Introduction

 

 

Assam is a frontier province of India, located in the northeast.  On three sides the province is shut in by great mountains ranges, inhabited by people mostly of Mongolian origin. To the north lie the Himalayan regions of Bhutan and Tibet. Below the high mountains are a range of sub Himalayans hills, inhabited in the west by small races of Bhutia origin, and to the east by Tibeto-Burman tribes like the Akas, the Dafalas, the Miris, the Abors and the Mishmis. To the north-east lie the Mishmi hills, curving round the Brahmaputra Valley.   Therefore, we notice that the international boundary between Tibet and Assam is not clearly defined. Assam is, divided into two main parts physically: the high land and the plains below. These plains make up the great river valleys of the Brahmaputra.  Between the valleys are the Garo, Khasi and Jaintia hills, the north Cachar hills and the Naga Hills. Through the heart of the region runs the great river Brahmaputra. It enters through the Mishmi hills and turning nearly due west, passing through all the district of north Assam. It is the chief artery and highway of Assam: the entire history and culture of the state are intimately connected with the Brahmaputra.

Assam has always held a distinct and independent political existence, though for political reasons, frontiers have advanced or receded according to her geo-political prosperity. At times her area varied greatly from what it is today. The unbroken unity of its history is the result of the geographical unity of the area of the Brahmaputra valley which is the heart of Assam.  In this sense, we can conclude that Assam is racially and linguistically homogeneous – united by a common tongue, an Aryan dialect of great antiquity, dating earlier than the seventh century. Huien Tsang is known to have said in his accounts that the language of Assam differed a little from that of Mid-India.

 

Origins of the Nomenclature: 'Assam'

The modern name ‘Assam' is of quite recent origins, and has an interesting etymology.
The origin of this word has been traced back to the Shan invaders who entered the Brahmaputra valley in the beginning of the thirteenth century A.D. The Shan invaders were known as the ‘Ahoms', probably derived from the word ‘Acham'. ‘Acham' here denotes the ‘‘undefeated'' or ‘‘conquerors''. Thus the land of the Ahoms was termed as ‘Asama', which is essentially the Sanskritisation of the earlier form ‘Acham'. The present name Assam is supposed to have been derived from this Sanskrit word ‘Asama', which means ‘unequalled' or ‘peerless'.Another observation made by historian Baden Powell was that the name ‘Asam' was probably derived from the Bodo word ‘Ha-com', which means low or level country.

 

Assam around 12th Century AD:

The earliest inhabitants of Assam were the Kiratas, the Cinas and other primitive tribes commonly referred to as ‘Asuras'. The Mahabharata gives us reference to Cina and Kirata soldiers who served in the army of Bhagadatta. ‘Kirata' in the present context appears to denote all the races with the Mongolian type of features along the eastern limits of India. The next wave of Indo-Chinese invasion is presented by the various people speaking Tibeto-Burman languages. The most important group of this race is the Bodo tribe. The Bodo group includes the Koch, the Kachari, the Lalung, the Dimasa, the Garo, the Rabha, the Tipa, the Chutiya and the Maran.
The Bodos built strong kingdoms and with various frontiers and under various tribal names. But they suffered from the onslaught of the Ahoms from the east and the Aryans from the west. In the 13th century, the Ahoms conquered Assam, giving their name to the country. It cannot be exactly stated at what period the Aryans came into the valley of Brahmaputra. But Assam's early contact with the Aryans is revealed by the references in the epics – Mahabharata and Ramayana. The Aryan influence became so widespread and penetrating that even minor Vedic customs and rituals became deep-rooted in the life of common people. But the greatest influence of all was the language. Sanskrit became the language of the court as well as the literature.