The Ancient History of Assam begins with the Ancient kingdom of Kamrupa. Some of the major dynasties of Kamrupa are:
- Varman Dynasty
- Salasthambha Dynasty
- Pala Dynasty
Kamarupa also called Pragjyotisha or Pragjyotisha-Kamarupa), an early state during the Classical period on the Indian subcontinent was (along with Davaka) the first historical kingdom of Assam. Though Kamarupa existed from 350 CE to 1140 CE, Davaka was absorbed by Kamarupa in the 5th century CE.
Ruled by three dynasties from their capitals in present-day Guwahati, North Guwahati and Tezpur, Kamarupa at its height covered the entire Brahmaputra Valley, North Bengal, Bhutan and northern part of Bangladesh, and at times portions of what is now West Bengal and Bihar.
Though the historical kingdom disappeared by the 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. In the 16th century the Ahom kingdom came into prominence and assumed for itself the political and territorial legacy of the Kamarupa kingdom. The earliest mention of a kingdom comes from the 4th-century Allahabad inscription of Samudragupta that calls the kings of Kamarupa and Davaka frontier rulers (pratyanta nripati).
The Chinese traveler Xuanzang visited the kingdom in the 7th century, then ruled by Bhaskaravarman. The corpus of Kamarupa inscriptions left by the rulers of Kamarupa, including Bhaskaravarman, at various places in Assam and present-day Bangladesh are important sources of information. Nevertheless, local grants completely eschew the name Kamarupa; instead they use the name Pragjyotisha, with the kings called Pragjyotishadhipati. According to the 10th century Kalika Purana and the 7th century Xuanzang, the western boundary was the historical Karatoya River. The eastern border was the temple of the goddess Tamreshvari (Pūrvāte Kāmarūpasya devī Dikkaravasini, given in Kalika Purana) near present-day Sadiya.The southern boundary was near the border between the Dhaka and Mymensingh districts in Bangladesh. Thus it spanned the entire Brahmaputra valley and Northeast India and at various times included parts of present day Bhutan, Bangladesh and Nepal.
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, Dimasa and the Chutiya kingdoms as the main successors, with the Baro-Bhuyans ruling intervening areas.
Davaka was a kingdom of ancient Indian subcontinent, located in current central region of Assam state. The references to it comes from the 4th century Allahabad pillar inscription of Samudragupta, where it is mentioned as one of five frontier kingdoms of the Gupta Empire; the Shung-Shu History of the Liu Song dynasty, where the kingdom is named Kapili (now the name of a river); the Gachtal stone pillar inscription written in Kamrupi Prakrit. N K Bhattasali has identified it with Dabaka in modern Nagaon district, with the kingdom associated with the Kopili-Kolong river valley.
In 4th-century Davaka was mentioned as frontier kingdom with Kamarupa in the Samudragupta’s Prayaga stone inscription, which was later absorbed by 6th or 7th century by western kingdom of Kamarupa. Though later historians like B N Puri (1968) and P C Choudhury (1959) claim that it was absorbed much earlier in the first half of the 5th century during the reign of Kalyana Varman (422-446).Its capital was located near Kapili river. In the year 428 A.D, an embassy was sent to China by Davaka king, whose name according to Chinese sources is Yuegnai or Yu Chai.
Rulers of the Varman Dynasty
Varman Dynasty (c 355-650)
The Varman dynasty was the first historical dynasty of the Kamarupa kingdom. It was established by Pushyavarman, a contemporary of Samudragupta The kingdom which he established with much effort, grew in the periphery of the Gupta Empire, adopted the north Indian political model, and its kings took on names and titles of the Gupta kings and queens.The earlier Varmans were subordinates of the Gupta Empire, but as the power of the Guptas waned, Mahendravarman (470- 494) performed two horse sacrifices and status of Kamarupa as Independent state remained unimpaired
According to Allahabad Prasasti of Samudragupta, the ruler of Kamarupa was mentioned as a frontier ruler (Pratyanta-nrpatis) of the great Gupta emperor. As per Apsad Inscription of Adityasen, Susthivarman was defeated by Mahasengupta on the bank of Lauhitya.
The capital was Pragjyotishpura and located at the south-eastern slope of the Narakasur hill near Dispur. The dynastic line from Pushyavarman first appear in the 7th century, in Dubi and Nidhanpur copperplate inscriptions issued by Bhaskaravarman and in the Harshacharita, though the descriptions are panegyric, repetitive and devoid of dates.Though some modern scholars have opined that the Varman dynasty is probably of Indo-Aryan descent, it is now believed that the Varmans were originally non-Indo-Aryans.
Suniti Kumar Chatterjee calls Bhaskaravarman a Hinduised Mlechcha king of Indo-Mongoloid origin. Hugh B. Urban (2011) too infers that the Varmans descended from non-Aryan tribes.
Pushya Varman (c. 350-380 AD)
- Founder of Varman Dynasty
- Contemporary of great Gupta Ruler Samudra Gupta
- Took the title-MaharajadhirajalI
- Ensured steps to establish Kamrupa as a frontier state
Samudra Varman (c. 380-405 AD)
- Son of Pushya Varman
- Contemporary of great Gupta Ruler Chandra Gupta II (Vikramaditya)
Mahendra Varman (c. 450-485 AD)
- First Varman Dynasty king to conduct Aswamedh ritual.
- The first king of Kamrupa who waged a successful war against Gupta army.
- He possibly liberated Varman Dynasty from Gupta dominance.
Mahabhuti Varman (c. 510-555 AD)
- During his reign a big portion of north bengal and bihar was included within the kingdom of kamrupa
- Came to be known as Parama Bhagavata (Inclination towards vasihnavism)
After Mahabhuti Varman , certain later varman rulers showed weakness and consequently were defeated by later Guptas As a result, the Kingdom of Kamrupa contracted in the west and the river Karotoya became the boundary
- Last and greatest king of the Varman dynasty and a contemporary of Harshavardhan (606- 648 AD)
- Harshavardhan honoured Bhaskar Varman at a conference held at Kanauj
- During his reign, Kamrupa became a dominant power in all India politics.
- He jointly with Harshavardhana of Kanauj defeated ruler of Bengal called Sasanka and forced him to flee to Orissa
Chinese traveller Hiuen Tsang lived in the court of Bhaskar varman for some time
- Assamese Calendar (Bhāskarābda) is counted from the date of the ascension of Kumar Bhaskar Barman to the throne of Kamrup
- The achievements of Bhaskar Varman are mentioned in Bana Bhatta‘s ‗Harsha-Charita‘, Hiuen Tsang‘s ‗Si-Yu-Ki‘ and various inscriptions found
- He was a bachelor king, that is why he was known as Kumar Bhaskar Varman.
The dynastic line from Pushyavarman first appear in the 7th century, in Dubi and Nidhanpur copperplate inscriptions issued by Bhaskaravarman and in the Harshacharita The Dubi copperplate inscriptions are the inscriptions of a grant issued by Bhaskaravarman of Kamarupa. This is the earliest of all copper plate grants issued by Kamarupa kings discovered so far. This was an issue after an earlier charter, issued by Mahabhuti Varman , was destroyed. All six plates in this grant were first discovered around 1950 during digging near a Siva temple in Dubi village about three miles from the Pathshala railway station, Kamrup district.These plates are currently in the Assam State Museum.This plate was issued before the Nidhanpur copperplate inscription, during the earlier part of Bhaskkaravarman’s reign.
The Nidhanpur copperplate inscription of the 7th century Kamarupa king Bhaskaravarman gives a detailed account of land grants given to Brahmins.
The copper plates were discovered on 29 December 1912, in the village of Nidhanpur in Panchakhanda near what is now Sylhet in Bangladesh. The copper plates were found mostly in Panchakhanda pargana where historians opined that actual granted lands are located. The inscriptions recorded by Bhaskaravarman in different parts of India provide a detailed account of his rule and associate events.
It was customary among the kings of Kamarupa to issue seals for every major event related to the kingdom be they giving land grants to Brahmins or winning a war.
- Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang came to India around 630 AD
- Around 643 AD, during the Bhaskar Varman reign, Hiuen Tsang visited Kamrupa and remained in his court for some time.
- He compiled his accounts in his book ‗Si-Yu-Ki‘
The account of Hiuen Tsang provides various insight on the socio-economic and geographical features of the kingdom of Kamrupa. In his account, he mentions about the language spoken being different from north India, People worshipped to Devas and performed sacrifices and the Hindus were divided into many sects. There was minimum following of Buddhism at that period.
Salasthambha Dynasty (c. 650 – c. 900)
The Salasthambha dynasty was the next in line which began with the reign of a chieftain called Salasthambha.The Salasthambha dynasty is also called Mlechchha dynasty. The Mlechchha dynasty ruled Kamarupa from their capital at Harruppesvar (Dah Parvatiya) in the present day Tezpur, Assam.
According to historical records, there were twenty one rulers in this dynasty, but the line is obscure and the names of some intervening rulers are not known. Mleccha may be sanskritized form of tribal name mech Suniti Kumar Chatterji claims that Salastambha (650-675) was a Bodo-Kachari chief of Mech (Sanskritized as Mleccha). According to some historians, the remnant of the Mlechchha kingdom formed the later Kachari kingdom.
650 – 675 AD
Vigrahastambha (Vijaya )
675 – 725 AD
725 – 750 AD
760 – 765 AD
765 – 790 AD
790 – 810 AD
810 – 815 AD
815 – 835 AD
835 – 865 AD
Jayamala alias Virabahu
865 – 885 AD
910 – 970 AD
970 – 990 AD
Among all the kings of the Salasthambha dynasty, it was Shri Harshadeva (725-750 AD) who acquitted himself as a good king. His kingdom extended upto Gaur (North Bengal), Orissa, Kalinga and Kushal (North Bihar).
Another Great King of this dynasty was Harjjaravarman. He was the first in this dynasty to get the throne in vedic rituals.He established the capital at Harupeswar (Tezpur). According to some historians, the remnant of the Mlechchha kingdom formed the later Kachari kingdom.
Pala Dynasty (c 990 – 1138AD)
Brahmapala (990-1010 AD) was the founder of Pala Dynasty.Ratnapala (1010 -1040 AD), the son of Brahmapala was the most famous king of this dynasty. Jayapala (1120-1138 AD) was the last ruler of this dynasty.
Rulers of Pala Dynasty
990 – 1010 AD
1010 – 1040 AD
1040 – 1065 AD
1065 – 1080 AD
1080 – 1095 AD
1095 – 1120 AD
1120 – 1138 AD
He was the most famous King and great administrator. He shifted the capital to Guwahati and named it Shri Durjoya. He took the title of Maharajadhiraja (Similar to Varman and thus try to establish legitimacy)
He may have shifted the capital to North Guwahati.The Pala dynasty came to an end when Kamarupa was invaded by the Gaur king of Bengal – Ramapala (c. 1072-1126).
Timgyadeva was made the governor of Kamarupa who ruled between 1110 and 1126 AD. Timgyadeva threw off the yoke of the Pala king and ruled independently for some years when he was attacked and replaced by Baidyadeva under Ramapala’s son Kumarapala.Baidyadeva, who ruled between 1126 and 1140 AD, declared independence within four years of his rule after the death of Kumarapala. Both Timgyadeva and Baidyadeva issued grants in the style of the Kamarupa kings (three copper plates attached to the seal of the Kamarupa kings by a ring). The work of the pala dynasty of Kamarupa is reflected in the Madan Kamdev sculpture.
Kamrupa Kings after Palas (1138-1440 AD)
After the Pala Dynasty ended, Kings such as Bhingadev, Baidyadeva, Rayridev, Uday Karna and Balladeva and Prithu ruled over kamrupa.During the reign of Prithu, in 1206 and 1226, Bengal Sultanate Mohammad Ibn Bakhtiyar invaded Kamrupa.In 1228, Delhi Sulatanate Illtutmish killed Prithu. With the collapse of Pala Dynasty of Kamrupa, ancient history of Assam ended.
Various Kings ruling different parts of kamarupa after collapse of Palas
1138 – 1185 AD
1138 – 1185 AD
1138 – 1185 AD
1138 – 1185 AD
1185 – 1228 AD
1228 – 1260 AD
1260 – 1285 AD
1285 – 1300 AD
1300 – 1305 AD
1305 – 1325 AD
1325 – 1330 AD
1330 – 1350 AD
1350 – 1365 AD
1365 – 1385 AD
1385 – 1400 AD
1400 – 1415 AD
1415 – 1440 AD
Important Kings ruling different parts of kamarupa after collapse of Palas