Moamoria rebellion

The Moamoria rebellion (1769–1805) was the 18th century uprising in Ahom kingdom of present-day Assam that began as power struggle between the Moamorias (Mataks), the adherents of the Moamara Sattra, and the Ahom kings.[1] This uprising spread widely to other sections of Ahom kingdom[2] including disgruntled elements of the Ahom aristocracy[3] leading to two periods in which the Ahom king lost control of the capital. Retaking the capital was accompanied by a massacre of subjects, leading to a steep depopulation of large tracts. The Ahom king failed to retake the entire kingdom; a portion in the north-east, Bengmara, became known as Matak Rajya ruled by a newly created office called Borsenapati, became a tribute-paying but virtually independent territory.[4]

Moamoria Rebellion
Date25 November 1769 (1769-11-25) – 1805
Location
Result

Severe weakening of the Ahom kingdom

  • Near-end of the Paik system
  • Creation of a standing army of mostly paid Hindustani sepoys to replace the Ahom paik based military force
  • One-half of the population of the kingdom persihed
Territorial
changes
Creation of a near-independent Matak tract
Belligerents
Moamoria Ahom kingdom
Commanders and leaders

The Ahom kingdom emerged from the rebellion much weakened. About one half of the population of the kingdom perished and the economy was totally destroyed.[5] The weakened Ahom kingdom fell to a Burmese invasion which ultimately led to colonization by the British.

BackgroundEdit

This rebellion was primarily among the Moamoria Paiks against the Ahom kingdom. The Moamorias were the followers of the Moamaria sattra that was predominantly Morans (the mainstay of the Ahom militia), but there were also the Sonowal Kacharis (gold-washers), Chutias (expert archers and matchlockmen), professional castes such as Hiras (potters), Tantis (weavers), Kaibartas (fishermen), Bania (artisans) and Ahom nobles and officers.[6] The rising popularity of Moamoria sattra had siphoned off the power of orthodox Hindu groups and Shakti sect which supported the Ahom kings. The sattras provided refuge for those seeking to escape the Paik system under which, any able-bodied person who was not a Brahmin or a noble could be used for labour, services or conscripted into the army. The Ahom kingdom was entering a crisis, as the Paik system on which the state was based was unable to adapt to the changing economy and the emerging social classes. The rise of the sattras was one of the reason for the leakage of manpower from the Paik system, and as a result the Ahom kingdom and the sattras came into increasing conflict. Moamara sattra belonged to the non-conformist Kala-samhati sect that competed against the royalist sattras belonging to other sects. The Ahom kingdom watched the growth of this sattra with discomfort and heaped insult and repression on the followers of this sattra. The Moamoria Rebellion started during the reign of Swargadeo Lakshmi Singha and ended during the reign of Swargadeo Kamaleswar Singha. It continued up to 36 years, from 1769 to 1805.

In the course of time, the Moamoria guru compromised with the Ahom rulers and the rebels drew inspiration from magico-religious cult of night worshipers, a mixture of tribal fertility rites and Tantrism.[7]

Sattra-Ahom conflictEdit

Srimanta Sankardeva established the Mahapuruxiya Dharma in the 16th century, a proselytizing religion that opened itself to all including the Muslims and tribesmen. The religion provided opportunities for social and economic improvements to common tribesmen, and the sattras provided a safe haven from mandatory labor under the Paik system.

The Ahom rulers saw a threat and Sankardeva himself had to escape to the Koch kingdom during the reign of Suklenmung to avoid persecution. A later king, Prataap Singha, demolished the Kalabari and Kuruabahi sattras and his successors followed a similar policy of oppression. Jayadhwaj Singha reversed this policy and his successors up to Sulikphaa Lora Roja tried to come to terms with the sattras. This policy was again reversed during the reign of Gadadhar Singha, who began persecuting the sattras. His son, Rudra Singha tried to isolate the more liberal—and thus most threatening to the Ahom state—of the non-Brahmin sattras by encouraging the Brahmin sattras. When he realized this policy was not bearing fruit, he initiated a policy to accord state support to saktism, the historical and theological bete noire of the Mahapuruxiya dharma, to contain further sattra influence. This led to more persecutions, the most notable under Bor Roja Phuleshwari Kunwonri during the reign of Siva Singha. This unresolved conflict finally exploded into the Moamoria rebellion in the 18th century that so weakened the Ahom kingdom that it collapsed in the 19th century.

First phaseEdit

On September 15, 1769, Ragh Neog, a leading disciple of the sattra, was flogged by Ahom officials for not supplying the required number of elephants. By November, the Mataks led by Ragh Neog, Naharkhora Saikia and his two wives Radha and Rukmini, promised the throne to three Ahom princes (Mohanmala, a brother, and two others, nephews of Lakshmi Singha the king) and with their help liberated the territory north of the Burhidihing river. On November 21, 1769 the rebels occupied the Ahom capital and placed Ramananda, son of Naharkhora, on the throne. The Ahom king, Lakshmi Singha, was captured and kept a prisoner. All high officers were executed and three common Mataks became the three great Gohains. Ragh Neog became the Borbarua, a kanri paik became the Borphukan and two common Ahoms became the Gohains at Sadiya and Marangi.

The rebels, inexperienced in statecraft, failed to usher in a new order. Instead, they began imitating the unpopular practices of their erstwhile leaders. Ragh Neog seized the wives and daughters of many nobles and kept them in his harem. As some of the rebel officers took on the airs of the old nobility, many rebels were dissatisfied and, led by Govinda Gaoburha, left the capital and reached Sagunmuri. Taking advantage of this, some of the old nobility killed Ragh on April 14, 1770 with the help of Kuranganayani, an Ahom queen from Manipur, and retook the capital. In the purge that followed, Ramananda the rebel king, Naharkhora, Radha, Rukmini, Astabhujdev, the Moamara sattradhikar and his son Saptabhuj were all executed.

After the capital was recaptured the remaining rebel forces in Sagunmuri under Govinda Gaoburha attempted to overthrow the king again. This movement too had the signs of a popular uprising. The main weapons used by the rebels were bamboo staves and clubs, and their slogan was praja-oi joroiroa, chekani-oi sopai dhora ("Ye oppressed subjects, hold your stave close"), and this uprising was called chekani kubua ron ("The war of the staves"). In one of the engagements, the Borpatrogohain and the Dhekial Phukan were killed, and the Borgohain made a hair breath escape. The rebels advanced toward Rangpur and they were met at Thowra by the forces of the Burhagohain, the new Borpatrogohain, the Borgohain and a detachment cavalry from the Manipur king. In this battle the rebels were defeated; Govinda Gaoburha was captured and executed,[8]

Some rebels then retreated deep into jungles and continued guerilla warfare under leaders like Lephera, Parmananda and others. An initial royalist force under the Na-Phukan and the Deka-Phukan was defeated, but a later force under the Borpatrogohain was able to eliminate Lephera and Parmananda. Subsequently, the Burhagohain began systematically destroying the villages and killing the remaining leaders; in a siege many rebels and their families died of starvation. The remaining people were then separated and settled at different places. One of the last holdouts, Nomal, was finally captured and executed.[9] This ended the first phase of the Moamoria rebellion.

Second phaseEdit

In April 1783 an armed group of rebels attacked Rangpur and Garhgaon. The rebels were repulsed and a general massacre of Morans followed that continued for a month and a half.

 
Silver rupee struck during the rebellion.

In 1786 Harihar Tanti raised an army of Moamarias and Dafla-Bahatiyas. A contingent of the rebels freed Pitambar, a grandson of the late Moamara sattradhikar, who was in the custody of Auniati sattra. The rebels encircled Rangpur and on January 19, 1788 the king Gaurinath Singha and the inhabitants of the capital fled. The captured region was locally administered with Harihar Tanti in the north bank of the Brahmaputra, Howha ruling Majuli, Sarbananada Singha ruling the Moran tracts from Bengmara (present-day Tinsukia). Bharat was made the king. Coins were struck regularly in Bharat's and Sarbananda's names. Purnananda Burhagohain tried to regroup but soon gave up, and established himself in Jorhat, the vanguard of the royalist forces. Other Ahom nobles camped in Darrang and the king in Nagaon where he had to face dissensions and as a result had to move from Nagaon to Guwahati on June 11, 1792.

The counterattacks began around 1792, when Bharat repulsed an attack from the Manipuri king. In 1792 Thomas Welsh of the East India Company came to the aid with 550 well trained and well armed troops. He occupied Guwahati on November 24, 1792 without any resistance and on March 18, 1794, restored Rangpur to Gaurinath Singha. After they received the prize money, Thomas Welsh returned to Bengal on May 25, 1794. Gaurinath Singha died in Jorhat in 1794 and was succeeded by Kamaleswar Singha. The rebels continued to suffer reverses.

Third phaseEdit

The third phase of the rebellion was very important because during this time the Moamoriyas attacked the Ahom Kingdom once again.

EndEdit

This experience and the military display by Thomas Welsh and his troops encouraged the Ahoms to create a standing army of mostly paid Hindustani sepoys to replace the paik based militia. Phopai, a rebel was killed in 1796 and Bharat, the rebel king in 1799. Sadiya fell to the royalists in 1800. Despite many attempts in 1802 and 1806, Sarbananda held out from Bengmara. He was finally given the title of Barsenapati, and the Matak territory conceded to him.

The Moamaria rebellion thus ended with the creation of a near-independent Motak tract ruled by a Barsenapati and the near-end of the Paik system.

NotesEdit

  1. ^ "The first popular challenge to the Ahom monarchy was organized by the disciples of the Moamara satra." (Baruah 1993:46)
  2. ^ "As the rebellion was in progress, all who wanted to free themselves from the exploitative government joined hands with the Moamorias making it a mass uprising and creating a crisis for the Ahom monarchy" (Baruah 1993:46)
  3. ^ "The leaders of the Moamoriyas then resolved to form an alliance with three prominent exiled Ahom princes—Mohan Mala Gohain, the third son of Rudra Singha, and Charu Singha and Ratneswar, both sons of Rajeswar Singha." (Baruah 1993:46)
  4. ^ (Baruah 1993:164)
  5. ^ (Guha 1991:122)
  6. ^ (Baruah 1993:53)
  7. ^ (Guha 1991:124–125)
  8. ^ (Baruah 1993:72)
  9. ^ (Baruah 1993:73)

ReferencesEdit

  • Baruah, S. L. (1993), Last Days of Ahom Monarchy, New Delhi
  • Gait, Edward A. (1906), A History of Assam, Calcutta
  • Guha, Amalendu (1991), Medieval and Early Colonial Assam, Calcutta: K P Bagchi
  • Dutta, Sristidhar (1985), The Mataks and their Kingdom, Allahabad: Chugh Publications