Sunday, November 30, 2014

THE GLORY OF AHOM DYNASTY - HISTORY OF SIBSAGAR OR SIVASAGAR. ASSAM

THE GLORY OF AHOM DYNASTY: PART I, THE SIVA DOL.

Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam

It was some eight hundred years ago, during the spring of 1228, Chao Lung Siu Kha Pha, along with his men descended onto the plains of Assam swept by the mighty Bramhaputra. Siu Kha Pha belonged to Shan / Tai tribe of South West Yunnan province of China and was a prince of his tribe. He was an enterprising man and probably wanted to break away looking for greener pastures and thus he crossed the Patkai hills and landed in Assam at a place presently known as Sibsagar. The local tribes, the Mornas, Borahis & Chutias were quickly disposed off as the un-united & unsuspecting local tribes did not expect an invasion and also did not have the military power of skill set to resist the Chinese invasion. Thus was the beginning of the famed Ahom Dynasty of Assam. They ruled almost uninterrupted for about 600 years over a vast area in upper Assam, which today comprises of Sibsagar, Golaghat & Jorhat districts. They held sway till 1819 when the kingdom fell completely before Burmese aggression and later on by British. From circa 1826 this province was included as part of the British Empire.

The footprints of this great dynasty can be seen near the present Sibsagar town where they had their administrative capital. I was travelling to Sibsagar hence grabbed the opportunity to see the remnants of a great civilization. Sibsagar town is almost equidistance from Jorhat and Dibrugarh. I was putting up at Dibrugarh and made a trip by road from there covering 78 kms passing through the lush green tea estates and small hamlets.

The Chinese first set up their administrative capital at Charaideo, some 28kms off Sibsagar. I could only see the places around Sibsagar town and could not go to Charaideo. It is at Charaideo where one finds the “Maidems” or the traditional burial grounds of the Kings. These are basically burial chambers where Kings and Queens were laid to rest. The bodies were put into wooden coffins and then inside another wooden structure along with furniture, daily utensils and other cosmetic items normally used in day to day life.. This whole thing was later covered in an earthen mound called “Maidems” and these were put inside vaults built underground and then a brick and mortar pyramid like structure were built over the same. This somewhat represents a practise as seen in ancient Egypt.

It is interesting to note that, as the years passed by, the Ahoms melted with the local people, established marital relationships with neighboring kingdoms and gradually embraced Hinduism. They became worshippers of Shiva and Vishnu. However they did not completely let go of their Chinese origin and retained some rituals relating to their past. The Ahom Kings took Hindu names like ‘Rudra Simha’ and ‘Siva Simha’ but they also retained their tribal names. The most noteworthy of the culture of their origin is being their last rites and the burial practise. The Ahoms believed in ‘ancestor worship’ and this is what the Maidems represent.

The architectural monuments of Sibsagar can be divided into two parts, firstly there are religious structures, mostly the temples which are known as “Dol” is Assam and secondly there are secular structures like palaces, amphitheaters, tanks and maidems. Whatever can be seen at present day Sibsagar were built between 1700 AD and 1800 AD. All structures, like palaces and temples before this period are no longer in existence as they were built with primarily of bamboo and wood and could not stand the ravages of time. The years between 1200 AD till early 1500 AD were spent by Ahom kings in establishing their reign firmly in the region and this period was spent mostly in war against the local tribes. The real formative years started with King Suklengmung (1539 – 1552) who had set up a new capital at Gargaon some 13 km off the present Sibsagar city. He had built a fine palace at Gargaon. Unfortunately no traces of this great palace could be found today except descriptions given by travellers at that time. Amongst all, the most prominent being the account given by Shihabuddin Talish who accompanied Mir Jumla while he had invaded this place in 1662. The zenith of Ahom Power and culture was reached during the reign of King Rudra Simha, who had ruled between 1696 & 1714. He had again moved his capital from Gargaon and built a fine city by the name ‘Rangpur’ on the bank of River Dikhow which is the present Sibsagar town. The glory continued during the rule of his successors Pramatta Simha, Rajesvara Simha and Laksmi Simha, till 1780 post which the decline had started. These were the formative years and the art, architecture and the culture of the Ahom dynasty played an important role in moulding of the Assamese culture which is prominent today in the Upper Assam.

As I said The Kings embraced Hinduism and became worshippers of Siva and Vishnu, they built many temples and the most prominent among them are the cluster of three temples namely Sivadol, Devidol and Vishudol at the heart of Sibsagar city. The temples were built on the bank of great Sibsagar lake, from which the city derives it’s name. In fact all the temples of Ahom kings were related to tanks and huge tanks or lakes were dug out adjacent to all the temples. These tanks served the purpose of being source of water and also added to the beauty of the city. So here is a city full of tanks like, Sibsagar, Gaurisagar and Joysagar. This reminded me of Coochbihar and Bishnupur closure home where Kings had dug out similar huge lakes along with building temples.

I have seen these temple clusters, and the Joydol temple beside Joysagar Lake and along with it the “Ranghar” an amphitheater, Kareng Ghar or Talatala Ghar and Gargaon Palace. In Part 1, I will start with the Sivadol group of temples which is the most prominent and right at the heart of the city.

Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam

The Sivadol on the banks of Sibsagar stands 31 meters tall flanked by two smaller temples Devidol and Visnudol. These were built by Queen Ambika, wife of Siva Simha between 1731 and 1734. 

Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam

Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam

These temples are based on an octagonal plinth, with ‘Shikhara’ rising over the ‘Garbhagriha’ which houses the principal deity. Another typical trait is the ‘Mukhamandapa’ attached to the ‘Garbhagriha’. This is a rectangular structure with a vaulted roof akin to a Bengali Charchala style. This is the place where prayers and offerings to the deity were done. Also another structure known as ‘Sabhamandapa’ was used during the time of festivals. This is basically a rectangular plinth in front of the ‘Mukhamandapa’ to accommodate devotees. These now become the part of the main structure and shades are built over this. The walls of the temples were decorated with figures of Gods and Goddess but most of these are in state of ruins.

Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam

Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam

Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam


The temple cluster looks beautiful, standing tall on the banks of  Sibsagar lake and draws huge crowds during festivals like Siva ratri. There is a pathway encircling Sibsagar where locals come to spent their leisure time and take stroll along the lake during early hours and evening.

Sibsagar Lke



Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam

Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam

Shiva Dol Sibsagar Assam

Check out the photos. If you find the story interesting do feel free to share as not many people are aware of the Ahom history and culture. In the next parts I will be talking about the other monuments.


THE GLORY OF AHOM DYNASTY: PART II, THE JOY DOL:

Joysagar Lake is situated just at the outskirts of Sibsagar city and a very nice and serene place. This is also the largest lake amongst all in Sibsagar. The lake provides water sports facilities including, boating, kayaking and speedboats. 
Joydol Lake

On the bank of the lake, set in beautiful landscaped surroundings is the Joydol temple. This was constructed in stone and bricks in the year 1698 by King Rudra Simha and was dedicated to lord Vishnu. The ‘Shikhara’ is about 30.48 metres high and has 12 miniature turrets surrounding the main ‘Shikhara’. However now this temple is void of any deity and I could just walk into the dark and hollow stone ‘Garbhagriha’ with the only light filtering through the narrow doorway. Over me as I looked into the inside of the tall ‘Shikhara’ I could see only darkness which felt almost solid, my voice re-echoed in the dark hollow heightening the sense of an eerie feeling. Around the temple complex there are two smaller temples, Sivadol and Devidol. The most interesting is the “Ghanashyama House” or Nati-Gossain temple. This is a typical Bengali ‘atchala’ style temple, something you get to see in Bishnupur with same type of terracotta plaques decorating the walls depicting gods, floral and geometric patterns. This is a fine example of influence of Bengal in Assam as King Rudra Simha patronized people from Bengal as lot of artisans, architects went to Assam during his period.

Joy Dol Temple Assam

Joy Dol Temple Sibsagar

Joy Dol Temple Sibsagar

In the Part I and II, I have talked about the prominent temples that I have seen. In the next parts III, IV and V, I will be talking about the secular architectures like the palaces and pavilions that I have seen during my trip. 


THE GLORY OF AHOM DYNASTY: PART III, THE RANG GHAR

In part 1 and Part 2 of this series I had talked about the temples of Sibsagar. However the most interesting and beautiful architectures are the palaces which I have seen. In terms of sheer beauty and uniqueness of it’s use, the Rang Ghar mesmerized me.

Rang Ghar Sibsagar Assam

Rang Ghar was built in the year 1746 by King Pramatta Simha. This was basically a pavilion and amphitheatre to enjoy various kinds of sports & indoor games ranging from wrestling to animal fights. As you can see in the photos this is an oval shaped double storied building with a roof shaped like an inverted boat. 

Rang Ghar Sibsagar Assam


Rang Ghar

On the top there is a stone replica of long boat erected on top of this dome shaped roof which added beauty to the structure. There is a long flight of stairs in the front which leads to the 1st floor of the hall. 
Rang Ghar Sibsagar Assam

There is an arched central hall flanked by two smaller chambers front and back with oval fronts which is giving shape to the building..

Rang Ghar Sibsagar Assam

The walls was once decorated with panels depicting scenes of animal fights but very little of it survives today. I could see only a few panels and rest were destroyed and to cover up layers of concrete was put which robbed off the beauty once this building was endowed with. The ground floor also has an octagonal shape with arched entrances.

Rang Ghar Sibsagar Assam

The place is now under ASI maintenance and beautiful landscaping is done around this magnificent structure.


For the details on other very interesting structures Kareng Ghar and Gargaon Palace, please carry on reading the part IV and part V. 

THE GLORY OF AHOM DYNASTY: PART IV: THE KARENG GHAR OR TALATALA GHAR.

Kareng Ghar

Kareng Ghar


Around the historical Rangpur city where the modern Sibsagar town is built, the Kareng Ghar is the the largest architecture surviving the vagaries to time. However I was sad to notice that it is in the state of ruins but I could still make out how magnificent palace it was in it’s days of glory. This was also the citadel of Ahom power. This was built by King Rudra Simha and later renovated and extended by King Rajesvara Simha.

Kareng Ghar


This was originally a seven storied building, with four floors above the ground and three below. Out of which only the first floor exists and I could only go one floor below. Due to the state of ruins this looks like a building of irregular structure with multiple layers of terraces, pathways and stairs. There is a temple which still exists on the first floor. On the floor below where I could bend in through the low archways leading into dim and dark interiors, it seemed that this area was used as storage place and also stables for horses and other animals.
Kareng Ghar

Kareng Ghar

Kareng Ghar

I could walk with my head bent through the narrow archways leading from one hallway to another and often they were interconnected, in other words a complex maze of tunnels and chambers. It is said that this palace had two underground tunnels, one is 1.6 kms long leading to Dikhow river and another 16 km long leading to Gargaon palace. These were probably built as means of escape in case of an enemy attack. I remember seeing the same thing at Murshidabad where underground tunnels were built by the Nawabs. Now obviously none of the tunnels are accessible to general public as I was told that the tunnels were sealed off by ASI. I was shown a dark opening of what seemed to be the mouth of a tunnel inside one of the underground chambers. The light from the LED torch we were carrying failed to cut through the pitch darkness inside and we did not try to venture further.

Kareng Ghar

Kareng Ghar

On the top floor few rooms still stands the wraths of time. These were called the ‘pujaghar’ or worshiping room,‘mantranaghar’ or the royal consulting room and probably a kitchen. The entire building and the surrounding walls was built with thin and flat bricks and I was told that egg shells and rice pastes were used as mortar as use of lime was not known in those days.

Kareng Ghar

Kareng Ghar


Outside on the complex few canons are kept on display which apparently was used in those days.

THE GLORY OF AHOM DYNASTY: PART V, THE GARGAON PALACE:

Gargaon Palace Sibsagar

Gargaon which is about 13 kms east of the main town of Sibsagar is the place where the Ahoms shifted their capital from Charaideo during the reign of King Suklengmung (1539 – 1552 AD). He had built a magnificent royal palace at Gargaon. It is said that this palace was built with wood, stone and bamboo and studded with precious and semi-precious stones. It had beautiful wood work, motifs and decorated with brass and stone. Unfortunately nothing survived the ravages of time excepting a five storied brick mansion which built at a later date. This is also not in it’s original glory now. The description of the original palace can only be had from the writings of Shihabuddin Talish who accompanied Mir Jumla when he had invaded this place on March 17, 1662.

However the present structure standing was built by King Rajesvara Simha in the year 1752 AD along with the Kareng Ghar. The shape of this building looked interesting, something like a Chariot, tapering off on the top giving it a Pyramid like impression. It is a five storeyed building with one floor below the ground. The ground floor has three halls with a front and rear facing chambers. 
Gargaon Palace Sibsagar

Gargaon Palace Sibsagar

All along there are archways to enter the halls and chambers. The top two floors have one central hall surrounded by the corridors with archways. The staircase is on the right side of the building where one could climb up the floors.


Gargaon Palace Sibsagar

Gargaon Palace Sibsagar


I went to the top. The last floor looked like a miniature Mayan pyramid with a small flight of stairs in the centre taking me to the very small open roof of less than one square meter. It is believed that there was a beautiful dome which doesn’t exist today. From the open top, standing on the small roof where two persons can barely stand together,

Gargaon Palace Sibsagar

Gargaon Palace Sibsagar

Gargaon Palace Sibsagar

I had a 360 degree view of the surrounding landscape and it was beautiful and green all the way. On the floor below there are remnants of what seemed to be sentry boxes.

This palace was also ravaged by earthquake and lost much of it’s original glory but still what still remains is beautiful and I could not help but admire the aesthetic sense of the people who had built this great place. It is said that the principal architect of the Ahoms was a muslim gentleman in the name of Ghanasyama from Bengal who had built the Rangpur city. Like all great Kingdoms the Ahoms also built some magnificent architecture which are the testimony of their might and power. The Assamese culture that we see today has it’s root embedded in the Ahom dynasty from where it had constantly flourished to it’s present state.

HOW TO REACH:
Sibsagar town is well connected from Guwahati, Jorhat & Dibrugarh. Both Dibrugarh and Jorhat has airports and flights operate from Kolkata. By road the distance from Guwahati is 360 KMs, from Jorhat 57 KMs and from Dibrugarh 84KMs. The road condition, though single lane, is good and lot of ASTC as well as private buses ply between these cities. You can also get the Tempo Travellers and Tata which runs between these cities. Private cars are also available on hire. At Sibsagar you can hire an auto to show you around.

WHRE TO STAY: 
Sibsagar has decent hotels. You can choose to stay at Sibsagar or you can also stay at Jorhat or Dibrugarh which has comfortable hotels. You can then hire a car and cover Sibsagar in a day trip.

WHAT TO EAT:
If you have a penchant for Assamese cuisine this part of Assam offers plenty of that. There is lot of similarity of Assamese cuisine and style of cooking with that of Bengali. Both have amazing variety of fishes on the menu and you will find similar preparations like ‘Sorse Bata’ & “Paturi” which tickles the Bengali tastebuds. The Aar & Chital fish are loved by the Assamese. You can have rice (Try the Zoha rice which is aromatic), dal and Aloo Pitika which is basically ‘alu chokha’ or ‘aloobhate’ in Bengali. At Sibsagar you will get lot of freshwater fish coming from it’s lakes.  Pork lovers will have reason to celebrate as pork dishes constitute of a large portion of Assamese cuisine. You can definitely try having lunch at the lakeside restaurant overlooking the beautiful Joysagar Lake. The restaurant is tastefully decorated and has large glass windows so that you can have an uninterrupted view of the lake as you savour your food.

Do share in case you liked what you read and enjoyed the photos.


6 comments:

  1. This masterpiece would fill the void of Assamese history, which is so little known in public & hardly taught in school. I idled away long boring car drives by mentally trying to anthropologically study & analyse the local population, who passed by. Later, my interest was aroused, when I was the guest of a Tea Garden Asst manager, nearly my age, both husband & wife, both looking pure Ahom & speaking in Upper Assam accent.
    They & other tea garden managers had taken me in & around Shibsagar, described me the history & geography, but I wished I had time & opportunity to loaf around, preferably with a camera & recording device.
    This blog will be eternally useful for research scholars. So, may I suggest,
    1. add a bibliography for the benefit of future research scholars.
    2. add search words like India, Northeast India, names of all the temples shown above - all in English, Bengali & Assamese

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  2. Are any of these monuments being put to any kind of use in present day?

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  3. Wonderful commentary on the beautiful history of assam and the Ahom Kingdoms, Specially the structures in around Sibasagar have been beautifully captured. Kudos Sagar Da!

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  4. Dear Sagar Sen, I am an editor at Ratna Sagar P. Ltd, a major schooltextbook publishing house based in Delhi. We liked your post and are keen to include it (as an excerpt) in one of our books for Grade 8. We will give all due credits. We could not get your contact details, hence writing in the comments box. Would appreciate a lot if you could respond. Best wishes, Aditi Ray, 011-47038000 Ext 180 / aditi.ray@ratnasagar.com / rayaditi6@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete