Tuesday, April 23, 2024

The Jañtia Kingdom: An Introduction


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By H.H. Mohrmen

Nowadays, we only hear about the Jañtia hills because it is the name of one of the principal regions of the state of Meghalaya. Jañtia hills, now bifurcated into the East and West Jañtia Hills Districts of Meghalaya, has a rich history of its own. Jañtia or Jayantia was a kingdom that has existed for a long time and was once a flourishing kingdom. Hence, there is an urgent need to dispel this lack of knowledge and bring much-needed information about the kingdom to the public domain. It is certain that Jañtia is a local adaptation of a Sanskrit name of the erstwhile kingdom that flourished between the early 1500s to the later part of the 1800s.
The Origin of the Jañtia Kingdom
The origin of the kingdom is quite complicated but interesting, and due to the lack of written resources, to understand the kingdom, we have to rely on oral narratives too. It is not that oral narratives are to be considered inferior, but it is much easier to understand the past if written sources are available. The people of Jañtia hills have always been proud of their history and particularly their kingdom, but there was no evidence to corroborate the claim. That is until the Jayantia Buranji was brought to light. The history of the Jayantia kingdom is a classic case in point where written sources complement the oral narratives that have been passed down from one generation to another.
Name of the Kingdom
Jayantia is the name of a small but flourishing kingdom at the foothills where the plains of Sylhet meet the rising hills of what is now Meghalaya. The name Jayanti is not a tribal name but obviously of Sanskrit origin, and the Jayantia Buranji says that it derives from the name of a female queen who had no issue of her own to succeed her to the throne. The Buranji, which has become the major source of information about the kingdom, also tells a story about king Jayanta Rai who had no son but who had only a daughter. Since the king was without a son, he handed over the reins of his kingdom to his daughter Jayanti Devi. The name of the kingdom is hence derived from the name of Jayanti Devi, the queen of the kingdom. Later on, the highlanders adopted the kingdom of their own and to this day call the hills they live in the Jañtia hills. It is also interesting to note that it is not the plain but the hills people of the kingdom who adopted the name as their identity and continue to call their hills the Jañtia hills. It may also be mentioned that the temple at Nartiang, which was also believed to be a Shakti peeth, is named Jayanti Devi.
What Are the Buranjis
The tribal people have no script of their own, so they have no written history; all they have are oral narratives, which they have passed down from one generation to the other. On the other hand, we are fortunate that the Jayantia kingdom interacted with the neighbouring kingdom, particularly the Ahoms, who are more advanced and the most powerful kingdom in the region too. The Ahoms have their own chronicle in which they recorded their interaction with the neighboring kingdoms, and these are called Buranjis. Mention about the kingdom can be found in the Jayantia Buranji, which is a collection of information from the chronicles collected by the Ahom. The Buranji was first published by Dr. S.K. Bhuyan, and of the many Buranjis he published, Jayantia Buranji deals specifically with the Jayantia kingdom.
What Are the Jayantia Buranjis
Assamese chronicles dealing with the political relationship of the Ahom Government with other states are called “Chronicles of Political Relations” or “Kataki Buranji” in Assamese. The Buranji includes letters that are bilingual, recorded in Sanskrit and Assamese, some in archaic Assamese, and these are collections of correspondence between Jayantia and the Kachari kings with the Ahom kings and their nobles too (Bora Shiela and Sharma Manorama From the Editors, Jayanta Buranji, July 2020). Jayantia Buranji contains important information about the social customs of the people who lived in the kingdom at that point in time. Hopefully the information essential to grasping the history of the ancient kingdom will be available in the Buranji (Dutta S. K Introduction Jayantia Buranji, July 10, 1937, English Translation 2022).
Jayantia Kingdom was an Ancient Kingdom
There is no dispute about the fact that the Jayantia kingdom was an ancient kingdom in the region, mentioned in religious scriptures. The Buranji mentions that there is a tradition in ancient times that Jayantia was ruled by a dynasty of Brahmanical rulers and is supposed to be a “female kingdom” mentioned in the Mahabharata. It also mentions that Arjuna was supposed to fight against Jayantia, the female kingdom. The Buranji also stated that the Jayantia kingdom was a very ancient kingdom mentioned in the Puranik literature too. It mentions in the main the Shrine of Jayanti Devi (Dutta S.K. Introduction, the Jayanti Buranji etc), which is perhaps the temple in Nartiang.
Chapter one of the Jayantia Buranji, named Genesis of the Jayantias, also says that since the days of Yudhishthir, Jayantiapur was ruled by a succession of Brahmin kings and mentioned how the Jayantias came to be known as Khasi. It was mentioned that since the day of Yudhishthir, Jayantiapur was ruled by a succession of Brahmin kings. King Yudhisthir decided to perform Rajashuya Yagna and to prepare for the sacrifice; he sent his brothers in all four directions. In a show of disrespect, king Indrasen refused to appear before Bhim, Bhim was infuriated and dragged him on his bottom till his testicles ruptured, he spared Indrasen’s life because he was a Brahmin. It was said that since then the Jayantia kings came to be known as Khasis and the name where the incident occurred is called Khasipoor. (Jayantia Buranji pp 24) Jayantia is obviously an ancient kingdom but what about the hills people? Are the hills people parts of the kingdom since its inception? Can we say that hills people were ancient people? That is a pertinent question? The question is also how and when did the two kingdoms become one kingdom?
Two Kingdoms become one
It is an established fact that what was once known as the Jayantia kingdom was a merger of two kingdoms. The kingdom of Jayantia included the Jayantia Hills and the plains to the south of these hills, extending as far as the river Surma. What we now know as Jaintia hills was the hills portion of a once great kingdom, the boundaries of which extended from Gobha-Sonapur in the north and to the south, the mighty river Surma, towards the East the river Kupli, and towards the West the great Brahmaputra. The Sylhet areas, now in Bangladesh, and Nowgong, now part of Assam, were once the plain portion of the Jañtia Kingdom. The highlanders who live in the hills portion of the kingdom were the Pnar, the War, the Biate/Beate of Saipung, and the Hadem of Saitsama (Mohrmen H.H., Cultural History of Jañtia in Stories Stones and Traditions unpublished yet). The hills were the ancestral home of the later kings of Jayantia, which belong to the tribal group called the Pnar or the Synteng, and the plains country was annexed at a later period. But it was the latter track, which was first known as Jayantia and which is considered to have a history that dates back to ancient times.
When did the two Kingdoms merge?
The common conjecture was that like many flourishing and advanced Hindu kingdoms in ancient times, Jayantia kingdom was also demolished by tribal chiefs who defeated them and established themselves in the new territory. In his History of Assam, Gait suggests that it was Prabhat Rai who, though not the founder of the Hills dynasty, extended the kingdom to the plains. Prabhat Rai was the ruler of the hill kingdom which the hills people called ‘Ka hima Sutnga.’ Prabhat Rai is certainly not a tribal name, so it was suggested that the name Prabhat Rai, which means the Lord of the Hills, was given to tribal chiefs by plains people (Dutta S.K. Introduction, the Jayanti Buranji English Translation 2022). While the tribal narrative was that the Sutnga kingdom, after defeating the neighbouring chiefs had ruled over almost all the villages in the region and became very powerful. They went for an expedition to the plains, and one of the kingdoms that they invaded was Jayantia, located at the foothills. The tribal Sutnga kings, who extended their domain from the hills to the plains and who were also still backward then, moved their capital to Jayantiapur, which is more advanced and has progressed in every aspect.
Conclusion: The Jayantia Buranji has provided a wealth of information about the Jayantia kingdom and its relationship with the Ahom kings in particular; hopefully, more work is done to bring to light the history of the kingdom.


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