Guwahati: Nestled in the majestic foothills of the Patkai hill range of Charaideo, the Moidams, the earthen mound-burial of the Ahom kingdom shines as a testimony to its past glory and culture.
Charaideo, a Tai Ahom word meaning “a prominent city on the hilltop” (Che=a city, Rai=prominent, Doi=hill), was the original capital of the Ahom Kings and was established by its first King, Chao Lung Sukafa in 1253.
For many, either from the state itself or visitors from outside including the writer, the Moidams, at first glance, would look like another small mound along the foothills. But it is much more than that. Deep down inside the mound lies the chamber/s that exhibits the centuries-old culture practices and events of the Ahom Kingdom.
Some say the history of Assam is never complete without Tai Ahom. The Ahom or Tai Ahom is one of the ethnic groups in the present state of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh in the northeastern part of India. According to historians, King Chao Lung Sukafa along with around 9,000 people including all his royal family members, officials, and soldiers came down from Mong Mao under Yunnan province of the People’s Republic of China.
They crossed the Patkai range of Nagaland and finally reached Tipam in Namrup of Dibrugarh district of present-day Assam. Later, the King chose Charaideo as the first capital of his Kingdom in 1228. Though the capital was moved many times by the 39 Kings from one place to another during its nearly 600 years of rule over Assam, Charaideo remained the symbolic power of the Ahom Kingdom.
Not only royal palaces and historical monuments built by those Kings over a while, one of the main tourist attraction centers of Charaideo is the sacred burial grounds of the Ahom Kings and Queens, which are commonly known as “Moidams” in the local language.
The Tai Ahom Kingdom of Assam was one of the oldest three Independent Kingdoms in the Southeast Asian countries. Others are the Manipur Kingdom and Tripura Kingdom. The 598-year-old dynasty of Ahom Kingdom lost its independence after the ‘Treaty of Yandaboo’ in 1825 with the Burmese King and slowly became a part of the British empire.
A Moidam is a tumulus or mound of the royalty and aristocracy of the medieval Ahom Kingdom, where the Kings, Queens, and nobles were buried after their death. Architecturally, it comprises a massive underground vault with one or more chambers having domical superstructure and covered by a heap of earthen mounds and externally it appears as a hemispherical mound. At the top of the mound, a small open pavilion chow-chali is provided. An octagonal dwarf wall encloses the whole Moidam.
According to Mrindul Kanwar, a historian of Tai Ahom, all the kings, queens and other officials were laid to rest in these Moidams after their deaths. Interestingly, as a practice not just the dead bodies of Kings or Queens, some of the servants and officials were also buried alive, to serve their ‘heavenly god’ under this mound. The practices were stopped after the Kings adopted Hinduism as their main religion from Taoism in the middle of the 18th century, Kanwar told The North East Affairs.
According to a report published by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI), a typical Moidam had five parts and the excavations revealed that the Moidams were massive structures of burn-bricks plastered with lime-surkhi mortar. The height of the structure measures approximately 9 m externally and 5 m internally. The entrance to the Moidams was thought to be a semi-circular brick-built archway; the passage resembles a tunnel. The entrance to the tomb proper was sealed by a thick wall of brick and ashlar stone masonry joined together by iron clamps.
Internally, the plan of the Moidam is rectangular, the brick-built walls rise from the floor level to a height of about 2 m and thereafter rise the domical roof.
Currently, the Moidams in Chairaideo are divided into two – Core and Buffer zones. The Core zone has again split into two where the first one has 30 Moidams and the latter 60. The first 30 Moidams have been under the protection of ASI since 1970 and the remaining under the Assam Archaeological Department since 1985. The total area of Moidiams under the core zone is about 842 bighas (one bigha = 0.62 acres, one acre = 43560 sq. ft, or one Bigha = 26910.66 sq. ft).
Under the buffer zone, there are around 150 Moidams with a total area of nearly 7000 bighas. The Moidams in the Core zone are almost well protected by the concerned authorities, but the remaining Maidams in the Buffer zone are unprotected and are encroached on by many people.
World Heritage site
In March last year, the Chief Minister of Assam, Himanta Biswa Sarma claimed that Charaideo Moidams had met all technical requirements of the UNESCO Secretariat. Moidams is India’s nomination for UNESCO’s World Heritage Site status in the culture category for 2023.
In a tweet, Sarma said, “With great pride, happy to share a landmark achievement in our endeavour to get World Heritage Site status for Charaideo Moidams.”
Soon after his announcement, a one-member team of UNESCO visited the site of Charaideo Moidams in October last year. During his visit, senior officials of the State Archaeology department had submitted a dossier including ninety questions and answers that claimed to fulfil all technical requirements for a World Heritage Site Status. An official meeting of UNESCO will likely be held in July in Delhi this year and will decide whether the site deserves to be a Heritage Site or not.
When this writer visited the site, many constructions or refabrication appeared to be going on, but at a slow pace. Domestic animals like cows and goats were seen grazing on the top of mounds. Local people, when asked, disclosed that many boundary walls are yet to be completed. Garbage and pieces of waste, plastic bottles scattered all over the street. Parking spaces are not properly maintained. Many vendors are seen parking in their way. Solar posts around the Moidams are not working at all.
Another local man, when asked, confided that he would be so happy if his dream of Moidams becoming a world heritage site was fulfilled. But if the authorities want to make the area clean they should appoint more local people. Many of the tourists come either from Sivasagar town or far-flung districts. The government should consider developing more hotels, guest houses, and wide roads in the nearby area so that more tourists would come and it can become a major tourist attraction centre.
(Courtesy: The North-East Affairs)
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