A visit to certain historic places can really take one on a trip back in time, to past historic events. That is what happened when standing in front of the one-story school building. It was 287 years ago, around 1734, that a Portuguese Christian priest came to the present Nagrai village of Gazipur. Bangla grammar was first written by this priest, Manuel da Assumpcam.
The abundance of greenery surrounding the area indicates how the church, are surrounding area and the residence of priest Manuel da Assumpcam were at that time.
A elderly man of the area said the surrounding gajari forest was also the abode of tigers 50 years ago. Catholic priest Assumpcam had tried to understand Bangla by talking to the people of the villages in this forest. Learning the language of this region was necessary to preach the religion. So, he had collected many words and wrote these down on paper. But the language had no grammar. So the priest started writing the grammar. He had worked hard for nearly a decade. Having finished the writing, he went to his country Portugal. Then the first Bangla grammar was printed in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, in 1783.
Assumpcam composed the grammar of Bangla at the St Nicholas Mission in Nagri village of Kaliganj upazila in Gazipur. The mission still exists.
The building where priest Assumpcam wrote the grammar has ben demolished and St Nicholas High School has been built in its stead.
The residence of the principal is next to it. On noon of 19 February, Father Jayanta S Gomes of the church said, “The residence of father Assumpcam was here. He wrote the first Bangla grammar in that building. I had also seen that old red building.”
There was basketball court in front of the place, which father Gomes said was the place where the residence of Assumpcam stood. Nearby is the boys’ hostel. The construction of a college building is underway not far off. There are two government primary schools, a school and college a hostel located inside the mission – all built in modern style. The old church, built in 1820, is located at the end point of the mission. It is the lone old remnant of the mission.
Many people give credit to Nathaniel Brassey Halhed for writing the first Bangla grammar as Assumpcam's work remained unknown. But Bhashacharya Suniti Kumar Chatterji first found the grammar of Assumpcam in the British Museum Library in 1919. He brought it to the country in 1922. Suniti Kumar and Priyaranjan Sen edited the Bangla Grammar by Manuel da Assumpcam and wrote that Padre Manuel da Assumpcam wrote this Bangla grammar and thesaurus at a large mission of the Portuguese Christians in Nagari or Bhawal of Bangladesh in 1734. Later, Padre Manuel became the main pathfinder to Carey, Marshman and other. Being one of the people who upheld Bangla literature and authored Bangla grammar, Padre Manuel must be respected by all Bangla speaking and literature-loving people. His personality and life is a matter of interest.
Replying to our questions on Assumpcam, Father Jayanta said this church was built in 1663. However, Lewis Dodge Anjos came as its first Father in 1694 and Assumpcam was the fourth Father of the mission.
Father Assumpcam didn’t stop at writing grammar only. He wrote Bangla-Portuguese and Portuguese-Bangla glossaries. These two books were annexed with the 40-page grammar book. So, the total number of pages stood at 592. His other achievement was a 391-page book Kripar Shastrer Arthabhed. It contains the introduction of the Christian religion through a conversation between guru and disciple. Suniti Kumar Chatterji published a part of Assumpcam’s book from the University of Calcutta in 1931.
Savar-based Gono Bishwabidyalay published the grammar part in 2018. Its preface was written by Monsur Musa, professor of language, communications and culture at the university. He writes in the preface that a certain Dr Mahmud Shah Qureshi brought a photocopy as well as soft copy in CD of the grammar and glossary and Kripar Shastrer Arthobhed from the Évora Public Library in Portugal in 2015.
Monsur Musa told Prothom Alo on Saturday that Gono Bishwabidyalay has reprinted Assupcam's grammar for the first time ever in independent Bangladesh. This book is not only valuable in research on linguistics but also in the context of history.