Dip Kumar Kalita
(The writer can be reached at email@example.com)
The Duars (Gateway)
The name Darrang seems to have originated from the Sanskrit word 'Dwaram' which means a 'Duar' or a pass. In the past, there were some fixed Duars on the northern side of the district from which the various hill tribes descended to the plains from the Himalayan ranges. Some of the areas still have a suffix 'Duar' to their names and one of the six passes on the northern side of the present district is called 'Khaling Duar'. Another possible origin of the name is the word 'Devaranga' which means the playground of Devas. There are several places in the district like Athrikhat, Khalingduar, Dhwalpur, Markandasram etc., show their ancient association with the mythic sages like Markedeya, Kaulinya, Atri, Yagyabalka etc.
The name, Mangaldai is, however, traced to 'Mangola Devi', the daughter of Koch king 'Lakshminarayana', who was married to the 'Ahom' king 'Pratapsingha'. In Yogini Tantra, mention is also made of the river Mangala which is again referred to as Su-Mangala in the Kalikapurana. It is thus possible that the name Mangaldai is derived from the river Mangala Devi. However, a parallel and equally convincing theory says that the name was derived from the native Bodo dialect, where Mangal means pure and Dai means water.
In 1826 Darrang, like the rest of Assam passed into the hands of the British after the 'Treaty of Yandabu'. Having established their authority, the company Government began the work of reconstructions and in 1833, Darrang became a district with Mangaldai as its headquarters. In 1835, the headquarters was shifted to Tezpur. The same position was maintained until 1983.
The undivided district of Darrang comprising the present Bishwanath, Sonitpur, Udalguri and Darrang districts, derives its name as per the Resettlement Report of 1927-1932, from the term 'Desh Darrang' which in the medieval period, formed a tributary kingdom of the Koach under the Ahoms. According to Lt. James Mathie, the then principal assistant of undivided Darrang (1835-36) the term 'Darrang' was composed of two Tai Ahom words viz 'Dur' and 'Rung' had combined to form the word 'Durrang' or 'Darrang' which in Tai language means 'Land of Flood'.
There were as many as twenty-two 'Duars' (Gates) within the jurisdiction of the Darrang district, viz. Khilling, Burigooma, Kuriapara, Chariduar, Na-duar and Chaiduar etc. From the earlier record, it is found that the traders from the plains of Assam used to trade in Nepal, Bhutan, Tibet and China through the mountain passes of these nearby hills. In Assam, such mountain passes were generally known as 'Duar' meaning a door, a gateway, a passage.
The neighbouring hill tribes of undivided Darrang, the Bhutiyas alone possesses an organised Government. Other hill tribes like the Akas, Dafalas, Miris have no such organised governments or well-defined states or territory. They were administered by their respective chiefs called Gam, except the Bhutiyas, no hill tribes could exercise any organized authority over the Duar areas. The Bhutiyas, since the days of the Ahom King 'Joydhavaj Singha', used to managed authority over these Duars of Darrang for eight months in a year.
To establish their claims over the Duars, the Deva Raja of Bhutan appointed some officers to administer the Duar areas during this period. The duties of these Bhutiya officers were to conduct both civil and judicial affairs in their respective divisions. The Bhutanese Government had not paid any salary to them, but they were allowed to receive fines for any crimes committed by a person in their jurisdiction. The revenues were realized in kinds that have been fixed by the Deva Raja of Bhutan. It is interesting that most of these Bhutanese officers thus appointed were from the Kacharis or the Assamese people of the plains. Among them, one prominent officer was Gambhir Uzir who belongs from Kachari. To look after the rules and regulations the Bhutiya Raja appointed a provincial governor called 'Penlow' to whom the Duar administration was entrusted.
Another Bhutiya Duar 'Kuriapara' was administered by the Towing Raja a tribal chief immediately dependent upon Lassa (capital of Tibet). For administrative purpose, during this period the Duars was divided into seven sub-divisions, each placed under the management of seven junior Bhutiya chiefs popularly known as 'Sath-Rajas'. Among the Bhutiya chiefs in the Chariduar area were 'Sherdukpan' and 'Tebengia Bhutiya' the 'Akas' and a few 'Daffalas' (Nyishi) also used to come down to the plains of Darrang. Ahom king Pratap Singha (1603-1631) on political ground granted 'Posa' to the Chariduar Bhutiyas, the Akas and a few Daffalas. The Akas were of two class viz. 'Hazarikhowas' and 'Kopachors'. The Hazarikhowas had the right to collect Posa (revenue) from the Ryots of Chariduar areas. The leaders of the Kopachor Akas were called 'Thagi Raja' who committed robberies and murders in the plains several times. Under the 'Posa system' the 'Hazarikhowa's were entitled to receive from each house of the 'Bahatiya-paiks; one portion of female dress one bundle of cotton thread, one bundle of handkerchiefs, a small portion of rice, salt, cattle's etc. During the period there was no conflict between the Ahoms and the Hazarikhowa Akas throughout the Ahoms rule.
Unlike the Akas, the Daffalas were also allowed to collect 'Posa' from the Assamese Ryots of Chariduar, Na-duar and Chaiduar. There were two hundred and thirty-eight Daffala Gums or chiefs and form an oligarchical government. The Ahom king tried to make peace with these Daffala chiefs by giving them the right to collect 'Posa' from some Assamese people residing nearby Gohain-Kamal Ali known as Bhatia better known as Daffala-Bhatiyas (serfs of the Daffalas) formed an independent unit called Khel, and were put under an Ahom officer known as Daffalaporia Phukan, Daffala-Zamader and Daffala-Kataky etc.
In the early 19th century according to the British, the Daffalas were entitled through this system to collect 'Posa' from each ten Bhatia houses one Borkapur, one Gamosa (napkin), one Hachati (handkerchief), one Dao (long knife), four kg of salt and ten heads of horned cattle etc.
Thus, the Ahom Kings tried to maintain friendly relations with the neighbouring hill tribes who frequented the plains through the Duars and tried to safeguard the Assamese subjects from their atrocities. So, the Ahom Kings policy towards the hill tribes was one of the appeasements. Yet the hill tribes specially the Daffalas used to come down to the plains of Assam nearby the foothills area and plundered the villages and even took the Assamese subjects as their slaves. Several Ahom King had taken aggressive campaigns against the hill tribes. It was Ahom king Pratap Singha who for the first time had engaged the Katakis to maintain diplomatic relations with the Daffalas.
Heritage tourism involves visiting historic landmarks and locations that are of particular significance to people from certain cultures. In some instances, heritage tourism may entail visiting a modern community in which people live and work in a traditional manner that is associated with their culture. The Duars area is the assimilating point of different ethnic communities (such as Bodo, Nepali, Nishi, Garo, Assamese, Adivasi, Mishing, Mech Kachari etc, hence it is the place of prevailing cultural diversity among the communities. During the British period Chariduar, Naduar and Chaiduar area were amalgamated and formed 'Balipara Frontier Tract' in 1937 under the jurisdiction of 'Assistant Political Officer'. Some of the historic buildings, cultural traits of the surrounding community enhance heritage tourism in the Chariduar area of Sonitpur district of Assam.