Kamarupa and pragjyotisa (Pragjyotisa) have often been taken to mean one and the same area in the eastern part of the subcontinent. The mahabharata mentions Pragjyotisa, but not Kamarupa. The Raghuvangsa of kalidasa mentions both Pragjyotisa and Kamarupa. It was in the Allahabad Pillar inscription of Samudragupta (c middle of 4th century AD) that Kamarupa was first found mentioned along with some northeastern frontier countries. The Chinese pilgrim hiuen-tsang also mentions Kamo-ru-po (Kamarupa) and Kalo-tu (Karatoya) during his journey from pundravardhana to the land of Bhaskaravarman. On the other hand in various epigraphic sources like Dubi CP, Bhaskaravarman's Nalanda Clay Seals and even in the Bhagalpur grant of Narayanapala we come across the mention of Pragjyotisa.
It is, therefore, reasonable to conclude that the name Pragjyotisa was in use earlier than Kamarupa. Although there are scholars who identify them as two separate principalities, it is now accepted that both the names stand for the same tract of land. It is possible that in ancient times Pragjyotisa was an extensive Janapada from which Kamarupa came up in later times as a small kingdom. In fact, in Vaidyadeva's copperplate of about the middle of the 12th century, Pragjyotisa is mentioned as a bhukti within which Kamarupa was a mandala.
The boundaries of Kamarupa or Pragjyotisa-Kamarupa are clearly mentioned in the Puranas and the Tantra literature. The Kalika Purana indicates that it was triangular in shape and lay to the east of the river Karatoya, was 100 yojanas in length and 30 yojanas in breadth and was bounded by the Dikkaravasini (modern Dikrai river) in the east. On the other hand the Yogini Tantra divides the whole of Kamarupa into Ratnapitha, Bhadrapitha, Saumarapitha and Kamapitha and gives its boundary with Mount Kanja in the north, the holy river Diksu (mod. Dibang at Sadiya) in the east, the Karatoya in the west and the confluence of the Brahmaputra and the Laksa (modern Lakhya) in the south. It is a fact that varying fortunes brought by conflicts with the neighboring powers changed the western boundary touching the river Karatoya.
It is likely that the kingdom of Kamarupa at times included the present Brahmaputra valley, Bhutan, Rangpur, Cooch Behar and a few adjoining areas. This boundary, however, echoes the reference in the Mahabharata (Striparva), where king Bhagadatta of Pragjyotisa is said to have joined the Kuruksetra war with his troops (comprising Kiratas, Chinas and the Purvasagaravasi) of Mongoloid or Indo-Mongoloid origin (the Bodos, Tibetans, Bhutanese etc). These people still form a considerable percentage of the total population of the region.
From the earliest known king Mahiranga Danava to the coming of the Ahoms (13th century AD) when it assumed its name Asama (Peerless) or Assam, Kamarupa has had the opportunity of being ruled by at least four dynasties - the Naraka > the Bhauma > the Salastambha > the Palas. It also became a famous cultural centre where non-Aryan and Aryan cultures found a meeting point.
The word 'Kamarupa' is derived from an Austric formation like Kamru or Kamrut, the name of an insignificant divinity in the Santali language, and stands for a land of magic and astronomy. According to BK Kakati, the term indicates a new cult namely worship of the mother goddess Kamakhya. He again thinks that the word Kamakhya also originated from an Austirc formation such as Kamoi (demon) in old Khmer, Kamoit (devil) in Cham, Kamet (corpse) in Khasi, Kamin (grave) or Komouch (corpse) in the Santali language. According to another explanation Kamakhya is a Sanskritised form of Kamakhs or Kamalakhi, a female deity of the Mongoloid tribes of ancient Assam. A popular tradition on the origin of Kamarupa is, however, referred to in the Gopatha Brahmana, which hints at a story of Kamadeva's revival in the land of Kamarupa after being destroyed by the fiery glance of Lord Siva. The Kalika Purana, too, associates the origin of the word Kamakhya with the genital organ of Sati that falls within the boundary of Kamarupa. [Ichhamuddin Sarkar]
Ancient and medieval Kamarupa The migration of different human races to the ancient land of Kamarupa started since 200 BC. The Karbis, Khasis, Jayantias, Kukies and Lusais (Mizo) are of Austric origin. The Kiratas, Bodos, Garos, Rabhas, Deuries, Misings, Morans, Sutias, Dimasas and Kochas (Rajbangshi), Lalungs and Hajongs are of the Mongoloid origin and speak Sino-Tibetan language. The assimilation started as both the races co-existed in the same geographical area for a long time. Then the Kaibartas and Banias of Dravidian stock, migrating from Bengal, also came under assimilation.
During the historic period, the king and the royal dynasty formed the royal class with the Brahmin priests rehabilitated by them, and on the other side were the general people comprising the agri-slaves. With this stratification of the Kamarupa society, the first king of the Barman dynasty reigned at Pragjyotishpur from 350 to 380 AD. It is during this period that Pragjyotishpur was renamed Kamarupa.
During the rule of the Ahoms, the sikh priest Tegbahadur and the Muslim religious scholar Azan Fakir came to Kamarupa, and Srimanta Sankaradeva, the preceptor of puritan Hinduism, was born in Kamarupa. As the religious preceptors started preaching, the language of royal house spread amongst the subjects. Again, the practice of upkeeping the history (Buranji) and the royal patronage made the language and literature rich.
The tribal system of administration was prevalent till the time of Raja Pratap Chandra Singh. But the tribal traditions became eroded due to imposition of land survey, population census, the introduction of paik system, the commencement of more developed feudal system, and lastly the rehabilitation of Brahmin priests from India.
In the medieval period several attempts were made to occupy Assam and Kamarupa by Bengal sultans as well as by subahdars of Mughal emperors. In this respect attempt of iliyas shah, husain shah and mir jumla may be mentioned. But subjugation of Kamarupa by these sultans and subahdars were short lived and resulted to no permanent annexation.
Modern Kamrup (Kamarupa) under the Ahoms came to be known as Assam. The contradiction between the ruling class and the general peasantry became intensified which was reflected through the Moamaria rebellion (1769-1826) in the form of religious communalism. The Ahom administrative system was crushed due to conflict between the ruler and the ruled.
The massive loss of life occurred due to famine caused by peoples' uprising which made the social life of Assam weak. This situation paved the way for Burmese invasion at the instance of Sarbananda Singha, and British penetration in response to the invitation of Gaurinath Singha. The Burmese invaded Assam in 1817, 1819 and 1821 and held the country under their control between the years 1822 and 1826 AD. The Assamese society was in such an era of decay that all efforts, individual and collective, for the resistance against the Burmese could not produce any positive result.
The British entered into a trade relation with Assam since 1793 as per an agreement reached with the Ahom King Gaurinath Singha and it continued smoothly. The British Governor General lord amherst declared a counter offensive against the Burmese invaders who had already encroached upon Assam. Mr David Scot, the British agent of North-East Frontier, arrived in Kachhar area of Assam and declared through a pamphlet their conviction to oust the Burmese from Assam, and assured the setting up of a government.
The British defeated and chased the Burmese out of Assam and signed the Yandaboo Treaty with them on 24th February 1826. They then promised the Assamese all kinds of happiness, prosperity and peace and above all 'to form a government of their own choice and occupied Assam including Kamrup. The refusal to fulfill the promises of David Scot led the Assamese to open rebellion under the leadership of Dhananjoy Gohain, Pioli Phukan and Gomadhar Kowar. The first rebellion started in April 1826 and the second on 25 March 1830.
The British kept Assam under military rule from 1826 to 1838, keeping the commercial importance as their sole agenda. In 1838, the Ahom king Purandar Singh was dethroned and thus the whole of Assam came under the British colonisation. The British ruled Assam from their Bengal headquarters from 1838 to 1874. In 1874, Assam was made a Chief Commissionership, which lasted up to 1905 when it got integrated to a new province called Eastern Bengal and Assam.
The 'Waste Land Regulation' was imposed by the British when tea cultivation was started as a tact of depriving the local people. Under this regulation the rate of land revenue for the British was far less than that of Assamese. The industrialists with less capital, on the other hand, were deprived of possession of land since the regulation prohibited any lease of land less than one hundred acres.
The British administration managed to complete the formation of imperialist capital by transferring the whole tea industry to the British tea planter through its various regulations. On the plea of the shortage of local labour they imported cheap labour force from Bihar, West Bengal and Orissa, thus depriving the local workers of their livelihood. The huge migration of labour from India to promote the British capital started to change the demography of Assam. Markets were established to fulfil the need of these migrated labour and other Indian service holders. The marwariS and Bangali traders were provided with establishments. All the vacancies of clerks, writers and supervisors were filled up with Bangali outsiders that deprived the local people of these opportunities. Thus the surplus capital of tea industry and the money from the salaries of the service holders were drained out continuously. This colonial exploitation prevented the promotion of local capital and encouraged the rapid emergence of capitalists from outside.
With the increase of British exploitation the people became aggrieved and finally revolted under the leadership and guidance of 'Raijmel' (peoples council). The first outburst of rebellion occurred at Phulaguri on 17 September 1861 and gradually spread over Patidarrang, Nalbari, Lachima, Barama, Bajali, Khetri, Upar Barbhag, Rangia and the last one in 1894 in the famous Patharughat. Though the struggles failed because of some limitations, the struggle under the leadership of Raijmel irrespective of nationality, tribes and races was the harbinger of Assamese nationalism of which Kamrup constituted the core.
The election system was first introduced in Assam in 1935. Electoral politics invited the power struggle resulting in the division of the society into different streams such as tribal, non-tribal, Hindu, Muslim etc under different political parties.
During the British rule, however, Assam saw some material developments. The British constructed 439 miles long railway track in the first decade of twentieth century and established the first Asian oil refinery at Digboi. Besides the waterways, the land communication also became convenient; some industries and enterprises, such as tea, coal, plywood etc were established. But local people were hardly benefited from these developments, which mainly served the ruling classes, the British, and the local middle class.
The 'Land and Revenue' system was introduced in Assam with the abolition of the old Paik and Khel system. Thus the British planted capitalism on the back of feudal system. For winning the loyalty of the subjects, a part of the old middle class having western education was absorbed in the colonial administration. They were appointed as magistrates, munsifs, darogas (police officer), clerks etc in the urban area, and as mauzadar (revenue collector), Choudhury (revenue collector), village headman and mandal etc in the rural areas. They became the faithful agents of the British, and represented the basis of the old Assamese society. The new Assamese middle class thus emerged on the ruin of the old middle class. [Sirajul Islam]