Assam a state in northeast India and having very close relation with eastern Bengal politically, economically and culturally before the partition of India (1947). It extends at present from the river Sankosh in the west to Sadiya in the east. It is pre-eminently the gift of the brahmaputra, which flowing between the eastern portion of the Himalayas on the north and the Assam Range on the south, has created the alluvial plain now known as Assam. It was called pragjyotisa in the Hindu Epics and kamarupa in the Puranas. The Muslim historians called it Kamarupa and it came to be known by its modern name of Assam sometime after the Ahoms had overcome and occupied the land. It has easy access from all directions and has attracted the needy and adventurous people from neighbouring areas in all ages. It has therefore a very much-mixed population consisting of tribes of Austric, Mongolian and Dravidian origins as well as of peoples of Aryan stock. The modern population of Assam is as composite as that of the rest of India and speaks a variety of languages and dialects of which Assamese and Bangla alone have their own scripts and literatures. The other dialects and languages are written in Roman scripts and have miniature literature of their own.
The history of Assam may be broadly divided into four periods, viz. the legendary period, the early period, the Ahom period, and the modern period. During the legendary period though Assam was ruled first by the non-Aryan peoples called Danavas and Asuras, the Aryans also penetrated into the country overland from the northwest. The early period begins in the fourth century AD and the earliest epigraphic reference to Assam (Kamarupa) is found in the Allahabad inscription of the second Gupta Emperor, Samudragupta (c. AD 330-80). The early period may be said to have continued till the thirteenth century when Assam began to be invaded from the east by the Ahoms and from the west by the Muslims. The Muslim invasions were mostly resisted and, practically speaking, there was never any Muslim rule in the history of Assam. The Ahoms, however, conquered the country which they ruled for about six hundred years at the end of which Assam was first conquered and held by the Burmese for a very short period and was then annexed to the British Indian Empire in 1826.
Assam began to decline agriculturally from the later period of the Ahom rule, and declining trend continued under the British rule down to the end of the nineteenth century. The main cause for the decline was the labour scarcity caused by constant state of warfare including the Burmese raids, deadly epidemics, especially cholera and fever. Another major cause was the persistent low prices of peasant produces because of the loss of the market economy through chronic warfare. The economy was monetised under the British, but money supply was always scarce. Consequently agricultural prices fell to the decline of the economy.'
Under the state of almost constant warfare during the later Ahom rule, people began to leave the region for safety and the trend continued down to the early nineteenth century. Things steadily improved from the 1840s. The decisive reason for the change was the flow of the arrival of skilled Muslim landless peasants from eastern Bengal. Apart from the reclamation of land, especially in the alluvial areas, they brought with them a spirit of enterprise and superior farming technique. Jute and paddy cultivation increased due to the immigrant peasants from eastern Bengal.
Assam continued to be administered as an appendage of the province of Bengal till 1874 when the zone was separated from the Bengal province and placed under a Chief Commissioner for improving its administration. It was at this time that the districts of Sylhet, Cachar and Goalpara as well as the northern part of the district of Garo Hills were tagged with the province of Assam and a large number of Bangla-speaking people were made citizens of Assam. Since then (1874) the term Assam, which had originally been applied to the tract of country ruled by the Ahoms, ie the five districts of Kamarupa, Darrang, Nowgong, Sivsagar and Lakhimpur, has been given a wider signification and came to be used as the designation of the whole country from Sadiya to Goalpara including the hill districts of the Khasi and Jaintia Hills, the Surma valley comprising the two districts of Sylhet and Cachar, and lastly the Bengal districts of Garo Hills and Goalpara.
Thus the population of Assam, which was already highly composite, was now made much more so by the incorporation within it of a large body of comparatively backward hill peoples and of a larger and relatively more advanced Bangla-speaking people. Seeds were thus sown for the serious linguistic and cultural problems which have been disturbing Assam in recent years. In 1905 Assam was amalgamated with the Dhaka, Chittagong and Rajshahi Divisions of Bengal, and formed into a new province known as Eastern Bengal and Assam and was placed under a Lieutenant Governor. Six years later this set-up was altered; the Partition of Bengal was revoked; Eastern Bengal was re-united with Western Bengal; and Assam again became a Chief Commissionership, but was allowed to retain not only the Khasi and Jaintia hill districts but also the Bengal districts of Sylhet, Cachar, Garo Hills and Goalpara.
In 1912, Assam was constituted into a Governor's province with an Executive Council and a Legislature. This status of a Governor's province, now called a State, has been retained by Assam after the attainment of Independence, but as the result of the Partition (1947) which accompanied it, the district of Sylhet except the sub-division of Karimganj has been awarded to East Pakistan. [Sirajul Islam]
Bibliography KL Barua, History of Kamarupa; P. Bhattacharya, Kamarupa-sasanavali; BK Barua, Cultural History of Assam; Sir Edward Gait, History of Assam; Rebati Mohan Lahiri, The Annexation of Assam 1824-1924 (Calcutta, 1954).