Every once a while, the open road brings surprises that tend to amaze us and reminds us of a time long forgotten. And through this road, we get a glimpse of life – ever moving and filled with a bewildering diversity of all things, man-made and God-made. On one such day, I had embarked on a small road trip towards Upper Assam. After having driven for about two hours and crossing many tea gardens, I had reached my destination. At first glance, Sivasagar seems rather like any other ordinary Indian town. And unless you have done your research, you might just end up crossing the town, without even realizing what you have missed.
For once upon a time during the medieval ages, it was the bustling capital city of the mighty Ahom dynasty – which ruled over a kingdom that consisted of the dense jungles and high mountains of the Brahmaputra Valley. The Ahoms are originally thought to have migrated from the Yunnan province of China. They were brilliant warriors who managed to rule the seven sisters for more than 600 mighty years – having defeated the Mughals in all the thirteen wars fought. They had that sophistication needed for appreciating beauty and arts, which they excelled at, by building monuments which can be considered as architectural wonders. But their biggest gift to the region was education – in the form of arts, drama, music, dance, philosophy, weaving and handicrafts.
Driving around, I ended up visiting the town’s most remarkable spot – a huge 130-acre man-made water-tank, more than 200 year old, from which the town gets its name. The extraordinary fact about this tank is that even though it is situated in the middle of the town, the water level remains at a higher level than that of the rest of the town. On the banks of this water body, can be found three ancient temples – Siva Dol, Vishnu Dol and Devi Dol. Tall and towering, they dominate the entire landscape. The more prominent central temple is devoted to Lord Shiva, while the other two are dedicated to Lord Vishnu and Goddess Durga. Another remarkable thing about this temple is that it has been made up of duck eggs and rice paste along with other indigenous items.
My next stop was Rang Ghar – a rather bizarre looking double-storied structure, like a royal pavilion. The roof resembled the shape of an inverted boat with crocodile like endings. The pavilion was used by the Ahom kings to watch animal and bird fights, and cultural performances. It astonished me to see such a marvellous and unique piece of architecture. Not only is the complexity of the structure very intriguing, but the symmetrical perfection also adds to the beauty of the structure.
A few kilometres away, another red-lit structure stands ground. The Talatal Ghar is a multi-storied structure – with four stories above ground and three stories underground. This palace of the Ahom kings looks like a confusing maze. Tunnels crisscross the corridors and the rooms, resembling the patterns of a chess board. The intricate details of the structure give the impression that the Ahoms were firm believers in perfection. Another intriguing fact about the structure is that it has two secret underground tunnels that connect it to the nearby Dikhow River and the Garhgaon Palace. These passages were used as an escape route, for emergencies like enemy attacks.
As usual, the sinking sun had painted the sky with a shade I had never seen before. I felt nostalgic and somehow close to the ancestors of the land I live in. I waited till it was just about dark. Above me, the stars had arrived for their nightly show, and ahead lay the future – of dreams, aspirations, memories and life. And with the roar of my car engine, I silently sped my way back into the tea gardens; towards that comfort of a home.
By Vaivhav Todi