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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Explained: The legacy of Sukapha, founder of Ahom kingdom

Political commentator Garga Chatterjee faces arrest for remarks about the Ahom ruler. A look at the kingdom he founded, and the role of the Ahoms in establishing the concept of greater Assam.

Written by Abhishek Saha , Edited by Explained Desk | Guwahati |
Updated: June 23, 2020 2:59:37 pm
Garga Chatterjee arrest, Sarbanda Sonowal Assam, Assam Garga Chatterjee, Garga Chatterjee twitter, Garga Chatterjee Sukapha, Ahom community Assam, Sukapha, founder of Ahom kingdom, Who was Chaolung Sukapha Sukapha was a 13th-century ruler who founded the Ahom kingdom that ruled Assam for six centuries. (Source: .wikipedia.org)

On Friday, Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal ordered the arrest of a Kolkata-based political commentator, Garga Chatterjee, who had described Chaolung Sukapha as a “Chinese invader”.

Who was Chaolung Sukapha?

Sukapha was a 13th-century ruler who founded the Ahom kingdom that ruled Assam for six centuries. Contemporary scholars trace his roots to Burma.

“Sukapha was a leader of the Ahoms. He reached Brahmaputra valley in Assam from upper Burma in the 13th century with around 9,000 followers,” said Arup Kumar Dutta, author of the book The Ahoms.

In his authoritative book on Assam history — A History of Assam, Sir Edward Gait wrote that Sukapha is said to have left a place called Maulung in AD 1215 with eight nobles and 9,000 men, women and children — mostly men. He had with him two elephants, and 300 horses. Gait wrote that In 1235, Sukapha and his people settled in Charaideo in upper Assam after wandering about for years, defeating those who protested his advance, and temporarily staying at different locations.

It was in Charaideo that Sukapha established his first small principality, sowing the seeds of further expansion of the Ahom kingdom.

Who are the Ahoms today?

The founders of the Ahom kingdom had their own language and followed their own religion. Over the centuries, the Ahoms accepted the Hindu religion and the Assamese language, scholars say.

“The Ahoms embraced the language, religion and rituals of the communities living here — they did not impose theirs on those living here,” said Dutta.

As written by Gait, most of those who came with Sukapha were men. Dutta said the men later married women from communities living in Assam. Today, the Ahom community is estimated to number between 4 million and 5 million.

He said Sukapha developed very amiable relationships with the tribal communities living here — especially the Sutias, the Morans and the Kacharis. Intermarriage also increased assimilation processes.

Why is Sukapha important?

Sukapha’s significance — especially in today’s Assam — lies in his successful efforts towards assimilation of different communities and tribes. He is widely referred to as the architect of “Bor Asom” or “greater Assam”.

“Sukapha and his people could consolidate power, culture and religion in the region in a manner which brought a diverse mix of jati and janajatis (multiple tribes and communities) together who at different points of history offered their allegiance to the Ahom kings… For this very reason that the Ahoms managed to group a diverse mix of people in such a politically sensitive region criss-crossing South Asia and South-East Asia, the first Ahom King Sukapha is hailed as an architect of Bor (larger) Assam in popular culture,” Suraj Gogoi, a doctoral candidate at the National University of Singapore, told The Indian Express.

To commemorate Sukapha and his rule, Assam celebrates “Asom Divas” on December 2 every year. Speaking on the occasion last December, Chief Minister Sonowal had said Sukapha “was the architect of greater Assamese society”. “He laid the foundation for a robust and vibrant Assam through his policy of amity, unity and harmony,” Sonowal said.

What has the political commentator said about Sukapha?

In a series of tweets, Garga Chatterjee, who describes himself as a “Bengali nationalist” on Twitter, repeatedly referred to Sukapha as a “Chinese invader” and questioned why the BJP-led state government commemorates his rule as “State Day”.

In a tweet on June 17, Chatterjee wrote: “Why does @sarbanandsonwal regularly celebrate a Chinese invader and his invading army? Why does banned separatist group ULFA also celebrate the Chinese invader? Do real Indians know that Indian tax money is being used by BJP in Assam to put up statues of a Chinese invader?”

In another tweet — whose screenshot is available but could not be accessed online — Chatterjee wrote, “There is a state in India where the ‘State Day’ is celebrated by Assam BJP to commemorate a Chinese invader who brutally attacked India with Chinese troops. This invader is considered a Hero by China-funded anti-Indian separatist group ULFA.”

What action is being taken?

Chatterjee’s tweets caused outrage in Assam. Multiple police cases were filed. On Friday, Sonowal directed the state police to arrest Chatterjee and bring him to Assam. An Assam police team has left for Kolkata.

In a press statement on Friday on him ordering Chatterjee’s arrest, Sonowal said Sukapha was the architect of the greater Assamese identity and making derogatory statements about such a great personality could not be tolerated.

“Posting of offensive remarks on social media misinterpreting historical facts could lead to rift between different communities in an ethnically diverse state like Assam,” said Sonowal, adding that the derogatory statements had “hurt the sentiments of Assamese people”.

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