The mighty Ahoms reigned supreme for 600 years at
Sibsagar where the ruins of their temples and palaces still exist.
Resurrected by the Archaeological Survey of India, these ruins
provide an interesting insight into the past glory and splendour of
Sibsagar was the capital
of Ahom kings who ruled over Assam for nearly 600 years till the
British annexed the region in 1826. Originally, a Burmese Shan
tribe, the Ahoms, were supposed to have bravely withstood 17 Mughal
invasions. But, why could they not resist the British? It is said
that the Burmese caused a lot of trouble trying to take over, and the
Ahoms approached the British for assistance. The Britishers did help
them alright but finally helped themselves!
The first Ahom king, Chao
Sukapha happened to come to Assam in 1228 AD by chance rather than by
any design. Owing to some family disputes, Sukapha had to leave the
Shah states in Burma. When he entered upper Assam accompanied by
nobles and nine thousand people, they earned the name Ahom
meaning unequalled because of their values and the bravery. They
ruled the area between Guwahati and the Naga Hilla for nearly six
Ahoms being efficient
administrators with a sound knowledge of warfare, first tried to
integrate the indigenous tribes and present day Assam is the result
of this amalgamation. The Ahom rulers, apart from giving Assam a
good and strong government and keeping the country in peace and
prosperity, also ushered in an era of civil contractions. Most of
these surviving relics of the Ahom period are found mainly in
Sibsagar and Jorhat districts. They are not of gigantic size but are
unpretentious and pragmatic in their construction techniques.
It is fascinating to
learn about the legends which led the kings and queens to build these
Sometime in the year
1500, an Ahom king was unseated for a while. While he managed to
hide himself with the Nagas in a nearby hill, the enemies chained the
queen to a tree and tortured her with leaves of a poisonous plant and
let loose all sorts of bugs for stinging her. The queen bravely bore
all these for 18 days and when her husband visited her in disguise,
just before she died, he lost his cool, assassinated the pretender
He was helped by an old
lady in hiding from the marauding army. Years later when the king
returned to power, he expressed his gratitude to the old lady by
constructing a bridge on the stream near the spot with only a single
stone piece. This was considered a great civil engineering feat at
that time. It is said that the same bridge still exists over which
the present national highway runs.
This architectural feat
did not stop with the king. The sons of the king and their queens
distinguished themselves as great builders. One of them named King
Shiva Singha and his wife Queen Madambika had 129 acres of land dug
up and got mud piled up on the periphery to make Sibsagar tank after
which the old Rangpur town has been rechristened. The whole project
is considered a great civil engineering feat as the water level in
the tank is higher than the level of the town surrounding it. Later,
the king and the queen went on to build three temples on its bank
Shivadol, Devidol and Vishnudol. Shivadol is believed to have the
highest dome in any Shiva temple of the country.
An interesting fact is
that at Vishnudol, dedicated to Vishnu, there is also a Shiva lingam
in the sanctum sanctorum, which is unusual as devotees are normally
followers of either Vishnu or Shiva, not both.
Another interesting fact
about this tank is that Siberian migratory ducks come all the way
here, to spend the winter months. A short distance away from the
temples are ancient cannons made of iron relics from the time
of the Ahom rule.
About six kilometres from
Sibsagar is a another monument a seven stories castle, four
above and three underground. The floors above were called Karang
Ghar. As the name Talatl Ghar suggests, it is an underground
garrison with three stories below the surface of the earth, the
lowest being connected by two tunnel pathways one to the
Dikhow river, presumably to bring water into the palace and another
was connected to Gargaon Palace. The underground storeys and the
passages were blocked by the Britishers to contain the rebellions
about two hundred years ago.
The second son of the
martyr queen, Swargadeo Rudra Singha, was so impressed with the
manner in which his mother had braved all the torture for full 18
days before dying that he got a pond dugout twice as big as his
brother had done at a place called Rangpur (which was the name of the
Ahom capital, five kilometres from Sibsagar. He called it Joy Sagar
after his mothers name, Joymoti Kuwari. Due to this reason,
this tank is considered to be divine.
The tank stands on an
area of 318 acres, only half of which is under water presently. On
the banks of this tank, four temples stand with the names, Joydol
dedicated to his mother Shivadol dedicated to Lord Shiva,
Devidol dedicated to Lord Krishna. These temples are
architectural marvels. Despite a massive earthquake in the year 1988
and the buildings being as old as 400 years old, they did not
collapse, only the tall dome of the Joydol developed a little crack.
Obviously, the king had taken al the precautions against earthquakes
while designing the structures in this Indias most earthquake
prone region where people did not dare to construct buildings other
than thatched ones.
From what remains of the
sculpture decorating these temple walls, one can see carvings of
elephants and other animals in panels and rows reminding one a little
of the workmanship at Belur. There is a depiction of Brahma astride
a peacock and hunting scenes on the outer panels along with a rare
16-armed Durga and a Narasimha.
Close by is Rang Ghar
(Entertainment House), built by King Pramatta from where they used to
watch elephant fights and other sports event. Around this two
stories oval shaped pavilion, there is a wide meadow which is meant
for gatherings. It is perhaps one of the earliest pavilions of
outdoor stadia in India. This pavilion is 10 metres high, 11 metres
across and 27 metres long, a steep flight of steps leads to the
higher elevations. The base of the monument has a series of arched
entrances and atop the roof is a decorative pair of carved stone
crocodiles. The Ahoms, used special thin baked bricks and a paste of
rice and eggs as mortar for their construction. Even so, what still
stands, after so many decades, is astonishing.
One thing which can be
found in Sibsagar in abundance are sagars or ponds and Shiva
temples on their banks. Gaurisagar is yet another pond worth
visiting. It was constructed in the year 1723 by Queen Phuleshwari
and measures 150 acres in area. On its bank there are three main
temples dedicated to Gauri, Shiva and Vishnu. The National Highway
37 runs across the eastern side of the pond and over the historic
Namdand stone bridge.
Between Gaurisagar and
Joysagar, there are two more ponds the Athaisagar and the
Rudrasagar built by Rudra Singhas son Lakshmi Singha in the
year 1773. Situated eight kilometres from Sibsagar, this tank too
has a temple on its bank dedicated to Shiva.
About 13 kilometres east
of Sibsagar lies Gargaon Palace, the principle town of the Ahom kings
built by the 15th king of the dynasty, Suklenmung, in the
year 1540. This building was destroyed long ago and the present
palace was rebuilt by King Rajeshwara Singha around 1762. Rising
tier upon tier like an immense, square birthday cake, this brick
palace is set on a grassy mound surrounded by vast open spaces.
Yet another important
landmark of Sibsagar is the dargah of Ajan at the confluence
of the rivers Dikhow and Brahmaputra. This dargah is known as
Hoccaguri Chapori and is the most visited shrine by the Hindus and
the Muslims alike. Ajan whose name was derived from azan
which means prayer, was originally from Baghdad who settled in
Sibsagar. He was blinded by the then ruler of Sibsagar on suspicion
of being a Mughal spy. Even then, he stayed on in Sibsagar, learnt
the native language, immersed himself in the worship of the Almighty
God. He composed lyrics which are sung to this day.
Sibsagar does not look
like a typical Assamese town but looks like a town cross-bred between
Rajasthan and Bihar most of the shops and establishments being
manned by Marwaris, Biharis and east UP-ites. Hindi is, therefore
widely spoken here and even tribals in the town understand Hindi.
Sibsagar is developing
fast because of its newly acquired status of district headquarters
and establishment of the ONGC headquarters at Nazira which is just 18
kilometres from Sibsagar. Therefore, it has a great potential of
developing into a major tourist attraction. The proximity of a
number of airports around it Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Dimapur,
Tezpur, etc. is an added advantage.