Chaolung Sukhapha watched as the city he dreamed of came in to being. His minister’s talk reminded him of the past and the long journey he and his men have travelled.

Day 12, Month of Margasirsa (November-December), AD 1253, Charaideo City, Mong Dun Shun Kham

He stood at the summit of a small, grassy hill, resplendent in a high-collared blue tunic; gold leggings; a simple, golden crown on his brow, and a lethal, long sword at his waist. Below, in the valley, people scurried about like industrious ants, building, chopping, cooking, cleaning, tending — all the signs, in fact, of a city in the making.

“All is well, Chaolung, Great Lord,” came a deep voice to his right, and the man turned. His rather forbidding expression relaxed.

“Is it indeed, Borgohain?”

“Yes. The site you have chosen for the city is the best yet — the Deodhais, our priests, are making preparations for offerings under the holy tree.” The Borgohain, one of the king’s two most important ministers, paused. “This will be a good year. As it has been for a long time, since you ascended the throne.”

Chaolung Sukhapha, lord of the Tai-Ahom people, prince of the noble Shan dynasty and conqueror of the fair lands in the Brahmaputra Valley, smiled slightly. “Has it? The older you get, Minister, the clearer are your memories of the past — and I remember mine so clearly. I remember the unease and uncertainty…”

* * *

Day 25, Month of Magh, AD 1215, City of Kieng-Sen, Mao Kingdom

“What am I supposed to do, now?”

The old woman at the window, meticulously writing something on a scroll, glanced at him. “You have nothing to do here anymore, child. Now that your uncle has a son, your claim to the throne has ceased to exist.”

“I’m not Crown Prince anymore, I know,” Prince Sukhapha snapped, his face marred by a frown. “Tell me, Grandmother,” he said, kneeling by her side. “What do I do?”

“What your heart tells you.”

“I’ve no idea what that is.”

The old lady folded up her scroll. “You belong to a most noble, celestial dynasty; you are a member of the Tsu sub-tribe of the illustrious Shans, the Tiger clan, worthy of rule. Two tigers cannot hunt in the same forest, child. This kingdom cannot be yours. But… there are others.”

The young man rose and paced the room. “I have heard tell, Grandmother, of a fertile land beyond the Patkai Mountains to our west. My scouts tell me of a great river and a valley of golden gardens …”

The old lady smiled. “Your heart has already shown you the way. Take your men, your family, the sacred seal of Somdeo, and make your own destiny.” She pointed out of the window, beyond the forests, towards the mountains. “Go, with my blessing.”

* * *

“ … and thus began all our journeys,” the minister said in a low voice, as though unwilling to disturb the aura of the past. “We came with you, all 9000 of us…”

“ …not to mention the two elephants and 300 horses,” Chaolung Sukhapha smiled.

“But greatest of all were the victories you gave us, Lord,” the Minister went on, as though there had been no interruption. “The tribes you brought together. The lands you tilled, for we began wet-rice cultivation here…”

“All the years and years of endless wanderings,” the Lord murmured. “It took us 13 years just to cross over the mountains into this country, and then, all the floods and disasters…”

“But you managed to build dykes, dams, and converted land laid fallow, into one fit for cultivation,” the Minister argued. “To this day, you are our beloved chief, a part of the peoples’ lives; your home is the same as an ordinary man’s thatched pile-house made of wood and bamboo…”

“Ah, but mine has two storeys, including the haw-long, the audience chamber,” the Lord smiled.

“Of course,” the Minister smiled, in turn. “But that was more to accommodate your people. You chose diplomatic ties when you could. We share our wealth, and woes. You raised townships such as Tipam, and left behind men to guard them. And now, you have built this wondrous city.”

“It has been a good life, hasn’t it?”

“Indeed, Great Lord. Through you, the Ahom dynasty will make its mark.”

“More than that, I hope I will be known most, for what I feel for this land and its people. I hope those who come after me will know that I considered this my real home. This beautiful, golden country; Sonar Saphura!”

“Casket of Gold,” translated the Minister. “What a fitting description! But this kingdom of ours needs a name, too, Lord.”

“It will be known as the home of the Ahom, I suppose.”

“I wonder what future generations might make of our name?” pondered the Minister. “Names have such a way of getting twisted out of shape. It could become Ahom, or Aham. Or Asham.” He paused. “Or maybe Acham?”

“Next you’ll say that it might be Assam,” laughed Sukhapha. “You know that it resembles the Sanskrit word Asam — which means ‘unequalled’.”

“Assam,” the minister mulled over it. “Quite fitting. As long as it serves to remind people of the Ahom — then well, I have no objection. Who knows? Perhaps the name Assam will pass the test of time.”

Historical Note: The name Assam did eventually come to signify the home of the Tai-Ahom. Chaolung Sukhapha was the first Ahom king, ruling from AD 1228 to AD 1268; his reign saw the unification of various tribes of the region, and shaped their history. His descendents continued to rule Upper Assam for six centuries. December 2 is celebrated in Assam as the Sukhapha Divas, or Asom Divas, in his honour.