Sources on Ahom History: The culture sparks

In India, at least two provinces can boast of having the tradition of keeping records of past events from the earliest possible time; one is Kashmir and the other is Assam. The Rajatarangini of Kalhana is the example of such tradition in Kashmir. However, the Assamese tradition of keeping records is found to be more reliable and authentic than that of Kashmir. One can easily use these records, as the sources for successful depiction of the history of Assam, more particularly the history of the medieval period when the Ahom’s ruled this region for not less than six hundred years.

The earliest Assamese literature is unwritten and consisted of nursery songs, pastoral ballads sung by cowherds, songs of boatmen, and many types of folk songs such as Bihu Nams, Ai Nams and Dehabichararg Geets. In its unique wealth of historical and quasi-historical manuscripts, Assamese literature appears to be the richest amongst the vernacular literature of India, especially because of the Buranjis.

The word ‘Buranji’ is derived from the Ahom language. The literal meaning of it is ‘a store that teaches the ignorant’. The use of paper was unknown and the oblong strips of bark of the Saci tree were employed instead to prepare Buranjis. The labour of preparing the bark and of inscribing the writing is considerable. The older of these Buranjis are considered more important than the newer ones. These are very carefully preserved, wrapped up in pieces of cloth and are handed down as heirlooms from generation to generation.

The compilation of the Buranjis was considered a sacred task, and therefore, it was customary to begin it with a salutation to God. There was a group of scribes attached to the secretariat under an officer called Likhakar Barua or superintendent of the department of writers. The nobles and the chiefs of the state themselves, or scribes under their immediate supervision, used to compile the Buranjis. They were also compiled by private scholars with the help of other existing chronicles and materials collected by them.

The Assamese Puthis and Vamsavalis are also important sources to reconstruct Ahom history. Every old Assamese family is in possession of a Vamsavali or genealogical history. This represents the sketches of life and career of the family ancestors. Thus Vamsavalis supply information which is not found in the Buranjis.Over and above the indigenous sources, there are the Persian sources.Padishahnamah is the official chronicle of the frrst 20 years of Emperor Shah Jahan’s reign, written by Abdul Hamid Lahori. It sheds light on the history of Assam, Koch Behar, and Koch Hajo.

It will not be an exaggeration to state that the systemic study and exploration of original source materials pertaining to the history and culture of the region commenced only after the expansion of the British rule in this part of India. The first such British who did an extensive survey at an individual level was Dr. J. P. Wade, an Assistant Surgeon under the East India Company, deputed to Assam for official work in the late 17th century.

To conclude, the comment by G.A. Griarson is worth mentioning: “”The Assamese are justly proud of their national literature. In no department have they been more successful than in a branch of study in which India, as a rule, is curiously deficient….The historical works, as they are styled by the Assamese, are numerous and voluminous. Knowledge of these was an indispensible qualification to an Assamese gentleman.” These are the valuable assets that won’t let the Ahom history fade away with time.

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