Biswa Singha (1515—1540) was the progenitor king of the Koch dynasty of the Kamata kingdom. His ethnicity was the Koch-Rajbongshi, a successor state of the ancient Kamarupa kingdom. A grandson of a Koch hero, he was able to unify different tribal groups against the Baro-Bhuyans of Assam and establish a kingdom the remnant of which still exists today.
Establishment of the Koch dynasty
After break-up of the Kamarupa kingdom in the 12th century, its territories were divided among small kingdoms, local chiefs and landlords. To the very east emerged the Sutia, Ahom and the Kachari kingdoms. To their west was the region of the Baro-Bhuyans that formed the buffer between the eastern kingdoms and the Kamata kingdom. In 1498, Alauddin Hussain Shah of Gaur attacked Nilambar, the king of Kamata, and occupied it. He left the region in the hands of his son Daniyal, who was attacked and defeated by a conglomeration of Bhuyan landlords led by Harup Narayan. The Bhuyans succeeded in removing the conquerors, but they failed to create a kingdom and instead maintained their fiefdoms.
In that political vacuum, Biswa Singha managed to unify other tribal groups and establish the Koch dynasty in the seat of the erstwhile Kamata kingdom.
Origin of Biswa Singha
Biswa Singha's father was Haria Mandal. Haria Mandal married Hira and Jira, the daughters of Koch Hajo, a Koch chief, and formed an alliance between the Koch tribe and other tibal groups. Bisu, as Biswa Singha was called earlier, was born to Hariya Mandal and Hira. Bisu is suspected to have participated in the Bhuyan campaigns against Daniyal, when he acquired his military skills.
Campaign against the Bhuyans
Bisu began his campaign to unify the tribal chiefs around 1509 from his seat at Chikana, and he managed to unify other tribal groups. Some of the tribal chiefdoms that allied with him were Darrang, Karaibari, Atiabari, Kamtabari and Balrampur. Some of the Bhuyan chiefs he defeated during his campaign were the Bhuyans of Ouguri, Kusum Bhuyan, Dighala Bhuyan, Kalia Bhuyan, the Bhuyan of Jhargaon, Kabilash Bhuyan, the Bhuyans of Karnapur, Phulaguri, and Bijni and finally the Bhuyan of Pandunath (Pandu at Guwahati). His campaign against the Karnapur Bhuyan was particularly difficult, and he could defeat him only with a stratagem during Bihu. His campaign caused problems for other adjoining Bhuyans, like those from Banduka and Sajalagram.
Having defeated the Bhuyans, Bisu now moved his seat of power from Chikhwna to Kamatapur, a few miles southeast of the present Cooch Behar town, and declared himself the ruler of Kamata kingdom. He assumed the Hindu name Biswa Singha. This happened in 1515, which is taken as the beginning of the rule of the Koch dynasty in Kamata. He began consolidating his power with a well thought out administrative system. He appointed his brother Sisu (Sisya Singha) as the yuvaraj, the descendants of who became the Raikut kings of Jalpaiguri. He created positions for twelve ministers called Karjis who were chiefs of different tribal groups that helped him during his campaign against the Bhuyans. Two of the most important Karjis and the yuvaraj (Raikot) formed a cabinet. A commander of a small standing army, the senapati, was created. After a census, he created a gradation of officers who controlled the population. Individual able-bodied males were called Paiks, with commanders Thakuria (over 20 Paiks), Saikia (over 100 Paiks), Hazari (over 1000 Paiks), Omra (over 3000 Paiks) and Nawab (over 66,000 Paiks).
Biswa Singha maintained his relationship with the tribals by appointing them exclusively as Karjis. The only Brahmin appointee was the royal priest (raj purohit).
Viswa Singha formed alliances with various chiefs and kings around his kingdom via marriages. He had eighteen wives (from Nepal, Gaur, Kamarupa, Benaras, Mithila and Kashmir) who bore him eighteen sons. These sons were given state duties. Nara Singha (son of Ratnakanti of Nepal) was in charge of the territory conquered from the king of Bhutan. Malladev (later Nara Narayana, son of Hemaprabha of Gaur) was the heir apparent; Sukladhwaj (later Chilarai, son of Padmawati of Gaur), Gosain Kamal (son of Chandrakanti of Kamarupa) was in charge of public works, etc.
Even though the restructuring of the Kamata kingdom was done in all earnest, the new administration was still tenuous. The Gaur rulers still had ambitions to conquer the Brahmaputra valley which brought them into conflict with the newly expanded Ahom kingdom. One such invasion was by Turbak, who attacked the Ahoms in 1532–1533., most likely passing through the Kamata kingdom. Turbak was summarily defeated, and the remnant of his army was pursued to the Karatoya river, the western boundary of the Kamata kingdom, by the Ahom general Tonkham Borgohain. At the end of this expedition, Tonkham Borgohain restored Biswa Singha at his seat of power at Kamata Kingdom to act as a buffer between the Ahom kingdom and the Gaur ambitions in Brahmaputra valley.
An ambitious person, Biswa Singha could not bear the status of vassalage to the Ahom kingdom, and made an abortive attempt to invade the Ahom kingdom in about 1537. Due to logistical shortcomings, he had to abandon his ambitions, and instead paid a visit to the Ahom court, where he agreed to pay an annual tribute. This was unbearable to him, and his deathbed injunction to his successors were to remove this vassalage.
He invaded the kingdoms of Soumarpith, Bijni, Bidyagram and Bijaypur and was victorious. Next he attacked Bhutan and after victory made a treaty with Bhutan. Biswa Singha also acquired major portions of Gour, then ruled by Hossien Shah. On the request of his mother he shifted his capital from the Chikna Mountains to Hingulabas in the plains. During his reign Muslim invaders, including Turuk Khan and Nasrat Shah, the king of Gour attacked his kingdom numerous times but after facing defeat they were forced to retreat. His bravery and courage helped the Koch-Kamata Kingdom hold a strong base.
Apart from being a great king, Maharaja Biswa Singha was also a good administrator. He was inclined towards education, and sent his son Nara Narayan & Sukladhaj to Varanasi for their education. He was a worshiper of Shiva and Durga. He brought several priests from places like Kanauj, Mithila and established various temples. In 1554 A.D. at the age of 53 he set out for the Himalayas to lead the rest of his life as a saint after crowning his second son Nara Narayan.
- Cooch Behar Government: Royal History : Book of Facts and Events. Translated from "Kochbiharer Itihas", 2nd edition (1988), by Shri. Hemanta Kumar Rai Barma
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- Nath, D (1989), History of the Koch Kingdom: 1515–1615, Delhi: Mittal Publications