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Hema Saraswati – 13th Century Assamese Poet

Hema Saraswati was a renowned 13th century Assamese poet. He was the one of the first and oldest poet of Assamese literature. Hema Saraswati lived during the reign of Durlabhanarayana (1300 CE), the king of Kamatapur (Assam). He was the son of Rudra Sarasvati or Pashupatia and was patronized by this king, and lived in his court.

Prahladacaritra was the first kavya (poem) of Hema Saraswati and it is believed to be the very first literary work in Assamese. In this work of a hundred verses, he describes the story of Prahlada and his father Hiranyakashipu and mentions that it was drawn from Vamana Purana.

In Prahlada Charitra, he highlights the devotion of Prahlada to Bhagavan Vishnu and the latter’s incarnation as Narasimha to protect his devotee. In this work, he also praises his patron and king.

The bigger and more famous poem of Hema Saraswati is the ‘Hara Gauri Samvadha’, consisting of about nine hundred verses and based on several Puranas. This work reveals more maturity and poetical beauty than Prahladacaritra. It deals mainly with the union of Shiva and Goddess Parvati and the birth of Kartikeya (Muruga or Skanda), and the latter’s destruction of the demon Tarakasura. This long poem contains beautiful descriptions of nature. Both these works were composed by Hema Saraswati during the latter part of the 13th century CE.

The Assamese poets named Kaviratna Sarasvati, Harihara Vipra and Rudra Kandali were contemporaries of his at the Kamata court. It was during this period that Assamese became a distinct language and the area witnessed an outpouring of devotional poetical literature based on the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and Puranas.