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The findspots of inscriptions[1] associated with the Kamarupa kingdom give an estimate of its geographical location and extent.

Kamarupa, also called Pragjyotisha, was the first historical kingdom in Assam that existed between the 4th to the 12th century CE. Ruled by three dynasties from their capitals in present-day Guwahati and Tezpur, it covered the entire Brahmaputra river valley and, at times, North Bengal and parts of Bangladesh.[2]

Though the historical kingdom disappeared by 12th century to be replaced by smaller political entities, the notion of Kamarupa persisted and ancient and medieval chroniclers continued to call this region by this name.[3] Coins of Alauddin Hussain Shah, who invaded the Kamata Kingdom in the late 15th century, called the region Kamru or Kamrud. In the 16th century the Ahom kingdom came into prominence and assumed for itself the political and territorial legacy of the Kamarupa kingdom.[4]

The name of this kingdom survives in Kamrup, a present-day district in Assam.


Sources for Kamarupa

Detail of Asia in Ptolemy's world map, with Kamarupa marked as Cirrhadia

The region is mentioned as Pragjyotisha in the Mahabharata (see references) and the Ramayana. The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea (1st century) and Ptolemy's Geographia (2nd century) calls the region Kirrhadia after the Kirata population[5]. The first epigraphic mention of Kamarupa comes from the Allahabad inscription of Samudragupta from the 4th century, which marks the beginning of the historical period. The Chinese traveler Xuanzang visited the kingdom in the 7th century, then ruled by Bhaskaravarman. Inscriptions left by the rulers of Kamarupa, including Bhaskaravarman, at various places in Assam and present-day Bangladesh are important sources of information.


According to the Kalika Purana and Xuanzang, the western boundary was the historical Karatoya[6] river. The eastern border is given by the temple of the goddess Tamreshvari (Pūrvāte Kāmarūpasya devī Dikkaravasini in Kalika Purana) near present-day Sadiya[7] in the eastern most corner of Assam. The southern boundary was near the border between the Dhaka and Mymensingh districts in Bangladesh. Thus it spanned the entire Brahmaputra valley and at various times included present-day Bhutan and parts of Bangladesh. This is supported by the various epigraphic records found scattered over these regions. The kingdom appears to have broken up entirely by the 13th century into smaller kingdoms and from among them rose the Kamata kingdom in the west and the Ahom kingdom in the east as the main successor kingdoms. In 1581, Naranarayana the Koch king who ruled Kamata divided his kingdom along the Sankosh river retaining the western portion and gifting the eastern portion to Raghudeb, the son of his brother Chilarai[8]. The present West Bengal-Assam border follows this division closely. In the period after Naranarayana, from 1602 onwards, the eastern Koch kingdom came under repeated attacks from the Mughals and in 1615 it became the battleground of the Mughals and the Ahoms till late 17th century when the Ahoms pushed back the Mughals for the last time and took control of the region till the advent of the British in 1826.

Kamarupa state

The extent of state structures can be culled from the numerous copper plate grants left behind by the Kamarupa kings as well as accounts left by travellers such as those from Xuanzang.[9]

Kings and courts: The king was considered to be of divine origin. Succession was primogeniture, but two major breaks resulted in different dynasties. In the second, the high officials of the state elected a king, Brahmapala, after the previous king died without leaving an heir. The royal court consisted of a Rajaguru, poets, learned men and physicians. Different epigraphic records mention different officials of the palace: Mahavaradhipati, Mahapratihara, Mahallakapraudhika, etc.

Council of Ministers: The king was advised by a council of ministers (Mantriparisada), and Xuanzang mentions a meeting Bhaskaravarman had with his ministers. According to the Kamauli grant, these positions were filled by Brahmanas and were hereditary. State functions were specialized and there were different groups of officers looking after different departments.

Revenue: Land revenue (kara) was collected by special tax-collectors from cultivators. Cultivators who had no propreitary rights on the lands they tilled paid uparikara. Duties (sulka) were collected by toll collectors (kaivarta) from merchants who plied keeled boats. The state maintained a monopoly on copper mines (kamalakara). The state maintained its stores and treasury via officials: Bhandagaradhikrita and Koshthagarika.

Grants: The king occasionally gave Brahmanas grants (brahmadeya) , which consisted generally of villages, water resources, wastelands etc (agraharas). Such grants conferred on the donee the right to collect revenue and the right to be free of any regular tax himself and immunity from other harassments. Sometimes, the Brahmanas were relocated from North India, with a view to establish varnashramdharma. Nevertheless, the existence of donees indicate the existence of a feudal class. Grants made to temples and religious institutions were called dharmottara and devottara respectively.

Land survey: The land was surveyed and classified. Arable lands (kshetra) were held individually or by families, whereas wastelands (khila) and forests were held collectively. There were lands called bhucchidranyaya that were left unsurveyed by the state on which no tax was levied.

Administration: The entire kingdom was divided into a hierarchy of administrative divisions. From the highest to the lowest, they were bhukti, mandala, vishaya, pura (towns) and agrahara (collection of villages).

These units were administered by officials such as nyayakaranika, vyavaharika, kayastha etc., led by the adhikara. They dispensed judicial duties too, though the ultimate authority lay with the king. Law enforcement and punishments were made by officers called dandika, (magistrate) and dandapashika (one who executed the orders of a dandika).

Political history

Kamarupa, first mentioned on Samudragupta's Allahabad rock pillar as a frontier kingdom, began as a subordinate but sovereign ally of the Gupta empire around present-day Guwahati in the 4th century. It finds mention along with Davaka, a kingdom to the east of Kamarupa in the Kapili river valley in present-day Nagaon district, but which is never mentioned again as an independent political entity in later historical records. Kamarupa, which was probably one among many such state structures, grew territorially to encompass the entire Brahmaputra valley and beyond. The kingdom was ruled by three major dynasties, all of which drew their lineage from the legendary king Naraka, who is said to have established his line by defeating the aboriginal king Ghatakasura of the Danava dynasty.


Varman dynasty

See: Varman dynasty

Pushyavarman (350-374) established the Varman dynasty, by fighting many enemies from within and without his kingdom; but his son Samudravarman (374-398), named after Samudragupta, was accepted as an overlord by many local rulers.[10] Nevertheless, subsequent kings continued their attempts to stabilize and expand the kingdom.[11] Narayanavarma (494-518) and his son Bhutivarman (518-542) offered the ashwamedha (horse sacrifice);[12] and as the Nidhanpur inscription of Bhaskarvarman avers, these expansions included the region of Chandrapuri visaya, identified with present-day Sylhet division. Thus, the small but powerful kingdom that Pushyavarman established grew in fits and starts over many generations of kings and expanded to include adjoining possibly smaller kingdoms and parts of Bangladesh.

After the initial expansion till the beginning of Bhutivarman's reign, the kingdom came under attack from Yasodharman (525-535) of Malwa, the first major assault from the west.[13] Though it is unclear what the effect of this invasion was on the kingdom; that Bhutivarman's grandson, Sthitavarman (566-590), enjoyed victories over the Gauda of Karnasuvarna and performed two aswamedha ceremonies suggests that the Kamarupa kingdom had recovered nearly in full. His son, Susthitavarman ((590-600) came under the attack of Mahasenagupta of East Malwa. These back and forth invasions were a result of a system of alliances that pitted the Kamarupa kings (allied to the Maukharis) against the Gaur kings (allied with the East Malwa kings).[14] Susthitavarman died as the Gaur invasion was on, and his two sons, Suprathisthitavarman and Bhaskarvarman fought against an elephant force and were captured and taken to Gaur. They were able to regain their kingdom due probably to a promise of allegiance.[15] Suprathisthitavarman's regin is given as 595-600, a very short period, at the end of which he died without an heir.

Supratisthitavarman was succeeded by his brother, Bhaskarvarman (600-650), the most illustrious of the Varman kings who succeeded in turning his kingdom and invading the very kingdom that had taken him captive. Bhaskarvarman had become strong enough to offer his alliance with Harshavardhana just as the Thanesar king ascended the throne in 606 after the murder of his brother, the previous king, by Shashanka of Gaur. Harshavardhana finally took control over the kingless Maukhari kingdom and moved his capital to Kanauj.[16] The alliance between Harshavardhana and Bhaskarvarman squeezed Shashanka from either side and reduced his kingdom, though it is unclear whether this alliance resulted in his complete defeat. Nevertheless, Bhaskarvarman did issue the Nidhanpur copper-plate inscription from his military camp in the Gaur capital, to replace a grant issued earlier by Bhutivarman.[17]

In about 643, the Xuanzang visited Bhaskarvarman's court. Xuangzang confirms that the western border of the Kamarupa kingdom was the Karatoya river. At the end of this visit, Bhaskarvarman accompanied Xuanzang to Kanauj, and participated in a religious assembly and a festival at Prayaga (Allahabad) with Harshavardhana, spending more than a year away from his own kingdom. It seems Bhaskaravarman maintained relations with China. He recounted to Xuanzang a Chinese song about the Jin dynasty which became very popular in his kingdom. After the death of Harsha, he helped a mission from China led by Wang Hiuen-ts'oe according to a Chinese account. Bhaskarvarman, also called Kumar, or Shri Kumar, was a bachelor king and died without an heir.

Mlechchha dynasty

See: Mlechchha dynasty

After Bhaskaravarman's death without an heir, the kingdom passed into the hands of Salasthambha(655-670), a member of an aboriginal group called Mlechchha (or Mech) after a period of civil and political strife. The capital of this dynasty was Hadapeshvara, now identified with modern Dah Parbatiya near Tezpur. Not much is known of this dynasty. The last ruler in this line was Tyāga Singha (890-900).

Pala dynasty

See: Pala dynasty

After the death of Tyāgasimha without an heir, a member of the Bhauma family, Brahmapala (900-920), was elected as king by the ruling chieftains, just as Gopala of the Pala dynasty of Bengal was elected. The original capital of this dynasty was Hadapeshvara, and was shifted to Durjaya built by Ratnapala, near modern Guwahati. The greatest of the Pala kings, Dharmapala had his capital at Kamarupanagara, now identified with North Guwahati. The last Pala king was Jayapala (1075-1100). Around this time, Kamarupa was attacked and the western portion was conquered by the Pala king of Gaur Ramapala.

The Gaur king could not hold Kamarupa for long, and Timgyadeva (1110-1126) ruled Kamarupa independently for sometime. The period saw a waning of the Kamarupa kingdom, and in 1205 the Turkish Muhammad-i-Bakhtiyar passed through Kamarupa against Tibet which ended in a disaster. Yuzbak attacked and defeated an unknown ruler of Kamarupa in 1257. But Yuzbak could not hold on to the capital as he was weakened by the Monsoon rains that led to his defeat and death by the local population.

At this time, western Kamarupa was being ruled by the chiefs of the Bodo people, Koch and Mech tribes. In central Assam the Kachari kingdom was growing, and further east, the Chutiya kingdom. The Ahoms, who would establish a strong and independent kingdom later, began building their state structures in the region between the Kachari and the Chutiya kingdoms.

See also


  1. ^ (Lahiri 1991:26-28)
  2. ^ (Sircar 1990:63-68)
  3. ^ In the medieval times the region between the Sankosh river and the Barnadi river on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra river was defined as Kamrup (or Koch Hajo in Persian chronicles) (Sarkar 1990:95).
  4. ^ (Guha 1983:24), and notes. Guha writes that from the 1530s when Tonkham, an Ahom general, pursued the defeated Turko-Afghan adventurers of Turbak to the Karatoya river, the traditional western boundary of the Kamarupa kingdom, '"the washing of the sword in the Karatoya" became a symbol of the Assamese aspiration, repeatedly evoked in the Bar-mels and mentioned in the chronicles."
  5. ^ Sircar, D. C., (1990) Chapter 5: Epico-Puranic Myths and Legends, pp 81
  6. ^ Historical Karatoya River from Banglapedia
  7. ^ Sircar (1990) pp 63-64
  8. ^ Bhuyan, S. K. (1949) Anglo-Assamese Relations 1771-1826, Department of Historical and Antiquarian Studies in Assam, Gauhati, pp 260 and map.
  9. ^ Choudhury, P. C., (1959) The History of Civilization of the People of Assam, Guwahati
  10. ^ (Lahiri 1991:68)
  11. ^ (Lahiri 1990:72) The Nagajari Khanikargaon rock inscription of 5th century found in Golaghat adduces the fact that the kingdom spread to the east very quickly.
  12. ^ (Sircar 1990:101)
  13. ^ (Lahiri 1991:70). Though the first evidence is from the Mansador stone pillar inscription of Yasodharman, there is no reference to this invasion in the Kamarupa inscriptions.
  14. ^ (Sircar 1990:106-107)
  15. ^ (Sircar 1990:109)
  16. ^ (Sircar 1990:113)
  17. ^ (Sircar 1990:115)


  • Guha, Amalendu (December 1983), "The Ahom Political System: An Enquiry into the State Formation Process in Medieval Assam (1228-1714)", Social Scientist 11 (12): 3–34, doi:10.2307/3516963  
  • Lahiri, Nayanjot (1991). Pre-Ahom Assam: Studies in the Inscriptions of Assam between the Fifth and the Thirteenth Centuries AD. Munshiram Manoharlal Publishers Pvt Ltd.  
  • Sarkar, J N (1990), "Koch Bihar, Kamrup and the Mughals, 1576-1613", in Barpujari, H K, The Comprehensive History of Assam: Mediebal Period, Political, II, Guwahati: Publication Board, Assam, pp. 92–103  
  • Sircar, D C (1990), "Pragjyotisha-Kamarupa", in Barpujari, H K, The Comprehensive History of Assam, I, Guwahati: Publication Board, Assam, pp. 59–78  
  • Sircar, D C (1990), "Political History", in Barpujari, H K, The Comprehensive History of Assam, I, Guwahati: Publication Board, Assam, pp. 94–171  


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