Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Weapons and nature of Warfare in Ahom Kingdom

(This blog is reposted. It appeared first here.)

Arrival of the Ahoms to Assam did change the course of Assam's history. For a long time they gave a political stability to the kingdom and successfully checked the eastward expansion of the Mughals. Why they were so successful against their much more powerful adversary can be atributed partly to the location, topography and the climate of the region they ruled and partly to their millitary prowess.

I am not aware, how much information is available for the students of Indian History about the use of guns and gunpowder in this eastern part of India! Because of the proximity to China (where gunpowder was discovered) and the fact that many tribes themselves migrated from the east, this region gained the knowledge of making gunpowder very early compared to many other parts of India. The battle of Panipath between Babar's and Ibrahim Lodhi's forces is said to be the first battle where big guns were used. Almost simultaneously (in fact few years earlier than the battle), there was an ongoing war between two tribes in eastern Assam, Ahoms and Sutiyas. After this war is over, which resulted in the inlcusion of the Sutiya kingdom to the Ahom kingdom, the Ahoms acquired a lot of things from the Sutiyas. One of those were the type of big gun, called Mithaholong. In fact, this was the one of the largest classes of big guns which were produced in this part of the country. This proves that not only the Ahoms, but other tribes of Assam already knew about guns and gunpowder by that time and must have used it in the battles. I should also mention here that some local history books say about Chaolung Siukapha carrying guns with him when he entered Assam from east, that was in 1228 AD.

Mithaholong is one of the five different classes of big guns made in Assam. The other types are Biyagom bortop, Hatimuriya bortop, Tubukee bortop and Baghmora bortop. (Bortop is the Assamese word for big guns!) There are another few classes of guns, they were called hilois. They are smaller in size and some of them can even be fired from hand. (I have seen the balls used in these guns. One I saw was only 1 inch in diameter and the one I have with me at home is nearly 3 inches in diameter!) There were 11 important classes of hilois, they are- Gonthiya, Jombur, Pohlongi, Ramchangi, Xoru Hatnoliya, Kamayon, Jomur, Kecai, Tonwa, Khoka and Bochadari hiloi.

I have already mentioned that Mithaholong type of guns were the biggest class of bortops prepared in the Ahom kingdom. One of these bortops were sent by Bohi Khowa Borphukan of guwahati to Swargadeu Rajeshwar Singha. The length of the bortop was 12 hats (hat is the distance from the finger tips to the elbow, nearly 18 inches) and the circumference at the back was 4 hats. Legend says that when this gun was fired, people standing nearby had their eardrums got damaged. So these types of guns were fired by the hiloidaris (gunners) hiding in a trench nearby. Swargadeu Swarganarayan (or Dihiniya Roja) first said to have made and used bortops in Assam, in somewhere near 1427 Saka. Innumerable bortops were made in the Kingdom since then and when Mirzumla, the Nawab of Bengal attacked Assam, he took along with him 675 hilois. The biggest hiloi he carried off had the charge weighing 3 Maunds. Moreover he took 343 jomburs, 1200 Ramchangis, 6570 Hatnoliya bonduk (smaller guns) 7828 shields. And not only that... all these guns were decorated and made with tenacious creativity.

Gean Baptista Tavernier says about the Ahoms that "It is believed that it is the same people who, in ancient time, first discovered gun-powder and guns, which passed from Assam to Pegu, and Pegu to China; this is the reason why the discovery is generally ascribed to the Chinese". He also says that the quality of the gun-powder prepared in Assam is very good, just like the powders prepared in France, with smooth round shape and highly explosive in nature. Though whatever he said is a matter debate, it only emphacises the expertise of the Ahoms in preparing gunpowder. It should be mentioned that Mirzumla, when he left from Assam, took along with him many experts of gun-powder preparaiton and 340 Maunds of gun-powder and 1960 boxes, each full of 2 to 2 and half Maunds of gun-powder. The technique used to prepare gun-powder is now lost forever. But some informations says that the Kings used to keep very big cow-sheds and the cows are kept inside them for six months. After six months they are taken to some othar place. Urine from these cows are collected in the shed or just allowed to remain there, without cleaning. In a years time a white layer appears over those places. From this material itself gun-powder was said to be prepared.

(Most of these informations are collected from historical books written in Assamese. People may refer Hiteswar Barbaruah's "Ahomor Din" and Sir Edward Gait's "History of Asam" for most of the original informations.)


  1. A comment which was long overdue!!...

    You need to publicize the blog more...& don't give up writing...make it a series...

    also visit my blog...I have experimented something for the first time...:P

  2. Well written..good luck ahead.

  3. Great want to know more ...... can u pls

  4. Great work! It will promote the glory of the warfare and weapons of the Ahoms.

  5. The gunpowder was passed on from the Sutiyas to the Ahoms, so technically Sutiyas discovered gunpowder and we're the first to use it.