Assam’s history is characterized by a remarkable confluence of people from the east, west, south, and north, blending the Austroasiatic, Tibeto-Burman (Sino-Tibetan), Tai, and Indo-Aryan cultures. Throughout the centuries, the region experienced invasions, yet it remained free from becoming a vassal or colony under external powers until the third Burmese invasion in 1821. Following this event, the British entered Assam’s in 1824 during the First Anglo-Burmese War, marking a significant turning point in Assam history.
The northeastern state of India’s Assam is the most populous, while being the second-smallest state in terms of territory. It covers an area of 30,285 square miles or 78,438 square kilometres. The state is bordered by Bangladesh, Meghalaya, Tripura, Arunachal Pradesh, and Nagaland to the north, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, and Bhutan to the east, and Arunachal Pradesh, Mizoram, and Bangladesh to the south. West Bengal forms its western boundary. Notably, Assam includes three of India’s six physiographic divisions: the Deccan Plateau (Karbi Anglong), the Northern Plains (Brahmaputra plain), and the Northern Himalayas (Eastern Hills).
Assam: Nature and Culture
Assam, the easternmost sentinel of India, boasts captivating and picturesque natural beauty. The state is adorned with lush greenery, a mesmerizing chain of hills, and several rivers, notably the Brahmaputra and the Barak. Throughout history, Assam has been a melting pot of diverse races, tribes, and ethnic groups, making it a land of rich cultural synthesis and assimilation. This harmonious blend of different communities has glorified Assam and contributed to its unique and vibrant identity.
There are many different theories and historical allusions to the name “Assam”‘s origin. The area currently known as Assam was referred to by the titles “Pragjyotisha” and “Kamrupa” in classical Sanskrit literature. The Mahabharata, the Ramayana, and the Puranas all make mention of Assam, demonstrating the region’s antiquity.
Gait (1992, reprint) argues that “Prag” stands for “former” or “eastern” and “Jyotisha” stands for “a star,” “astrology,” or “shining” with regard to the names “Pragjyotisha” or “Pragjyotishpura.” As a result, “Pragjyotishpur” might be seen as the “City of Eastern Astrology,” emphasising its connection to traditional astrological methods and knowledge.
The Mythical Origins and Symbolism of Kamarupa
References to Kamarupa are abundant in literature and numerous epigraphs. According to mythology, the origin of the name Kamarupa is linked to the story of Sati, who met her demise due to her father Daksha’s disrespectful treatment of her husband, Shiva. Overwhelmed by grief, Shiva carried Sati’s lifeless body and roamed the world. To end Shiva’s sorrowful journey, Vishnu intervened and used his discus to dismember the body, which fell into various locations. One such piece descended upon the Nilachal hills near Gauhati, sanctifying the place as Kamakhya.
Despite this intervention, Shiva’s penance persisted, prompting the Gods to send Kamdev, the cupid, to break his meditative state by making him fall in love. Kamdev succeeded in his mission, but Shiva, enraged by the outcome, reduced Kamdev to ashes. However, Kamdev was later revived at this very site, and from that moment onwards, the land came to be known as Kamarupa, signifying the place where Kama regained his original form.
“Assam’s Historical Evolution: From Ahom Dynasty to Colonial Rule and Territorial Changes”
The name ‘Aham’ or ‘Asom’ is believed to have been given by the Ahoms, who arrived in Assam in 1228 A.D. Although the exact origin remains ambiguous, it is thought that the modern name “Assam” is an anglicization.
The Ahoms, upon their arrival, assimilated fully into the region and went on to rule Assam for approximately six hundred years. Their reign marked a glorious chapter in the history of Assam. Sukaphaa, a Shan prince from Mong Mao, established the Ahom dynasty after crossing the Patkai Mountains and settling in Assam. During the period between the 13th and 19th centuries, several tribal communities also emerged as significant players in Assam’s history. Prominent among them were the Kacharis, Chutias, and Koch tribes.
However, the Ahom dynasty’s rule came to an end with the Burmese invasion of Assam, leading to the subsequent annexation by the British East India Company after the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. Consequently, the British Empire took control of the state, marking the beginning of the colonial era in Assam.
Assam has lost a lot of land over the course of its history to the creation of new states. In 1832, Cachar was acquired by the British, and in 1835, Jaintia Hills. Assam was made into a separate province in 1874, with Shillong serving as its capital. The district of Sylhet was eventually given to Pakistan at the Partition and independence of India in 1947 (with the exception of the Karimganj subdivision), and it later became a part of Bangladesh.
Despite these territorial adjustments, Assam actively took part in multiple independence campaigns, inspired by the bravery and tenacity of many people. As a result, Assam joined India in 1950 as a member state. However, when Dewangiri in North Kamrupa was given to Bhutan in 1951, it had to contend with an even greater territorial loss.
“Assam’s Historical Evolution: From Ancient Kingdoms to Modern Developments”
In 1972, Assam’s capital was moved from Shillong, which is now the capital of Meghalaya, to Dispur, a suburb of Guwahati. The states of Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, and Mizoram were created during this time and each was granted statehood.
The history of Assam has evolved through several distinct stages of development, leading to its present state. These historical periods can be categorized into four eras. The ancient era commenced in the 4th century, marked by the mention of Kamarupa in Samudragupta’s inscriptions on the Allahabad pillar and the establishment of the Kamarupa kingdom.
The medieval era followed, triggered by attacks from the Bengal Sultanate, with the first invasion occurring in 1206 by Bakhtiyar Khilji, as recorded in the Kanai-boroxiboa rock inscription. This era witnessed the fragmentation of the ancient kingdom, giving rise to various medieval kingdoms and chieftainships.
Subsequently, the colonial era commenced with the establishment of British control after the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826. The British East India Company gained authority over Assam during this period.
Finally, the post-colonial era commenced in 1947 with the Independence of India, leading to a new phase of governance and development in Assam. This era marked a significant transformation in the state’s history as it became a part of the independent nation of India.
The history of Assam unfolds through several developmental stages, ultimately leading to its present state. This historical journey can be categorized into four distinct eras. The ancient era commenced in the 4th century, marked by the mention of Kamarupa in Samudragupta’s inscriptions on the Allahabad pillar and the establishment of the Kamarupa kingdom.
The medieval era followed with the onslaughts from the Bengal Sultanate, beginning with Bakhtiyar Khilji’s invasion in 1206, as recorded in the Kanai-boroxiboa rock inscription. This era witnessed the disintegration of the ancient kingdom and the rise of medieval kingdoms and chieftainships.
The colonial era began after the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826, signifying the establishment of British control over the region. The post-colonial era was inaugurated in 1947 following India’s Independence, marking a new phase in Assam’s history. Throughout these transformative periods, Assam underwent significant changes, shaping its trajectory to its present form.
When Mohendra Mohan Choudhury became chief minister in 1970, he launched important development programmes. Buildings for Bongaigaon Petro-Chemicals, a paper mill in Jogighopa, and a jute factory in Silghat, Nagaon, were constructed under his administration. Sarat Chandra Sinha assumed President in 1972 after the Congress won an outright majority. In 1974, the long-awaited transfer of the nation’s capital to Guwahati’s Dispur finally happened.
In the end, the Assam Movement, which occurred between 1979 and 1985, became well-known in Assam as a protest against illegal immigration. The movement, which was led by the All Assam Students Union (AASU) and the All Assam Gana Sangram Parishad (AAGSP), sought to force the Indian government to deport illegal immigrants, particularly those from Bangladesh. Additionally, it aimed to guarantee the constitutional, statutory, and administrative rights of the native Assamese people.
The Nellie massacre serves as a terrible example of severe brutality during the movement, despite the fact that it was mostly non-violent. The Assam Accord, which was signed in August 1985 by representatives of the AASU-AAGSP and the Government of India, marked the end of the campaign.
Assam is the most populous state in all of Northeast India as of today, covering 78,438 square kilometres and including 33 districts.