Moamaria Rebellion (History of Assam)

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Moamaria Rebellion (1769–1805) : History of Assam

The Moamoria rebellion (1769–1805) was the 18th century conflict between the Moamorias, who were mainly Motok (Chutias and Morans) and Kachari adherents of the Moamara Sattra, and the Ahom kings.

Background

This rebellion mainly took place between the Ahoms and the Moamorias. The rising popularity of Moamorias sattras had siphoned off the power of orthodox Hindu groups and the powerful Shakti-worship sect which supported the Ahom kings. They provided refuge for those seeking to escape the “Paik” system, under which, any able-bodied person who was not a Brahmin or a noble could be used for labour, services or conscripted into the army.

The Ahom kingdom was entering a crisis, as the Paik system on which the state was based was unable to adapt to the changing economy and the emerging social classes. The rise of the sattras was one of the reason for the leakage of manpower from the Paik system, and as a result the Ahom kingdom and the sattras came into increasing conflict.

Moamaria sattra, with its adherents from the Chutia and Moran tribes, were followers of the non-conformist Kala-samhati sect that competed against the royalist sattras belonging to other sects. The Ahom kingdom was discomfort at the growth of this sattra and heaped insult and repression on the followers of this sattra.

The Moamoria Rebellion started  in 1769, during the reign of Ahom King Lakshmi Singha and ended in 1805, during the reign of King Kamaleswar Singha. In the course of time, the Moamoria guru compromised with the Ahom rulers and the rebels drew inspiration from magico-religious cult of night worshipers, a mixture of tribal fertility rites and Tantrism.

 

Sattra-Ahom conflict

In 16th century, Srimanta Sankardeva established the Mahapuruxiya Dharma, a proselytizing religion that opened itself to all including the Muslims and tribesmen. The religion provided opportunities for social and economic improvements to common tribesmen, and the sattras provided a safe haven from mandatory labor under the Paik system.

The Ahom rulers saw a threat and Sankardeva himself had to escape to the Koch kingdom during the reign of Suklenmung to avoid persecution. King Prataap Singha, demolished the Kalabari and Kuruabahi sattras and his successors followed a similar policy of oppression.

Jayadhwaj Singha reversed this policy and his successors up to Sulikphaa (Lora Roja) tried to come to terms with the sattras. This policy was again reversed during the reign of Gadadhar Singha, who began persecuting the sattras. 

King Rudra Singha tried to isolate the more liberal and thus most threatening to the Ahom state, of the non-Brahmin sattras by encouraging the Brahmin sattras. When he realized this policy was not bearing fruit, he initiated a policy to accord state support to saktism, the historical and theological bete noire of the Mahapuruxiya dharma, to contain further sattra influence. This led to more persecutions, the most notable under Bor Roja Phuleshwari Kunwonri during the reign of Siba Singha.

The Rebellion phase

Several causes are attributed to the revolt of which one is the physical punishment meted by Kirti Chandra Barbarua to Nahar, the chief of the Morans who came to make annual offer of elephant which was found lean and haggard. Nahar was mortified at this and was looking for support to taker revenge on the Barbarua. Already Phuleswari’s action had inflamed the situation. The climax was reached when the Moamaria Gossain was abused by the Barbarua for being indifferent to him. The Morans were then ready to fight and were joined by three exiled Ahom princes. The rebels advanced towards the capital Rangpur and after defeating the royal troops at several engagements they arrived at Rangpur.

On November 21, 1769 the rebels occupied the Ahom capital and placed Ramananda, son of Naharkhora, on the throne. The Ahom king, Lakshmi Singha, was captured and kept a prisoner. All high officers were executed and three common Motoks became the three great Gohains. Ragh Neog became the Borbarua, a kanri paik became the Borphukan and two common Ahoms became the Gohains at Sadiya and Marangi.

The rebels, inexperienced in statecraft, failed to usher in a new order and thus, after a few months, the Moran rule was overthrown and the insurgents were punished. King Lakshmi Singha was released from captivity and was restored. In the purge that followed, Ramananda the rebel king, Naharkhora, Radha, Rukmini, Astabhujdev, the Moamara sattradhikar and his son Saptabhuj were all executed.

After the capital was recaptured the remaining rebel forces in Sagunmuri under Govinda Gaoburha attempted to overthrow the king again in 1782. This movement too had the signs of a popular uprising. In one of the engagements, the Borpatrogohain and the Dhekial Phukan were killed. The rebels advanced toward Rangpur and they were met at Thowra by the forces of the Burhagohain, the new Borpatrogohain, the Borgohain and a detachment cavalry from the Manipur king. In this battle the rebels were defeated; Govinda Gaoburha was captured and executed.

Some rebels then retreated deep into jungles and continued guerilla warfare under leaders like Lephera, Parmananda and others. An initial royalist force under the Na-Phukan and the Deka-Phukan was defeated, but a later force under the Borpatrogohain was able to eliminate Lephera and Parmananda. Subsequently, the Burhagohain began systematically destroying the villages and along with that the remaining leaders and in a seize many rebels and their families died of starvation. The remaining people were then separated and settled at different places. One of the last holdouts, Nomal, was finally captured and executed. This ended the first phase of the Moamoria rebellion.

In April 1783 an armed group of rebels attacked Rangpur and Garhgaon. The rebels were repulsed and a general massacre of Morans followed, leading to a steep depopulation of large tracts.

In 1786, Harihar Tanti raised an army of Moamarias and Dafla-Bahatiyas. A contingent of the rebels freed Pitambar, a grandson of the late Moamara sattradhikar, who was in the custody of Auniati sattra. The rebels encircled Rangpur and on January 19, 1788 the king Gaurinath Singha and the inhabitants of the capital fled.

The captured region was locally administered with Harihar Tanti in the north bank of the Brahmaputra, Howha ruling Majuli, Sarbananda ruling the Moran tracts from Bengmara.

Bharat was made the king and coins were struck regularly in his and Sarbananda’s names.

The counterattacks began around 1792, when Bharat repulsed an attack from the Manipuri king. By then, Purnananda Buragohain shifted the centre of administration of Dichoi, later known as Jorhat, which became the new Ahom capital. Under the circumstances, Gaurinath Singha appealed for help of men and materials to the East India company‘s authorities through Raush, a salt merchant and Mr. Dauglas, Commissioner of Koch Bihar. In response to this, Lord Cornwallis, the Governor General despatched Captain Thomas Welsh with sepoys who arrived at Goalpara in early November, 1792.

Thomas Welsh of the East India Company came to the aid with 550 well trained and well armed troops. He occupied Guwahati without any resistance and on March 18, 1794, restored Rangpur to Gaurinath Singha. Gaurinath Singha died in Jorhat in 1794 and was succeeded by Kamaleswar Singha. Although Gaurinath Singha is depicted by some as cruel and vindictive, he had certain pieces of good work like the abolition of human sacrifice at the Kechaikhati temple at Sadiya. Kamaleswar Singha‘s reign (1795-1810) witnessed localised revolts at several places in Kamrup which was successfully suppressed.

In the midst of this success, Capt. Welsh was recalled by Sir John Shore, the new Governor General, and he left Assam. During his stay in the kingdom, he concluded a commercial treaty in 1793 by which commerce between Assam and Bengal was sought to be put on ”reciprocal basis”.

Phopai, a rebel was killed in 1796 and Bharat, the rebel king died in 1799. Sadiya fell to the royalists in 1800. Despite many attempts in 1802 and 1806, Sarbananda held out from Bengmara. In return for peace, he was finally given the title of Barsenapati, and the Matak territory conceded was to him.

Consequences

The Moamaria rebellion thus ended with the creation of a near-independent Motak tract ruled by a Barsenapati and the near-end of the Paik system.

This experience and the military display by Thomas Welsh and his troops encouraged the Ahoms to create a standing army of mostly paid Hindustani sepoys to replace the paik based military force.

Gutted by the long civil war, the Ahom kingdom emerged much weakened. About one half of the population of the kingdom perished and the economy was totally destroyed. In 1817, the Burmese used a political crisis as an excuse to invade the weakened Ahom kingdom. The Burmese annexed Assam in five years, slaughtering Assamese population. In 1826, the British started coming in following their victory in the First Anglo-Burmese War and the signing of the Treaty of Yandaboo.

 

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