Cultural Development of Kamarupa
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Kamarupa was most powerful and formidable kingdom in North East India ruling by Aryan rulers of Varman and Pala line from its capital in Pragjyotishpura and Durjaya in Western Assam and rulers of Mlechchha lines from its capital in Haruppeswara in central Assam. From its capitals, its culture and influence grown to nook and corner of the region.
Sources of information
With Jaya Pala, who was probably the son or grandson of Dharma Pala, the line of Kamarupa kings, tracing descent from Bhagadatta, comes to an end. It may therefore now conveniently take stock and discuss how far Kamarupa progressed materially and culturally during the rule of these kings from the fourth till the twelfth century A.D. The materials on which such a discussion may be based, with some degree of confidence, are however meagre. The account left by the Chinese pilgrim refers to conditions in the seventh century. The various copper-plate inscriptions however, though they were the works of panegyrists, afford some glimpse into the actual state of the country and the people practically throughout the whole period.
The most important development that took place in Northern India towards the close of the Upanishad period, not many centuries after the Mahabharata war, was the rise of Gautama Buddha and his religion, Within a couple of centuries after Buddha's nirvana his religion spread far and wide. It is difficult to believe that Pragjyotisha, which was so close to Uttar Kosala and Magadha, could remain free from Buddhistic influences, but though strange, have it from Yuan Chwang's account that in the seventh century A.D. the people of Kamarupa worshipped the Devas and did not believe in Buddhism. According to him, there were a few Buddhists in the country, but for fear of persecution they had to perform their devotional rites in secret. It seems that Yuan Chwang made an exaggerated statement, for, in his biography, Silabhadra is said to have informed him, before he started for Kamarupa, that the law of Buddha had not then widely extended in that country. This indicates that Buddhism was then prevailing in the kingdom but not to a wide extent. The king Bhaskar Varman was himself not a Buddhist though it is said that he treated accomplished sramans with respect. The eagerness and persistence with which he desired an interview with the Chinese Buddhist scholar in his own kingdom and his reluctance to part with the scholar show that he really had great respect for illustrious Buddhist professors. His Nidhanpur inscription begins, no doubt, with the adoration of his tutelary deity Siva but, immediately after this adoration, he proclaims the victory of Dharma, the sole friend of the Creation, the cause of prosperity in this and the next world, whose form is the good of others and which is unseen but whose existence is inferred from the results." Here is a clear reference to the Law of Buddha, Vidya Vinod would ascribe this reference to Bhaskar Varman's association with Sri Harsha who, though not himself a Buddhist, was a patron of Buddhism and who was, to a considerable extent, influenced by his Buddhist sister Rajyasri. This is not, however, probable for the inscription was recorded immediately after the conquest of Karnasuvarna, at least thirty years before Bhaskar Varman met either Yuan Chwang or Sri Harsha. Evidently the influence of Buddhism was felt in Kamarupa long before Bhaskar Varman came to occupy the throne. According to the Rajatarangini, the Kamarupa king of the fifth century, who was the father of Amritaprabha, was himself a Buddhist as his religious preceptor was a Tibetan Buddhist. The fact is that Buddhism spread into Kamarupa at a very early age but it was not widely accepted as a faith by the people at large. Gait, in his History of Assam, writes:
"It was formerly thought that Buddhism had at one time great vogue in Assam, but this view seems to have been erroneous There is no trace of this religion in the old records and inscriptions."
The above statement will not stand scrutiny for, as stated above, the Law of Buddha is mentioned in the inscription of Bhaskar Varman himself. Similar mentions are found in the inscriptions of Indra Pala and Dharma Pala. Indra Pala's first inscription mentions a sasana or charter connected with the name of " Tathagata " which cannot but mean Buddha. It seems that close to the lands granted by this king there existed a chaitya or stupa, over some relic of Buddha, in favour of which an endowment was made by a previous king. It should refer here to the strong tradition current in Nepal and Tibet to the effect that the mahapari-nirvana of Buddha took place in Kusinara or Kusinagara, a town in Kamarupa. In fact Waddell identifies it with the modern town of Sualkuchi, some nine miles to the west of Guwahati and eight miles to the south of the temple of Hayagriva which is still visited by Bhutanese Buddhists. Kusinagara was, however, the chief town of the clan of Mallas who cannot, by any means, be associated with any part of modem Assam. Waddell's identification is evidently wrong. Very likely Kusinagara or Kosinagara was a town on the east bank of the Kosi as it emerged from the Nepal hills. It was therefore probably a town, on the Nepal border, within the modern district of Purnea Which was, in the ancient times, included within Pragjyotisha. The Tibetan tradition was not therefore baseless. In his inscription, Bhaskar Varman is said to have revealed the light of Aryan religion Aryadharma in his kingdom by dispelling the accumulated darkness of the Kali age. It is not sure that here also can detect a particular reference to the Law of Buddha. It may be that Arya Dharma meant the Buddhist or Brahmanic tenets as opposed to the tribal beliefs of the numerous non-Aryans who lived in the country. Bhaskar Varman and his predecessors were Saivas and not Buddhists or Jainas and, being also regarded as good Kshattriyas, they were naturally looked upon as the patrons and protectors of the Brahmans. In the neighbouring Magadha empire the rulers, like the Mouryas and the Guptas, were either Buddhists or patrons of Buddhism. The Mourya emperor Ashoka, with his missionary zeal for the propagation of the Buddhist faith, must have done all in his power to popularise this tenet within his empire without going to the length of persecuting Brahmans. This is why a large number of Brahmans immigrated to Kamarupa at an early period. As pointed out by Vidya Vinod, can find, in a single village in Kamarupa, more than 200 families of Brahmans about, in 500 A.D.
The kings of the dynasty of Salastambha, between the seventh and the tenth centuries, were perhaps more orthodox in their religious beliefs than their predecessors, the descendants of Pushya Varman. In the inscriptions of these kings do not find the slightest trace of any reference to the Buddhist faith. These kings were the worshipers of their tutelary deities "Kameswara Maha Gauri" mentioned in the inscription of Vanamala. They had their capital much further up the Brahmaputra in modem Tezpur. They therefore found the necessity of having another shrine like Kamakhya near their capital. The second Kamakhya temple, on the Kamakuta hill near Silghat, mentioned in the inscription of Vanamala, was therefore founded. In this inscription mention is made of the numerous temples in the country and the sound of incantations proceeding from the various places where Yajnas were performed. Vanamala himself rebuilt the large temple of Hatakeswara. This system still persists in the Siva temples of Hajo and Dubi in Kamrup and it may have been part of the Tantrik system. Whatever that may be, although Brahmanic rites were widely prevalent amongst the populace there is no doubt that Buddhism also flourished, for it is mentioned in the " Sankara Digvijaya " that Sankaracharya, the famous leader of the Brahmanic revival, in the beginning of the ninth century A.D., came to Kumarupa in order to defeat Abhinava Gupta, the noted Buddhist scholar, in controversy. Abhinava Gupta probably belonged to Kamarupa or at least flourished there in the ninth century. About the same time, or a little earlier, Kumarila Bhatta, another Brahmanic leader., flourished in India. It is believed by some that he was a native of Kamarupa. The fact that both Abhinava Gupta and Kumarila Bhatta, two well-known leaders of two opposite schools, flourished about the same time in Kamarupa, clearly shows that there were adherents of both Brahmanism and Buddhism in Kamarupa during the rule of the earlier kings of the line of Salastambha. Sculptured images on stones and terra-cotta plaques, which unmistakably represent Buddha and which can be assigned to the tenth or the eleventh century, have been found from excavations at Guwahati. One of them is a distinct image of Buddha on a thin stone-slab, the figure exhibiting the Abhay mudra. The other is a terra-cotta votive tablet with the image of- Buddha stamped on it.
It is true that both of these images are of a portable nature and might easily have been imported from outside the kingdom by some Buddhists. Terra-cotta plaques with the stamped image of Buddha, exactly similar to the one found at Guwahati and, as a matter of fact, impressed with the same stamp, have been found in large numbers in Bengal and Bihar. Evidently these were sold at places of Buddhist pilgrimages but their occurrence in Guwahati shows that there were then Buddhists in Kamarupa. Another important find from excavations in Guwahati is a large and heavy stone-slab containing the image of a deity with four faces and eight arms and a Chaitya above the head as tiara. The image is carved in the centre of the slab, all round being lotus-petals carved deep into the stone. One side of the slab is broken. The sitting pose of the deity is adamantine (vajrasana). It is probable that this is the representation of Mahapratisara, a Buddhist Goddess of the period of Tantrik Buddhism. According to the Sadhanamala, a Buddhist work, the Mahapratisara should have a Chaitya above the head. The image is however so corroded now that it is hardly possible to interpret it with confidence. In any case, the stone-slab on which the image is carved is certainly not portable. When the Salastambha dynasty was succeeded by the dynasty of Brahma Pala and the capital was removed to the vicinity of Guwahati the same tutelary deities, mentioned as "Mahn Gauri Kameswara " in the inscription of Indra Pala continued to be worshipped by the kings.
Indrapala's first inscription states that his grandfather Ratna Pala established numerous Siva temples in the country and that during his reign the houses of Brahmans were full with riches presented by the king, the places where Yajnas were performed had numerous sacrificial altars and the sky was overcast with the smoke caused by numerous homs. It is said of Indra Pala himself that he was well-versed in the Tantras. It is clear therefore that Tantrikism had then been already introduced into the kingdom. This system, as an offshoot of Buddhism of the Mahayana school, developed about the ninth century under the Pala rulers of Magadha. It was the Pala king Dharma Pala who founded the Buddhist university at Vikramasila which became the famous centre of the Tantrik doctrines. From this centre Tantrikism probably spread into Kamarupa and Tibet. Babu Nandalal Dey writes:
"The improvement which Nagarjuna introduced into original Buddhism in the first century A. D. and which was known by the name of Mahayana system, assumed a new phase on the revival of Brahmanical doctrines, during the early Gupta period and gradually developed into Tantrikism from the eighth century when the Pala kings began to rule over Magadha and Gauda. The worship of the images of Buddha and Bodhisvattas with their female energies (Sakti) and other Buddhist Gods came into vogue, which, during the continuance of the rule of these monarchs, still further developed into mysticism and sorcery. Tho mantra yogacharyas maintained the popular propensity for magic rites and mystic practices by the performance of marvellous feats. Hinduism also imbibed the spirit of the time and the Buddhist Tantrik rites were absorbed in its system.".
This is how Tantrikism originated. It ultimately spread into Kamarupa and established for itself a stronghold in Kamakhya. This disposes of Sir Edward Gait's supposition that Tantrikism originated in Assam. The Kamarupa kings, probably after Brahma Pala, adopted Tantrikism as their tenet and, as a result of this royal patronage, Kamakhya soon became a renowned centre of Tantrik sacrifices, mysticism and sorcery. That system of mystic Buddhism, known as Vajrayana and popularly called the "Sahajia cult ", found its way into Kamarupa as early as the tenth century, is corroborated from an unexpected source. It is found from Tibetan records that some of the eminent Buddhist professors in Tibet, of the tenth and the eleventh centuries, hailed from Kamarupa. Giuseppe Tucci states, on the authority of two Tibetan works viz " Grub To'b " and the "Bka ababs bdun ldan" that the noted Buddhist Siddha Minanatha, who was looked upon in Tibet as an avatar of Avalokiteswara, was a fisherman from Kamarupa. The statement of Mahamohopadhya Pandit Hararaprasad Sastri that Minanatha was a native of Bengal belonging to the "Nath" or weaver caste is evidently incorrect. It is also found from the same Tibetan records that Rahula, another Buddhist teacher in Nepal, was a Sudra from Kamarupa. It is said that he was a disciple of Nagarjuna who should not, however, be confused with the famous preacher of the Mahayana. The preceptor of Rahula was perhaps the Nagarjuna mentioned by Alberuni who stated that Nagarjuna flourished about 100 years before his time. Thus both Nagarjuna and Rahula can be placed about the middle of the tenth century. Nagarjuna was also a physician and alchemist. In the Kamrupi Ayurvedic pharmacopoeia there are still certain specific remedies which are associated with the name of Nagarjuna.. Besides Minanatha and Rahula, two other Buddhist teachers mentioned in Tibetan records viz. Mohidhar and Darik also very probably belonged to Kamarupa. Minanatha is supposed to have been the author of a work known as Akulaviratantra and he is mentioned in the Sabaratantra as one of the twenty four Kapalika siddhas. The fact that Minanatha, one of the 24 Kapalika siddhas, hailed from Assam leads one to suppose that the very revolting religious practices associated with the Kapalikaas, perhaps to some extent exaggerated by their opponents, were at one time in vogue in Kamarupa, at least among the lower classes of society, such as the fishermen. What connection these Kapalikas had with the votaries of the Sahajia cult is not known. There is however evidence to show that the Kapalika sect existed as early as the time of Asanga and Hari Varman about the fourth century A. D. Evidently both of these sects were off-shoots of Tantrik Buddhism and both practised similar rites. Abhinava Gupta, to defeat whom Sankaracharva came all the way to Kamarupa, was the author of two well-known works on Tantra viz, the Tantrasara and the Tantraloka. Evidently, in the ninth century, Abhinava Gupta had a great following in Kamarupa and that is why Sankaracharva found it necessary to fight him. These Tantriks have of course been painted in the blackest colours by the Brahman revivalists of an earlier age and by the Vaisnava reformers of a subsequent period, but a considerable mass of Tantrik literature has now become accessible to scholars some of whom do not seem to subscribe to the sweeping condemnation of Tantrikism as a tenet. Here is what Giuseppe Tucci, a competent authority, has got to say on the subject:-
"Very little attention has been paid up till now to Tantrik literature; and yet, apart from some exceptions, the Tantras contain almost nothing which can justify the sweeping judgment of some scholars who maintain that they represent the most degenerate form of Indian speculation. On the other hand, after a careful study, I cannot help seeing in them one of the highest expressions of Indian mysticism, which may appear rather strange in its outward form, chiefly because it do not always understand the symbolical language in which they are written " .
The probability is that the esoteric teachings of the tenet were high and sublime but they were actually comprehensible only to a few, called Siddhas, whereas the common folk were mystified by the feats of sorcery performed by the lower order of the preachers who could thus trade on the credulity of the common people and compel them to submit to their demands. It is therefore well that these esoteric teachers and their practices were suppressed by the Brahmans and the Vaisnavas, of a later period, not so much with the help of the ruling kings but chiefly by appeal to the common people themselves. The influence of Kamrupi Buddhist preachers in Tibet incidentally proves the close cultural connection between Tibet and Kamarupa in the early ages. It is find the Tibetan Buddhist scholar Stunpa acting as preceptor to a Kamarupa king, probably Bala Varman I, in the early part of the fifth century. The image of Buddha found at Guwahati, exhibiting the Abhaya Mudra, with its distinctly Mongolian physiognomy and a thick shawl covering the whole body, down to the ankles, seems to be unmistakably of Tibetan origin. It will appear from what have stated above that several noted Buddhist scholars, as well as critics of the Buddhist doctrines, flourished in Kamarupa between the eighth and the tenth centuries. It find from Yuan Chwang's biography that during his stay in Nalanda a learned pundit of Kamarupa went to engage in a controversy with the Buddhist scholars and professors assembled there. According to the account of the Chinese pilgrim, Bhaskar Varman was a lover of learning and Kamarupa was a seat of learning. He found that during the first half of the seventh century students from other parts of India came to Kamarupa for study. It has been pointed out that Visakha Datta, the author of the well-known drama Mudrarakshasam, who flourished towards the latter part of the seventh century, very probably belonged to that part of Kamarupa which lay between the Teesta and the Kausika. It is reasonable to suppose that he belonged to the colony of Nagar Brahmans settled in the Chandrapuri vishaya. This is indicated by his surname Datta. It is not therefore at all strange that Kamrupi pundits were honoured in other parts of India also. In the copper-plate inscription of Ananta Varman, the Ganga king of Kalinga (Circe 922 AD.) It find the mention of a Kamrupi pandit, named Vishnusomacharya, to whom Ananta Varman granted lands. This Brahman belonged to the Parasara gotra and his native village was Srangatika in Kamarupa. It is not possible now to identify this village in Assam or Northern Bengal with any degree of certainty.
The inscriptions of Vanamala and Ratna Pala, while describing their capitals, specially mention that they were abodes of many learned men, as these kings were patrons of learning. The Kalika Purana, a well-known work, gives the Sanskritized names of most of the rivers and hills of Brahmaputra valley. It gives a full account of the Naraka legend and the old city of Pragjvotishpur. It dwells upon the special merit and sanctity of the shrine of Kamakhya. There is hardly any doubt that this work, like perhaps the Yagini Tantra, was compiled in Kamarupa probably at a time when the kings claiming descent from Naraka were ruling, when the capital was in the neighbourhood of the old city of Pragjyotishpura and the shrine of Kamakhya and when Tantrikism was the prevailing tenet. It can therefore tentatively assign this work to the eleventh century when the kings of the dynasty of Brahma Pala, who claimed descent from Naraka and particularly distinguished themselves from the previous mlechha dynasty, were ruling. In the Kalika Purana the mantra given to consecrate the sword meant for the human sacrifice runs as follows:-
"Asir visasana Khadgastikhnadharo durasadah Srigarbho Vijayaschaiba Dharmapala namastute."
The sword is here eulogised as Dharma Pala meaning " protector of the faith ". However, it is possible to detect here a reference to king Dharma Pala of the Brahma Pala dynasty. It would not therefore be quite unreasonable to suppose that the Kalika Purana was compiled during his reign and perhaps under his auspices.
Chinese pilgrimage accounts
In the seventh century Yuan Chwang found that the language spoken by the people of Kamarupa differed only a little from that spoken in mid-India. This shows that the language then spoken in Kamarupa was a Sanskritic dialect. It was probably an eastern variety of Prakrit bearing close affinity to Maithili and it was no doubt the parent of modern Kamrupi or Assamese language. The Chinese traveller's account also makes it clear that, even at such an early age, the people in general had adopted an Aryan language and that therefore Aryans had settled in the kingdom and diffused their culture many centuries before his visit. The language used in the dohas, by the Buddhists of Kamarupa in the ninth or the tenth century, was not necessarily the actual spoken language. These dohas were composed in a language which was perhaps the lingua franca in Eastern India at that time. It find from the inscription of Vanamala that, towards the middle of the ninth century, he reerected the lofty (like a peak of the Himalaya) white temple of Hataka Siva which had fallen down. Probably the temple had been destroyed by an earthquake. It is evident that this temple was rebuilt with bricks and stones and was white washed. The inscription of Bala Varman III states that Vanamala erected a huge palace consisting of many rooms and decorated by carvings. Again in the Ratna Pala inscription it find it mentioned that in his capital at Sri Durjaya, towards the middle of the eleventh century, the disc of the sun was hid from view by the thousands of plastered turrets. The Indra Pala inscription states that Ratna Pala constructed numerous white temples of Siva throughout the kingdom. These references make it clear that architecture had reached a high state of perfection during the rule of these kings and also earlier. As a matter of fact, architectural remains, going back to first millennia, exist to this day. Although no regular archaeological exploration has yet been undertaken in Assam the existing remains are by no means inconsiderable. In sites of old cities like Guwahati, Tezpur, Silghat and Bishnath, one can notice scattered remains in abundance.
Standard of architecture
That both the builders and the sculptors of ancient Kamarupa reached a high standard can be judged from the few remains that have so far come to light without any regular exploration. The modern town of Guwahati, which represents the site of old Pragjyotishpura, was probably sacked and destroyed after the death of Bhaskar Varman when Salastambha usurped the throne. It ceased to be the capital for more than three hundred years during which period perhaps even the ruins largely disappeared. It is not known definitely whether the kings of the dynasty of Brahma Pala used it as their capital. In late 19th century, the foundations of an old stone and brick enclosure wall in the eastern part of this town were dug up in order to find out stones to be broken into road-metal. Numerous carved and chiseled stones were broken into fragments to provide road metal. Some were preserved, not by the authorities, but by individuals taking interest in relics of antiquities. Since the establishment of the Kamarupa Anusandhan Samiti, some of these scattered relics have been collected and placed in the small museum of the Society. These collections include some sculptured images of deities, chiselled octagonal or hexagonal stone pillars, carved stone pedestals of pillars and finely carved panels containing figures of elephant-heads en face, lion-heads and human heads, used to decorate the outer side of the stone plinths of palaces or temples. The elephant-head en face is a peculiarity of Pragjyotisha as the kings invariably used the same emblem in the metal seals of their copper-plates. The rock-cut images of Vishnu and Ganesa found in or near Guwahati similarly go back to an early age. The shrine of Pandu contains five rock-cut figures four of which represent Ganesa and one represents a female deity, probably Durga. Two more figures cut in the open rock below, facing the Brahmaputra river, represent, according to Mr. Dikshit, the sun-god and Indra respectively. Numerous cuttings on rock are to be seen also on the western slope of the Kamakhya hill. These include miniatures of temples of the sikhara type with small lingas enshrined in them and also rock cut niches containing lingas and figures or Ganesa. On the west side of the Kamakhya temple is a modern temple, known as Ghantakarna, into the basement of which stone fragments of older temples have been built. One of these fragments, as described by Mr. Dikshit, "is a beautifully carved frieze in which the band represents a series of garlands and the lower scroll-work, in which some very spirited representations of animals occur. Only four animal figures of the series viz a buffalo, a deer, a lion and a tiger are extant, but the quality of the art manifested in them is unsurpassed in Assam" . This is also undoubtedly an ancient piece of sculptured art. Mr. R. D. Banerji thinks that these carvings belong to the seventh or the eighth century A. D. The ruins existing in or near Tezpur are much more extensive and varied in character. The Dr. Bloch conjectured that the modem civil stations of Guwahati and Tezpur stood upon large mounds " which contain the remains of two ancient cities." In 1906, while foundations were being dug for additions to the Deputy Commissioner's office in Tezpur, the excavators came upon the remains of an ancient stone building. A large number of carved and sculptured stones were discovered. The majority of then were transferred to the compounds of the European officers and the tea-planters club for the purpose of decoration. Some of them were subsequently brought to the Cole Park and arranged there. The Mr. R. D. Banerji, Superintendent, Eastern Circle, Archaeological Survey of India, wrote as follows in the Annual Report for the year 1924 - 25.-
" On examination of the remains in the park at Tezpur and those preserved in the Planters' Association or Club at the same place I find that the carvings belong to three different periods of history and therefore must have belonged, at least, to three separate buildings. The most remarkable sculptures of the first group are two shafts of pillars at the entrance to the Planters' Club and a heavy lintel of a stone door-frame now lying in the public park. The shaft of one of these pillars is sixteen-sided, the upper end being ornamented with a broad band having kirtimukhas at the top and the lower with dentils. Over this band the shaft is round and appears to be lathe-turned like the upper parts of the Western Chalukyan columns of the Bombay Presidency. In the second pillar the upper part of the shaft is dodecagonal and near the top is divided into three raised horizontal bands two of which contain kirtimukhas and the third a series of diamond-shaped rosettes. In style, both of them belong to the same period and appear to have come from one and the same building. The lintel of the stone door-frame in the public park also belongs to the same period and most probably to the same building. It is divided into two different parts. The upper part represents five miniature temples with the phallic emblem of Siva in each of them. In the lower part it see a continuation of the ornamentation on the jambs, viz., two vertical bands containing meandering creepers and two others consisting entirely of rosettes which turn an angle and are continued on the soffit of the lintel. In the centre of the lower part of the lintel is a small niche containing a miniature image of Ganesa. It appears from the nature of the carvings that the temple to which these three architectural specimens belong was erected late in the tenth century A. D. The length of the lintel is 6' 10' and the breath 1 " 5 1/2".
"The second group of sculptures at Tezpur consists of specimens from a massive temple on the ruins of which the office of the Deputy Commissioner has been built. On each side of the entrance of the Planter's Club at Tezpur lie the door-sill and the lintel of the principal entrance to this enormous temple. The size of the lintel enables to determine the size of the door-frame and consequently of the principal entrance to the sanctum. The enormous lintel is 10' 3' in length and r' 8' in breath. There are three raised panels on it, one in the centre and one on each side and each of them is divided into a large niche in the centre with a smaller one on either side. The panel on the left contains a standing figure of Brahma in the central niche with an attendant on each side. The central panel is occupied by a figure of Surya with two attendants while the panel on the extreme right contains a standing figure of Siva with an attendant in each of the side niches. The space between these raised panels is divided into six niches, three to the left of the central panel and three to the right. They contain six divine figures which cannot be identified. All the niches are separated from each other by a round pilaster z' in height, the height of the lintel itself being 2’ 7 1/2."
According to the general practice in Hindu temples, the central niche or panel of the lintel of the stone door frame of the sanctum is generally occupied by the presiding deity of the temple. It appears certain, therefore, that this gigantic temple was dedicated to Surya or the Sun god. The sill of this door-frame is also of gigantic dimensions and shows a vase in the center flanked by two lions satatant. Each end is occupied by a niche containing a male and a female and flanked by a smaller and narrower niche on a recessed corner, containing a single human figure. It is a pity that the jambs of this enormous door-frame have not been discovered as yet. The large jamb in the public park appears to belong to a much later period. It is impossible therefore to deduce the height of the door-frame correctly, but it is obvious from the length of the lintel and the sill that the height of this door-frame could not have been less than 15'. If the height of the stone door-frame of the main entrance to the sanctum was 15' then the height of the interior of the chamber must have been 20' to 25`, leaving to imagine the total height of the spire or sikhara of the original temple, which must have been considerably over 100'. The majority of the carved stones in the public park at Tezpur are taken from the plinth mouldings and string-courses of the gigantic temple, the door-frames of which have been described above. The string-sourses were ornamented with kirtimukhas of various shapes and sizes and sunken panels containing ornamental rosettes and meandering creepers. Some of them are evidently portions of enormous capitals which were held together by metal clamps or dowels. In the center of some of these pieces there is a projecting niche flanked by round pilasters containing divine figures. In one of these niches it find a fat female squatting on the ground, holding a piece of cloth over her head, while a female stands to her left with her hands clasped in adoration. The second specimen of the same type contains the figure of a goddess holding a lyre in her hands, evidently Sarasvati, the goddess of learning. A third specimen contains the well-known group of Kamalatmika or Gajalakshmi, more commonly known in Bengal and Assam as Kamale-Kamini in which two elephants pour water over the head of a goddess from vases held in their trunks. A fourth specimen contains figures of Siva and Durga seated in the well-known conventional posture so common in images of this particular type in northern India. The outlines of the plinth mouldings show that the medieval architects of Assam employed the same motifs and figures as those in other provinces of northern India. Some of these ornaments appear in relief as diamond-shaped and circular rosettes, set in between arabesque work of a type known to from the temples of Orissa. The most remarkable specimen in the collection in the public park at Tezpur, however, is a slab taken from the upper part of the plinth mouldings. It is divided into a number of sunken panels by means of circular pilasters, each containing a male or female, two females or two males. Beginning from the right it find a man fighting with a lion, a male playing on a flute and a female dancing by his side, two males playing on conch shells, a male playing on a drum and a female dancing by his side, a female playing on a lyre and another dancing to her right, a male playing on a drum and another dancing to his left. This slab apparently formed part of a series of similar panels all round the lower edge of the walls of the sanctum. Another slab bears on it a conventional representation of the Chaitya-window pattern, so common in the temples of Central India, especially those in the Rewa State and at Khajuraho. The interior of the sunken panels is entirely covered with geometrical patterns with a half rosette in the center. The second group of sculptures at Tezpur belongs to a temple erected in the twelfth century A. D. if not later. The size of the stones indicates that the temple was very large in size and provided with a very tall spire. There are two specimens in the public park at Tezpur which appear to belong to another temple of some later date. One of these is a high door-jamb and the second a slab bearing three sunken panels occupied by very crude human or divine figures. The entire collection contains only a single specimen carved in the round, a lion, presumably on an elephant. The conventional representation of the lion shows that the inhabitants of the Assam valley were not very familiar with the king of beasts." As remarked by Mr. Banerji " Assam is the only province of India the history of the architecture and sculpture of which is still practically unknown." It is for this reason that it have made a lengthy quotation front the report of a competent authoriry on the subject. It is, however, in doubt whether Mr. Banerji's conjecture that the ruins in Tezpur town represent only temples is correct. The remains of the stone building dug up in the Kutchery compound may he of the palace of Vanamala which he erected in the ninth century. It cannot, however, agree with Mr. Banerji that any of the buildings mentioned by him was erected in the twelfth century for, towards the end of the tenth century, the capital Haruppeswara was, in all probability, abandoned by Brahma Pala. The buildings in Tezpur must therefore belong to the ninth century. Further, the lofty temple the ruins of which he has described in the quotation given above and which, he conjectures was a sun-temple, may be the Himalaya like temple of Hataka Sulin which Vanamala is said to have recrected. In his report for the year 1925-26. Mr. Banerji gives a full description of the Bamuni Hill ruins to the east of Tezpur town. In his opinion the remains belong to a group of seven shrines. He writes:
"Six of these shrines are situated in a large rectangular enclosure, namely, one in each of its four corners and two large ones in the centre, while the seventh stands to the cast. The pavements inside the garbhagrihas of both of the larger shrines in the middle of the enclosure are still intact. One of these central temples was originally smaller in size than the other. The larger temple faces the north and an antarala with a circular sculptured door-step intervenes between its sanctum and its mandapa, which must have been gigantic in size. The shaft of a pillar seen in the debris measures 10' 8" in length and I' 8" in diameter. I may also mention a cross-shaped bracket which measures 4' 6' x 4' 9" and a huge lintel ornamented with horned kirttimukhas which measures 6' 8" in length and 1' 8' in breadth. An image of Nataraja measuring 2' t" in height and 1' 6' in breadth, with one head and six hands was discovered among the ruins. Another lintel measures 12' 1' X 3' 6' x 2' 5". The door-jambs of the larger temple are lying on the top of the ruins and measure 5'4" in length and 2'4' in breadth. Each of them is decorated with a raised hand on each side with a row of miniature temples superimposed in the centre. The band on the left jamb hears a meandering creeper pattern and that on the right a row of rosettes alternately square and round. There are three miniature shrines in each horizontal row in the centre. There is a large panel bordered by two round pilasters with a trefoil arch on the top in the centre and an exactly similar panel or recessed corner on each side. The smaller panels contain male or female attendant figurines. The central panels contain the figures of the Man-lion, Parasurama, Balarama, Boar and Ramachandra incarnations of Vishnu. Many of the faces of the square brackets bear oblong panels with basreliefs. One of them bears the figure of a male and a female dancing side by side."
The ruins discovered at Parbatia, to the west of Tezpur town, are far more interesting. The following is Mr. Banerji's description of these ruins:
" Close to the modern civil station of Tezpur is the small village of Dah Parbatia which possesses the unique distinction of having within its limits the ruins of the oldest temple in Assam. The ruins consist of the remains of a brick-built temple of Siva, of the medieval period, erected upon the ruins of a stone temple of the later Gupta period, circa sixth century A. D. The former collapsed, during the earthquake of 1897, revealing the stone door-frame of the older structure. At some subsequent date the local villagers built a crude, hut on the mound, which had collapsed at the time of my visit. The mound is nearly 20' above the surrounding ground and is entirely covered with large rubber trees and small undergrowth. The door-frame stands in front of a large block of stone with a square cavity in its centre. Most probably the older linga was fixed in this hole. The carving, on the door-frame is characteristic of the style of the early Gupta schools of sculpture, of which so many examples have been discovered at various sites excavated by Sir John Marshall in northern India. The carving on the jambs consists of high reliefs in the lower part and four different vertical bands of carving in the upper. In the lower part of each of the jambs is the figure of a female deity whose divine nature is indicated by the halo behind her head. Each of the goddesses stands with a garland in her hands in an elegant posture and these two figures appear to represent Ganga and Yamuna, so common in door jambs of ancient Gupta and mediaeval temples. These two larger figures are attended, in each of the jambs, by a number of smaller ones. At the bottom of the jamb on the right are two female figures, one standing with a Chamara and the other kneeling in front, with a flat receptacle containing flowers. A third female figure is seen with a chamara behind or to the right of the main figure. To the left of the halo it find a nayi kneeling and to the right two geese flying towards the main figure. The lower part of the jamb on the left is not so well preserved as that on the right. Here it find a female standing with an indistinct object to the left and another to the right or in front of the main figure, the lower part of which is damaged. On this jamb also is the figure of a saga kneeling to the right of the halo of the main figure and two geese flying to the left of it. The upper part of each of these jambs is separated into four long narrow vertical bands two of which are continued on the lintel. The first of these begins from the head of the naga or of the nagi and consists of a meandering creeper with extremely beautiful ornamental foliage in the interspaces and the second of a straight vertical stem from which issue a number of lotus leaves and other conventional flowers. Two dwarfish figures are observed at the, bottom holding on to the stem. The third band is made up of four super-imposed panels containing human figures standing on oblong bosses bearing ornamental foliage on their surfaces. At the top, each of these hands ends in a vase with ornamental foliage hanging from its corner. A pilaster, square in section, rises from the vase and ends in a cruciform capital, with a sprawling gana on each of its arms. The fourth hand consists of a vertical row of ornamental rosettes. As in the case of the Gupta temples at Bhumra in the Nagod State, Nachna-Kuthara in the Ajaigadh State and at Deogarh in the Jhansi district, the lintel is larger in size than the door-frame, extending a little on each side of the jambs. Two of the inner bands of carving on the jambs are continued as horizontal bands at the bottom of the lintel and exhibit in the centre in high relief a beautiful flying male figure holding a garland in its hands. Above these two ornamental bands is another band in higher relief containing a number of Chaitya-windows so common in the Gupta temples at Bhumra and Deogarh. In this case there are five Chaitya-windows in all, arranged in a row on the surface of the lintel Three of these windows are large while two are comparatively smaller in size. The one on the extreme right contains the figure of a male seated on a throne, with four hands, two of which are broken. One of the left hands holds a damaru, the peculiar small drum of diva while the' space below the throne shows the waves of the sea. The window between this one and the central one contains a horse-headed male figure, with two hands, kneeling. The central Chaitya-window is the largest of all and has a suparna, the mythical deity half man and half bird, on either side. The Chaitya-window itself is occupied by a figure of diva, in the form of Lakulisa, seated with a rope tied round his leg. A female is holding a cup to his left while another stands to the right. The window between the central one and that on the extreme left contains the figure of a man seated and playing on a flute while over his head is seen the hood of a snake. That on the extreme left contains in its medallion a beautiful image of Surya seated cross-legged holding lotus flowers in both of his hands. The attendant to the left holds a pen and an ink-pot while that on the right holds a staff of the orthodox description. The door jambs are 5'3' in height and 1'4' in breadth while the lintel measures 3'9' in length and 1'3' in breadth. The artist's sense of proportion, the beautiful symmetry of the figures and ornamental devices and the excellence of execution tend to prove that this door lintel belongs to the same period as the great schools of sculpture which existed at Pataliputra and Benares in the fifth and sixth centuries A.D."
The temple at Parbatia is therefore not only the oldest but the finest piece of architectural work in Kamarupa. This temple must have been built by a predecessor of Bhskar Varman in the fifth or the sixth century A.D. During the clearance of the ruins of this temple a number of terracotta plaques, showing a seated human figure in each, were discovered. According to Mr. Banerji the moulding of the torso and the general technique proves beyond doubt that these plaques cannot be later in date than the sixth century A.D. Two of these plaques reveal the existence of a modified form of the acanthus motif in Assam in this early age. This device has been noticed in some of the Gupta temples of other parts of northern India notably at Bhumra and Nachna Kuthara. Another striking feature of this piece of work is the-pose of the figures of Gangs and Jamuna which seems to be characteristically Greek while in their anatomical correctness these figures resemble Hellenic art more than anything else. Relics of ancient architecture and sculpture are not confined to Guwahati and Tezpur. They are to be found in many other places. Two images were discovered on the Golaghat-Dimapur road. One of them is an image of Vishnu which is now preserved in the museum of the Kamaruppa Anusandhan Samiti. With regard to this image Mr. K. N. Dikshit writes:
"It is a very fine example of the ninth century art of Assam and is inscribed in characters similar to those of the Harjara inscription from Tezpur. The right hands and the feet of the image have broken off, and the halo behind the head is lost. The left upper hand holds the conch and the left lower the gada. Vishnu has all the usual ornaments, the kaustubha and srivatsa symbols, the sacred thread and the long cable-like garland reaching to the knees (vanamala). The expression of the face and the treatment of the lower lip and the crown are characteristic of the late Gupta sculpture. The inscription is engraved on the right side of the image and consists of four lines in very corrupt Sanskrit verse" .
Ruins of ancient edifices have been found in Bishnath and also in Negriting. In the last named place the medieval temple was actually built on the mound containing the ancient stone-built temple. Both in Umananda and Aswakranta in Guwahati the medieval temples were built with stones and carved images belonging to more ancient temples. The Ananta-Sayi Vishnu of Aswakranta is a piece of sculpture of very high merit. It belongs probably to the tenth or the eleventh century. Another very fine piece of sculpture, now deposited in the museum of the Kamarupa Anusandhan Samiti, is an image of Vishnu of the Yogaswami variety sculptured on black schist. The image exhibits the Dhyana mudra and is surrounded by ararana devatas such as Durga, Ganesa and Kartikeya with the winged Garuda: below it. With regard to this image Mr. K.N. Dikshit writes that
"the presence of Ganesa and Mahishamardini on the right leads to the inference that the idea was to depict Vishnu in the centre of the five gods (Panchadevata). ; The deities on the left one-should have expected to be Siva and Surya, but actually they are different. The upper figure is apparently in the attitude of Hanuman or some attendant of Vishnu while the lower one resembles an 'ascetic seated cross-legged. It is likely that the figure represents the donor as a devotee."
There is a collection of stone images and other architectural fragments preserved at the entrance of the Sub-divisional officer's residence in Sibsagar. These are believed to be the remains of a Vishnu temple, in the neighbourhood, dating approximately from the tenth to the eleventh century A. D. According to Mr. Dikshit " the sculptures follow in the main the artistic traditions of the school represented by the Tezpur and Bamuni Hill temples of Central Assam, which are assigned to the ninth and tenth centuries ". Very probably the ancient temple near Sibsagar was constructed by the Kamarupa kings of the tenth or the eleventh century and it is thus evident that even till the eleventh century the Kamarupa kings exercised their rule as far as the easternmost corner of the Assam valley. Mr. Dikshit also remarks that "the affinities of Assamese art would seem to lie more with the schools of Bihar and Orissa than with the contemporary Pala art of Bengal. This is not unnatural as of the streams of influence that have moulded the culture of Assam, the strongest current has always been from North Bihar and Mid-India" . The cultural affinities between Mithila and Kamarupa have already been alluded. Another instance of the architectural and engineering skill of the people of Kamarupa in ancient times was the construction of stone bridges over rivers. There is still a small stone bridge in the western part of North Guwahati which is called Silsako. The other Silsako (stone bridge) was over a channel of the Barnadi, an important transit point from west. Bridge was destroyed by the great earthquake of 1897. It appears that this bridge was constructed without lime and mortar and such construction was no doubt necessitated by the heavy rainfall in the country and the luxuriant vegetation which attacks all masonry structures in which mortar is used. Hannay, who in 1851 saw and measured the bridge, wrote as follows:
"From the great care taken in the chiselling, squaring and fitting up of the component parts of the whole, as well as the great size and weight, the work is one of great strength and solidity. And this accounts for the good state of preservation in which it find it in the present day; for with the exception of the masonry of the abutment at each end, in which large trees have taken root and displaced the stones, the rest of the structure may be said to be entire. From a fracture in one of the pillars I observed that. the upper blocks were kept in their places by means of iron pins firmly wedged into the lower ones; four apparently through the centre and one on each side of the_square of the shaft, and although not visible, other portions of the work may be iron-clamped; the slabs of the platform were marked with clamping holes and on the edge of the outside slabs are three square holes (3 inches square) which were no doubt intended for the wooden supports of a balustrade. Several frieze-carved blocks are also lying near the end abutment from which I imagine the entrance of each may have been ornamented or these may have been gateways." "The design and style of architecture of this bridge evidently belongs to a remote period in the annals of Kamrup and, in its original structure at least, must be co-eval with the erection of the ancient Brahmanical temples the remains of which are found so widely scattered throughout the length and breadth of Assam; the works of its former Brahmanical kings, a race long ago extinct in the annals of modem Hinduism and of whom the present race in Assam know nothing ".
Both sculptural and architectural skill degenerated during the medieval period as, until the medieval kings were thoroughly Hinduized, the art lacked royal support and encouragement. The result was that when in the seventeenth and the eighteenth centuries the medieval kings set themselves to rebuilding the Hindu temples the Assamese sculptors of the day, known as Silakutis, were hardly equal to the task. Their sculpture was distinctly inferior. The finer images that it now see mounted on some of these post-medieval temples were actually recovered from old ruins. In some instances the medieval kings did not disturb the mound of ruins at all but erected an inferior brick structuxe on the top of it, the scattered old stones being commonly used for steps leading up to the mound. There is clear evidence to prove that quite a good number of carved and sculptured stones, chiselled bases, columns and capitals belonging to an older age found scattered or recovered from old ruins were utilized by architects of more recent times in reconstructing temples demolished either by the subsequent invaders or by earthquakes. Old bricks also have been similarly utilized. Such old bricks and also pottery, belonging to a period much earlier than the advent of the medieval rulers, can also be met with here and there. The collection of pottery in the museum of the Knmarupa Anusandhan Samiti, recovered from excavations in Guwahati town, includes certain specimens which exhibit the ceramic art of a bygone age may be a very old age, possibly pre-Aryan but here also lies a field of study entirely unexplored. Remains of military fortifications like Garhs and of works of public utility such as embanked roads and tanks, belonging to the ancient period, are still in existence. The large rectangular tank in Guwahati, known as the Dighli tank, is clearly of ancient origin. The Dighli tank in Guwahati is believed to date back to the time of Bhagadatta for, it is said, the tournament of archery, arranged in connection with the marriage of Bhagadatta's daughter Bhanumati, was held on a platform erected over this tank. It is said that a fish was tied aloft at the end of a long pole and the great archer Karna looking at the image on the water aimed overhead and pierced the eye of the fish with his arrow. He thus won the tournament and obtained the hand of Bhanumati but, at his request, she was married to Duryodhana, the eldest of the Kauravas. It is on account of this relationship that Bhagadatta sided with Duryodhana in the Mahabharata war. The Hajarapukhri in Tezpur is a large tank excavated by Harjara Varman in the ninth century. Masonry buildings, roads and fortifications constructed by the kings of Kamarupa were not confined to modern Assam. They existed also in that part of modern Bengal which was included in the old kingdom of Kamarupa. One can find in the accounts of Buchanan Hamilton and Glazier and also in the contributions to the journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, in the last century, many references to cities, temples, roads and fortifications erected by these: kings long before the rise of medieval kings.
It have already alluded to the development of arts and industries during the time of Bhaskar Varman, the extensive use of iron in making weapons of war and armours for men and even elephants and the building of large war-boats which constituted an important arm during the attack on Karnasuvarna both by land and water. Even till the time of the medieval rulers the soldiers of Assam were proficient in naval warfare. Harjara Varman's rock inscription, in the early part of the ninth century, shows that the boats maintained by the king were numerous and, even in so wide a river as the Brahmaputra, regulation of boat traffic was found to be necessary in order to prevent collisions between the royal barges and the boats of fishermen. Vanatnala's inscription states that the royal boats were beautifully carved, painted and decorated and also fitted with musical instruments.
Iron was plentiful as in the adjacent hills iron-ore could be had in abundance and iron-melting by a crude process was known. Of the more precious metals, gold and copper could be obtained within the kingdom-itself. From time immemorial, till very recent times, gold-washing had been practised in the rivers of Assam. The Subansiri (Suvarna-sri) derives its name from the gold that it carries. Even the water of the Brahmaputra was known to contain gold for it find a clear mention of it in the inscription of Vanamala wherein it is stated that the river carried the gold dust caused by the friction of huge gold-bearing boulders of the' Kailsa mountain. Jaya Pala, the last king of the dynasty of Brahma Pala, offered, according to the Silimpur inscription deciphered by Mr. Basak, to make a gift of gold equal to his own weight to a learned Brahman over and above 900 gold coins. It is evident therefore that gold was, by no means, a rare metal in the kingdom in the old days. Incidentally, the reference in the Silimpur inscription proves that the Kamarupa kings used to mint gold coins though unfortunately no such coins have yet been discovered. The inscription of Ratna Pala mentions the existence of a copper-mine within the kingdom which the king worked with profit. Evidently copper was used for coinage also. Harjara Varman's ordinance, inscribed on the rock, prescribed a penalty of 100 cowries for infringement of the regulations. This shows that the cowri was a legal tender but it does not mean that metal coins were not then in circulation. In the vicinity of Sadiya existed a temple having a root made of coppersheets and this temple was dedicated to the goddess Durga called Tameshwari mai. This temple was erected by the premedieval kings.
Rice was then, as now, the staple crop. The extent of the lands, granted by the various inscriptions, was stated in terms of the yield of paddy. Yuan Chwang noticed that cocoanut and jack trees were numerous. As a matter of fact cocoanut thrives within the present districts of Goalpara and Kamrup. As regards the cultivation of areca nut and betel leaf in Kamarupa, it find a mention not only in the Nagaon inscription of Bala Varman III but also in the Aphshad inscription of Adityasena (circa 672 A. D.) wherein the betel plants being in full bloom on the banks of the Brahmaputra is stated. The Nagaon inscription describes the arecanut trees within Pragjyotishpura being wrapped by the betel creepers (pan), a system of growing pan which persists till today. Pragjyotishpur was, even in the ancient times, noted for its betel-nut groves which subsequently gave the name Guwahati to this town. The presents sent by Bhaskar Varman to Sri Harsha, about 6o6 A. D. included sugar in the form of liquid molasses in earthern pots. This indicates that sugarcane was cultivated even in the most ancient times. The other more important products of the kingdom as stated by Yuan Chwang, and also mentioned in some of the inscriptions, were Aguru or agaressence, musk, silk-fabrics and elephants.
Trade and Commerce
There is evidence to show that from the earliest times the people of Kamarupa traded with the people of other parts of India. This trade was carried on by a class of people called Sadagars and the main trade routes were the river Brahmaputra and the various navigable tributaries feeding it. It appears that the Sadagars of Kamarupa carried their merchandise in large boats down the Brahmaputra and reached the sea after skirting round the Garo Hills. They crossed this sea and traded in seaports like Tamralipti. The bardic tales relating to Behula mention that Chand Sadagar, whose trier ghor in Chaygaon, built of stones, existed till recent times, used to trade in seagoing boats. It appears that the Kalitas of Assam were then the Sadagars and the gold coins or rather pieces with which they used to buy goods were known as Kaltis. The name of this coin is mentioned in the "Periplus of the Erythrian sea" a Greek account of the first century A. D. wherein it is supposed that a gold-mine existed then in this part of India. As a matter of fact, the gold was obtained by washing in the Brahmaputra, Subansiri and other rivers. In one of the aphorisms of Dak, who is placed about the eighth century A. D, mention is made of the profitable trade with the people of Lanka. Probably this Lanka is not to be identified with Sri Lanka but with the country on the Myanmar coast which Yuan Chwang named Kamalanka and which, according to him, lay to the south-east of Samatata on a bay of the sea. Perhaps traders from Champa, Kamarupa and Vanga visited this coast for purposes of trade.
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