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The Baro-Bhuyans (spelled variously as Baro-Bhunias etc.) were Muslim and Hindu warrior chiefs and landlords (zamindars) in medieval Bengal and Assam who maintained a loosely 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. In general, they were in control of a group of villages, called cakala, and the more powerful among them called themselves raja. Baro denotes the number twelve, but in general there were more than twelve chiefs or landlords, and the word baro meant many. Thus, Bhuyan-raj denoted individual Bhuyanship, whereas Baro-Bhuyan denoted temporary confederacies that they formed.
The system of Baro-Bhuyan confederacy is a relic of the erstwhile Kamarupa kingdom. The "parcelization" of power, which was an effect of settling North Indian adventurers, became prominent during the 9th century reign of Balavarman III of the Mlechchha dynasty. Whereas the central Kamarupa kingdom fragmented, the system of small chieftains remained. In Bengal as in Assam, the Baro-Bhuyans are found in regions within the traditional boundaries of the Kamarupa kingdom.
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 Sutiya 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.
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 Adi Bhuyan or the eastern group and the western groups.
The Adi Bhuyan 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 Sutiya kingdom when Sukaphaa 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 might of the Sutiya as well as the Kachari kingdoms. They joined the Ahom king Suhungmung's expeditions against the Sutiya and the Kachari kingdoms. Pleased with their help, the Baro-Bhuyans were established as tributary feudal landlords in the north bank. During the first expedition of Chilarai against the Ahom kingdom, aligned with the Ahoms (which Chilarai lost), but during the second expedition they aligned with the Koches (which Chilarai won). This group was finally subjugated by Prataap Singha in 1623, who relocated them to the south bank of the Brahmaputra.
The Saru Bhuyans, who had moved west after the conflict with the Bor Baro-Bhuyans trace the genealogy of Candivara to Kanvajara, the eldest son of Sumanta, but this is not given credence.
The Western group
One of the earliest evidence of Bhuyans in western Brahmaputra valley comes from the Raut-Kuchi grant (1329) of Purushottam Das The later 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 Neog, the leader (shiromani) of the group, Chandivara, was originally a ruler of Kannauj, who had to flee due to Firuz Shah Tughlaq's 1353 campaign against Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah and reached Gauda, the domain of Dharmanarayana. As a result of a treaty between Dharmanarayana and Durlabhnarayana of Kamata kingdom, a group of seven Kayastha and seven Brahmin families led by Candivara was transferred to Langamaguri, a few miles north of present-day Guwahati. Candivara and his group did not stay in Lengamaguri for long as it was frequently inundated by the Brahmaputra and because depredations by the Bhutiyas, and moved soon to Bordowa in present-day Nagaon district with the support of Durlabhnarayana. Among the descendants of Candivara was Srimanta Sankardeva. A second group of five Bhuyans joined the Candivara group later.
In due course, members of these Bhuyans became powerful. Alauddin Husain Shah, who ended the Khen dynasty by displacing Nilambar in 1498, extended his rule up to the Barnadi river by defeating Harup Narayan who was a descendant of Gandharva-raya, a Bhuyan from the second group established by Durlabhnarayana at Bausi (Chota raja of Bausi), among others. The Baro-Bhuyans retaliated and were instrumental in ending the rule of Alauddin Husain Shah via his son Danial. But very soon, the rise of Viswa Singha of the Koch dynasty in Kamata destroyed their hold in Kamrup and squeezed those in the Nagaon region against the Kacharis to their east. 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.
- Guha, Amalendu (1983). "The Ahom Political System: An Enquiry into the State Formation Process in Medieval Assam". Social Scientist (Social Scientist) 11 (12): 3–34. doi:10.2307/3516963. JSTOR 3516963.
- Lahiri, Nayanjot (1984). "The Pre-Ahom Roots of Medieval Assam". Social Scientist (Social Scientist) 12 (6): 60–69. JSTOR 3517004.
- Nath, D (1989), History of the Koch Kingdom: 1515-1615, Delhi: Mittal Publications
- 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