The Ancestors of the Saint- The 'Bara Bhuyans'

The following passages on "The Baro-Bhuyans" are an (edited) excerpt from 'A History of Assam' by Sir Edward Gait. In this discussion, the author attempts to reconstruct the genealogy and the history of the ancestors of the saint, drawing upon different literary sources.

Independent Chiefs

“ West of the Kacharis on the south bank (of the Brahmaputra), and of the Chutiya on the north, were a number of petty chiefs called Bhuiyas (or Bhuyans - ed) . These chiefs were independent of the others within his own domain. But they seem to have been in the habit of joining their forces whenever they were threatened by a common enemy. The boundary between the tract ruled by these Bhuiyas and the kingdom of Kamarupa doubtless varied from time to time; a powerful prince would bring many of them under his control, but they would again become independent when this sceptre passed into the hands of a weaker ruler.

Twelve ( 'Bara' ) Chiefs ( 'Bhuyan' ) ?

The chiefs are well remembered in Assam legends as the 'Baro (twelve) Bhuiya' (or 'Bara Bhuyan'), a title which was formerly supposed to indicate a connection with the aboriginal tribe of the same designation in Chota Nagpur. This of course is not the case as the late Dr. Wise has clearly shown. In connection with Eastern Bengal, where there was also in former times a group of chiefs bearing the same title,that in this connection, the word 'Bhuiya' or 'Bhuiyan' (or 'Bhuyan') has nothing to do with caste, but is merely derived from the Sanskrit equivalent ( 'Bhaumika' ) of the Persian word 'Zamindar'.

Mystery of the number 'twelve'

It is not clear why the number twelve should always be associated with them, both in Bengal and Assam. Whenever they are enumerated, twelve persons are always mentioned, but the actual names vary, just as in the case of the Muhammedan 'Punch Pir', different saints are counted by different people. It seems to have been the practice in this part of India for kings to appoint twelve advisers or governors.. Nara Narayan had twelve ministers of state; twelve chiefs or dolois administered the hilly portion of the Raja of Jaintia's dominions, and there were twelve State councillors in Nepal. The number may thus have become connected in the minds of the people with all dignitaries ranking next to a Raja, and so have come to be used in a purely conventional sense.

Various Versions

There are various stories regarding the Baro Bhuiyan, but it would be useless to try and reconcile them. The Bhuiyas who were ruling north of the Brahmaputra and east of the Chutiya kingdom at the time when the Ahoms entered Assam claimed to be the descendants of Samudra, the minister of Arimatta who it is said,seized the throne on the expulsion of Arimatta's son Ratna Singh. Samudra was succeeded by his son Manohar, and the latter's daughter Lakshmi gained the love of the Sun God, by whom she had two sons, Santanu and Sumanta. The former became a Vaishnava by sect and the latter a Sakta; they accordingly separated, Santanu and his son going to Rampur in Nowgong, while Sumanta remained at Lakshimpur, the place from which the modern district of Lakhimpur takes its name. His sons succeeded there, and maintained their independence against the Kachari king who then ruled in central Assam and the Chutiya king of Sadiya. They were eventually defeated by the Ahoms. One of Santanu's descendants named Rajdhar settled at Bardowa in Nowgong; and his son Kusumvar, was the father of the great religious reformer Sankaradeva

The Widely Accepted Version

In the Guru Charitra ( or, Guru carit ), and also in the Sankar Charitra, another version is given of origin of the Baro Bhuiyan of Nowgong. A Raja of the Kamatapur, named Durlabh Narayan, who went to war with another Raja named Dharma Narayan, who styled himself Gauresvar, or Lord of Gaur. This title was often claimed by quite petty chiefs, and in the eighth and ninth centuries there were at times as many as six princelings in North Bengal all calling themselves Gauresvar simultaneously. Gaur was also the ancient name of the modern district of Sylhet. It is thus impossible to say when Dharma Narayan ruled, but the story goes that when peace was concluded he sent seven families of Brahmans and seven families of Kayasthas to Durlabh, who settled them on the frontier, as wardens of the marches, and gave them lands and slaves. The ablest of them was a Kayastha named Chandivar, who became their leader. Their headquarters were at Paimaguri, where they earned the gratitude of the people by erecting a bund. Subsequently, the Bhutiyas raided and carried off a number of people, including the son of Chandivar, but the latter with the Bhuiyas, followed the raiders and rescued the captives. He subsequently settled at Bardowa in Nagaon , where his great grandson Sankaradeva was born.

( this is the version which is held to be the authentic one by the Vaisnava scholars in Assam - ed )

Other Bhuyans..

When the Koch kings rose to power, they subdued a number of local chiefs who ruled the country between the Sankosh and the Bar Nadi. But these, though also called Bhuiyas, were not in any way connected with those whose traditional origin has been narrated above.”

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