The Ahoms Ruled Assam Virtually Uninterrupted for Six centuries starting from 1228 CE until 1819 CE when their kingdom fell to the Burmese and this ruling class was all but annihilated. Though the province was liberated by the British in 1825 CE, it was annexed to the British Empire in 1826 CE owing to the prevailing state of anarchy. The Ahoms were the descendants of the Shan/Tai tribe of Chinese origin who had settled in the region of upper Burma during the early centuries of the Christian era. Siu-ka-pha, an enterprising and brave prince of this tribe, is said to have entered the Brahmaputra valley in the early part of the 13th century through the Patkai Hills. He was accompanied by high officials, soldiers, elephants, horses and a large number of tribal population comprising men, women and children. He conquered the Mornas and the Borahis and established some sort of central administration in the region with the help of his two ministers who exercised powers second only to those of the king himself. He ruled from Charaideo, about 28 km from the present Sibsagar city, the first capital of the Ahoms. His sons and successors, having disposed off the Chutiyas and the Kacharis, gradually extended their sway over the whole of the Brahmaputra valley. Suhungmung, who for the first time crowned himself as a Raja, ruled the country for about 42 years (1497-1539 CE). His long reign, however, was occupied with renewed wars with the Chutiyas and the Kacharis and struggle against the invasions of the Kochs and the Muslims. For obvious diplomatic and political reasons he embraced Hinduism and rechristened himself as ‘Svarga Narayana’. He tried to bring peace to his war-ravaged kingdom by establishing matrimonial relations with the Manipuri kings and with other Hindu nobles and higher officials. The period of calm bought about by matrimonial alliances and pecuniary inducement led to the ushering in of a new cultural era. While on the one hand the Ahoms assimilated all that was best among their vanquished races, on the other hand their loyal subjects absorbed all that was dignified in the Ahom customs. The result was an assorted cultural milieu whose expression characterised the history and culture of late medieval Kamarupa.
He was succeeded by Suklengmung (1539-1552 CE) who is said to have founded a new capital at Gargaon near modern Nazira about 13 km east of present Sibsagar. He and his successors built this second capital town of the Ahom empire with love and care. The town had four gates built of stone, the distance of each of which from the Royal Palace was about 1.5 km. There were many mansions but the Raja’s Palace is described in the most glowing terms by one of the Muslim historians, Shihabuddin Talish, who had accompanied the victorious army of Mir Jumla and occupied the capital on March 17th, 1662 CE. He writes:
“The king’s mansion was completed by 12000 men working for one year with wood, brick etc. decorated with carvings of geometrical, floral designs and motifs studded with precious and semi-precious stones. The main audience hall of this palace is about 150 feet long and 60 feet broad on the inside. It stands on 66 pillars of huge dimension. The art employed in decorating the wood work with stones and mirrors of brass polished so finely that when sunbeams fall in them, the eyes are dazzled by the flashing back of light” (Gait, 1967, p.150).
It is unfortunate that none of these palaces have survived the ravages of time except a five storeyed mansion which though still in existence is not in its original form.
The zenith of the Ahom power and culture was reached during the reign of Rudra Simha (1696-1714 CE). He was a clever and powerful ruler who maintained cordial political relations with the rulers of Bengal and other neighbouring territories. Thus, began a new era of peace and prosperity and a new cultural wave from the west swept Assam. Architects, painters, musicians, dancers and other job seekers from different parts of India, especially from Bengal, flocked to the Ahom capital to showcase their talents. Rudra Simha again shifted the Ahom capital from Gargaon to a place called Meteka near present Sibsagar city and built a fine city called Rangpur, the City of Palaces. The chief architect of the new capital was Ghanasyama, a Muslim from Bengal who had converted to Hinduism. This logically resulted in the assimilation of Muslim architectural design with Hindu themes. Thus, was achieved the finest synthesis of Muslim architectural features such as domes, arches, etc. with the Hindu sikhara type of temples.
Rudra Simha died at Guwahati, the western headquarters of the Ahoms, in 1714 CE. He was succeeded by his eldest son Siva Simha (1714-1744 CE). He was a weak administrator but a devoutly religious person and a patron of art and literature. Taking into consideration the astrological prediction he abdicated the throne in favour of his queen Phulesvari Devi. She was a great devotee of the Devi and excavated a big tank known as the Gaurisagar. She also constructed several temples of huge dimensions on its bank between 1715-1717 CE. Of these temples, the Devidol is the principal one followed by the Sivadol and the Visnudol. After the untimely death of Queen Phulesvari, her younger sister Ambika succeeded as the Chief Queen of Siva Simha. It was under her direction that the Sibsagar tank was excavated and on its bank was constructed three temples-Sivadol, Devidol and Visnudol.
After the death of Siva Simha in the year 1744 CE, his brother Pramatta Simha ascended the throne of the Ahoms (1744-51 CE). He was a kind ruler and an art lover. He constructed the Sukresvara temple dedicated to Lord Siva and the Rudresvara temples in memory of his father at Guwahati. He paid great attention to the construction of secular buildings.
The Rang Ghar Pavilion was constructed by him in the year 1746 CE. Pramatta Simha was succeeded by Rajesvara Simha (1751-69 CE) who paid good attention to the enhancement of the palaces. However, his claim to fame rests on the construction of the Siva temple at Negretting. The temple is situated on the top of the Negretting Hillock which is about 29 km east of Jorhat town. The next person to ascend the throne of the Ahoms was Laksmi Simha (1769-80 CE). His contributions to the architectural scenery of Sibsagar were forts and palaces. However, the building activities under the Ahoms gradually diminished and finally came to a grinding halt due to the political and economic instability of the region.
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