Ahom (Coinage of Assam)

The Ahom Kingdom flourished for a good 600 years in the Brahmaputra Valley of present-day Assam. Ruled by the Ahom dynasty, the kingdom resisted Mughal expansion with great success. The founder of the kingdom, Sukhaphaa, was a Tai prince of the Mong Mao region. He settled with his queens, sons, nobles, officials and their families, and soldiers and established his capital at Charaideo.

Mong Mao, also known as the Mao kingdom, was an ethnic Dai state which controlled a number of small Tai states. These Tai states were chieftainships and were spread along the modern-day frontier of Myanmar and China in the Dehong region of Yunnan. Its capital was situated near the current-day border town of Rutti.

The Ahom kingdom began as a partially independent city-state, also called a mong, located in the upper reaches of the Brahmaputra. It was a wet-rice based agricultural state.

Under the rule of Suhungmung in the 16th century, the boundaries of the kingdom expanded. This sudden expansion brought people of different ethnicities under Ahom rule. This affected social and political life in the Brahmaputra Valley profoundly.

The kingdom thrived for 600 years before it succumbed to repeated Burmese invasions. With the rise of the Moamoria rebellion, the Ahom kingdom grew weaker. When the Burmese fell to the British East India Company, the Treaty of Yandabo, signed in 1826 CE, transferred control of the Ahom Kingdom to the British.

Although the kingdom was ruled by the Ahom, the region housed population of multiple ethnicities. Ethnic Ahom people constituted less than 10% of the kingdom’s populace.

The economy of the Ahom Kingdom was based on the paik system which was a form of corvee labour. The paik system was neither feudal nor Asiatic in nature. Although, the kingdom was established in the early 13th century, the need for an independent coinage was not felt until the 17th century.

The early economy of the Ahom Kingdom was based on agriculture and barter. Incentives were given to soldiers and farmers while the surplus grain was exchanged for foreign goods. However, over time the limitations of barter were felt and the first coins of the Ahom Kingdom were finally issued.

Experts still dispute the first Ahom ruler to issue coins. The earliest of coins bear Sanskrit legends in Nagari script. The ruler’s name, however, is not mentioned. Early issues of Ahom coins were round in shape. It was later changed to octagonal. Some experts speculate that this may have been done to symbolise the Yogini Tantra which mentions that Kamarupa (another name for the Ahom Kingdom) is eight-sided.

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