The Baro-Bhuyans (Assamese: বাৰ ভূঞা, Bengali: বারো ভুঁইয়া) (spelled variously as Baro-Bhuinas, "Baro-Bhuiyan" etc.) were warrior chiefs and landlords (zamindars) in the regions of medieval Assam and Bengal, who maintained a loosely independent confederacy. These landlords did not belong to any particular ethnicity, religion or caste.
In times of aggression by external powers, they generally cooperated in defending and expelling the aggressor. In times of peace, they maintained their respective sovereignty. In the presence of a strong king, they offered their allegiance. In general, they were in control of a group of villages, called cakala, and the more powerful among them called themselves raja.
Baro denotes the number twelve, but in general there were more than twelve chiefs or landlords, and the word baro meant many. Thus, Bhuyan-raj denoted individual Bhuyanship, whereas Baro-Bhuyan denoted temporary confederacies that they formed. In Bengal they carved the land of Bhati into twelve administrative units or Dwadas Bangla. The system of Baro-Bhuyan confederacy is a relic of the erstwhile Kamarupa kingdom, that covered all of Assam, North Bengal and large portions of Bangladesh. The "parcelization" of power, which was an effect of settling North Indian adventurers, became prominent during the 9th century reign of Balavarman III of the Mlechchha dynasty. Whereas the central Kamarupa kingdom fragmented, the system of small chieftains remained. In Bengal as in Assam, the Baro-Bhuyans are found in regions within the traditional boundaries of the Kamarupa kingdom.
In Assam, the Baro-Bhuyans occupied the region west of the Kachari kingdom in the south bank of the Brahmaputra river, and west of the Chutiya kingdom in the north bank. These included areas of Nagaon, Darrang and Sonitpur districts. They were instrumental in defending against aggressors from Bengal, especially in defeating the remnant of Alauddin Husain Shah's administration after 1498. They also resisted the emergence of the Koch dynasty but failed. Subsequently, they were squeezed between the Kachari kingdom and the Kamata kingdom in the south bank and were slowly overpowered by the expanding Ahom kingdom in the north. In Bengal, the Kingdom of Chandradvipa or Barisal was ruled by the royal Basu family, the last of which being Raja Rabindra Narayan Bose, who later fled to Kolkata during the partition of Bengal, as their position had already been reduced to that of a zamindar. The royal family thus, still lives in Kolkata.
Baro-Bhuyans of AssamEdit
The Baro-Bhuyans were the rulers/landlords that rose into prominence in Assam after the fall of Pala dynasty. The Bhuyans didn't have any ethnic basis and originated from different groups, both indigenous and migrants. For instance, the founder of the Koch kingdom Haria Mandal was considered a Bhuyan and headed twelve Mech families. Baro-Bhuyans of Assam can be divided into two major groups: the older group i.e. Adi-Bhuyans and the later group. The Vaishnavite saint Sankardev belonged to the later.
The Adi Bhuyan groupEdit
The origin of this group is shrouded in mystery. This original group is often referred to as the Adi Bhuyan, or the progenitor Bhuyans. One of the earliest evidence of Bhuyans in western Brahmaputra valley comes from the Raut-Kuchi grant (1329 A.D.) of Purushottam Dasa whose grandfather Basudeva was a minister of Kamata king Indranarayan and commanded a thousand men. The grant states that with his wealth and valour he obtained the glory of sovereignty. The Adi-charita written in the late 16th century is the only manuscript which mentions about the Adi-Bhuyan group.. In this text, the Adi-Bhuyans are said to have been already ensconced in the region west of the Chutiya kingdom when Sukaphaa established the Ahom kingdom in 1228. The text states that this group originated from Samudra, who was a minister of the Kamata court under Arimatta. It claims that the Bhuyans belonged to the solar race. Pratapura was king of Ratnapura in the Ratnapitha(western Assam). He was succeeded by his son, Mayamatta, who divided his kingdom between his two sons, Arimatta and Nagamatta. The western portion was assigned to Arimatta, whose minister, Samudra, built him a new capital, while Nagamatta ruled the eastern country from the old town of Ratnapura(present-day Baksa district). Over time, Arimatta annexed the entire region of Kamata kingdom and became the king of Kamatapur. The penitent Arimatta placed Samudra in charge of the eastern regions of the Kamata kibgdom and Samudra’s son, Manohar at Darrang. Samudra died soon after this, and Manohara also followed his path to the grave, leaving behind him only a daughter, Laksmi. She had two sons, Santanu and Sumanta.. Santanu and Sumanta, had twelve sons each and they formed the original Bor Baro-Bhuyan and Saru Baro-Bhuyan. The Saru Baro-Bhuyans emigrated to the Nagaon district soon after. The Bar Baro-Bhuyans fought with and withstood the might of the Chutiya as well as the Kachari kingdoms. They joined the Ahom king Suhungmung's expeditions against the Chutiya and the Kachari kingdoms. Pleased with their help, the Baro-Bhuyans were brought to eastern Assam and established as tributary feudal landlords in the north bank. During the first expedition of Chilarai against the Ahom kingdom, aligned with the Ahoms (which Chilarai lost), but during the second expedition they aligned with the Koches (which Chilarai won). This group was finally subjugated by Prataap Singha in 1623, who relocated them to the south bank of the Brahmaputra.
The Saru Bhuyans, who had moved west after the conflict with the Bor Baro-Bhuyans trace the genealogy of Candivara to Kanvajara, the eldest son of Sumanta, but this is not given credence.
The Later groupEdit
The later Baro-Bhuyans had ensconced themselves between the Kachari kingdom in the east and the Kamata kingdom in the west on the south bank of the Brahmaputra river. According to Neog, the leader (shiromani) of the group, Chandivara, was originally a ruler of Kannauj, who had to flee due to Firuz Shah Tughlaq's 1353 campaign against Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah and reached Gauda, the domain of Dharmanarayana. As a result of a treaty between Dharmanarayana and Durlabhnarayana of Kamata kingdom, a group of seven Kayastha and seven Brahmin families led by Candivara was transferred to Langamaguri, a few miles north of present-day Guwahati. Candivara and his group did not stay in Lengamaguri for long as it was frequently inundated by the Brahmaputra and because depredations by the Bhutiyas, and moved soon to Bordowa in present-day Nagaon district with the support of Durlabhnarayana. Among the descendants of Candivara was Srimanta Sankardeva.
A second group of five Bhuyans joined the Candivara group later. In due course, members of these Bhuyans became powerful. Alauddin Husain Shah, who ended the Khen dynasty by displacing Nilambar in 1498, extended his rule up to the Barnadi river by defeating Harup Narayan who was a descendant of Gandharva-raya, a Bhuyan from the second group established by Durlabhnarayana at Bausi (Chota raja of Bausi), among others. The Baro-Bhuyans retaliated and were instrumental in ending the rule of Alauddin Husain Shah via his son Danial. But very soon, the rise of Viswa Singha of the Koch dynasty in Kamata destroyed their hold in Kamrup and squeezed those in the Nagaon region against the Kacharis to their east. They had to relocate to the north bank of the Brahmaputra in the first quarter of the 16th century, to a region west of the Bor Baro-Bhuyan group. The increasing Koch and Ahom conflicts further ate away at their independence and sovereignty.
Baro-Bhuiyans of BengalEdit
At the end of the Karrani Dynasty (1564-1575), the nobles of Bengal became fiercely independent. Sulaiman Khan Karrani carved out an independent principality in the Bhati region comprising a part of greater Dhaka district and parts of Mymensingh district. During that period Taj Khan Karrani and another Afghan chieftain who helped Isa Khan to obtain an estate in Sonargaon and Mymensingh in 1564. By winning the grace of the Afghan, chieftain, Isa Khan gradually increased his strength and status and by 1571 Mughal Court designated him as the ruler of Bhati.
This region includes the Bhagirathi to the Meghna River is Bhati, while others include Hijli, Jessore, Chandradwip and Barisal Division in Bhati. Keeping in view the theatre of warfare between the Bara-Bhuiyans and the Mughals, the Baharistan-i-Ghaibi mentions the limits of the area bounded by the Ichamati River in the west, the Ganges in the south, the Tripura to the east; Alapsingh pargana (in present Mymensingh District) and Baniachang (in greater Sylhet) in the north. The Bara-Bhuiyans rose to power in this region and put up resistance to the Mughals, until Islam Khan Chisti made them submit in the reign of Jahangir.
Isa Khan was the leader of the Baro Bhuiyans (twelve landlords) and a zamindar of the Bhati region in medieval Bengal. Throughout his reign he put resistance against Mughal invasion. It was only after his death, when the region went totally under Mughals.
The Jesuit mission who sent to Bengal managed to identify that 3 of the chieftains were Hindus, they were Bakla of Bakarganj, Sripur of southeastern Dhaka (another source record the chief was Kedar Rai of Vikrampur), and Chandechan of Jessore while the rest were Muslims during Isa Khan's rule which in following decades N.K Bhattasali managed to identify some of them, which consisting:
- Khwaja Usman of Bokainagar
- Ma'sum Khan Kabuli of Chatmogar in Pabna
- Madhu Ray of Khalsi
- Raja Ray of Shahzadpur in eastern Pabna
- the Ghazi family in Bhawal, north of Dhaka, consisted of Fazl Ghazi with his son and inheritor, Bahadhur Ghazi (who controlled a large river fleet which was important in Isa Khan's resistance against Mughal forces) along with Anwar Ghazi and Sona Ghazi.
- Pahlawan of Matang in southwestern Sylhet
- Nabud/Madan of Chandrapratap
- Ram Chandra of Bakhla
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