintings,� he said.
Taranath also wrote that Dhiman purs the �Eastern style�, which means that Kamrupi paintings had already attained a position as a separate style from those of existing works.
�As Prajnaparmita is a Mahayana Buddhist text, therefore the concept of the text must have to originate in ancient Kamrup. Kamrup is the only place where Mahayana dharma could flourish. From Taranath, we are clear that there were artists in Kamrup since eighth and ninth century AD So, the paintings in Prajnaparmita had been drawn by the artists of Kamrup,� Sarma added.
Significantly, even the script used in Prajnaparmita was of Kamrup.
Asserting that the practice of painting in Kamrup was far older than eighth and ninth century AD, Sarma said that the use of colour separation was found in the manuscript.
�It is also interesting that the colour used in the manuscript has both black and white colours. The importance of both colours have been sustained from that period of time till today through Srimanta Sankardev. The significance of using these two colours has not been found anywhere in the world," he said.
According to Sarma, the history of paintings of Assam can be traced back scientifically and easily to 11th century AD or before.
�Again if we assess the history of paintings of Kamrup based on mythology, then its history will extend beyond the Christian calendar. Because there is a story in the Vitashokavadana section of the Buddhist text Divyabadana, indicating that painting was practised in Kamrup as early as third century BC,� he said.