Sunday, February 19, 2012

North East Chronicles 6: Camp Lakwa: Part B: Ahoms - the makers of Assam

( This second part is the final article from Camp Lakwa, Sibsagar - this piece attempts to draw interest of readers to the hidden legacy of the Ahoms.   The first part had touched upon the pre-Ahom era, ie the Kamrupa Kingdom).

The Ahom empire defines the pivotal period of Assamese history.   Till the middle of the 19th Century, until British annexed Assam as the north-east frontier, the story of this 600-year reign is about a chronicle of alliances, valor, deceit, friendship and travesty.
The kingdoms of Assam

The Ahoms called their kingdom Mong Dun Shun Kham, (Assamese: xunor-xophura; English: casket of gold) while others called it Assam. 

The kingdom was founded by a Tai ( a Burmese-Chinese sect, emerging from the present Myanmar and Yunnan Province of China) - the Sukhaphaa did not fight, but established himself in an uninhabited area, and became friends with the local tribes.   The capital Charaideo, which is in Sibsagar, is being pushed by the local youth as a heritage site under Unesco.

There was a constant push for expansion by the subsequent kings towards north, south and west along the Brahmaputra valley.  In the changing demography, some of the tribes such as Barahis, Marans and some Nagas got converted into Ahoms .   However, the expansion was so fast, that Ahoms became a minority in their own empire.  The result was a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural empire.

During the rule of the Suhungmung in the 1500's,  the Ahom king assumed a Hindu name - Swarganarayan.   He defended the kingdom against the first Mughal attacks.   He expanded at the cost of the Sutiya kingdom, a weak but continuing lineage around Southern Assam.  

Rang-ghar - one of the
Ahom buildings in Sibsagar

The Ahoms used to bury the dead and brought in wet rice cultivation methods into this region.  Post the influence of Hindu culture in the 1500's, they started cremating the dead.

The kingdom expanded under Susenghphaa aka Pratap Singha, who expanded the kingdom towards the west, and defended the Ahom empire against by-now consistent Mughal attacks.

Pratap Singha brought in the Durga Puja festival to Assam.   For a long reign of 38 years, he was able to manage both war and internal development.  This was due to strong minister line that he had built called Burhagohain, Borgohain and Borpatrogohain, and the viceroy line - Borbaruas.  

Battle of Saraighat - An illustration
 The second half of the 17th century saw repeated Mughal attacks   The Mughal attack culminated into a decisive battle called the famous Battle of Saraighat  which resulted in clear defeat of the Mughals.   The Ahoms, under Supangmung captured and held the Guwahati area on both the banks of the Brahmaputra river till their fall in the 18th century.  

Lalit Borphukhan's statue at the NDA
- In remembrance ofthe popular commander
The Battle of Saraighat ( 1671)  brings out two great historical characters of Assam.  One was Lachit Borphukan, who successfully commanded and repulsed the Mughal army under Ram Singh.  The victory of this battle is celebrated as Lachit Divas in Assam. 

The second was an astute leader called Atan Burhagohain, the prime minister of the Ahom kingdom, who spoke political treatise, wise in administration and diplomacy.  He turned down the offer of becoming a king twice.

Post Lachit's death, Atan was killed by Lachit's brother Laluk Sola.  He also gave away Guwahati to the Mughals for some paltry bribe.  He installed a young Sulikphaa Lora Roja  as the Ahom king and tried to hunt down Gadapani,  a descendant of the first Ahom king and the rightful heir to the throne. 

Laluk Sola,  in this process, incarcerated Joymati, wife of Ahom prince Gadapani. She is known as Sati Joymati because she endured torture and died at the hands of royalists under Sulikphaa, which enabled her husband Gadapani to rise in revolt and become the king himself.    The first Assamese movie Joymati by Jyoti Prasad Agarwala featured this story. The date Joymati died is celebrated as Joy Divas in Assam.

Gadapani, after killing all including Laluk Sola, became Supaatphaa alias Gadadhar Singha.   During his reign, Supaatphaa, removed Mughals from Guwahati for good, through the battle of Itakhuli

His son, Sukhrungphaa aka Rudra Singha was like Akbar for Ahom Kingdom.  Rudra Singha was the last of the great kings of the Ahom kingdom.  He brought in strong administration, governance and peace. He had Joysagar dug at the spot where his mother Joymati was tortured.

Ahom Kingdom's last years - in 1826
There were few more Tunkhungia kings, the last lineage of the Ahom dynasty.  The rule ended with the Burmese invasion.  In another decade, the first Anglo-Burmese war happened and Assam passed on to the British.   The surviving Ahom king earned a pension of 500 Rs from the British.

The Ahom culture is a mixture of Burmese, Chinese and Hindu culture (in the later half ).   They had unique service system for their subjects ( Paik system).   Thus Ahom's defined the DNA of Assam's history.

The history of Ahoms, a journey as good as any, is not really part of the 'Indian history' taught in our schools.    It is important that this forgotten and sidelined piece of history is included in the Indian mainstream history.  We agree, don't we?

- The One

Pics and Source from Internet

( PS - From here, we move to the next stop of Jorhat - Numaligarh.   Please join the journey there)


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