Rang Ghar: A Jewel Of Ahom Architecture

The walls of the 18th-century sports pavilion echo the Ahom kingdom's golden years and distinctive architectural style
The Rang Ghar
The Rang Ghar

India has seen many brave rulers come and go, dynasties flourish and fall, and most of us know their names—the Mauryas, the Marathas, the Rajputs, the Pallavas, and so on. However, despite ruling the northeastern part of India for nearly 600 years and defeating the Mughals many times during various battles, the Ahom dynasty scarcely gets a mention.

Originating from Yunnan province in China, the Ahoms were a Tai ethnic group that moved into Indochina and present day Myanmar. From 1228-1826, they established a civilization along the fertile banks of the Brahmaputra River valley. They married into local families and embraced Hinduism, building temples devoted to Shiva. They were initially buried in mounds called maidoms but subsequently adopted cremation for end-of-life rites.

A statue of Ahom warriors in Sivasagar
A statue of Ahom warriors in SivasagarWikimedia Commons: Gitartha Bordoloi

Their presence is felt even today, not least in the name of the state to which they lent their name—Assam. Perhaps the best place to learn about them and their achievements is the town of Sivasagar, 360km from Guwahati. The area is dotted with marvellous palaces, temples, and other monuments that reflect the luminous Ahom heritage. One among them is worthy of special attention and is believed to be the oldest surviving amphitheatre in Asia—Rang Ghar.

Called the 'house of entertainment', Rang Ghar was built in the 18th century. Legend has it that the faded terracotta-coloured monument was built without cement. Instead, a mixture of rice, egg, a type of pulse known as Maati Maah, and the Borali Maachh fish were used as a binding agent. 

Rang Ghar
Rang GharWikimedia Commons: Biddyut Das

The monument served as a sports pavilion where kings and nobles enjoyed games like cock-fighting, wrestling, and horse-racing, and celebrated the colourful Bihu festival. The magnificent structure is a stone's throw from the main abode of the Ahom kings, Rangpur Palace, also known as Talatal Ghar.  

The octagonal two-storeyed building is the most well-known example of an architectural style unique to the Ahom Kingdom and the region. The roof over the two-storey building is shaped like an inverted royal Ahom boat, topped with carved stone crocodiles. The structure's base features arched entrances embellished with intricately crafted sculptures.

The area round Rang Ghar
The area round Rang GharWikimedia Commons: anas shaikh

However, much of the facade has been chipped away and exposed the thin baked bricks used in Ahom architecture. As per surveys conducted by the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation, 35 cracks have surfaced on the walls of the once epic structure due to earthquakes and seismic activity. 

Today the site is a popular tourist attraction and the setting for many pre-wedding photoshoots. The state government announced in 2023 that the structure will be developed as an international tourist hub. This will include giving it a facelift and adding light and sound shows.

Talatal Ghar
Talatal GharWikimedia Commons: Debasisbora

If you can't get enough of Ahom architecture, drop in to Talatal Ghar, which translates to 'underground palace'. This ancient military base is 5km away from the amphitheatre and is just as captivating. It has three underground tunnels that were used as an exit route to escape through when wars took place.  

Getting There

The nearest airport is Jorhat Airport. Flights often take off from Delhi, Kolkata, and Bengaluru. The closest train junction is Sivasagar Railway Station. Travel to Sivasagar via road from Guwahati, Itanagar, and Tezpur. There are several buses intercity buses from the main cities of Assam to Sivasagar. 

Where To Stay

Check out Hotel Brahmaputra and Hotel Piccolo, and look into homestays for an authentic experience and local food.

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