Assam State

Introduction :

Assam is a northeastern state of India with its capital at Dispur located in the city of Guwahati. Located south of the eastern Himalayas, Assam comprises the Brahmaputra and the Barak river valleys along with the Karbi Anglong and the North Cachar Hills with an area of 30,285 square miles (78,438 km˛). Assam is surrounded by six of the other Seven Sister States: Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and Meghalaya. These states are connected to the rest of India via a narrow strip in West Bengal called the Siliguri Corridor or "Chicken's Neck". Assam also shares international borders with Bhutan and Bangladesh; and cultures, peoples and climate with South-East Asia - important elements in India’s Look East policy.

Assam became a part of India after the British occupied the region following the Treaty of Yandaboo of 1826. It is known for Assam tea, large and old petroleum resources, Assam silk and for its rich biodiversity. Assam has successfully conserved the one-horned Indian rhinoceros from near extinction, along with the tiger and numerous species of birds, and it provides one of the last wild habitats for the Asian elephant. It is becoming an increasingly popular destination for wild-life tourism, and Kaziranga and Manas are both World Heritage Sites. Assam was also known for its Sal tree forests and forest products, much depleted now. A land of high rainfall, Assam is endowed with lush greenery and the mighty river Brahmaputra, whose tributaries and oxbow lakes provide the region with a unique hydro-geomorphic and aesthetic environment.

History :

Assam and adjoining regions have evidences of human settlements from all the periods of the Stone ages. The hills at the height of 1500–2000 feet (460 to 615 m) were popular habitats probably due to availability of exposed doleritic basalt useful for tool-making.

According to the Kalika Purana (c.17th-18th AD), written in Assam, the earliest ruler of Assam was Mahiranga followed by Hatak, Sambar, Ratna and Ghatak; Naraka removed this line of rulers and established his own Naraka dynasty. It mentions that the last of the Naraka-bhauma rulers, Narak, was slain by Krishna. Naraka's son Bhagadatta, mentioned in the Mahabharata, fought for the Kauravas in the battle of Kurushetra with an army of kiratas, chinas and dwellers of the eastern coast. Later rulers of Kamarupa frequently drew their lineage from the Naraka rulers. However, there are lots of evidences to say that Mahayana Buddhism was prominent in ancient Assam. After Huen Shang's visit Mahayana Buddhism came to Assam. Relics of Tezpur, Malini Than, Kamakhya and Madan Kam Dev Temple are the evidences of Mahayana Buddhism

Ancient Assam, known as Kamarupa was ruled by powerful dynasties: the Varmanas (c.350-650 A.D.), the Salstambhas (Xalostombho, c.655-900 A.D.) and the Kamarupa-Palas (c.900-1100 A.D.). In the reign of the Varman king, Bhaskaravarman (c.600–650 A.D.), the Chinese traveler Xuan Zang visited the region and recorded his travels. Later, after weakening and disintegration (after the Kamarupa-Palas), the Kamarupa tradition was somewhat extended till c.1255 A.D. by the Lunar I (c.1120-1185 A.D.) and Lunar II (c.1155-1255 A.D.) dynasties.

Two later dynasties, the Ahoms and the Koch left larger impacts. The Ahoms, a Tai group, ruled Assam for nearly 600 years (1228–1826 A.D.) and the Koch, a Tibeto-Burmese, established sovereignty in c.1510 A.D. The Koch kingdom in western Assam and present North Bengal was at its zenith in the early reign of Naranarayana (c.1540-1587 A.D.). It split into two in c.1581 A.D., the western part as a Moghul vassal and the eastern as an Ahom satellite state. Since c.13th A.D., the nerve centre of Ahom polity was upper Assam; the kingdom was gradually extended till Karatoya River in the c.17th-18th A.D. It was at its zenith during the reign of Sukhrungpha or Sworgodeu Rudra Simha (c.1696-1714 A.D.). Among other dynasties, the Chutiyas ruled north-eastern Assam and parts of present Arunachal Pradesh and the Kacharis ruled from Dikhow River to central and southern Assam. With expansion of Ahom kingdom, by c.1520 A.D. the Chutiya areas were annexed and since c.1536 A.D. Kacharis remained only in Cachar and North Cachar more as an Ahom ally then a competing force. Despite numerous invasions, mostly by the Muslim rulers, no western power ruled Assam until the arrival of the British. The most successful invader Mir Jumla, a governor of Aurangzeb, briefly occupied Garhgaon (c.1662–63 A.D.), the then capital, but found it difficult to control people making guerrilla attacks on his forces, forcing them to leave. The decisive victory of the Assamese led by the great general Lachit Borphukan on the Mughals, then under command of Raja Ram Singha at Saraighat (1671) had almost ended Mughal ambitions in this region. Mughals were finally expelled in c.1682 A.D. from lower Assam.

Ahom palace intrigue and political turmoil due to the Moamoria rebellion aided the expansionist Burmese ruler of Ava to invade Assam and install a puppet king in 1821. With the Burmese having reached the East India Company’s borders, the First Anglo-Burmese War ensued. The war ended under the Treaty of Yandaboo in 1826, with the Company taking control of Lower Assam and installing Purander Singh as king of Upper Assam in 1833. The arrangement lasted till 1838 and thereafter the British gradually annexed the entire region. Initially Assam was made a part of the Bengal Presidency, then in 1906 it was a part of Eastern Bengal and Assam province, and in 1912 it was reconstituted into a Chief Commissioners' province. In 1913, a Legislative Council and in 1937 the Assam Legislative Assembly was formed in Shillong, the erstwhile capital of the region. The British tea planters imported labour from central India adding to the demographic canvas. After few initial unsuccessful attempts to free Assam during the 1850s, the Assamese since early 20th century joined and actively supported the Indian National Congress against the British. In 1947, Assam including the present Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland, Mizoram and Meghalaya became a state of the Union of India (princely states, Manipur and Tripura became Group C provinces) and a district of Assam, Sylhet chose to join Pakistan.

Physical Geography :

Geomorphic studies conclude that the Brahmaputra, the life-line of Assam is a paleo-river; older than the Himalayas. The river with steep gorges and rapids in Arunachal Pradesh entering Assam, becomes a braided river (at times 10 mi/16 km wide) and with tributaries, creates a flood plain (Brahmaputra Valley: 50-60 mi/80–100 km wide, 600 mi/1000 km long). The hills of Karbi Anglong, North Cachar and those in and close to Guwahati (also Khasi-Garo Hills) now eroded and dissected are originally parts of the South Indian Plateau system.[5] In the south, the Barak originating in the Barail Range (Assam-Nagaland border), flows through the Cachar district with a 25–30 miles (40–50 km) wide valley and enters Bangladesh with the name Surma. Assam and its Environs: As per the plate tectonics, Assam is in the eastern-most projection of the Indian Plate, where the plate is thrusting underneath the Eurasian Plate creating a subduction zone and the Himalayas. Therefore, Assam possesses a unique geomorphic environment, with plains, dissected hills of the South Indian Plateau system and with the Himalayas all around its north, north-east and east.

Assam is endowed with petroleum, natural gas, coal, limestone and other minor minerals such as magnetic quartzite, kaolin, sillimanites, clay and feldspar. A small quantity of iron ore is available in western districts. Discovered in 1889, all the major petroleum-gas reserves are in Upper parts. A recent USGS estimate shows 399 million barrels (63,400,000 m3) of oil, 1,178 billion cubic feet (3.34×1010 m3) of gas and 67 million barrels (10,700,000 m3) of natural gas liquids in the Assam Geologic Province.

With the “Tropical Monsoon Rainforest Climate”, Assam is temperate (summer max. at 95-100°F or 35-38°C and winter min. at 43-46 °F or 6-8 °C) and experiences heavy rainfall and high humidity. The climate is characterized by heavy monsoon downpours reducing summer temperatures and affecting foggy nights and mornings in winters. Thunderstorms known as Bordoicila are frequent during the afternoons. Spring (Mar-Apr) and Autumn (Sept-Oct) are usually pleasant with moderate rainfall and temperature.

Famous one horned Indian Rhinoceros at Kaziranga National Park

Assam is one of the richest biodiversity zones in the world and consists of tropical rainforests, deciduous forests, riverine grasslands, bamboo orchards and numerous wetland ecosystems; Many are now protected as national parks and reserved forests. The Kaziranga, home of the rare Indian Rhinoceros, and Manas are two UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Assam. The state is the last refuge for numerous other endangered species such as the Golden Langur (Presbetis geei), White-winged Wood Duck or Deohanh (Cairina scutulata), Bengal Florican, Black-breasted Parrotbill, Pygmy Hog, Greater Adjutant and so on. Some other endangered species with significant population in Assam are the Tiger, Elephant, Hoolock Gibbon, Jerdon's Babbler and so on to name a few. Assam is also known for orchids.

The region is prone to natural disasters with annual floods and frequent mild earthquakes. Strong earthquakes are rare; three of which were recorded in 1869, 1897 (8.1 on the Richter scale); and in 1950 (8.6).

After discovery of Camellia sinensis (1834) in Assam followed by its tests in 1836-37 in London, the British allowed companies to rent land since 1839. Thereafter tea plantations mushroomed in Upper Assam, where the soil and the climate were most suitable. Problems with the imported laborers from China and hostilities of native Assamese resulted into migration of forced laborers from central-eastern parts of India. After initial trial and error with planting the Chinese and the Assamese-Chinese hybrid varieties, the planters later accepted the local Camellia assamica as the most suitable one for Assam. By 1850s, the industry started seeing some profits. Industry saw initial growth, when in 1861, investors were allowed to own land in Assam and it saw substantial progress with invention of new technologies and machinery for preparing processed tea during 1870s. The cost of Assam tea was lowered down manifold and became more competitive than its Chinese variant.

Despite the commercial success, tea laborers continued to be exploited, working and living under poor conditions. Fearful of greater government interference, the tea growers formed The Indian Tea Association in 1888 to lobby to retain the status quo. The organization was very successful in this, and even after India’s independence conditions of the laborers have improved very little.