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Pragjyotisa an ancient name of Assam, finds mention in ancient Sanskrit literature. Various theories are there as to the origin of the name. That the name originated from the Chao-theus people of China, who migrated to Assam, is unconvincing. Its origin from the Austric phrase Pagar-Juh (ie a region of extensive hills) seems to be more acceptable. The importance of astronomical studies in the country is evinced in the Kalikapurana where it is mentioned that Brahma made the first calculation of the stars of Pragjyotisa. E A Gait pointed out that Prag means 'former' or 'eastern' and jyotisa, 'a star', 'astrology', 'shining'. Pragjyotisapura may, therefore, be taken to mean the 'city of Eastern Astrology'. The significance of astronomy in the country is borne out by a number of references in Vedic literature, which speak about its association with the solar cult and planetary worship. This has been confirmed by a number of medieval works dealing with the subject. The area has a reputation as a centre of magic.

There is a popular attempt among scholars to locate the kingdom of Pragjyotisa and kamarupa in regions other than Assam. Their argument is based on evidence found in the mahabharata wherein Pragjyotisa is located in the western or northern part of India. On the other hand in the Sabha Parva, Bhima's campaign and his fight with Bhagadatta of Pragjyotisa are set in the north. Again the same Parva as well as the Axvamedha Parva have described Bhima's campaign in the Lauhitya in the east. The close association of Pragjyotisa with the Lauhitya (identified with the Brahmaputra) is of much importance in the matter of identification.

There are numerous inscriptions of early Assam, which preferred the names Pragjyotisa and Pragjyotisadhipati (ruler of the kingdom). The capital city of the kingdom of Pragjyotisa is said to be Pragjyotisapura, identified with modern Dispur, the present capital of Assam, though the term Pragjyotisa often stood both for the country and the capital city. There are numerous epigraphic records to justify this conclusion. Incidentally, we may refer to a very clear inscriptional evidence of Pragjyotisa being the name of the kingdom in the Bargaon grant of Ratnapala (11th century AD) where Durjjaya is described within Pragjyotisa.

The modern state of Assam seems to be a part of the extensive kingdom of Pragjyotisa or Kamarupa of early times. Although the boundary of the kingdom varied from time to time, it may be taken for granted that its northern and southwestern limits were much beyond those of the modern state of Assam. If one is to believe in the evidence of the ramayana (Kiskindhyakanda) and Mahabharata (Striparva) the city of Pragjyotisa was located in the hilly region. The Mahabharata identifies Bhagadatta, the king of Pragjyotisa as xailalaya (dwelling among the mountain) Parvatapati (lord of the mountains) in Drona Parva and Purvasagaravasi (inhabitant of the eastern sea) in Udyoga Parva. The same text again represents Bhagadatta as the leader of the Chinas, Kiratas, Mlechchhas and Sagaranupavasins.

Many scholars are inclined to conclude that these people are identical with the Mongoloid and Indo-Mongoloids who still form a major part of the population of Assam and adjoining states. Moreover, if the Varaha mountain mentioned in the Ramayana is identical with the Assam range, and the sea lay to the south of the hills, it is almost certain that part of Sylhet, Mymensingh and neighbouring lands were under water at least in the Epic age and the Brahmaputra fell into the Lauhitya Sagara taking a southern course round the Garo hills as it does today. It is, however, still doubtful whether the northwest limit of the kingdom, as has been suggested by KL Barua, extended up to the river Koshi (in Bihar). [Ichhamuddin Sarkar]