NA VAN JOT LAHIKI*
The Pre-Ahom Roots of Medieval Assam
THE issue which is absent in Amalendu Guha's analysis of state and economy in medieval Assam1 and correspondingly the theme of this brief note is that of continuity between the pre-Ahom period which he almost completely ignores and the Ahom period which is the focus of his study. The pre-Ahom sources used in this context are the thirty-two inscriptions found in the Brahmaputra valley and its peripheral regions between the 5tb and the 13th centuries A.D.2 If our analysis cannot be placed in a context earlier than this, that is only because our knowledge ofpre-5th century A.D. Assam is remarkably shadowy, dominated by vague literary traditions unsubstantiated by anything in archaeology. The archaeology of Assam is a tangled mass of data which, despite a long tradition of reporting neolithic tools and some interesting but chronologically undefined recent discoveries, has not had the benefit of any meaningful research.
2. Gufaa's starting point is the 13th century when the Ahoms from upper Burma and the Turko-Afghans invaded "the land of Kamrup that once extended from the easternmost limits of the Brahmaputra valley to the banks of the river Karatoya"3, which by this time was "long in ruin."4 The Ahoms entered upper Assam in the 13th century but could not evolve into a fullfledged state until the 15th century. Their initial tiny territorial base did not generate the necessary surplus for a well-developed state apparatus. State formation in upper Assam "was determined by"5:
(a) the extension of permanent wet-rice cultivation to territories dominated by shifting cultivation and (b) the absorption of stateless shifting cultivators into a common polity with the Ahoms themselves. "The Ahoms played a significant role in widening the base of wet-rice culture of the salt variety in the extensive and undulating plains of eastern Assam"6 and also transferred "their wet-rice technology to less advanced tribes."7 The Ahoms absorbed some of their Naga, Moran and Barahi neighbours, along with large sections of the Chutiya and Kachari tribes. Taken together, "these package changes in the rice economy ensured an increased productivity,
* Teaches at Hiadu College, DeMii University, Delhi.