With the treaty of Yandabo coming into force on the 24th February 1826, the sun of the 600 year old rule of the Ahoms set and Assam lost its sovereignty. Along with a few other north eastern states Assam went under British rule up to the 15th August 1947, the day India got liberated. Yet the rule of the Ahoms in Assam for long 600 years with varying power is a historical wonder. What caused fall of the kingdom was severe infighting among the nobles of the state in later part of their rule. Secondly in later pars of its rule, clash with the Satras (religious centers spreading Vaisnavism in Assam) gave rise to civil up surges in the kingdom in the shape of Moamorian Rebellion which weakened both the political power and the socio-economical structure of the state rendering total incapability to the Ahom force to resist foreign aggressions particularly the aggressions of the Burmese (Maan) which broke the backbone of the Ahom monarchy.
The style and functions of the Ahom rule in Assam was not purely a monarchy system but an aristocrat government formed by the nobles namely (Borhagohain, Borgohain, Barpatragohain, Borbauah and Borphukan), and the king was more or less a nominal head of the state.
The Borhagohain was the prime minister of the state and he was responsible for guiding the king(Swagadeo) in the matter of ruling the kingdom forming both internal and foreign policies of the state. Though theoretically an aristocrat government is a very good form of government can be called a semi-democratic form of government in those days, that system in Ahom kingdom is observed to fail measurably in later parts of its rule because of power crisis among the Gohains. The swagadeos were accepted as divine representatives but the power of selecting the kings rested with the ministry of the nobles—-a liberalized form of monarchy system. The ministry could even dethrone a king at its sweet will. So there remained a scope for corruption by the ministry, and it so happened during the middle and later part of the Ahom regime. Evil minded and power crazy ministers and nobles like Lalukhola Buragohain, Badan Barphookon, Kirti Chandra Barbaruah, through their misdeeds, were directly responsible for decay of the monarchy.
The Ahom rule was again single feudal system where the land owned to the crown only; the nobles and the subjects were simply user of the lands. The economy in the state was purely agricultural based. This mono feudal system facilitate a widespread control of the monarchy over the subjects. On the other hand as the land distribution was almost uniform and no other feudal in between, the subjects in those days were less exploited. Introduction of Paik system in the kingdom can be termed as a systematic exploitation of Ahom rule. However in the middle part of the Ahom rule, there were land allocations to the Satras and other religious shrines of Assam in the shape of Devottor lands. As individual paik system could be organized by the satras, this land allocation empowered enough the Satras even to conflict with the king and even to organize a revolt.
Chao-Lung Hso-Ka-Hpa, the founder king and the father of the Assamese nation
In the year 1228, Hso-Ka-Hpa ntered into Saumar(the then eastern part of present Assam) with some 9000 followers comprising of nobles, scholars, chiefs and soldiers. He founded his first permanent capital at Charaideo (the Che-Rai-Dei).
He was a man of outstanding personality and man with vision to build a big nation in Assam valley uniting all the local tribes here under the banner of the Ahom kingdom. He paved the way for national unity and solidarity for greater Assam and a greater Assamese society.
He did not adopt hostility but diplomatic means to win over the local tribes like Barahi, Moran, etc. excepting the Nagas with whom he, of course, had to fight with extreme hostility. He accepted brides from Barahi and Moran tribe and extended brotherhood and friendship to all the tribes subjugated by him. As there was no caste system and untouchability in the Ahom social system, incorporating of these local tribes into the Ahom social fold was very easy. He even appointed the Changmais (the royal cooks) from the Barahi communities. As the Ahom were a very few in number at that time and their Tai language was very tough to be learnt by common people, Hso-Ka-Hpa developed a common dialect of the Borahi and the Moran tribe to a language or lingua- franca to be used in the royal court and in communicating to the subjects. Thus the Assamese language was born in the Brahmaputra valley.
Hso-Ka-Hpa also set the foundation of the base of the greater Assamese culture through assimilation of the local tribes without disturbing their originality and without imposing any Tai culture on them. But in spite of that there was a free flow of Tai culture and customs into the main streams of Assamese culture, and Tai culture is seen to form the main core of the Assamese culture. As all the subjugated local tribes were taken into royal confidence, their governance was not disturbed and their religion and cultures were not interfered by the Ahom monarchy, Hso-Ka-Hpa could earn immense popularity as a king and leader of the great nation. Social and religious tolerance was the key of success for Hso-Ka-Hpa, the great. It is seen that till the Ahom monarchy maintained this spirit and philosophy of Hso-Ka-Hpa its days were golden, and the moment it deviated from this liberalized royal principle under the influence of Hinduism which got introduced in the royal house sometimes in the middle part of their regime, there started decay of the monarchy, and finally Assam lost sovereignty.
Warring Technique As population at that time in Ahom kingdom was not enough, sufficient manpower was never got for serving as soldiers in the battles fought against enemies invading the land. The Ahoms, therefore, adopted some improvised warring techniques to fight the enemies. They raised ramparts to resist movement enemy cavalries. The Ahom soldiers were expert in river battles. So by erecting ramparts they used to call the invaders to river battles so that the enemies were controlled and defeated easily. They were even known to have use under water ramparts to resist movement of enemy boats by suspending big blocks of stones from catenaries made of canes, etc. The Ahoms adopted mostly guerilla warfare techniques in fighting the enemies. In most of the battles, fought against the Mughal forces, the Ahoms could organize supports from the local tribes. The weapons used in those days were Hendang( a typical Ahom sword), spears, bows and arrows, Bortoops (Ahom canons),etc. The Ahoms could not maintain a regular army. The same paik who is basically a cultivator had to fight in the battle field when there was any foreign aggression on the land. This was a serious drawback in Ahom military set up. When a large section of the paiks joined the Moamoria Rebellion, it is seen that Monarchy failed to arrange a force with sufficient number of soldiers to resist the revolt. So was the case during the Maan attacks.
Monuments of Ahom age and their architecture:
The monuments of the Ahom age –Karen-gharTatatal-ghar(the Royal palaces), Rang-ghar, Dols, Silar hanku(stone bridge),etc. all bear a sign of an improved building technologies of that time. The multi storied constructions with underground chambers with bricks are definitely unique from technical and architectural point of view. These constructions rested on load bearing walls and the roofs were supported by arches, they were all made of flat bricks reinforced with steel rods. The stone bridge on the river Namgdang is a monolithic structure curved out of a single stone bears a sculptural beauty. Digging of giant size tanks on natural springs at various places of Assam is again a sign of improved technology of those days. There were experts to locate the right underground springs of water and there was a proven technique for it. A few important roads were also constructed during Ahom reign like the Dhodar- ali and Garh-ali, etc. As constant foreign aggressions were there all through, the Ahom kingdom could not develop a strong and steady economy in the kingdom. As such, the monarchy could not extend wide range of social service to the subjects. In spite of that whatever the structures, the Ahom kings built, are quite notable and are important historical monuments of Assam.
The Ahom economy was basically agrarian. Swargadeo Hso-Ka-Hpa himself was a good cultivator who introduced cultivation of Sali rice to boost up rice production in Assam. He used to call Assam, a land of golden fruits-Mong Dun Sun Kham .
May be primitive but the technologies developed by the Ahoms in the field of metallurgy, architecture, etc. is quite notable. The Ahoms created separate separate clans to develop each field of technology. The Kharghorias were good gun powder makers, the Jawkhorias made nitres, and similarly there were carpenters, blacksmiths, goldsmiths, stone curvers,tailors, etc. The giant size canons were casted processing iron ores in traditional crude methods but it worked. The canons are still rust free even though they are centuries old. Nitre was prepared from goat’s urine. The Hengdangs and weapons were suitably heat treated and nitrided for hardening and resisting corrosion. The Ahoms had a good set of blacksmiths developed as a clan for the job. They could prepare Bio-cement mixing eggs, rotten fishes, lime stone powder, jute fabric and molash, etc. All the monuments of the Ahom age were built with this Bio-cement which was undoubtedly of exceptional quality. The thin plate like bricks could give lateral stability to building structures, and these bricks are still strong. The Ahoms adopted a good technique for searching the sources of spring water and digging giant size tanks there. They were also expert in digging canals and tunnels, erecting bridges, constructing ramparts and under water fences. The multi storied maidams they built can be called the pyramids of the east.
Promotion of language , literature, art & culture:
Mass education was not there in the Ahom kingdom. Even most of the nobles and kings were unschooled. The princes, of course, used to receive training in warfare and in administration. Perhaps the economy of the state did not permit opening schools for the masses or it might be the wish of the crown to keep the common subjects unschooled. However, the Ahom priest clans namely the Deodhais, the Bailungs and the Mohans continued their schooling in Ahom language, they also wrote Buranjis(history/royal diaries) in Ahom languge and Ahom language continued to be the court language almost to the end of the Ahom regime . The practice of writing Buranjis started from the days of the founder king Hso-Ka-Hpa. So Assam has the credit of writing history first in India quite systematically and scientifically. Assamese language, which was developed as lingua-franca during the regime of Hso-Ka-Hpa, was further developed into a full fledged language during the Ahom rule adding Sanskrit roots to it gradually. Hasti bidyarnav, a pictorial Hand-Book on elephant written in Assamese during the middle part of the Ahom regime is a master piece of its kind in the whole world. Another remarkable literary work of that time was translation of the great epic Ramayana to Assamese language by Madhab Kandali in the fourteenth century under patronage of the Barahi king, Mahamanikya.
Even though the Royal house did not impose anything of their Tai culture and social customs on the subjects, yet all the good customs and culture flew into the Assamese culture thus a strong fabric of national cultural assimilation was woven. The Assamese musical instruments dhol (drum) was brought by the Ahoms from the Shan country, Maolung. Maihang, Bankahi, Banbati, Sharai,etc. the dishes and utensils used by the Ahoms became popular among other communities of Assam, as well. Assamese ornaments like Jangphai, Jonbiri,Gam Kharu etc. and dresses like Khingkhap, ahom Mekhela are all of Ahom origin. Muga silk worms were first reared by the Ahoms. The costumes prepared with Muga golden silk fabrics are still regarded as the dresses of national honour and dignity in Assam. The plain Janpis and floral Janpis used by the Ahoms became popular headgears for other tribes also. Maan-dhora system (honouring the seniors and the visiting guests) in Assam came originally from the Ahom culture.
There is rise and fall with every monarchy but the biggest prize the Ahoms could give Assam was resisting powerful Mughal attacks for as many as seventeen times, otherwise the history of Assam would have taken a different turn. Credit must be given to the tribal friendly Ahom monarchy in diluting the caste system in Assam and removing untouchablity, in particular, to a great extent. The Ahom kings are noted for sacrifice of their own Tai culture and ownAhom language in the interest of the greater Assamese nation. This fact perhaps nobody can deny. Some of the Swargadeos definitely had big hearts, and that is why they are still remembers with honour by the present Assamese generation and perhaps they would be also remembered in days to come. One can definitely learn the ethics of co-existence, brotherhood, social and religious tolerance from the Ahom monarchy to embolden the fabric of the great Assamese society to march forward with glory.
Courtesy: By Labanu Kr. Borah, Guwahati (Assam)