Sivasagar: A Glimpse into Indian History

During my childhood, I fondly remember the rhythmic hum of the car tires on the road as we journeyed from Dibrugarh to Dispur, or vice versa, gazing out at the enchanting historical sites of Sivasagar. The grandeur and intricate design of these structures fascinated me, a captivating allure heightened by their enduring presence through the ages. Amidst these historical wonders, my mother would share vivid anecdotes, and I can still feel the warmth of her words as she painted tales of Joimoti Konwari, infusing those car rides with a timeless connection to our heritage.

A chronicle of Sivasagar might not have appeared in your history textbooks. The town might not be on your travel itinerary. Nonetheless, without a background or visit to this understated town in Assam, your knowledge of and experience in northeast India will be fragmented.

Sivasagar was the capital of the Ahom Kingdom between 1699 and 1788. Prior to this, tribal settlements of Bodo races and Varman rulers occupied this region. The Ahom dynasty ruled the Ahom Kingdom [present day Assam] from 1228 to 1826. A little known fact about Indian history is that the Ahoms defeated the Mughals in 17 major conflicts [between 1615 through 1682] and the Battle of Itakhuli in 1682 is celebrated as a pivotal moment in Assamese history, symbolizing the resilience and valor of the Ahom people against external threats.

This Pxley story does not cover all of the historical sites in and around Sivasagar, but rather focuses on a select few to showcase the region's rich history, heritage, architecture, and archaeology.

View of Sivasagar Tank

Sivasagar Tank

In 1734, Queen Ambika dug a tank in the Ahom capital Rangpur in memory of her husband King Siva Singha. Shiva Dol, Vishnu Dol, and Devi Dol were three temples constructed on the banks of the tank. Temples in India are not constructed to accommodate worshippers. Alternatively, temples are constructed to honor the gods. 

With a Shiva Dol on its banks, the area came to be known as Sivpur. Over time the place came to be called Sivasagar, which is where the town derived its name.

The Sivasagar Tank was completed during one dry season. Soil from digging the tank was used for the embankment that is surrounded by a moat.

The water level of the tank remains steady throughout the year and sits at a higher level from the surrounding flatland. This steady water level highlights the knowledge of hydrology of the Ahoms.

View of Rang Ghar

Rang Ghar

Rang Ghar was constructed between 1744 and 1751 by King Pramatta Singha. King Rudra Singha constructed the original structure that was made of wood and bamboo. The roof of the building is shaped like a parabolic sphere and on it are carvings of two crocodiles and three turrets. The Rang Ghar served as an amphitheater where Ahom kings and nobles witnessed various sports.

I have come across this building several times during my travels. The field in front of Rang Ghar used to be empty, and the structure itself was not well-maintained. Nevertheless, as I climbed up the steps, I couldn't help but feel a sense of pride. This simple yet significant piece of India's history always filled me with admiration and respect for those who built Assam, sacrificed their lives, and were often overlooked in our skewed retellings of the past.

View of Talatal Ghar

Talatal Ghar

The original structure of Talatal Ghar was constructed with wood by King Rudra Singha in 1698. The current structure was erected between 1751 and 1759 by King Rajeswar Singha. In Assamese, talatal means of multiple storeys.

The Talatal Ghar is structured along a north-south axis with annexes. The ground floor was used for stables and storage. Steps leading up to the first floor bring you to a terrace. On the terrace floor you may observe circular remnants which might be a location for wooden pillars that housed an upper floor.

Some historians have suggested that this venue was used as an administrative center while other historians are of the view that the upper floors were residential quarters.

There are several arched doorways and few windows in the Talatal Ghar. Some of these archways are placed at an angle that gives an impression of an end. However, a new set of arches and passages begin where one ends. When I was a child, this venue was an absolute delight to behold because its design held a certain mystique that cleverly concealed and revealed its grandeur.

Views of Kareng Ghar

Kareng Ghar

The residence of Ahom kings, Kareng Ghar can be considered to be one of the grandest remaining examples of Ahom architecture. The current building was rebuilt by King Rajeswar Singha around 1762.

In the interiors of the building there are several arched doorways with the main doorway being taller in comparison to the others. The symmetrical alcoves were probably architectural motifs and not meant for terracotta oil lamps. The pillars on the upper floor are comparatively ornate in comparison to the lower floor. On the terraces of the upper floors you will recognize the remnants of a structure where the guardsmen stood watch. A benefit of visiting during a restoration process was seeing the exposed bricks that were used in the construction of this palace.


In 1915, Lakshminath Bezbaruah depicted the life Joimoti in the drama Joymoti Kuwori. In 1935 the first Assamese film Joymoti was released, which was directed and produced by Jyoti Prasad Agarwala.

The Joysagar Tank is one of the largest man-made tanks in India. This tank was excavated in 1697 by King Rudra Singha in memory of his mother Joimoti Konwari. Joimoti was tortured and killed by King Ratnadhwaj Singha because she refused to disclose the whereabouts of her husband, Godadhar Singha. Despite being an inspiration to the people of Assam, Joimoti is often overlooked in our history textbooks.

Close to Joysagar, Rudra Singha built Fakuwa Dol in 1703–04, a pyramid-shaped structure with eight pillars at the base. This structure was built in honor of Joimoti and it is believed to be her grave.

Tomb of an Ahom Noble

Source: Description of the Tomb of an Ahom Noble, in a letter to Major S. F. Hannay; by Serjeant C. Clayton, Depart. Public Works. — Communicated by W. Seton Karr, Esq. Under-Secretary to the Government of Bengal. Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. June 1848.


Located 28km from Sivasagar is Charaideo, the first Ahom capital established in 1228 by King Sukapha. Charaideo remained the symbolic center of the Ahom in spite of other sites that became power centers and capital of the Ahom Kingdom. Ahom kings and queens were buried in over 150 maidams [funerary mounds/vaults] to facilitate a soul’s transcendence. These maidams are considered sacred. However, foreign invaders is believed to have plundered the area and looted the vaults. 

When I visited Sarideo for the first time, I was disheartened to see how some of these maidams had been excavated by invaders to retrieve the loot, and were subsequently left to decay. It serves as a somber reminder of how our nation was pillaged and stripped of its abundance, and the perpetrators continue to revel in their glory without showing any remorse, regret, or empathy for their past deeds.

Namdang Bridge

Barely noticeable on National Highway 2, the Namdang Bridge located a few kilometers from Sibsagar is a marvel. Carved out of a single piece of rock, this 60 meters long and 6.5 meters wide bridge was built in 1703 by King Rudra Singha. The bridge has borne the load of tonnes of vehicles and is perhaps a symbolic testament to Ahom architecture.

During our travels, my mother always reminded me as we approached the Namdang Bridge. Though it is a short and often overlooked structure, I felt a sense of awe as we rode across it, as if I was also a part of Assam's illustrious history and its magnificent past. Perhaps this is an example of how childhood is often characterized by its innocence and the simple joys that come with it.

A page from The Orunodoi

The Orunodoi

It was in Sivasagar the first Assamese monthly newspaper called The Orunodoi was published in January 1846 by the American Baptist Missionary Press. The newspaper focused on "religion, science, and general intelligence." During a period of limited educational and literary opportunities in Assam, The Orunodoi promoted these aspects. Additionally, the newspaper acted as a platform for the promotion of Christian values and ideals, which resulted in some criticism of Western missionaries in Assam. Nonetheless, I believe that The Orunodoi played a pivotal role as a significant literary and cultural platform, promoting Assamese literature, history, and traditions.

A newspaper clipping of The Indian Listener

The Indian Listener

Before Akashvani [1958] it was The Indian Listener [1935] that was preceded by The Indian Radio Times [1927]. One of the programs on Saturday 29, 1951, was "Ahom Architecture." Locating an archive of these radio programs would be a valuable opportunity to gain insight into the cultural and social context of that time period. Programs like these contain a wealth of information, such as traditional music, folk tales, and news about local events. Listening to these broadcasts can provide a window into the past and allow for a better understanding of the cultural heritage of Assam. It would be a great initiative to preserve and digitize such archives for future generations to appreciate and learn from.

In Conclusion: Proposing Preservation

Though there may be existing efforts toward digital preservation, allow me to propose additional suggestions for safeguarding Sivasagar's cultural heritage. Let us heed a call to action and embrace an initiative to digitize Sivasagar's historical treasures. 

Archival Preservation and Digitization

By prioritizing archival preservation and digitization, we can safeguard Sivasagar's rich cultural heritage for future generations and ensure that its history remains accessible, relevant, and appreciated in the years to come.

A) Newspaper Archives: Collaborate with libraries, museums, and historical societies to digitize and catalog old newspapers, including The Orunodoi and other publications from the region. Create online repositories where researchers, students, and the general public can access these archives for historical research and educational purposes. 

B) Radio Program Archives: Work with broadcasting organizations and archives to digitize and preserve old radio programs, such as "Ahom Architecture" aired on "The Indian Listener" in 1951. Create an online platform where these programs can be streamed or downloaded, allowing people to listen to and learn from these valuable cultural artifacts. 

C) Oral History Projects: Launch initiatives to collect and record oral histories from elderly residents of Sivasagar and surrounding areas. Capture firsthand accounts, personal anecdotes, and memories related to the town's history, landmarks, and cultural traditions. These oral histories can be transcribed, archived, and made accessible online or through local museums and libraries.

D) Photograph and Document Preservation: Encourage individuals and organizations to contribute old photographs, maps, documents, and other visual materials related to Sivasagar's history. Digitize and archive these materials to create a comprehensive visual record of the town's evolution over time. Make these collections available online for researchers, historians, and the public to explore and appreciate. 

E) Educational Outreach: Develop educational programs and workshops to teach students, teachers, and community members about archival preservation techniques, including digitization, metadata creation, and preservation best practices. Empower local communities to participate in preserving their cultural heritage and contribute to ongoing archival efforts.

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