Discovering India's Diverse Cultural Heritage: A Journey of Assam

Discovering India's Diverse Cultural Heritage: A Journey of Assam

Assam is a state in northeastern India that is known for its rich culture, biodiversity, tea production, and silk industry. But how much do you know about the history of Assam and how it got its name? In this blog post, we will explore the fascinating past of this region and some of the major events and dynasties that shaped its identity.

The Ancient Era

The history of Assam can be traced back to the 4th century CE, when it was part of a kingdom called Kamarupa, which means “the land of Kamadeva”, the Hindu god of love. Kamarupa was mentioned in the inscriptions of Samudragupta, a powerful emperor of the Gupta dynasty who ruled over most of northern India. Kamarupa extended from the Himalayas to the Bay of Bengal, covering parts of present-day Assam, Bangladesh, Bhutan, and West Bengal.
One of the most famous rulers of Kamarupa was Narakasura, who is mentioned in the epic Mahabharata as a demon king who was slain by Lord Krishna. His son Bhagadatta succeeded him and fought on the side of the Kauravas in the Kurukshetra war. Another notable king was Bhaskaravarman, who was a contemporary and ally of Harshavardhana, another great emperor of northern India. Bhaskaravarman hosted the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (also known as Hiuen-tsang) in his court and received lavish gifts from him. Xuanzang left a detailed account of the country and its people in his travelogue.

The Medieval Era

The medieval era of Assam began with the decline of Kamarupa and the emergence of various smaller kingdoms and ethnic groups. The most prominent among them were the Ahoms, who migrated from present-day Myanmar in the 13th century and established their rule in upper Assam. The Ahoms were followers of Tai Buddhism and adopted Hinduism later. They developed a unique culture and administration that lasted for six centuries.
The Ahoms expanded their territory by conquering neighboring kingdoms such as Koch, Kachari, Chutiya, and Dimasa. They also resisted several invasions by the Mughals, who ruled over most of India at that time. The most famous battle between the Ahoms and the Mughals was the Battle of Saraighat in 1671, where the Ahom general Lachit Borphukan defeated a much larger Mughal army led by Ram Singh I on the banks of the Brahmaputra river.
The Ahom kingdom reached its zenith under King Rudra Singh (1696-1714), who patronized art, literature, architecture, and religion. He built many temples, palaces, forts, and bridges across Assam. He also introduced a new calendar called Buranji Era or Tai Ahom Era, which started from 1568 CE.

The Modern Era

The modern era of Assam began with the decline of the Ahom kingdom due to internal conflicts and external invasions. In 1769, a rebel general named Badan Chandra Borphukan invited the Burmese to intervene in Assam’s affairs. The Burmese invaded Assam several times between 1817 and 1826 and committed atrocities on the people. The British, who had established their rule in India by then, intervened to protect their interests and drove out the Burmese. They signed the Treaty of Yandabo with Burma in 1826, which ceded Assam to them.
The British annexed Assam as part of their Bengal Presidency and later made it a separate province in 1874 with Shillong as its capital. They introduced tea cultivation, oil exploration, railways, roads, education, and administration in Assam. They also encouraged migration from other parts of India to work in plantations and industries. This led to demographic and cultural changes in Assam.
The British faced several rebellions and movements from the people of Assam who demanded autonomy and self-rule. Some of them were led by Maniram Dewan, Piyali Barua, Kanaklata Barua, Jyotiprasad Agarwala, Gopinath Bordoloi, Tarun Ram Phukan, Chandradhar Barua, Kushal Konwar, etc. Assam also participated in the Indian independence movement led by Mahatma Gandhi and joined the Indian 

The Contemporary Era

The contemporary era of Assam began with the independence of India from British rule in 1947. Assam became a constituent state of the Indian Union with Shillong as its capital. However, Assam also faced several challenges and conflicts in the post-independence period. Some of them were:

The partition of India and the creation of Pakistan resulted in a large influx of refugees and migrants from East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) into Assam. This caused demographic, economic, social, and political changes in Assam and led to resentment and violence among the indigenous people.

The demand for a separate state of Nagaland by the Naga tribes, who inhabited parts of Assam and neighboring states, led to a prolonged insurgency and armed struggle that lasted for decades. The Naga National Council (NNC) and later the National Socialist Council of Nagaland (NSCN) were the main rebel groups that fought for Naga sovereignty. A ceasefire agreement was signed in 1997 and peace talks are still ongoing.

The demand for a separate state of Meghalaya by the Khasi, Jaintia, and Garo tribes, who felt neglected and discriminated by the Assamese-dominated government, led to a peaceful movement that culminated in the creation of Meghalaya as a separate state in 1972. Shillong became the capital of Meghalaya and Dispur became the new capital of Assam.

The demand for a separate state of Mizoram by the Mizo tribes, who faced famine, repression, and atrocities by the government forces, led to a violent uprising and guerrilla warfare by the Mizo National Front (MNF) under Laldenga. A peace accord was signed in 1986 and Mizoram became a separate state in 1987.

The demand for greater autonomy and protection of identity by various ethnic groups such as Bodos, Karbis, Dimasas, Rabhas, Tiwas, etc., led to several movements and agitations that sometimes turned violent. Some of these groups formed militant outfits such as the Bodo Liberation Tigers (BLT), the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA), the Dima Halam Daogah (DHD), etc., that carried out attacks on security forces and civilians. Several accords and agreements were signed with these groups to grant them more political and economic rights and to bring them into the mainstream.

The protest against illegal immigration from Bangladesh and the demand for updating the National Register of Citizens (NRC) to identify and deport foreigners led to a massive exercise that involved verification of millions of documents and people. The final NRC list was published in 2019, which excluded about 1.9 million people who could not prove their citizenship. The NRC issue has been controversial and contentious, as many genuine citizens have also been left out due to lack of proper documents or errors.

The opposition to the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), which grants citizenship to non-Muslim refugees from Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh who entered India before 2015, led to widespread protests and violence in Assam in 2019-2020. The protesters argued that the CAA violated the Assam Accord of 1985, which fixed March 24, 1971 as the cut-off date for detecting and deporting illegal immigrants from Assam. They also feared that the CAA would threaten the linguistic, cultural, and religious identity of the indigenous people of Assam.

Despite these challenges and conflicts, Assam has also made significant progress and development in various fields such as education, health, tourism, industry, agriculture, culture, sports, etc. Assam is home to many eminent personalities who have contributed to various fields such as literature, music, art, cinema, science, politics, etc.

The Eminent Personalities of Assam

Assam has produced many eminent personalities who have contributed to various fields such as literature, music, art, cinema, science, politics, etc. Some of them are:

  • Lakshminath Bezbaroa: He was a pioneer of modern Assamese literature and culture. He was a poet, novelist, playwright, essayist, satirist, and journalist. He is also known as the Sahityarathi (charioteer of literature) of Assam. He wrote the famous song O Mur Apunar Desh (O My Beloved Country), which is considered as the cultural anthem of Assam.
  • Bishnu Prasad Rabha: He was a versatile genius who excelled in music, dance, painting, literature, and social activism. He was a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and joined the Indian independence movement. He is also known as the Kala Guru (master of arts) of Assam. He composed many patriotic and revolutionary songs such as Bishnu Rabhar Geet and Bishnu Rabhar Dhuliya.
  • Bhupen Hazarika: He was a legendary singer, composer, lyricist, filmmaker, and writer. He is widely regarded as the Bard of Brahmaputra for his songs that reflect the life and culture of Assam and the Northeast. He was also a recipient of the Dadasaheb Phalke Award, the highest honor in Indian cinema. Some of his famous songs are Manuhe Manuhar Babe (Humans are for Humanity), Bistirno Parore (On the Banks of the Mighty River), and Ganga Behti Ho Kyun (Why Does the Ganges Flow).
  • Mamoni Raisom Goswami: She was a renowned writer and scholar who wrote novels, short stories, essays, poetry, and children’s literature. She was also a recipient of the Jnanpith Award, the highest literary honor in India. Some of her famous works are The Moth-Eaten Howdah of a Tusker, The Rusted Sword, The Shadow of Kamakhya, and The Man from Chinnamasta.
  • K M Baharul Islam: He is a professor at Indian Institute of Management Kashipur and a Fellow at Indian Institute of Advanced Study. He is an expert on communication policy and governance, media studies, social media analytics, and digital humanities. He has authored several books and articles on these topics.
  • Jyotiprasad Agarwala: He was a pioneer of Assamese cinema and culture. He was a poet, playwright, filmmaker, composer, and freedom fighter. He made the first Assamese film Joymoti in 1935 based on the life of the Ahom princess who sacrificed herself for her husband and kingdom. He also wrote many popular songs such as Buku Hom Hom Kore (The Heart Beats) and Luitore Paarore Ami (I am from the Banks of Luit).
  • Renu Saikia: She was a freedom fighter who participated in the Quit India Movement in 1942. She was arrested by the British and tortured in prison. She later became a social worker and politician. She was also a recipient of the Tamrapatra Award for her role in the independence movement.
  • Sati Sadhani: She was the last queen of the Chutiya kingdom that ruled over parts of eastern Assam from 12th to 16th century. She fought bravely against the Ahom invasion and defended her kingdom till her death in 1524. She is revered as a symbol of courage and patriotism by the Chutiya people.
  • Kali Charan Brahma: He was a social reformer and educationist who worked for the upliftment of the Bodo people. He founded several schools and colleges for imparting education to the Bodo children. He also advocated for preserving and promoting the Bodo language and culture.
  • Dipankar Bhattacharjee: He is a former badminton player who represented India in three consecutive Olympics from 1992 to 2000. He won two bronze medals at the Asian Games in 1994 and 1998. He also won several national and international titles in his career.
  • Parvati Prasad Baruva: He was a poet, lyricist, composer, and singer. He wrote many popular songs such as O Mor Aponar Desh (O My Native Land), O Mor Dharitri Aai (O My Mother Earth), and O Mor Bihure Logon (O My Separated People). He also composed music for several Assamese films such as Joymoti, Indramalati, and Siraj.
  • Birendra Kumar Bhattacharya: He was a novelist, short story writer, and critic. He was also a recipient of the Jnanpith Award, the highest literary honor in India. Some of his famous works are Yaruingam, Mrityunjay, Aai Kot Nai (Mother is Not at Home), and Iyaruingam.
  • Srimanta Sankardev: He was a saint, scholar, poet, playwright, social reformer, and founder of the Neo-Vaishnavite movement in Assam. He wrote many devotional songs and dramas such as Kirtan Ghosa, Gunamala, Rukmini Haran, Parijat Haran, etc. He also established many monasteries called Satras where his followers practiced his teachings. He is regarded as the greatest cultural icon of Assam.
  • Lachit Borphukan: He was a military general who led the Ahom army to victory against the Mughal army in the Battle of Saraighat in 1671. He is celebrated as a national hero and a symbol of patriotism and courage in Assam. His statue stands on the banks of the Brahmaputra river in Guwahati. He is also honored with the Lachit Borphukan Gold Medal by the Government of India for the best passing out cadet of the National Defence Academy.
  • Bagh Hazarika: He was a freedom fighter who participated in the Quit India Movement in 1942. He was arrested by the British and hanged at Jorhat Jail on 15 August 1942. He was only 18 years old when he sacrificed his life for the country. His last words were “Vande Mataram” (I Salute the Motherland).
  • Kaushal Konwar: He was another freedom fighter who participated in the Quit India Movement in 1942. He was accused of derailing a train carrying British soldiers and arms near Sarupathar in Golaghat district. He was arrested by the British and hanged at Gauhati Jail on 15 June 1943. He was only 32 years old when he became a martyr for the nation.
  • Hema Bharali: She was a social worker and a Gandhian activist who worked for the upliftment of women, children, and rural poor. She also participated in the Indian independence movement and went to jail several times. She was awarded the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2005 for her social service. She died at the age of 101 in 2020.

These are some of the eminent personalities of Assam who have made remarkable contributions to various fields and inspired generations of people with their achievements and ideals. They are the pride and glory of Assam and India.
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