175 Years of Media in Assam & Beyond
Brahmaputra -The never-ending metaphor as Media of the valley
DR. MOMITA GOSWAMI BAROOAH
It was a voyage of Nathan Brown, Elizabeth Brown with one of their children started their mission in country boats for a daring journey from Burma to Sadiya that took several months along with a printing machine.
On the day of the journey Mr. and Mrs. Brown lost their son William, but despite the heartbroken setback, they have embarked the journey on the vary day. The voyage proceeded up the Hoogly into the Ganges and then down the main stream of the Ganges to the river doab with the Brahmaputra, some distance above Dacca (present Dhaka).
The river doab of Ganges and Brahmaputra crated the Sunderban delta, the delta and formed a maze, where, nearer to the passage to the ocean, the more complicated the maze as it is difficult to sail through.
Mr. and Mrs Brown knew that ascending the river Brahmaputra was not an easy task and were aware about the current of the mighty river in many places fearfully strong and bed of the river was full of snags and sawyers which had been torn from the banks by the strength of the current of the stream. The banks of the river were the daily resorts of wild beasts, crocodiles, leopards and other monsters swarmed in many parts of the river.
The missionaries have been warned too by the administration of the hostile tribes, who at times do not hesitate to take human life. The voyage left Calcutta on Nov20, 1835 have reached Goalpara on January 15th 1836, then proceeded to Gauhati and reached Tezpur on February 6th. The voyage ended 23rd March 1836 at Sadia with all the inmates in Good Health along with the first Printing machine of Assam and Northeast.
The voyage was a great missionary zeal of Mr. Nathan Brown and Eliza Brown with a martyr-spirit to deliver their mission through the river Brahmaputra to Sadia in Assam.
The proponent of the ‘175th anniversary of Media in Assam’; the ‘Mahabahu’(www.mahabahu.com); a synonym of the mighty river ‘Brahmaputra’ has started its voyage in the year 1980 and thereafter christened in digital form in the year 2017, has immensely contributed to the ethos and the pride of the northeastern people.
The voyage of ‘Mahabahu’ too, has become the never-ending metaphor as Media in the valley.
As the history of printing media started 175 years ago with the passage of modern Printing machine, the river Brahmaptura originated during the Pleistocene* period and when the Tethyan Geosyncline* took place and moving along with different civilisations at different interval of time.
If the bed of Brahmaputra could ever been explored, it would definitely yield fissiparous evidence of civilizations that might have took place in the regions.
Brahmaputra and its genesis:
The river flows through the Assam plain from north-east to west and fed by many tributaries flowing from the Himalayas and from the hills and Plateaus in the south.
The Brahmaputra (the son of Brahma), is only a male river in India. It rises in the great Glacier in the Kailas range of the Himalayas. The Chemayung Dung Glacier, (in 1762 CHICHONEN a Chinese Geographer fixed the Source of the Tsangpo as Great Glacier Chemayang Dung) , situated to the south –east of Manasarowar is the Source of this river. It is about 35 km away from the source of Indus.
The Mariumla Pass separates the ChemaYung Dung glacier from the Manasarovar lake, in which two Indian River have their source i.e. Indus & Satluj. The hypothetical ancient river i.e. Indus and Brahmaputra was called the Indo-Brahm by E.H.Pascoe, who thought the source of these two rivers were the same. Mariam La Pass, separates the source of the Brahmaputra river from Manasarovar Lake.
The Brahmaputra is a trans Himalayan river. It originates in Tibet at an elevation of 5300 m, traverses 1625 km in China, 918 Km in India and 337 Km in Bangladesh before emptying itself into the Bay of Bengal. Brahmaputra is one of the longest rivers of the world and passes through Tibet, China India and Bangladesh.
The Tamchuk Khambab, a stream which emerges from this glacier is considered to be the head stream of the river Brahmaputra. From the region of this glacier, the Brahmaputra flows eastward for about 1250 km through the plateau of Tibet, the upper portion of which, is known as Tsangpo, meaning ‘purifier’ in Tibet (Yarlung Zangbo Jiangin in Chinese language).
In the prehistoric past the Tsangpo had flown from east to west, but due to gradual uplift of the Himalayas, changed its direction in due course of time. It is an antecedent river and it is older than the Himalaya.
The Brahmaputra flows eastward in southern Tibet for about 1800km. The river then passes through the Yonggyap Gorge* towards the end of its Journey turns north–east and north and then traverses in a succession of rapids* between high mountains of Gyalaperi (715km) and Namcha Barwa (7756) and further turns to the south and south west, cut across the Himalaya through Siang district to Arunachal as the Siang river.
The river further south takes the name of Dihong. The Dihong or Siang Gorge emerges from the mountain near Sadiya in the Assam valley. After reaching the plains, the Dihong joins with the Dibang (flowing from north east) and Lohit flowing from the east near Sadiya in Dhemaji District. From Sadiya onwards this mighty river is known as The “Brahmaputra”.
It flows majestically in the Assam Valley from east to west for a distance of about 720km. The river turns south beyond Dhubri district (at the border of Assam and Bangladesh) and flow through Bangladesh to join the Padma River. Afterwards, on the combine course of the river Brahmaputra and river Padma flows as the Meghna and falls in the Bay of Bengal.
A large number of tributaries both from the north and from the south pay their tribute to the master river Brahmaputra. The tributaries from the north that merged with the Brahmaputra are subansiri, Kameng, Belsiri, Dhansiri (north), Nyerama, Manas,Mora, Champaman, Dharia, Raidah, Gangadhar, and Tista (the river Tista was a tributary of the river Ganga prior to the devastating floods of 1787 and thereafter it diverted its course eastward to join the river Brahmaputra).
The southern tributaries of river Brahmaputra are Dibru, Buridihing, Naodihing, Dikhow, Dhansiri (south) and Kalong. Further it has a braided channel for most of its passage through Assam.
The Geology of the river Brahmaputra took shape only during the Pleistocene and recent times. The valley develops over the fore deep in between the peninsular mass and the Tethyan Geosyncline. The Brahmaputra River had a complicated evolutionary history as mentioned earlier. The Brahmaputra valley has been built by the deposition of alluvium about 170.0 meters, thick upon a sag, created during the Himalayan uplift process.
Physiographically the Brahmaputra valley may be divided into two parts i.e. western lower parts and the eastern upper part. The eastern part trending East-North-East, (ENE) West-South-East (WSE), may be of Rift Valley* origin bounded by the northern Himalayan trust and southern Naga hills trust.
It has four distinct physiographic units namely, the northern foothills, the north and south bank Plain, the floodplain and the char-lands and the southern foothills. It is a zone of assorted detritus where a major portion of stream water percolates down and reappears a few kilometers downstream.
In the pre historic period, the river Brahmaputra was known as ‘LOUHITYA’ , as mentioned in Ramayana and Mahabharat. Louhitya means in Sanskrit “Lauhityam” i.e. the ‘Redness’, and also finds it place in Rigveda as well as in the Vayu Purana. The Kalika Purana written in 11th century gave a description of the magnificient Lauhitya as “ Lauhityam raktagaurangam nilavastravibhusitam”.
The Lohit or Louhitya word is derived from the Dimasa word “ LAO-TI”. Dimasas, as the members belonging to the Sino-Tibetan speech family, that entered India through the North-Eastern door (Lao=Large & Long, TI=River) and settled in the ancient Pragjyotishpur.
According to Dimasas the ‘Lao-ti’, later known as river Brahmaputra. The name of Brahmaputra is found only in the Puranas and the Tantras, which are undoubtedly later compilations. The great river Brahmaputra grooves through the ancient pragjyotishpura which later known as the Kamrupa.
It may be mentioned here that the writers have identified the Lao-ti with Purba-Sagara, which is Lohita-Sagara to them. The Aryan writers mentioned the Lohita-Sagara as the river that carried blood-red water (full of Red Sands). Dimasas were known as the ‘Panis’ and the river Brahmaputra was the ‘Tsangi’ till the time of their establishment at the “Dailobra- Tsangibra in Bengal. Tsangi became ‘Lao-ti’ after shifting of their establishment at Pragjyotishpur.
In view of the fact that all or nearly all the names of the principal rivers of ancient Kamrupa bear the Dimasa elements having the Prefix of Di meaning river in Dimasa: thus Dihong, Dihing, Dibang, Disang, Dibru, Digaru, Diphu, Dikrong, Diyung and so on. It is very likely that Brahmaputra too has been named by the Dimasas and it is a Sanskritised form of “Dibromputra”. ‘Dibrom’ in Dimasa means dreadful torrential sound of river currents and ‘Putra’ means silvery.
After settling in the plains as the Dimasas occupied the higher ridges in the mountains and found the sparkling silvery torrents brawling against the rocks down the mountains, they might have called it “Dibromputra” in short only Bromputra which finally transformed into Brahmaputra. It is also one of the important facts that the river Brahmaputra is a name later than Kamrup.
Further it is also mentioned in ‘Kamrup Buranji’ ( History of Assam) that the kingdom of Kamrupa Stretched from the river Karotoya in the west to the river Dikrai in the east and from the mountain Nandasila on the north to the Bihagacala in the south.
The geographical area of ancient Assam (Kamrupa) and the identity of various places therein are difficult to ascertain perhaps for the following reasons. Assam is full of rivers, terrains and hills, many places lost their identity due to various natural calamities such as flood, earthquake, and foreign invasion and so on. Many rivers lost their old names and were given new names by the people at different times.
The kingdom of Kamrupa, Pragjyotisha or ancient Assam had never been outside the realm of Aryan civilization. As a result of which it has maintained its cultural homogeneity with the rest of India.
Albiruni (1030 AD), an Arab Geographer and historian, mentioned the name of river Lohita as a Himalaya river in his book (Kitab-al-hind). It may be mentioned here that the rivers in Assam locally named as Tilao by the Tai and Bodo people and as ‘Taluk’ by the singpho-mishimi language.
A number of geographical as well as social factor have influenced the creation of the local names of the rivers.
The river Brahmaputra denotes a mighty and vibrant nature in its dimension that occupied a large tract of land. The Brahmaputra has braided channel for most of its passage through Assam.
There is a constant shifting of the river channel and the sandy shoals. It carries a lot of silt and there is excessive meandering. The river is nearly 16 km wide at Dibrugarh and forms many islands.
The most important of which is ‘Majuli’, the largest river island in the world. Majuli island covering an area of 90 km long and 20km wide eqals to 1250 sqkm. The river has to carry enoromous quantities of water and silt which results in disastrous floods in the rainy seasons.
The Brahmaputra and its tributaries carried sediments from the surrounding highlands are made up of the recent alluvial sediments and active flood plain.
The whole zone is consisting of north and south plains in a region, which has immense human significance with high population density, rich agricultural fields and a good network of road and railways.
It may be mentioned here that the corrosion done by the river of two kinds, one lateral and the other is vertical. In case of lateral corrosion the channel of the river is widened and in vertical corrosion the river deepens its channel. When river Brahmaputra enters its middle or plain course the slope is less and the speed of the river is slackened. Because of the reduction in speed the river is unable to carry the larger rock fragments and they start getting deposited.
As the river advances, the larger fragments dropped first then the smaller fragments and sand are dropped in the middle course of the river Brahmaputra, and finally the rock fragments, pebbles and sand are deposited in the foot hill zone. These deposits are triangular in shape though which the river flows in several braided channels. It resembles a fan made of palm leaves or semi circular deposits which are called alluvial fans.
In the upper section of alluvial fans coarse boulders and pebbles are deposited, while in its lower part, finer materials are deposited. The alluvial fans are built by the river Brahmaputra mostly during the rainy season, when the volume of water as well as the sediments is more. They are more commonly found in areas which experiences heavy rainfall but are denuded of natural vegetations.
The intense rainfall in limited areas of river Brahmaputra causing flash floods of great ferocity and heavy destructions are being experienced in the northeastern region.
The north bank plain is relatively wider, about 30 km on the average in the lower Brahmaputra valley while it narrows down to an average of about 10 km in the upper Brahmaputra valley.
The flood plain of the Brahmaputra including the char-land inside the river lies between the north bank and south bank plains. On the north bank the flood plain contains numerous swamps and bills and fairly wide in Dhemaji and Barpeta district.
The river with such a high volume of water and sediment loads represents the most dynamic fluvial regime. Its wide alluvial channel in Assam having an average width of 6-8km is dotted with more than 600 small and large sandbars locally called chars.
The river Brahmaputra is characterised by intense braiding rapid aggradations and drastic bank line migration.
However the channel division (braiding) in the river are due to a combination of factors like variability of flow, excessive sediment load, easily erodible bank materials and aggradations of the channel.
The Brahmaputra valley is very extensive about 720 km long and 9 6km in width on an average. The valley has been built by the deposition of alluvium about 170.0 mt. thick upon a sag created during the period of Himalayan uplift process.
The Brahmaputra basin falls under a strong monsoonal region, receiving an average annual rainfall of 265cm nearly 60-70 percent of it occurring during month of May to September. So the heaviest rainfall of the summer monsoon, which is occurring in the basin, produces the strongest effect on the Brahmaputra and its tributaries. The Brahmaputra valley which is formed by the river Brahmaputra and its tributaries has occupies a most significant part of the physiography of north east India.
The whole Brahmaputra valley is the flood affected region, the flood of varying magnitudes occur during the rainy season due to heavy rainfall. It is also mentioned here that, the whole valley is surrounded by high hills of Himalaya, the oldest plateaus on the north, east and south, which have high potential to frequently receive the furry of floods.
This flood characterized by high water level throughout the Brahmaputra from Dhemaji to Dhubri, caused tremendous devastations and extensive inundation accounting for 62 percent area of the Brahmaputra valley.
Historically the people of Assam are well acquainted with floods and spontaneously they have acquired the art of living with flood to a considerable extent. As mentioned earlier the great earthquake of 1950, the intensity and the frequency of flood have significantly increased due aggradations of riverbed.
It may be mentioned here that the 1950 earthquake caused geotectonic changes of the river Brahmaputra affecting the navigable channel in services by the Joint Steamer Companies from 1954 onwards. In the past the mighty river Brahmaputra served as the main artery in the communication system of the greater part of the region when roads and railways were not developed.
People and culture of the Brahmaputra Valley:
The Brahmaputra valley is a wonderful place where several streams look like as if, they are rushing to wash the feet of the mother goddess. The enormous mountains seem to be offering silent prayers to the almighty, impenetrable forests appear to be protecting the animal world in their inner dimension and the deep ravines show themselves as the treasurers of the profound knowledge of the cast.
Geographically the mighty river Brahmaputra flows through the valley with a great force and with a big mass of water. As mentioned earlier the whole Brahmaputra valley has alluvial deposits of sand , Slit and Clay. This valley is Prominently Known for the Wettest Spot in the World due to heavy rainfall.
The ancient name of Assam valley was “Pragjyotishapura” which means the city of ‘eastern astrology’ pragjyotishapura is mentioned in several contexts of Ramayana , Mahabharata, Puranas and others.
The valley of Assam is a cradle of various races and people for their growth and thriving from centuries to centuries. The first civilization started in Euphrates and Tigris river in Doab.
1) Mesopotomian civilization which is assimilation of a) Sumarian 2000 B.C b) Babylonian 1000 B.C, c) Assyrian 100 BC-1000 BC, all three civilisation together called Mesopotamian civilisation.
2) Chinese civilisation near Hungho river
3) Indus valley civilisation near river Indus
4) Egypt civilization near river Nile,
5) Greek civilization near Mediterranean, Ionian , and Aegean sea.
Among all the civilizations the Greek civilisation has the written evidence of its existence. It is difficult to ascertain precisely the period when civilization began to take place in the Bahmaputra Valley.
Ethnicity and religion are two important aspects, which are put to use by people to identify themselves in a society. The whole Brahmaputra valley may be termed as unique region in its historical settings which, in-spite of much ethnic diversity has a tradition of religious harmony.
Perhaps constrain by harsh environmental condition, which has fostered physical, social and cultural isolation for ages; the different communities living in different areas have developed their own traditional mode of living.
The history of ancient of Kamrupa or Assam is the history of an ancient civilisation, evolved and developed through centuries. This civilisation differ in some respects from that other parts of India and contains some peculiarities on its own as distinct from those of other parts of India. These peculiarities of the civilisaion of Assam were mostly due to the complex nature of its Geographical and ethnic condition.
The Brahmaputra valley, and its civilisation is basically from Indian or Aryan civilisation. It is also assumed that the civilisation has assimilation of Mesopotomian and Chinese civilisaion which has three main races namely Aryan or Caucasoid, Dravidian or Negroid and the Mongoloid, than their divisions, branches and sub branches that fosters a large list of races.
These are the divisions of different races like Asuras, Panis, Danavas (high spirited kshatriyas) , Phoenicians (corrupt from panis), Naraka, Mlechehha, Kiratas, Kacharis (descendants of Utkachas and Kiratas). Palia (from pani-koch), Mandia (branch of Kochas) Ahoms(from Mung-mao), Bhutan (derived from Bhutavatasthana) Tibet, Chutiayas(Mangoloid race), Mughals.
It has been found that the large number of people with different ethnical affinity and religious faith are having inhabitation at one place.
Many chiefs of these races and tribes ruled some areas of Kamrupa. In the Brahmaputra Valley, several races have taken shelter under one heavenly umbrella with their varied cultures. Indian culture contains two main conceptual ingredients.
1) Eternal order and
2) truth. Eternal order manifests itself in man and society as discipline, moral law and social order. The second is that of eternal truth which contributes to the welfare and harmony of society as a whole. Thus it can be stated that Indian culture provides a harmonious blending of various races, which result in all-round developments and welfare of the human being.
The Northeast portion of the hills slope has attracted the attention of the Buddhist pantheons in the early Christian era. It is also mentioned that during that period they carry large number of Buddhist votive stupas of different sizes and shapes.
A new Kingdom known as Kamata came into existence towards the 12th century A.D. which covered a major part of old Kamrupa kingdom.
The kamata kingdom comprised the present district of upper Brahmaputra valley and Cooch Behar in Bengal and district of Goalpara, Dhubri, Barpeta and Kamrup in Assam.
During that period, the rest of Brahmaputra valley was ruled by Chutias, Bhuyas, the kacharis, the Borahis and the Morans till the advent of the Ahoms from the east.
The boundaries of Ahom Kingdom embraced the region from the source of the Brahmaputra to the Karotoya and from the Bottom of the Himalayas to the hills of Surma and Subansiri valleys.
During the 15th Century, Mahapurush Sri Shankardeva the propounder of neo-vaishnavite movement has established xatras in Assam and helped in building the present Assamese society. Srimanta Sharkardeva was one of the greatest preachers of all the saints in India. The Xatra institution is a unique contribution of Sri Sharkardeva (1449-1568).
The culture of the Brahmaputra valley is very different. Casteism is definitely is not a rigid phenomenon here; and untouchability is unknown. This is probably due to the large tribal base of the society. Within Hinduism, Budhism as well Jainism and Sikhism, Tantrism have been a powerful current of ideology from the early centuries of the Brahmaputra Valley era. The Assamese culture is very distinctive and the ‘Shakti cult’ is a powerful manifestation of it.
The tantric tradition can be used to bring out some of the core anthropological traits of the valley. The healthy erotism of the Brahmaputra valley culture and its foregrounding of tantrism is the contribution of the Indo-Mongoloids, as suggested by T.C. Sarma.
For the tantric tradition are pervasively strong throughout the Himalayan and sub-Himalayan regions of south Asia, where the Indo-Mongoloids are demographically predominant namely in Bengal, Assam, Sikim, Nepal and Bhutan.
Due to the practice of Shakti Cult, the status of women is ranked very high in Assam and other areas of Northeast.
The older city of Guwahati has been identified as the ancient Pratgjyotishpura and the Ahom King made it the administrative head quarters of lower Assam.
From the British, we have got some earlier recorded systematic documents on Assam from the year 1792 and before that there were no recorded English documents on Assam and its people.
The British, who came to occupy northeast, especially in Assam, built some trading post or military garrison and cantonment, stretching from Sadia to Dhubri, by the bank of the river Brahmaputra, with the help of which they establish their trade through the river.
The Brahmaputra valley has been the playfield of many people, hills tribes and plain tribes, migrants from different land and regions within the country, all merging into the cultural and social cauldron of the land as if their individual identities are streams pouring into a greater entity. The great Brahmaputra making the valley fertile with alluvial soil has undoubtedly played a major role in this culture of conglomeration.
The study of the Brahmaputra Civilisation is most important criterion for consideration in the different peoples of different languages, faith and cultures that had arrived from different places at different times from time immemorial and gradually characterized themselves into a composite people.
The civilisaiton is a joint creation of them. Indian culture as depicted in the Veads where hatred, enmity, mean mentality, fanaticism, intolerance all these racial and social evil to be melted into one sweet harmony. Indian culture, with such a remarkable background is quite sufficient to bring unity among the races and the people of the Brahmaputra valley.
As the mighty river has brandishes the fissiparous civilizations that might have taken place from the ancient times, it allowed a voyage of American Baptist Missionaries to carry the first priming machine 177 years ago, to save the culture and language of its inmates to remain as independent for time to come. Civilizations may come and go but the mighty river would always flow as a never-ending metaphor as ‘Media of the Valley’.
*Gorge : The valley is constantly deep and narrow and the river flows in a constricted channel. When the river valley is very deep and narrow it is called a gorge.
*Rapids : Rapids are section of a river, becoming shallower with some rocks exposed above the flow surface.
*Doab : Doab is a Term used for a tract of lying between two confluent rivers.
*Pleistocene : The period of time between around 1.8 million and 11000 years ago, in which modern humans first appeard.
*Tethyan Geosyncline : Either of two ancients seas where due to large scale depression of earth crust containing very thick deposits, the Himalayan range of mountain created.
[Dr. Momita Goswami Barooah, educationist with Post- Doctorate fellowship,9 international Publications, 8 National Publications. This article is published in the 175 Years of Media in Assam and Beyond, historical book published by Mahabahu on the occasion of 175 years of media in Assam]
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