Rock inscriptions at Umachal in Guwahati | Photos: Barasha Das

Guwahati or Pragjyotishpura as an ancient city needs no further introduction. The reliable history of Guwahati (then Pragjyotishpura) begins with the foundation of the Varman Dynasty (4th–7th century AD); but it finds mentions in various Sanskrit texts such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Yogini Tantra and various ancient Puranas.

And although the present city is spread across a larger area, and continues to sprawl, the earliest settlements in Guwahati, during this period, were primarily confined to the area around Nilanchal and Ambari on the banks of the river Brahmaputra.

Even when Guwahati’s significance as a political hub waned, particularly as the capital of the emerging Salastambha Dynasty (7th–10th century AD) shifted to Haruppeswara (present-day Tezpur), Guwahati continued to expand along the riverside, extending towards Sukresvar and Uzanbazar. Nilanchala and Ambari though retained their importance.

The city experienced a revival of its former prominence when the first ruler of the subsequent Pala Dynasty relocated the capital back to the original site of Pragjyotishpura (Guwahati) and its surrounding areas. The capital was subsequently fortified and named Durjaya, meaning impregnable.

Following the Pala Dynasty (10th–12th Century AD), the kingdom of Kamrupa (Assam) underwent fragmentation into smaller principalities, occupied by Tai-Ahoms, Bodos, Chautiyas, Kacharis, and Bhuyans, thereby impacting the city’s political standing. Subsequently, Guwahati and surrounding areas became a battleground during the Ahom–Mughal conflict (1615–1682), fostering significant cultural exchanges with the Mughals.

The period between the 13th to 17th Century AD marked the declining role of the city as the capital and, its transformation into an important administrative and military seat with the introduction of a well-designed administrative system (Paike system22) by the Ahoms who emerged as a new authority.

By the turn of the 17th century, medieval Guwahati had evolved into a walled fortress, accessed through gates termed “duar” or “chowki.” However, internal dissensions within the Ahom kingdom weakened this fortified city, leading to a series of invasions from the east; and Assam fell under Burmese rule from 1819 to 1824, resulting in the city’s eventual ruin.

Rock inscriptions scattered across the city holds evidence of his past grandeur through different dynasties. Three such inscriptions rest on the foothills of the Nilachal Hill, overlooked by today’s bustling city, their historical significance forgotten despite being in plain view.

Following the ancient footsteps

While travelling from Maligaon towards Bharalu, there’s a rock inscription under a tin shed on the left just before reaching the Kamakhya junction. It is the “Duargorila Rock Inscription” on the foothill of Nilachal Hill.

Duargarila rock inscription
Duargarila rock inscription

This was the western gateway of Guwahati city at the time of the Ahom kingdom. This rock inscription was inscribed by Panidihingiya Barphukan or Debera Barphukan, on behalf of King Siva Singha (1714— 1744 CE). He was the general and provincial governor of lower Assam. The epigraph is inscribed in Saka 1654 (1732 CE). The inscription informs about the construction of a gateway (dwara/duar) measuring 152 dhamus, a moat measuring 222 dhamus for Pragjyotishpura, and a rampart along with the moat at the site. The materials used for the construction of the rampart were earth, stone, and bricks.

Another rock inscription on the Nilachal foothills is the “Persian Rock Inscription”, located adjacent to the Mekhela Ujuwa Path, near the Viswakarma Temple.

Persian rock inscription
Persian rock inscription

It is in Arabic script; engraved in two lines in letters datable to the late medieval period. It reads- “A Prophet who shows path to the pathless is alive (here)”.

The third is the “Umachal Rock Inscription” as it was discovered near the Umachal Ashram on the north-eastern slope of the Nilachal Hill, towards Kalipur near Bhutnath. It is halfway through the staircase leading to the Kalipur Yogic Ashram.

The inscription is predicted to be from the late 4th or early half of the 5th century. It consists of four lines. With respect to paleography and style, this inscription has a close resemblance to the Barganga inscription of Bhutivarma (518-42 AD); but the inscription is supposed to be of an even earlier period. It is the plaque of an artificial cave or cave temple constructed by Maharajadhiraja Surendravarma of the Bhauma-Naraka Dynasty.

Discovered in 1955 by RM Nath, the then principal of the Assam Civil Engineering Institute, Gauhati, the inscription is considered the earliest so far discovered in Assam.

Although all the three rock inscriptions are acknowledged by the Archeological Survey of India (ASI), lack of maintenance has led to rapid degradation. Without proper signage such important pieces of Guwahati’s history remains hidden in plain view while it could have been important destinations for archeology enthusiasts.

Scattered on the foothills of the Nilachal Hill, that hosts numerous archeological findings apart from the many ancient temples including the Kamakhya, the hill and is surrounding areas is apt to be developed for archeological or heritage walks; especially attracting tourists.

(References: The history is taken from a research paper by AK Das and Shruti Hemani; the details of the rock inscription are collected from ASI).

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About Barasha Das


Barasha Das is a journalist working in Northeast India region.