Saturday, 23 January 2010

Faded Glory of the Ahoms

The Rang Ghar pavillion from where Kings would watch Elephants and Buffaloes fight

From 1228 to 1826 the Ahom people ruled a great kingdom in most of present-day state of Assam. The Ahoms ruled from the area, which is now the city of Sibsagar, until it fell to Burmese invaders and a few years later was annexed by the British. But even though Sibsagar was the capital of a great kingdom less than 200 years, it is today little but a sleepy district headquarters with some 50,000 inhabitants, which in an Indian context is next to nothing.

"Ahom" is a modern term for these people, who originated in Thailand and originally spoke a language called Tai, related to modern day Thai. As far as I'm aware there is not much left of the Ahoms as a seperate ethnic or linguistic entity (but if I'm wrong I'm sure one of this blog's knowledgeable visitors can correct me in comments). I their own day, However, this people were known as the Assamese people and their Kingdom they named Asam. The Ahoms thus - ironally - gave away their name and identity to the state and people of which Sibsagar is now just a remote and unremarkable corner, left even without it's own railway station (according to Wikipedia).

A present-day local of Sibsagar. Perhaps she has some Ahom ancestry?

However, Sibsagar is located on the way to Northern Nagaland so on our way to Mon we decided to make stop here to see if we could get a sense of the Ahom glory that once was. And although you have to know that it's there, there are a few historical remnants of the seat of power that was once located there. Sibsagar is well of the tourist trail so you won't meet many other visitors here apart from a few young Indian couples seeking a little solitude away from prying and condemning eyes. One of those young couples started chatting with me and my brother at the Kareng Ghar monument. As we walked away, the girl whispered something to the boy and he immediatly yelled on to us what seemed to be intended an unconditional compliment: "She said that you are the whitest people she has ever seen!"

My family in front of Kareng Ghar a 4-storey building built to act as a monument

Kareng Ghar from a different angle. I feel it has a slight resemblance to some of the pyramids of Central America

Beautifully decorated pillars inside the Kareng Ghar

The young couple at the top of Kareng Ghar who complimented us for our very white skin

All in all, Sibsagar is worth a small detour for those interested in Indian history. The pictures of the buildings may not convey so well the size and grandeur of these buildings which today stand bare and undecorated. But being there you do get a certain sense of what this was once like. Particularly the royal Palace, Talatal Ghar, is very large with huge open platform terraces. Nearby the Rang Ghar (top picture) was a pavillion used by the Royals for watching sports and entertainment, such as animal fighting and dancing acts.

My father walking on the main central terrace of the massive Talatal Ghar palatial complex

The Royal Bedchambers of the Talatal Ghar. Placed on a seperate platform, probably for security. The only access from the palace's main terrace goes through a heavily armed guard house

Sibsagar also holds some religions significance (the city is named after the God Shiva). Here is a very large and very holy 300-old temple, the Shiva Dole.

A closer look at the temple's dome and the scaffolding surrounding it. Here you get a good sense of the size of the temple as well as the unsafe working conditions of the workers restoring it! If you look closely you can see two of the crawling around.


Insomnized Phoenix said...

Hi, just gone through your blog. The posts are really good. My interest caught me glued to the blog about Sibsagar (it's actually Sivasagar) and especially Kareng Ghar (Kareng means royal palace) as my home is nearby. Will visit your blog again :) Meanwhile, you can check mine:

Suraj Iype said...

Oh Sibsagar has a railway station, but well of the major rail routes.

I was in Sibsagar for 4 years working there, but never managed to cross into Mon


Avinash Gogoi said...

Hey, i just wanted to say a very good job.You have put up some very nice pictures of these historical sites.It is very nice to see that someone not from Indian origin but from European origin has created a blog about an ancient dynasty about which most people from outside the North-East India doesn't even know.Hope you will come up with some new blogs also.I am realy glad and thankful to you for doing such a nice work.Best wishes. And by the way..I am also an Ahom.hehe..