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ASSAMESE PEOPLE : ORIGIN AND DEVELOPMENT

ByArup Saikia

Jul 30, 2023 #Assam

The creation of a nation is equally related to all the material,intellectual,cultural life of that nation.The development of culture and civilization are often dependent on each other.Assamese community is also not exception to this.Many factors contribute to grow people as one community.

LANGUAGE:

Language and literature reflect thoughts, imagination, ethnic feelings of people.Long two thousand years have been spanning to appear Assamese as full fledged language.But acquisition of words much older than that.It is nearly four thousand years duration since the immigration of Austroloid people.They are aboriginals of southeast Asia. But modern Assamese language originated in Indo-Arayan dialect.It is evolved from Magadhi Prakrit , many linguists term it as Kamrupi dialect.The foundation of Indo-Aryan language formed before 5th century itself in some elite localities of kamrupa empire.Austro-Asiatic people were abundant in both sides of Brahmaputra valley with newly arrived of some Tibeto-Burman immrigants.The Kamrupi dialect prevailed in western Assam spreaded later all over Assam and characterised as language of Assam – eventually Assamese.This claim of Assamese scholars authenticated from writings of Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang in early seventh century.Old Kamrupi or origin dialect of Assamese language is found in king Vaskar Varman’s inscriptions.But difference of Indo-Aryan languages are clear.All other sister languages of Bengal,Oriya, Maithili have similarity.But Assamese has testimony of borrowing or adding many Austro-Asiatic or Tibeto-Burman words in language.

Before emergence of Assamese community,in sixteenth or seventeenth century,Assam was under rule of different royal administration. Two prominent powers were available in both end of Assam,Ahom in the east and Koch in the west.But Assam was not bipolar at all.Many small Kingdoms existed like Chutiyas at the eastern end -Sadiya,Land owners Bhuyans in both sides of Brahmaputra, Kacharis in central and southern Assam remarkably ruled.Moreover Muslim aggressors or occupants inhabited in many parts of Assam including crucial Kamrupa.Under these kingdoms many sub-communities also lived.Besides own local dialects,their central communicating language was one without any distinctive name.People couldn’t sense then the linguistic nationalism or unity.All these things happened spontaneously until the name of Assam or Assamese born out.

ANCIENT ASSAMESE PEOPLE:

Blood and cultural mixture shape the biological and mental nature of a community.History only can touch from the reign of Varman dynasty.The main ethnic groups migrated to ancient kamrupa were mainly -Alpine, Mongolian and caucasian.Another community namely veddid,likely to be caucasian, came very lesser extent.It is worth mentioning the influence of monarchy for uniting the said ethnic groups .During the reign of Varman dynasty, the Brahmaputra valley began to become more liberal and tolerant than elsewhere in India .Generally in Hinduism ,caste division determine the social position among occupational communities developed among general population.All the professional communities considered to be Sudra.

Nevertheless ,as a result of Mongolian influence, occupational communities were not identified as separate caste or community like in north Indian Aryan belts . Therefore there is no strict communal or professional distinction among people except few classes like sweeper, fishermen etc.The demographic pattern of Brahmaputra valley itself signify the generosity and tolerance.So it is evident that not only during pre-vedic or vedic period settlers in Brahmaputra valley from North India were Hindus.But also various tribes of Mongolian ethnic communities embraced Arayanized language, religion and culture.This is the reason behind for lack of ethnological uniformity among Assamese Hindus.Rather ethnological diversity were conspicuous.This is due to mixed blood of Alpine, Mongolian, caucasian and veddid people.

MONGOLIAN PEOPLE:

Majority of Assam people belong to this group.The various vast Mongolian group known as KIRAT.The arrival of KACHARIS were the first of this group .From eighteen century onwards,Baro, term used to describe the identity of these people.The Kacharis or Boros embraced Hinduism and socially, culturally Arayanized during the reign of Varman dynasty.Historian Edward gate conceptualized some dynasties including Salastambha as converted Arayan, originally of ethnic kirata.Later some scholars broadly described them as Indo-Mongolian.The Boro language derived from Tibeto-Burman genre of Chinese origin.The languages of Tiwa, Dimasa, Rabha, Hajong, Deuri, Garo. Koch, Karbi, Chutiya, Moran etc.descended from greater Boro or Kirata root with the same ethnological background.

Anthropological, linguistic and cultural evidence has taken the opportunity to conclude that the blood level of the Kacharis is significantly higher among the Assamese population.We have to study about the communities during their stay in Mongolian fold for adequate knowledge of Assamese sub-communities.May be after twelve century onwards whenever process of assimilation started with Indo-Arayan people, their original distinction, lifestyle, language are lost gradually.Among many ethnic groups in upper Assam, only Deoris have been speaking or preserving their language in limited periphery.Like that in middle Assam the Tiwa or Lalung people communicate in their language among themselves only.Tiwas are now recognised as mainstream Assamese community.The communities in lower Assam like Bodo,Rabha,Garo,Koch couldn’t sustain separate national identity other than Assamese .Only language of Bodo people are dominant as comparatively large community in terms of population.

VEDDID : Other three communities of Veddid origin -Hira,Bania,Koibarta are Arayanized but accorded lower social status.

NATH:

Among the old inhabitants of Kamrupa , the Nath community is also included.They are Arayanized Shaiva, followers of Gorakshnath.The Pala and Salastambha kings are Shaiva,but have not related to the Naths.The main occupation of the Naths was to raise larvae of moths and make yarn from them.Therefore known as ,Katini Yogi.They are more likely to be product of mixed blood of pure Arayan and Arayanized ethnic groups.This is one of the reason for not getting equal social status with that of Arayan.

 

The communities emerged from union of Arayan and Arayanized ethnic tribes were intellectually and culturally established as Assamese before twelfth century itself.However Assamese is a modern word not used then.But these ethnic groups have contributed to the formation of collective identity of the people we call now as Assamese.

KALITA /BRAHMIN:

Vedic and pre-vedic language and culture formed the basis of primary linguistic and cultural identity of the Assamese people.Among holders of this language and culture,the contribution of the Kalitas of the Alpine group and the vedic Arayan speaking Brahmins is undeniable.The kalitas are the first community to play an important role in the history of Assamese people.According to the Kalita’s history of Banikanta Kakoty, they are believed to have migrated from original settlement in the north of Videha or Mithila.It is said, once they were associated with Buddhism also.There is no conclusive definition how the name of Kalita is derived.Their rank is at par with the Brahmins in Arayan social hierarchy.

DAIVAJNA:

They are another branch of Brahmins of basically fortune teller instead of performing religious occasions.Location wise their status is different.Vedic Brahmins have not accorded them equal status across the state.Although they were worshipper of planets, not Shakta, interested in astrology.

Towards the end of pala dynasty, Kamrupa became weak politically, and many small Kingdoms appeard prominently.After twelve century the Brahmaputra valley was politically disintegrated and ruled by Kachari, Koch, Ahom,Chutiya,Bhuyans,Gova kings etc.During this period two important comminuties migrated to Brahmaputra valley added a new dimension to the history of Assamese people.One is religious Muslim and another one is Ahom-(major branch of Mongol).

ISLAM:

The first introduction of Assamese people with Islam through the war in1205AD.This year Bakhtiyar Khiliji, sultan of Bengal, invaded kamrupa.Sultan lost the war and returned inflicted by heavy casualties.But in third invasion Kamrupa king died and kingdom’s reign passed to Muslim aggressor. Historian also indicated that the Sultan took some tribal people with him to help him in the invasion, later they converted to Islam.Although the number is very small,but it has historical significance as may be first convert.After subsequent invasion and conflicts,many muslim troops flowed into Brahmaputra valley and married to local women becoming permanent resident.Many socially inferior classes of Assamese Hindus also converted to Islam and contributed to the growth of Muslim .Therefore many Assamese Muslims are by birth Assamese in terms of language and culture.

SIKH PEOPLE:

Founder of Sikhism,Guru Nanak visited Assam on his way from Dhaka in 1505AD.He also met Saint Sankerdev.Guru Teg Bahadur first established Gurudwara at Dhubri on seventeenth century.

Residing mostly in Nagaon district,Sikhs came to Assam as soldiers to fight then Burmese intruders.Sent by king Ranjit Singh,500 odd Sikh Platoon under command of Chaitanya Singh entered and settled in 1820.Now they are integral part of Assamese society as Assamese Sikh.

MISHING:

MIshing is one of the largest Indo-Mongolian ethnic tribe of Assam after Bodo.They are originally hill dwellers like Adi tribe of Arunachal Pradesh.They generally live along the river Brahmaputra in upper Assam.

Their bamboo made house architecture is unique.Traditionally floor of the houses are raised with bamboo pillars.The floor ,door,lintel, staircase are made of bamboo and roofing with palm leaves .Originally performed animistic rituals,but now change with tme gradually merging in Vaishnavite Hinduism.Unlike many Bodo-kachari or Indo-Mongolian tribes,they preserve their own language notwithstanding identified as Assamese.

AHOM:

Broadly there is two prominent parts of Assam history.The first influential period of Assam history was Varman dynasty expanded its legacy until the end of pala dynasty.The second period started with reign of Ahom dynasty(1228) until modern period with arrival of British(1826).Ahom is the longest serving monarchy in history.The position of Koch, Kachari, chutiya kings and other chieftains like Tiwa, Bhuyan,Matak,etc were like that of kings of Mlech and Pala dynasties in Varman kingdoms.

The big dynasties including Koch, kachari and Chutiya could not extend their territories to entire Brahmaputra valley.However Ahom Kingdom established only in thirteenth century occupied entire Brahmaputra valley in the end of seventeenth century.

Chutiya Kingdom ended earlier.Koch kingdom became weak after death of monarch Naranarayan in1584 and divided into two parts as Koch Behar and Koch Hajo.Kachari Kingdom virtually became inconsequential for fall of Dimapur in 1539 and after 22years of interregnum capital moved to Maibong in 1558.The Ahom persuaded some kingdoms for alliance and conquered many where rulers of their choice appointed.This way Ahom’s territory extended upto the Ganges.

Virtually the history of Ahom became history of Assam.

The language and people were known as Assamese or Assam from the Ahom’s period.However sense of Assamese name or nationalism born with advent of Birtish.Previously name of country or region were in the name of community like Ahom,Koch Kingdom etc.

LIGHT OF VAISHNAVISM:

Undoubtedly the second golden age of Assam history can be considered to be the period of Vaishanava movement initiated by Shankerdev after Varman period.The Vaishanava ideals and teaching directly or indirectly influenced the people.As a result a larger sect was created preaching equality and fraternity.So much so their effect, Assam’s socio-cultural history can be divided into two parts -pre-Sankara and post-Sankara.

ASSAMESE: COMMUNITY OF MOTION

History of a living race or civilization never ends.Assamese also has been enriching itself with new elements with passing of every period.From ancient to post modern, influxes of new ethnic, linguistic, social groups continuing assimilation with Assamese people.Adoption and cordiality towards new flow is strong formative foundation of Assamese people for eternal period.

(Photo: Twitter)

By Arup Saikia

Arup Saikia is an alumni of Delhi University. He is noted cultural activist, actor, scriptwriter and poet. +91-9954050690,arupsaikia07@gmail.com)

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