Every once a while, the open road brings surprises that tend to amaze us and make us remember times lost long ago. And through this road we get a glimpse of life; ever moving and filled with a bewildering diversity of all things man made & God made. We learn about ways and many find their way while on this journey.
On one such day, I had embarked on a small road trip. Driving through the roads of Upper Assam, I always feel peaceful and at ease. The roads are surrounded by tea estates till as far as the eye can see and a very soothing aroma of fresh tea leaves is ever present in the air – like a subtle hint of sweetness. After having driven for about two hours and crossing infinite number of tea gardens, I had reached my destination. At first glance, Sivasagar (Shiva’s Ocean) seems rather like any other ordinary Indian town. And unless you have done your research, you might just end up crossing the town, without even realizing what you have missed.
For once upon a time during the medieval ages, this half asleep town was the bustling capital city of the mighty Ahom Dynasty – which ruled over a kingdom that consisted of the dense jungles and high mountains of the Brahmaputra Valley. The Ahoms are originally thought to have migrated from the Yunnan province of China. They were brilliant warriors who managed to rule the seven sisters for more than 600 mighty years – having defeated the Mughals in all the thirteen wars fought. They had that sophistication needed for appreciating beauty and arts, which they excelled at by building monuments which can be considered as architectural wonders. But their biggest gift to the region was education – in the form of arts, drama, music, dance, philosophy, weaving and handicrafts. A kind of renaissance took place during their reign, the influence of which is still found deeply rooted in the life and culture of present-day Northeast India. All the evidence that remains now are the withered sun baked ruins (which still look magnificent) and faded memories of a brilliant era.
The town is still very much alive though. Deprived of its real kings, the modern movement has taken over, and in a few decades, one can expect high rising concrete buildings and a bustling city. But somewhere in the depths of a searching mind, the past still lives on. The wind still echoes of distant times if you try to listen carefully and the ruins which are scattered across the town can turn any soul nostalgic. Driving around, I ended up visiting the town’s most remarkable spot; a huge (130 acres) manmade water-tank, more than 200 year old, from which the town gets its name. The extraordinary fact about this tank is that even though it is situated in the middle of the town, the water level remains at a higher level than that of the rest of the town. I did not care to investigate – as one gets used to encountering extraordinary things while living in India. On the banks of the water-body, three tall ancient temples hold themselves firmly to the ground, as if dominating the entire landscape. The more prominent central temple is devoted to Lord Shiva, while the other two are devoted to Lord Vishnu and Lord Ganesha. The walls of the temples are carved with depictions of Hindu Gods and demons. In the central temple, a dark mysterious underground chamber exists where Shiva is worshipped. The chamber is said to be connected to the water-tank. The towering roof of the central temple is made up of pure gold, and local folktales tell about how the British invaders tried to steal the gold many times, but always in vain. In one incident, they even tried to unearth the tower with the help of a helicopter; only to end up with fatal consequences. Also, another remarkable thing about this temple is that it has been made up of duck eggs and rice paste along with other indigenous items. Strolling in the compound of these ancient temples, I felt an inner peace – as if a touch of that God like purity surrounded me. And after having relaxed for an hour, I was spiritually contended enough to move on and explore the other mysteries of Sivasagar.
Next, I ended up visiting Rang Ghar – a bizarre looking double-storied structure, like a royal pavilion, and having a roof which has the shape of an inverted boat and has crocodile like endings. The pavilion was used by the Ahom kings to watch games of animal and bird fights, and cultural performances. It astonished me to see such a marvelous and unique piece of architecture. Not only is the complexity of the structure very intriguing, it is also the symmetrical perfection which completes this structures and gives it a definition of beauty. The afternoon sun somehow managed to lighten the structure with a mysterious shade of red and it felt as if the hot lazy afternoon had been transformed to a day in the life
A few kilometers away, another red-lit structure stands ground. The Talatal Ghar is a multi-storied structure – with four stories above ground and three stories underground. This palace of the Ahom Kings looks like a confusing maze. Tunnels crisscross the corridors and the rooms; like being part of a chess game. The palace has a huge open terrace, on which the kings would have probably walked around contemplating on the issues bothering their empire. The intricate details of the structure are still very much present, giving an impression that the Ahoms liked all things to be perfect. Another intriguing fact about the structure is that it has two secret underground tunnels that connect it to the nearby Dikhow River and the Garhgaon Palace. These passages were used as an escape route in case of an enemy attack. A cute-looking ancient ammunition warehouse of the old kingdom occupies a space not very far from the palace, and looking at all the structures, it is not hard to understand the high importance that the Ahoms gave to combat strategies. Loitering around, I notice how this palace has been transformed from being the playground of mighty rulers to having become a boulevard for youthful lovers. Though the palace lies in ruins now, the aura of that elegant romanticism shared by kings and queens is still very much alive in the air; attracting many lovers to its empty corridors.
As usual, the sinking sun had painted the sky with a shade I had never seen before. I felt nostalgic – like being close to the ancestors of the land I live in. History has always intrigued my imagination. Percy Bysshe Shelley once said, “History is a cyclic poem written by time upon the memories of man.” And in the midst of these ancient ruins, I felt its importance. The past is from where we come – our roots. And from our past we learn. Every civilization rises, but it is the fall that they cannot recover from. The faults of our past become wisdom for the future. And all we can do is never stop learning. I waited till it was just about dark. Above me, the stars had arrived for their nightly show, and ahead lied the future – of dreams, aspirations, memories and life. And with the roar of my car engine, I silently sped my way back into the tea gardens; towards that comfort of a home.