Administration system of the Koch in medieval Assam
The period of history in Assam during the medieval times saw the powerful Ahoms that ruled over the region for a long time. Another kingdom that succeded in establishing its foothold was the Koch kingdom. It is worth knowing about the Koches and their way of administration.
The military success of the Koches and their rule for a fairly long period indicate that they had an efficient administrative machinery. But details of its working are greatly lacking. We therefore reconstruct their administrative history on the basis of certain stray references in their chronicles, Persian works, contemporary literature and a few inscription.
The Koch state had a monarchial government and the Koch kings claimed divine origin tracing their descent from Lord Shiva. Thus king Biswa Singha was compared with different gods like Brahma, Vishnu, Mahesh, Indra etc and his successors beginning from Naranarayan had assumed the title ‘Narayan’-the name of supreme god of the Hindus. Besides his being well up in academic pursuits and the study of Sastras including the Vedas, the king was to be proficient in the art of administration as well as in military and physical training. The coronation event is an important ceremony in the process of a king’s assuming power. The succession to the throne was however hereditary, but the right of inheritence was always based on the law of primogeniture.
The king was helped by a council of ministers in administrating the kingdom. They were called ‘karjis’, ‘patras’ or ‘amatyas’. The vamsavali further records that there was a cabinet to assist the king in formulating his administrative policy. Karjis who became members of the cabinet were called ‘mantrins’. The cabinet usually consisted of two ministers, the ‘yuvaraja’ who was also the prime minister and the king himself. Mantrins were appointed on the basis of certain qualifications like he was to have a scholarship mind, diplomatic skill, proficiency in the art of war with the ability to serve as a commander and above all loyal and trustworthy. Baharistan-i-Ghaybi and later British records contain reference to an officer of the Koch kingdom called Nazir or Nazirdeo acting as commander in the field.
The kingdom was divided into certain administrative units called ‘chakla’ which was a collection of several villages. Each chakla was placed under a ‘bhuyan’. In between the chaklas and villages there were other administrative divisions called ‘kuthi’ and ‘tapa’ which were governed by a junior officer and ‘gomsata’ respectively.
The ‘vidhi’ or principles of justice of the Koches were mainly based on the Hindu religious texts. In the village level cases were decided by the Grama Sabha mainly according to the local customs and traditions. The king’s order was final who could sentence a criminal to death or offer him pardon. However in discharging judicial duties the king was assisted by a council called Raja-Sabha, consisting of the Raja Puruhita and the Pandits. The punishments included mutiliation and physical torture.
The department dealing with foreign affairs was headed by a minister under the personal supervision of the king. This department was responsible for making allies and cementing treaties and friendships with other countries. Important officers like the ‘chars’ or ‘dutas’ (Spies and envoys) whose duties were to collect secret information about other countries with whom they had diplomatic relations as and when necessary were associated with the department.
The strength and stability of a kingdom, particularly in those days, depended upon its military power. This department was headed by a minister with the capacity of a senapati(general). The army consisted of two broad divisions: the land force and the navy. The former included infantry, cavalry and elephants. Most numerous was the infantry recruited from among the paiks or the ‘able-bodied male population’ of the kingdom. The navy was the next wing of the military department. Abundance of wood and forests facilitated for the construction of war boats, both big and small. The navy was probably under the ‘Baruah’. Guns and canons were the most important of the offensive weapons. Muskets, swords, spears and bamboo bows were also in use. The Baharistan refers to four or five thousand Koch archars called Kari.
Land was divided into two kinds: cultivable and uncultivable. There were a large number of land grants like Barhmottar (given to brahmins), Dharmottar (given to satra), Devottar (temples) and Pirpal (mosques). These were rent-free lands. For revenue purposes rented lands were classified according to nature of their produce. Two-thirds of the total produce was collected as land revenue.
To conclude the Koches adopted an elaborate system of administration. Their nature of designation of officers as well as the land grants were mostly adopted from the Turko-Afghan or the Mughals. It did help the Koch in creating a disciplined and efficient administrative system.