City City Bang Bang: Guwahati

January 1, 2010 4 By Ajatashatru

No one knows for sure when the story of Guwahati began. Perhaps it was in existence when man first learnt the concept of civilized living. The city had already become a prominent place by the time the great epics were written. The Mahabharata talks about Kaurava prince Duryodhana marrying princess Bhanumati of Pragjyotishpura, which is identified as ancient Guwahati. King Bhagadutta, Bhanumati’s father, excavated a huge tank to mark the wedding. The tank is identified as the Dighalipukhuri located in the heart of the city.

Thus speaks mythology. The city finds its first historical mention as Kamrupa a tributary kingdom in the Allahabad Pillar Inscription of Emperor Samudragupta. Subsequent records of King Harshavardhana’s reign over Aryavarta (North and Central India) highlight economic and cultural exchanges with the kingdom of Kamrupa under King Bhaskarvarman of the Bhauma Naraka dynasty.

Kamrupa prominently figures in both medieval and modern history. The Chinese traveler Hiuen Tsang and Turkish chronicler Al-Beruni have referred to the place as Kamru and Kamrut respectively. These are believed to be corruptions of Kamrupa.The Battle of Saraighat that ended the myth of Mughal invincibility was fought in what is today Guwahati. Of course, that episode is part of folklore now, but most of its historicity is lost in the race for modernity. In fact, Guwahati is perhaps one of those few cities in the world where traces of the past are few and far between.

There are several interpretations about Guwahati’s ancient name, Pragjyotishpura. One school of thought believes it means “city of eastern lights’, while another says the city was named such because it was a centre of astrology (Jyotish). A third view by Dr Banikanta Kakati breaks the word into Pagar-juh (jo)-tic (c-ch) or “land of mountain heights”.

The name Guwahati first finds mention in Mughal chronicles penned during the several imperial campaigns to the region under Ahom rule. An old adage in Cooch Behar, “khata khuta Majum Khan mukhe chhap daari, beharaka bhange jaibe Gauhata baari” refers to Nawab Mir Jumla’s (Muazzam Khan) Assam campaign mentioning Guwahati as ‘Gauhata’. When Assam was finally annexed to the British Empire, the English named it Gowhatty.

With time, Guwahati has transformed into a metropolitan city in tune with modern lifestyle. By virtue of its being the ‘gateway to the Northeast’, the city today enjoys several advantages. MNC brand outlets, upscale multiplexes, amusement parks, eateries and coffee joints with a pan-India presence—Guwahati has them all. Some complain about the haphazard growth, both living as well as material, in the city. Nevertheless, they do little to make the place any less charming. The greatest asset of the city, though under-utilised, happens to be the mighty Brahmaputra on the banks of which the city thrives.

Once upon a time a steamer service operated between Calcutta and Guwahati. Now, there is none. Although it is expected that someday the river will be made good use of, there hasn’t been any policy initiative towards that. It is remembered by authorities only during the monsoons when it rises in an angry menace. Nevertheless, the Brahmaputra adds to the city’s scenic beauty. The river also makes possible for Guwahati to be among the few Indian cities to have floating restaurants.The lone floating discotheque, Kamakazi, is probably the only one of its kind in the country.

Since 1962, Guwahati has boasted of the multi-sports Nehru stadium that has hosted many one-day internationals and football matches. Today it has over six stadiums and with the National Games in 2007 also enjoys world-class sports infrastructure.

In the field of education, Guwahati scores an edge over other parts of the Northeast. Some of the best known schools and institutions of higher learning, including an IIT, are located here.

As the economic nerve centre of the Northeast, the city has the highest volume of trade and commerce in the region. The world’s second largest tea auction centre is located here and Sualkuchi in the city suburbs is a silk hub of importance. Besides Guwahati provides good inter and intra-state air, rail and road connectivity. Media, telecommunication, and public utility services are also well developed. In all respects, Guwahati is truly a modern city.

Some of the most frequented places in Guwahati :

– Accoland: With several interesting rides for both children and adults, one can spend an entire day with family here without a heavy toll on the pocket.

-Assam State Zoo-cum-Botanical Garden: Located amidst the hustle and bustle of the city, the sprawling zoo houses some rare species of wild animals settled comfortably in their natural habitat including whiter tigers, one horned rhinos, swamp tapirs and leopards. The Botanical Gardens boasts of around forty-five species of orchids besides being a popular picnic spot for lovebirds and schoolchildren alike.

– Dighalipukhuri: This is an ideal location for those struck by Cupid’s arrow. With one of the country’s most scenically located coffee shops by its side, the place is never without coochi-cooing couples- often students of nearby colleges. But beware: this place is also frequented by creeps who are forever ready with their cameras to capture you and your significant other as soon as you share an intimate moment. Nevertheless, it’s probably the only everyday place that justifies the name Kamrupa.

– Guwahati Planetarium: Although less frequented, it has an amazing ambience and offers quality shows at cheap prices.

– Jyoti Chitraban: This is the place that houses Jollywood- the Assamese film industry.

– Panbazaar: The education as well as the cultural hub of the city. Prestigious institutions like Cotton College, Handique Girls’ College and Don Bosco School are located here. The State Museum, District Library as well as Rabindra Bhavan are situated here. The city’s best known bookstores can also be found in this area.

– Shankardev Kalakshetra: Built on a huge plot, this cultural hotspot is inspired by the first amphitheatre in Asia, Ranghar in Sibsagar and includes in its premises a museum, library and exhibition galleries.

Besides, numerous places of worship dot the cityscape including the famous Kamakhya, Umananda, Ugratara, Sukreswar, Balaji Tirupati and Vashista Ashram.

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