Tribals in Medieval India

  • Banjaras: Banjaras were the most-important trader-nomads. Caravan of Banjaras was called tanda. Alauddin Khalji used Banjaras to transport grain to city markets. Jahangir observed that Banjaras carried grain on their bullocks from different areas and sold it in towns. They transported food grain for Mughal army during military campaigns.
  • Bihar & Jharkhand: Many Chero chiefdoms emerged in this region during the 12th century. Akbar’s famous general Raja Man Singh attacked and defeated the Cheros in 1591 and a large tribute was taken from them. However, they were not totally subdued. Later, Aurangzeb captured many Chero fortresses and subjugated the tribe.
  • Punjab: Khokhar tribe was very influential during the 13th-14th centuries in Punjab. Later, Gakkhars became more important in the region whose chief Kamal Khan Gakkhar was made a noble (mansabdar) by Akbar.Multan, Sindh & North-West region: Langahs and Arghuns dominated extensive regions before they were subdued by the Mughals. Balochis were a prominent tribe in the north-west region and they were divided among several small clans under different chiefs.

Ahoms of Assam:

  • Ahoms migrated to Brahmaputra valley from Myanmar in 13th century and established a new state by subjugating older political system of Bhuiyans (landlords). Later in 16th century, they annexed the kingdoms of Chhutiyas (1523) and Koch-Hajo (1581) and many other tribes.
  • Ahom kingdom ruled over Assam and other parts of North-east till 1826 the area was annexed by the British after the First Anglo-Burmese War and the Treaty of Yandabo.
  • First king of Ahom dynasty was Sukapha who established the first capital of Ahom dynasty at Cheraideo on the foothills of Patkai hills. Cheraidoi remained a sacred site for the Ahoms where the departed souls of royalty could transcend into after life. Ahoms followed the system of building vaulted mounds known as moidams.
  • After the 16th century, Ahoms kings assumed the title of Swargadeo meaning heavenly king.
  • Ahom society was divided into clans known as khels, which controlled several kingdoms.
  • Paik System: Ahom state depended on forced labour (system of paiks). A census of population was taken and each village had to send several paiks by rotation.
  • There were very few artisan castes in Ahom society so artisans in Ahom areas came from adjoining kingdoms. Peasants were given land by his village community which even the king could not take without the community‚Äôs consent.
  • People from heavily populated areas were shifted to less populated areas. This led to breaking up of Ahom clans and by the 17th century the Ahom administration became centralised.
  • In 1662, Mughals under Mir Jumla attacked the Ahom kingdom in which Ahoms were defeated despite putting a brave defence. But the Mughals could not maintain their control over Assam.
  • Battle of Saraighat: It was a naval battle between Mughal forces led by Rajput prince Ram Singh (Commissioned by Aurangzeb) and Ahom Kingdom led by Lachit Borphukan on Brahmaputra River at Saraighat, near Guwahati. Ahom army defeated the much stronger Mughal army. It was last battle and effort on part of Mughals to extend their control over Assam.
  • Ahoms built a large state by using firearms as early as 1530s. By 1660s, they could make high quality gunpowder and cannons.
  • Almost all adult males served in the army during war. At other times, they were engaged in building public works like dams, irrigation systems etc. Ahoms also introduced new methods of rice cultivation.
  • Originally, Ahoms worshipped their own tribal gods. However, during the first half of 17th century, the influence of Hinduism increased. But Ahoms kings did not completely give their traditional beliefs.
  • Poets and scholars were given land grants. Theatre was encouraged.
  • Literature: Buranjis were historical chronicles of Ahom dynasty which were initially written in Tai-Ahom language and later in Sanskrit language.
  • Architecture of Ahoms: Moidams are vaulted chamber, often double storied through an arched passage. Layers of bricks and earth is laid on top of hemispherical mound. Base of the mound is reinforced by a polygonal toe-wall and an arched gateway on the west. Eventually, the mound would be covered by a layer of vegetation, appearing like a group of hillocks. The entire area appeared as an undulating landscape.
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