Assam

Guwahati’s myths and history go back several thousands of years. Although the date of the city’s beginning is unknown, references in the epics, puranas, and other traditional histories, lead many to assume that it is one of the ancient cities of Asia.

Epigraphic sources place the capitals of many ancient kingdoms in Guwahati. It was the capital of the ‘mythological’ kings Narakasura and Bhagadatta according to the Mahabharata. The ancient sakti temple of Goddess Kamakhya located in Nilachal hill (also important seat of Tantric and Vajrayana Buddhism), the ancient and unique astrological temple Navagraha located in Chitrachal Hill, and archaeological remains in Basista and other locations support the mythological assertions of the city’s ancient past.
A view of Kamakhya Temple

The Ambari excavations trace the city to the 6th century AD. The city was known as Pragjyotishpura (i.e. City of Eastern Light) and Durjoya in different time periods, and was the capital under the Varman Dynasty and the Pala dynasties of the Kamarupa kingdom. Descriptions by Xuanzang (Hiuen Tsang) reveal that during the greatest Varman king Bhaskar Varman(7th century AD), the city stretched 19 km and was probably the principal base for his strong naval force (30,000 war-boats, with officers who were knowledgeable of the sea-routes from the Indian Ocean to China – Xuanzang). The city remained as the capital of Assam till the 10-11th century AD under the rulers of the Pala dynasty. Excavations in Ambari, and the brick walls and houses excavated during construction of the present Cotton College’s auditorium suggest that it was a city of great size with economic and strategic importance until the 9-11th century AD.

During medieval times between the 12-15th century AD, after the destruction of the Kamata kingdom, the city lost its earlier glory and became mainly a strategic outpost of the Koch Hajo and Ahom Kingdoms of western and eastern Assam. When the western part of the Koch Kingdom (Koch Bihar) fell to the Mughals, the eastern half (Koch Hajo) eventually became a protectorate of Ahom. Although the actual border between both powers (Ahoms and Mughals) fluctuated between the Kartoya river (now in North Bengal) to the Manas and Barnadi rivers, Guwahati remained an important outpost.

The city was the seat of the Borphukan, the civil military authority of the lower Assam region appointed by the Ahom kings. The Borphukan’s residence was in the present Fansi Bazaar area, and his council-hall, called Dopdar, was situated about 300 yards (270 m) to the west of the Bharalu stream. The Majindar Baruah, the personal secretary of the Borphukan, had his residence in the present-day Deputy Commissioner’s residence (Baruah 1992:200–201).

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