In this blog we describe our experience with our guests from Bangalore who travelled with across Assam and Meghalaya to Kamakhya Temple, Cherrapunji, Mawlynnong, Dawki, Shillong, Kaziranga National Park, Majuli Island, Jorhat, Sibsagar and Dibrugarh. Since we have covered these destinations apart from Jorhat and Sibsagar in our previous blog post we will limit our experience only at Jorhat and Sibsagar in this blog. This was on the final night’s halt at Jorhat and continuing on our journey to Dibrugarh airport via ibasagar. We returned from Majuli Island by catching the early morning ferry at 7.30AM and by the time we reached Jorhat it was around 10.30AM. Around Jorhat we decided to first visit the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar which was at around 30 minutes from Jorhat town and we headed in the direction of the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar – Home to the oldest burning Oil Lamp in the World. Spread across 13 bighas of land, the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar was established in 1461 AD at Dhekiakhowa in Jorhat district in Assam by Sri Sri Madhavdev, the disciple of Sri Sri Sankardev (the preacher and propounder of Vaishnavism in Assam and also the Father figure of Assamese Culture). Sri Sri Madhavdev had kindled an earthen lamp in 1461, which has been burning since then being religiously re-fueled by the priests till date.
‘Naam’ in Assamese means ‘prayer’ and ‘ghar’ means ‘house’, so ‘Namghar’ literally means a ‘prayer house’. Very commonly found in Assam, these Namghars have been around in Assam since the 15th century. These sacred spaces not only serve as prayer halls, but also as places for cultural activities and centres for learning. The Namghar at Dhekiakhowa is called as a Bornamghar (Bor meaning bigger) because of its historical association and a very large campus.
As the legend goes, Sri Sri Madhavdev had visited this place during his preaching of Vaishnavism across Assam and he arrived at the hut of an elderly and poor village couple. Their joy knew no bounds on seeing the preacher in person and as in the Assamese culture of always attending to the guests with a meal the couple decided to serve food to Madhavdev. But the food they had at home was not sufficient for three people. While Madhavdev bathed at a nearby stream the couple cooked rice for him and upon his arrival served a bowl of steaming rice and they went hungry themselves worrying about the next meal to be served.
To gather food for the next meal the old woman cut and sold off her hair in the market to be used as braids and bought food grains and salt. Her husband collected some Dhekia (fern leaves) for the meal. Madhavdev offered to cook and asked the old man to inform the villagers to assemble at his hut. When the villagers gathered Madhavdev poured oil on a peel of Outenga (Elephant Apple) and lit a saki (lamp). During his preaching of Viashnavism to the villagers he requested them to attend to the lamp to never let it to put out. The lamp still burns at the Dhekiakhowa Namghar. Sri Sri Madhavdev savoured his meal and left the village to continue preaching and while leaving he named the nearby stream as ‘Buri Diha’ to mark the gratitude of the old woman.
When the old couple passed away the villagers constructed a ‘Namghar’ at the spot where their hut stood and named it as ‘Burha (meaning old) Namghar’ to mark their remembrance. The named changed to Bor Namghar in due course.
The Vaishnavite lamp at the Dhekiakhowa Namghar has been burning continuously since 1461 AD and is considered to be the oldest burning oil lamp in the world. The ‘India book of Records’ has recognized this lamp to be the one ‘burning continuously for the longest duration’.
Our guests admired the architecture of the Dhekiakhowa Bornamghar which was built more than 600 years ago and they offered their prayers at the Namghar. After spending a little more time here we proceeded to the next destination – the Lachit Borphukan’s Maidam. Lachit Borphukan’s Maidam is the ancestral home of the brave General of the Ahom Army Lachit Borphukan. LAchit Borphukan was one of the bravest generals of the Ahom army and it was he who did not allow Assam to be conquered by the Mughals with his shrewd tactics of warfare and the never say die attitude. The huge Mughal army were made to retreat after the fierce Battle of Saraighat by an army of Ahoms very much smaller in size under the able command of Lachit Borphukan. Lachit Borphukan’s bravery is renowned across India and the best cadet from the NDA (National Defence Academy) at Pune in India gets awarded with the Lachit Borphukan award. After a while we reached the Lachit Borphukan’s Maidam near Jorhat. The ancestral home has now been converted into a museum and a park. The museum contains many relics from the times of the Ahom Kingdom. But it has not been maintained well and the place has fallen into ruins. There is not adequate lighting inside the ancestral home as so we couldn’t identify many of the artefacts kept here. Outside in the park area there is a huge statue of Lachit Borphukan standing here. We spent a little more time at the park an by the time it was already 12.30 Pm so we left the Lachit Maidam and headed on to have lunch at the Kaziranga Golf Resort which was another 45 minutes drive from here.
The KAZIRANGA GOLF Resort near Jorhat is an ideal stay option for tourists who choose to live in a Colonial area environment. This resort was once a Heritage Bungalow of the legacy British regime in Assam. The ‘BURRA SAHIB’s BUNGALOW’ within the Resort premises now serves as a clubhouse. Colonial style cottages add to the charm of the resort and the Golf course here is one of the finest in the country which is an 18 hole, par 71 golf course in the midst of a tea garden is a first of its kind in the world and developed on a 150 acre site. Equipped with Fine dining, a wellness spa, indoor games and an uninterrupted view of the pristine surrounds and idyllic setting make this facility a ‘must visit’ destination. After having a sumptuous lunch here we headed to our next destination at the ‘Swargadeo Chaolung Sui-ka-Pha Samanway Kshetra’.
On your visit to Assam (or rather anywhere in the World) there will always be one question on your mind – ‘What are the unique things about this place’? And you will always seek to know the answer from a local, a person who has lived here across a major part of his life. You may get many different set of answers from these small sample size of people you will choose to select. Some of the answers will be the One Horned Rhino of Assam – an endangered animal species native to Assam, the Majuli River Island – the World’s Largest inhabited River Island, the Satras of Majuli – that preach Neo Vaishnavism as propagated by Srimanta Sankardeva and his disciples, the River Brahmaputra – the only male river that flows across Assam, the Dhola-Sadiya Bridge – India’s longest Bridge, the Oil town of Digboi – the World’s oldest operational Oil well, etc. But one common answer across all these sets of answer will be the Ahom Kingdom of Sivasagar. The Kings of Assam who were so feared during their time that even the Mighty Mughals couldn’t defeat them at the time when they were ruling the whole of India! The Ahoms although known for their ferocity were also one of the most generous of all. Their grandeur in Architecture can be witnessed at the town of Sivasagar in Assam where the like of the ‘Talatal Ghar’, the ‘Kareng Ghar’ and the ‘Rang Ghar’ can be seen.
But as history has always narrated, no kingdom becomes great without mighty leaders. From Alexander in Greece to Akbar the Great in India, these able leaders created and expanded their empire into a Global one. Not was much different here too with the Ahom Dynasty. Created by one and the legacy carried on by the other made this dynasty one of the most feared and powerful in the country! Although there were many great leaders who played a major role in building the success of this Empire, one noteworthy to be mentioned is the founder of the Ahom Dynasty. He whose praise is sung even today and who will be remembered across the memoirs of the State of Assam always – Chaolung Sukhapa!
The name “Sukafa” brings a sense of pride in every Assamese individual’s heart. Chaolung Sukhapa was the first Ahom king in medieval Assam, & was the founder of the Ahom kingdom (which is famous for defeating the Mughal empire 17 times). As I recall, he was a Tai prince originally from Mong Mao, (now in Yunnan province in Peoples Republic of China). After spending 19 years as crown prince, Sukaphaa decided to leave Mong Mao. According to tradition, his grandmother advised him thus – “no two tigers live in the same jungle, no two kings sit on the same throne.” Accordingly Sukaphaa is said to have left Chieng-Sen the capital of Mong Mao in the year 1215 AD.
He was accompanied by three queens, two sons and a daughter; chiefs from five other dependent Mongs, members of the priestly class and soldiers—a total contingent of 9,000. Some commoners are recorded as having joined this core group on the way. He traveled a long distance & entered Assam in 1228 A.D. His journey from Yunnan to Assam passed through many places like Myitkyina, Mogaung and the upper Irrawaddy river valley and Patkai hills among many others. On his way he stopped at various places and crossed the Khamjang River to reach the Nangyang Lake where he fought and defeated the Nagas and reached the Brahmaputra valley in the early 13th century. The kingdom he established there existed for nearly six hundred years and in the process unified the various tribal and non-tribal peoples of the region that left a deep impact on the region. In the quest of expanding his kingdom, he reached Namrup and constructed a bridge on the Sessa River, and went along the Burhi Dihing River in order to establish a colony for wet rice cultivation. After a substantial amount of time, when he couldn’t find a suitable land, he returned downstream to Tipam. In 1236, he left Tipam for Abhaypur and in the year 1240, the area was struck by flood, which made him move again down the Brahmaputra to Habung, which is present-day Dhakuakhana. In1244,he moved down the Brahmaputra to the Dikhowmukh, because Habung was also struck by flood, and then up the Dikhow river up to Ligirigaon. Finally, in the year 1253, the capital of Ahom Kingdom was established at Charaideo, which lies close to the present-day Sibasagar and eventually initiated the mission of building a state.In honour to his position, the term ‘Chaolung’ is generally associated with his name-Chao meaning lord & Lung meaning great.
Since 1996 December 2 has been celebrated in Assam as the Sukaphaa Divas, or Asom Divas (Assam Day), to commemorate the advent of the first king of the Ahom kingdom in Assam after his journey over the Patkai Hills. He is also known as the first Assamese.
After spending about 2 hours at the Sui-ka-Pha Samanway Kshetra we returned back to Jorhat and checked into our Hotel – MDs Continental. There were two rooms booked for our guests here. The guests went into refresh themselves and after guiding the driver the show them around the local market I took leave to go to my Aunt’s place at Jorhat. We were scheduled to leave in the next morning at 8.00AM to Sibsagar and then continue to drop our guests at the Dibrugarh Airport by 12PM for their flight to Bangalore. I reached my aunt’s place and since we met after a long time we discussed over family life till the evening and then I returned to bed after an early dinner.
I got up in the morning at 6AM and got ready quickly to reach the hotel where our guests were staying . The driver too had reached by around 7.15AM and our guests too were getting ready. We couldn’t afford to delay as we were on a tight schedule today. As planned we had packed our breakfast to be had along the way and at sharp 8AM we checked out of the Hotel and continued on our journey to Sibsagar – the Land of the mighty Ahom kingdom. The road from Jorhat to Sibsagar is not very good and numerous potholes ensure that you cannot go beyond 60km/hr. It took us an hour’s time to reach Sibsagar. We reached our first destination here the Kareng Ghar and the Talatal Ghar. The Ahom Kings ruled the State of Assam for over 600 years. It was under their regime, Assam flourished with prosperity and to ensure they lived in the memoirs of the Assamese people forever the Ahom Kings constructed monuments of great Architectural Grandeur that continue to stand tall til today battling all odds against the wrath of Mother Nature.
Out of the many Grandeur’s built, the most prominent are the Kareng Ghar and the Talatal Ghar at Sivasagar. The Kareng Ghar, also known as ‘the Garhgaon Palace’, is located at Garhgaon (15 kilometers) from present-day Sivasagar, in Upper Assam, India. The Kareng Ghar serves as one of the grandest examples of Ahom architecture to be ever built. The palace basically was made of wood and stones. In 1747 Pramatta Singha, son of Rudra Singha, constructed the brick wall of about 5 kilometers in length surrounding the ‘Garhgaon Palace’ and the masonry gate leading to it.
The old palace was initially destroyed and it was rebuilt at around 1752 as the present seven-storied structure (also known as the Rongpur Palace) by Rajeswar Singha Suremphaa, (1751-1769). The initial construction was started by Swargadeo Rudra Singha in AD 1698. ‘Rongpur’ was the capital of the Ahom Kingdom and served as its military-station for a very long period of time. The palace was initially built for the purpose of serving as a military base for the Ahom kings.
The Talatal Ghar is a palace located in Rangpur, 4 km from the city of Sivasagar, in Upper Assam. It has two secret tunnels and many floors below ground level which were used by the Ahom kings and soldiers as exit routes during the wars.
The Talatal Ghar is not a usual kind of a monument. It speaks of Architectural Expertise of the people of Assam several hundred years ago. The Talatal and the Kareng Ghar together constitutes the Rongpur palace. One end of the Talatal Ghar was situated below the Kareng Ghar which helped the kings and the army to escape during the war times. fter Swargadeo Rudra Singha’s death, the Talatal Ghar, went through many architectural alterations to its structure, which resulted in its irregular shape.
Swargadeo Rajeswar Singha added the three floors below ground, which make up the Talatal Ghar. This is made of brick and an indigenous type of cement (a mixture of Bora Chaul – a sticky variety of rice grain – eggs of hens, etc.). The Talatal Ghar had two secret underground tunnels. One, about 3 kilometres in length, connected the Talatal Ghar to the Dikhow River, while the other, 16 kilometres long, led to the Garhgaon Palace, and was used as an escape route in case of an enemy attack.
The two palaces, the Kareng Ghar and the Talatal Ghar as already mentioned, are connected through two tunnels to the Dikhow river which served as an exit route in case of enemy attacks. Though the section was blocked by East India Company, a part of it (the ground floor and certain sections of the upper floors) was later reopened for the tourists. The entire palace, with its various rooms, is interconnected by tiny passages. Built within the palace are an octagonal-shaped temple, three large chambers, a guard room and a hall with a huge courtyard having separate entrances.
After exploring and clicking our pictures at the Talatal Ghar we headed a short way ahead to reach the Rang Ghar at Sibsagar.
Another of the prominent monument built by the Ahom Kings is the ‘Rang Ghar’ at Sivasagar. The Rang Ghar (the House of Entertainment) is a two-storied building situated in Sivasagar, once served as the royal sports-pavilion for Ahom kings and nobles – particularly during the Rongali Bihu festival (the Assamese New Year in the month of April) in the Ahom capital of Rangpur. It is said to be the oldest amphitheater in the whole of Asia and has often been referred to as the ‘Colosseum of the East‘. The Rang Ghar is situated to the northeast of the Talatal Ghar, in the Joysagar area of the Sibsagar district. This ancient amphitheater was constructed by the Ahom ruler Swargadeo Pramutta Singha in 1744-1750.
The Rang Ghar is made of brick and an indigenous type of cement (a mixture of Bora Chaul – a sticky variety of rice grain – eggs of hens, etc.), the same materials that were used for the construction of Kareng Ghar and Talatal Ghar. The materials used to build these monuments were of great quality and hence has been able to withstand all the natural calamities and sustain its existence for centuries.
It is 3 km away from the center of the Sivasagar Town by the side of the Assam Trunk Road. It lies to the northeast of the Rangpur Palace (a seven-storied royal complex comprising the Talatal Ghar and the Kareng Ghar.
After finishing a tour of the Rang Ghar we headed to the Dibrugarh airport without any further halts. We reached Dibrugarh airport sharp at 12PM. We dropped our guests at the airport and bid them Goodbye!