|Chapter- 1: General|
|Chapter- 2: History|
|Chapter- 3: People|
|Chapter- 4: Agriculture & Irrigation|
|Chapter- 5: Industries|
|Chapter - 6: Banking, Trade & Commerce|
Religion and Caste :
The province of Assam finds no mention in any of the early vedic texts. The province was first referred ti in the Epic,and in this connection,the story of Amurtaranjas in the Ramayana is very significant as it refers to the aryanisation of the country by a prince of Madhyadesa.
No less important is the account of the Videha prince Naraka who established himself as the king and conqueror of Kamarupa. Naraka is said to have established in his kingdom a large number of learned Brahmans well versed in vedas. The inscription also contain reference of immigration of Brahmanas to Assam from Madhyadesa,as well as emigration of Assamese Brahman to other provinces. The system of settling Brahmans in Assam was continued right upto the Ahom period. The incomplete set of Nidhanpur copper-plate alone bears the names of no less than two hundred and five Brahmans of various gotras and vedas. These settlers doubtlessly spread the culture in the Province with the support of the kings,and the movement received a great impetus from the 14th century A.D. The process by which vedic culture was introduced into the century and by which the non-Aryan tribes were converted to Hinduism was probably the same as that which the Brahmanas of subsequent period had adopted.
Due to the contact with the non-Aryan people,the vedic religion underwent radical changes,mainly in two ways : first,in the creation,chiefly illustrated by the Epics and Puranic literature in a gallery of defied personages; secondly,in the adoption of deities,religious myths,and cults derived from the races beyond the Brahmanic pale. Some of these Gods and Goddesses developed into special cults among sectarian lines. Mention may be made of the following :-
1)Saivism : Saivism,or at least,the worship of Siva prevailed in Assam from a remote past and it was the popular form of religion both amongst the aboriginals and the Aryanised people. An analysis of the names of the sacred places of Assam as given in the Kalika Purana,clearly shows that the number of sacred places connected with Siva worship is larger than that of places associated with Vishnu or Dev worship. Before Naraka came to power,who probably introduced the cult of the Mother Goddess into Kamarupa,Siva was regarded as the guardian deity of the province. Saivism,however,did not entirely disappear from the country during the reign of Naraka. It enjoyed so much popularity that no sooner Naraka was deposed,Saivism again came into prominence. The inscriptions and grants also contain definite references to the worship of Siva.
That the Saivism of the period was a fully developed cult with various sub-cults can be seen from the various names by which Saivism is invoked in the Prasastis. He is invoked as Paramesvara,Mahesvara,Isvara,Mahabaraha,Adeva etc. All these names denote Siva's position of supremacy over all other Gods. His beneficient nature is indicated by the names of Sambhu,sankara and Prajadhinatha. His another name Rudra signifies his destructive or fierce character. There are some more names attractive to Siva.
Siva is not conceived in the abstract alone. Although iconographic representations of Siva in his various forms have been discovered in Assam,it appears that he was chiefly worshipped in the form of Lingam,an upright pillar or rod or stone erected on a pedestal called Yoni. The Yogini Tantra states that the number of lingas in Kamarupa exceeds a million. The Bodo Kacharis,the main Tibeto-Chinese group of Assam,worship Siva as Bathan in the abstract or of Siju plant.
There were and even now are,various tribal modes of worship of Siva which was carried out the sacrifice of swine,buffaloes,he-goats,pigeons,ducks and cocks and by the offering of rice and liquor and the dancing of women (deo-dhai). This tribal mode of worship was recognised and legalized by the king Naranarayana by the issue of an edict which set aside the north bank of the Brahmaputra river for the practice of aboriginal forms of worship. A curious practice of animal sacrifice is in vogue even now in the Siva temples of Assam.
(ii)Saktism : The Devipurana,composed about the end of the seventh or the beginning of the 8th century A.D. States that the Devi was worshipped in her different forms in different places. According to Wilson,Assam or at least the North-east of Bengal (Kamarupa),seems to have been the source from which the Tantric and Sakta corruption of the religion of the Vedus and the Puranas proceeded. 'Saktism' says Eliot,''in the sense of a definite sect with scriptures of its own if not confined to the north-east corner,at least has its headquarters there''. Traditionally,the Sakta cult is considered to have its centre in Kamarupa with its chief temple at Kamakhya,But in the inscription,there is no trace of Sakti worship. Personal in origin,its tenets and history were preserved in a special class of magical and sacramental literature,commonly known as Tantras.
Throughout the medieval period,even down to the 18th century,the leading religion of Assam,however,was Saktism.Kamakhya is the most holy and famous shrine of the sect,and with its worship was its worship was associated the various rites,mantras,mudras and sacrifices. According to the Kalika Purna,the genital organ of Sati fell here when her dead body was carried by her husband Siva. Dr.Bani Kanta Kakati believes that this Yoni-goddess of Kamakhya migrated into Assam with the migration of the Austric people when Naraka founded a kingdom in earlyAssam. He established himself as the custodian of this Yoni-goddess and made her the presiding deity of the State. Later religious history of Assam also centered round her and other goddess recognised her varied manifestations. After Naraka's death,Kamakhya was no longer the primordial Mother Goddess but become the amorous wife Paravati living in inseparable companionship with her husband Siva for sacred love. Thus,a new motif came into being and fresh conceptions have been ascribed to the goddess. The wife goddess Paravati in time was again assimilated to a virgin goddess of beauty and sex.
(iii)Vaisnavism- The worship of Vishnu and his incarnations was prevalent in Assam from early times. The Great Saint Sankardeva referred the earlier Vaishnavism in the 15th century and professed a cult of Bhakti (devotion)and this Neo-Vaisnavism of Sankardeva differed from earlier Vaishnavism which was based on Tantrika rites. Sri Sankardeva and his close disciple Sri Madhabdeva resisted the sacrifice of animals or bloodshed in the worship. They preached to worship only Vishnu or Krishna (Ek Sarana Dharma). They do not believe that the worship of inumerable Gods and Goddess is essential for earning religious virtues.
(iv)Other Sects : We also some references to other Puranic gods and goddesses whose sculptural representations are also found in the Province. These are Ganesa,Kartikeya,Indra,Agni,Kuvera,Surya,etc., from the 6thCentury onwards,but we have,however,no definite of their cults.
(v)Buddhism : The expressions dharma and tathagata which occur respectively in Bhaskaravarman's and Indrapal's Grants make it clear that Buddhism did exist in Assam at an early period. But there is no important evidence about this in the epigraphs and archeology. Hiuen Tsang,in his account remarked that the people had no faith in Buddha.
As time went on,the religious life of the people of Assam had begun to be moulded mainly by three principal religions,Hinduisim,Islam and Christianity. Hinduism is professed by more than three-fourths of the total population,Islam,by less than one-fifth and Christianity by one twenteeth. The Statement below gives the number of adherents of each religion in 1911,1921.
Name of religion No of adherents
Hindu 3,638,769 4,362,571
Muslims 1,901,032 2,219,947
Animist 1,239,280 1,256,641
Christian 66,562 132,106
Buddhist 10,513 13,520
Jain 2,508 3,503
Sikh 757 1,009
Brahmo 428 559
Miscelleneous - 390
Minor 8 -
According to the Census 1931,Hindus from more than half of the total population of the Province,Muslims nearly one-third and Animists about one-ninth. The statement below shows the actual number of followers of each of the main religions as ascertained at the Census 1931.79
Hindu (including Brahmo and Arya) 5,204,650
Muslim ….... 2,780,514
Tribal …... 892,390
Christian …... 249,246
Buddhist …... 15,045
Jain …... 2,803
Sikh …... 2,729
Miscellaneous …... 480
It is sen that the proportion of the Hindu population per 10,000 of the total population is more or less stationary from 1901 to 1921. In 1931,the proportion of Hindus rose appreciably to Mullan,this big increase of Hindus is due to the Hindu propaganda among the tribal communities. During 1951 and 1962,the proportion of Hindus further increased in Assam,but probably this time,it was mainly due to the influx of Hindu refugees from East Pakistan (Bangladesh) into Assam.
The proportion Muslims per 10,000 of the general population of Assam in 1901 was only 1,337,but from 1911 onwards,this proportion steadily rose from 1,463 to 2,329 in 1961. The proportion of Christians per 10,000 of the general population in Assam rose very rapidly from 93 in 1901 to 644 in 1961.80
the Sikhs,Buddhists and Jains are relatively very small in number in Assam. The table given below gives the population,decade variation and percentage decade variation of the Hindu population in Assam from 1901-1991.
Year population Decade Percentage
variation decade variation
1 2 3 4
1901 2,282,646 - -
1911 2,663,558 +380,912 +16.69
1921 3,167,406 +503,848 +18.92
1931 3,966,860 +799,454 +25,24
1941 4,222,377 +744,483 -18.77
1951 5,886,063 +2,663,686 +82.66
1961 7,884,921 +1,998,858 +33.796
1971 1,06,25,847 +2,740,926* +34.76
1991 1,50,47,293 +4,421,446 +41.61*
*Variation in two decades (1971-91)
The Hindus constitute by far the major religious community in Assam,their percentage in 1961 and 1971 being 71.33 and 72.51 of total population of The State respectively. In 1991,however,the percentage of Hindu population of Assam decreased to 67.13 of total population.81
After the Hindus,the Muslims come next with a population of 2,765,509 constituting 23.29 per cent of the total population of Assam in 1961. The percentage,increased to 24.03 in 1971 and to 28.43 in 1991. The table below shows the total Muslim population of Assam,the decade-variation and the percentage decade-variation from 1901-1991.82
Year Population Decade Percentage
1901 503,670 - -
1911 634,101 +130,431 +25.90
1921 880,426 +246,325 +38.25
1931 1,279,388 +398,962 +45.31
1941 1,696,978 +417,590 +32.64
1951 1,995,936 +298,958 +17.62
1961 2,765,509 +769,573 +38.56
1971 3,594,006 +828,497 +29.96
1991 6,373,204 +3,779,198* +77.33*
*Variation in two decades (1971-91).
From the above table it may be seen that the Muslim population of Assam within the present boundaries had risen from 503,670 in 1901 to 6,373,204 in 1991. The Muslim population constituted only 16.23% of the population in the State in 1911. By 1931,it recorded a sharp rise to 22.78 per cent and continued to rise steadily thereafter to 28.43 per cent in 1991. The Muslim population of Assam had increased by more than 25 per cent in every decade excepting in 1951 when the increase was 17.62 per cent. During the last two decades. Viz.,1971-91,the percentage variation of Muslim population of the State was +77.33 per cent.
The total number of Christians in Assam was 7,74,367 in 1991 against 6,67,151 in 1971,the percentage increase during the last two decades 1971-91 being 16.07.
Following is statement showing the progress of Christianity in Assam from 1901-61.83
Year Population Decade Percentage
Variation decade variation
1901 34,650 - -
1911 61,977 +27.327 +78.87
1921 118,134 +56.157 +90.61
1931 213,678 +95.544 +80.88
1941 38.702 -174.976 -81.89
1951 487,331 +448.629 +1,159.19
1961 764,553 +277.222 +56.89
1971 667,151 -97.402 -12.74
1991 774,367 +107.216 +16.07
In 1941,all tribal Christian have not been shown as Chritians but simply as Scheduled tribes and that is why the figure appears to be very low. In fact,even during 1941,Christianity has been maintaining its progress in Assam,particularly among the tribal communities both of the hills and the plains. The percentage variation in the decades 1901-11,1911-21 and 1921-31 was much higher than that during the decade 1951-61. Between 1931 and 1951,the percentage variation is 128.07 for decades which may be taken as 64.04 per decade. But though the percentage variation during 1951-61 is similar,in term of absolute numbers it is higher than the previous decades. Christians constituted 2.61 per cent of total population of Assam in 1971 against 2.43 per cent in 1961 and 2.00 per cent 1951. Percentage of Christian population in Assam reduced to 4.46 in 1971 and 2.32 in 1991.
In Assam,the number of Buddhist,Jains and Sikhs is practically negligible. Buddhists constitute only 0.29 per cent. Jains constitute only 0.09 per cent and Sikhs also constitute only 0.07 per cent of the total population of Assam in 1991. Among the Buddhists in 1961,as many as 8,212 are found in the Lakhimpur district (undivided)and 4,076 are found in the undivided Sibsagar district and these are the Tai-speaking Buddhists,predecessor of whom had come from Burma after the Ahom invasion of Assam. The Sikhs and the Jains have come into Assam from other parts of India and they are scattered everywhere in the State. Some of the Sikhs who came to Assam some few hundred years back,had settled in Assam permanently and become as good as indigenous by inter marriage with the Assamese. There are few Assamese Sikh villages in Nagaon district.
Tribal Religion : According to the 1961 Census,Scheduled tribes belong to any religion. It may be seen that the most have returned their religion as Hinduisim followed by Christianity. Various tribal religions have been lumped together under the heading 'tribal Religious'. Scheduled Tribes belonging to all other religions are comparatively few in numbers and so they have lumped together under the heading others.
The Tribal communities are no longer left in isolation anywhere of modern civilisation and so changes in their social,cultural,economic and political set-up also have taken place very rapidly. After Independence,the pace of social changes has greatly accelerated.
Castes : Tribes and sections of the Assamese Society : In 1931, Mr. C. S.Mullan, Superintendent of Census operation in 1931, conducted a survey about the exterior castes of Hindus in Assam. From his enquiry he found that in the Brahmaputra Valley which was the known as Assam valley, there were only 3 exterior or 'outside the pale' castes which could be called untouchable. These castes were (1) Kaibarta or Nadiyals or Doms ., (2) Brittial Bania or Hari, (3) Hiras or Charals. The castes which were considered low socially at that time were (1) Sut and (2) Katoni, According to him 'caste in Assam valley is not, as elsewhere,chiefly a functional division ; it is really a racial division and functional castes are very few''.84
According to his list (1) Dhupi or Dhobi, (2) Dugla or Dholi, (3) Jhalo or Malo, (4) Yogi or Nath, (5) Kaibarta (Jaliya), (6) Mahara, (7) Mali or Bhuimali, (8) Namasudra, (9) Patri and (10) Sutradhar were the exterior castes of Surma valley.
Following are the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes of Assam as per the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes list modification order 1956.
Scheduled Castes Scheduled Tribes.
2.Bhuimali or Mali 2.Dimasa Kachari
3.Brittial Baria or Banir 3.Garo
4.Dhupi or Dhobi 4.Hajong
5.Dugla or Dholi 5.Hmar
6.Hira 6.Khasi and jaintia
7.Jalkeot 7.Any Kuki tribe
8.Jhalo,Malo or Jhalo-Malo 8.Abor
9.Kaibarta or Jaliya 9.Aka
12.Mehtar or Bhangi 12.Galong
13.Muchi or Rishi 13.Khampti
17.Any Naga tribe
23. Kachari including Sonowal
Source :- The people of Assam ,B.M. Das, page. 10-11
Caste of the Muslims -Although there is a general agreement among the Muslims of Assam that they have no caste,it has been the custom in the past classify them in the usual group of families such as a Sayed,Mugal,Pathan,Sheikh and in the functional sections Maria,Mahinial,Jalaha,etc.
History tells that Assam came into contact with the Muslims for the first time in the early part of the 13thcentury when Mahammad Bin Bhaktyar Khilji,a Muslim general of Kutubudin led a Turkish army to this region. Following him on several occasions other Muslim invaders came to Assam. It may perhaps be assumed that a few Muslim soldiers preferred to live in Assam instead of going back with their defeated leaders. So also in the subsequent some of the invading Muslim soldiers of Mughal army consisting of Pathans and others remained and settled in Assam. These people married local Assamese girls some of whose relatives also converted into Islam. All these migrants,local converts and their descendants form the section Sheikh.
Subsequently,in the middle of the 17th century a Muslim Saint Hazarat Shah Milon by Name,but popularly known as Azan Fakir came to Assam. He was Syed and he promoted and stabilized Islam in Assam.
Broadly speaking the Muslims in Assam have their 'Caste like' divisions,namely,the Syeds,who claims to be the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad,the Sheikhs,who form the major bulk of the Muslim population,and the Marias,the descendants of the captured Muslim soldiers. The Syed claim to occupy the highest social status. Next to them come the Sheikhs to be followed by the Marias.
Another section of the Muslims are immigrants from East Bengal(East Pakistan,Bangladesh)and they are generally known as Mivas. Most of them came from one district of Bengal,called 'Mymenshing,and therefore,they are sometimes referred to as 'Mymenshingha'. Some of the Miyas have completely assimilated themselves with the local culture and married the Marias,the Seikhs and Miyas alike. But a section has still maintained their separate identity in the rural areas and marry among themselves.
The common priest among the Muslims are called Maulavis,while the village leaders are called Dewans. The Dewans are generally comparatively wealthy and exercise very strong influence on the socio-cultural and political behaviour of the Miyas.
Commonly the Muslims are called Gariyas in colloquial Assamese as they having originally migrated from Goud. But the Marias form a separate class and are the braziers amongst the Muslims. A section of Morias are said to be the vanquished soldiers of Bakhtier Khilji while the other section is said to be the defeated soldiers of Turbak. They were at first engaged in cultivation but having proved a failure were engaged in fuel connection. Here too they could not do well and hence later on they were engaged as brazier. Due to their demonstrated failure as Paik,were looked down by their earlier settled and local converts. This compelled them to live in seclusion and become gradually isolated from the common Muslims.85
Though B.C. Allen mentioned the preacher class of the Muslims as Khaliphas,the Kjaliphas are generally the tailors. The Moulavis now perform the function of religious for the Muslim commoners while the Sayeds are still respected as aristocratic class of religious leaders.
Detail accounts of the plains and hill tribes of Assam are given in the District Gazetteers of Nagoan,Darrang,Goalpara,Lakhimpur,Sibsagar and United Mikir and N.C.Hills. According to 1971 Census,10.99 per cent of Assam population belong to this group.
A short account of some of the tribes is given below.
The Mishings : The Mishing,also known as Miris,were originally a hill tribe living in the hills between the Dafala and the Abor territory in the present Arunachal Pradesh and down to the plains during the reign of the Ahom kings in Assam. In the plains,they settled near the banks of the Brahmaputra and the Subansiri rivers and their tributaries and they were taking to agriculture as their principal occupation. They belong to the Tibeto-Burma family of Mongoloid people that followed the Austro-Asiatic races in India and are akin to the Bodo. The Mishings claim certain ethonological affinities with the Padams and Pasi-Mayongs of Arunachal Pradesh. The Abors and the Miris are of a distinctly Mongoloid type. They have square set face,prominent cheek bones,scanty beard and moustache with almond-shaped eyes. They are strongly built with finely developed limbs. They are cleaner in their persons than many of the Tibeto-Burman tribes and fully appreciate the advantage of the bath. Lakhimpur district is their main habitat. Number of Mishings as per 1971 census is 2,59,551.
The Bodo-Kacharis of Assam is a branch of the great Bodo Group of the Indo-Mongoloid family falling within the Assam-Burmese linguistic section. They are the aborigines of Assam,as has been pointed out by Rev.S.Endlat in his renowned work the 'Kacharis'.
Different names are used to designate them as their identity is not uniform as an ethnic group. In Bengal and in the lower range of the Himalayas coming within the territory of Nepal, They are known as Maches. In upper Assam,they are identified as Sonowal and Thengal Kachari,while in the western Assam they are more popularly known as Boro or Bodo-Kachari. In the Southern district of North Cachar and Cachar,they are designated as Dimasa and Barman respectively.
The total population of the tribe in Assam is 6,10,459 as per 1971 census which accounts for 45% of the total State tribal population. They are now largely concentrated in the Kokrajhar district followed by the Northern belt of undivided Kamrup and Darrang districts.86
Sonowal-Kacharis : In lakhimpur,most of the Kacharis returned themselves as Sonowals. In Goalpara,they call themselves Boro or Brahma. In North Cachar,practically all of them returned themselves as Kshatriyas,their language being Dimasa. As per 1971 census,there were 39,342 Dimasa Kacharis,610459 Boro Kacharis which include 198,619 Kacharis in Assam. (Detail account of Kacharis is available in the district Gazetteer of Nagaon.)
Rabha :One of the plains tribes of Assam,they are mostly found in Kamrup,Goalpara and Darrang districts particularly on the south bank of the Brahmaputra in Goalpara. Their villages are of the same type with the non-tribal Assamese village.
The Rabhas are divided into several groups namely Pati,Maitori,Rangdoni,Totla,Bitlia,dahuri and Shonga. The majority is covered by the Patis, Moitoris and Rongdonis. Each of these groups are divided into number of exogamous clans termed Bar or Barai. Two or more Bars can form a termed Hur or Huri. These Bars then cease to be exogamous and instead marriage are performed outside the Hur or Huri.
The Bar is matrilineal but the residence is patrilocal. Head of the family is the father and ownership of property also rests with him.
In marriage,cross-cousin marriage is allowed among the Rabhas. They prefer marriage to a Kachari girl than to a Garo girl. Even in such inter-marriage,a purification ceremony is considered necessary to be accepted to the clan,though from the ethnical point of view according to the scholars like Play fair and Dr. B.M. Das of Gauhati University,the Rabhas with the Kacharis and the Garos belong to the same tribal group known as the Bodos.87 The legends prevalent amongst these 3 tribes relating to their migration to the Brahmaputra valley,also supports the contention.
Rajbangshi : These people,some of whom claim to be pure and others as tribals belonging to the Bodo-group converted to Hinduisim,are seen particularly in Goalpara and its adjoining parts of Kamrup district. Some of them belonging to the newly converted groups are known as Meches. The oldest converts call themselves Koches. The Rajbanshis are one of the recognised backward classes of India.'The Rajbongshis appear to represent the end product of the process of detrbalizations The Rajbongshis are of mixed origin in sense that people of different tribal groups after conversion to Hinduisim are called Rajbongshis or Koch.88
In Goalpara and Kamrup,the Koches generally call themselves Rajbanshi due to their clan-connection with the Koch King Nara Narayana,whose cousin was established as Raja of Goalpara. According to Mr. Gait,Rajbanshi is either a Koch or a Mech. Probably,like the other Koches of Assam,Rajbanshis are Hinduized upgraded people of Bodo origin migrated to these two districts from the neighbouring district of Koch Bihar along with the army of king Naranarayana's militant brother Chilarai and his descendants. According to Mr.E.H.Pakyntine,Census Superintendent of Assam,1961;the Koches have 3 divisions viz,(1)Kamtalis who do not touch pork and intoxicating liquor, (2)Hermirs for whom only liquor is a taboo and (3) Madhahis who take both pork and liquor the later two divisions most probably indicating pre-conversion stages of the Kacharis.
In 1872,in the Brahmaputra valley 3,12,999 Koches were enumerated and in 1881 the number was found to be 349,888. In 1911,number of Koches came to be 237,573. While number of Rajbanshis were 133078 of which 128114 were enumerated in Goalpara alone. This shows that in other districts of the Brahmaputra valley a section of the Koches gradually got absorbed in other higher caste through matrimonial alliances and the Rajbanshis of Goalpara retained their old status in the Zamindary system of Goalpara which was comparatively free of Assam Vaishnavite movement.
The Chutias : The Chutias are of Mongoloid origin and belong to the Bodo-Kachari family. They are mainly found in the district of Sibsagar and Lakhimpur in upper Assam. Deoris are their priestly clan. They were ruling in the Dibong-Subansiri valley in the upstream area of the Brahmaputra and were subsequently conquered by the Ahoms. They adopted themselves to the Hindu culture and Assamese language though they have still retained their language and culture in rituals. According to their extent of assimilation,the Chutia absorbed into Hindu Society are called Hindu Chutia,those of Ahom Society are called Ahom Chutia and those absorbed into Kachari society are called Barahi Chutia. The Priestly class is called the Deoris.
The Deoris have preserved the socio-cultural identify of the Chutia-tradition,while the Ahom Chutias have adopted some of the Ahom customs. The Hindu Chutiyas have no socio-cultural differences with a common Assamese Hindu. The Deoris from a closed society and do not allow marriage outside their own section. They have 12 Phoids or clans within which no inter-marriage is,however,permitted. The Chutiyas who inter-married with the Kacharis are called Barahi Chutiyas. At present the Barahi Chutiyas have submerged with the broader branch of Chutiyas.
Meches :They are a branch of the Mongoloid Bodo-Kachari family. According to Sri Ram Charan Brahma (Article ''Baska-Iyar Sanskrit'' in the Souvenir of All-India Tribal Conference 1978 Assamese Section,page 4)the Bodo who lived on the bank of the river Missi in the district Morong of Nepal are known as Mech. They are closely associated with the Koch and the Rajbanshis. Their mother tongue as such is Assamese with Mongoloid variance. Their numerical strength in Assam as per 1971 Census was 2,570.89
The Mataks : The Mataks are actually a community termed as Moamarias who represented a section of the Vaisnavite sect of Assam residing particularly in the present Dibrugarh district. 80% of the Mataks are tribal converts and low-caste Hindus while 20% only constitute the original Kalitas and Keots Hindus. It is stated that the term Moamaria is derived from Moa (a kind of small fish)and Maria (catchers)denoting a section of fishermen residing ordinarily in the river of the world's greatest river-island Majuli taken into Vaisnav fold by Sri Aniruddha a grandson in-low of Srimanta Sankerdeva.
Some others connected the term with Maya or illusion through which Sri Aniruddha deva impressed the Ahom royalities. They shifted to the foot-hill area of the Assam Range in the eastern part of Assam where they established their own domain and also expanded the community by bringing new tribal converts of the area into their midst. In the middle part of the eighteenth century,they revolted against the religious persecution and tyranny of the Ahom monarchy and established their control over the Ahom capital for few years to be vanguished and pushed back. But some time later,they again re-grouped and established their own territorial suzerainty with their seat at Tinsukia. They retained their independence even after the advent of the British and remained a tributary of the British till 1839 when the last Matak king Sri Matibar Bar Senapati,son of Sarbananda Singha,the Motok king who minted coins in his own name,was deposed of and the territory absorbed into the British empire.90
Moran : The Morans are the inhabitants of the upper part of the Matak country. Last they were found only in North-Lakhimpur area of the State. Probably,they belong to the same community and derived the name from Raghu Moran,one of the Moamarias,who was beheaded by the Ahom king,Moran town of Dibrugarh district has immortalised their names.
The Karbis : The Karbis who inhabit in the strength in Karbi-Anglong hills district of Assam,belong to the Indo-Mongoloid stock of the Tibeto-Burman linguistic group. Settlement of Karbis are also found in parts of North Cachar,Nagaon,Kamrup and Sibsagar (undivided)district of Assam,and the Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya.
The Karbis had been known to the outside world as the Mikirs. Though the Karbis do not like themselves to be called as Mikirs even today the term is used to great extent. According to the 1971 Census,the total population of the Karbis is 1,81,280 of which 92,419 are males and 88,861 are females, it should be mentioned here that these figures refer to the Karbis inhabiting the two Autonomous Hills districts,namely Karbi Anglong and North Cachar Hills only. The total population will be much more if we take into account the Karbis living in the plains of Assam also.
The Garos : The Garos are are essentially hill people and are inhabitants of the hills known by that name. Moreover they have extended their territory to the plains of Goalpara and Kamrup districts of Assam adjoining the Garo Hills. Garos like the other tribes of Assam belong to the Tibeto-Burman families of Bodo linguistic group. According to Mr.S.N.Barkakati,the Garos have originally three classes namely Matak,Mamin and Sangma. Later on three classes namely,Abeng,Areng,and Sina were created.
As per 1971 census,the total Garo population in Assam is 8,139 out of which 5,222 persons are males and 3,917 are females.
The garden labourers : A section of the tea-garden and ex-tea garden labourers belong to the general Hindu caste of the State from which they originally migrated to Assam. But majority amongst them belong actually to Schedule Castes such as Santals and Mundas. Some of them have embranced Christianity in course of their contact with the European tea-planters. In 1931,there were 13,16,000 Hindus,53,000 Animals and 31,000 Christians amongst them. As per 1971 census,there were 4,427 Bhumizes,2,615 Gondas,7,061 Kharias,33,031 Orans,76,894 Mundas and 86,086 Santals amongst them. The number following different religions,belief amongst them as per 1971 census is not available. They are considered to be a part of the Assamese indigenous society though like other indigenous scheduled tribes,they have also maintained their own culture and dialect in their day-to-day life.
Castes : Excluding minor changes or errors in nomenclature,following is the list of indigenous groups of castes living in Assam. They are Brahmin,Grahabipra or Ganak,Kayastha,Kalita,Mech,Baishya or Banikya,Yogi or Nath,Sonari or Bonia,Charal or Hira,Brittial Bania,Hari,Kaibarta or Nadiyal,Jaloi,Keot,Napit,Katni,Sut and Kachari or Sonowal or Sarania.
The following caste are new imports from East Bengal : Barui,Badya Das or Namasudra,Saha,Sutradhar,Mahisya,Patni,Jhalo or Malo or Jhalo-Malo,Sudra,Tanti,Dholi or Dugla,Mahara and Mali or Bhuimali.
The other castes migrated from other states of India are : Muchi or Rishi,Basphar,Mehtar and Lalbegi.
Detailed account of Brahmins,Kayasthas,Kalitas and Ahoms are given in the revised District Gazetteers.
Accounts of a few castes are given below :-
Grahabipras : Generally they known throughout Assam as Ganak due to their profession. But they prefer to call themselves a Grahabipras in consideration of their study on astrology. They observe all the customary rituals of a Brahmin. They intermarry within their caste. Like the Brahmins and the Kayasthas,they also do not generally pursue any trade requiring purely manual labour and commercial transaction. The Grahabipras of Gandhia village in Nalbari subdivision are renowned for their proficiency in astrological study.
Keots: In social ladder,they are placed just below the Kalitas and are,therefore,included among caste Hindus. While in certain district,for example,in the Barpeta districts,they are generally known as Kamars or blacksmiths. In Sibsagar,this profession of blacksmiths has been undertaken by the Kalitas even. Besides this occupation,they have taken to agriculture and other trades. Among this class of people there are,however,intelligent persons who have contributed their share to the advancement of social and cultural life of the State.
Yogi(Nath) : They are known as Nath-Yogis or Jugis or Katanis in various places of Assam. In upper Assam,however,there are many Katanis who at one time were weavers by professions. In the Ballala Charitam,a Sanskrit book,supposed to be written in the 12th century A.D. We find mention of sect of people as Jungis. They were drum-beaters,whose descendants are still found in some parts of Assam ans are known as Kendra-Jugis (Yogis). Their original profession was drum-beating,palanquin-bearing,quackery,snake charming,etc. They have now taken to agriculture. The Yogi were the holy-thread which they call Yogapatra,but unlike the Brahmins they plough the land by themselves. Previously the pre-puberty marriage and widow marriage were prevalent among the members of this community. However,the former practice is now totally obsolete. People of this sect living in Cachar follow the practice of burial of the dead body,but those of the Brahmaputra Valley follow the practice of cremation. They observe only ten days as the unclean period after the death of an adult,and three days in case of minor. After the period of uncleanliness,Sardha ceremony is performed according to rites codified in Smritis. Katani is the name of the section of the Yogis living in the Brahmaputra Valley who were formerly supposed to be the only people who could or would rear the pat silk worm. They have been classed under Yogi.
Nat: They belong to a section of people taken to singing,dancing and musical instrument playing in a temple or a Satra Namghar. Now they have foresaken the introduction and give only their own caste-name.
Jaldha: A class of fisherman generally found only in Goalpara and Darrang districts.
Shaloi : This caste is found only in the Brahmaputra Valley. They are generally agriculturists and rank below the Kewats in the hierarchy of the State. They are mostly found in Kamrup,Darrang and Goalpara districts.
Hari: Generally the goldsmiths of Assam are known by this name. But in upper Assam,the scavengers of the Ahom kings also were known as the Haris or the pot-cleaners.
Hira: A class of low-caste potters who are generally found inhabiting the lowest Assam districts of Goalpara,Kamrup,Darrang and Nagaon. Some Hiras are also found migrated to Lakhimpur district during the late part of nineteenth century.
Baisya: There is not a district caste as Baisyas in Assam though some of the people retain their title as Baisya or Soud or Banikya. They now intermarry with the Kalitas of Assam
Jaloi Keot: Though their original profession was fisherman they never used to sell fishes in the market. They consider themselves as higher in caste status than the Kaivarttas or Nadiyals who sell fishes. Jaloi-Keots generally did the nettings and caught fishes with it.
Sonari or Baina or Brittial Banias : They are generally the jewel makers. Now-a-days,however,they have change their profession and took to any other handy profession or job.
Charal: Originally connected with funeral requirements of the Hindu society,they have also now adopted to the modern society and pursuing all other jobs,adopted by other section excepting the priesthood of the society. Charals are,however,very few in Assam. Since 1881 Charals are censused together with the Hiras.
Nearly all Bhuimalis have adopted the designation of Malakar or Mali. Their number in 1971 was 22,175 in the State. Borias were only 1,400 in 1921against 22,000 in 1971 since they had preferred to give name Sut. Patni do not belong to Assam proper. They actually migrated from East Bengal (now Bangladesh). The Nadiyals of Assam who were formerly known as Doom,have given up in favour of Nadial or Kaibarta as a caste name. Their number as per 1971 census was 2,94,819. Grahabipras or Ganaks returned themselves as Brahmans.
Borias : Borias are generally inter-caste people who come out of marriage or union of a high caste Hindu woman with low-caste Hindu or a Muslim. Now-a-days,however,no Baria can be found and they get absorbed in the society of the husband or the male partner.
Kaivartta or Nadial : By profession fisherman are called Nadials due to their habitation in the proximity of a river. They now preferred to be Kaivarttas.
Napit : Generally engaged in hair saving and beard and nail cutting as profession,they were attached to some temples and aristocrate families. Now-a-days they have adopted other professions like cultivation as well as the caste profession,i.e., hair cutting. Most of the present Napits(Barbers) of Assam are from outside the State.
Muchi or Richi : Cobblers by profession majority of them are from Bihar.
Basphor or Mehtar or Bhangi : This section of the people is entirely from outside Assam,mostly from Bihar and Punjab. This is only class doing the sweeping and cleaning jobs.
Of the other professional castes,we have references to Kumbhakara or Kamar (potter),Tantuvaya or Tanti (weaver)or Nauki Nadial (Boatmen)and Dandi (towers of boats). None of these are indigenous caste of Assam. In Assam at present,there are two classes of potters; Kumar and Hira. The Hiras are a frequently spoken of as a sub-caste of the Chandala,but they will not eat with the latter,and their occupation is,of course,quite distinct. As for Kumars,even the Kamlitas too take to this profession for living. The profession does not lower his social status. As for Tantis,there is no such indigenous professional caste in Assam. All the womenfolk of Assam including the Brahmins take to weaving.
The Haris as antyajas are connected with the Chandalas and the Kaivartas. In Assam,their position has of late much improved; they have taken largely to trade and to working in gold.
Inter-Caste relations : The caste system of India has developed into an unique social system found nowhere else in the world. Regarding marriage,high-caste Hindus must marry their girls within their caste or sub-caste. The general feeling amongst the Hindus about the caste system is that it has been established by divine ordinance or at least with divine approval. Observance of caste,therefore,is equivalent to dharma;that is,the religious observance,righteousness and moral obligation.
Caste in the Assam Valley is really a racial division and functional castes and very few. Probably for this reason,Hinduisim particularly in Assam is tolerant towards the tribal communities which have not yet been completely absorbed in its organism. It is difficult for an Assamese Hindu to despise at heart a man whose Hinduism is open to considerable doubt. As a result,the only caste in Assam which can be called exterior are castes which are either traditionally associated with some degrading occupation (such as Chandalas,those selling fishes)or whose traditional origin is associated with a bar sinister.
Now,changes have been noticed in the society of the educated people both in the urban and rural areas. In towns,among the educated classes,the different castes have began to mix around freely and caste rules are not so rigidly observed in public and private banquets.
Rigidity of untouchability are also vanishing due to the liberalising influences of the time. A Brahmin would not formerly touch an untouchable and if he did so accidentally he would purify himself by bathing. But now,a marriage even with such caste is tolarated and socially accepted. Untouchability is losing its ground now-a-days, indication of inter-communal fusion is not so strong. Inter-marriage between different castes and communities is still ideal,though such marriage have been taking place. There are instances of inter marriage between the Brahmins and the Muslims not to speak of the other castes. This type of marriage is still confined among the high and sophisticated families. On the other hand,there is also a tendency towards caste jeolousy and exclusiveness. As a result of special privileges extended to scheduled section,there is a growing caste consciousness among all classes of people,accompanied by feeling of caste patriotism.
The influence of economic factors in bringing about a change in social status cannot be neglected. The Brahmins who formerly refused to do any kind of labour,are now moving to towns from village in search of employment. Many high caste men take employment as clerks and gomasthas in the shop of low caste men. So far as Assam is concerned,though there are distinct barries between the Brahmin and non-Brahmin on the one hand and between caste Hindus and the out castes on the other,yet the rigidity is slowly slackening. Amongst non-Brahmin educated people the distinction between such caste as Keots and Koches are hardly noticeable. There are innumerable instances of marriage between these castes. Low castes like Kaibarttas and Brittial Banias,are today tolerated in formal and social ceremonies in the towns and in such functions no division of castes is maintained in Assam.
The plains tribal people have mostly accepted Hinduism and some of them have become disciples of Assamese Gossains. Kacharis can gradually enter a Hindu caste by first becoming 'Sarania,then Saru Koch then Barkoch and gradually mix with Hindu Koches become eligible for marriage with keot and Kalita. Other tribals though accepted Hinduisim,did not adopt any new caste name.
In Assam,the relation between the Hindu and Muslim is very cordial and liberal. There are instances of intermarriage between these two communities where both the parties maintain their own religious practice. This has led to a cultural and social development which is unique in Assam.
Religious Leaders and Movements :
Towards the closing decades of the 15th Century of the Christian era,the course of the religious history of Assam took a new turn. It was crossed by the neo-Vaisnavite Movement initiated by Sri Sankardeva (1449-1568)who was ably assisted by several disiples,chief among whom was Madhavadeva (1489-1596). Within two hundred years of its inception,the movement firmly established the Vaisnava faith as the supreme religious order of the Brahmaputra Valley. The movement also evolved a new institution known as Satra which began to serve not only as the instrument of spreading the faith but also helped to sustain and stabilise Vaisnavism by making it a part and parcel of Assamese social life. Sankardeva,Madhavdeva and Damodardeva,may be styled as Trimurti of Assam Vaisnavism. They also enjoyed the patronage of the reigning Koch Kings. The movement brought in its wake a literary and artistic renaissance in Assam.
The movement did not differ in essential points from that of medieval India. The movement may,therefore,be called a part of the All India Vaisnavite movement of the middle ages. In practical application of the principles and tenets and in working out the details of the faith,it evolved a cult of its own best suited to the genius of the people which moulded according to the local circumstances. Popularly known as the Mahapuusiya dharma. The real name of the cult was Ekasarana dharma or the religion of supreme surrender to one god,viz., Visnu-Krisna. The term Mahapurusiya is popularly believed to have seen derived from the epithet Mahapurusa, generally applied to mean Sankardeva who was known to his followers as Mahapurush (the great being)and therefore,the religion propagated by him came to be known as the Mahapurusiya dharma. But there is another explanation that the term Mahapurusa also in an epithet of god Narayana.As the Vaisnava cult of Assam enjoins the worship of Narayan only,the cult probably came to be known as the Mahapurusa dharma i.e., the cult of Mahapurusa.
Sankardeva was born in the middle of fifteenth century at Alipukhuri near Bardowa in the district of Nagaon. His father was Kusumbeara Bhuyan. Sankardeva was thoroughly educated in Sanskrit under Ananta Kandali,a great Sanskrit Scholar of Assam at the time.
After the death of his first wife,he went out on a long pilgrimage of twelve years,duration and visited most of the sacred places of North India. During this sojourn he came into contact with many saints and scholars. He must have seen and have been deeply impressed by the nature and working of the Neo-vaisnavite movements carried on by the sects of Ramanuja,Madhavacharya,Nimbarka and Ramanandh in different parts of the country. Experience and impressions of his long pilgrimage helped a great deal in widening his religious outlook and inspired him to undertake the task of re-orienting the religious set-up of his native land. After a lapse of twelve years,Sankardeva returned home with immigration and zeal for a reform.
He began the task of propagating the new faith of vaisnavism. The first step taken in this case was through the pantomimic dance known as Cihnayatra wherein shown the scene of seven Vaikunthas with a presiding Vishnu over each. Sankardeva performed the dance himself and the show was great success. People were amazed at the miraculous power of the initiator and director of the show. They began to look upon Sankardeva with a sense of wonder and reverence.
But the faith and the movement took a definite shape after the receipt of the Bhagavata Purana through Jagadish Mishra.
The new cult though mainly based on the teaching of the Bhagavata Purana is further reinforced by the teaching of the Gita which enjoins complete surrender to God and by the thousand names of Vishnu narrated in the Padma Purana.
Inspite of the popularity gained,soon Sankardeva received a temporary set-back. A conservative section of Brahmins,who maintained themselves by ritualistic practices,opposed the new cult of vaisnavism lest their profession should suffer. But Sankardeva very tactfully met their challenge and convinced them of the genuiness and superiority of the faith professed by him and even received Brahmin disciples like Damodardeva and Harideva.During his stay at Dhuahata-Belguri,Sankardeva acquired Madhavadeva to his fold,who after his conversion,proved himself the ablest and the most faithful disciple and ultimately succeeded him.
Madhavdeva was born near about the year 1490 A.D.in a Kayastha family at Narayanapura in the district of Lakhimpur. Though he belonged to the poor family,he managed to acquire proficiency in Sanskrit language and learning. He was a staunch believer in Pravittimaraga. When he heard of Sankardeva's new faith of Vaisnavism,he set out with his brother-in0law for a religious dispute with Sankardeva. After a prolonged dispute,Sankardeva established the superiority of Nivrtti-marge and Madhavadeva,not only accepted the Vaisnava faith but also acknowledged Sankardeva as his Guru. This unique union gave a renewed momentum to the progress of vaisnavism in Assam.
He finally settled permanently at Patbausi which was within the Koch dominion near about 1550 A.D.and engaged himself in the task of propagation. Here too,some Brahmin complained to the Koch king Naranarayan that Sankardeva,a Sudra,was preaching and practising a religion which he was not entitled to do. The king sent for Sankardeva,who by his a dignified mean,scholarly disposition,subtle arguments and poetic genius established the truth of his creed and created a strong impression upon the king,who ultimately sought initiation from him. Sankardeva kept close contacts with the royal court after that. He died in the year 1568 A.D. After his death,Madhavadeva took the task of propagating the court. By the time of Madhavadeva's secured a firm foothold in the entire Brahmaputra Valley,through organisation of Satra institutions began by Sankardeva himself. The Satra institution with its projecting branch of Namghar in every village carried the torch of Vaisnavism to every household in Assam.
79. Census of India,1993 Vol.-III,Assam Part-I Report,p.191.80. Census of India, 1961, Vol-III, Assam, Part-1-A, General Report, p.244-246.
81. Census of India, 1971, Part-1-A, General Report,p.94, and Assam Census News Letter, Vol-III,December,1995,p.3.
82. Census of India, 1971 Vol-III, Assam, Part-1-A, General Report, p. 148 and Assam Census News Letter, Vol-III, December, 1995, p.3.
83. Census of India, Vol-III, Part-1-A, General Report, p.261 and Assam Census News Letter, Vol-III, December, 1995
84. Census of India,1931, Chapter-XII, Appendix,p. 209-219.
85. E.H. Pakyntein : Census of India, 1961, Vol-III, Assam, Part-V-A, Scheduled Tribes and Scheduled Caste, p. 36.
86. B.N. Bordoloi, G.C.Sharma Thakur, M. C. Saikia : Tribes of Assam, Part-I
87. Dr. B. M. Das :Microevolution, New Delhi, 1981, pp.33-38.
88. Dr. B. M. Das : Microevolution, New Delhi. 1981,pp-38-40
89. Census of India, 1961, Vol. III, Assam, Part V-A, p.16-17,54-59.
90. A. Sarbananda Rajkumar : Chutiya, Bhuyan and Matak Rajya, 1964,p. 84.
91. Dr. B.N. Bordoloi : Tribes of Assam, Part-III.p.4.