Understanding the history of the Bodos

By Kalidash Brahma

Understanding the history of ancient Assam has been a difficult task for the historians as well as the conscious masses since long. It has been so for there is dearth of historical remnants or monument of the past Kingdoms or the civilization. Sir Edward Gait remarked that ‘the science of history was unknown to the early inhabitants of Assam, and it is not till the Ahom invasion in 1228A.D. that we obtain anything at all approaching a connected account of the people and their rulers. For several hundred years previously some scatter fact may be gleaned from a few ancient inscriptions and from the observations of a Chinese traveler. Before then nothing definite is known, and our only information consist of some dubious and fragmentary references in the Mahabharat, and in the Purans and Tantras and other similar records.’[1] This paper will make an attempt to understand the history of the Great Bodos with the help of the toponamy of the entire north and north east India for it will help us to reduce some of the controversies   regarding the original inhabitants of the entire region. Here the term ‘Bodo’ will be used to meant all Bodo groups of people like Bodos (Boros), Rabhas, Dimasa, Garos, Lalungs and Tripuris who were once upon a time known as Kiratas, Mlecchhas, Danavas and Asura and ruled the entire north and north east India for many centuries.

History says that the Bodos, known as Kiratas, Asuras, Danavas and Mlecchhas in the ancient period of time, were the earliest inhabitants of the Northeastern region of India. However, it has been challenged by many scholars who believed that the Austric were the earliest inhabitants of the region. This paper makes an attempt to argue in favour of the former i.e. the Bodos were the earliest inhabitants of the region. Here some of the nomenclatures of the place and rivers in ancient India (i.e. its North and Northeastern Part) are explained for our understanding.

  1. Barak Valley/ River: This Valley/River exists in the southern part of present state of Assam which was a part of the ancient Kamrup Kingdom. The Kachari Kingdom came to an end in the year 1854 in this Valley.  If we analyse the term ‘Barak’ it can be assumed that the term has been derived from the word ‘Bara’ or ‘Boro’, the original inhabitants of the region. In Kok Borok, another group of the great Bodos the word ‘Barak’ means man. Perhaps because of the manly attitude of the river it was named as or became popular as Barak (Man) in the region.
  2. Dinajpur (West Bengal): Dinaspur exists in the present West Bengal. Once upon a time the region was under the Kingdom of Mahipal-i, descendent of Asura dynasty. The term ‘Dinajpur’ can be explained as Di+na+pur i.e. Di= River or Water; Na=fish; and pur=Land or Place. Thus the complete meaning is Land of fish cultivation or abode of fishes. The land is identified as Matsyadesha (i.e. land of fishes or fishermen) of the epic era.[2]
  3. Bodorpur (Barak Valley): Badarpur exists in the Barak Valley of Assam. This land was a part of Cachar Kingdom. But as a result of the Badarpur agreement 1824(between Kachari king Gabinda Chandra and the British East India Company), the land was transfer to the control of the British East India Company. The name of the place can be explained as Bodo= Bodo and pur=place or land. Thus the complete meaning is the land of the Bodos.
  4. Dimapur (Nagaland):  Dimapur exists in the present Nagaland. Once upon a time it was the Capital of the Kacharis (i.e. the Bodos). They ruled there up to 1536 and then sifted their capital to Maibong or Maibang. The term can be explained in Bodo as: Di= river; ma= big; and pur= place. The complete meaning is, Place of a big river. To be true, this place exists near the river Brahmaputra, the longest river of Assam. The Dimasas, a section of the great Bodos are known as the son of this big river. (i.e. Di= water; ma=big and sa=son).
  5. Dipu: (Karbi Anglong): This place exists in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam. The term without any doubt is of Bodo origin. In Bodo, the term Dipu means flowing river with much current (i.e. Di= river; pu= flowing with much current).
  6. Haflong: Haflong is a town and headquarters of North Cachar Hills district of Assam. It was part of Kachari Kingdom of Maibang. The term Haflong perhaps derived from the Bodo word ‘Hafulung’ which means fertile land.
  7. Habung: The earliest reference to Habung comes in the 10th century copper plate grant of Ratnapala of the Pala dynasty, when it was a principality of the Kamarupa Kingdom. After the downfall of the Kamarupa Kingdom it became a dependency of the Chutiya kingdom. The region was finally annexed by the Ahom king Suhungmung in 1512.[3] In Bodo ‘Ha’ means land and ‘bung’ means filled.
  8. Dikrang: Dikrang is the name of a river which was the eastern boundary of ancient Kamrupa dynasty[4]. The western boundary of the kingdom was Karatoya River, which exists in the Jolpaiguri district of present North Bengal. In Bodo language, ‘Di’ means river and ‘krang’ means strong or current i.e. strong or Current River.
  9. Kamakya: Another controversial name in the history of ancient Assam is the term Kamakhya. It was a temple in the river Brahmaputra (Brahmaputra is the corruption word of the term Burlungbutur) in Assam which still exist.  Dr. Banikanta Kakati says that the term is of Austric origin. However, his analysis of the term is not found so much convincing to us as it lacks sound evidence. Dr. Binoy Kumar Brahma says that the term is of Bodo origin. He said, “The term ‘Bodo’ is a compound word and may simplify in Bodo with their Bodo meaning as: Kham or kam= to burn; ai= mother goddess; kha= structuring. Complete meaning reads as, mother goddess, being structured out of burned ashes.  Siva and Parvati (Sati) are regarded as Kirata god and goddesses. Siva Purana says that to escape from the injury of insult done against her husband Siva by her father Dakhsva, sati jumped into the burning fire of yajna and died.”[5]
  10. Kamrupa: This name of the place is found mentioned in the Uttarbarbil Plate of Balavarmana iii.[6] Regarding the origin of the term Dr. Banikanta Kakati associates with the Puranic legend Kamdeva, the god of love. Kamdeva regained his form (rupa) in this locality after having been burn to ashes by lord Siva. [7] But he could not find out the root of word ‘Kamru’ in Santali language to which he thought of having relation.  It was said that Kamdeva, the God of love was burn to ashes by Lord Siva in anger while the former was trying to break the meditation of the latter. Though he was burned to ashes he was restructured. The term Kamrupa may be of Bodo origin. In Bodo, the term may be explained as:   Kham or Kam= to burn; ru or rubu= dust or ashes[8]. Complete meaning is, restructured after completely burned into ashes. Thus the term Kamakhya and Kamrupa may be the Sanskritised form of the Bodo word Kamaikha and Kamru. Kamrupa is also known as Pragjyatisa or Pragjyatispura, perhaps the corruption of the Bodo word Purgajwngtipur meaning land of cleanliness and light.
  11. Laoti/ Dilao: The river Brahmaputra was earlier known as Dilao or Laoti[9]. In Bodo, the term Dilao or Laoti means long river i.e. Di or Ti= river and Lao= long. The complete meaning is the long river. The Brahmaputra River is the longest river in Assam. Banikanta Kakati stated that in Ahom Buranji also the river Brahmaputra is very frequently referred to as Tilao.[10]  In many of the instances like in the manuscript 36 f. No. 4(a), Department of Historical and Antiquarian studies, Guahati, Assam, the river is also referred to as Luit or Louhita.[11]
  12. Kashpur: Kashpur is the last kingdom of the Bodos in Assam. It lasted upto 1854. King Gabinda Chandra, the last king of the Bodos in Assam died in the year 1830. However, after the death of the king some portion of the kingdom was ruled by Tularam senapati and his two sons up to 1854. This place exists in the Cachar district of Assam.
  13. Maibang: The Kacharis shifted their kingdom from Dimapur to Maibang after the defeat and death of Detsung in the hands of the Ahoms in the year 1536.[12] This land exists in the North Cachar Hills of present Assam. In Bodo, the term ‘Maibang’ means ‘much Paddy’ (i.e. Mai=Paddy; Bang=Much).
  14. Dispur: Dispur is the capital of present state of Assam. For many decades the Bodos were living in this region. This area was created as   South Kamrup Tribal Belt (Gauhati) by Govt. order RD/74/46/172 dated 27/02/50 which comprised 7,72,454 B-0K-0L of land area. However, 1,229,202B- 0K-0L of land were deconstituted under Govt. order No RSD/26/64/PI/38 dated 30/07/69 from the total land area for construction of the State’s Capital complex.[13] In Bodo language, Dispur means land of river i.e. Di= River; Pur= land or Place.
  15. Mairang: Mairang is a name of the place near Guahati city (Six Miles). The land came to be known as Mairang because once upon a time a Bodo king named Mairang Raja (later Sanskritised as Mahiranga Danava) better known as Danava was ruling the entire region.
  16. Dhansiri Dima: This River exists in the present Dimapur. Here the word Dima means big river (e.g. Dimapur=Land of Big River).
  17. Lamding (Nagaon, Assam):  This is a place in the Nagaon district of Assam. When we analyse the term it seems that it is a Bodo word. In Bodo Lamding means a road where it changes the direction i.e. lama= road; ding=changed direction.

Above discussion makes it clear that the Bodo word ‘Di’ or ‘Dwi’ or ‘Doi’ or ‘Ti’ which stance for water forms the first syllable of the most of the river names of ancient Assam. It also became clear that the term ‘pur’ which stance for land or place are found in many places of the region. This seems that the Bodos had a long historical relationship with rivers and the lands of the entire region. Here a list of few more rivers of north east India is given below.

  • Ø Dihong: Wide River.
  • Ø Dichang: River with much water.
  • Ø Dikrong: (Arunachal and Assam) River with high edges lying waterbed too below.
  • Ø Dibrugarh: (Dibrugarh, Assam) River with shallow water.
  • Ø Dikhou: River with much sound.
  • Ø Tista: In Bodo ‘Tisa’ means small water. It flows from Sikkim through Darjeeling district of Bengal.
  • Ø Tihu: (Bhaksa district of Assam) River with much water.
  • Ø Mongoldoi: It exists in Darang (Dirang) district of Assam (Present Odalguri district of Bodoland Territorial Council).
  • Ø Barnadi: (Barnaidi) River like mad i.e. River with much water and current.
  • Ø Dirang (Darang): River of Joy (In Bodo ‘rang’ means joy e.g. Rangjali Bwisagu).
  • Ø Dibang (Arunachal Pradesh): River with much storage of water.
  • Ø Gomoti: (Lucknow, UP and South Tripura) Yellow River ( In Bodo language, ‘Gomo’ means yellow whereas ‘ti’ means river).
  • Ø Sadiya: (Eastern Assam) River with Shallow water. Eastern Boundary of proposed Bodoland demand.
  • ØDihing: This name is found in manuscript 36 f. No. 4(a).[14]

In the northern part of India we find the following rivers:

  • Ø Swarasvati: Swarasvati may be a sanskritised form of Sraisraiti(Bodo) which  means river with shallow water.
  • Ø Sindhu (Sindi): Sindhu may be a sanskritised form of ‘Sindi’. In Bodo language, ‘Sindi’ means Chinese river or river from china. Bodos used to say China as Sin.
  • Ø Iravati:
  • Ø Paravati:
  • Ø Bhagirati:
  • Ø Ganga:

Most of the above mentioned rivers except Ganga end with the word ti or di which is a Bodo word for water. Ganga in Bodo means the end of thirst i.e. the Ganga is a river which ends our thirst.

‘It is indeed not at all unlikely that the people known to us as Kacharis and to themselves as Bada (Bara), were in earliest days the dominant race in Assam; and as such they would seem to have left traces of this domination in the nomenclature of some of the physical features of the country. e.g., the Kachari word for water (di;doi) apparently forms the first syllable of the names of many of the chief rivers of the province, such as Diputa, Dihong, Dibong, Dibru, Dihing, Dimu, Desang, Diku (cf. Khu Tista), &c., and to these may be added Dikrang, Diphu, Digaru, &c., all near Sadiya, the earliest known centre of Chutiya (Kachari) power and civilization’.[15]

The Ahoms ruled Assam for about 600 years (i.e. from 1228 to 1826), yet their word for water i.e. Nam has found in very few numbers of places or river names. But, we find many river names in India, particularly in North and Northeast India which begins or ends with di or ti, the Bodo word for water.[16] From this, cannot we assume that the Bodos ruled Assam much longer than that of the Ahoms?

Let us conclude with a famous remark made by SK Chatterji which goes like this, ‘..their area of occupation extended to Cachar district (particularly in the North Cachar Hills) and into Sylhet, and from Cachar and Sylhet they moved further to south, to Tripura state where there is still a Bodo-speaking bloc in the shape of the Tipra tribe which founded the state; and from Tripura they spread into Comilla and possibly also Naokali district : and thus they occupied the mouths of Ganges by the eastern sea. With the exception of the isolated Khasi and Jaintia Hills, the whole of Assam (barring the eastern parts inhabited by the Nagas and the south eastern parts inhabited by the Kuki-chins) and North and East Bengal was the country of the great Bodo people’.[17]


End Notes:

[1]  Edwar Gaid, ‘A History of Assam’, LBS Publications, Guahati  (Assam), 2005 (Reprint), p-1.

[2]  Binoy Kumar Brahma, “Social Mobility: From Tribalism to Indianism: The Bodos”, Onsumoi Printers and Publishers,2008, p-200.

[3]  Amalendu  Guha, Pre-Ahom Roots and the Medieval State in Assam: A Reply, Social Scientist Vol 12, No. 6, 1984, p73. & The Manuscript 36 f. No. 4(a), Department of Historical and Antiquarian studies, Guahati, Assam.

[4]  Banikanta Kakati, ‘The Mother Goddess Kamakhya’, Publication Board of Assam, Guahati, 2003, p-7.

[5]  Binoy Kumar Brahma, op.cit, P-15.

[6] Sarat Kumar Phukan, op. cit., Photo Plate no-1.

[7]  Binoy Kumar Brahma, op. cit, p-14.

[8]   Ibid, p-16.

[9]  Sarat Kumar Phukan, op. cit., p-159.

[10]  Binoy Kumar Brahma, op. cit., pp-16-17.

[11]  Sarat Kumar Phukan, op. cit., photo plate no ix.

[12]  Sir Edward Gait, op. cit. p-238.

[13]  Binoy Kumar Brahma, op.cit.p-265.

[14]  Sarat Kumar Phukan, “Toponymy of Assam”, Omson Publications, New Delhi-110002, 2001, Photo Plate no-1.

[15]  S. Endle, “The Kacharis”, Low Price Publications, Delhi-110052, 1997 (Reprint), p-4.

[16]  Edward Gait, op. cit. p-6.

[17] SK Chatterjee, Kirata Jana Kriti’, The Asiatic Society, Kolkata, 2007(Reprint) p-46.

Courtesy: http://kalidashbrahma.blogspot.in/2011/12/understanding-history-of-bodos.html


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