The present political map of a region always doesn’t capture that particular area’s political past correctly. This is true to Assam, as well as to entire Northeast India. The present state of Assam, which has a population of more than 3 crores and an area of 78,438 square Kilometer, is mostly created based on a colonial legacy which includes much bigger areas than the Ahom ruled historical pre colonial Assam, which is mostly upper Assam. Many historical regions and political identities have disappeared during the process of construction of modern Assam. Some of these areas maintained their identity as self-ruled areas like Dima Hasao in modern Assam, but the majority of the areas disappeared. The Western part of Assam, which was mostly ruled by the Koch community, lost its identity completely in the making of modern Assam. Interestingly, this part of Assam became part of Assam only after the 1950s. Lower Assam, including North Bengal (both in India and Bangladesh), represented a completely different historical region in the past popularly termed as Kamatapur. Though the Eastern part of Kamatapur maintained its political identity as Koch Behar, the western part became many small kingdoms. Arup Jyoti Das writes.
The Sidli Kingdom is one such Kingdom ruled by the Koches from the western part of Assam, which maintained its unique identity till the independence of the Indian Sub-continent. The last ruler of this small Kingdom bordering Bhutan was the Raja Ajit Narayan Dev who maintained his official title of Raja till1956. He married Princess Manjula Devi who was the daughter of Maharaja of Pithapuram, Andhra Pradesh. Manjula Devi was a renowned social worker of her time and was active in politics in Assam. She represented the Dhubri constituency of Assam as a Member of Parliament. Raja Ajit Narayan Dev was appointed as the chairmen of Oil India Limited.
The areas of this erstwhile Sidli kingdom are presently part of both Assam and BTC (Bodoland Territorial Council) administration and don’t enjoy any separate political identity. The name of the Kingdom is alive in the name of Sidli Assembly constituency of Bongaigaon. It’s a reserved constituency for Scheduled Tribe, for which it has been always captured by the Bodo community since 1957, as Bodos are the majority ST community in the area. Koches who once ruled the area no more enjoy any political benefit, as they are not Scheduled Tribe.
Santo Barman in his work “Zamidari System is Assam during the Britsh rule’’ has termed Sildli as a small principality under the Moghuls, which implies that it might have come under Mughals during the Mughal expansion in parts of Northeast India. The entire tract, to which Sidli formed a part, lay at the foot of the Bhutan Mountain and was occupied by the Bhutan Government sometimes during the later of Moghul administration, says Barman. This tract passed over to the British administration in 1865, when the Bhutan Government ceded it to the British at the close of the Bhutan war.
The Kingdom was founded by a Koch leader Sikan Narayan Dev during the early 17th century in the present Assam and Bhutan border. The area was mostly known as Siknajhar and the name Sidli is sometimes used synonymously to Siknajhar. The place Siknajhar has immense importance in the Koch history as Bishu Koch (later Biswa Singha) initially used Siknajhar as the capital for the newly formed Koch Dynasty in Kamatapur. Though the size of the kingdom was small compared to some other Koch Kingdoms, Sidli played a very important role in this part of South Asia due to its importance in the politics of the Bhutan kingdom till 1865. The exact year of the establishment of the Sidli Kingdom is not found so far.
Before Sikan Narayan Dev founded the kingdom, the area was in the hands of the different lines for one or two generations. According to the local accounts Bhim Singh, a Koch chieftain started ruling Chiknajhar in the days of the decline of the Kamata Kingdom. According to some sources, Bhim Singh has been referred to as a descendent of Jira Kuchani, daughter of Hajo Koch and second wife of Hari Das Mandal, father of Biswa Singha.
During the rule of King Gauri Narayan Dev, the capital of the kingdom was shifted from Siknajhar to Namalpur (Sidli). Gauri Naryan Dev came in conflict with the British administration due to disagreement on the matter of handing over some criminals in the early 19th century. He declared war against the British but could not win the war. Though the British took control of the kingdom for a while, they had to withdraw their authority from Sidli later on during the British-Bhutan treaty resulted in 1868 Bhutan war.
After the death of Gauri Naryan, Bishnu Narayan Dev became the king of Sidli. He shifted the capital from Namalpur to Bishupur (present Bidyapur). During the rule of Bishnu Narayan Dev, Bhutias frequently disturbed the peace of Sidli, for which the capital of the kingdom was shifted to Bidyapur. By the time Bishu Narayan Dev’s son Abhay Naryan Dev took the power of the Kingdom it became a Zamidari under the British. Abhay Narayan Dev played a very important role in spreading the Kshatriya Movement in West Assam, through which Koches claimed Kshatriya status in the Varna categories of Hindu.
Kumar Jayesh Narayan, the present descendent of the Sidli Royal family lives in his ancestral palace site in Bidyapur. Jayesh Narayan Dev maintains a cordial relationship with the Koch civil society and is socially very active in his area and Assam.
Image Credit: Arup Jyoti Das