Sailing Across The History Of Assam

Assam, a land of confluence of diverse cultures and systems of knowledge, finds a reference in many of the ancient texts like that of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata along with the Puranas. Referred to as Pragjyotisha – the land of eastern astrology, the region is also glorified as Kamarupa related to the narrative of rebirth of Lord Kamadeva after he faced the brunt of Shiva’s fire that turned him to ashes. Turning the myths of prehistory, one finds Mahiranga Danav as the earliest ruler of Kamarupa succeeded by Hatakasur, Sambarasur,Ratnasur and Ghatakasur. Later Narak, the son of Lord Vishnu in his Varaha incarnation, overruled Ghatakasur titled his capital as Pragjyotispura. In the Mahabharata one finds reference to the valour of Bhagadatta, son of Narakasur whose successors continued ruling the region a priori to the reign of the Barman dynasty in 4 AD.

In fact, the recorded history of Assam dates from the Barman dynasty with Pusya Barman as its founder. Kumar Bhaskar Barman (594-640 AD) was one of the significant names of this dynasty under whose leadership the empire flourished and reached its zenith. A contemporary of Harshavardhan of Kanauj, it was during Bhaskar Barman’s dynasty the renowned Chinese scholar and traveller Hiuen Tsang visited and chronicled about the period that remains as important testimonials of that rule along with the expanse of the kingdom covering 1700 miles and Pragjyotishpur around six square miles. The Salastambhas followed the Barmans who ruled for around 350 years with major kingship being held by Harjara Barman and his son Banamala Barman. The Barmans moved the capital to Harupeswara (now in Tezpur town); the famous hazara pukhuri (a big pond) is associated with the abovementioned kings. Without any successor, with Tyag Simha, there was an end of Salastambha dynasty marking the beginning of Pala dynasty with Brahma Pal described as a descendent of Narak.

The decline of Pala rule divided the Brahmaputra valley into independent principalities. The eastern belt encompassing Subansiri and Disang rivers, were taken over by the Chutiyas, while the Kacharis from the lineage of Pandavas established their rule in the southern bank of Brahmaputra. Later the Bar –Bhuyans, the feudal chiefs dominated the smaller dominions of Chutiya and Kachari terrains. The centre of political affairs later shifted towards the western belt of Kamatapur in Goalpara region and surrounding areas of present-day West Bengal and Bangladesh by the end of 13th century. With the arrival of Chaolung Sukapha (Siu-Ka- Pha), the fountain head of the Ahom Dynasty from Shan state of Upper Burma, a new era in the political history of Northeast India heralded and ended the legacy of Aryan rule. The period of 13th century also notes the first recorded invasion of the Muslims led by Bhakhtiyar Khilji, a general of Muhammed Ghori in 1206 AD but his army was trounced, the record of which is found in kanai barasi bowa rock inscription of North Guwahati.

The Ahom rule sustained itself for around 600 years encompassing the Brahmaputra valley and the adjacent hills governed by the various tribes. The monuments in the form of temples, tanks, palaces testify the glorious reign of the Ahoms. The rule of the Koches revivified the Kamata kingdom that was overruled by the Muslim ruler of Bengal in 1498 AD. The dynasty reached its height of fame and glory under the kingship of Naranarayan, in assistance with his proficient brother and general, Chilarai (alias Sukladhvaj). An able administrator and great connoisseur of arts and culture, the rule of Naranarayan expanded towards many areas of Assam. He rebuilt the Kamakhya temple situated at the Nilachal Hills in Guwahati.

A significant aspect of his rule is the widespread growth of the Bhakti Movement in Assam led by the great saint poet, preacher, social reformer, dramatist, composer, actor – Mahapurush Srimanta Sankaradeva. The Bhakti movement brought an unparalleled change in the entire- socio-cultural history of Assam and championed the cause of social amity and equality with the message of peace and harmony through the evocative power of arts – as seen in the polyphony of cultural expressions propounding bhakti as the soulful offerings in Ankiya Bhaona, Bargeets, Sattriya Dance, masks, paintings, crafts, textile offered in the Namghar – the principles of which continue even today in the living heritage centres of Sattra institutions. It needs to be noted that while the powerful Koch kingdom gradually faced its downfall in 1581 AD, the Ahoms rose in power reaching its zenith under the rule of Rudra Singha(1696-1714) and continued to reign till the assault of the Burmese army spreading terror and devastation in the entire terrain. While the British made its establishment in Bengal, perceiving threat at its threshold, they drove out the Burmese and signed the Treaty of Yandaboo with them in 1826 that made the latter renounce their claims over Assam, Cachar and Jayantiya and enabled the former to annexe the region with their empire of British India in gradual succession.

The 19th century was a defining period in the history of Assam that swept in changes in the socio-political history of the valley with the formal downfall of the Ahoms and beginning of the colonial regime under the British in all its meaning. While the people of Assam initially welcomed the change that re￾kindled a new hope for security and socio-economic benefits, the intentions of the colonial regime were realised soon. The changeover from monarchy to colonial rule was marked by far reaching changes in all directions-political, social, administrative, judicial and economic. The Britons displacing the erstwhile nobility introduced a new administerial mechanism manned by people alien to the land and through a new language overthrowing Assamese. Widespread resentment against the coercive measures of the new rulers found reflection in a series of rebellions against the British which however were crushed brutally resulting in martyrdom of a few heroic figures like Piyali Phukan, Jiuram 3 TEXT: ANWESA MAHANTA 3 Medhi, Dhananjoy Buragohain. Maniram Dewan –who unbolted the route of tea history in Assam was hanged later for his active participation in the Sepoy Mutiny and also for steering the tea plantation on his own that challenged the Britishers.

Gradually Assam had drawn the attention of the rulers with the discovery of oil, coal, timber, petroleum along with the tea industry that channelised a wave of new economy at the cost of the economic liberty of the local inhabitants. Beginning with anti- British rebellions on several occasions during the initial years of the British colonial rule, the Freedom Movement in Assam is replete with exemplary sacrifices of both men and women, young and old under the leadership of several valiant patriots marking ways through the Non-Cooperation and the Quit India Movement and also bringing in nationalist fervour through literary writings. Gandhi’s visit to Assam further fuelled the impetus of the movement embodying the spirit of swadeshi. While Assam witnessed the devastating effects of World War II, the call of the patriots for Quit India Movement and the advances of the Azad Hind Fauz inspired a lot of Assamese to participate in the combat. Many lost their lives in the course of the freedom struggle including Kanaklata, Bhogeswari, Kushal Konwar, Mukunda Kakati, Tilak Deka, Kamala Miri, to name few of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives to unfurl the new era of independence. Assam after independence amidst challenges arising of economic backwardness, illiteracy is making strides towards the development in all directions. With its glorious history and heritage, abounding natural resources, the state has stepped into 21stcentury with a vision to meet all challenges and march towards all-round development so as to contribute to the growth of the nation and its magnificence.