Assam - Introduction @ whatisindia.com

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007


 

Assam


 

Quick Information

State Area (Sq. Km.)

78,438

State Capital

Dispur

Major Language(s)

Assamese

Number of Districts

23

Population

26,638,407

Males

13,787,799

Females

12,850,608

Growth Rate 1991-2001

18.85 %

Density

340

Urban Population

12.72 %

Sex Ratio (Females per 1000 Males)

932

Literacy Rate

64.28 %

Males

71.93 %

Females

56.03 %

Legislature

Legislative Assembly

Judicature

High Court, Guwahati

Governor

Lt. Gen. (Retd.) Ajai Singh

Address

Raj Bhawan, Kharguli, Guwahati-7810041

Office No.

0361 - 2540500, 2540250

Residence No.

0361 - 2540250

email

governor@assamgov.org

Chief Minister

Sri Tarun Kumar Gogoi

Address

Janta Bhawan, Dispur, Guwahati - 781 006

Office No.

0361-2262222, 2266188, 2262781

Residence No.

0361-2621085, 2621084, 2261291, 2266112

            Office Fax

0361-2262069

Chief Secretary

Shri P.C Sharma

Address

Guwahati-781006

Office No.

(0361) 22261120, 22262258, Cell - 9864061933

Residence No.

(0361) 2654434

Fax

0361) 22260900, 22611373

  

  

General Information

Assam is the oldest of the North-Eastern States of India.

Location

Located in eastern India, Assam is almost separated from central India by Bangladesh.  It is bounded west by West Bengal, north by Bhutan and Arunachal Pradesh, east by Nagaland, Manipur and Myanmar, south by Meghalaya, Bangladesh, Tripura and Mizoram.

Origin of Name

Some consider Assam to be a corruption of the Sanskrit word asama or assama meaning uneven. This word well describes the hilly region, as the Indo-Burmese corridor consists of a number of mountainous chains of the lower Himalayan region and valleys between them.  Others believe the word is related to the Ahoms who ruled Assam for 600 years, as there is no record of the use of this name before their advent in 1228, and because historical texts have occasionally used the word asam for the Ahoms.

The word asama or assama was used during the time while Bhaskarvarman ruled Kamarupa. Then the present upper Assam used to emit poisonous gasses and was uninhabitable. Some of the Kamrupi criminals escaped to this land during those days in order to avoid punishment, as reported in the travel notes of the Chinese traveler Xuanzang. Those people were also called asama or assama. Xuanzang not traveling back via this route returning to China was because he was worried about attacks from asama or assama people. In Kamrupi, the term can also mean one who is not comparable with, in addition to weird/sinner, but no yester year Kamrupi scriptures referred the land asama or asam or asom.

The British general did not choose the name from any of the above, but concatenated it from the scientific name “Anthera Assama”, i.e., he dropped “Anthera” and “a” of “Assama”. This was done for the first time while British created “Upper Assam State” after the “Yandabu Accord”.

This contention is however unlikely. Antheraea Assama is the biological name of the species of silkworm that produces the Muga silk. The species is endemic to the Assam region, and it is likely that the species is named after the region it belonged to and not the other way around.

Anthera Assama was discovered long before the Yandabu Accord, and assama here implies unequal or not comparable with – assama was chosen as part of the scientific name because the silkworm can only live in the climate of foothills of Eastern Himalaya.

Geography

T-shaped, the state consists of the northern Brahmaputra valley, the middle Karbi and Cachar hills and the southern Barak Valley. It experiences heavy rainfall between March and September, with very high humidity in the summer months. The temperatures are generally mild, never extreme during any season.

Assam is very rich in vegetation, forests and wildlife. Lumber was once a lucrative business, until it was declared illegal by the Supreme Court of India. The region also has a number of reserved forests, and one of them, Kaziranga, is the home of the rare Indian Rhinoceros. The state produces a lot of Bamboo, although the bamboo industry is still nascent. The wildlife, forests and flora, rivers and waterways, have great natural beauty, providing growth in tourism.

High rainfall, deforestation, and other factors have resulted in annual floods that cause widespread loss of life, livelihood and property. An earthquake prone region, Assam has experienced two large earthquakes: 1897 (8.1 on the Richter scale) and 1950 (8.6).

History

Much of the ancient past of Assam still lies buried deep beneath its soil. Lack of proper and systematic archaeological research has resulted in a dearth of archaeological material, and though evidence of human habitation in the land has been traced back to the Early Stone Age, the overall picture remains vague and indistinct. That Assam, by whatever name, was known in other parts of the world as far back as in 100 BC is nevertheless clear from the records of the Chinese explorer Chang Kien who traced his country’s trade with Assam during that period. The Periplus of the Erythrean sea depicts how Chinese silk from Assam reached Egypt and Rome before the advent of Christainity. Ptolemy’s geography also acknowledges the existence of Assam.

The earliest inhabitants of Assam can be safely said to be the Australoids or the pre-Dravidians. It was however the Mongoloids who entered the land through the eastern mountainous passes who were to almost overrun the land long before the time of the compilation of the Hindu religious literature known as the Vedas around the 10th Century BC. The Vedas called the Mongoloids Kiratas, and the present-day tribes of the Northeast are all considered to be the descendants of the Kiratas. Pragjyotishpura --- the City of Eastern Lights --- was deemed to be the capital of the Kiratas, and the epics define a land of the Kiratas stretching from the foothills of the Himalayas in the north to the Bay of Bengal in the south. The Kirata king Narakasura is said to be the founder of Pragjyotishpura. The Kalika Purana and the Vishnu Purana identifies this land as Kamarupa saying that it extended for 450 miles in all directions from the shrine of Kamakhya atop the Nilachal Hills in modern Guwahati. Narakasua’s successor, Bhagadatta finds mention in the epic Mahabharata, leading a huge Kirata army with a large number of elephants in the war between the Pandavas and the Kauruvas against the former.

The records of the Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang shed light on the area in the Seventh Century. Pragjyotishpura came to be known as Kamarupa in the medieval period. Hiuen Tsang speaks of a powerful and prestigious Kamarupa under King Bhaskaravarman. Kamarupa had perhaps achieved the zenith of its power during the time, for subsequent centuries were witness to repeated onslaughts by aboriginals which reduced the power of the kingdom and led to its fragmentation.

Gurgaon Palace of the Ahoms Between the heydays of the Kamarupa kingdom and the coming of the Ahoms in the Thirteenth Century, the land experienced a spell of turmoil in which no single power could hold sway. Thus, when the Ahoms entered Assam through the eastern hills in 1228, they chanced upon a period in its history when it was at its most susceptible. Among the local tribes, only the Chutias and the Kacharis could offer a semblance of resistance.

Thereafter, the next six centuries belonged to the Ahoms who founded a powerful dynastic rule with their capital in Sibsagar of Upper Assam. It was after the Ahoms that the land was named Asom or its more anglicized version Assam. The advent of the Ahoms marked the beginning of a new era in the history of Assam.

The centre of power was thus shifted from Kamarupa in Lower Assam to Upper Assam, and the importance of Lower Assam declined sharply save for an intervening short period in the early Sixteenth Century when the western limits of the kingdom of the Koch, one of the Kirata tribes, increased considerably under their illustrious king Naranarayana.

Meanwhile, the unprecedented rise in power of the Ahoms was taken as a challenge by the Mughal emperors in Delhi who sent seventeen military expeditions to shackle the Ahoms --- all in vain. The last of these expeditions resulted in a long-drawn see-saw battle between the Mughals and the Ahoms at Saraighat --- the present site of the first bridge over the Brahmaputra --- near Guwahati, which climaxed in a resounding victory for the Ahom forces under its general Lachit Barphukan.

Lachit Barphukan achieved immortal fame and his heroism together with the battle and its many annecdotes --- one of which relates the interesting incident of Lachit behaeading his own uncle for slight of duty, as an example of his patriotism --- are now integral parts of the history and folk culture of Assam.

The victory at Saraighat was followed by a spell of treacherous court intrigues which threatened the very existence of the Ahom kingdom until Rudra Sinha assumed power and took the Ahom kingdom from strength to strength. From this zenith however it was a plunge straight down, starting with the uprising of the Vaisnavite Moamoria Mahantas in protest against the religious harrassment meted out to them at the instigation of the Sakta Ahom queen Phuleswari, in the eighties of the Eighteenth Century. It was during the troubled times of the uprising and many court intrigues and dissension sapping the strength of the Ahom rulers that the Burmese invaded Assam through its eastern borders.

It was history repeating itself, and just as the Ahoms themselves had overran the land six centuries before, so also were they themselves humiliated by the Burmese who were to be the rulers of the land till the British appeared on the scene in 1826 and forced them to cede Assam by the Treaty of Yandabu.

That their latest acquisition was by no means a land of docile inhabitants was soon realized by the British when within four years of their conquest they had to face a joint resistance by the people of Assam. The bid was abortive but marked the beginning of the confrontation between the nationalists and the imperialist which was to end with the country achieving her independence in 1947.

The years in between, as in rest of the country, witnessed the saga of the Indian Independence Movement marked by ungrudging sacrifices and unbreakable determination. Maniram Dewan, Piyoli Phukan and Piyali Barua were hanged in connection with the Sepoy Mutiny. Martyrs like Kanak Lata, Kushal Konwar and Bhogeswari Phukanani gave their lives for the Mahatma’s cause. Their sacrifices were not in vain.

The Chinese aggression of 1962 was to pose a real enough threat to the independence of this particular part of the country and was thankfully averted by a strong military response and last-minute political understandings. But what was Assam back in 1947 constituted all the states of the present-day Northeast except Manipur and Tripura. However, regional cultural variations were too distinct for the entire land to stay clubbed under a single political administration. Hence we have the phenomenon of new states being carved out from erstwhile Assam one after the other. It started with the creation of Nagaland in 1963, followed by the separation of Meghalaya and Mizoram in 1971, and ended with the formation of Arunachal Pradesh in 1972. The part that remained as a single entity is the Assam of today.

And cultural identity has always featured prominently in the socio-economic and political scenario of the State. Thus we have the unprecedented Assam Movement of the 1980s which is largely deemed to be an endeavor to preserve the cultural identity of the State endangered by large-scale infiltration of illegal immigrants from across the border from Bangladesh. In recent times, the State has also been ranckled by the terrorism propagated by some extremist elements.

Languages

Assamese and Bodo are the official languages of the state. Linguistically modern Assamese traces its roots to eastern Magahi Prakrit, with strong influences from the Tibeto-Burman and Mon-Khmer languages which are spoken by ethnic groups in the region. Bodo is a Tibeto-Burman language. But surprisingly the fonts more than 98% resemble Bengali fonts. Bengali (Sylheti) is the dominant language not only in the Barak valley but in Upper and Middle part of Assam also. Assamese has embraced heavily from the rich Bengali culture into its music, lyrics, jatra and rangamancha.

Nepali and Hindi are other important languages spoken in the state.

 

Reference:
Manorama Year Book 2007

http://assamgovt.nic.in

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