An overview of the administrative system of the Ahom dynasty

In part-1 of the three-part series on the Ahom dynasty, we introduced Ahoms and their culture. In this part, we will look into the Ahom administration.

A prosperous kingdom requires an efficient administration. The Ahoms had a unique and efficient administrative system with the Paik– system as the backbone.

The king was at the head of administration and was assisted by 3 great councilors of state called Gohains. The Gohains had provinces assigned to them in which they exercised most of the independent rights of sovereignty, but, so far as the general administration of the State and its relations with other powers were concerned,  their functions were mere advisory. The king was bound to consult them on all important matters.

Rules of accession to the throne :

In the early days of Ahom rule, the succession devolved from father to son with great regularity, but in later time this rule was often departed from. Sometimes brothers preceded sons and sometimes distant cousins obtained the throne. Much depended on the wish of the previous ruler and relations of a candidate with chief nobles. Sometimes one of the nobles obtained so much importance that he was able to proceed independently, the choice depending on his private interest.

There was, however, one absolute essential qualification; only a person of royal blood could ascend the throne .

The office of the Gohains like Kingly office was the monopoly of a family. There were originally two of these officers: Bar Gohain and Burha Gohain, but in the reign of Dhingiya Raja a third, the Barpatra Gohain was added.

Bar Barua and Bar Phukan

The appointments were not hereditary and could be filled by any member of twelve specified families. Members of the families from which the three great Gohains were respectively recruited were not eligible for these posts to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a single-family.

The Bar Barua (military title) received the revenues and administered justice in parts of the eastern province from Sadiya to Kolibar. He was also usually the commander of forces. He had control over 14,000 paiks (freemen) but they were also bound to serve the king.

The Bar Phukan (one of the five mantris or counselor) at first governed as viceroy only a small tract but as Ahoms extended their dominions further west, his charge increased until it included the whole country from Koliabar to Goalpara, with Gauhati as headquarters. His office was considered more important than that of the Bar Barua.

Other local governors

Sadiya Khowa Gohain, Morangi Khowa Gohain, and Solal Gohain were some of the local governors. They administered justice and collected revenues in their own districts, but were inferior to the King and Bar Phukans. Ruling chiefs who made their submission to the Ahoms were made governors acting on their behalf. Those chiefs were practically independent except that they had to pay an annual tribute to the king and supply manpower whenever the king needed. Their office was hereditary but they were liable to dismissal for misconduct.

The Paik System

With the exception of nobles, priests and other influential persons, the whole male population between the age 16-50 years were liable to render service to the State. They were known as Paiks or foot soldiers. In 1510 during the reign of Suhungmung,  the paiks were organized according to families and lineage called phoids and resettled according to their skills. The number of paiks rendering royal service at any time was one-fourth the number of paiks in a household. The paik system fostered friendship and unity amongst the common people.

The smallest unit of the paik, called Got, consisted of four paiks, who generally did not belong to the same family. When one or two paiks of the Got worked under the state, the remaining three or two had to look after the household affairs of their absent comrade.

The control of the state over the paiks was very rigid.  Over every twenty paiks there was an officer called Bora, over him was a Saikia commanding a hundred paiks, then a Hazarika commanding a thousand paiks and then a Phukan commanding 6000 paiks.

The paik constituted the foundation of the entire Ahom socio-political organization and were divided into two broad classes, soldiers and laborers. The regular peasantry which was bound to give its service to the state as a soldier in times of war and as a laborer in times of peace was called kanri paiks.

Some paiks worked as tenants in the private landed estate of the nobles and some were allotted to temples. These two classes didn’t participate in war unless the situation demanded. The royal service that the paiks rendered were defense, civil construction (building embankments, roads, bridges, tanks, etc), military production (making boats, arrows), etc.

Though the paik system was compulsory and strict, it did however provide a good measure of social security and provided a sense of belonging. The paiks who pursued craft were taxed. This system enabled the king to have maximum utilization of the manpower both in times of war and peace.

The paiks were neither serfs in the classical sense nor were they slaves in the true senses of the word. As the circumstances changed, the rigidity of the system led to ineffectiveness and consequently a decline in revenue. The loss of manpower in 17th-century wars with Mughals strained the system.

Additionally, people’s dislike for the system grew silently with the resentments taking the form of popular rebellions in the later stages. By the time of the British occupation of Assam around the 1840s, the traditional paik-system had disintegrated completely.

In the final part of this series, we would take a look at the military strategies and wars of the Ahoms.

References:

  1. A History of Assam – E. A. Gait
  2. Paik System: The backbone of Ahom administration (journal) – Lakhya Pratim Nirmolia

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