History of Assam from Vedic age to Gupta Period

History of Assam from Vedic age to Gupta Period

The ancient name of Guwahati was Pragjyotishpur. Protohistoric Assam is reconstructed from epics and literature from early times (Mahabharata, Kalika Purana, Yogini Tantra, diff. chronicles etc.). The earliest political entity seems to have been led by a non-Aryan Danava dynasty with Mahiranga mentioned as the first king. This dynasty was removed by Narakasura. Naraka appears to be a generic name for many kings belonging to the Naraka dynasty. According to legend, the last of the Naraka kings was killed by Krishna and his son Bhagadatta took the throne. Bhagadatta is said to have participated in the Mahabharata war with an army of “chinas, kiratas and dwellers of the eastern sea”, thereby indicating that his kingdom, Pragjyotisha, included part of Bangladesh. The last in the Naraka dynasty was a ruler named Suparua.

Kamarupa, also called Kamrup or Kamata, ancient Indian state corresponding roughly to what is now the state of Assam, in northeastern India. This region had many rulers but, being protected by natural fortifications, maintained fairly consistent territorial boundaries.

The ancient kingdom of Kamariipa, although roughly equivalent to Assam, generally occupied an area larger than that of the modern province, and extended westward to the Karataya river, thus including the Kuch Bihar State and the Rangpur District. The earliest notice of the kingdom which is of any use for the purposes of the historian is the statement in Samudragupta’s inscription on the Allahabad pillar, recorded about 360 or 370 AD, that Kamarupa was then one of the frontier states outside the limits of the Gupta empire, but paying tribute and owing a certain amount of obedience to the paramount power.

Kamarupa was a typical Hindu kingdom of old. The name Kamrup, or more properly Kamarupa, which now designates a district of Assam, was formerly applied to the whole of the eastern province of the ancient Bharatavarshaf. It is synonymous with Pragjyotishab which, however, seems to have been the older appellation for the country. In the Ramayana and Mahabharata the country is called Pragjyotisha, and its ruler, the Pragjyotisheswara. The term Kamarupa is first made use of in some of the Puranas and Tantras, which are admittedly of a later date than the great epics.

According to the Kalika Purana also a certain Naraka, king of Pragjyotisha, was a contemporary of Rama I. He was preceded in the kingdom of Kamarupa by five other kings, the first of whom, Mahiranga Danava, is said to have been the first king of the country, 2° and must have flourished at least one century before Narak. The origin of the kingdom would thus date twelve centuries before the time of the Mahabharata, or more than four thousand years before the present time.

There is also no definite information regarding the territorial extent of this ancient kingdom. The boundaries appear to have varied in different times. In the Ramayana, Pragjyotisha is described as being situated near the’sea. The Mahabharata too corroborates this, and Bhagadatta’s territories are described as being extended to the sea coast. In the time of the Vishnu Purana the extent of the country was one hundred yojanas on all sides from the city of Pragjyotishpur, modern Gowhati. The Jogini Tantra describes the country as being ofa triangular shape, one hundred yojanas in lenght and thirty in breadth.” Now, taking a yojana to be equal to four kroshes or about eight miles, old Kamarupa would be about 800 miles in length and 240 in breadth. This gives a perimeter or circuit of about 1700 miles. When the Chinese traveller Hiouen Tsiang visited the country in 639 AD, he estimated the circumference at 10,000 Ii, or 1667 miles.

The account of the Yogini Tantra may not therefore be an undue exaggeration. This work is popularly regarded as a great authority on every thing connected with Kamarupa. It contains a good deal of information regarding the ancient geography and history of the country. According to it, ancient Kamarupa was bounded on the north by the Kanjagiri, on the east by the hill stream Dikshu, and on the west by the Karatoya; and it stretched southward as far as the junction of the Laksha with the Brahmaputra.

The powerful kingdom of Kamarupa 2,000 miles in circuit. It apparently included in those times modern Assam, Manipur and Kachar, Mymensing and Sylhet. The soil was rich and was cultivated, and grew cocoanuts and bread fruit in abundance. Water led from rivers or banked up reservoirs flowed round towns. The climate was soft and temperate, the manners of the people simple and honest. The men were of small stature, of a dark yellow complexion, and spoke a language different from that of mid-India. They were however impetuous, with very retentive memories, and very earnest in their studies.

The temple of Kamakhya at Gauhati is one of the most sacred shrines of the Sakta Hindus, and the whole country is famed in Hindu traditions as a land of magic and witchcraft. The old tribal beliefs are gradually being abandoned; and the way in which Hindu priests established their influence over non-Aryan chiefs and gradually drew them within their fold is repeatedly exemplified in the pages of Assam History. The Kamakhya Temple near Guwahati is referred to in the Vishnu Purana.

According to the Kalika Puran and the Jogni Tantra, the realm of Kamarupa included not only the valley of the Brahmaputra, but also Bhutan, Rangpur, Koch Bihar, Mymensingh and the Garo Hills. According to Hiuen Tsang’s descriptions in the seventh century, the Kamarupa country was about 17,000 miles in circuit.

These vast territories of Kamarupa formerly abounded in forests, hills and rivers. In the Kalika Purana and the Yogini Tantra more than seventy different hills are named, most Of which are regarded sacred by that Tantra, and seem to have been situated in the province of modern Assam. The country was largely intersected by rivers and streams, as it continues to be at the present time. Dr. Wade, speaking of Assam, writes that “this country exceeds every other in the universe of similar extent in the number of its rivers.” The Yogini Tantra describes Kamarupa as containing one hundred rivers.“ This evidently means that the number of rivers is large.

The earliest recorded king of kamarupa was named Mahiranga Danava. He is regarded by some to have been the first king of the country. Nothing more is known about him. He was succeeded by three kings of his line, one after another, and the dynasty appears to have come to an end with the third, who was named Ratnasura. After them, Pragjyotishpura seems to have been occupied by a race of Kiratas, who had a rough exterior and fair complexion, who shaved their heads without any necessity, were irreligious, and addicted to eating flesh and drinking liquor. Their chief was named Ghataka, who possessed much physical power, and was defeated and slain by Naraka, the next king.

After the decline of the Pratapgarh family, a people called Chutia rose into power in upper or north Kamarupa. Their king is said to have been descended from Kuvera, the Himalayan treasurer of Mahadeva. He was most likely an Officer Of the court of Pratapgarh, and, on the downfall Of that line, founded a kingdom of his own. The District of Durrang, and, in fact, the whole of the Uttarkola or north valley of the Brahmaputra are supposed to have once been included in the Chutia territory. When the Ahoms came into power the Chutias were driven back to the north east.

It is not known how the rule of the Pala kings of Kamarupa came to an end, or why Pala Raja had no lineal successor to the throne of the country. It is probable that the last of the Pala kings having died without an heir, the part of Kamarupa west of the Brahmaputra remained in a state of anarchy for some time and was overrun by several tribes of koch, Mech, Garo, Kachari and Bhot. This period of disturbance and disintegration of power was most favorable for the rise of upstarts, and thus a person of humble birth some how acquired power, and, proclaiming himself king of Kamarupa, assumed the title of Niladhavja. He was called Kanta Nath.

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