Assam's history goes back to ancient times. The base of this past can be
found in Tantric literature, Buddhist literature, Assamese folklore and
Assam was known as 'Kamarupa' or 'Pragjyotish' in the period of the
Epics. Human inhabitation of this region dates backs to about 2000 BC.
The population of Assam comprises of the migrants from Burma and China.
They came into Assam after the mongoloid migration. They came from
Punjab through Bihar and North Bengal. Thus Assam presents a fusion of
Mongol-Aryan culture. The early history of Assam is believed to be of
the Varman dynasty. The reign of this dynasty extended from 400 AD to
13th century. The visit of Huien Tsang is said to have taken place
during the 7th century at the time of Kumar Bhaskar Varman. The
ventured into Assam in about 1228 AD. By 15th century the kingdoms of
Ahom and Koch were established. This period witnessed a change in all
walks of life in Assam.
In the later part of the 18th century the Ahom Kingdom was weakened due
to inner strife. The Burmese ran over the political authority in Assam
thus invoking British intervention to subdue the Burmese. After a
conflict among the Burmese and the English, peace was restored by the
treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. The British then set out to organize the
administration, transport and communication. Besides the a variety of
changes, the construction of railways; introduction of tea plantation,
discovery of coal and oil etc. proved fruitful to the British during the
World War II. After Independence of India, Assam witnessed several
separation of territories. In 1948, NEFA (Arunachal Pradesh) was
separated. In 1963 Nagaland was separated. In 1972 Meghalaya and in 1987
Historically conversation, the initial king who lined over Kamrupa was
Pushya Varman (350-380 AD), who was a contemporary of Samudragupta
(350-375 AD). He took on the title of Maharajadhiraj and ensured steps
to establish Kamrupa as a frontier state. Mahendra Varman, a descendent
of Pushya Varman, was the initial king of Kamrupa who waged a successful
war against the Gupta army and also the first Varman king who performed
the Ashwamedha Yagya. The rule of the Varman dynasty found apex in the
rule of Bhaskar Varman (594-650 AD), because it is with the rule of
Bhaskar Varman that a new epoch of Assam history opened.
The earliest inhabitants of the region are assigned to the Middle
Pleistocene period (781,000 to 126,000 years ago) in the Rongram valley
of Garo Hills. The Paleolithic sites, which used handaxe-cleaver tools,
have affinities to the Abbevillio-Acheulean culture. Other Paleolithic
sites include those in the Daphabum area of Lohit district in Arunachal
Pradesh which used stone tools from metamorphic rocks. The cave-based
Paleolithic site at Khangkhui in Ukhrul, Manipur, is placed in the Late
There exists proof of a microlithic culture in the Rongram Valley of
Garo Hills that lie between the neolithic layers and virgin soil. The
microliths here were made of dolerite, different those from the rest of
India. Shreds of crude hand-made pottery specify that the microlithic
people were hunters and food-gatherers.
Neolithic cultures based on the unifacially flaked hand-axe in the
Garo hills have developed in line with the Hoabinhian culture, and it
is conjectured that this area was the contact point for the Indian and
the Southeast Asian cultures.
The Late neolithic
cultures have affinities with the extend of the Mon Khmer speaking
people from Malaysia and the Ayeyarwady valley and Late neolithic
developments in South China. Since these cultures have been dated to
4500 BC-4000 BC, the Assam sites are dated to approximate that time.
sites, though widely spread, are determined in the hills and high
due possibly to the floods. These cultures performed shifting
cultivation called jhum, which is still practiced by some communities
in the region. Some typical sites are Daojali Hading in North Cachar
hills, Sarutaru in Kamrup district and Selbagiri in the Garo Hills.
There exists no
archaeological evidence of Copper-Bronze or Iron age culture in the
region. This might seem as impossibility given that corresponding
cultures have been discovered in Bengal as well as Southeast Asia. It
can only be conjectured that metal age sites in the region exist but
have not yet been exposed.
Though the metal
age seems to be absent in Assam, the Iron Age Megalithic culture of
South India finds an boom in the rich megalithic culture in the
region, which start to appear in the first millennium BCE, and which
continues till today among the Khasi and the Naga people. The affinity
is with Southeast Asia. The
megalithic culture was the precursor of the richness cult and the
saktism and the vajrayana Buddhism that followed.
Prehistoric Assam is reconstructed from epics and literature from
earlier times. The earliest political entity seems to be a non-Aryan Danava dynasty with Mahiranga mentioned as the first king. This dynasty
was removed by Narakasura. Naraka appears to be a generic name for many
kings belonging to the Naraka dynasty. According to legend, the last of
the Naraka kings was killed by Krishna and his son Bhagadatta took the
throne. Bhagadatta is said to have participated in the Mahabharata war
with an army of "chinas, kiratas and dwellers of the eastern sea",
thereby indicating that his kingdom, Pragjyotisha, included part of
Geography of Assam
comprises an area of 78,523 square kilometers (30,318 square
for the districts of Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills, Assam
is generally composed of plains and river valleys.
It can be
divided into three principal geographical regions: the
Brahmaputra Valley in the north; the Barak Plain in the south;
and the Mikir and Cachar Hills that divide the two regions.
average temperature is moderate, about 84 degrees F (29 degress
C) in the hottest month of August.
average valley temperature in January is 61 degrees F (16
Languages in Assam : Assamese and Bengali
The currently prevalent standard Assamese dialect
had its roots in Sibsagar located in eastern Assam, when it was made the
official language of the state by the British in 1872. Moreover the
American Baptist Missionaries used it for literary activities at the
same time and gradually it was accepted by the entire Assamese community
as the standard norm. However the shift of activity from Sibsagar to
Guwahati in the early part of this century has also resulted in a change
gradually to this dialect to arrive at its present form which will be
referred to as the contemporary standard. For the sake of linguistic
interest it may be noted that Guwahati was largely instrumental in
reshaping it. Banikanta Kakati has divided the Assamese dialects into two major
groups: Eastern Assamese and Western Assamese (Kakati, 1941). However
recent studies have shown that there are four dialect groups namely 1)
the eastern Assamese dialects spoken in the districts of Tinsukia,
Dibrugarh, Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Sibsagar, Jorhat, Golaghat and Sonitpur.
2) the central Assamese group of dialects spoken primarily in Nogaon and
Morigoan districts and in some parts of Sonitpur and Jorhat districts
also. 3) the Kamrupi group of dialects are spoken in the districts of
Kamrup, Nalbari, Barpets, Darrang, Kokrajhar and Bongaigoan and 4) the
Goalparia group of Assamese dialects spoken primarily in the Dhubri and
Goalpara districts and in certain areas of Kokrajhar and Bongaigoan
districts. (Moral, 1992).
Advent of Bhakti Movement
The echoes of the Bhakti Movement of 15th century which took over the
whole of India were felt in Assam too under the supervision of the poet
Shankara Deva. Until now religion had meant worshiping the Aryan gods,
like the Mother Goddess for instance, who was more dreaded than loved.
Priest craft, magic and morbid rituals like animal and human sacrifices
dominated the scene.
The Bhakti Movement brought a healthy change - with prayer, praise and
simple worship. In Assam, Vishnu or his incarnation Krishna took the
altar position as the God of Love and the Vaishnava Renaissance
Shankara Deva wrote a host devotional songs and
translations from the Sanskrit canon. Rama Saraswati's lucid translation
of the Mahabharata and Vadha Kavyas (stories from the Puranas) were also
very popular. Everybody seemed to be doing the right thing at last
making literature easier for the common people.
Buranjis -- A Unique Collection of Assamese
The Ahoms of Burma who ruled Assam and gradually
settled here wrote chronicles called Buranjis (1228 to 1824), a unique
collection of prose. A mass of technical literature on astrology,
medicine, mathematics, music, dancing and so on based on Sanskrit works
was also written. In the modern period the political upheavals were felt
in the literary scene too. Bengali tried to gain the upper hand for a
while, until the Christian missionaries Nathan Brown and Miles Bronson
helped resume writings in Assamese.
19th Century--The Era of Literary Activities
The later half of the 19th century witnessed a
flood of literary activities, the enthusiasm of which spilled over to
the present century. Dictionaries like Hema Chandra Baruwa's Hema Kosha
were written and magazines like Arunodaya Samvad Patra (1846) and Asam
Bandhu (1885) were launched.
A fresh style of prose based on the spoken language was the order of the
day. Anandaram DhekialPhukan (1829-96) and Gunabhiram Baruwa (1837-95)
were the two big daddies of this age.
Short poems and novels, dramas, lyrics and folk poetry pleased the
literary circles. A generation of novelists and poets like Rajanikanta
Bardalai (1867-1939), Hiteshwar Bezbarua (1871-1931), Chandra Kumar
Agarwala (1867-1938), Padmanath Gohain Baruwa (1871-1946), Benudhar Raj
Khowa (1872-1935) and their contemporary, Raghunath Chaudhari, wrote
profusely in an age of nationalism and social reforms.
Contemporary Assamese literature has a vibrant short-story genre. Some
of the best writers are Phul Goswami, Indira Goswami, Harendra Kumar
Bhuyan, Arupa Patangia Kalita and Manoj Kumar Goswami.