A History of Assam: Ancient Assam

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Contents

A History of Assam: Ancient Assam

By Mofid Tourism Assam February 27, 2008

See also

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

Ancient Assam

Prehistory

Paleolithic cultures

The earliest inhabitants of the region are assigned to the Middle Pleistocene period (781,000 to 126,000 years ago) in the Rongram valley of Garo Hills. The Paleolithic sites, which used handaxe-cleaver tools, have affinities to the Abbevillio-Acheulean culture. Other Paleolithic sites include those in the Daphabum area of Lohit district in Arunachal Pradesh which used stone tools from metamorphic rocks. The cave-based Paleolithic sites at Khangkhui in Ukhrul, Manipur, is placed in the Late Pleistocene period.

Microlithic culture

There exists evidence of a microlithic culture in the Rongram Valley of Garo Hills that lie between the neolithic layers and virgin soil. The microliths here were made of dolerite, unlike those from the rest of India. Shreds of crude hand-made pottery indicate that the microlithic people were hunters and food-gatherers.

Neolithic cultures

Neolithic cultures: Early Neolithic cultures based on the unifacially flaked hand-axe in the Garo hills have developed in line with the Hoabinhian culture, and it is conjectured that this region was the contact point for the Indian and the Southeast Asian cultures.

The Late neolithic cultures have affinities with the spread of the Mon Khmer speaking people from Malaysia and the Ayeyarwady valley and late neolithic developments in South China. Since these cultures have been dated to 4500-4000 BCE, the Assam sites are dated to approximate that period.

These neolithic sites, though widely spread, are concentrated in the hills and high grounds, due possibly to the floods. These cultures performed shifting cultivation called jhum, which is still practiced by some communities in the region. Some typical sites are Daojali Hading in Nort Cachar hills, Sarutaru in Kamrup district and Selbagiri in the Garo Hills.

Metal age

There exists no archaeological evidence of Copper-Bronze or Iron age culture in the region. This might seem as an impossibility given that corresponding cultures have been discovered in Bengal as well as Southeast Asia. It can only be conjectured that metal age sites in the region exist but have not yet been discovered.


Megalithic cultures

Though the metal age seems to be missing in Assam, the Iron Age Megalithic culture of South India finds an echo in the rich megalithic culture in the region, which begins to appear earlier than the first millennium BCE, and which continues till today among the Khasi and the Naga people. The affinity is with Southeast Asia. The megalithic culture was the precursor of the fertility cult and the saktism and the vajrayana Buddhism that followed.


Mythological Assam

Protohistoric Assam is reconstructed from epics and literature from early times (Mahabharata, Kalika Purana, Yogini Tantra, etc.). The earliest political entity seems to have been led by a non-Aryan Danava dynasty with Mahiranga mentioned as the first king. This dynasty was removed by Narakasura. Naraka appears to be a generic name for many kings belonging to the Naraka dynasty. According to legend, the last of the Naraka kings was killed by Krishna and his son Bhagadatta took the throne. Bhagadatta is said to have participated in the Mahabharata war with an army of "chinas, kiratas and dwellers of the eastern sea", thereby indicating that his kingdom, Pragjyotisha, included part of Bangladesh. The last in the Naraka dynasty was a ruler named Suparua.

Ancient Assam

Major kingdoms of As sam

Kamarupa

The historical account of Assam begins with the establishment of Pushya Varman's Varman dynasty in the 4th century in the Kamarupa kingdom, which marks the beginning of Ancient Assam. This dynasty was most likely of aboriginal origin, but drew its lineage from Narakasura. The kingdom reached its zenith under Bhaskarvarman in the 7th century. Xuanzang visited his court and left behind a significant account. Bhaskar Varman died without leaving behind an issue and the control of the country passed to Salasthamba, who established the Mlechchha dynasty.

After the fall of the Mlechchha dynasty in the late 9th century, a new ruler, Brahmapala was elected, who established the Pala dynasty. The last Pala king was removed by the Gaur king, Ramapala, in 1110. But the two subsequent kings, Timgyadeva and Vaidyadeva, though established by the Gaur kings, ruled mostly as independents and issued grants under the old Kamarupa seals. The fall of subsequent kings and the rise of individual kingdoms in the 12th century in place of the Kamarupa kingdom marked the end of the Kamarupa kingdom and the period of Ancient Assam.

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