Dr. Shiela Bora
Orunodoi – the first Assamese monthly news magazine, had a glorious history.
The birth of journalism in Assam may be traced back to the introduction of the first printing press set up by the American Baptist Missionaries – Rev. Nathan Brown and Oliver T. Cutter, first at Sadiya, but later shifted to Sivasagar in 1846. It was from this Press that Orunodoi (Dawn of Light), the first Assamese monthly news magazine was published in January 1846 under the editorship of Nathan Brown. Though primarily intended for the publication of Christian literature, every issue of the Orunodoi stated on its last page that its objective was to devote to religion, science and general intelligence. Carefully edited, profusely illustrated and dealing with both secular and religious subjects, this paper continued to be the only paper published in the province for several years.
Rev. Miles Bronson used the pages of the Orunodoi to react against the measure of introducing Bengali as the official language in the schools and courts of Assam in 1838 and argued for the reintroduction of the Assamese language. The letters published in the Orunodoi argued that it was ridiculous to claim Assamese to be an offshoot of Bengali and inspired Assamese intellectuals like Anandaram Dhekial Phukan to fight for the cause of the Assamese language, finally leading to the submission of a lengthy memorandum to A.J. Moffat Mills, who had been sent from Calcutta to investigate into the matter.
The Orunodoi carried regular articles on the importance of scientific knowledge and modern education as the only means of dispelling the Assamese society’s faith in prevailing superstitions.
The pages of the Orunodoi gave due importance to issues relating to the status of women in society. Though Sati cases were rare in Assam, the Orunodoi published the picture of a woman attempting to perform Sati in the village of Kalugaon in Sivasagar and warned its readers that Lord Bentinck had clamped a law in 1828 banning Sati, prescribing rigorous punishment to those who continued to support it. While attempting to advertise the legislation of the Widow Remarriage Act in 1856, the Orunodoi informed its readers that Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar had written in support of widow re-marriage in his book, by proving that widow remarriages were not forbidden by religion and that such marriages were in vogue even during the Epic Age.
Scientific inventions and discoveries were described in simple language, treating the minds of its readers to a rich fare. The Orunodoi made a unique contribution to the study of Assam’s history by preserving and publishing old chronicles and making a significant beginning in numismatic studies by publishing a rich collection of Ahom, Koch and Mughul coins in the possession of the missionaries.
Playing its role as the harbinger of a new trend at a crucial time in Assam’s history, the Orunodoi provided an impetus for the birth of a galaxy of newspapers and magazines in Assam.
(The writer is an eminent historian of Assam.)