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INTERESTING FACTS: NORTH EAST-THE DIMASA aka KACHARI KINGDOM

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Ruins of Dimasa Palace

    The Dimasa aka Kachari Kingdom also known as Kachari Hidimbā and Timisa kingdom was a major, late medieval, or an early modern kingdom in Assam—Northeast India, ruled by Dimasa kings, called Timisa in the Ahom Buranjis (the Ahom texts).

    The Dimasa kingdom and others (Kamata, Chutiya—kingdoms) that developed in the wake of the Kamarupa kingdom were examples of new states that emerged from indigenous communities in Medieval Assam, and that transformed these communities. The British finally annexed the kingdom: The plains in 1832 and the hills in 1834. This kingdom gave its name to undivided Cachar district of colonial Assam. Assam was a province of British India, created in 1912 by the partition of Eastern Bengal and Assam. Its capital was in Shillong. The Assam territory was first separated from Bengal in 1874 as the ‘North-East Frontier’ non-regulation province. It was incorporated into the new province of Eastern Bengal and Assam in 1905 and re-established as a province in 1912.

    After independence the undivided Cachar district was split into three districts, in Assam: Cachar, Dima Hasao and Hailakandi district, formerly North Cachar Hills, Cachar district, Hailakandi district. The Dimasa kingdom finds mention in Chinese chronicles. The Undivided Cachar district is congruous, to Govinda Chandra’s, the last king of the Kachari kingdom, a domain in the southern part of Assam.

    In the 18th century, a divine Hindu origin was constructed for the rulers of the Kachari kingdom and it was named Hidimba, and the kings as Hidimbesvar. The name Hiḍimba continued to be used in the official records when the East India Company took over the administration of Cachar.

    The origin of the Dimasa Kingdom is not clear. According to tradition the Dimasa had their domain in Kamarupa and their kings belonged to a lineage called Ha-tsung-tsa or Ha-cheng-sa, a name first mentioned in a coin from 1520. Some of them had to leave due to a political turmoil and while crossing the Brahmaputra some of them were swept away. Therefore, they are called Dimasa (son of the big river). The similarity in Dimasa traditions and religious beliefs with those of the Chutiya Kingdom a late medieval state that developed around Sadiya a town in Tinsukiya district of Assam, and adjoining areas in Arunachal Pradesh, supports this tradition of initial unity and then divergence. Linguistic studies too point to a close association between the Dimasa language and the Moran language that was alive till the beginning of the 20th-century, suggesting that the Dimasa kingdom had an eastern Assam presence before the advent of the Ahoms. The Dimasas had a tradition of worshipping Kechai Khaiti, the war goddess, common among all Bodo-Kachari people such as the Rabhas, Tiwas, Koch, Chutias, etc. According to an account in a Buranji, the first Ahom king Sukaphaa (1228–1268) encountered a Kachari group in the Tirap region (currently in Arunachal Pradesh), who informed him that, they along with their chief had to leave a place called Mohung (salt springs) losing it to the Nagas and that they were settled near the Dikhou river. This supports a tradition that the eastern boundary of the Kachari domain extended up to Mohong or Namchang (near Jeypore, Assam) beyond the river Dichang, before the arrival of Ahoms.

    It is perceived that the Chinese Ming dynasty had political interactions with the Dimasa Kingdom, which canonized it, as a tusi in 1406 named, “Di-ma-sa Pacification Superintendency.”

   According to a legend, Hachengsa or Hasengcha was an extraordinary boy brought up by a tiger and a tigress in a forest near Dimapur who replaced the existing king following some divine oracles, which indicates the emergence of a strong military leader able to consolidate power. Subsequently, the Hasengcha Sengfang (clan) emerged, beginning with Khorapha (1520 in Dimapur), the Dimasa kings continued to draw lineage from Hachengcha in Maibong and Khaspur till the 19th century. This legend of the origin of Hachengcha is recorded in an unpublished manuscript written by the late Rajkumar Janmejoy Barman, a member of the royal clan of the Dimasas.

    By the 13th century, the Kachari kingdom extended along the southern banks of Brahmaputra River, from Dikhow River to Kallang River and included the valley of Dhansiri and present-day Dima Hasao district. Dimapur was built by Raja Chakradhvaj after being driven from Ghergaon (present-day Dergaon) in Jorhat district. According to the Buranjis who called the kings Khun Timisa, the Kachari settlements to the east of Dikhou withdrew before the Ahom advance. The Chutiya Kingdom existed in the Northeast, and the Kamata Kingdom and the Baro-Bhuyans, to its west.

    In Dimapur, the remains of the Kachari city are still evident. The locals around Dimapur refer to the remains as the “Chess Pieces” of Dima Raja or the King of Dimasa. Only a few ancient temples and that too, only in upper Assam, were then built of masonry, whereas, the remains at Dimapur, for instance, which flourished, centuries before the Ahoms arrived, show us that Kacharis knew, all about the art of brick making and permanent buildings.”

    The Ahoms settled in the track between the Chutiya and the Kachari Kingdoms that was inhabited by the Borahi and Moran people. The first clash with the Ahom Kingdom took place in 1490, in which the Ahoms were defeated. The Ahoms pursued peace, an Ahom princess was offered to the Kachari king, and the Kachari took control of the land beyond Dhansiri. But in the meanwhile the Ahoms were getting powerful and they pushed the Kacharis back, west. In 1526 the Kacharis defeated the Ahoms in a battle, but in the same year, they were defeated in a second battle. In 1531 the Ahoms advanced up to Dimapur, the capital. The Dimasas in accordance to their animistic faith believed cows (Mushu) to be “Gushu” (impure). This belief is still held by the Dimasas. When the Ahom army attacked the Kachari army, they took the cover of cows. The king of the Kachari Kingdom along with his mother and many royals were murdered after the Ahoms reached the city. The Ahoms later installed Detsung as the king of the Kachari Kingdom with yearly taxes of 20 Elephant and 1 lakhs of rupees (mudras). But in 1536 the Ahoms attacked the Kachari capital once again and ransacked the city. The Dimasa abandoned Dimapur and retreated south to set up their new capital in Maibang. “Mai” means “Paddy” and “bang” means “Plenty or abundance”.

    At Maibang, the Dimasa Kachari kings came under Hindu influence. The son of Detsung took a Hindu name Nirbhay Narayan, and established his Brahmin guru as the Dharmadhi that became an important institution of the state. The titular deity of the Dimasas changed from Kechai Khaiti to Ranachandi in the 16th-century as a result of Hinduisation. The royal family came under Hindu influence at Maibang, though the first conversion of a Kachari king to Hinduism is recorded in Khaspur, much later. According to a legend coined at that time, the royal family descends from the famous Ghatotkacha, the son of Bhima of the Mahabharata fame, and Hidambi, a princess of the Kachari people.

    Chilarai the younger brother of Nara Narayan, the king of the Kamata Kingdom in the 16th century, attacked the kingdom on or after 1564, during the reign of either Durlabh Narayan or his predecessor, and made it into a tributary of the Koch Kingdom. Where, the size of the annual tribute was— seventy thousand rupees, one thousand gold mohurs and sixty elephants, and that testifies to the resourcefulness of the Kachari state.

    A conflict with the Jaintia Kingdom over the region of Dimarua led to a battle and the defeat of the Jaintia king (Dhan Manik). After the death of Dhan Manik, Satrudaman the Dimasa Kachari king, installed Jasa Manik on the throne who manipulated events to bring the Dimasa Kacharis into conflict with the Ahoms once again in 1618. Satrudaman, the most powerful Dimasa Kachari king, ruled over Dimarua in Nagaon district long before it was ruled by Tiwa tribal chief Jongal Balahu, which included, North Cachar, Dhansiri valley, plains of Cachar and parts of eastern Sylhet. After his conquest of Sylhet, he struck coins in his name.

    By the reign of Birdarpan Narayan (around 1644), the Kachari rule had withdrawn completely from the Dhansiri valley and it had reverted to a jungle forming a barrier between their kingdom and the Ahom Kingdom. When a successor king, Tamradhwaj, declared independence, the Ahom king invaded Maibong and destroyed its forts in 1706 and the king had to take refuge in Khaspur.

    Kacharis had three ruling clans (semfongs): Bodosa (an old historical clan), Thaosengsa (the clan to which the kings belonged to), and Hasyungsa (to which the kings relatives belonged).

    The king at Maibang was assisted in his state duties by a council of ministers (Patra and Bhandari), led by a chief called Barbhandari. These and other state offices were manned by people of the Dimasa group, who were not necessarily Hinduized. There were about 40 clans called Sengphong of the Dimasa people, each of which sent a representative to the royal assembly called Mel, a powerful institution that could elect a king. The representatives sat in the Mel mandap (Council Hall) according to the status of the Sengphong that provided a counterfoil to royal powers.

    Over time, the Sengphongs developed a hierarchical structure with five royal Sengphongs though most of the kings belonged to the Hacengha (Hasnusa) clan. Some of the clans provided specialized services to the state ministers, ambassadors, storekeepers, court writers, and other bureaucrats and ultimately developed into professional groups, e.g. Songyasa (king’s cooks), Nablaisa (fishermen).

    By the 17th century, the Dimasa Kachari rule extended into the plains of Cachar. The plains people did not participate in the courts of the Dimasa Kachari king directly. They were organized according to khels, and the king provided justice and collected revenue via an official called the Uzir. Though the plains people did not participate in the Dimasa Kachari royal court, the Dharmadhi guru and other Brahmins in the court cast a considerable influence, especially with the beginning of the 18th century.

    The region of Khaspur, was originally, a part of the Tripura Kingdom, which was taken over by Koch (Koch dynasty of North East) king Chilarai in the 16th century. The region was ruled by a tributary ruler, Kamalnarayana, the brother of king Chilarai. Around 18th century Bhima Singha, the last Koch ruler of Khaspur, didn’t have any male heir. His daughter, Kanchani, married Laxmichandra, the Dimasa prince of Maibong kingdom. Once the last Koch king Bhima Singha died the Dimasas migrated to Khaspur, thus merging the two kingdoms into one. Kachari kingdom under the king Gopichandranarayan, and the control of the Khaspur kingdom, went to the ruler of the Maibong kingdom, as inheritance from the royal marriage and established their capital in Khaspur, near present-day Silchar. The independent rule of the Khaspur’s Koch rulers ended in 1745 when it merged with the Kachari kingdom. Khaspur is a corrupted form of the word Kochpur. Gopichandranarayan (reigning1745-1757), Harichandra (reigning1757-1772) and Laxmichandra (reigning1772-1773) were brothers and ruled the kingdom in succession.

    Connect with Hindu Mythology

    The widely believed legend that was constructed by the Hindu Brahmins at Khaspur goes as follows: In Mahabharat during their exile, the Pandavas came to the Kachari Kingdom where Bhima fell in love with Hidimbi (sister of Hidimba). Bhima married princess Hidimbi according to the Gandharva system and a son was born to princess Hidimbi, named Ghatotkacha. He ruled the Kachari Kingdom for many decades. Thereafter, kings of his lineage ruled over the vast land of the “Dilao” river (which translates to “long river” in English), now known as Brahmaputra River for centuries until 4th century AD. It is believed that Kacharies participated in the Mahabharat war too.

    British occupation

    The Dimasa Kachari kingdom came under Burmese occupation in the late early 19th-century along with the Ahom Kingdom. The last king, Govinda Chandra Hasnu, was restored by the British after the Yandabo Treaty in 1826, but he was unable to subjugate Tularam Senapati who ruled the hilly regions. Senapati Tularam Hasnusa’s domain was Mahur River and the Naga Hills in the south, the Doyang river on the west, the Dhansiri River on the east and Jamuna and Doyang in the north. In 1830, Govinda Chandra Hasnu died. In 1832, Senapoti Tularam Hasnu was pensioned off and his region was annexed by the British to ultimately become the North Cachar district. In 1833, Govinda Chandra’s domain was also annexed to become the Cachar district.

    In the early nineteenth century, after being dislodged from Meitrabak (present-day Manipur), its princes made Cachar a springboard for the reconquest of the territory. In 1819, the three brothers occupied Cachar and drove Govinda Chandra Hasnu out to Sylhet (now in Bangladesh). The kingdom of Cachar, divided between Govinda Chandra Hasnu and Chaurajit in 1818, was repartitioned after the flight of Govind Chandra among the three Meitrabak princes. Chaurajit got the eastern portion of Cachar bordering Meitrabak which was ruled from Sonai. Gambhir Singh was given the land west of Tillain hill and his headquarters was at Gumrah, Marjit Singh ruled Hailakandi from Jhapirbond. The British annexed the Dimasa Kachari Kingdom under the doctrine of lapse. At the time of British annexation, the kingdom consisted of parts of Nagaon and Karbi Anglong; North Cachar (Dima Hasao), Cachar and the Jiri frontier of Manipur.

Posted by Kamlesh Tripathi

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