A History of Assam: An overview
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A History of Assam: An overview
By Mofid Tourism Assam February 27, 2008
A History of Assam: An overview A History of Assam: A Chronology A History of Assam: Ancient Assam A History of Assam: Medieval Assam A History of Assam: Colonial Assam A History of Assam: Post-colonial Assam A History of Assam: the Assam Pradesh Congress Committee
Assam's History: An overview
A brief biography
History of the Ahom kingdom
The Ahom kings ruled large parts of what is now known as Assam for nearly 600 years, from the early 13th century to the early 19th century. This was a prosperous, multi-ethnic kingdom which spread across the upper and lower reaches of the Brahmaputra valley, surviving on rice cultivation in its fertile lands.
The Ahoms engaged in a series of conflicts with the Mughals from 1615-1682, starting from the reign of Jahangir till the reign of Aurangzeb. One of the major early military conflicts was in January 1662, where the Mughals won a partial victory, conquering parts of Assam and briefly occupying Garhgaon, the Ahom capital.
The counter-offensive to reclaim lost Ahom territories started under Ahom King Swargadeo Chakradhwaja Singha. After the Ahoms enjoyed some initial victories, Aurangzeb dispatched Raja Ram Singh I of Jaipur in 1669 to recapture the lost territory — eventually resulting in the Battle of Saraighat in 1671.
Legend of Lachit Borphukan
Lachit was a brilliant military commander who knew the terrain of the Brahmaputra valley and the surrounding hills like the back of his hand. He was chosen as one of the five Borphukans of the Ahom kingdom by king Charadhwaj Singha, and given administrative, judicial, and military responsibilities.
Unlike the Mughals who preferred battles in the open with their massive armies, Borphukan preferred guerrilla tactics which provided an edge to his smaller, but fast moving and capable forces. Much like Shiva ji’s encounters with the Mughals in Marathwada, Lachit inflicted damage on the large Mughal camps and static positions. His raids would kill unsuspecting Mughal soldiers and frustrate the mighty armies that were too ponderous to respond swiftly.
When the monsoon set in, Mughal plans were complicated further. However, as the Mughals were able to successfully camp around the foothills of Alaboi, the Ahom king ordered Borphukan to carry out a frontal assault which led to the deaths of nearly 10,000 Ahom warriors and ended in a weary Mughal victory in 1669.
As the Mughals attempted to progress through the valley, they realised that travelling by the river would be faster. Lachit, who was a great naval warrior and strategist, created an intricate web of improvised and surprise pincer attacks. According to the historian H K Barpujari (‘The Comprehensive History of Assam’), the Ahom forces combined a frontal attack with a surprise attack from behind. They lured the Mughal fleet into moving ahead by feigning an attack with a few ships from the front. The Mughals vacated the waters behind them, from where the main Ahom fleet attacked and achieved a decisive victory.
Lachit Borphukan died a year after the Battle of Saraighat from a long festering illness. In fact he was very ill during the Battle of Saraighat, as he heroically led his troops to victory. This only added to his legend.
Lachit Borphukan in Assamese culture
Every culture and community has its heroes. Over time, Lachit Borphukan’s exploits have become a symbol of resistance against outsiders against all odds. He has become one of the greatest of Assamese heroes, symbolising the valour, courage, and intelligence that defines the Assamese self-identity.
Arup Kumar Dutta, author of The Ahoms, told The Indian Express last year that Lachit Borphukan represented a time when the “Assamese race was united and able to fight an alien, formidable force such as the Mughals”.
200BC to the present: Assam's Glorious Past
A generous host to all races
An ideal meeting ground for diverse races, Assam gave shelter to streams of human waves carrying with them district cultures and trends of civilization.Austro-Asiatics, Negritos, Dravidians, Alpines, Indo -Mongoloids, Tibeto-Burmese and Aryans penetrated into Assam through different routes and contributed in their own way towards the unique fusion of a new community which came to be known in later history as--- the Assamese.
The migration of different human races to the ancient land of Assam began two hundreds years before the birth of Christ. The Karbis, being the descendents of Austric race, are like the Columbus of Assam. The Khasis, Jayantias, Kukies, Lusais(Mizo) are all from this race. The Kirats, being migrants from the western part of China, are from the Mongoloid race who speak Sino-Tibetan language. Bodo, Garo, Rabha, Deuries, Misings, Morans, Sutias, Dimasas and Koches(Rajbongshi), Lalung, Hajong, are also from the same race. The assimilation started as both the races co-existed in the same geographical area. This is the background where the historic assimilation of Assamese nation-building process took place. Then the Kaibartas and Banias from Drabirian race migrated from the coast of Mediterranean came into assimilation more or less.
The name of this geographic area was Pragjyotishpur in the 4th - 5th centuries. King Mahiranga (Danaba) from the Mongoloid race was the first monarch of Pragjyotishpur. King Hatak(asur), Sambar(asur), Rambh(asur), Ghatak(asur) and King Narak(asur) reigned serially in the throne of Pragjyotishpur as the descendent of Mahiranga Danab. On the other hand the Aryans from Cocasian race migrated through the Gangetic Plain in the 1st century to the land of Pragjyotishpur. The local king amongst the Mongolian majority society rehabilitated the Aryans, being the carrier of comparatively advanced religion and language-culture. In the presence of these people, the process of assimilation started long before the birth of Christ that has achieved a new acceleration. Narak(asur), the first monarch who was converted to Hindu religion, constructed the first temple and city at Kamakhya. As the king and the royal dynasty were converted to Hindu religion of the Aryans , the caste division also germinated in the tribal society of that time.
The king and the Royal dynasty on one side formed a royal class with the Brahmin priest rehabilitated by them and on the other side the general people comprising the agri-slave, lower strata of the royal house formed the peasantry. After this stratification the first king of Barman dynasty reigned at Pragjyotishpur from 350 A.D to 380 A.D.
During this period, the name of Pragjyotishpur became Kamrup. Religious communalism penetrated to Kamrup in the last part of the reign of Salastambha dynasty (650 AD to 790 AD) and Pal dynasty (up to 1142 AD) after of the reign the Bhaskar Barman, the most powerful and the last king of Barman dynasty (he ruled till 650 AD). Thus religious communalism took firm roots in Assam (the then Kamrup) which infiltrated along with the migration of Brahmin priests to Assam.
The Hindu religion was divided into different branches like Sakta, Saiba, Baishnaba during the time of the Indian king Chandra Gupta Maurya.
In 1228 A.D, Tai speaker Sao Lung Sukapha of Mongolian race stepped on this land. During those period Kamrup was divided into four distinct zones such as Kam-peeth, Soumar-peeth, Ratna-peeth, and Swarna-peeth. Every zone was further divided into separate independent states under the rule of more than one tribal king. Sukapha established a powerful united feudal state through his broad strategy of "establishing one state by unifying seven(?) states" within Kamrup. Since then, Kamrup became to be known as Asom. The presence of the Tais has done the irregular process of social assimilation more forceful in between the migrant races such as Austrics, Mongoloids, Drabirs and Caucasians.
The relation and the synthesis among the different tribes, as being isolated before, were developed with the pace of the development of agriculture and communication system under the patronage of modern administration and military structure of Tai-Ahoms. Thus Assamese became the link language amongst the peoples who speak different dialects.
At the same time, a handful of rich class of businessmen and merchants developed. This brought about the development of society to a certain stage during the six hundred years of Ahom rule. On the other hand, at the Kam-peeth and Ratna-peeth a series of invasion took place under the commands of Muhammad Ghauri, Muhammad Bin-Bakhtier, Giasuddin, Nasirudin and Tughril Khan prior to the arrival of the Tais. Kamrup was still capable of keeping its sovereignty invincible. The Muslim captives of the war who were compelled to stay here after the wars have been assimilated into Assamese society. Under the leadership of Ahom administration, the sovereignty of Assam was preserved resisting the invasion of Asia-victor the Mugals for seventeen times with the help of different tribes of Assam.
During the time of Ahom administration, the Sikh religious priest Tegbahadur and the Muslim religious scholar Azan Fakir came to Assam and Srimanta Sankardeva, the preceptor of puritan Hinduism, was born in Assam. As the religious preceptors started the act of publicity of their religions, the language of royal house spread amongst the subjects. Again, the practice of upkeeping the history (Buranji) and the patronage from the royal house have made the language and literature richer.
During this period the religious communalism became strong enough inside classified society which was planted long before. However, till the time of His Highness Pratap Chadra Singh, the tribal system of royal administration was prevalent. But the tribal traditions became eroded due to the imposition of land surveying, population census, the introduction of PAIK system which crushed the tribal demography, the commencement of more developed feudal system and lastly the import and rehabilitation of Hindu religious Brahman-priest from India.
The contradiction between the ruling class consisting of the King, the royal family, the royal officers from the ministers to the Chamuas and the general peasantry comprising of Paike, Slave, House-man and war prisoners became intensified. Thereafter, the conflicts of the general feudal peasantry with the ruling class reflected through the Moamaria rebellion (1769-1826) in the form of religious communalism became intensified. The Ahom administrative system was crushed due to the conflict between the ruler and the subjects.
Again, the assimilated social life was isolated. The massive loss of life occurred and these undecided peoples' uprising caused the famine that made the total social life of Assam very weak. On the one hand the Burmese arrived accepting the call of Sarbananda Singha and on the other hand the British came in response to the invitation of Gaurinath Singha. There were enormous loss of life and property due to the invasion of these two foreign powers one after another. The Burmese occupied Assam for four years from 1822 to1826 AD after she was invaded thrice in 1817,1819 and 1821. The Assamese society was in such an era of decay that all efforts, individual and collective, for the resistance against the Burmese could not produce any positive result.
The history of Assam is the history of a confluence of peoples from the east, west and the north; the confluence of the Indo-Aryan, Austro-Asiatic and Tibeto-Burman cultures. Politically, it has been invaded, but has never served as a vassal or a colony to an external power till the advent of the Burmese in 1821 and subsequently the British in 1826.
The history of Assam is known from many sources. The Ahom kingdom of medieval Assam maintained chronicles, called Buranjis, written in the Ahom and the Assamese languages. History of ancient Assam comes from rock inscriptions and the many copper plates and royal grants the Kamarupa kings issued during their reign. Protohistory is reconstructed from folklore, epics like Mahabharata, and two medieval texts compiled in the Assam region—the Kalika Purana and the Yogini Tantra.