A Short Account of the Ahom People. on ahoms
There are many dim and legendary accounts of the origins of
the Ahom people. Modern accounts have pieced together a connected
history of their origins but even these are confused and difficult to
follow. Dr. R.M. Nath of the Indian Service of Engineers, a keen
archaeologist, has, however, recently published a well connected
story in his " Background of Assamese Culture " though it may be
thought perhaps that he has ventured a little too far into the realm
of fancy in his references to the Egyptians.1
" Several Mongolian tribes living in the hills on the western
border of China—headed by the Chao tribe—invaded China about
1122 B.C. and ousted the powerful Tsang dynasty of that great
empire. The Chaos who had intercourse with Egypt and other
countries in Central Asia in connection with trade imbibed a lot
of the Egyptian culture, and now mixing the Tsang culture with
their own, they evolved a new culture known in history as the Chao.
Starting in the late 20th and continuing into the early 21st century, there has been renewed interest among the Ahoms in their culture and language leading to increased study and attempts at revival. The 1901 census of India enumerated approximately 179,000 people identifying as Ahom. The latest available census records slightly over 2 million Ahom individuals however, estimates of the total number of people descended from the original
Tai-Ahom settlers are as high as eight million.
"The Chao ruled for several centuries in China and the
several tribes who came with them as their allies from their original
western hilly land ruled over different states in China under the
"One of these tribes which ruled over a state in the Yangtse
Valley was of an independent temperament. They called themselves
the Tais (sic) or the Independent, and were a constant source of trouble
to the Chinese Emperor in the 3rd Century A.D. They were driven
down to the Hunan area to the south ; but here also quite averse to
the current thoughts of Confucianism or the new wave of Buddhism
they stuck to the orthodox cult of worshipping the symbol of power-
giving supreme energy in the form of a piece of cut stone and
carried on frequent revolutionary campaigns against the Chinese
The Ahoms retained the form of government in Assam peculiar to the Shan tribes, which may be briefly described as an organized system of personal service in lieu of taxation. Their religion was pagan, being quite distinct from Buddhism; but in Assam they gradually became Hinduized, and their kings finally adopted Hindu names and titles. They believed that there
were in the beginning no heavenly bodies, air or earth, only water everywhere, over which at first hovered a formless Supreme Being called Pha. He took corporeal shape as a huge crab that lay floating, face upwards, upon the waters. In turn other animals took shape, the last being two golden spiders from whose excrement the earth gradually rose above the surrounding ocean. Pha then formed a female counterpart of himself, who laid four eggs, from which were hatched four sons. One of these was appointed to rule the earth, but died and became a spirit. His son also died and became the national household
deity of the Ahoms. The origin of mankind is connected with a flood legend. The only survivors of the flood, and of the conflagration that followed it, were an old man and a pumpkin-seed. From the latter there grew a gigantic gourd. This was split open by a thunderbolt, the old man sacrificing himself to save the lives of those who were inside, and from it there issued the progenitors of the present races of men, beasts, birds, fishes and plants. The kings claimed independent divine
In about 568 A.D. the Chinese Emperor weakened this
turbulent tribe by a divide - and - rule policy : — Of the two brothers
40 Eric T.D. Lambert
who were the leaders, Khunlai, the younger, accepted the vassalage
of the Chinese emperor, while the proud Khunglung — the elder—
migrated with his followers to Namkhan and then to Meung-ri-
Meun-rang (commonly known as Mungri-Mungrang) — a place about
100 miles southeast of modern Lashio.*
"From here, these people migrated to various places in the
south and established a number of small kingdoms under different
leaders in the hilly country to the north and northwest of Burma
including the whole of the Hukong Valley. The Burmese called
them the Shans or the Hill-climbers or the Highlanders, and the
Chinese called them the Nan-Chaos or the Southern Chaos.
The Ahom language is the oldest member of the Tai branch of the Siamese-Chinese linguistic family of which we have any record. It bears much the same relationship to Siamese and Shan that Latin does to Italian. It is more nearly related to
modern Siamese than to modern Shan, but possesses many groups of consonants which have become simplified in both. It is a language of the isolating class, in which every word is a monosyllable, and may be employed either as a noun or as a verb according to its context and its position in a sentence
. In the order of words, the genitive follows the noun it governs, and, as usual in such cases, the relations of time and place are indicated by prefixes, not by suffixes. The meanings of the monosyllables were differentiated, as in the other Tai languages and in
Chinese, by a system of tones, but these were rarely indicated in writing
, and the tradition regarding them is lost. The language had an alphabet of its own, which was clearly related to that of Burmese.
''In this area, though these people were comparatively safe
from the Chinese onslaughts, they constantly fought amongst
themselves. A section of them went down to the southeast and,
defeating the Mon-Khmers and other ruling races of that area,
established a powerful Kingdom which was known as the land of
the Tais or according to the Burmese — the land of the Shans or the
The Ahom kingdom was established in 1228 when Sukaphaa entered the Brahmaputra valley. Sukaphaa did not battle any established kingdom and seem to have occupied a depopulated region on the south bank with the Burhidihing river in the north, the Dikhau river in the south and the Patkai mountains in the east. He befriended the local groups, the Barahi and the Marans, finally settled his capital at Charaideo and established the offices of the
Dangarias—the Burhagohain and the Borgohain. In the 1280s, these two offices were given independent regions of
control, and the check and balance that these three main offices accorded each other was established.
Here they came in contact with the Buddhist and the
Hindu cultures that were propagated there by early Indian
colonisers, and mixing freely with them politically, socially, and
racially evolved a new culture of a high order.
See E. A. Gait, A History of Assam (Calcutta, 1906). For the language see The Linguistic Survey of India, vol. ii. (Calcutta, 1906) (contains grammar and vocabulary); G. A. Grierson, "Notes on Ahom," in the Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, vol. lvi., 1902, pp. 1 ff. (contains grammar and vocabulary, with specimens), and "An Ahom Cosmogony, with a translation and a vocabulary of the Ahom language
," in the Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society for 1904, pp. 181 ff. (G. A. GR.)
gradually came to be known as Siam or the Thai-land.
"The conservative group, remaining in the original hilly
area, still persisted in the worship of Chumdeo (life and strengthgiving God)
and Ai-phra-Loung (Mother-goddess-lustre). Chumdeo
appears to have been an abbreviated form of chao (chuh) ma-Deva,
(Heaven great God).
The Ahom kingdom then consolidated its power, building their kingdom for the next 600 years. The first major expansion was at the cost of the Sutiya kingdom, which was partially annexed in 1524 under King Suhungmung. The expansion's success was not only a result of Ahom military prowess, but also of changes in the Ahom social and political
outlook. Suhungmung was the first Ahom king to adopt a Hindu name: 'Swarga Narayan', and he and his successors were named 'Swargadeo' (Lord of Heaven) in Assamese, crowned in the Singarigharutha ceremony. In 1536 the Dimasa Kacharis, known to Ahoms as "Timisa", were uprooted from their capital at Dimapur. Thus by the middle of the 16th century, the Ahoms were in control of all of present-day eastern Assam. The late 17th century saw another expansion of Ahom territory. After the 1682 Battle of Itakhuli, that marked the end of the Ahom-Mughal conflicts, much of the control of Koch Hajo fell into the hands of the Ahoms. By bringing the various tribal groups and regions under one ruler and one governing polity the Ahoms are considered the architects of modern Assam.
The influence of Lord Buddha reached them
only in a distorted form-Fvat, Fia, till he became Fa or Pha and
was honoured by the use of the term as an epithet after the King's
name. The traditional connection with the Chaos was retained in
the first epithet of the names of the Kings, and the winged Lion
Taoti of the Chinese Tsang culture was used as the royal insignia.
The religion and language have both died out, being only preserved by a few priests of the old cult; but even among them the tradition of the pronunciation of the language has been lost. The Ahoms had a considerable literature
, much of which is still in existence. Their historic sense was
very fully developed, and many priests and nobles maintained bia-ran jis (i.e. " stores of instruction for the ignorant"), or chronicles, which were carefully written up from time to time. A few of these have been translated, but as yet no European scholar possesses knowledge sufficient to enable him to study these valuable documents at first hand.
*This Kingdom was known to the early historians of Manipur,
an Indo Burma border state, as Pong
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE 41
The influence of the Chinese Chao culture — in writing family history
and recounting the deeds of the forefathers of the family on every
solemn occasion like marriage etc.
— became a custom with them.
The influence of the Egyptian culture which influenced the Chaos
as well — in burying the dead with a host of living attendants and
various necessities of life in a house built with timber and then
covering it up with earthen mound in the form of a pyramid-was
retained scrupulously as a sign of glory and aristocracy.
The expansion was so large and so rapid that the Ahomization process could not keep pace and the Ahoms became a minority in their kingdom. This resulted in a change in the character of the kingdom and it became multi-ethnic and inclusive. Hindu influences, which were first felt under Bamuni Konwar at the end of the 14th century, became significant. The Assamese language entered the
Ahom court and co-existed with the Tai language for some time in the 17th century before finally replacing it. The rapid expansion of the state was accompanied by the installation of a new high office, the Borpatrogohain, at par with the other two high offices and not
without opposition from them. Two special offices, the Sadiakhowa Gohain and the Marangikowa Gohain were created to oversee the regions won over from the Sutiya and the Kachari kingdoms respectively. The subjects of the kingdom were organized
under the Paik system, initially based on the phoid or kinship relations, which formed the militia. The kingdom came under attack from Turkic and Afghan rulers of
Bengal, but it withstood them. On one occasion, the Ahoms under Ton Kham Borgohain pursued the invaders and reached the Karatoya river, and the Ahoms began to see themselves as the rightful heir of the erstwhile Kamarupa kingdom
was regulated by heavenly bodies counted upon according to Chinese
astronomy; sixty years making a century, and each century having
a separate name.
"Here, in one of the petty Kingdoms of the frequently
quarrelling hierarchy Meung-Mit, a lucky prince of the family of
Khunglung,* had an unlucky quarrel with his step-brother about
his share of the kingdom in the Hukong Valley, and in a state of
despair and disgust left the paternal country to try his luck in
fresh fields and pastures new."
It is probable that the capital of this small kingdom was
the town now called Mogaung.
2 This kingdom lasted until it was
finally wrested from the king by the Burmese in 1799 as conse-
quence of his intercepting an Ahom princess on her way from the
Ahom Kingdom to the King of Burma or, as it was called in those
In 1836 the Myowun Burmese governor of this town was
found by Captain Hannay, an early British visitor, supplicating the
spirits of three brothers buried there who were severally the
founders of the three Thai states of Khamti, Ahom and Mogaung,
namely, Chao Phya Hoseng, Chao Suwei Kapha (Chao Ka Pha) and
Chao Sam Loung Hue Mung.
3 The Mogaung people remain the
Shans of Burma, the Khamti people are to be found in the extreme
north of Burma and in Northeast Assam and the Ahom people are,
of course, the subject of this paper.
*Chao Ka Pha
42 Eric T.D. Lambert
"Accompanied by a band of seven brave friends and
9,000 followers," writes Nath,1 "he marched westwards with
the Hiengdan (divine sword) in one hand, and the symbol of
Chumdeo—the spoil of a nightly theft from the palace of
Meung Khong — in another; and after a desperate march over
many hills and dales — with atrocious and brutal encounters
with many strange tribes that dwelt sparsely in these God-
forsaken and inaccessible areas — he emerged after 13 years
into the plains of the Brahmaputra Valley in 1228 A.D. in a
place near about present Namrup."*
According to one of the Ahom Buranji (histories) there
were twelve commanders, 300 fighting men, two elephants, two
conductors of elephants and 30 horses and horsemen.
Chao Ka Pha ("Heaven-come God") left his home in
1215 A.D. and proceeding northwestwards crossed the Chindwin on
rafts probably in the regions of Taro. From Taro his route is
difficult to follow but the places he passed through are all known
and perhaps careful research from the maps will eventually prove
Though it came to be called the Ahom kingdom in the colonial and subsequent times, it was largely multi-ethnic, with the ethnic Ahom people constituting less than 10% of the population toward the end. The 1901 census of India enumerated approximately 179,000 people identifying as Ahom. The latest available census records slightly over 2 million Ahom individuals however, estimates of the total number of people descended from the original
Tai-Ahom settlers are as high as 8 million. The total population of Assam being at 31 million according to the 2011 census, they presently constitute slightly over 25%. The Ahoms called their kingdom Mong Dun Shun Kham, (Assamese: xunor-xophura; English
: casket of gold) while others called it Assam. The British-controlled province after 1838 and later the Indian state of Assam came to be known by this name.
He seems then to have moved into the hills well to the
west and to have gone northwards fighting his way against the
Naga probably along the Sangpan range till he reached the
Nawngyang lake. Here he met fierce opposition and even his own
historians declare he perpetrated frightful atrocities on the local
The apaikan chamua was the gentry that were freed from the khels and paid only money-tax. The paikan chamua consisted of artisans, the literati and skilled people that did non-manual work and rendered service as tax. The kanri paik rendered manual labor. The lowest were the licchous, bandi-beti and other serfs and bondsmen. There was some degree of movement between the classes
. Momai Tamuli Borbarua rose from a bondsman through the ranks to become the first Borbarua under Prataap Singha.
Perhaps then, as until quite recently, the Naga were
headhunters and human sacrificers and unfortunate things may
have happened to many of his band. The Naga now living in this
area still talk of the invasion as if it had happened within the time
of their own grandfathers.
The Tai-Ahom were historically seen as "Assamese" people. The term "ethnic Assamese" is now associated by the Indian government with the Assamese-speaking people of the Brahmaputra valley. According to Anthony Van Nostrand Diller, possibly eight million speakers of Assamese can claim genetic descent from the Ahoms. However, historian Yasmin
Saikia argues that in pre-colonial times, the Ahoms were not an ethnic community, but were a relatively open status group. Any community coming into the socio-economic fold of the Ahom state could claim the Ahom status with active consent of the king.
Perhaps it was Chao Ka Pha himself who paused for a
moment on the summit of the Patkoi range in 1228 like Moses on
Pisgah gazing at the Promised Land and exclaimed Mueng Dun
Sun Kham ("The Land of the Golden Gardens"). That at any rate
is what the Ahom people called the country they were eventually to
conquer and rule for many centuries.
The capital city was taken for a short period during the Moamoria rebellion. Ahom power declined in the latter half of the 18th century. In the first part of the 19th century, the Burmese army invaded their kingdom
, uprooted their capital and set up a puppet Ahom king. The Burmese were defeated by the British in the First Anglo-Burmese War resulting in the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826, which paved the way for the British to convert the Ahom
kingdom into a principality and which marked the end of the Ahom rule.
*Other chronicles give it as nine nobles and 8,000 followers.4
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE 43
It was certainly one of the most glorious sights in the world
that met their eyes.
A broad valley abounding in rice fields; in the
distance the wide ribbons of the mighty rivers that go to make up
the Brahmaputra and towering above everything to the north of the
valley the snow-capped Himalayas tipped perhaps with the rosy
tints of the early morning sun.
Gadadhar Singha became acquainted with the land measurement system of Mughals during the time he was hiding in Kamrup, before he succeeded to the throne. As soon as the wars with Mughals were over he issued orders for the introduction of a
similar system throughout his dominions. Surveyors were imported from Koch
Behar and Bengal for the work. It was commenced in Sibsagar and was pushed on vigorously, but it was not completed until after his death. Nowgaon was next surveyed; and the settlement which followed was supervised by Rudra Singha himself. According to historians
, the method of survey included measuring the four sides of each field with a nal, or bamboo pole of 12 feet (3.7 m) length and calculating the area, the unit was the "lucha" or 144 square feet (13.4 m2) and 14,400 sq ft (1,340 m2). is one "Bigha". Four 'bigha' makes one 'Pura'. A similar land measurement system is still being followed in modern Assam.
Here indeed, after thirteen years
of wandering in the wilderness, was the land of plenty.
Chao Ka Pha and his followers were a vigorous if ruthless
people. They called themselves Tai (celestial or glorious), and the
early Assamese translating this literally called them the Asama,
meaning unequalled or peerless.
: Sukaphaa had two great Gohains to aid him in administration: Burhagohain and the Borgohain. In the 1280s, they were given independent territories, they were veritable sovereigns in their given territories called bilat or rajya. The Burhagohain's territory was between Sadiya and
Gerelua river in the north bank of the Brahmaputra river and the Borgohain's territory was to the west up to the Burai river. They were given total command over the paiks that they controlled. These positions were
generally filled from specific families. Princes who were eligible for the position of Swargadeo were not considered for these positions and vice versa. In the 16th century Suhungmung added a third Gohain, Borpatrogohain. The Borpatrogohain's territory was located between the
territories of the other two Gohains.
Asama appears to have been
softened into Aham and eventually to Ahom (pronounced a-home).
It is very fair though to record another equally tenable theory that
the word Ahom has developed from the Burmese name for the Thai
The Tai Ahoms who came into Assam followed their traditional religion and spoke the Tai language. They were a very small group numerically and after the first generation, the group was a mixture of the Tai and the local population. Over time the Ahom state adopted the Assamese language
. Except for some special offices (the king and the raj mantris), other positions are open to
members of any race or religion. They kept good records, and are known for their chronicles, called Buranjis.
Perhaps Siam, Shan, Ahom, Assam are all the same word.
After descending the slopes of the Patkoi, Chao Ka Pha and
his host travelled westwards and, easily defeating the Moran, the
first of the Bodo tribes they met, they made their first settlement
in India at Namrup on the banks of the river Dikhu.
Subinphaa (1281-1293), the third Ahom king, dilineated the Satgharia Ahom ("Ahom of the seven houses") aristocracy: the Chaophaa, the Burhagohain and the Borgohain families (the Gohains), and four priestly lineages—the Deodhai, the Mohan, the Bailung and the Chiring (the Gogois). These lines maintained exogamous marital relationships. The number of lineages increased in later times as either other lineages were incorporated, or existing lineages divided. The king could belong to only the first family whereas the
Burhagohain and the Borgohain only to the second and the third families. Most of the Borphukans belonged to the Sutiya ethnic group, whereas the Borbaruas belonged to the Moran, Kachari, Chiring and Khamti groups. Later on Naga, Mising and Nara oracles became a part of the Bailung group. The extended nobility consisted of the landed aristocracy and the spiritual class that did not pay any form of tax.
they had made friends with the next tribe, the Bahahi, and esta-
blished their first capital at Charaideo, on the borders of the Naga
Hills some 40 miles to the southwest. This town was to remain
the capital of the Kingdom for the next 300 years or more and
though the capital was moved later further to the southwest, Cha-
raideo remained to the end the burial place of the Kings.
The rule of Tungkhungia kings was marked by peace and achievements in the Arts and engineering constructions. The later phase of the rule was also marked by increasing social conflicts, leading to the Moamoria rebellion. The rebels were able to capture and maintain power at the capital Rangpur for some years, but were finally removed with the help of the British under Captain Welsh
. The following repression led to a large depopulation due to emigration as well as execution, but the conflicts were never resolved.
time of founding the city two horses were sacrificed and prayers
said under a mulberry tree. On the banks of the Dikhu the settlers
had time to develop and increase in population before coming into
collision with more powerful neighbours further down the valley
to the west.
Patra Mantris: The five positions constituted the patra mantris (council of ministers). From the time of Supimphaa (1492-1497), one of the patra mantris was made the Rajmantri (prime minister, also Borpatro; Ahom language: Shenglung) who enjoyed additional powers and the service of a thousand additional paiks from the Jakaichuk village.
Chao Ka Pha, the first Ahom King, died in 1268. He was,
according to the historian Gait.,5 an enterprising and brave prince
and his name is sullied only by the brutal means he adopted to
*In Tai Noi history, 10 years before the foundation of the
44 Eric T.D. Lambert
overawe the Naga hillmen on his way across the Patkoi Mountains.
After his death the kings succeeded each other with regularity,
governing wisely according to Thai practice through their ministers,
the chao thao lung and the chao phrang mung.
The Tai Ahoms worship their ancestors individually by the family as well as community. The Tai Ahom priestly families worship their dead ancestors in the occasion of marriage, festivals like Bihu, before and after harvesting, feast of new paddy, birth and death ceremonies etc.
During the reign of King Chao Tu Pha (1364-1376), the
Ahom had many serious clashes with their neighbours the Chutiya.
The Ahom King demanded the submission of the Chutiya King
and required in addition that he should deliver over to him the
golden couch, the golden standard and the golden cat. He also
demanded that the Chutiya King should resign his wife to his
embraces. The King of the Chutiya refused to accept these condi-
tions and wars continued throughout the whole of this reign until
the treacherous assassination of Chao Tu Pha.
Royal ladies were given individual mels, and by the time of Rajeshwar Singha, there were twelve of them. The most important of these was the Raidangia mel given to the chief queen.
In 1376 the Chutiya.
King visited him near his capital and pretending to be reconciled
invited him to a regatta on the river. Here he enticed him on to
his own barge without attendants and treacherously murdered him.
After Chao Tu Pha's death, there being no prince whom the great
nobles thought worthy of the throne, the first interregnum in Ahom
The Tai Ahoms offer their first seasonal crops, vegetables and fruits to the ancestors and they could take these only after offering these to their ancestor gods. It should be noted here that the priestly families worship their ancestors in a very clear way making different grades to each kind of Dam. These are Ghai Dam, Chi Ren Dam, Na Dam and Jokorua Dam.
Eventually the third son of his predecessor was
elected to the throne and his first act was to lead the Army and
punish the Chutiya for the murder of his uncle. The Chutiya
were not overthrown until 1523 in the reign of Chao Hung Mung
though they had been worsted in most struggles prior to this date.
The Baruas of whom there were twenty or more included Bhandari Barua or treasurer; the Duliya Barua, who was in charge of the royal palanquins; the Chaudang Barua who superintended executions; Khanikar Barua was the chief artificer
; Sonadar Barua was the mint master and chief jeweler; the Bez Barua was the physician to the Royal family, Hati Barua, Ghora Barua, etc. Other official included twelve Rajkhowas, and a number of Katakis, Kakatis and Dolais. The Rajkhowas were governors of given territories and commanders of three thousand paiks. They were arbitrator who settled local disputes and supervised public works. The Katakis were envoys who dealt with foreign countries and hill
tribes. The Kakatis were writers of official
documents, and the Dolais expounded astrology and determined auspicious time and dates for any important event and undertaking.
In 1536 the same King attacked and sacked the capital of
the Kachari King and forced his people to retreat to the hills. The
Ahom as a result of this battle had carried the borders of their
kingdom 150 miles down the Assam valley to the southwest.
The kingdom came under repeated Mughal attacks in the 17th century, and on one occasion in 1662, the Mughals under Mir Jumlaoccupied the capital, Garhgaon. The Mughals were unable to keep it, and in at the end of the Battle of Saraighat, the Ahoms not only fended off a major Mughal invasion, but extended their boundaries west, up to the Manas river. Following a period of confusion, the kingdom got itself the
last set of kings, the Tungkhungia kings, established by Gadadhar Singha.
In 1539 Chao Hung Mung died at the hand of a Kachari
assassin employed by his own son Chao Kleng Mung. The reasons
for the assassination were a quarrel between father and son over the
possession of the three Queens of the Chutiya King and a royal row
over a cock fight.
Chi Ren Dam: 'Chi' means ‘four’, 'ren' means a ‘house’. Thus Chi Ren Dam means the fourth generation of the parents of the dead grandfather of the living householders.
At the time of his death the King had also
made the Koch King far to the west his vassal and had repulsed no
less than three Muslim invasions, destroying completely the last
Moghul army sent against him. It is thought the fact that he was
the first king to use firearms may have had something to do with
his military successes.
The Borbarua and the Borphukan had military and judicial responsibilities, and they were aided by two separate councils (sora) of Phukans. The Borphukan's sora sat at Guwahati and the Borbarua's sora at the capital. Superintending officers were called
Baruas. Among the officers the highest in rank were the Phukans. Six of them formed the council of the Borbarua, but each had also his separate duties. The Naubaicha Phukan, who had an allotment of thousand men managed the royal boats, the Bhitarual Phukan, the Na Phukan, the Dihingia Phukan, the Deka Phukan and the Neog Phukan formed the council of Phukan. The Borphukan also had a similar council of six subordinate Phukans whom he was bound to consult in all matters of importance
, this council included Pani Phukan, who commanded six thousand paiks, Deka Phukan who commanded four thousand paiks, the Dihingia Phukan, Nek Phukan and two Sutiya Phukans.
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE 45
Chao Hung Mung was a bold, enterprising and resourceful
ruler and under him not only did his country greatly expand in
size but under his efficient administration the social condition of
the people made great strides.
The Ahom kingdom took many features of its mature form under Pratap Singha. The Paik system was reorganized under the professional khel system, replacing the kinship based phoid system. Under the same king, the offices of the
Borphukan, and the Borbarua were established along with other smaller offices. No more major restructuring of the state structure was attempted till the end of the kingdom.
He took a census of the people,
divided them into clans, imported artisans from nearby countries
and changed the calendar from the Jovian to the Hindu system.
During his reign too the Hindu Vaishnava reformation, promul-
gated by the great Hindu preacher Sankardeb made considerable
progress. It was his son Chao Kleng Mung who in the first year
of his reign moved the royal capital from Charaideo to Garhgaon.
Wars against the Koch and the remnants of the K achari
continued for the next hundred years up to the reign of Chao Seng
Pha who died in 1641. During this Monarch's reign many of the
more backward tracts were developed, the Ahom made inroads into
the hills on both sides of the valley and transfers of population
were made to the more sparsely populated frontier areas to help in
protecting the boundaries.
Under this King, too, many roads and embankments were
built and new towns constructed. These earth embankments were
models of ingenuity and exist to this day close to and in fact right
into the Naga Hills to the south of the Kingdom.
All these kinds of Dams are altogether called Griha Dam, who are worshipped annually. The Jokorua Dam are not included among the Griha Dam.
were appointed on the fringes of the country and none of
the "wild men" were allowed to cross the frontiers unaccompanied
by them. Kataki also acted as spies to watch the movements of
the frontier tribes. In some palaces permanent forts were construc-
ted, stone and brick bridges were built and numerous markets
Chao Seng Pha, like his predecessors, was a great elephant
hunter and achieved the distinction of being the first Ahom King to
own a thousand elephants. He maintained a close watch on all
aspects of the administration and was also the first Ahom King to
strike octagonal coins which were supposed to be the shape of the
country he ruled.
One of the important non-Hindu customs among the Ahoms is that the dead body is not burnt but kept in a coffin-like box, which they refer to as "Maidam".
46 Eric T.D. Lambert
Twenty or more years after his death, 1662, closer control
of the Koch kingdom to the west and raids into Muslim territory
by the Ahom led to another attempt by the Moghuls to overcome
them but Mir Jumla, one of Aurangzeb's greatest generals, met the
same fate Napoleon was later to meet on his march to Moscow.
Jokorua Dam : The word ‘Jokorua’ is used in a collective sense to mean all the dead ones who died without having a male child, who died in childhood, who died without getting married and also who died with physical and mental abnormality. This kind of Dam is propitiated in the house of the eldest member of the living generations.
The Ahom let him come right through the country, two or three
hundred miles to their capital at Garhgaon which he entered on
March 17, 1662. Rain and fever then did for the Muslims what
snow and frost did to the French. When the rains broke the
country was as usual transformed into a vast swamp and military
operations became impossible. The invaders were shut up in their
camp and those who ventured out were eliminated. Communica-
tions and supplies were cut off. Mir Jumla found himself unable
to maintain his outposts and had to withdraw them one by one; to
the terrors of a persistent and unseen enemy were added several
epidemics, especially dysentery.
Royal officers: Pratap Singha added two offices, Borbarua and Borphukan, that were directly under the king. The Borbarua, who acted as the military as well as the judicial head, was in command of the region east of Kaliabor not under the command of the Dangarias. He could use only a section of the paiks at his command for his personal use (as opposed to the Dangariyas), the rest rendering service to the Ahom state. The Borphukan was in military and civil command over the region west of Kaliabor, and acted as the Swargadeo's viceroy in the west.
Finally he was compelled by the
clamour of his troops to patch up a treaty with the King and retreat
to Dacca in Bengal. Dying himself on March 30, 1663 in sight
of home, he lost a large number of his men on the way back and
most of his artillery. Though his doctors gave various diagnoses
for the illness which led to his death the men commonly believed
that the sickness was the result of witchcraft practised by the
A contemporary Muslim account of the Garhgaon Treaty is
worth quoting in full6 :-
"1. The Rajahs of Asam and Batam (never identified)
should each send one of their daughters to the
"2. Each should pay 20,000 taels of gold and 120,000
tola of silver.
" 3. Fifteen elephants to be sent to the Emperor ; fifteen
to the Nawab (Mir Jumla) and five to Dilir Khan
(one of Mir Jumla's lieutenants).
" 4. Within the next twelve months 300,000 tola of silver
and 90 elephants to be sent as tribute to Bengal in three
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE 47
" 5. 20 elephants to be furnished annually.
" 6. The sons of Budh Gohain, Karkas-ha, Bar Gohain
Prabatar, the four principal Phukan of the Rajah to
remain as hostages with the Nawab till the fulfilment
of the conditions in Article 4.
"7. The following districts to be ceded to His Majesty the
A : In the north.
Sirkar Durang bounded by Gavhati on one side and
by the Ali Burari (Bhoreli) which passes Fort Cham-
dhura on the other side ;
B : In the south.
The district of Nakirani (near the Garo Hills);
The Naga Hills ;
Dumurian (extends to the Kallang river);
" 8. All inhabitants of Kamrup kept as prisoners by the
Rajah in the hills and in Namrup to be restored ; so
also the family of the Badli Phukan.
The Ahom kingdom was ruled by a king, called Swargadeo (Ahom language: Chao-Pha), who had to be a descendant of the first king Sukaphaa. Succession was generally by primogeniture but occasionally the great Gohains (Dangarias) could elect another descendant of Sukaphaa from a different line or even depose an enthroned one.
In territory the Moghuls got little out of the treaty. Durang
had been theirs at one time and the area claimed on the south bank
of the river was mostly hill and jungle and inhabited by wild tribes
who would yield to no one.
From other Moghul records6 it is clear that the cession of
Durang was purely nominal, there is no record of payments of
money by Muslim historians but it is true that some of the elephants
arrived and that a daughter of the king was subsequently married
to an Imperial Prince, Mohamed A'zam, with a dowry of 180,000
There is a remarkable similarity between the Ahom and
the Muslim accounts of this treaty.
Chao Tam La, the Ahom King, himself died in November of
the same year and his successor, Chao Phung Mung, refused to
tolerate such a dishonourable treaty as had been negotiated by his
48 Eric T.D. Lambert
predecessor.7 Soon after his accession he called a council of elders
to concert measures to destroy the remaining Muslim power in the
valley. He established firearm and munition factories and built a
large number of warships. He prepared a muster roll of all able-
bodied men in the kingdom and instilled into their minds by pro-
paganda the sentiments of valour and the importance of the liber-
ation of the country. It is recorded that he personally instructed
recruits how to fire the arrow, hurl the spear and use the shield.
In this connection a quotation from Shakespeare, who was
living in England when the Ahom people were making their greatest
progress, seems most apt:
"For forth he goes and visits all his host
"Bids them good morrow with a modest smile
"And calls them brothers, friends and countrymen.
"Upon his royal face there is no note
"How dread an enemy had enrounded him."
It was Chao Phung Mung, well to be compared with Shake-
speare's Harry (Henry V), who drove the Moghuls across the river
Manas and established a viceroyalty at Gauhati 250 miles from
the point where his great predecessor had entered India. He died
in 1670 only to be followed by seven kings all of whom were assas-
sinated by their ministers in the short space of 11 years.
Forward governors, who were military commanders, ruled and administered forward territories. The officers were usually filled from the families that were eligible for the three great Gohains.
the end of this period there arose in 1681 Chao Phatpha, one of the
greatest of the Ahom monarchs, who inflicted such a crushing
defeat on the Moghuls that the roar of their guns was no longer
heard in the valley. In a history written by an Englishman in
1814 the Ahom successes were ascribed to the fact that the people
"were fierce of their independence and invigorated by a nourish-
ing dish and strong drink ". He added that the prince " had not
sunk under the enervating and unceasing ceremonies of the Hindu
doctrines". Not only did this king defeat the Muslims once and
for all but he succeeded in subduing all the frontier tribes. He
had a peculiar penchant for land survey which he had picked up
from the Moghuls and though he strove hard the survey of the
country had not quite been completed by the time of his death in
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE 49
The accession of his son Chao Khrung Pha alias Rudra
Singh was the beginning of the end. Though he and his immediate
successors constructed some of the fines roads and artificial lakes in the country they began to fall under the sway of the Hindu
priests and with this monarch's death can be traced the end of the
generation of strong kings and "we hear no more of brave deeds,
heroic exploits and territorial acquisitions". The comfort and devi-
talising influence of the land they had conquered had begun to sap
the energy of this once virile race. They had to accept a subordinate
position in the Hindu caste system and give up the nourishing fare
to which they had been used.
If the kings up to this date were like the Tudors, Chao
Khrung Pha was the first of the Stewarts. During the reign of
Chao Rampha (1751-1769) we find the nobles for the first time
refusing to go on active service and declining the command of military expeditions. The decadence was the same as that of the
Stewarts. The Hindu priests worked upon the vanity of the Ahom
kings in the same way as the Christian clergy cringing for royal
favour played upon the Stewarts. Earlier kings, though they
patronised and even accepted Hinduism, always placed the safety
of the state above all other considerations. It was the later kings
who fell completely under its sway, finishing with the country full
of religious preceptors and their followers who claimed exemption
from the universal liability to fight and to assist in other public
works. The earlier kings had spotted the possibility of the Hindu
caste system destroying the Ahom tribal system and did all they
could to avoid the priests breaking it up — even going to the extent
of giving the most degrading work including the construction of a
highway to those whom they considered owing to their higher caste
might upset the system. For some time the people continued to
perform the old tribal rituals alongside the new worship of the
Hindu pantheon recalling the analogous situation in Rome at the
time of the adoption of Christianity by Constantine the Great.
50 Eric T.D. Lambert
It was to some extent persecution of those who accepted the
Hindu doctrine that kindled the fire of the Moamaria1 rebellion
during the reign of Sunyeopha (1769-1780) that was the beginning
of the end of Thai Ahom rule in Assam. Though Sunyeopha
succeeded in quelling the rebellion, the insurrection broke out afresh
in the reign of his son Chao Hitapangha (1780-1795). The capital,
Rangpur, was actually seized by the rebels in 1786 and the King
was forced to flee nearly two hundred miles to Gauhati. The
disorders dragged on for several months, whilst the Prime Minister
Purananda burha gohain valiantly strove to put them down.*
It was this rebellion and the anarchic state of the country
that led to the first arrival of the British who by this time had
replaced the Muslim (Moghul) power on Assam's borders. The
country had become filled with the turbulent ruffianism of the great
bazaars in Bengal, with disbanded soldiery and fighting fanatics
pillaging the villages, laying waste the fields and reducing the
country to ruin. The King appealed for help to a nearby British
merchant whose private army was defeated and eventually to Lord
Cornwallis the Governor General of India, who agreed that he must
take steps to stop marauders from British territory interfering in
the internal affairs of Assam. The gangs of pillagers from Bengal,
were accordingly ordered to return to that state but refused to do so.
In 1792 Captain Welsh with a small force accordingly went
to the Ahom King's relief. He retook Gauhati which at this time
was under the control of a gang of low caste Hindus from Bengal,
and advancing up the valley by March 1794 had retaken the capital
Rangpur for the King and put down the Moamaria rebellion. But
unhappily for the Ahom and despite vigorous protests by the Ahom
King the new Governor General Sir John Shore ordered Captain
Welsh to leave the country. (It would be very interesting in the
*The Moamaria are believed to have been an aboriginal tribe.
that had settled in the upper part of the country before the coming of the
Ahom people. The whole tribe embraced Hinduism but rejected the
popular worship of Siva.Thy professed themselves votaries of the Vishna-
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE 51.
light of later events to speculate on what would have happened if
this order had not been issued.) A few months later the King died
to be succeeded by Chao Klingpha (1795-1810). The Moamaria
rebelled again and the Ahom suffered continuous attacks from the
hill tribes. A period of great disorder prevailed but a temporary
respite was obtained by the fine generalship of Haripod deka
phukan, who received a large reward of land from the King for
his great services. This land still remains in the hands of his
Chao Klingpha was succeeded on his death by his brother
Chao Din Pha who was in his teens at the time. This boy was
fond of keeping low company, Satram, the son of a poultry-keeper,
being the principal object of his attachment. He raised him to the
high rank of charingia phukan and thereby greatly incensed the
nobles. The favourite realising how much he depended on the King
soon set about stirring up trouble among the ministers of state.
There was a serious quarrel between the two great officers, the
bar phukan and the burha gohain. The King, fretting against
the influence of the burha gohain, sent his supporter the bar
phukan to call on the British for aid.This was refused, the British
not wishing to get involved in the internal politics of the state, and
an appeal was then made to the Burmese who entered the country
with a large force. This force supported the King but eventually
retired. The burha, gohain seized his chance and deposing Chao
Din Pha set up Purander Singh, a royal prince, as King. Chao Din
Pha again called on the Burmese for assistance. They sent an army
to aid him and Purander Singh was forced to flee to British territory
in 1816 as a political refugee. In 1819 he applied for British
assistance but this was refused.
In due course Chao Din Pha found the price of Burmese
support more than he could afford to pay and he soon became
anxious to get rid of them. He applied once more for British
assistance which was as usual refused and after a quarrel with his
Burmese allies he, too, was forced to flee for asylum to British
territory. The Burmese then set up Jogeswar Singh, a distant
52 Eric T.D. Lambert
relative, in his place and sent a message to the British demanding
the handing over of the King on pain of invasion of Bengal to seize
him. The British countered this by sending troops to the frontier
and a warning to the Burmese to keep out. The Burmese, however,
persisted in advancing on Cachar, a state which had sometime
previously placed itself under British protection. The British
thereupon declared war and within a year had driven the Burmese
from Assam and Manipur but not before they had committed the
most frightful atrocities on the people. According to the historian
Mackenzie8: "Nothing," at this time, "could have been more
wretched than the state of Assam when the valley was first occupied
by our troops. 30,000 Assamese had been carried off as slaves by
the Burmese. Many thousands had lost their lives and large tracts
of country had been laid desolate by the wars, famines and
pestilences, which for nearly half a century had afflicted the
province.The remnant of the people had almost given up cultivation,
supporting themselves chiefly on roots and plants. The nobilityand
priestly families had retired to Goalpara ( Bengal ) or other refuges
in British territory, often after losing all their property, and with
them had gone crowds of dependents glad to escape from the
miseries of their native land."
The invaders committed the most horrible acts of torture
and barbarity. Many of these were described a few years later to
a traveller, Butler, with great minuteness which left in his mind
no doubt of their authenticity. In one case as many as 50 men
were decapitated in one day, in another, men, women and children
were herded into a large bamboo and thatch building and burned
to death. On February 24, 1826, when the operations of the Burma
campaign had been completed elsewhere, the Burmese signed the
treaty of Yandaboo. Article 2 of this treaty roads: "His Majesty
the King of Ava renounces all claims upon and will abstain from
all future interference with the principality of Assam and its
Unable to find a useful prince of the royal house to whom
the country could be handed over, the British8 "with great
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE 53
reluctance" found themselves for security reasons in the position
of having to control the country for the next seven years, In 1833,
however, despite two ineffectual Burmese supported risings, the
first one under Gadhadhar Singh, a nephew of Chandra Kanta and
relative of Jogeswar Singh, the second under the ex-bar gohain and
burha phukan, a large part of the country was placed under the
rule of Purander Singh who was believed to be morally and other-
wise the most eligible representative of the royal stock. A treaty
was executed by which he was protected and guaranteed against
invasion on condition of his paying an annual sum of 50,000 rupees.
In October 1838, however, he declared himself "unable to carry on
the administration any longer" and the territories were resumed
by the Government of India, the King being pensioned off with a
political pension of 1,000 rupees a month.
The final decay of Ahom political power came with the
release by the British of the many slaves employed by the rich
nobles without compensation and the abolition of the paik system
whereby the great families had been able to cultivate their large
estates. In addition the more educated Muslims and Hindu upper
classes were employed in the work of the Government. The Ahom
all fell to the level of humble cultivators and the Kolita a people
of Aryan descent who had lived amongst the Ahom throughout,
made the most important advance. The Ahom people number now
only a few hundred thousand and are confined mostly to the Upper
The Government of the Ahom was a limited or oligarchic
monarchy, but as the state grew in size the monarchy tended to
become more absolute, the amount of limitation depending partly
on the personal influence and character of the king and partly on
the power of the great nobles.
The monarchy passed from father to son with great regula-
rity in the early days of Ahom rule but in later times the succession
might devolve on a brother or even a more distant relative. In the
54 Eric T.D. Lambert
choice of a successor much depended on the wishes of the previous
king, much on the personal influence of any rival candidates and of
course a great deal more on the action of the two, later three, great
nobles who at least in theory and often in practice would constitu-
tionally nominate the new king. They were in fact regarded as the
depository of sovereign powers and in the interregnums of 1376-80
and 1389-97 such powers were actually exercised by them. In other
words, as in ancient Rome, when a king died his sovereignty passed
to the elders.
In appointing a successor, however, there were two essential
qualifications. Firstly, no one could in any circumstances ascend
the throne who was not of royal blood; and secondly any noticeable
scar or blemish, even the scar of a carbuncle, operated as a bar to
the succession. It was frequent practice mongst the Ahom kings
on coming to power to endeavour to secure themselves against
intrigues and eventual deposition by their relatives by mutilating all
possible rivals. It is recorded that this sometimes took the form of
making a small nick in the ear, though in other cases the mutilation
might go much further. No king could be legally enthroned unless
first the great officers of state had concurred in his proclamation.
Originally, as already mentioned, the principal councillors of state
numbered two, the chao thaolung (Great-Old-God) and the chao
phrangmung (God of the Wide Country). They were called in
Assamese bar gohain and burha gohain. In the reign of Chao
Hung Mung a third was added, the chao senglung (Great-Holy-God)
They had provinces assigned to them in which they exercised
sovereignty but so far as the general administration of the country
and its foreign relations were concerned their functions were purely
advisory. The King in theory was bound to consult them on all
matters of importance and could not issue general orders, embark
on war or negotiate with other states without doing so.
In practice these appointments descended from father to son
but the King had the right of selecting any member of the prescribed
clan that he chose and could also at any time dismiss a gohain
though this was usually done with the concurrence of the other two.
A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE 55
The gohain were highly privileged and were given a number of
families to serve them but they were required to provide their
portion of militia to serve in war or the required number of work-
men for any great public work.
As the country grew in extent it was found necessary to
delegate certain of the King's duties to others and various new
appointments were made, in particular in the reign of Chao Seng
Pha the bar barua phukelung and the bar phukan lung. These
were not hereditary appointments but the posts were filled only by
members of twelve specified families. In order to prevent the
gohain from growing too powerful, members of their clans were
not allowed to hold any of these new posts.
The bar barua, received the revenues and administered
justice in the northeast whilst the bar phukan was the viceroy of
the western portion of the Kingdom. Each was given command of twelve to fourteen thousand men. 7% of these men were, however,
allotted to the officer for his private use together with any fines
which he might levy on them for certain offences. He also received
fees paid by persons appointed to minor government offices, though
in all cases their nomination had to be confirmed by the monarch.
The bar phukan, owing to the distance he lived from the capital,
became at a later date one of the most powerful officers in the
Below these five great officers were governors who admi-
nistered many of the districts along the frontiers. Some of these
governors were from the royal line,some from the clans of the three
gohain, others from senior families and yet more were vassal
princes, declared governors of their own territories after conquest
Another thirty two officers existed called phukan and barua.
There were six military phukan on the council of each bar barua
and bar phukan. In addition to commanding units of the Army they
appear also to have had certain civil functions in specified areas.
Subordinate to them were the rajkhowa who commanded 3,000 men
56 Eric T.D. Lambert
Amongst these thirty-two were the officers who superintended
the various arts, sciences, trades, sources of public revenue and the
Ghai Dam: 'Ghai' means ‘main’ and 'Dam' means ‘Dead’, hence Ghai Dam means dead grandparents of the living householder.
A phukan managed the queen's affairs, another
the royal gardens, another the fleet. There was a keeper of the
royal wardrobe, a guardian of the Hindu temples and superintendent
of the gunpowder factories. Subordinate officers, the barua, managed
other departments. There was a treasurer, an officer in charge of
the palanquins, a chief executioner, a mint master, a royal physician
and an officer in charge of the elephants.
The phukan had to be chosen from four noble families,
descendants of those who had accompanied Chao Ka Pha in his
conquest of the country. Most of these other officers were also
of noble birth though the posts were not hereditary.
In short it will be seen that the King governed through the
aristocracy. Wanton infringement of the rights of the aristocracy
was one of the main causes which finally proved the ruin of the
A short description of part of the coronation ceremony of
the king would not be out of place here. It has rightly been
described as very elaborate.
"The King wearing the Somdeo, or image of his tutelary
deity and carrying in his hand the hengdan or ancestral sword
proceeded on a female elephant to Charaideo where he planted a
pi pul tree. He next entered the Patgarh where the presiding priest
poured a libation of water over him and his chief queen, after which
the royal couple took their seats in the Holongghar, or a bamboo
platform, under which were placed a man and specimens of every
procurable animal. Consecrated water was poured over the royal
couple and fell on the animals below. Then, having been bathed,
they entered the Singharighar and took their seats on a throne of
gold under a series of nine white canopies and the leading nobles
came up and offered their presents. Before the reign of Chao