History of the North-East

Bhaitbari

The history of  the North-East since  the  colonial  and  postcolonial times have predominantly  focused  on  its  relations with  the  rest  of  India and how  it has shaped  the communities  over  the  years. While there has been some research on the Ahom kingdom of Assam, histories of the rest of the kingdoms and chiefs are completely missing. The case of prehistory is even worse. Despite North-East India boasting of substantial prehistoric archaeological evidences, there has been little effort to understand the same.  Since there are no efforts to understand the same,  they  languish  as mere watermarks  in  historical  records  and  often the  people  themselves  fail  to  understand and appreciate  their own heritage. While the Stonehenge of England or  the  Bhimbhetka  closer  home  in Bhopal makes  for  interesting  historical  trips,  such  examples  are  unheard of  in  the case of North-East  India.

Among the many examples of such historical significance, the Neolithic sites of Meghalaya stand out as shining beacons. The Neolithic period is marked by the development of human technology and act as a pre cursor of the Iron Age technology, when humans began to technologically evolve.  Neolithic period is also marked by farming and domesticating animals. It started in the Levant, West Asian region and gradually farming communities arose in Levant, West Asia, Africa and Asia Minor regions. One such Neolithic site is the Lum-Sohpetbneng region of Ri Bhoi district in Meghalaya.

Since 2013-14, regular excavations have unearthed a number of Neolithic pottery and agricultural tools in the Lum-Sohpetbneng region of Meghalaya. The site is a place of pilgrimage for those who profess the indigenous Khasi religion.  Legend  has  it  that  it was in Lum-Sohpetbneng that a golden  ladder  connected  Heaven  and Earth,  God  and Man.  Researchers have concluded that the evacuated remains go back to as early as 1220 BC. Evidences also suggest that later on, these communities moved to other parts, to the Khasi Jayantia hills and settled there.

Another important Neolithic site of Meghalaya is the Gagol Rongram River Valley in the West Garo Hills. The site is triangular in shape and is spread over an area of over 16 square kilometers. A number of tools, both from the Neolithic and Paleolithic age were discovered in these sites.

The  third  important  and,  perhaps, the most  intriguing  site  in Meghalaya is  the  site  that  is  located  in  the point of  the Purana/Old Bhaitbari,  a  small village  in  the West Garo Hills  district on the southern bank of the River Jingjiram,  at  a  distance  of  about  three miles  from Phulbari  (Garden  of  flowers) on the way to Tura. This site has revealed a number of interesting discoveries which make the history of Meghalaya unique. One of the first discoveries that was made was of fortifications, signalling settlements which were of a permanent nature of some kind. A second discovery that was made was of the debris of a burnt brick temple.  Interestingly, this temple had a number of teracotta figurines resembling Hindu gods like Parvati, Kubera, etc., where figures of Ganesha seemed to dominate. The  third  and most  impressive  discovery  during  the  excavation was  the  discovery  and  exposure of the site of an octagonal Shiva temple with eight miniature octagons, each having a Shiva Linga. The structure is of a more magnificent architecture, having eight square subsidiary shrines radiating from the eight arms of the main octagon. Burnt bricks were used to make this temple. However,  the most  important  and  unique  discovery from  this  site was  the  discovery  of  a Stupa dedicated to Lord Buddha. While there is no evidence of Buddhism being practised in Meghalaya today, the discovery of Buddha, indeed, points out to the confluence and change that history undergoes.

A look at the prehistorical Neolithic and other sites of Meghalaya throws up interesting questions of history. Today Meghalaya is a predominantly Christian state and yet it had a Hindu and more interestingly, a Buddhist history as well. Also, scholars often mistake the kind of Hinduism that must have been professed. Hinduism is often a way of life. The history of Hinduism in the North-East may not necessarily align itself with that of the more dominant themes. For example, Hinduism in Assam in the pre-Ahom era found its heroes among those who sided with the Kauravas during the Mahabharata war. At the same time, the story of the golden ladder in the  Lum-Sohpetbneng region of the Ri Bhoi district  is quite  close  to  the Ahom  story of the King and his descendents climbing  down  from  a  golden  ladder  from heaven. Do they signal a common history or common origin? Do  the Khasis  and  the Ahoms  share  a  common ancestral  link  then,  their  stories  suggesting similarities? The history of Buddhism is something that remains even more unexplored. In summation, there is no doubt that the North-East has much diversity and interesting history to offer, and efforts must be made to study and popularise the same.

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