Political commentator Garga Chatterjee faces arrest for remarks about the Ahom ruler. A look at the kingdom he founded, and the role of the Ahoms in establishing the concept of greater Assam.
On Friday, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal ordered the arrest of a Kolkata-based political commentator, Garga Chatterjee, who had described Chaolung Sukapha as a “Chinese invader”.
Who was Chaolung Sukapha?
Sukapha was a 13th-century ruler who founded the Ahom kingdom that ruled Assam for six centuries. Contemporary scholars trace his roots to Burma.
“Sukapha was a leader of the Ahoms. He reached Brahmaputra valley in Assam from upper Burma in the 13th century with around 9,000 followers,” said Arup Kumar Dutta, author of the book The Ahoms.
In his authoritative book on Assam history — A History of Assam, Sir Edward Gait wrote that Sukapha is said to have left a place called Maulung in AD 1215 with eight nobles and 9,000 men, women and children — mostly men. He had with him two elephants, and 300 horses. Gait wrote that In 1235, Sukapha and his people settled in Charaideo in upper Assam after wandering about for years, defeating those who protested his advance, and temporarily staying at different locations.
It was in Charaideo that Sukapha established his first small principality, sowing the seeds of further expansion of the Ahom kingdom.
Who are the Ahoms today?
The founders of the Ahom kingdom had their own language and followed their own religion. Over the centuries, the Ahoms accepted the Hindu religion and the Assamese language, scholars say.
“The Ahoms embraced the language, religion and rituals of the communities living here — they did not impose theirs on those living here,” said Dutta.
As written by Gait, most of those who came with Sukapha were men. Dutta said the men later married women from communities living in Assam. Today, the Ahom community is estimated to number between 4 million and 5 million.
He said Sukapha developed very amiable relationships with the tribal communities living here — especially the Sutias, the Morans and the Kacharis. Intermarriage also increased assimilation processes.
Why is Sukapha important?
Sukapha’s significance — especially in today’s Assam — lies in his successful efforts towards assimilation of different communities and tribes. He is widely referred to as the architect of “Bor Asom” or “greater Assam”.
“Sukapha and his people could consolidate power, culture and religion in the region in a manner which brought a diverse mix of jati and janajatis (multiple tribes and communities) together who at different points of history offered their allegiance to the Ahom kings… For this very reason that the Ahoms managed to group a diverse mix of people in such a politically sensitive region criss-crossing South Asia and South-East Asia, the first Ahom King Sukapha is hailed as an architect of Bor (larger) Assam in popular culture,” Suraj Gogoi, a doctoral candidate at the National University of Singapore, told The Indian Express.
To commemorate Sukapha and his rule, Assam celebrates “Asom Divas” on December 2 every year. Speaking on the occasion last December, Chief Minister Sonowal had said Sukapha “was the architect of greater Assamese society”. “He laid the foundation for a robust and vibrant Assam through his policy of amity, unity and harmony,” Sonowal said.