What does an Assamese look like? For that matter, what does an Indian look like? Both questions are difficult to answer precisely. There cannot be a set formula. Almost all racial elements of the world are scattered over the Indian sub-continent. The people of India represent all the broad divisions of Homo Sapiens. Yet it is not very difficult to see that a particular division of races dominates in any one of the various regions. The Vishnu and Markandeya Puranas sum up this division fairly well when they say : “According to the division of the world, India is in the centre with Brahmins, Kshatriyas, Vaishyas and Shudras; to the east are the Kiratas and to the west the Yavanas.” In the same way, it is easily recognised that the Caucasian races of Nordic Aryans and Mediterranean Dravidians predominate in the populations of the north and the south, respectively; and the Mongoloids predominate in the east which comprises Assam, NEFA, Nagaland and Manipur.
This, however, does not mean that there are no other racial elements among each of these broad divisions. For example, the Negroids have intermixed with the Proto-Australoids; when the Aryans were spreading from western Punjab to northern Bihar, a racial fusion of the speakers of Aryan, Dravidian and Austric languages was taking place. According to Edward Gait: “In Assam (excluding the Surma Valley) and north-east Bengal, the Dravidian type has, to a great extent, been replaced by the Mongolian, while in the Surma Valley and the rest of Bengal a mixture of races has taken place in which the recognisable Mongolian element diminishes towards the west and disappears altogether before Bihar is reached.”
So, there has been racial intermixture among the population of Assam. The Mongoloid pressure is heavy because of the large number of tribes of this racial stock. Their physical features are described as “a short head, a broad nose, a flat and comparatively hairless face, a short but muscular figure and a yellow skin”.
But there are numerous other races also. Traces of the Negroids are to be found among the Nagas as among some South Indian tribes, says Dr. S. K. Chatterji. The Khasis who speak an Austric language might have picked up their speech from some Proto- Australoid race before they migrated to the Assam region. The Kaibartas, a scheduled caste of Assam, are held by some to be “of obvious Dravidian origin” and the Dravidians are aid to be distinguished by “a long head, large and dark eyes, a fairly strong beard, a black or nearly black colour, and a very broad nose, depressed at the base, but not so as to make the face look flat”.
Then there are the Aryans, with a long head, tall and well-built, having a fine, long and prominent nose, and a fair complexion, who came to Assam from across Bihar and Bengal. All these peculiarities of physiognomy one will encounter in Assam.
There is no evidence to show that any race of man evolved itself in the whole of the Indian subcontinent. Any ancient Indian race or tribe that settled here had come from across the frontiers, eastern or western. To Assam also wave after wave of tribes and races used to migrate in the remote past, not recorded in history.
The Negroids of the eolithic stage of pre-history, traces of whom are found among the Nagas, were perhaps the first to come. Naga tribes, of course, are Mongoloids who came much later; they might have absorbed some blood of the Negroids of much earlier times. The next race to come to India are the Proto-Australoids of the palaeolithic stage of culture. The Khasis and Jaintias of Assam, like the Kols and Mundas of central India, speak Austric languages belonging to the Proto-Australoids. The Khasis and Jaintias (the Syntengs), again, are Mongoloid by race who had adopted in the remote past Austric (Mon -Khmer) languages before or after they came to Assam. Next in order of time to come were the Mediterraneans who spoke Dravidian languages.
Some people assume that the Kaibartas, mentioned above, and the Banias of Assam are descendants of the Dravidian speakers who belonged to a very high stage of civilization, to judge from the finds of Harappa and Mohen-jo-Daro. This would suggest that their time of dispersion from their northern homeland was before 1500 B.C.E. about the time of the Aryan invasion from the north-west.
The Aryans took several centuries to spread eastwards along the Ganga Valley. They are said to have reached northern Bihar only by 700 B.C.E. As such they must have come to Assam only after that. Anyway, there is evidence in the Ramayana and the Mahabharata, estimated to have been written between 500 B.C.E. and 400 C.E, to show that there were contacts between the Aryans and the Mongoloids. The Ramayana even mentions that the kingdom of Pragjyotisha, an ancient name of Assam, was founded by Amurtarajas whose grandson Viswamitra performed his austerities on the banks of the Kausika, probably modern Kosi. Both the epics describe the Kiratas, Mongoloid people of Assam, as “shining like gold, handsome, capable warriors and ferocious-looking people”.
It is difficult to ascertain when the first settlers of Mongoloids actually came to Assam. But it can certainly be said that when the basis of Hindu culture was being laid by Aryan, Austric and Dravidian peoples in the rest of India, the Mongoloids made their presence felt in the north-east region. So their arrival in Assam might have been during the time when the Aryans were coming from the north-west after 1500 B.C.E. or some time later. They are reputed to have made large-scale movements from their original homeland in western China m the first millennium B.C.E. But it is difficult to ascertain when they reached the territories on either side of the Brahmaputra. From the point of their dispersion, they traversed and spread to Thailand, Indo-China, Burma and the long Himalayan tract from Tibet to distant Ladakh.
Numerous Mongoloid races inhabit the hills and plains of Assam. Also they are scattered all over the NEFA region and the State of Nagaland. (NEFA is constitutionally a part of Assam, though administered by the Central Government through the State Governor as their agent.) A brief survey will enable us to have an idea of their place in the intricate cultural pattern of Assam. The Nagas now have their own State, Nagaland, formed in 1960 with the former Naga Hills district of Assam and the Tuensang Division of NEFA. In the Tirap Frontier Tract of NEFA live two Naga tribes which have maintained close relations with the neighbouring plains district of Lakhimpur of Assam from the distant past. These are the Noctes with some 12,000 souls and the Wanchos with about 20,000 people. The Khasis and the Jaintias live in the hill district named after them which is now one of the two districts comprising the newly-formed State of Meghalaya; they number a little over 3,50,000 (Census, 1961). The Garos of the Garo Hills district of Meghalaya number a little over 3,00,000 (Census, 1961). The Mikirs, who live in the Mikir Hills district in the heart of Assam, have a population of about 1,54,000. Linguistically, between the Kukis and the Nagas, writes Dr S. K. Chatterji, “the Mikirs appear to be a gifted people, with an imaginative turn of mind, as is noticeable in some of their folk-tales”.
The Bodos or Boros are, by far, the most noteworthy Mongoloid people in eastern India. In Assam they number about 3,50,000 (Census, 1961), but their compatriots have spread far and wide to the northern regions of Bengal and Bihar, to Tripura where as the Tipra tribe they founded the State, to Sylhet and Mymensing in east Bengal. They might have spread further to Comilla and Noakhali also. The Bodo language falls under the Tibeto-Burman sub-family of the Sino-Tibetan languages. It has greatly influenced the Assamese language in its development. The Bodo language has its ramifications in the Mech, Rabha, Garo and Kachari languages spoken by tribes bearing the same names in Assam. These people are scattered all over the plains of the Brahmaputra Valley and also in the North Cachar Hills district to the south and in the Garo Hills district to the west. It is said that as a Mongoloid race the Bodos first settled in the Brahmaputra Valley and then slowly spread to various other places, far and near, mentioned above. That they did so is evidenced by the many names of the Valley which they are supposed to have given it.
The late Bishnu Prasad Rabha, eminent Assamese artist, who belonged to the Bodos and studied them very closely and extensively, has this to suggest: the word Brahmaputra is, in fact, an Aryanised or Sanskritised form of a Bodo expression bhullung buthur, meaning a “great river of bubbling waters”. He also suggests that the great goddess Kamakhya originally was the Kamakhe or Kamalakhi of a Mongoloid race. The prefix di, meaning water, in river-names, is supposed to be a Bodo contribution as in Disang, Dikhau, Dibru, Digaru, Dibang, Dihang, all well-known tributaries of the Brahmaputra. The Assamese people use the word Luit for Brahmaputra in poetry and songs and B. P. Rabha again suggests that it is only a corrupt form of Bodo expressions like laoti, tilao and dilao.
The Mizos or Lushais of the Mizo Hills district at the southern tip of the State, numbering about 2,16,000, a community of very artistic people, with a high percentage of literacy, are migrants from the Chin Hills and speak a Kuki-Chin tongue of the Tibeto-Burman sub-family of the Sino-Tibetan languages. The Lalungs are another Mongoloid group who live in the Nowgong district. But a recent account likens their dialect to that of the Syntengs or Jaintias from whom they believe they have descended. The Khasi-Jaintia Hills are adjacent to the area inhabited by the Lalungs.
The Chutiyas, a tribe later Hinduised and speaking a Bodo tongue, are mainly confined to the extreme north-east of the State, above the Subansiri river and in the Sadiya area just below the NEFA hills. They have a very chequered history with a dynasty of their own but were finally completely routed by the Ahoms, a powerful Mongoloid race which ruled Assam for nearly seven centuries without a break. The Chutiyas were and still are, to a certain extent, worshippers of Goddess Kechaikhati (Flesh-eater), a form of the Great Mother Goddess. Under Brahmanical influence they built up a history tracing the origin of their kings to mythical times. Since the loss of their kingdom, they have mixed with other races and are now scattered over a large area in the districts of Lakhimpur, Sibsagar and Darrang.
The Miris, or Mishings, as they prefer to describe themselves, are another colourful Mongoloid tribe who, like the Chutiyas, inhabit the riverine areas of Lakhimpur, Sibsagar and Darrang districts. Originally, they were probably with the Tibeto-Burman-speaking tribes which, trekking down from the point of disper sion, came to the sub-Himalayan hills to the north of the Brahma putra and were among the Akas, Abors or Adis, and Mishmis of NEFA. Tarun Chandra Pamegam, a Mishing writer, conjectures that they are descendants of two Abor tribes — the Miyongs and the Daniras — and that they came down to the plains only when the Chutiyas were overpowered by the Ahoms. Converted to Hinduism, the Mishings are well known for their highly moving folk-songs and gay dances.
The Koches, whose dynasties ruled in north Bengal and west Assam till the 17th century, are described as Western Bodos of Mongoloid stock as against the Eastern Bodos, the Chutiyas and the Kacharis. Some people feel that Koches are of a Dravidian origin, though they bear clear Mongoloid physiognomy. It may be that they have an admixture of both. They have adopted Hinduism and the Assamese language.Their great king Naranarayana and his conqueror-brother Chilarai were enthusiastic patrons of the great Vaishnava preacher, Sri Sankardeva (1449-1569). The Koches are scattered all over the Brahmaputra Valley. In Goalpara district to the west they call themselves Rajvasis, out of pride, perhaps, to remind themselves that they were once a ruling race. The Stale of Cooch-Behar, their original seat of administration, now in west Bengal, is not very far from their present habitation.
The Morans or Mataks, who spoke a Bodo speech but later adopted Assamese, are another Mongoloid people who ruled in the extreme east prior to the Ahoms. They were conquered by the Ahoms who annexed their kingdom and influenced them in various ways. A sect of the Vaishnavas, they once revolted in the 17th century against the Ahoms and even occupied the throne for a short while. They are largely concentrated in the eastern- most parts of Lakhimpur district, in the territory lying between Dibrugarh and Saikhowaghat, south of the Brahmaputra, near Sadiya. The Morans are to be found in parts of the districts of Darrang and Sibsagar also, like the Chutiyas and the Mishings.
The Ahoms are the only Mongoloid race whose arrival in Assam is historically recorded. This is because they came very late, viz. in 1228 C.E, and they recorded their own activities in the chronicles called Buranjis, meaning “store-house of unknown things”. They are also distinguished in many other ways. After the Bodos, they are the only people who made their influence felt far and wide for many centuries at a stretch. Unlike other Mongoloid peoples, the Ahoms spoke Chinese-Siamese. They did not push south- wards like others from the original point of dispersion in western China, but they moved from the hills of upper Burma and western Yunnan where they had styled themselves as Shans and established small states amongst which the paramount one was known to the Manipuris as Pong. But the Ahoms prefer to describe themselves as Tai. From upper Burma a band of Tai warriors, some 9,000 strong, under the leadership of Sukapha, were trekking along the Patkai Range in the Naga country in early 13th century. It took them some thirteen years from 1215 to 1228 C.E. to emerge in the plains of Sibsagar through Namrup. After drifting for years in search of a suitable spot for settlement, Sukapha at last built a city at Charaideo, some distance from the present sub-divisional town of Sibsagar in 1253 C.E.
He and his warriors during their wanderings in the plains subjugated many an early tribe like the Morans and the Barahis. That was the beginning of a long dynasty of kings who by and by proceeded to subjugate other early rulers and chieftains and established a vast empire in almost the whole of the Brahmaputra Valley, a united kingdom never realised before.
On either side of the Brahmaputra, their frontiers touched Cooch- Behar in the west and Cachar in the south, while maintaining friendly relations with chieftains settled in the hills. “This was rendered possible,” to quote Hem Barua, “because of the effective administrative apparatus they built up both for war and for peace.”
They brought the history of Assam to modern times in 1826 C.E. when the British took over from the Burmese who had invaded Assam thrice in quick succession and brought untold destruction to man and property and created a terrible havoc in the mind of the population. The Ahoms, though scattered all over the Valley in large numbers, are concentrated in Sibsagar district, the seat of their administration.
Assam, the present name of the State, is in all probability an Ahom contribution. The Assamese people call their State Asam and their language and the people Asamiya. Asmna in Sanskrit means unequal or unrivalled, which is supposed to allude to the unequal prowess of the Ahoms; or it may also mean the uneven topography of the land full of hills and rivers ; at the same time, it may refer to its unequal scenic grandeur. Dr. B. K. Kakati has tried to show that the word Asam used in the old Assamese writings might, in fact, have been derived from a Tai or Ahom word Cham, meaning “to be defeated”; the Assamese prefix A to it makes it Acham, meaning “undefeated” or “conquerors”. Cham or Sam may again have something to do with Shan, a name of the Tai or Ahom people. Dr. Kakati writes: “It seems curious that while the Shan invaders called themselves Tai, they come to be referred to as Asam, Asam, Asam and Acam by the natives of the province.
In Darrang Raj Vamsavah, a chronicle of the Koch kings by Suryya Khari Daibajna composed in the sixteenth century, the word Asam has all through been employed as a term of reference to the conquering Shans. In Sankar Cant, the Shans have been variously designated as Asam, Asam, Asam. In Kamrupar Buranji, of a much later date, occurs the form Acam also.” So it is suggested that the modern word Ahom must have been derived from Asam in this way: Asafn~^Asam->Aham-^Ahom. The British have Anglicized either Asam or Assm into Assam.
The Ahoms have also left their impact on various place-names. The Tai prefix Nam means water or river, like the Bodo Di, as in Namrup and Namdang. There are two Ahom names for the Brahmaputra, Nam-ti-lao and Nam-dao-phi, now obsolete.
The other Shan tribes who followed the Ahoms along the same Patkai Range route are the Khamtis, Naras, Phakials, Aitaniyas, Turungs and Khamjangs, all Buddhists. The Ahoms were the only non-Buddhists. That only shows that all Shan tribes other than the Ahoms started to leave their original homeland much later, after their conversion to Buddhism. The Khamtis once inhabiting the Jorhat Sub-division had to migrate to the Lohit Division of NEFA for various reasons. They are a highly cultured people, like the Pliakials who also first lived with the Ahoms but subsequently moved to their present habitat of Naharkatiya, Margherita and Ledo, adjacent to the Tirap Frontier Tract of NEFA. The Naras, Turungs and Aitaniyas live in Jorhat and Golaghat Sub-divisions of Sibsagar district. All of them seem to have appeared in Assam in the early part of the 19th century, as suggested by the late Sarbananda Rajkumar, an eminent Ahom historian. He says that the Khamtis claim the Turungs and Aitaniyas to be two of their own clans, which is only possible. In addition to being Buddhists, these people also dress similarly.
The Ahoms kept close contact with their Nara compatriots before the latter came down to Assam. Some of them were absorbed by the Ahoms. Others remained Buddhists and retained their original mode of life. These Shan people constitute an island of Buddhists in the eastern region. The Singphos, who live side by side with the Khamtis and who migrated from the source of the Irrawaddy in upper Burma to Assam about the same time as these Shan tribes, are animists. Their speech has greater similarity to the Tibeto-Burman Abor than that of the Shans. The Singphos are also reputed for their knowledge of the use of iron in making weapons.
The Aryan Hindus of Assam are numerous with their sub-sects. Dr. B. K. Barua in A Cultural History of Assam lists the following principal castes or classes of people of Assam, excluding the tribes enumerated above: Brahmana, Kayastha, Kalita, Koch, Keot, Ganaka or Daivajna, Kaibarta, Kumara, Hari, the last two being potters. This classification is based on old records and present social conditions. They inhabit every nook and corner of the plains. They originally came to Assam from the west. Like other Aryan descendants of northern India, they are also tall and fair. The Kalitas are agriculturists by profession, though during Ahom rule they proved their might as soldiers also. The Brahmanas and Kayasthas are generally given to intellectual pursuits such as learning, diplomacy, statecraft and religious teaching. It is they who are largely responsible for propagating the scriptures, building up literature and developing the Assamese language.
It is difficult to say exactly when the first Aryans appeared in the Assam plains. Hindu civilization, an outcome of racial fusion of the Aryans, Dravidians and Austrics, reached north Bihar by the 7th century B.c. So the Aryans must have made contacts with Assam by that time. The existence of Mongoloid peoples was noted long before that date, in the 10th century B.C.E. when the Vedas were being compiled. It was made possible, perhaps, by the presence of Dravidian and Austric speakers who had already settled here and so had some sort of a link with their compatriots in the west who were helping to build up Hindu civilization. We have to depend much upon two epics and the various Puranas for any references to such contacts. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata were taking shape between 500 B.C.E and 400 C.E. That is about the only probable historical time when any Aryans crossed the western borders of Assam, then known as Pragjyotisha and Kamarupa. When the famous Chinese pilgrim Yuan Chwang visited Assam in 643 C.E, it was still known as Kamarupa. He travelled east, as he himself wrote, from Pur-na-fa-tan-na (Purnavardhana), crossed the great river Ko-lo-tu (Karatoya) and then arrived at Ka-mo-lu-po (Kamarupa). According to the Ramayana, the kingdom of Pragjyotisha was founded by an Aryan named Amurtarajas hailing from the country around the Kosi river. The Mahabharata gives both the names Pragjyotisha and Kamarupa to Assam. It is possible that the name Pragjyotisha was still prevalent during the Mahabharata days, but was in process of being replaced by the new name Kamarupa. Hence, K. L. Barua in his Early History of Kamarupa holds the view that Pragjyotisha was a very ancient name of the land and Kamarupa was used in medieval times. The Puranas and the Tantras also used the word Kamarupa. Narakasura, a great mythological king from Videha or north Bihar, a son of Vishnu but fostered by the Videha king Janaka, came here to establish a new kingdom. He and his descendant-successors in the same line had their capital in Pragjyotishapura, modern Gauhati, as the Mahabharata says. He established himself by defeating and slaying Ghatakasura, a powerful Kirata chief. Before Ghataka, another dynasty beginning with Mahiranga Danava ruled the land. Naraka’s son Bhagadatta was a great warrior who, surrounded by troops of the Kiratas, the Cinas and other sea-coast dwellers, fought on the side of Duryodhana in the great Kurukshetra war. These were evidently Mongoloid soldiers. They are variously described in the epics as pnyadarsanah (pleasant-looking), hemabhah (shining like gold), skin-clad and ferocious. Appellations like Danava and Asura to the kings suggest that they were of a non- Aryan origin. But that Naraka came from north Bihar and his son Bhagadatta fought for Duryodhana would suggest, on the other hand, that intimate contacts were already being made between Aryans and Mongoloids. We must not forget, in this connection, that the Kiratas were mentioned in the Yajurveda, a work of the Aryans. It is probably a pointer to racial assimilation which was largely responsible for evolving a Hindu civilization. Vyasa, “the father of Aryan literature”, reputed to be the poet of the Mahabharata, the eighteen Puranas, compiler and editor of the four Vedas, was evidently a half-caste. His father Parashara was a Brahmana (Aryan) and his mother Satyavati the daughter of a Dasa, probably a fisherman of Dravidian origin. The legends of Naraka as nairated in the Puranas and Tantras also suggest such examples of fusion. According to these legends, Naraka after establishing himself in Pragjyotisha settled many Brahmanas at Kamakhya. Vishnu greatly favoured Naraka, it is said, and asked him to worship Goddess Kamakhya.
This may point to Aryan migration. Again, Naraka later on fell from Vishnu’s favour as he grew irreligious and wanted to take the goddess herself as his wife; he oppressed Brahmanas like sage Vashishta and held sixteen thousand damsels captive m his harem. So Vishnu as Krishna came to punish him and in a fierce fight slew him. Krishna must have been some Aryan invader who came into this non-Aryan land with his troops. History has some records of such expedition. In 105 C.E. Samuda, an Indian king, was ruling in upper Burma; another prince from north-west India founded a kingdom in Thailand. They must have passed through Assam to their kingdoms.
Krishna is also associated with two other mythological kings, Bana of Shonitpur (modern Tezpur) and Bhismaka of Kundin, near Sadiya. Both the kings were non-Aryans, or in all likelihood Mongoloid. Krishna came all the way from far-off Dwaraka in Gujarat and carried off Bhismaka’s daughter Rukmini from her swayamvara. The story is narrated in two Puranas and Bhagavata purana. Sana’s story is to be found in the Bhagavata purana , Harivamsha and the Vishnupurana. A contemporary of Naraka, he influenced and led Naraka astray from the path of piety, for which he was punished by Krishna. Krishna’s grandson Aniruddha followed the path of his grandfather and came to woo the hand of Sana’s daughter, Usha. He was caught red-handed in her secluded palace and the furious Bana held him prisoner. Krishna dutifully came to the young man’s rescue and fought Bana in such a fierce and prolonged battle that a river of blood began to flow (hence the name Shonitpur).
Bana, of course, was vanquished and the young lovers were united. These stories can also be interpreted as examples of Aryan penetration into a land of non-Aryan races. Thus racial and cultural fusion was brought about in those mythological times. Dr. S. K. Chatterji says that Krishna himself, like Vyasa, was the son of an Aryan prince Vasudeva and Devaki, a sister of the non-Aryan king Kamsa of Mathura. He in his teachings tried to make a synthesis of diverse ways; for example, he accepted the non-Vedic rites of pujas originated by the Dravidians. The Mongoloid tribe of Akas living in the northern hills above Tezpur till this day traces its ancestry to the dynasty of Bana.
From this mythological period to the 4th century C.E. when reliable historical data begin to emerge, there were a number of traditional kings. Their popular accounts point to Aryan infiltration. Dharma Pala, a Kshatriya from the west, founded a king- dom somewhere near Gauhati ( Currently spelled as Guwahati ). He is said to have brought a number of high-caste Hindus like Brahmanas from upper India to his new kingdom. Ram Chandra, the last king of his line, built his capital in Majuli, world’s biggest river-island, in the midst of the Brahmaputra in upper Assam. Then we have three colourful kings associated with three high embankments still extant. Ram Chandra, while performing a yajna, made an offering of his beautiful queen to the Brahmaputra. The pregnant queen, floating away, was blessed with a son, Arimatta, who subsequently founded his own kingdom at Vaidyagarh, a high embankment still to be seen in the north of Kamarupa district. Arimatta fought and killed his own father Ram Chandra, not recognising him. Arimatta in turn was slain by Phengua, who threw up another high embankment, which is still in existence and is known as Phenguagarh, 16 km west of Vaidyagarh. Phengua was ultimately defeated by Arimatta’s son Ratna Singh, who lost his kingdom owing to a Brahmana’s cause. Another son of Arimatta, named Jongal Balahu, founded another kingdom fortifying his capital with high embankments, known till this day as Jongal Balahu Garh, in the district of Nowgong He was overthrown by the local Kacharis, a Mongoloid Bodo tribe. These popular traditional accounts, though not corroborated by historical data, at least prove that the Aryans from outside were trying to push as far east as possible, with the help of the sword if necessary, for there was local resistance. Firishta’s history mentions Shankaladib, a powerful Koch king of Kamarupa, who conquered Banga and Bihar, founded the city of Gaur or Lakhauti and then inflicted a crushing defeat on Kidar
Brahman, an equally powerful king of North India. Shankal, at last, was crushed by Afrasiyab, a Persian king, with whom he fought fiercely with 50,000 Mongol soldiers. His encounter with Kidar is another instance of local resistance to Aryan penetration.
From the 4th century C.E. we have a clearer picture of the history of Assam. Yuan Chwang’s travel accounts, Bana’s Harshacharita and above all various land-grant plates and epigraphs supply valuable historical material. From these we gather that Pusyavarman of the Varman dynasty ruled in Kamarupa in the 4th century C.E and was followed by other kings of the same line till the 7th century when Bhaskaravarman ruled as the last king. This dynasty is held to be the descendants of Naraka. Confirmed accounts of political and cultural links established between Kamarupa and the rest of India are to be found in the history of this period. Many Varman kings performed the Asvamedha Yajna, a horse sacrifice, a proof of growing Aryan influence. Pusyavarman was the contemporary and personal friend of Chandragupta I.
Some of the kings of this period assumed the title of maharaja- dliraja. Others made land gifts to the Brahmanas. The greatest of them all was Bhaskaravarman, the last king, of whom this is what Edward Gait has to say : “Bhaskaravarman, the greatest monarch of this family and one of the most remarkable rulers of medieval India, is undoubtedly an important study.” He secured friendship with King Harsha of Thaneswar, another great name in Indian history, and they exchanged valuable gifts besides ambassadors. He was well-versed in the sastras and was ever keen to enrich his learning. He wrote to the head of Nalanda, Silabhadra, seeking a visit of Yuan Chwang to his country. The Chinese pilgrim came and was very much impressed by the Kamarupa king’s thirst for knowledge. The king and the pilgrim went together to the great religious assembly at Kanauj held by Harsha. Bhaskaravarman, who went with 500 elephants, was the guest- in-chief in that assembly. Yuan Chwang took leave of him from that assembly after promising Bhaskara to translate the teachings of Lao-Tse into Sanskrit for his benefit and accepting a fur-lined cap from Bhaskara, the only mundane gift he accepted before leaving for China. Bhaskaravarman was a celebate and with him ended the line of the Varman kings.
After the Varmans we have three other dynasties which ruled Kamarupa, the first beginning with Salastambha, the second the Palas and the third the Khens. It is during the rule of the Khens that Mohammedans first invaded Assam. In 1204 C.E. Bakhtyar Khilji, Emperor Mohammed Ghori’s subedar (Governor) in Bengal, attacked the first Khen king Niladdhvaj but had to flee defeated. The next Bengal subedar Giasuddin also attacked Niladdhvaj in 1228 C.E. and annexed a part of the kingdom. There followed two more successive Mohammedan invasions that destroyed the rule of the Khens and their capital city of Kamatapur. The Mohammedan hold did not last long, but many of the invaders stayed on and they were the first Muslim settlers of Assam.
After the fall of the Khens, the Koches rose to power in about 1515 C.E. But by that time the Ahoms were also expanding their rule from the east. The Chutiyas were ruling in the extreme north- east, the Kacharis in mid- Assam and in between them a number of petty chieftains called Bhuyans were holding sway over the Brahmaputra plains. The Ahoms subjugated almost all of them and consolidated the entire Valley into one empire which they ruled efficiently for seven centuries, though the Koches in the west and the Kacharis in the extreme south were not altogether vanquished.
Every small tribe that has made its home in one corner or an-other, in the plains or the hills, possesses a living tradition of some kind of political organisation of its own, with a king or perhaps a powerful chieftain and a band of warriors. Even today there are kings in the hills. The Ahoms established and maintained good relations, sometimes even through marriage, with most of them But historical records about them are nearly nil as the tribes did not know the art of writing.
Towards the close of the 18th century A.D., the Ahoms began to disintegrate owing to internal strifes born of misrule. In 1816 thousands of Burmese troops mounted an attack on Assam. They were invited by Badan Barphukan, the Ahom Governor at Gauhati, who quarrelled with the prime minister, who was also the father-in-law of Badan’s daughter. Owing partly to the then Ahom king’s misbehaviour and partly to lure of easy loot and plunder, the Burmese hordes came again in 1819 and for the third time in 1821 for the same reasons. They virtually ruled all over Assam from 1819 to 1824, killing people ruthlessly, plundering their property, burning village after village, dishonouring women at their own sweet will, thus reducing the country to ruins and the whole social system to a shambles. They took some 30,000 people as slaves to Burma; put about half the population to the sword; destroyed the very foundations of political and social systems built up during the centuries. Noblemen fled to places beyond the borders. Many went to the hills. The poor lived on wild roots as there was no cultivation worth the name. But when the Burmese clashed with the British in Goalpara, they were driven back with superior weapons and better battle tactics and finally crushed and defeated, leading to the Treaty of Yandabu in 1826, by which the Burmese King gave away Assam to the British. Assam was the last territory of so-called British India to go to them. That is why an Assamese poet refers to her as the “youngest daughter of Bharat”.
It was but natural to expect that all these races and tribes would find their rightful place in the new India when Independence was attained. The Government of India under Jawaharlal Nehru’s, leadership devised plans of development to suit the tribal people who were not at the same level as their other brethren. Independence has certainly opened avenues of high hopes and new aspira- tions. But the Scheduled Tribes, various Mongoloid tribes listed in the Sixth Schedule of the Constitution, have lagged behind others in many ways. So special arrangements have been made to afford them an opportunity to bring themselves abreast of modern times. They and the Scheduled Castes and other backward classes have been given special facilities by way of award of scholarships, appointment opportunities and reservation of legislative seats. Six autonomous hills districts for the Garos, Khasis and Jaintias, Mikirs and Kacharis, Nagas and Mizos were created, so that these people could run their own affairs through district councils. NEFA is constitutionally a part of Assam and it is a well- known intention of the Government of India that in course of time it will be merged with Assam for geographical reasons, also because the two regions have been keeping in close touch with each other from time immemorial for intimate cultural contacts.
Yet NEFA has been, for the time being, kept as a separate entity under the direct control of the Central Government to ensure the development of the various NEFA tribes according to their own genius. Schools have been opened in remote villages where teachers from the plains teach. The Panchayat system is sought to be introduced in NEFA where a similar system already exists in the form of tribal councils. With the Divisions of Tirap, Lohit, Siang, Subansiri and Kameng, NEFA is spread out in a region of about 35,000 sq. miles, bordering Tibet in the north. The tribal people are slowly being drawn into wider Indian life. A nominated member represents them in Parliament. The Central Deputy Minister for Food and Agriculture, D. Bring, represented the NEFA people for a long time. Another man, Lummer Dai, has won a Central Government literary prize for his excellent novel in Assamese depicting tribal life realistically. Both Bring and Dai belong to the Abor or Adi tribe of Siang.
Independence has brought to the towns and villages in the hills and the plains many a change. New townships have sprung up. Factories have been opened. Schools and colleges have multiplied. Community Development Blocks have been introduced in villages. The"population has also increased significantly .Folk music and traditional forms of dance and drama, hitherto confined to villages and almost neglected, have earned the love of the educated and the high-placed. Folk-tunes and folk- dances have been adapted to suit modern tastes on the sophisticated stage. A village artiste whose fame hardly crossed the four corners of his own village is now listened to and appreciated by thousands in huge gatherings or ox er the radio. In the towns troupes of musicians from remote tribal settlements are to be seen performing with their age-old little instruments. These simple folk have thus responded to the call of the great Indian nationhood and are trying to contribute their mite to a new integrated life. The Bodo Fall or muffler is being used by many non-Bodo people. Women too wrap themselves in Naga shawls. The spear motif on neckties is becoming popular. Folk art is also being adapted increasingly for making decorative articles.
But there is a dark side also. The sense of self-respect roused by unheard-of opportunities that Independence has ushered in has also led some people to separatist tendencies. That many of them were left neglected for long by their more advanced brethren is an accepted fact. Many of them isolated themselves from very old times and hardly tried to come out into the big wide world. The remote and inaccessible position of their settlements has also contributed to their isolation. Their backwardness in point of all that constitutes modern life has made them naturally shy of participation in the new awakening. The Government and makers of the Constitution have never been unsympathetic to them. But the gulf between the stages of development of these people and those of the more advanced is so wide that to bridge it will take a very long time. The so-called “more advanced” and tradition-bound people have not proved as sympathetic and helpful as expected.
Naturally the unfortunate people have grown despondent and at times become restive. Demands and agitations for separate political and administrative set-ups, sometimes even for secession from India as in the cases of Naga and Mizo uprisings, are manifestations of such despondency. Some administrative changes have had to be made to satisfy such aspirations.
The Naga Hills district of Assam was carved out and was added to the Tuensang Division of NEFA to make the new State of Nagaland in 1960. Ten years later in 1970 the autonomous sub-state of Meghalaya was created within the framework of Assam with two more districts of the State, i.e., the Khasi and Jaintia Hills and the Garo Hills. The armed rebellion of the underground Nagas and Mizos is well known. The agitation for a separate Hill State launched jointly by Khasi and Garo leaders was a long-drawn-out problem intriguing the minds of national leaders beginning with Jawaharlal Nehru who tried to solve it in various ways. In one of their schemes, since abandoned, the constitution of separate units for hills and plains “not subordinate to each other” was proposed. Some sections have seized upon this opportunity and have demanded such units for their communities. The Plains Tribal Council wants to have some such separate arrangement for the benefit of its own people on the entire north bank of the Brahmaputra. The Tai Mongoliya Parishad also aspires for such an arrangement in the districts of Sibsagar and Lakhimpur for the people of Ahom or Mongoloid origin. Just after the creation of Meghalaya the District Council of Mikir and North Cachar Hills has been bifurcated into two separate Councils for two districts. Two new Sub-divisions, Kokrajhar, where the Bodo people predominate, and Dhemaji, where the Miris or Mishings are concentrated, have been created in Goalpara and Lakhimpur districts, respectively. The Bodo language has been introduced into primary schools in the areas where the Bodos predominate and the Government of Assam has agreed to introduce it into the secondary schools of those areas also. Some other small communities have also put forward demands for new Sub-divisions where their numbers predominate.
These developments are not cited, however, to suggest that the whole State is in the process of disintegration. They are cited only to emphasise that new hopes and aspirations have found outlets in new India in various forms and these people are only giving expression to them. Otherwise on the silent cultural level influences and counter-influences are still exerting their pulls. Some instances of it have been cited above. Tribal life and languages are being scientifically studied to examine their contributions to Assam and its people as a whole. Customs and beliefs of simple village-folk are being examined by scholars to show how much they have contributed to the general culture of Assam. This certainly is a correct approach to the new problem that presents itself. For, many separate ethnic groups have intermingled here to make the population of today and their cultures have also interfused. As Dr. Chatterji says: “Culture and race contacts are never one-sided in their influence .”
SOCIAL LIFE OF THE PEOPLE OF ANCIENT ASSAM :
Varnasramadharma and ancient Assam:
Ancient Assam was like a highway through which passes from the main land of India on the one hand and South East Asia on the other, different ethnic groups viz Austric , Mongolian, Dravidian and Aryan at different intervals of time and settled in this region. As a result, in this region we find amalgamation of various peoples, who speak different languages, have different social structure, cultural patterns, and religious beliefs and are of different ethnic make ups.
When and how the Aryans entered Assam from the west is difficult to say.The Satapatha Brahmana (IV.I) preserves tradition of the migration of the Aryans to the east of the river Sadanira. The river Sadanira is identified with the river Gandaki , the modem Gunduck which falls into the Ganges, opposite to Patna and was the eastern boundary of Videha . The story has been dated by Kosambi in the middle of the first millienium B.C.E. Prof. R.S. Sharma dates the advent of the Brahmanas in the fifth century A.D. in'North Bengal and Assam . With the migration of the Bfihmanas Aryan culture also gets introduced in these regions. The most important features of the Aryan society was the Varnasramadharma.
Varnasramadharma traces its origin from a late hymn of the Rgveda, known as the Purusa-sukta, (Rgveda, X) "The Brahmana was his mouth, the Rajanya was his arms, the Vaisya was his thighs and the Sudra sprang from his feet". The belief gradually gained ground that the Brahmanas, Ksatriyas, Vaisyas and Sudras issued respectively from the mouth, arms, thigh and feet of the creator. It corresponded to occupational association and status by birth i.e. Brabmanas as priests, Ksatriyas as warriors, Vaisyas as producers or traders and Sudras as performers of manual labour in descending order. Side by side with the Varna system sprang up the order of the four asramas, known as Brahmacharya, Grhastha, Vanaprastha and Sanyasa.
These represented the life of the student, of the householder, of the ascetic and of the hermit respectively. P. V. Kane opines that the theory of Varna dealt with man as a member of the Aryan society and laid down what his rights, functions, privileges, responsibilities and duties as a member of the society.
D.D. Kosambi opines that the pastoral economy of the Aryans and primitive agricultural economy of the non-Aryans were subjected to a qualitative transformation when the iron plough was introduced to bring about agricultural revolution . R.S. Sharma has shown that this agricultural revolution transformed the tribal, pastoral, almost egalitarian Vedic society in a full fledged agricultural and class divided social order. The nature of happening that took place in the Ganga valley is described by Dr. R.S. Sharma. He stated that in the mid-Gangavalley, mainly in the forest zone, when cleared with the iron made axe and was thrown open for the action of iron made plough the area became open for the settlement of people. With the help of the iron ploughshare and other tools peasants produced a good deal more than what they needed for their subsistence. Tribal chiefs and others who had grabbed large stretches of land needed of good number of slaves and hired labours, even small peasants needed occasional service in their field. For enjoying the surplus products by the peasants and artisans, hired labourers and agricultural slaves came in to being and the Varna mechanism was devised. According to it members of the three higher Varnas or their social orders were distinguished ritually from those of the fourth Varna. The higher classes, distinguished themselves from the Sudra by qualifying for Vedic studies and the investiture of the sacred thread after the Upanayana ceremony and claims the dvijas. The fourth Varna or the Sudras were excluded from it. Since both priests and warriors lived on taxes, tributes, tithes and labour supplied by peasants and artisans, it is repeatedly emphasised in ancient texts that they can thrive and rule the world only if they co-operate with one another. The Varnaaramadharma created the idealistic atmosphere by supplying the land-labour force.
Varnasramadharma, was afflicted with a deep social crisis around the third century A.D. which is clearly reflected in the descriptions of the Kaliage in the Puranas of the third century and fourth centuries C.E. The Kaliage is characterised by Varna-Samkara, i.e. intermixture of Varnas or social orders, and it made the functioning of the state and society difficult. To cope with the situation the practice of the granting revenues or land in lieu of services rendered to the state was adopted by the rulers on a very wide scale. The practice was extended to both settled and backward areas .
In the backward and aboriginal areas the grants of land to Brahmanas and others led to the spread of iron plough agriculture. In tribal dominated areas where all the members of the community practiced agriculture and crafts as essential components their livelihood, and trade becoming less important as an economic activity causing difficulty in introducing Varnasramadhanna based on their functions and birth. In an expanding agrarian economy their service was essential in agriculture and craft. The Brahmana lawgivers categorised all ordinary agriculturists and artisans as Sudras, accorded most of them a peasant status. Traditional agriculture and cattle rearing were the specific duties of the Vaisya Varna. The land grants depreciated the position of independent Vaisya peasants as it developed a hierarchy of intermediaries deriving their income from land tilled by the primary producers.
The ruling class developed contempt towards manual labour and exploited the classes engaged thus. This was reflected in the social degradation of the peasant communities of the Vaisya Varna and their approximation to Sudras found in the Smriti literature. S. Jaiswal pointed out that from the beginning of the Christian era, the Vaisya turned to regard trade and commerce as the distinctive occupation. The original Varna duty on agriculture was no longer associated with the Vaisya who was now looked upon chiefly as a trader. Thus by the Gupta period Sudras have become peasants and the Vaisya became traders respectively.
The migration of the Brahmanas towards the east and south during the time of the Guptas and the post Gupta period proliferated the caste system at a fast rate. There was no mass migration of the Vedic Vis and the Aryan population to these regions. Brahmanas migrated as teachers and 'enlightened land owners' whose migration appears to have token place after the general decline of trade. The decline of trade gave rise to a new economy in which local needs were satisfied locally.
Therefore the Vaisya Varna did not emerge in these areas. According to R.S. Sharma for more than three centuries this formation was characterised by lesser trade, decline of towns and the resultant lack of social and spatial mobility except in the case of princes, priests and warriors.The Brahmana law givers also created a conception of Varna-Samkara or mixed castes to absorb the large numbers of tribal people in to the Varna system. The device of anuloma and pratiloma was adopted to rank hierarchically the non-Brahmana and to rationalise and explain ideologically the steep gradations of caste status among them.
It is significant that in the Varna-Samkara theory, the impurity of castes does not arise from the adoption of low professions, but those who born of impure births are condemned to follow occupations of low status-value. In the four Varna theory the higher rank enjoys greater accessibility to non-polluting occupations and 'power' and status. Thus the theory of purity and pollution arising from birth through approved or disapproved unions further affirms the basic principles inherent in the Varna system by denying access to the so called impure castes. The elaboration of the Varna scheme with accent on birth rather than on function was made with a view to providing ideological support to the Varna-Samkara or mixed castes to the cause of social stratification . Thus, during this period the main contradiction was no longer between the 'twice bom' and the 'once bom', but between those castes which were created out of approved male and female unions and those (which originated) from disapproved unions . In the former category were included not only the four principal Varnas but all those non Brahmana castes of high social status which were described as sat-sudras or uttama-samkaras. A distinction between the aniravasita and niravasita sudra appears in the lime of Panini also. By the former he means Sudras who were out caste or with whom no social intercourse was ever possible and who remained outside the Vedic society by following some mean occupations and were of impure habits (Panini, 13.4.10), such as the Chandalas. By Aniravasita Saudra, Panini means Sudras who remained in regular contact with the upper castes, attending to their services and who were pure in habits and character.
They were foreigners settled in India and occupational groups. Thus by introducing the Varna-Dharma simultaneously, the ideologues recognised the prevailing tribal and local customs and primitive lore as Jati-Dharma where by each clan, guild, caste or locality was entitled to be governed by its own laws which operated within the larger context of Varna-Dharma. Thus the Brahmana law givers absorbed a large number of tribal people within the oxthodox fold to grow up horizontally. They were never allowed to rise vertically in the Varna system. S .S. Jaiswal discussed the non-emergence of the Ksatriya Varna in the eastern region. According to him there was no local conquering elite in this region which might seek to preserve its identity through putative Ksatriya status by forging kinship relations horizontally with widespread marriage networks. He opined that this period witnessed a change of occupation not only in the other Varnas but also in the individual members of the Brahmana Varna who took up other respectable occupations. Therefore with a fear of breakdown of the Varna system they recognized local tribal chiefs as having Ksatriya status vertically. Thus in the post Gupta India the concept Brahma-Ksatra appears among ruling families of priestly origin. Apparently, members of the ruling dynasties preferred a Ksatriya status because it signified connection with the control of land, the ultimate source of political power. The concept under lying the change from a tribal social formation to a state with more territorial ambitions and wide ranging obligations cutting across tribal loyalties based on kinship. In short they sought to define their superior social position vis-a-vis the growing social, economic and legal disparities, on the line of the Dharmasatras. The Brahmana law givers declared that kings were bom to uphold Varnasramadharma, by using their coercive authority if required.
With this background the working of the concept of Varnasramadharma in ancient Assam may be studied.
The formation of the monarchical institution in ancient Assam is mentioned in the Allahabad Pillar Inscription of Samudragupta ( 350 C.E). Pusyavarman, the founder of the Varman dynasty is accepted as the contemporary of Samudragupta. He is referred to as Pragjyotisendra in the seal attached to the Dubi Copperplate Grant of Bhaskaravarman, Active economic forces behind this process of state formation can be inferred from Kautilya's Arthasastra, the Periplus of the Erythraean-Sea, Ptolemy’s Geography and other literary sources. But it has been pointed out by scholars that the process of state started only when it had, to a considerable extent, moved from, shifting to permanent cultivation...' because a quantum of surplus was necessary to maintain even a rudimentary state apparatus".
The Nagajaff-Khanikargaon Fragmentary Stone Inscription records the donation of an agraharaksetra named GauiTvataka by King Vasundharavarman where names of two village officials e.g. Mahattara Brahmadutta and Vaji also appeared.
Mahattara Brahmadutta might have been a Brahmana, who perhaps received the donated land for a specific purpose. It indicates that Vasundharavarman initiated the agrahara policy to settle Brahmanas on the fertile region on the bank of the Dibru river. Agraharaksetra was a rent free land given to the Brahmanas. V.B. Mishra has stated that the area of agraharaksetra was more or less of the size of a 'Tehsil' that used to be constituted of some villages. Besides the general meaning of its root the original meaning is very important to us. Etymologically it has originated from the root 'hr' meaning to 'snatch', at first is "agrahara.". So "agraharaksetra" is that type of land which Brahmanas occupied first time after their arrival. Those who were pioneer in the expansion of agriculture by ploughing received the right of enjoyment of the area free from any revenue payment. The Umacal Rock Inscription refers to the establishment of a cave temple for the worship of Balabhadrasvamin, the holder of plough by Surendravarman, identified with Mahendravarman of the Vaiman dynasty who reigned around the fifth century C.E.
The inscription indicates the emphasis on wetrice cultivation at the state level in ancient Assam. Varman dynasty expanded their territory in the east up to the Kapili valley and in the South-East up to Sylhet during the time of Bhutivarman and agrarian expansion has taken a concrete shape.
The expansion of agriculture has taken shape in this region after many centuries later than it was in the west. Therefore the description of R.S. Sharma who stated of established agricultural society is not wholly relevant to us. The Nidhanpur Grant referred to the principle of Bhumichidranyaya (i.e. the maxim of virgin land brought under cultivation for the first time). R.S. Sharma had a different opinion regarding donation of land as per Bhumichidranyaya He stated that by Bhumichidra, Aprohata, Khila etc. although it meant the uncultivated land and for bringing those under cultivation, the principle of revenue free land was made in vogue but in later period this principle was not rigid as the cultivated land andprosperous villages were also donated. He stated that the principle of Bhumichidranyaya was applicable in general sense to bring uncultivated land under cultivation and this process got extended to new areas and new settlement. Thus the description of R.S. Sharma is equally relevant in new agricultural idealism. As the Brahmanas never tilled the land they had to play tricks to utilise the labour force to utilise their acquired land. In this case also the Varnasramadharma created the idealistic atmosphere for the utilisation of land and labour force. Royal protection to preserve the system was essential for the Brahmanas.
The Nidhanpur Grant informs us the development of caste society in this region. The grant states that after hundred years the revenue free land became liable to tax which indicates that within this hundred years definitely there was considerable change in Mayurasalmalagraharaksetra. Within these period the virgin land turned to a fertile rice producing rich agricultural land. The extent of transformation of the land into a source of wealth is evident from the Nidhanpur Grant The division of land in the grant was made carefully. Boundary determiner (Snnapradata) was mentioned who was a royal officer. To implement the royal order as recorded in the inscription the concerned royal officers and the village head men enthrusted with were made responsible. In the description of boundary even fig tree, the hole of Kumbhakara (potter) were referred in details. Changing of river course and the dried river track (recorded as Gangimka) were also referred to in the inscription. Dr. N.N. Acharyya has referred that to make a land document faultless all the factors those are presently considered are available in the Nidhanpur Grant . These were - composer, writer, mscriber,boundary demarcator,dispute-settler, clerk, lawyer, treasurer, revenue collector, full identity of doner and donee, office of registration, witness, purpose and effectivity of registration of land document, right of progenitor,revenue, direction to future ruler and religious sanction of the concerned matter.
It shows that Bhaskaravarman had a well-organised Revenue Department for keeping re cords of land, its periodical survey and inspection. Thus Mayurasalmalagrahara of Pundravardhana area became an prosperous economic zone and revenue department of Bhiskaravarman also aware of the fact. The Nidhanpur Grant also hints the formation of the Brahmanical culture based on rural society in the Mayurasalmalagrahara ksetra. The Nidhanpur Grant refers to the names of the donee with their Vedas, gotras and pravaras. There were references to stone engraver Kaliya, clerck, potter, writer, a number of royal officers and Vyavahan Khasoka. The term Vyavahari was translated as one issuing officer.
VyavaharT Khasoka was referred to at the time of determining the boundary of the donated land adjacent to the boundary of another plot of donated land. M.M. Sharma translated the word to be tradesman . It is noteworthy that the Khasis acquired the natural expertise to work with metal .Except these two non-Brahmanic names the grant is silent about other non-Aryan people or the labourer of the agricultural field. But in tribally dominated areas all the members of the community practiced agriculture and craft as essential components of their livelihood. When they came in to contact with superior Aryan culture the Brahmana law givers accepted them as Sudras. They sought to differentiate between various social groups based on their occupation to specific localities, communities etc. The Nidhanpur Grant pointed out this gradual proliferation of social groups based on their professions and occupations.
To examine the society referred to the Nidhanpur Grant the nature of the original Brahmanas also needs explanation here. Many historians expressed that the Brahmanas whom we find in the inscription could not maintain their stature as Brahmana in later period. The title of the Brahmanas in the Nidhanpur Grant were Deva, Sarnia and Svamin. In the Nidhanpur Grant P.N. Bhattacharya noticed that the Brahmanas who received donated land were having a middle title. These are Vasu, Ghosa, Nandi, Mitra, Nag, Som, Pal, Palita, Das and Dutta. These titles were prevalent in non-Brahmanic society of Bengal. He noticed that these Brahmanas were mainly Nagara Brahmana of Gujrat, a special caste based society. It is presumed that Kangra valley was the original home of these Nagara-Brahmanas atNagan-Karsukh area. From this area they migrated to Nagarkot of Gujrat (Kathiawad) where they settled since 2nd century C.E. Their main deity is Hatakesvara Siva. In some of the copper plates of western India Vasu, Dam, Palit, Ghosh etc. titled Brahmanas are having references. According to Bhandarkar one of the groups of these Brahmanas settled in Pancakhanda on having land grant from Bhutivannan. P.C. Choudhury has stated that long before the Vedic Aryans, Alpine Aryans entered in Western India and fllese BShmanas are all but the descendants of these Alpine Aryans. The statement of P.C. Choudhury was based on the theory of R.P. Chanda. Dr. Grierson nominated this theory as Outer Aryan and Inner Aryan.
According to R.P. Chanda from cultural and anthropological stand point the Aryans in India can be divided in to two groups - Inner Aryan group and Outer Aryan group. Maharashtra, Orissa, Bengal, Assam and some portion of Gujrat belong to Outer Aryan group. Hindi and other allied linguistic groups belong to Inner Aryan circle. As per R.P. Chanda in India too two waves of Aryans entered, one Alpo-Dinarian and the other is Nordic. The very basic difference between the Nordic and the Alpines are that the first ones are Vaidic and the latter ones are non-Vedic.
According to him as they belong to the non-Vedic culture they are told as ' Vratya'. But the Brahmanas of the Nidhanpur Copperplate Grant referred to their Vedic language in all forms of gotra-pravara, including Veda, vedasakha. Therefore the theory of P.C. Choudhury needs further investigation. H.D. Sankalia, the reputed historian of Gujrat did not accept the Nagara Brahmana theoiy of Dr. Bhandarkar. He stated with reference to the Vallabhi Copperplate Inscription that the suffixes of the Vallabhi Copperplate exhibit rich varieties, some even completely Ksatriya like viz. Varma and he refused to accept that the suffixes were Nagar Brahmana. Sankalia refused to consider the middle titles which frequently occur in the names of the Gujrat Brahmanas as hereditary rather personal names. It is important to mention here that the existence of such titles are evident in contemporary or previous or later royal land grant inscriptions of Assam and its neighboring states. The Pascimbhag Copperplate Inscription refers to such middle title holder Brahmanas who has been given land grant by the Buddhist king of East Bengal in the Southern portion of Srihatta. The earliest of this type middle title holder Brahmanas noticed in Pundravardhana where we get two names viz, Amaradutta and Mahasenadutta who received land grants. All these references indicate a wave of migration of people who definitely contains the marks of a tribe. Therefore Sankalia's suggestion is not relevant to the Brahmanas of the Nidhanpur Copperplate Grant. But Sankalia suggests that most of the names of Brahmanas were Nakshatra names, but names of the personal deities like Visnu and Siva were also current which is prevalent in the Visnu-Purana. Likewise, besides the orthodox suffixes, Brahmanas had begun to append non-Brahmana suffixes to their names. Both these practices indicate almost complete non-observance of the rules laid down even in the latest Grhya-Sutras and literal interpretation of the vague rules prescribed by Manu. Thus, in alienation of the rules of 'Grhya-Sutra' and 'Manu-Samhita' one of the groups of the Brahmanas of Gujrat used the Naksatra names and un-Brahmanical titles along with the names of Siva and Visnu or similar worshipped god names.The Brahmanas of the Nidhanpur Grant also used and followed the same tradition in naming their own themselves.
The migration of the Brahmanas from Gujrat to this eastern part of land can be inferred from the Khalimpur Inscription of Dharmapala. According to the grant Mahasamanta Sri Narayanavarma donated land to Brahmanas for Visnu temple and these Brahmanas belonged to ‘Latadesa*. Sankalia has determined the area of 'Latadesa' which comprised the Mahi in the north and the river Daman in the south or the districts of Kheda, Bharach and Surat and parts of Thana district, which may be said to be Bhrgukaccha of Western coast and the Kathiawad area of Gujrat. This inscription is a proof of the far and wide movement of the Brahmanas of Gujrat. It was more possible that the first settlement of these Brahmanas was in North Bihar and North Bengal where from their movement came to further east. The descendants of the donees of the Nidhanpur Copperplate Grant traces their origin from Mithila.
The Brahmanas of Assam today follow the Mithila School of law, such as inheritance, gift, will and marriage. P.N. Bhattacharya refering a book Vaidic Samabadini states that five Brahmanas of five different gotras were invited by Tripuraraja to perform a Yajna. The meeting place of these five Brahmanas was called Pancakhanda. The names of these five gotras were Vatsa, Vatsya, Bhiradvaja, Krisnatreya and Parasara. These Brahmanas were very much impressed with the sacred beauty of Pancakhanda and they later called another five Brahmanas of different gotras to settle in the same place. They were of Katyayana, Kasyapa, Maudgalya, Subhamakausika and Gautama. These ten gotras of Brahmanas established their various Vedic and traditional rites at Srihatta and became famous as Vaidic or Sampradayika Brahmanas. Seven gotras out of ten are referred to in the Nidhanpur Copperplate Grant. Other three gotras viz, Vatsya, Parasara and Subarnakausika are referred to as Vatsya, Parasarya and Kausika.
K.K. Gupta discussed the topic in details. According to him the Vaidic Samabadini refers to two land grant copperplates by Tripurarajas, one in the 7th century C.E. and the other in the 12 th century C.E. K.K. Gupta has presumed that the land grants by the Tripurarajas referred to in the Vaidic Samabadini was actually the Nidhanpur Copperplate andPaschimbhag Copperplate. The location of donated land, the time gap between the two and in many other matters there are similarities between the accounts of 'Samabadini 'book and the above mentioned copperplates.Thus the Brahmanas referred to the Nidhanpur Copperplate Grant were Nagara Brahmanas coming from Gujrat. These Brahmanas came with a new methodology of agriculture in ploughing and irrigation. This system of production itself changes the very nature of local economy, social system and the governmental structure. Today it is fairly well accepted that the word Aryan’ refers not to a race but to Sanskrit speaking people. Therefore, the Brahmanas who came during Bhutivarman’s reign to this area, their claim of being Aryan was culture based but not on purity of blood. The Brahmanas were very conscious of their Vedic origin which reflected in theNidhanpur Copperplate Grant. Therefore it may be accepted that some Brahmana families in later period adopted other respectable occupations and thus formed new professional castes. D.C. Sircar very pressingly stated with regard to entire Bangladesh (Bengal) "Some Brahmana families, thus appear to have been merged in non-Brahmana communities.
Against this background when the Dubi Grant states that the valour of Bhaskaravarman once again reestablished the dislodged virtue by completely destroying the ‘Kaliage’ recalls the statement of Kaliage of the Puranas which had been written around the third century A.D. The Kaliage as mentioned earlier is characterised by Varna-Samkara, i.e. intermixture of Varnas or social orders which made the functioning of the state and society difficult. The Nidhanpur Grant states that Bhaskaravarman was created for the purpose of establishing the institution of classes and orders which had for long time past confused (L. 34) Therefore the reign of Bhaskaravarman also witnessed the emergence of new castes and change of profession which termed as the 'Kaliage' in the Nidhanpur and the Dubi Grant.
To strengthen Aryadharma royal protection was necessary. The Brahmana law givers created the myth of Naraka to elavate the Varman family to the Ksatriya rank. In the grants of Bhaskaravarman, the Varman dynasty traced their genealogy from Bhauma-Naraka, who was the son of Varaha-Visnu with the mother goddess Earth.
He was paired with Bhumi or Devi identified with Kamakhya, a mother goddess. B.K. Kakati tried to assert, the names Kamarupa and Kamakhya derived from pre-Aryan formations such as Kamoi = (demon in old khmer), kamet ( = corpse in Khasi), komui (= grave in Santhali), kamru/kamrat/ (= in Santhali, the name of a lesser divinity associated with magic and sorcery), etc. Thus, with Naraka the mother goddess cult emerged with a local goddess Kamakhya in the Brahmanical fold. The fertility cult of the female principles of tribally dominated areas, which also indicates the importance of mother rights recognised by the Brahmanical religion in ancient Assam.
Once the Varmans had built up the state of Kamarupa, their successors the Salastambha and the Pala kings also claimed a Ksatriya status through symbolic association with Naraka. Thus the Brahmana law givers gave the king legal sanction to organize society on the lines of ranking differentiation, maintaining the social order and preventing social crisis arising from 'failure' of the different components of society to observe the Brahmanical codes. The people’s failure to perform their duties could have been in the nature of non-payment of royal dues, scant respect for Brahmanas, state functionaries, state laws, etc".
M. Momin pointed out that by the renewal Bhaskaravarman enabled the Brahmanas to exercise their fiscal rights effectively in the donated land. This renewal suggests that the Varmans considered Brahmana support in the Sylhet area which was vital for maintaining Kamarapa's political integrity. Need of Brahmana support also pointed out in reference to the prowess of Bhaskaravarman in his grants. The Nidhanpur Grant (L. 47-48) referred to the circle ‘ Samantackravikrama' who were defeated by Bhaskaravarman. During the 6th century C.E. in Northern India, the term samanta meant conquered feudatories who in person paid tributes and military service in needs to the conqueror. The Dubi Copperplate Grant (V. 48) also referred to a number of kings who were defeated by Bhaskaravarman. The Nidhanpur Grant refers to Sri Gopala who adorned with the great title of Praptapancamahasabda’,i.e. five official designations beginning with the maha such as maha dandanayaka, mahasamanta etc. But the most meaningful explanation in which the word denoted the sound of fiv e musical instruments such as Singa (T rumpet), Sankha(Conch-Shel), Bheri (Kettle -Drum), Jayaghanta (Gong),Tammata (Tabour) etc, which only the king was entitled to receive as an honour at his appearance at some place or while visiting someone. Its appearance in reference to the officer attending the issue of the sasanas in the Nidhanpur Grant suggests that in time of Bhaskaravarman the most influential officer was given great honour equal to that of the king. The reference to Mahasamanta Divakaraprabha who was also the master of the treasury indicate their influence on Ihe administration. All these references indicate that though the king's superior military strength seems to have been a major factor underlying his ability to secure samanta's allegiance yet they were very active, dominant groups in that region. Bhaskaravarman claimed that like the sun, which removes darkness by equal distribution of his rays, he too dispelled darkness of the Kaliage and brought to light ofAiyadharma by the proper utilization of his revenue " Yathayathamucitakakaranikaravitaranakalitakalitimirasancayatayaprakasitaryadharmalokah".C.R.Gupta comments distinctly that “the state ideology was to spread Aryadharma and the rural settlement where ‘crops were regular’ must have provided a major share of the revenue which could be utilised for the upliftment of that ideology” . Thus, establishment of Vamisramadharma was socio-economic and political need of the time.
Migration of Brahmanas :
Inscriptions of ancient Assam show that in the later part of the 5th century C.E, a large number of Brahmanas migrated to this region. The Kamarupa rulers greatly patronised the learned men and religious teachers. The Brahmanas of the Nidhanpur Grant if it is accepted migrated from Gujrat region. The name of the father of the donee of the Tezpur Copperplate Grant is given as Bhijjata. while the father of the donee in the Parbatiya Grant is referred to Jejjata. The affinity of these two names with the celebrated Kashmirian scholars like Mamata, AII at a Kallata and Rudrata show that these two Pundits perhaps hailed from Kashmir.
Indoka, the donee of the Tezpur Copperplate Grant reminds us of the Kashmiriat scholar Induraja, the teacher of Abhinava Gupta and Pratiharenduraja, Commentator of Udbhata's Kavyalamkarasarasamgraha. Perhaps both Bhijjata and Jejjata belonging to the same Sandilyagotra were brothers. From the Guwahati Grant it seems that inscriptions refer to original home of the donees. Somadeva. The grand-father of the donee of the Guwahati Copperplate Grant of Indrapala ( VV 20 -21 ) hailed from village Vainama of Savathi. Ramadeva, the grand-father of the donee of the Subhankarapataka Grant of Dharmapala (VV 16-17) hailed from villain Krosanja of Sravasti. Savathi and Sravasti are probably synonymous and the locality indicated by these names is the same as the more celebrated Sravasti of Madhyadesa R.G Basak thought that Sravasti was included in Gauda visaya .
But P.Bhattacharya has controverted this view and maintains that it was within the Kamarup kingdom . The Khanamukh Copperplate Grant of Dharmapala (V. 16) refers Ummuka, the grand father of the donee, who was born in Madhyadesa. The Kamaul Copperplate Grant of Vaidyadeva (V 22) refers to the family of the donee Sridhara who belongs to the Varendnregion. The Silimpur inscription refers to a Brahmana of Pundra to whom king Jayapala offered 900 gold coins in cash and a grant of land yielding an income of 1,000 units of paddy.
Social Organisation of Brahmanas :
The inscriptions of ancient Assam throw light on the social organisation of the Brahmanas. They were divided into exogamous septs - gotra and pravara. All Brahmanas were believed to have descended from one or other Rishi or legendary seer, after whom the gotras were named. The religious literature generally speaks of seven or eight primeval gotras. They were Kasyapa, Vasistha, Bhrgu, Gautama, Bharadvaja, Atri, Visvamitra and Agastya. These primeval gotras were multiplied in later times by the inclusion of the names of many other ancient sages. The chief importance of gotra was in connection with marriage, which was forbidden to persons of the same gotra. Thus gotra signified kin units, rather than ancestry and was formed about 800 B.C. Brahmanas belonging to a large number of gotras lived in ancient Assam. The Dubi Copperplate Grant refers to Kausika gotra, Maudgalya gotra, Mandavya gotra and Atreya gotra. The Nidhanpur Copperplate Grant set out the following gotras-Pracetasa, Katyayana, Yaska, Bharadvaja, Kasypa, Kautsa, Gauratreya Krsnatreya, Kaundinya, Gautama, Vatsa, Maudgalya, Saubhaka, Parasarya, Aslayana, Varaha, Vaisnavrddhi, Kausika, Kautilya, Kavestara, Mandavya, Vasistha, Agnivesya, Sarikrtyayana, Bhargava, Jatukama, Gargya, Pautrimasya, Sandilya, Paurnna, Savarnika, Salankayana, Alambayana, Angirasa, Pankalya , Barhaspatya, Saunaka and Saktayana. In later inscriptions we get only one new gotra, Upamanyu in the Uttarbarbil Grant.
In ancient Assam Kausika, Atreya, Bharadvaja, Kasyapa, Kaundinya, Gautama, Vatsa, Parasarya and Gargya gotras are most common gotras. According to G.S. Ghurye, references to these gotras are available in North India, Andhra Pradesh, Tamilnadu, Maharastra and Gujrat. Among these the Kausika and the Bharadvaja gotras are most popular. Twenty eight Brahmanas belonging to these two gotras are referred to in the inscription. Gautama gotra was fairly common in ancient Assam with fifteen references. Two gotras viz Kautilya and Yaska mentioned in the inscription are interesting. Kautilya was the author of Arthasastra and Yaska was the author of Nirukta and Nighantu. Both of them came to be regarded as Rishi at a later stage. The Upamanyu gotra mentioned in the Uttarbarbil Copperplate Grant is seldom found in other parts of India.