Ancient History

The early history of Assam is lost in the mists of antiquity, though there are several references in the Mahabharata, the Puranas, and the Tantras. In these sacred scriptures the area was known as Kamrupa. The legendary king Narakasura, whose son Bhagadatta fought valiantly in the Mahabharata war, ruled Kamrupa from his capital at Pragjyotishpura (modern Guwahati). Historical evidences prove that the first king who ruled over Kamrupa was Pushya Varman (350 - 380 AD), who was a contemporary of Samudragupta (350 - 375 AD). The glory of Varman dynasty reached its zenith during the rule of Bhaskar Varman (594 - 650 AD), who was a contemporary of Harshavardhan (606 - 648 AD).

During the early part of the 13th century, when the Ahoms (who originated from Ruili in the Yunan province of China). Established their rule over Assam with the capital at Sibsagar, the area between the Sovansiri and the Disang rivers were under the control of the Chutias. According to popular Chutia legends, the Chutia king Birpal established his rule at Sadia in 1189 AD. He was succeeded by ten kings of whom the eighth king Dhirnarayan or Dharmadhwajpal, abdicated in favour of his son-in-law Nitai or Nityapal. Nityapal's failure to rule efficiently gave an opportunity to the Ahom king Suhungmung annexed it to the Ahom kingdom.

The 13th century saw the rise of the Kacharis, one of the ancient races of Assam. The Kacharis claim descent from Ghatotkacha, the son of Bhima. Towards the end of the 15th century the Kacharis were forced to surrender their capital Hidimbapur (now Dimapur, in Nagaland) and the adjoining areas adjoining it to the Ahoms. The 13th century witnessed the advent of the Ahoms, led by their first king Sukafa who was the prince of Monlung (Upper Burma, modern Myanmar). In 1228 AD the prince together with a band of followers entered the boundaries of Assam through the Naga Kingdom. He set up his capital at Charaideo in 1253 AD. After Sukafa died in 1268 AD, his son Suseupha (1268 - 1281 AD) became king and gradually extended the boundaries of the Ahom kingdom. In 1397 AD Sudangpha (1397 - 1407 AD) was crowned as king. His accession marks the first stage in the growth of Brahmanical influence among the Ahoms. During this period there was a skirmish between Ahoms and Tipams, but it ended peacefully during his reign but was later on peacefully concluded.

King Suhungmung's reign (1497 - 1539 AD) is considered to be the most memorable period of the Ahom rule. He assumed the Hindu name Swarganarayan (literary king in heaven). He annexed the Chutia and Kachari kingdoms to his territory. He created various classes of ministers: Borgohain, Buragohain and Borpatra Gohain. During this period, the Mughals invaded thrice but were unable to win. The invasions were an eye opener for the Ahoms – they learnt the use of guns which was a deviation from the traditional weapons like bows, arrows and swords. Suhungmung died in 1539 AD as the result of a conspiracy hatched by his son Suklengmung (1539 - 1552 AD).

Susengpha, a descendant of Suklengmung, ascended the throne in 1603 AD. He took on the name of Pratap Singha. It was during his time that war between Ahoms and Mughals reached its peak. But Pratap Singha fought valiantly and further extended the boundaries of his dominions. Supungmung (alias Chakradhvaj Singha, 1663 – 1669 AD) was an independent minded king who combatted the Mughals again. In August 1667 AD, under the excellent leadership of Lachit Barphukan a brave warrior and an able general, the Ahoms were able to wrest Guwahati and Pandu from Mughal control. In 1671 AD afierce battle took place between the Ahoms and the Mughals at Saraighat. The Mughals were inflicted a crushing defeat. As a result of this battle, the Manas river became the line of demarcation line between the Ahom and Mughal territories. This arrangement continued until the British occupation in 1826 AD.

In 1817 AD, the Burmese took advantage of this political instability and overran the Brahmaputra Valley. The Burmese had actually been invited by Barphukan Badan Chandra a general in lower Assam. He was the son-in-law of Purnananda Burhagohain a powerful minister under the king, who was based in upper Assam. The Burmese also unleashed a series of genocides, in which the masses were indiscriminately killed. Fearing intrusions into their own territories, the British drove ousted the Burmese from the Brahmaputra Valley shortly afterwards.  By means of the Treaty of Yandaboo between the British East India Company and the Burmese King of Ava, signed on February 24, 1826 AD, between the Burmese and the British, annexed the Ahom kingdom in 1826 AD. In 1838 AD, all of northeast India became part of the Bengal Presidency of British India.

The first revolt against the British was led by Dhananjay Borgohain and Gunadhar Konwar in 1828 AD. Gunadhar Konwar was sentenced to seven years in prison and Dhananjay Borgohain, having been sentenced to death fled to the Matak kingdom. There he secretly joined hands with his own sons Harakanta and Haranath, son-in-law Jeuram Dulia Baruah, and many others and made plans to attack Rangpur. But before they were betrayed by one of their associates, Sadiya Khowa Gohain. Some members of the gang were hanged and others expelled from country. Thereafter, the British control over Assam was strengthened. Besides Assam, they annexed Khamtis, Singhpho, Matak, Kachari, Naga, Garo, Lushai and other hilly kingdoms.

In 1874 AD, Assam was separated from Bengal, and made into a separate province, with its capital in Shillong. The Assamese intellectuals realized that there ought to be an element of cohesiveness in the social fabric of the state, so that the fight for liberty could percolate to every strata of the society. In 1884 AD Jagannath Baruah formed such an organisation at Jorhat and named it Sarbajanik Sabha. In 1905, the British Viceroy of India, Lord Curzon, again got Assam amalgamated with East Bengal following the partition of Bengal into the west and the east. The year 1912 is of great significance, in Assamese history, because of three landmark events that took place during the year: The first was Gandhi’s visit to Assam, secondly, strikes by Assam Bengal train service and steamer companies, plunged the region into chaos and last but not the least, after a gap of 63 years, Assam became a separate province under a governor, thus paving the way for a dual administration, which lasted till 1936.

In the post-independence era, the Assamese won control of their state assembly and launched a campaign to reassert the preeminence of Assamese culture in the region and improve employment opportunities for native Assamese. In a bid to placate the various tribes, the Indian Government partitioned the former undivided Assam into the tribal states of Nagaland, Mizoram, Meghalaya, Manipur and Arunachal Pradesh over the next few decades.

During the latter half of the 16th century, the revered saint-teacher of Assam, Shankara Deva, inspired a popular Vaishnavite movement that sought to reform the esoteric practices of Tantric Hinduism and to limit the prerogatives of Brahmins attached to the Ahom court. The Ahoms themselves patronized an extensive network of Vaishnavite monasteries (satras), whose monks played a key role in the reclamation of wastelands for rice cultivation throughout the Brahmaputra Valley.

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