Ahom Moidams: Exploring Assam's Royal Burial Grounds

Exploring these ancient burial sites is not only a journey through history but also an opportunity to connect with the rich tapestry of Assamese culture
Moidams are vaulted chambers with entry through an arched passage
Moidams are vaulted chambers with entry through an arched passage Samiran Kumar Das/ Wikimedia Commons

Nestled in the northeastern part of India, the state of Assam is renowned for its rich cultural heritage, lush landscapes, and vibrant traditions. Amidst this tapestry of diversity lies a unique historical treasure–the Ahom Moidams, or the royal burial grounds of the Ahom dynasty. These ancient structures capture Assam's regal past, offering a fascinating blend of history, architecture, and folklore.

The Origins

The Ahom Kingdom was established after the exodus of Tai speakers from southern China between 12 and 18 CE. They built their capital in various locations in the Brahmaputra River Valley. The 13th-century ruler Chau-lung Siu-ka-pha founded the Ahom kingdom in Assam. He created the first Ahom capital at the base of the Patkai Hills, called Che-rai-doi. The name translates to "a glittering city above the mountain."

Even as the clan moved from city to city, the Che-Rai-Doi, or Choraideo, area was known as the most sacred place where the departed souls of Ahom royals could pass into the afterlife. For 600 years, the Tai Ahoms used their distinctive domed mound burial method until many converted to Buddhism and others embraced the Hindu cremation system.

Reports say that there are actually over 150 moidams, but only 30 are protected by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) and the Assam State Archaeology Department.

The roots of the name come from the Tai Ahom term "Che Rai Doi" or "Doi Che Rai,"  which means "the dazzling city on the hills."

Charaideo Maidam of Ahom Kings at Charaideo in Sivasagar
Charaideo Maidam of Ahom Kings at Charaideo in SivasagarMozzworld / Wikimedia Commons

The Structure

Moidams are two-story vaulted chambers with a passageway and arch leading to the entrance. The mound was made of mud, and a polygonal toe-wall and an arched opening on the west strengthened the base. Bricks and soil were layered on top of the mound. The area would eventually be covered by a layer of plants and look like hillocks.

Much like pyramids, moidams would have a domed chamber with a raised platform in the middle where the body was laid. Several artefacts belonging to the royalty would also be buried along with the body. For instance, royal insignia, wooden, ivory, or iron artifacts, gold pendants, pottery, weapons, and clothing.

Things To See In Sivasagar

Formerly known as Rangpur, Sivasagar is the place to go to if you are interested in Ahom palaces and monuments. Tanks, temples, and palaces are the chief attractions here. Here are some other places that you should visit.

Rang Ghar

Also meaning 'House of Entertainment', Rang Ghar is situated near the Rangpur Palace, also known as Talatal Ghar. During the times of Ahom kings, this two-storied structure used to be a sports pavilion from where kings and nobles would enjoy a game of buffalo or cock fight apart from the annual bihu festivities. What makes this structure even more interesting is its architecture. The roof of Rang Ghar is shaped like an inverted boat, typical of Ahom architecture. Interestingly, the Ahoms used a mix of rice, egg, pulses, and fish as binding agents in their buildings.

Talatal Ghar

Talatal Ghar, or the Rangpur Palace, is one of the largest and finest Ahom structures. It used to be a seven-storied building in its heyday, but now only the ground, first and the remains of the second and third floors are open to visitors. The underground floors remain closed to visitors. According to various legends, the Talatal Ghar has two secret tunnels and three underground floors that serve as secret exit routes during wars.

Kareng Ghar 

Kareng Ghar, or the Garhgaon Palace, is located 15km from Sivasagar and is another fine example of Ahom architecture. Constructed of wood and stones, the present-day Kareng Ghar was built by Rajeshwar Singha. The palace used to have plenty of rooms, but only a few remain. During its glory days, the site was surrounded by large water-filled moats and fortified boundaries whose faint evidence remains.

The Dols

This is a vast complex with three structures. The greatest of these, in the middle, is the Shiva Dol. To its right side lies the Vishnu Dol, and the Devi Dol sits to its left. One of the three most prominent temples in Sivasagar, Sivadol stands tall on the bank of Sivasagar tank. The temple is 104 feet tall and has an 8-foot golden dome for a crown. It is the most critical place for the devotees of Shiva to congregate during Shivratri.

Getting There

Mohanbari Airport in Dibrugarh is about 85 km away. Simaluguri railway station is about 32 km from the district headquarters, Sonari. And Bhojo railway station is about 6.3 kilometres away. Choraideo is well connected with Sivasagar city (about 28 km away). You can book an auto or taxi from there. Public transport is also available. 

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