IT WAS FREDERICK ENGELS who made the emergence of the state an object of investigation: What was the process by which the state, as "a power seemingly standing above society", developed on the ruins of the gentile constitution ? Engels outlined three main forms of transition corresponding to the experiences of the Athenian, the Roman and the Germanic populations. Within Engels's problematic, a correct study of the formation of the Ahom state in Upper Assam is undertaken by Professor Amalendu Guha in the lead article of the current number of Social Scientist. A band from the Mao-Shan sub-tribe of the Tais of South-East Asia migrated to Upper Assam in 1228, and after temporary stays at several sites finally settled down in the Dikhou valley in 1253. These Tai-Ahoms brought with them not only their techniques of wet rice cultivation, but also their kinship-based power structure which right until the 16th century, according to Guha, did not give rise to the formation of the state per se. The Ahom territory during this period remained small, the population limited and the surplus, consequently, inadequate. There was also a lack of interaction with the more diversified economy of the settled "Aryanised" population in the neighbourhood. Engels's perspicacious remark that "the gentile constitution could continue for many centuries in a changed territorial form" was thus vindicated. But starting from the end of the 14th century, and significantly during the years 1497-1539, the Ahom polity underwent qualitative changes through the conquest of new territories, the peasantisation and Ahomisation of tribal populations in large numbers, and a much greater exposure to the outside world in the form of Brahmanical influence and Turko-Afghan firearms. The emergence of a full-fledged state and its growing sophistication during the 16th and 17th centuries were accompanied by a process of Hinduisation/Sanskritisation as well as of cultural fusion and linguistic unification.
Guha's is not only a historical study of the evolution of the Ahom social-political system, but also a theoretical contribution which discusses a number of issues arising within Engels's problematic, and