December 2nd is observed in Assam since 1996 as Sukaphaa Divas or Asom Divas – Assam Day to commemorate the advent of the first Ahom King Siu-Ka-Pha who reigned from 1228 CE to 1268 CE.
This day is celebrated to remember the glory of Assam.
Assam is one of the prosperous states of India watered by the mighty river, Brahmaputra.
Locations and names of Brahmaputra
The river Brahmaputra has many names. In Tibet, where it originates, it is called Tsangpo. In Arunachal Pradesh, when it enters India, it is called Yarlang. It is only in Assam, it is called Brahmaputra. When it enters Bangladesh, it joins the distributary of Ganga, the Padma River.
One mighty river with 4 names!
Brahmaputra, the mighty River
Only ‘Masculine’ River
All the rivers in India have a feminine name, barring Brahmaputra which is masculine. Brahmaputra means “Son of Brahma”. The river is almost 11 km wide and floods the low lying areas of Assam. The Himalayan silt that comes from the flood gives the soil its fertility year after year.
Majuli is a large moving island on the River Brahmaputra about 200 kilometres from Guwhati and accessible by boats.
Literary Records of the land
The literary records of this land are available from the times of Mahabharata, i.e. from 3000 BCE. This region was then called Pragjyothisha. The king of those times was Bhagadatta, who fought in the Kurukshetra war under the Kaurava and was defeated by Arjuna.
Dimasa is one of the oldest tribes in Assam tribe. Dimasa means “Children of the Big River”. The Big River is the River Brahmaputra around which the Dimasas had established their kingdom, Dimpur. The name Dimpur is derived from the words, Dim, meaning water and Pur meaning city.
Antiquity of the tribe
The antiquity of Dimasas go back to 5000 years, when the Mahabharata happened. Bhima married Hidimbi, the sister of Hidimba who was the chieftain of the Dimasa tribe.
Ghotokacha, the son of Bhima and Hidimbi played a major role in the Mahabharata War on the side of Pandavas.
The heroics and capabilities of Ghotokacha are so well known through this land that a movie has been made in his name in the southern state of Andhra Pradesh, far away from Assam. This film made in Telugu Language is called Mayabazar.
Ghotokacha in the film
Periplus of the Erythraean Sea – Book
Later this region came to be called Kamarupa, from 350 CE to 1140 CE, of which the most noted king was Bhaskaravarman, in whose reign Huan Zang, the famed Chinese traveler visited his court.
The Kamarupa Kingdom
What remains of Kamarupa today are distant memories, inscriptions and a district by that name – Kamrup.
All this show that Assam was not an insignificant far-flunged land of India, but has played an important role. Infact, its name and glory was even known in faraway Greece 2000 years back.
The Ahom dynasty ruled this region from 1228 CE to 1826 CE. Infact, the present name of the state, Assam comes from the word “Ahom”.
Ahom Dynasty Insignia
Assam has had to shift its capital 3 times since independence.
The first capital was Sonari and later was shifted to Shillong.
When Meghalaya attained a separate statehood and Shillong became the capital of Meghalaya, a new capital at Dispur, in Guwahati has since been built for Assam.
Gua means Supari in the Assamese language. Hati is hatt, meaning a Bazar, a Market. Gauhati was a Supari Bazar. From those humble beginnings, it has now grown to become the capital of the state of Assam.
All along through the centuries, Assam has played a vital role in the development of India.
Gold coin of King Rajeshwar Simha of Assam
All over the landscape of Assam, we see local ponds called Dongs. They have been indigenously built by the Bodo tribes of Assam to harvest rain water.
Brahmaputra being such a big river that flowed in the center of Assam, as its arterial river, the boatmen on the Brahmaputra are called Majhi.
Majhi ferrying Boat
The Majhi were not just plying their trade but were people who shared the culture of the inhabitants on both banks of the river, their songs, the Majhi songs bring out these facets.
Bhupen Hazarika, a son of Assam, was one of those who brought to the rest of India, the lilting melody of Majhi and Assam.
Assam has one of the most famous Shakti Sthal in Guwahati, the Kamakya Temple.
Kamakhya Shakti Peetha Temple
A 1000 year old famous Navagraha Temple is located at Chitrasal Hill in Guwahati. This temple was constructed by Ahom King Rajeshwar Singh in the 18th century. There are 9 lingams representing the Navagrahas installed in this temple with the central lingam being the Sun, in the Heliocentric Model of the Solar System. This goes to show that the people in this land followed this model even before Galelio brought it to the notice of the West.
Navagraha Temple in Assam
Srimanta Sankaradeva and Ekasarana
One of the prominent and much respected religious saints of medieval India, Shankardev, who lived between 1449 CE and 1568 CE, also hailed from Assam.
Srimanta Sankara Deva was a philosopher from Assam, who propagated the Ekasarana philosophy, an offshoot of Vaishnavism. Ekasarana means “To take refuge in the One.”
Ekasarana philosophy became popular among the Ahom dynasty which led to the mushrooming of spiritual centres called Satras, built by the Ekasarana followers, all over the region of Assam.
Assam is the largest tea growing region in the world. The tea is, brisk and malty. Apart from South China, Assam is the only place in the world with native tea.
Manchester of Assam
Sualkuchi, located 35 kms from the city of Guwahati, is famous for its handlooms, and is known as the Manchester of Assam.
Digboi, an oil town
Digboi is one of the older oil production centers of India.
When a colonial engineer was trudging through the forest of north east Assam, he saw oil stains on the legs of elephants. Excitedly, he screamed ‘dig boy dig’, urging his porter boys to dig there for oil. From this exclamation this name came to stay for the town that grew around the oil fields.
Freedom Fighters from Assam
Assam made a major contribution during the Freedom Struggle. There are many freedom fighters from Assam who fought for the cause of Indian Independence. Some of the great names are Kushna Konwar, Satish Chandra, Kakati Maniram Dewan and Kanaklata Barua, Lakshayadhar Choudhury, Pabindra Nath Sharma and Bipin Pal Das.
Not Just the Past, but the Future
Assam and the adjoining states of the North East have traditionally been the contact point, the path to reach out to Burma, Thailand and other East Asian countries. As India is today developing, we need to look back at our old friends whose friendship we have nurtured not just in the past few centuries but in the last few millennia. In today’s world of geo politics, these aspects play an essential role.
Burma has been an oil producing nation of South East Asia. The belt from Digboi and Dibrugarh in Assam to North West of Thailand, is an oil producing belt. In today’s world of energy needs, this belt becomes an important economic source that this part of the world can use for their mutual collective progress.
Apart from tradition and culture, Assam has a lot to offer in this sphere in future through its generations of friendship with these neighbouring countries.
All this shows that Assam is not an obscure part of India, but the people of Assam have played a vital role in the development of India, Bharatha, right from the times of Mahabharata, through the Greek records to records of a Chinese traveller, right from the sphere of religious philosophy to music to other aspects of India’s culture.
The people of Assam through its stages of evolution from Pragjyothisha to Assam, have played their part as Bharatha Desa evolved to become India.
Since independence however, Assam has faced severe problems. There has been a regular influx of migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh. This has changed the demography of the land and brought in serious intrusions to the native culture of Assam.
In some districts, in the border, the locals have become minorities in their own land.
The situation has become so alarming in recent decades that it is now threatening the fabric of Assam itself.
Concerted efforts have to be taken on a war footing by the people of Assam, the government and the army to ensure that Assam stays as Assam and remains an integral part of India for generations to come.