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ASSAM

upon the province, and the vernacular Assamese possesses a close affinity to Bengali, with the substitution of s for the Bengali ch, of a guttural h for the Bengali h or sh, and a few other dialectic changes. Indeed, so close was the resemblance that for a time Bengali was used as the court and official language of the province under British rule. But with the development of the country the Assamese tongue asserted its claims to be treated as a distinct vernacular, and a resolution of government (1873) re-established it as the language of official life and public business.

The Assam peasant, living in a half-populated province, and surrounded by surplus land, is indolent, good-natured and, on the whole, prosperous. He raises sufficient food for his wants with very little labour, and, with the exception of a few religious ceremonies, he has no demand made upon him for money, saving the light rental of his fields. Under the peaceful influences of British rule, he has completely lost his ancient warlike instincts, and forgotten his predatory habits. In complexion he is a shade or two fairer than the Bengali. His person is in general short and robust, but devoid of the grace and flexibility of the Hindu. A flat face, with high cheek-bones, presents a physiognomy resembling the Chinese, and suggests no idea of beauty. His hair is abundant, black, lank and coarse, but the beard is scanty, and usually plucked out, which gives him an effeminate appearance. The women form a striking contrast to the men; there is more of feminine beauty in them than is commonly seen in the women of Bengal, with a form and feature somewhat approaching the European. The habits of life of the Assamese peasantry are pre-eminently domestic. Great respect is paid to old age; when parents are no longer capable of labour they are supported by their children, and scarcely any one is allowed to become a burden to the public. They have also in general a very tender regard for their offspring, and are generous and kind to their relations. They are hospitable to people of their own caste, but to no others. The use of opium is very general.

Hill Tribes.—The hill and frontier tribes of Assam include the Nagas, Singphos, Daphlas, Miris, Khamtis, Mishmis, Abors, &c., nearly all of whom, excepting the Nagas, are found near the frontiers of Lakhimpur district. The principal of these, in point of numbers, are the Nagas, who inhabit the hills and forests along the eastern and south-eastern frontier of Assam. They reside partly in the British district of the Naga hills and partly in independent territory under the political control of the deputy-commissioner of the adjoining districts. They cultivate rice, cotton, yams and Indian corn, and prepare salt from the brine springs in their hills. The different tribes of Nagas are independent of and unconnected with one another, and are often at war with each other. The Singphos are another of the main population of the same race, who occupy in force the hilly country between the Patkai and Chindwin rivers, and are nominally subject to Burma. The Akas, Daphlas, Miris, Abors, Mishmis and Khamtis are described under separate headings. Under regulation V. of 1873, an inner line has been laid down in certain districts, up to which the protection of British authority is guaranteed, and beyond which, except by special permission, it is not lawful for British subjects to go. This inner line has been laid down in Darrang towards the Bhutias, Akas and Daphlas; in Lakhimper towards the Daphlas, Miris, Abors, Mishmis, Khamtis, Singphos and Nagas; and in Sibsagar towards the Nagas. The inner line formerly maintained along the Lushai border has since 1895 been allowed to fall into desuetude, but Lushais visiting Cachar are required to take out passes from the superintendent of the Lushai hills. The line is marked at intervals by frontier posts held by military police and commanding the roads of access to the tract beyond; and any person from the plains who has received permission to cross the line has to present his pass at these posts.

History.—Assam was the province of Bengal which remained most stubbornly outside the limits of the Mogul empire and of the Mahommedan polity in India. Indeed, although frequently overrun by Mussulman armies, and its western districts annexed to the Mahommedan vice-royalty of Bengal, the province maintained an uncertain independence till its invasion by the Burmese towards the end of the 18th century, and its final cession to the British in 1826. It seems to have been originally included, along with the greater part of north-eastern Bengal, in the old Hindu territory of Kamrup. Its early legends point to great religious revolutions between the rival rites of Krishna and Siva as a source of dynastic changes. Its roll of kings extends deep into pre-historic times, but the first rajah capable of indentification flourished about the year 76 A.D. Kamrup, the Pragjotishpur of the ancient Hindus, was the capital of a legendary king Narak, whose son Bhagadatta distinguished himself in the great war of the Mahābhārata.

When Hsüan Tsang visited the country in A.D. 640, a prince named Kumar Bhaskara Barman was on the throne. The people are described as being of small stature with dark yellow complexions; they were fierce in appearance, but upright and studious. Hinduism was the state religion, and the number of Buddhists was very small. The soil was deep and fertile, and the towns were surrounded by moats with water brought from rivers or banked-up lakes. Subsequently we read of Pal rulers in Assam. It is supposed that these kings were Buddhist and belonged to the Pal dynasty of Bengal. Although the whole of Kamrup appears from time to time to have been united into one kingdom under some unusually powerful monarch, it was more often split up into numerous petty states; and for several centuries the Koch, the Ahom and the Chutia powers contested for the Assam valley. In the early part of the 13th century the Ahoms or Ahams, from northern Burma and the Chinese frontiers, poured into the eastern districts of Assam, founded a kingdom, and held it firmly for several centuries. The Ahoms were Shans from the ancient Shan kingdom of Pong. Their manners, customs, religion and language were, and for a long time continued to be, different from those of the Hindus; but they found themselves compelled to respect the superior civilization of this race, and slowly adopted its customs and language. The conversion of their king Chuchengpha to Hinduism took place in the year A.D. 1655, and all the Ahoms of Assam gradually followed his example. In medieval history, the Assamese were known to the Mussulman population as a warlike, predatory race, who sailed down the Brahmaputra in fleets of innumerable canoes, plundered the rich districts of the delta, and retired in safety to their forests and swamps. As the Mahommedan power consolidated itself in Bengal, repeated expeditions were sent out against these river pirates of the north-east. The physical difficulties which an invading force had to contend with in Assam, however, prevented anything like a regular subjugation of the country; and after repeated efforts, the Mussulmans contented themselves with occupying the western districts at the mouth of the Assam valley. The following details will suffice for the history of a struggle in which no great political object was attained, and which left the Assamese still the same wild and piratical people as when their fleets of canoes first sallied forth against the Bengal delta. In 1638, during the reign of the emperor Shah Jahan, the Assamese descended the Brahmaputra, and pillaged the country round the city of Dacca; they were expelled by the governor of Bengal, who retaliated upon the plunderers by ravaging Assam. During the civil wars between the sons of Shah Jahan, the king of Assam renewed his predatory incursions into Bengal; upon the termination of the contest, Aurangzeb determined to avenge these repeated insults, and despatched a considerable force for the regular invasion of the Assamese territory (1660-1662). His general, Mir Jumla, defeated the rajah, who fled to the mountains, and most of the chiefs made their submission to the conqueror. But the rains set in with unusual violence, and Mir Jumla’s army was almost annihilated by famine and sickness. Thus terminated the last expedition against Assam by the Mahommedans, whose fortunes in this country were never prosperous. A writer of the Mahommedan faith says:—“Whenever an invading army has entered their territories, the Assamese have sheltered themselves in strong posts, and have distressed the enemy by stratagems, surprises and alarms, and by cutting off their provisions. If these means failed, they have declined a battle in the field, but