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Moidams – the Mound-Burial system of the Ahom Dynasty

Date of Submission: 15/04/2014
Criteria: (v)
Category: Cultural
Submitted by:
Permanent Delegation of India to UNESCO
State, Province or Region:
Assam, Sivasagar
Coordinates: N26 56 35 E94 52 45
Ref.: 5915
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Property names are listed in the language in which they have been submitted by the State Party

Description

The Tai-Ahom clan upon their migration from China established their capital in different parts of the Brahmaputra River Valleybetween 12th to 18th CE. Usurping the Barahi tribe, Chau-lung Siu-ka-pha established the first capital of the Ahoms at the foothill of Patkai hills and named it Che-rai-doi or Che-tam-doi, meaning “a dazzling city above the mountain” in their language and consecrated site with a ritual. While the clan moved from city to city, the landscape of Che-Rai-Doi or Choraideo continued to retain its position as most sacred where the departed soul of the Royals could transcend into the after-life. Their unique system of vaulted mounds continued for 600 years, till many Tai-Ahoms converted to Buddhism while others adopted the Hindu system of cremation.

Moidamsarevaulted chamber (chow-chali), often double storied entered through an arched passage. Atop the hemispherical mud-mound layers of bricks and earth is laid, where the base of the mound is reinforced by a polygonal toe-wall and an arched gateway on the west. Eventually the mound would be covered by a layer of vegetation, reminiscent of a group of hillocks, transforming the area into an undulating landscape. Excavation shows that each vaulted chamber has a centrally raised platform where the body was laid. Several objects used by the deceased during his life, like royal insignia, objects made in wood or ivory or iron, gold pendants, ceramic ware, weapons, clothes to the extent of human beings (only from the Luk-kha-khun clan) were buried with their king.

There is a great variety in materials and systems of construction used in building a moidam. From the period between 13th CE to 17th CE, wood was used as the primary material for construction whereas 18th CE onwards stone and burnt bricks of various sizes were used for the inner chambers. The Changrung Phukan (canonical text developed by the Ahoms) records the materials used to construct a Moidam. It records the construction using bricks and stones cemented by the mixture of black pulse, molasses, eggs of duck, barali fish, lime (from lime stone and snail shell). Boulders of different sizes, broken stones, bricks, and broken brick were used to construct the superstructure, whereas large stone slabs were used for the sub-substructure.

Apart from recording material used in constructing a moidam, the ChangrungPhukan also documents the number of labourers, duration of works, votive offerings made and rituals followed during in cremating the Royals. The crematory rituals of the Royal Ahoms were conducted with great pomp and grandeur, reflecting their hierarchy.

Justification of Outstanding Universal Value

The Tai-Ahomtribes upon their migration from China established their capital in different parts of the Brahmaputra River Valley (North-East India) between 12th to 18th CE.Usurping the Barahi tribe, Chau-lung Siu-ka-pha established the first capital of the Ahoms at the foothill of Patkai hills and named it Che-rai-doi or Che-tam-doi, meaning “a dazzling city above the mountain” in their language and consecrated site with a ritual. While the clan moved from city to city, the landscape of Che-Rai-Doi or Choraideo continued to retain its position as most sacred where the departed soul of the Royals could transcend into the after-life. Their unique system of vaulted mounds continued for 600 years, till many Tai-Ahoms converted to Buddhism while others adopted the Hindu system of cremation.

Choraideo at foothills of Patkai range was the first capital and the most revered landscape of the Tai Ahoms. Believing that their Kings were Gods on earth, the Tai Ahoms chose to bury the deceased Royals in Choraideo, the most sacred core of their Kingdom. The continuity of this funerary for over 600 years has manifested in creating an undulating landscape, reminiscent of the mountains of heaven and reflected the Tai Ahom belief of life, death, spirit and the ‘other world’.The Moidams of Choraideu remains the only area where the largest concentration of these vaulted-mound burial chamber exist together, demonstrating a grand royal burial landscape unique to the Tai Ahoms.

The series of Moidams at the foothills of the Patkai range together show the sculpted burial landscape reminiscent of the hills. Although to subject to vandalism by treasure seekers in early 20th CE, the group of Moidams in Choraideo has been systematically restored to safeguard its structural integrity.

The undulating man-made burial landscape of Choraideo demonstrates the funerary traditional Tai Ahoms, a practiced which creased to after its rulers converted to other religions (Hinduism and Buddhism). Described elaborately in their canonical text (Phukan), the landscape created by a series of Moidams together with the material objects recovered from the vaulted chambers shows the Tai Ahom belief of life, death and the appropriation of this belief system to create a landscape that is ’like a dazzling city above the mountain’ befit for their God-like Kings.

The property and Buffer zones are jointly protected and managed jointly by the Archaeological Survey of India and the State Department of Archaeology under the Ancient Monuments and Sites Remains Act’ 1958 (Amended in 2010) and by the Assam Ancient Monuments and Records Act 1959 respectively. 

Criterion (v): Choraideo at foothills of Patkai range was the first capital and the most revered landscape of the Tai Ahoms. Believing that their Kings were Gods on earth, the Tai Ahoms chose to bury the deceased Royals in Choraideo, the most sacred core of their Kingdom. The continuity of this funerary for over 600 years has manifested in creating an undulating landscape, reminiscent of the mountains of heaven and reflected the Tai Ahom belief of life, death, spirit and the ‘other world’.

The Moidams of Choraideu remains the only area where the largest concentration of these vaulted-mound burial chamber exist together, demonstrating a grand royal burial landscape unique to the Tai Ahoms.

Statements of authenticity and/or integrity

Authenticity
The undulating man-made burial landscape of Choraideo demonstrates the funerary traditional Tai Ahoms, a practiced which creased to after its rulers converted to other religions (Hinduism and Buddhism). Described elaborately in their canonical text (Phukan), the landscape created by a series of Moidams together with the material objects recovered from the vaulted chambers shows the Tai Ahom belief of life, death and the appropriation of this belief system to create a landscape that is’ like a dazzling city above the mountain’ befit for their God-like Kings.

Integrity
The series of Moidams at the foothills of the Patkai range together show the sculpted burial landscape reminiscent of the hills. Although to subject to vandalism by treasure seekers in early 20th CE, the group of Moidams in Choraideo has been systematically restored to safeguard its structural integrity.

Comparison with other similar properties

In the ritual system and tradition of entombing a deceased Royal,Moi-Dams of Che-Rai-Doican be compared to the royal tombs of ancient China and the Pyramids of the Egyptians Pharaohs.

With the shift of Ahom capital south and eastwards, Moidams have been seen in different parts of Northern Vietnam, Laos, Thailand, Northern Burma, Southern China and Northeast India  - together defining the region where Tai-Ahom culture prevailed. In this entire region, the cluster of Moidams in Choraideo distinguishes itself in scale, concentration and being located in the most sacred land of the Tai-Ahoms.