GUWAHATI, Dec 3 – A rare and historic manuscript from British Library will soon add to the richness of the Assamese language and literature besides throwing light on several languages dialects of indigenous communities of the State and the North-east.
The volume – Comparative Vocabularies – is the manuscript of a 200-year-old dictionary, of ten languages, including English, Assamese, Bengali, Manipuri, Garo, Rabha, Koch, Kachari, Panikoch and Mech, and has been among the most valuable collections preserved in British Library.
The lexicon was written by Dr Francis Buchanan Hamilton (1762-1829), an 18th century British polymath. Hamilton came to India when it was under the East India Company.
The book was written around the year 1800, and has 155 pages of landscape-sized paper. There are 18,000 words in all, with 1,800 words in each of the ten languages.
Devabrata Sharma, chief editor of Asomiya Jatiya Abhidhan (Assamese National Dictionary), is going to include this historic manuscript for their future publication.
Dr Hamilton was appointed a surgeon in the East India Company in Bengal in 1794. He explored Burma, Chittagong (1798), the Andaman Islands, Nepal (1802-03) and North Bengal and Bihar (1807-09), making detailed surveys of the botany, geography, agriculture, economy, social conditions and culture of these areas and preparing extensive reports which now form an important historical resource.
On the return of the mission, being stationed at Jakkipur near the mouth of the Brahmaputra, Dr Buchanan wrote an admirable description of the fish of that river, which was published in 1822. A great scholar, he wrote on anything under the sun and also visited Goalpara and stayed there for some time till his return to England.
Dr Raktim Ranjan Saikia, Assistant Professor, Department of Geology at JB College, Jorhat, on behalf of Asomiya Jatiya Prakash, the publishers of the encyclopaedic Assamese dictionary, contacted Friends of Assam and Seven Sisters (FASS) in London, asking if it was possible to trace those papers at British Library which would be of great value for Assamese national life.
Rini Kakati, the Assam coordinator for UK and director, FASS, took up the matter with the British authorities concerned, and was able to acquire this historic collection.
Dr Hamilton was an explorer and naturalist. Born at Branziet (Baldernock, East Dunbartonshire), Buchanan was the third son of Thomas Buchanan of Spittal and Leny, and Elizabeth Hamilton of Bardowie. He attended school in Glasgow and then read medicine at the University of Edinburgh, graduating in 1783. He joined the Navy as a ship’s surgeon but soon retired due to ill health.