About the Dimasa Kingdom of Assam

  • By Kamlesh Tripathi
  • March 14, 2022
  • 2430 views
Girl Kachari tribe, Hornbill Festival 2014.
  • History of the Kachari Kingdom in Northeast (Cachar district). It relates earlier kingdoms territories into modern day states/districts. Period covered 13-19th centuries. Kachari tribe found in Nagaland’s Dimapur and Assam etc.  

The Dimasa aka Kachari Kingdom, also known as the Kachari Hidimba and Timisa Kingdom was a major, late medieval, or an early modern kingdom in Assam-ruled by Dimasa kings, also 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 how new states that emerged from indigenous communities transformed these communities. The British annexed their kingdom: the plains in 1832 and the hills in 1834. This kingdom gave its name to the undivided Cachar district of colonial Assam.

 

Assam was a province of British India, created in 1912 by the partition of Eastern Bengal and Assam and its capital was 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. 

 

First published in Journal of Bharatiya Vidya Bhawan.

 

After independence, the undivided Cachar district was split into three districts of Assam: Cachar, Dima Hasao and Hailakandi, formerly North Cachar Hills, Cachar district and Hailakandi respectively. The Dimasa kingdom finds mention in the chronicles of China. The undivided Cachar district is congruous to the last king of Kachari, Govinda Chandra’s kingdom. In the 18th century, a divine Hindu origin was constructed for the rulers of the Kachari Kingdom. The kingdom was named Hidimba and its kings Hidimbesvar. The name Hidimba 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-chengsa, a name first mentioned on a coin dating back to 1520. Some of them had to leave due to a political turmoil while some died while crossing the Brahmaputra. Therefore they were 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 the theory of initial unity and then divergence. Linguistic studies too point to a close association between Dimasa language and 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.

War Goddess Kechai Khaiti, worshipped by Kacharis.

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 group of Kachari people in the Tirap region (currently in Arunachal Pradesh). The group informed him that they had to leave a place called Mohung (salt springs) after losing it to the Nagas, and that they later settled near the Dikhou river. 

 

This supports the theory that the eastern boundary of the Kachari kingdom extended up to Mohong or Namchang beyond the river Dichang, before the arrival of Ahoms.

 

It is believed that the Ming dynasty of China had political ties with the Dimasa Kingdom. According to a legend, there was an extraordinary boy who was brought up by a tiger couple in a forest near Dimapur. The boy replaced the existing king following some divine oracles, indicating the emergence of a strong military leader who was 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 BaroBhuyans to its west.

Mushroom Domed pillars (Kachari ruins). 

In Dimapur, the remains of the Kachari city are still present. 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 in upper Assam were built of masonry, whereas, the remains at Dimapur, which flourished centuries before the Ahoms arrived, show us that Kacharis knew all about the art of brick making and construction.

 

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 by offering their princess to the Kachari king. More battles followed and by 1531 the Ahoms had advanced up to Dimapur, the capital. The Dimasas 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 Kachari king and many royals were murdered after the Ahoms invaded the capital. The Ahoms installed Detsung as the king of the Kachari Kingdom with a yearly tax of 20 elephants and 1 lakh 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 which became an important institution of the state. The titular deity of the Dimasas changed from Kechai Khaiti to Ranachandi in the 16th century as the royal family came under the influence of Hinduism. According to a legend, the royal family descended from the famous Ghatotkacha, the son of Bhima of the Mahabharata, and Hidimba, 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 during the reign of either Durlabh Narayan or his predecessor, and made it into a tributary of the Koch Kingdom. The size of the annual tribute was seventy thousand rupees, one thousand gold mohurs and sixty elephants.

 

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 installed Jasa Manik on the throne. He manipulated events that brought the Dimasa Kacharis into conflict with the Ahoms in 1618. Satrudaman, the most powerful Dimasa Kachari king, ruled over Dimarua in Nagaon district long before it was ruled by the Tiwa tribal chief Jongal Balahu, which included, North Cachar, Dhansiri valley, plains of Cachar and parts of eastern Sylhet.

 

During the reign of Birdarpan Narayan in the 17th century, the Kachari rule had withdrawn completely from the Dhansiri valley and the region 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 Maibang and destroyed its forts in 1706 following which 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), 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. All the important government offices were manned by the Dimasa people, who were not necessarily Hindus. 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.

 

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 specialised services to the state ministers, ambassadors, storekeepers, court writers, and other bureaucrats and ultimately developed into professional groups, e.g. Songyasa (king’s cooks), and Nablaisa (fishermen). 

 

By the 17th century, the Dimasa Kachari rule extended into the plains of Cachar. The people living in the plains did not participate in the courts of the Dimasa Kachari king directly. They were organised 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 wielded a considerable influence, especially at the beginning of the 18th century. The region of Khaspur was originally a part of the Tripura Kingdom, which was taken over by the Koch king, Chilarai in the 16th century. 

 

The region was ruled by Chilarai’s brother Kamalnarayana. 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 Maibang kingdom. After the death of Bhima Singha, the Dimasas migrated to Khaspur and the two kingdoms merged. Kachari kingdom thus became part of the Maibang kingdom as inheritance from the royal marriage, and established their capital in Khaspur, near present-day Silchar. The independent rule of Khaspur’s Koch rulers ended in 1745 when it merged with the Kachari kingdom. Khaspur is a corrupted form of the word Kochpur. Three brothers Gopichandranarayan, Harichandra and Laxmichandra ruled the kingdom in succession. 

 

The Dimasa Kachari kingdom was occupied by the Burmese in the early 19th-century. 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. After the death of Govinda Chandra Hasnu in 1830, the British annexed the region held by Senapati Tularam which ultimately became the North Cachar district. In 1833, Govinda Chandra’s domain was also annexed to become the Cachar district.

 

After being dislodged from Meitrabak (present-day Manipur), attempts were made to recapture 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 among the three Meitrabak princes. Chaurajit got the eastern portion of Cachar bordering Meitrabak (capital Sonai), Gambhir Singh was given the land west of Tillain hill with headquarters at Gumrah and 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.

 

The widely believed legend that was created by the Hindu Brahmins at Khaspur goes as follows: In the Mahabharata, during their exile, the Pandavas came to the Kachari Kingdom where Bhima fell in love with Hidimba, married her and their son was Ghatotkacha. He ruled the Kachari Kingdom for many decades. Thereafter, kings of his lineage ruled over the vast land of the Dilao river (now known as Brahmaputra River) until 4th century CE. It is believed that Kacharis participated in the Mahabharata war too.

 

This article was first published in the Bhavan’s Journal, February 28, 2022 issue. This article is courtesy and copyright Bhavan’s Journal, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, Mumbai-400007. eSamskriti has obtained permission from Bhavan’s Journal to share. Do subscribe to the Bhavan’s Journal – it is very good.

 

Also read

1. Album Hornbill Festival for pics of Kachari tribe

2. Assamese or Kachari debate in Assam

3. A note on the tribes of Darrang

 

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