assam bengal country british assamese
HISTORY. - Assam was the province of Bengal which remained most stubbornly outside the limits of the Mughal empire and of the Muhammadan polity in India. Indeed, although frequently overrun by Musalman armies, and its western districts annexed to the Bluhammadan vice-royalty of Bengal, the province maintained an uncertain independence till its invasion by the Burmese towards the end of the last century, and its final cession to the British in 1826. A full account of its ancient kings will be found in Mr -William Robinson's ASSa777., chap. iv. (Calcutta, 1841). It seems to have been originally included, along with the greater part of north-eastern Bengal, in the old Hindu territory of liamrup. Its early legends point to great religious revolutions between the rival rites of Krishna and Siva as a source of dynastic changes. Its roll of kings extends deep into pre-historie times, but the first Raja capable of identification flourished about the year 76 A.D. Kimarup, the Pragjotishpur of the ancient Ilindus, was the capital of a legendary king Narak, whose son Bliag,adattri distinguished himself in the great war of the Mahabliarata. On the rise of the Koch power, the kings of Kuch Behar wrested a portion of Assam from the kings of the Pal dynasty to whom it belonged. In the early part of the 13th century the Ahams or Ahoms, from northern Burmah and the Chinese frontiers, poured into the eastern districts of Assam, founded a kingdom, and held it firmly for several centuries. A tradition relates that this race of conquerors were originally let down from heaven by iron chains, and alighted in a place called Mungbingram, supposed to be in the ratkai range, in 567 A.D. Their manners, customs, religion, and language were, and for a long time continued to be, different from those of the Hindus ; • but they found themselves compelled. to respect the superior civilisation of this race, and slowly adopted its customs and language. The conversion of their king Chuchengplia to Hinduism took place about the year 1611 A. D. and the whole Ahams of Assam gradually followed his example. In mediaeval history, the Assamese were known to the Musalman population as a warlike, predatory race, who sailed down the Brahmaputra in fleets of innumerable canoes, plundered the rich districts of the delta, and retired in safety to their forests and swamps. As the Muhammadan power consolidated itself in Bengal, repeated expeditions were sent out against these river pirates of the north-east. The physical difficulties which an invading force had to contend with in Assam, however, prevented anything like a regular subjugation of the country ; and after repeated efforts, the Musalmans contented themselves with occupying the western districts at the mouth of the Assam valley. The following details will sullice for the history cf a struggle in which no great political object was attained, and which left the Assamese still the same wild and piratical people as when their fleets of canoes first sallied forth against the Bengal delta. In 1638, during the reign of the Emperor Shah Jahan, the Assamese descended the Brahmaputra, and pillaged the country round the city of Dacca ; they were expelled by the governor of Bengal, who retaliated upon the plunderers by ravaging Assam. During the civil wars between the sons of aid). Jahan, the king of Assam renewed his predatory incursions into Bengal ; upon the termination of the contest, Aurangzeb determined to avenge these repeated insults, and despatched a considerable force for the regular invasion the Assamese territory. His general, Mir Jumla, defeated the Raja, who fled to the mountains, and most of the chiefs made their submission to the conqueror. But the rains set in with unusual violence, and Mir Jumda's army was almost annihilated by famine and sickness. Thus terminated the last expedition against Assam by the Muhammadans, whose fortunes in this country were never prosperous. A writer of the Muhammadan faith says : - " Whenever an invading army has entered their territories, the Assamese have sheltered themselves in strong posts, and have distressed the enemy b' stratagems, surprises, and alarms, and by cutting off their provisions. If these means failed, they have declined a battle in the field, but have carried the peasants into the mountains, burned the grain, and left the country desert. But when the rainy season has set in upon the advancing enemy, they have watched their opportunity to make excursions and vent their rage ; the famished waders have either become their prisoners or been put to death. In this manner powerful and numerous armies have been sunk in that whirlpool of destruction, and not a soul less escaped." The same writer states that the country was spacious, populous, and hard to be penetrated ; that it abounded in dangers ; that the paths and roads were beset with difficulties ; and that the obstacles to conquest were more than could be expressed. The inhabitants, he says, were enter- prising, well-armed, and always prepared for battle. Moreover, they had lofty forts, numerously garrisoned and plentifully provided with warlike stores ; and the approach to them was opposed by thick and dangerous jungles, and broad and boisterous rivers. The difficulties in the way of successful invasion are of course not understated, as it was the object of the writer to exalt the prowess and perseverance of the faithful. He accounts for their temporary success by recording that "the Musalman hordes experienced the comfort of fighting for their religion, and the blessings of it reverted to the sovereignty of hisjust and pious majesty." The short-lived triumph of the Musalmans might, however, have warranted a less ambitious tone. About the middle of the 17th century the chief became a convert to Hinduism. By what mode the conversion was effected does not clearly appear, but whatever were the means employed, it seems that the decline of the country commenced about the same period. Internal dissensions, invasion, and disturbances of every kind convulsed the province, and neither prince nor people enjoyed security. Late in the 18th century some interference took place on the part of the British Government, then conducted by Lord Cornwallis ; but the successor of that nobleman, Sir John Shore, adopting the non-intervention policy, withdrew the British force, and abandoned the country to its fate. Its condition encouraged the Burmese, an aggressive people, to depose the Raja, and to make Assam a dependency of Ava. The extension of their encroachments on a portion of the territory of the East India Company compelled the British Government to take decisive steps for its own protection. Hence arose the series of hostilities with Ava known in Indian history as the first Burmese war, on the termination of which by treaty in February 1826, Assam remained a British possession. In 1832 that portion of the province denominated Upper Assam was formed into an independent native state, and conferred upon Purandar Sink, tho ex-Riija of the country ; but the administration of this chief proved unsatisfactory, and in 1838 his principality was reunited with the British dominions. After a period of successful administration and internal development, under the Lieutenant-Governor of Bengal, it was erected into a separate Chief-Commissionership in 1874.