The Ahoms were primarily descendants of Tai who are found all over China, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. The culture they follow is pretty much a mix of the original Tai culture, Tibetan, Burmese and elements of Hinduism. The Ahoms assimilated into Hinduism, adopted many native Indian practices, retaining some of the original Tai traditions too. They practice a kind of Hinduism that is more based on their Furalung religion, which does not believe in a specific God. Basically the belief system states that Fra, the cornerstone of Furalung, is nothing and yet is everything. Gods and Goddesses are basically Great men and women, so in a way Fra symbolizes the nature.
For a long time, Ahoms buried their dead, in coffin like boxes called Maidam, however their ruler Swargdeo Rajeshwar Singha, adopted cremation, with the funerary rites, conducted by a Maithili Brahmin priest. Like Hindus, ancestor worship is prevalent among Ahoms. The belief is that ancestors must be worshipped as it is they who protect the household. Festivals like Bihu, marriages, harvesting season is the time, when ancestral spirits have to be invoked.
Ahom kingdom was established in 1228 by Chaolung Sukaphaa, regarded as its founder. It’s believed he was a descendant of the god Khunlung, and during reign of Suhungmung, his origin was more explicitly described as bringing the divine diamond chum-Phra-rung-sheng-mung in a box, a divine elephant, the divine chicken Kaichengmung and the divine sword Hengdan.
While there are conflicting versions of his origin, and early life, before he came to Assam, what most agree upon is that he was a Tai prince, who had to leave his native Mong Mao( now the region lying on the boundary between China and Myanmar) after he crossed 19 years. Sukhapa’s father Chao Chang Nyeu, was a prince of the neighboring Mong Ri kingdom, who travelled to Mong Mao on an expedition, and made friends with Pao Me Pung, the prince there. Chao Chang married Me Pung’s sister Blak Kham Sen, and Sukhapa was bought up by his maternal grandparents. With Pao Me Pung, having no male heir, Sukhapa was slated to succeed him, however with the queen giving birth late to a son, his claim was overruled. He left Chieng-Sen, the capital of Mong Mao in 1215, on the advice of his maternal grandmother who said “no two tigers live in the same jungle”.
Travelling with his 3 queens, 2 sons and a daughter, along with dependent chiefs from 5 Mongs, priests and soldiers he headed a large contingent of around 9000 which also had 300 horses and 2 elephants. An epic journey it was travelling along the older route from Yunnan to Assam that passed through the Upper Irawady river valley and in 1227 reached the Nangyang Lake, where he subjugated the Nagas after a fierce battle. Leaving it in charge of Kan-Khrang-Mong, he crossed the Patkai hills via the Pangsau Pass , and reached Namrup, now an industrial township in Assam’s Dibrugarh disrict, on the Disang River in the Brahmaputra Valley. This journey took around 13 years, and December 2, 1228 is considered as the year of the founding of the Ahom kingdom, the State Govt celebrates this as Sukhapa Diwas or Asom Divas.
At Namrup, he bridged the Sessa River, and went upstream looking for a colony for wet rice cultivation. However not finding any such place, he went downstream to Tipam. However the continous flooding of the Brahmaputra, meant he had to keep moving from place to place, and he finally settled at Charaideo in 1253, which would be the first capital of the Ahom kingdom. Though the Ahom capital kept changing later, Charaiedo (now near Sibsagar) remained the symbolic center of the kingdom. All the Ahom rulers were burried there, in mound shaped structures called the maidams. In a sense these were like the pyramids of Egypt, and are pretty much worth a visit.
Sukhapa began the process of Ahomization, as he encouraged his nobles and soldiers to intermingle the local Barahi, Moran tribes, marrying their women. He introduced the techniques of wet rice cultivation, as also the Ahom administrative structure. In fact Assam is believed to have got it’s name from Ha Cham, which is what the Barahi, Moran tribes called Sukhapa’s people. Again this is one of the numerous theories about the etymology of Assam. He also established 3 large wet rice cultivation farms with the help of local tribes called Barakhowakhat, Engerakhat and Gachikalakhat.
Sukhapa passed away in 1268, but he laid down the foundation and principles of the Ahom kingdom, as also their society and culture. At his death, the kingdom stretched from Brahmaputra in the West to the Naga hills in the East, and from Disang River in North to Dikhow River in South.