A Short Account of the Ahom People. พิมพ์ อีเมล
เขียนโดย Eric T.D. Lambert   

LAMBERT,E.T.D.  A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE . JSS. VOL.40 (pt. 1) 1952. p.39-65

 

 

                 A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE

                                                        By

                                         Eric T.D. Lambert

 

History

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.

"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
Chao Emperor.

"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
Emperor.  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.

''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
Shams. 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.  The    Kingdom
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 strength
giving 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  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.

__________________

*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. Daily  life
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
days, Ava.

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
the  route. 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
inhabitants. 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.

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.

 

_______________

 

              *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. 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.  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
Sham. 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. By  1253
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.  At  the
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.

Chao  Ka  Pha,  the  first  Ahom  King, died  in  1268. He  was,
according  to  the  historian   Gait., 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

Sukhodaya Kingdom

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

    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.

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. 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
history  occurred. 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.

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.

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.  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.

 

 

 

 

 

                  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. 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.  Kataki     (inter-
preters)  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
established.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

         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.
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. 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
Ahom King.

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
imperial harem.

"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
quarterly instalments.

 

 

 

 

 

                      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
Emperor :-

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 ;

Beltali ;

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. ''

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  records 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
rupees.

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. But  at
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
1696 A.D.

 

 

 

 

 

                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-
Vishnu religion.

 

 

 

 

 

                 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
descendants.

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
dependencies."

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
Assam Valley.

 

Government.

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
Kingdom.

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
or submission.

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
each.

 

 

 

 

 

    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
king's  household. 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
country.

The Administration.

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

 

 

 

 

 

                A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE                       57

 

Khrung   Pha   it   had been necessary for the king before entering the
Siringhar  to  kill  a  man  with  his  ancestral  sword  but that Monarch
ordered  the  substitution  of a buffalo and the example  was  followed
by  his  successors. New  money   was   coined,  and  gratuities  were
given  to  the  principal  officers  of  state  and to religious mendicants.
On  the  seventh  day  of  the ceremonies Chumdeo (or Somdeo), the
titular  deity,  was  worshipped  in  a  magnificent  manner  and  at  the
end  of  the  religious  rites  the  King, in the presence of the deity, had
to  make  a  solemn  promise  to  rule  according  to  the advice of  the
dangaria  (the elders).  In  theory  a  king   not   duly   consecrated  did
not   possess  full  sovereignty. He  could  not  strike  coins, sit  on  the
throne  or  hold   the   sceptre   and   the   white  umbrella.  In   practice,
however, the King exercised most  of  his  powers  before  coronation
as  in  some  reigns  owing to foreign wars  or  scarcity  the ceremony
could not be held at all.

The  Ahom  administration  was  based  on  personal   service
in  lieu  of  taxation. It  was  the  people,  not  the  lands, that  were  the
property of the state.

All   the  free adult  males  from  15  to  50   were   called   paik.
Four  paik  made  one  got  (except during the 18th Century when  the

number   had   to   be  reduce  to  three), five  gots  of   20  men  were
commanded  by  a  bora, a  saikia  was in command of five bora and
ten  saikia  controlled  by  a  hazakika  (1,000  men),   three hazakika,
by   a   rajkhowa  and  two  rajkhowa  by  a  phukan. The  bar phukan
and the bar barua. were the commanders-in-chief and were in charge

of  approximately  12,000 men  each,  i.e. each man commanding the
forces of two phukan.

A  number  of  got  were  again  combined into khel according
to  the  calling  of  the  paik,  such   as   the  function  of   looking  after
elephants, making   and   manning  boats, building  houses, repairing
temples, making arrows or spears, etc.

The  paik   nominated  their  own  bora,  and  saikia who were
appointed  by  the  phukan  and  rajkhowa. The    phukan,   rajkhowa
and  hazakika  were  appointed  by  the  King  on  the  advice  of  his
ministers, the gohain.

 

 

 

 

 

58                                        Eric T.D. Lambert

 

The  paik  could  claim  the dismissal of bora, saikia and even
their own hazakika whereby they were saved from oppression  which
might  otherwise  have  been  their  lot.  Justice  was meted out all the
way   along   the   chain  of  command  though there was an appeal to
the sovereign dealt with by an officer named the nyay sodha phukan.

As   remuneration   for   his   service   to   the  state  amounting   to   a

third  of  the year each paik received 2⅔g acres (2 pura) of  rice  land
called  ga  mati  (body  land)  free  of  charge.  When  each  paik  was
on  service  the  cultivation  would  be  carried  out  by   the  remaining
three  members  of  his  got.  This  land  was the property of  the  state
and    was    theoretically   neither  hereditary  nor  transferable.  There
was  however  nothing  to  prevent  a  paik  from  owning  other  cultiva-
table  land  or  a  homestead  garden. Should he do so he paid  Re 1/-
annually  as a house, poll  or hearth  tax  for his homestead and  Re 1/-
per annum for every other pura of land held.

Slaves,  however,  were  not  taxed  but  when  the  first   British
administrator  made  an  enquiry  into  the  title  by which  slaves  were
held  he  discovered  that  many paik were content to be called slaves
and  concealed  amongst  them  in  order  to  avoid  taxation. After his
enquiry more than 12,000 persons were reinstated as paik !

It   was   this  supply   of  disciplined   labour  that  enabled  the
kings  to  construct  the  great  public  works  which even to this day of
machines  are a  wonder  of  the age. The system was not particularly
popular  but  it  worked  and  above  all  taxed  the  people on  the one
commodity they had to spare—labour.

Artisans   were  taxed  at  a  higher  annual  rate  than  the  culti-
vators,  sums  varying  from  Re l/-to  Re 5/-per  person.  Since  writing
the above  I  have  been re-reading Wood's "History of Siam" and it is
worth  quoting  exactly  what  he  says  on  pages 37 to 39 where it will
be  found  that  except  for  the  corvèe  labour  little  change seems to
have  taken  place  in  the  Thai  system   of   administration   between
leaving China and arriving in India.

"It   is  clear  from   the   annals   of    the  Tang dynasty that  the
Tai  Kingdom  of  Nanchao  was  a highlyorganised state. There were

 

 

 

 

 

                A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE                       59

 

ministers  of  state,  censors or judges, treasurers, ministers of  com-
merce,  etc.,  each   department being called shwang. Minor officials
managed    the   granaries,  royal    stables, taxes    etc. The  military
organisation  was  similar  to  that  of  modern Siam. It was arranged
by tens,  centurions,  chiliarchs,  deka-chiliarchs,  and so on.  Military
service then,  as now,  was  compulsory for all able-bodied men, lots
being  drawn  for  each  levy. Each   soldier   was   supplied   with   a
leather  coat  and a  pair of  trousers; they wore helmets and carried
shields of rhinoceros hide.

"Land  was  apportioned  to  each  family  according  to  rank,
a  system  which  survives in Siam to the present day, in the nominal
sakdi na grade conferred upon officials.

"There  were  six  metropolitan  departments  and  six  provin-
cial Viceroys in Nanchao.

"The people were acquainted with the art  of  weaving  cotton
and   rearing   silkworms. West  of  Yang-chang  a  type  of  mulberry-
tree grew, the wood of which was used for making  bowls; and  gold
was  found  in  many  parts, both  in  the  sands  of  the  rivers and in
the mountains.

"When   the Tai  King  appeared  in   public  eight  white-scal-
loped standards of greyish purple were carried before him, also two
feather   fans, a   hair  plume, an  axe, and  a  parasol of kingfisher's
feathers. The  standards  of  the  queen-mother were scalloped with
brown instead of white.

"The chief dignitaries wore a tiger skin.

"Each  man  paid  a  tax of  two measures of rice a year, and
there was no corvèe labour. Some may say  that  in the last  respect
the ancient Tai set a good example to  their  Siamese  descendants.

"Had   the Nanchao Tai   a   written character, or did they use
Chinese   ideographs?   We   do   not   know.  In   the  opinion of  the
author, it  is  very   improbable  that   any  system  of   writing   at   all
resembling   those  now  in  use  (all  of  which  are  of  Indian  origin)
was  adopted   before   the   eleventh   century.  It   is  likely   that  the
Nanchao Tai used Chinese characters.

 

 

 

 

 

60                                                      Eric T.D. Lambert

 

"As  to  the  religion  of  the  ancient  Tai, we   likewise  have
no  definite   information. We  know  that  Buddhism, the  religion  of
almost  all  the  modern  Tai,  was  introduced  into  China, from  the
south, during  the  first  century  of  the Christian  era. It  is,  therefore,
probable  that  the  Buddhist  religion  was  quite  familiar  to the Tai
inhabitants  of  Nanchao for several  centuries  before many of them

migrated   south.  The   Buddhism  of  China  is,  however,  the  later
form  of   the  religion, known  as  the  Mahayana  or  Great  Vehicle,
whereas  all  the  Tai  since  the  dawn  of their modern history in the
twelfth  century  have  been   followers   of   the  Hinayana  or  Small
Vehicle,  which  claims,  with  some  justice, to  be  the  true  religion
taught by the Buddha himself.

"It    is    fairly   certain,  therefore,  that    the  Tai,  as  a   race,
became  Buddhists  after  they  had  emigrated  to  the  south. There
may have been some Buddhists among the old Nanchao Tai, but as
a   nation   they   were   almost   certainly  animists,  worshipping  the
beneficent  spirits  of  the  hills, forests, and  waters, and propitiating
numerous  demons  with  sacrifices  and  offerings. This simple faith
survives  in  Siam  to  the  present  day, and in  the north is still more
truly the religion of the country people than is Buddhism."

No   close   administration  of  the   surrounding  hill  tribes  of
Assam was ever  achieved  for  any length of time but many of  them
paid annual tribute in   kind. When  the  tribute  was  not  forthcoming
or  the  tribesmen  raided  the plains, the pass by which they entered
was blockaded and only reopened on submission or the payment of
a    fine.  As    already   stated   relations  with  the   hill   tribes   were
conducted through kataki.

 

The Administration of Justice.

The  chief  judicial  authorities  were the three gohain and the
bar   barua   and   bar   phukan. An  appeal  lay  to  them  from  their
subordinates  and  a  second  appeal  could  be  made  to  the   king.

Tributary   chiefs   and   the   phukan  administered justice  in
their   own   districts  but  an  appeal  from  their orders lay to the bar

 

 

 

 

 

                 A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE                          61

 

phukan  and  the  king.  It is suggested  that  one of the main defects
of  the  Ahom  system  was the countering of the judicial system with
the executive.

The  administration  of  justice  up  to  the time of the  Moama-
ria  
rebellion  was  speedy, efficient and impartial. Courts were open

but  no  pleaders  were  employed.  The   parties  themselves  would
appear or be represented by a relative.

Assessors were consulted and in civil cases written evidence
was  recorded. The  judge  decided  according  to  the custom of the
country  and  his  common sense (a system retained by the British in
the hill districts) but  a  capital  sentence  if  imposed  had  to be con-
firmed  by  the  King  though  it  is recorded  that  the  bar barua exer-
cised   this   power.  He  could  not,  however,  order  an execution in
which  the  blood  of  the  victim might be spilled.  Nevertheless other
punishments inflicted were barbarous in the extreme.

After   the   Moamaria   rebellion,  justice  like everything else
deteriorated  and  it was described as characterised by great harsh-
ness and on the lines of "tooth for a tooth".
Public Works Administration.

As   already   described   this  depended  upon the  extremely
well   organised   paik  system. One has  only  to  travel  around    the
country to see the effects of the system and to realise how keen   the
rulers must have been on public works - and what hard  taskmasters
they must have been. Roads, embankments, bridges, temples, royal
palaces  and  enormous tanks abound. Many  of  them  like  those in
Ayuthia  have  fallen  into  decay  but  some of them are still found  to
be  of  considerable  use  whilst  others  are  a  pitiful  reminder  of  a
once  great  nation  now  fallen  into  decay. To approach by road the
old Ahom capital of Rangpur is to approach the old Siamese capital
of   Ayuthia. The   similarity   is  weird  and   most  striking. The same
embanked   road,  the  same  overgrown  tanks, the  same  red  tiled
dilapidated   walls  and  temples. In  Rangpur  however  many  of  the
tanks have again been cleared and some attempt made to rehabilitate
the  temples  and  palaces  by  the  Government  under  the  National
Monuments act.

 

 

 

 

 

62                                                           Eric T.D. Lambert

 

The    country    being    low   and    subject   to   flood,   irrigation
embankments  and  canals  had  to  be  dug  and  to facilitate trade and
military   action  great  roads  had  to   be  constructed  a   considerable
height above the flood waters.

Bridges  were  constructed  of  stone  and. brick  and  the  follow-
ing   description   of   the  bridge  over  the  river  Namphuk is illustrative
of   the   great   size   of   some   of   the   undertakings:* 16,000  stones,
303,000  bricks, matimah  (phaseolus radiatus) 64 dhols, Sum (hemp)
64 dhols, 36 dangs fish, 1,360 dhols stone lime, 1,218 dhols shell lime,
1,229  pitchers  lime  water, 556 pots molasses, 68 seers resin, and an
unspecified   quantity   of   oil.  The   cement   used   in   the construction
of    these  old  bridges  cannot  be  equalled  today  and  it  is  probable
that   an   analysis   might   prove  that  the  cement  in  Ayuthia  is  much
the same.

Roads   probably    run    into   some   thousands   of  miles. The
Dhodar   Ali, 115   miles  in  length, is  completely  bridged and  is said
to   have   been   built   by   "the   slothful   people."  Another   long  road
was ordered to be built by " incompetent priests ".

The  tanks,  though,  are   probably   the  greatest   of  the Ahom
works.  The   two   largest,  the   Jai   and   Gauri    Sagar,  have  areas

under   water   of   155   and 150  acres  respectively  whilst  their  total
areas   including   banks   and   ditches are 318 and 293 acres. These
are   in   the   neighbourhood  of  the  old   capital  of  Rangpur. To walk
round  one  of  these   tanks  is  a  perambulation of just over two miles.

Armed Strength.

The  Ahom  seem  to  have  had   well   organised   armies   and   their
navy  was  well  able  to  rival  the  Moghuls.  Some   warships   carried
as  many  as  80  men.  In  one  attack  made  on  the  Moghuls  on  the
Brahmaputra  in  the  1660's the Ahom used between seven and eight
hundred   ships   losing   in   the  engagement   three  to  four   hundred
manned   with   cannon  on  either  side. The  ships were described by
a   Moghul   historian  as  extremely well constructed of chambal wood
but slower than the war vessels of Bengal.

 

_________________________

 

* Tradition  has  it  that  large  blocks   of   stone   collected   on   either
side of the Brahmaputra river were collected by a bar phukan with the
intention of bridging it.

 

 

 

 

 

                  A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE                     63

 

The  Army  in   the  17th  Century at  the height  of  its  strength
possessed considerable well cast artillery and matchlocks in addition
to spears, bows and arrows. The  Muslims  claimed  during  the 1662
expedition to have captured  675  cannon  and  6,570  matchlocks  in
addition  to  one  iron  cannon that fired  a  ball  weighing  more   then
200 lbs. Gunpowder was locally made but some was  imported  from
India. Uniforms  were  woven  from  cotton and by custom   the  whole
process  from  ginning  to  weaving  had  to be  carried  out  between
midnight and sunrise.

Considerable use was made of elephants and for defences it
was  usual  to  raise  wide  earthen  embankments, often topped with
wooden   palisade   type   forts. In  front  of  these  embankments  the
Ahom   would   dig   ditches   which   they   filled  with  panji,  pointed
bamboo stakes, which were extremely difficult to cross.

Their fighting men have always been described as brave  and
in  fact  the  Moghuls referred to a few of them as capable of  holding
up  thousands  of  the  enemy. They   dashed  into  battle   screaming
like  jackals and  were  particularly  given  to  night  attacks  (Tuesday
of   the  week   was  considered   the  most  propitious  day  for  such
attacks).

Their  commissariat   appears  also  to have worked well  and
granaries  seem  always  to  have been well-stocked and well placed
for assistance to the troops.

One  or  two  notable  tricks adopted by the resourceful Ahom
in  war  are  worth  recording. In  one case they dug out a long portion

of an embanked  road  during  the  monsoon, so long that it could not
be bridged. On  another they chose strategic places along the banks
of rivers and carved  off  the  sides  so steeply that neither horses nor
elephants could clamber up the bank on the opposite side.

There  are   no  records  of   the  use  of  cavalry   though  their
allies  the  Manipuri  came  to  their assistance on occasion with this
arm.

Generalship  appears  on  the  whole  to have been good and
fighting  well   co-ordinated. Well  it  might  be, for  failure  was  some-

 

 

 

 

 

64                                           Eric T.D. Lambert

 

times  punished  not  only  with  the  death  of  the general but on one
occasion with the slaughter of his whole family.

Various estimates have been provided of armies put into the
field  from time to time  and  it is difficult to gauge the greatest  force
the  Ahom  ever  raised  but  it  seems  possible  that during the  Mir
Jumla  invasion  they  may  have  had  an  army 50,000 strong and a
navy consisting of several thousands, though  the  standing  army  of
caodang or palace troops was never more than 6,000.

Acknowledgements

This  account  of  the  Thai  Ahom people was written   purely
for  a  talk  to  the members of the Siam Society and was  not  in   its
original  form  intended  for  publication;  it  has  not  therefore   been
fully   annotated.   It   contains   nothing   which has not  already  been
published. Sources are keyed to the text by numbers and are
listed below.

  1. "The     Background    of    Assamese    Culture",     R.M.      Nath,
    B.E.; published A.K. Nath, Shillong, Assam ; printed by S.C. Das
    at the Ananda Printing and Publishing House.

  2. "Selection   of   Papers   regarding    the   Hill     Tracts        between
    Assam and Burmah and on the Upper Brahmaputra", Bengal Secre -

     tarial Press, 1973 ; Mr. G.T. Bayfield's narrative.

  3. Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, 1837.

                                            4.  "An      Account     of     Assam",     Benudhar      Sharma;      1927;
                                      publishing Dr. Wade's "Account of Assam" of 1800.

    5.  "A History of Assam", E.A. Gait, I.C.S.; published by

the Office of the Superintendent of Government Printing,  Calcutta,
1906.

    6.  Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Bengal, Part

           I, 1872; H. Blochmann, M.A., "Koch Bihar, Koch Hajo and Assam

 

 

 

 

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               A SHORT ACCOUNT OF THE AHOM PEOPLE                       65

 

In    the  16th   and  17th   centuries   according   to  Akbarnamah, the
Padishahnamah and the Fathiyah I 'Ibriyah".

(7) "Assam    Under   the    Ahoms", U.N. Gohain, B.A., Jorhat,
Assam, 1942.

(8) "Northeast   Frontier  of   Bengal”,   Alexander   MacKenzie;
Calcutta Home Department Press 1884.

In   addition  to  the  sources  listed  above, use  was  made  of
various  journals  of  the  Assam  Research  Society. Despite the  fact
that  much  research  has  been  done  since the writing of Gait's  "His-
tory of Assam", it   remains  the  standard  work and contains  one  of
the best accounts of the Ahom people.

 

Bangkok 1951

 

 

 

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