The Baro-Bhuyans were warrior chiefs and landlords (zamindars) of medieval Assam and Bengal who maintained a loose independent confederacy. In times of aggression by external powers, they generally cooperated in defending and expelling the aggressor. In times of peace, they maintained their respective sovereignty. In the presence of a strong king, they offered their allegiance. Baro denotes the number twelve, but in general there were more than twelve chiefs or landlords, and the word baro meant many.
In Assam, the Baro-Bhuyans occupied the region west of the Kachari kingdom in the south bank of the Brahmaputra river, and west of the Chutiya kingdom in the north bank. They were instrumental in defending against aggressors from Bengal, especially in defeating the remnant of Alauddin Husain Shah's administration after 1498. They also resisted the emergence of the Koch dynasty but failed. Subsequently, they were squeezed between the Kachari kingdom and the Kamata kingdom in the south bank and slowly overpowered by the expanding Ahom kingdom in the north.
In Bengal, the Bhuyans put up strong resistance to the Mughals during the time of Akbar and Jahangir. During the interregnum between Afghan rule and the rise of Mughal power in Bengal, various parts of Bengal passed to the control of several military chiefs, Bhuiyans and zamindars. They jointly resisted Mughal expansion and ruled their respective territories as independent or semi-independent chiefs. There was no central control, or if there was any, it was nominal.
These landlords did not belong to any particular ethnicity, religion or caste.
Baro-Bhuyans of Assam
The Baro-Bhuyans of Assam can be divided into two major groups: the southern and the northern groups.
The Southern group
The southern group of Baro-Bhuyans had ensconced themselves between the Kachari kingdom in the east and the Kamata kingdom in the west on the south bank of the Brahmaputra river. According to biographical literature of the Ekasarana Dharma, the group was formed when due to a treaty sometime in the middle of the 14th century between Dharmanarayana of Gauda and Durlabhnarayan of Kamarupa-Kamata, a group of seven Kayastha and seven Brahmin families were transferred to Langamaguri, a few miles north of present-day Guwahati. The leader, or shiromani, of this group was Candivara, who had settled in Gauda after his emigration from Kannauj in present-day Uttar Pradesh. Candivara and his group did not stay in Lengamaguri for long, and moved soon to Srimanta Sankardeva.
This group of Baro-Bhuyans was instrumental in ending the rule of Alauddin Husain Shah of Gauda who had displaced Nilambar the ruler of Kamata in 1498. But very soon the rise of Viswa Singha of the Koch dynasty in Kamata squeezed them against the Kacharis in the west. They had to relocate to the north bank of the Brahmaputra in the first quarter of the 16th century, to a region west of the Bor Baro-Bhuyan group. The increasing Koch and Ahom conflicts further ate away at their independence and sovereignty.
The Northern group
The origin of the northern group is shrouded in mystery. The original group is often referred to as the Adi Bhuyan, or the progenitor Bhuyans. The Adi-Bhuyans are said to have been already ensconced in the region west of the Chutiya kingdom when Sukapha established the Ahom kingdom in 1228. According to legend two brothers, Santanu and Sumanta, had twelve sons each and they formed the original Bor Baro-Bhuyan and Saru Baro-Bhuyan. The Saru Baro-Bhuyans emigrated to the Nagaon district soon after. The Bar Baro-Bhuyans fought with and withstood the mights of the Chutiya as well as the Kachari kingdoms. They soon came into conflict with the Ahoms, and were forced to subjugate themselves. They joined the Ahom king Suhungmung's expeditions against the Chutiya and the Kachari kingdoms. Pleased with their help, the Baro-Bhuyans were established as tributary feudal landlords in the north bank. One of the leaders of this group of Baro-Bhuyans, Lecham Kalita was entrusted with the administration of the Marangi area after the defeat and withdrawal of the Kacharis from Dimapur. This administrative post later on came to be known as the Morongi-khowa Gohain and was passed on to the Ahom nobility.
The Saru Bhuyans trace the genealogy of Candivara to Kanvajara, the eldest son of Sumanta, but this is not given credence.
Baro-Bhuyans of Bengal
One group of scholars says the term Baro-Bhuiyan mean exactly twelve Bhuiyans or chiefs. They applied the term Baro-Bhuiyans to those who fought for the freedom of their motherland. This view was later modified by another group of scholars to say that only those Bhuiyans who fought against Mughal aggression were known as Baro-Bhuiyans. Even the fighters against the Mughals were many more than twelve, so this group also failed to identify the Baro-Bhuyans.
In recent years, the question of identification of the Baro-Bhuyans has been studied afresh and they have been identified more or less satisfactorily. Modern scholars have found that the Baro-Bhuyans flourished during the chaotic period of Afghan rule and the period of the conquest of Bengal by the Mughal emperors Akbar and Jahangir. So the Baro-Bhuyans received proper treatment from the Mughal historians, Abul Fazl, the author of the Akbarnamah, and Bhati and they rose to power in Bhati. But the identification of Bhati is not an easy task.
On the basis of the confusing statements of the European writers, previous scholars also were in confusion about the identification of Bhati. The Baro-Bhuiyans fought against the Mughals in the reigns of emperors Akbar and Jahangir, and they submitted within a few years of Jahangir's accession. So Bhati of the Baro-Bhuyans may be identified with the help of the Mughal histories, mainly the Akbarnama, the Ain-e-Akbari and the Baharistan-i-Ghaibi. In Bengal the word Bhati generally means low land and the entire low-lying area of Bengal is Bhati. It is a riverine country, and most of it remains inundated for more than half of the year; the mighty rivers the Ganges, the Brahmaputra and their numerous branches wash and water the whole of eastern and southern Bengal.
Modern scholars have, therefore, suggested that different low-lying areas of Bengal should be identified with Bhati. Some say that the whole of the low-lying tract from the Bhagirathi to the Meghna is Bhati, some others include in Bhati Hijli, Jessore, Comilla and Ganges, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna and their numerous branches constituted Bhati in the days of Akbar and Jahangir.
Mughal historians, Abul Fazl and Mirza Nathan, state the number of Bhuyans as twelve, but it should be remembered that the Baro-Bhuyans of the time of Akbar were not the same as those of the time of Jahangir, because some died in the intervening period. For example, Isa Khan, who fought against Akbar, died in his reign and was succeeded by his son Musa Khan, who took up leadership in the reign of Jahangir. Some Haji Shamsuddin Baghdadi. In both the above lists though, there are thirteen names. Actually they were thirteen including the leader, and in fact both Abul Fazl and Mirza Nathan, while referring to the Baro-Bhuyans, wrote, 'Isa Khan made the 12 zamindars of Bengal subject to himself', and elsewhere Mirza Nathan wrote 'Musa Khan and his 12 zamindar allies'.
Rise and Fall
The Baro-Bhuyians gained strength during the chaotic conditions prevailing in eastern Bengal following the disruption of the two-hundred-year old independent sultanate in 1538 AD. Sher Shah conquered Gaur, the capital of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah and placed the city under his governors, but could not consolidate his power throughout Bengal. There are examples of at least three rebellions against him by the supporters of the supplanted ruling dynasty. In fact, the riverine tract of Bengal was always a headache to the central government. To solve the problem, Sher Shah divided Bengal into a number of smaller units, because, he thought, the rulers of smaller units would not have the power to rise against the central authority. The decentralisation had its demerits also. If the rulers of smaller units had not the power to rise against the central government, they had also no power to oppose the rebels. That Sher Shah's policy of decentralisation had this bad effect is proved by the several rebellions in eastern Bengal against him. The Afghan historians described this state of affairs by using the term Muluk-ut-tawaif, which means disorder, chaos and disintegration.
The chaotic condition did not end with the foundation of an independent Sur dynasty under Orissa, came to Bengal.
Traversing through Ahom king, which effectively ended their sovereignty.
The Baro-Bhuyans were not the scions of any royal family, they were zamindars or landholders. They were patriots who resisted the Mughal advance for three decades. After 1612 when Islam Khan Chishti forced them to submit, the term Baro-Bhuyans survived only in popular tales and ballads.
- ^ (Neog 1980:49f)
- ^ (Neog 1980:41). Candivara was originally from Kanaujpura, who emigrated to a region of Gaur then under the control of Dharmanarayana c1353. He along with seven Kayastha and seven Brahman families were settled in Lenamaguri near Guwahati according to a settlement between Dharmanarayana and Durlabhnarayana of Kamata.
- Neog, M (1992), "Origin of the Baro-Bhuyans", in Barpujari, H. K., The Comprehensive History of Assam, 2, Guwahati: Assam Publication Board, pp. 62–66
- Neog, M (1980), Early History of the Vaisnava Faith and Movement in Assam, Delhi: Motilal Banarasidass
- NK Bhattasali, 'Bengal Chiefs Struggle for Independence in the Reign of Akbar and Jahangir',
- Bengal Past and Present, XXXV - XXXVIII, 1928–29; JN Sarkar (ed),
- History of Bengal, II, Dhaka 1948; Satish Chandra Mitra,
- Joshohar Khulnar Itihas, II, Calcutta, 1965; A Karim,
- History of Bengal, Mughal Period, I, Rajshahi, 1992.