HOW THE WORLD CAME TO KNOW THAT TSANGPO AND BRAHMAPUTRA ARE ONE AND THE SAME RIVER?
It is thanks to the person in the picture. His name was Kinthup, a tailor by profession.
British officers sent him on a very dangerous mission because despite being illiterate he had amazing graphic memory.
As we know now Brahmaputra which originates from Tibet and flows East and suddenly enters very deep gorges to loose height and enter North East India. It is known as Tsangpo in Tibet . But during 1880, it’s path was not mapped. Some people even doubted that these are two different rivers.
Tibet was then a closed country and not under British. When the sent Kinthup through Sikkim in 1880 secretly to go as far as possible along the river. Plan was that Kinthup would throw wooden logs (specially marked) into the river in Tibet and British troops were stationed in India. If it was the same river, they soldiers will definitely retrieve them.
He remained for 4 years on his mission facing lots of hardships, arrests, slavery , sleeping on treetops. Returned back in 1884.
Sibsagar is a district in upper Assam. It is called Shivasagar these days. It is an important historical town in Assam. It drives its name from a huge water tank named after the Ahom King Sib Singh. Sagar means a large water body. Ahoms are not the original inhabitants of Assam. They came here from China through Patkai range of hills. Slowly from invaders, they stayed here bewitched by the beauty of the land, lush green woods and hills. During there early days they subdued local Chutia and Kachari kings.
They established their capital in Rongpur which falls in this district. They were very fond of very huge water tanks and made so many of them. The water never dries in them indicating that they are fed by underground water sources.
The town is famous for silk clothes. In those times, there was a loom in every home on which women of the house weaved clothes of silk and cotton not for sale but for the family folks. Silk was obtained from three kinds of worms namely eri (Attacus ricini), Muga(anthraea assama) & Pat(Bombyx textor). they produce different kinds of silk. These silk worms feed on leaves of different trees. Eri feeds on castor oil plant, Muga worms feed on sum-tree and Pat worms on mulberry trees. A fine white thread which is much valued is obtained by feeding Muga on chapa (Magnolia griffithi) and mezankuri (tetranthera polyantha). During British times, Muga production ousted all other forms. Pat production was lowest.
These days, there are many shops which do roaring business in silk materials. Silk clothes are acquired from Manipur mostly these days. In the town there is a popular shops called Sangeeta dealing in all sorts of silk materials. Most of the visitors to the city make it a point to buy tea, silk dress materials and visit the sibsagar tank and famous Shiva temple called Shiv dhol.
Indian subcontinent can be accessed on land and by sea from three sides. In the past, invaders entered it through West from the side of Afghanistan. It is protected from North by Himalayas which act as a formidable wall. The mountains which cover the India from North West to North East have been responsible for keeping the invaders entering from the North directly and also for creating the weather particularly the Monsoon which gives India respite from sweltering heat and helps in meeting the irrigation requirements and bestow bounteous crops to the region. Its snow capped mountains feed the perennial rivers which sustain the life of teeming masses inhabiting the entire northern India.
The people entering from the West mingled with original people inhabiting the region. Soon their population escalated and they were obliged to spread in search of newer avenues where the conditions existed for habitation. In this process they spread over whole of Ganges valley up to Bengal.
The other entry point was the North East where people from South East Asia and China entered India. In comparison to the Western corridor mentioned earlier, terrain here is more difficult. Also people who came and settled in the North East confined themselves to the Assam and its 6 sister states in the North East. One reason for this might have been the difficult proposition to expand towards West where already stronger kingdoms existed. Secondly the narrow strip called chicken neck area separating the North East states from rest of India must have acted as a bottleneck which might have dissuaded them.
Assam and the 6 other states namely Meghalaya, Tripura, Mizoram, Arunachal Pradesh, Nagaland & Manipur in the North Eastern part of India possess enchanting natural beauty. Due to the lack of industrial progress, the environment is still free of pollution. The natural products are forests of bamboo & teak, crops of rice and vegetables grown on the fertile land on the edges of river Brahmaputra without any application of contaminating fertilizers. Of course most famous product of Assam known all over the world is the tea. You travel by car on any road and along both sides are never ending teas plantations. You can see the women laborers with special kind of baskets hanging from their shoulders plucking the leaves and putting in the baskets.
There is plenty of fish in the rivers. The area is rich in petroleum. In fact, the oldest oil well in India was drilled in Assam at Digboi. The original people are mainly tribals whose customs and rituals are entirely different from rest of India.
The most important migrants to come and and settle in this area came from Yunnan province. First to enter the North East region was Sukhapa, who came with army, his women and nobles. Although initially they did not practiced Hindusim but later Kings leaned towards this religion and ultimately converted to Hinduism. Local inhabitants called them Tai-Ahoms.
As they became more tolerant towards Hinduism, the elements of Hindu mythology entered into their history. Thus it was stated that Brahma created the human beings from a gourd. These people were gentle and pious. But by the time of Treta Yuga, the moral values declined and Indra became worried and sent his grandsons: Khunlung & Khunlai to rule the earth and bring back the old order. These were the progenitors of Tai-Ahoms. They descended to earth facilitated by a golden ladder on the Mung-ri-Mung-ram mountains. Thus the Tai Ahoms, as they won over the local people labeled themselves as Eastern Kshatriyas.
One day a program on Ahoms-the kings who ruled the state of Assam for almost 700 years-was telecast on Doordarshan TV. It talked about how Tai Ahoms came to Assam from Yunnan province and settled here bewitched by the natural beauty of the land. I have been to the place and stayed there for 3 years and I can vouch for the fact.
Although they ruled the state for such a long period, adopted the language of the region, married into the local inhabitants, the truth about the history is not all that clear. I searched on Google and the name of a book “Fragmented Memories” by Yasmin Saikia popped up. I followed the links and was awed by the ladies achievement specially against the background of the backwardness and partial isolation of the Region of North East India.
Professor Yasmin Saikia is the Hardt-Nickachos Chair in Peace Studies at the Center for the Study of Religion and Conflict and a Professor of History in the School of Historical, Philosophical and Religious Studies. Her research and teaching interests invoke a dynamic transnational and interdisciplinary dialogue situated at the intersection of history, culture and religion. With a specific focus on contestations and accommodations in South Asia between local, national and religious identities, she examines the Muslim experience in India, Pakistan, and Bangaldesh, and the discourse of nonviolence alongside the practice of violence against women and vulnerable groups.
Assamese herself, Saikia lived in several different Tai-Ahom villages between 1994 and 1996. She spoke with political activists, intellectuals, militant leaders, shamans, and students and observed and participated in Tai-Ahom religious, social, and political events. She read Tai-Ahom sacred texts and did archival research—looking at colonial documents and government reports—in Calcutta, New Delhi, and London. In Fragmented Memories, Saikia reveals the different narratives relating to the Tai-Ahom as told by the postcolonial Indian government, British colonists, and various texts reaching back to the thirteenth century. She shows how Tai-Ahom identity is practiced in Assam and also in Thailand. Revealing how the “dead” history of Tai-Ahom has been transformed into living memory to demand rights of citizenship, Fragmented Memories is a landmark history told from the periphery of the Indian nation.
I have ordered one book by her and hope to read it and be enlightened about Assam. I am sure that no many Assamese people have heard about her.