Hiuen Tsang, Sukapha to the Treaty of YANDABOO


After the death Bhaskar Varman in 650 A.D, Kamarupa came under the rule of the Salastambha dynasty till 900 A.D. Then the Pallas ruled the kingdom from 900 A.D to 1100 A.D. With the fall of Pallas, Kamarupa disintegrated to a number of principalities with the emergence of powerful landlords known as Bhuyans till the beginning of the 13th century. Kamarupa witnessed two major events from the early 13th century. One was a series of Muslim invasions from the west starting from 1206 A.D and the other, the entrance of the Tai in 1228 A.D who came to be known as Ahoms in Assam from the east.

Sukapha, the prince of Mang Mao, in South Western Yunan had a dispute with his maternal uncle’s son and left Mang Mao in 1215 AD. It took him 13 years to reach Assam through the known routes of the Hukwang Valley and the hilly Patkai pass. He moved with a strong army of about 9000 soldiers armed with superior weapons subjugating the Nagas and other hill tribes along the routes. Many of the Tai (Shan) people of the Hukwang Valley joined him on his way to Assam. The entrance of the highly civilized Tai Ahoms under Sukapha in 1228 A.D changed the course of Assam’s history and led to the consolidation of the Assamese nation. It was a rare phenomenon in history that Sukapha, the conqueror instead of imposing his language and culture on the conquered people did otherwise. Sukapha embraced the local language and culture. Sukapha, the prince of Mang Mao established his capital at Charaideo, became the King of Assam and laid the foundation of the Tai Ahom kingdom for the next 600 years in the Brahmaputra Valley.

With Sukapha came a tradition of chronicling history know as the Buranjis. The Buranjis or the historical chronicles was a custom of the Tai Ahoms in writing down all the important events systematically. The Tai Ahoms followed regular maintenance of the chronicles till the end of their rule in 1826 and declined later.

Unlike the Chinese or Greek history, the Indian subcontinent though a cradle of five thousand years old civilization never possessed any written history of its own. Whatever history it had, belonged to the Muslim rulers, who ruled India from the last quarter of the 12thcentury. With the introduction of western education since the British period, the Indian historians started reconstructing the Indo-Gangetic history belonging to the Mauryans and the Guptas from the 18th century. The Indo-Gangetic plains included the North Western portion of India from Indus to the Ganga basin. The actual Indian history began on the banks of these river systems with Pataliputra and Kanauj as the power centers.

The Mauryan kingdom was founded by Chandragupta Mauryan in 321 B.C with Pataliputra as the capital. His grandson Ashoka’s Mauryan Empire was the largest Empire of all time. After Ashoka’s death in 231 B.C, the great Mauryan Empire began to crumble. The post Mauryan period witnessed the emergence of smaller kingdoms around the Gangatic plains. The Gupta dynasty founded by Chandra Gupta in 320 A.D ruled Magada, Saketa and Prayaga. The territory was confined to the Indo Gangetic plains and North West India. Kamarupa (ancient Assam) remain outside the domain of the Mauryans and the Guptas.

The rise of Harsavardhana of Kanauj in the beginning of the 7th century came with the decline of the Gupta dynasty. When Hiuen Tsang visited Kamarupa, Harsavardhana invited the Buddhist scholar and his friend Bhaskar Varman, the Kamarupa king to his kingdom. Bhaskar Varman accompanied Hieun Tsang to Kanauj where he was greeted with a rousing welcome. After Harsavardhana’s death in 647 A.D his kingdom got disintegrated and its ultimate decline took place around 12th century. But Kamarupa which latter came to known as Assam from 13th century flourished under the Tai Ahoms till the 19th century. Its western boundary shrunk from the river Karatoya to the river Manas.

The valiant Assamese successfully defeated a series of foreign invasions since the 12th century by the Turko-Afghan army and the Mughal attack from beginning of the 16th century. While mainland India remained under Muslim rule for about five centuries, Assam remained independent and this enabled the Assamese to develop its own distinct culture and civilization in the Brahmaputra valley. The secret of Assam remaining independent was the people’s legacy of insubordination and a fiercely independent mind.

Only once was Assam overrun by the Mughals. The Mughal army under the command of Mirjumla defeated the Assamese army and entered Gargaon in 1662. The ensuing treaty at Ghilajhari ghat in 1663 ceded western Assam and made the country a tributary to the Mughal Empire. In the same year the Assamese king Jayadhwaj Singha died and was succeeded by his cousin Chakradhwaj Singha. The vassalage of Assam was a great insult to the proud and independent Assamese. Chakradhwaj Singha instead of paying indemnity to the Mughals prepared for a long drawn war. Lachit Barphukan was appointed as the commander of the army. In 1667 Guwahati was captured by Assamese army. Hearing the news, the Mughal India Emperor Aurangzeb appointed Ram Singha of Amber to command the imperial army to invade Assam. The humiliating defeat of the Mughal army by the Assamese army in the famous battle of Saraighat in 1671 was the fatal blow to the Mughal imperial prestige. The Mughal army was chased out up to the river Manas and Western Assam was recovered. The battle of Saraighat had left an undying legacy of bravery and patriotism and immortalized Lachit Barphukan.

The Muslim invaders followed the known land routes. But the Europeans came across the sea routes. The Portuguese came first under Vasco-Da-Gama and landed at Callicut in 1498. Then came the Dutch followed by the French a few years later. The British came under the East India Company for entering the spice trade which was monopolized by the Dutch and landed at Surat in 1600. The granting of a trading port by Emperor Jahangir at Surat in 1613 was the beginning of the British penetration in India. By taking the advantage of the political instability within the Mughal Empire and the feudal rivalries that existed among the different kingdoms in the Indian subcontinent, the East India Company succeeded in annexation of a large portion of the Sub-continent without much war fare. The battle of Plassey in 1757 and the subsequent victory at the Battle of Buxar in 1764 was the final blow to end the Mughal Empire and consolidation of the British rule in India.

By that time, Assam was on the verge of a civil war. The Assamese culture and literary renaissance took place from the end of 15th century initiated by the neo-Vaishnavite saint and great Assamese scholar Srimanta Sankardeva. The social reformation that took place due to the neo-Vaishnavite movement was unique and revolutionary in creating a caste less society which was different from the caste ridden Hindu society of mainland India. The beginning of the downfall of the great Tai-Ahom rule in Assam began during the reign of Lakshmi Singha who patronized Saktism. The Moamoria rebellion broke out in 1769. The Moamorias were the followers of a neo-Vaishnavite preacher, the Mahanta of Mayamora. The followers of the Mahanta rose into rebellion to avenge the insult on their spiritual guru. This led to a four decades of civil war that devastated and depopulated the powerful Assamese kingdom.

The beginning of the 19th century witnessed British supremacy in India. By 1823, the British secured firmly on the whole of India except Assam (the Eastern frontier) and the Punjab (the Western frontier). Meanwhile the chaos and the infighting among the Ahom nobility made way to a Prime Minister, Purnanda Buragohain to become the defacto ruler of Assam since the accession of Kamaleswar Singha. He did not usurp the throne but made the king a puppet. After his death in 1811, Purnananda Buragohain made his minor brother Chandrakanta the puppet king. Badan Barphukan, the viceroy of Guwahati went to Calcutta to seek British support and when they refused took the help from the Burmese king Badawpaya to restore the monarch to his rightful position. The Burmese army came twice, once in 1817 than in 1819 to restore the monarch Chandrakanta Singha. The Burmese army was paid a huge war indemnity and they took away many people as slaves on their way back. In 1819, Badawpaya died and his grandson Bagyidaw became the next Burmese king. But when the Burmese came at the end of 1821, they came with the intention of permanently occupying Assam.

Chandrakanta Singha, the last Assamese king to rule Assam independently, fled to Bengal and tried his best to drive out the Burmese from the British territory. He failed in all his attempts. The Burmese army plundered the country and rendered widespread death and destruction in Assam for the next three years. The Assamese nobilities then sought British help in expelling the British from Assam. The British already alarmed by the Burmese expansion to their borders readily agreed. The British came as friends to drive out the Burmese from Assam. The Anglo-Burmese war broke out in 1824. It took two year to push back the Burmese from Assam and Manipur to their country. A treaty was signed at Yandaboo, on 24thFebruary 1826 between the British and the Burmese without the consent of the Assamese king. Assam lost its independence without being a part of the treaty. This ended the six hundred years of Ahom monarchy. Assam was annexed to the British territory. The treaty of Yandaboo sealed the fate of the Assamese with mainland India for the next two centuries.

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Hiuen Tsang, Sukapha to the Treaty of YANDABOO

By: Hiranya Saikia Read time: 8 min