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Chila Rai is a hero for the Coch people in Bengal and Assam. Pinterest

With the Indian attention fixed on the Bengal elections, Home Minister Amit Shah in a recent visit to Assam declared an interest in naming a battalion of paramilitary forces as Narayani Sena – a tribute to the famed forces of the Cooch rulers and that training center would be named after Bir Chila Rai who was the commander in chief of the Cooch Behar kings. Shukladhwaj Singha or Chila Rai was the third son of Maharaja Viswa Singha and his mother Padmavati was from the Gaur. Chilarai was instrumental in giving Srimanta Sankardev protection and shelter, as well as marrying his niece Kamalapriya (alias Bhubaneswari). It was only due to his Royal Patronage that Sankaradev was able to establish the Ek Saran Naam Dharma in Assam and bring about his cultural renaissance. His son and grandson were responsible for breaking away of Koch Hajo from the parent kingdom.

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Shukladhwaj also named Chila Rai which means ‘Kite Prince’ was perhaps the greatest general that Indian history ignored. A master military strategist, he was the commander of elder brother and Koch king Naranarayan’s army. Chilarai’s valour ensured Koch supremacy over the Bhutia, Kachari kingdom (of Hadimba, now dimapur) and the Ahoms (though several battles were fought between the Koches and Ahoms with countable victories for both sides). In June 1563 the Koches under the command of Chilarai managed to occupy the capital of Ahom, Gargaon.

Amit Shah promises more recognition to Chila Rai. Wikimedia commons

Several Kings namely the then Raja of Manipur and the Khasi chief (Viryyavanta) submitted to the Koch army. The Jaintia Raja and Rajas of Tippera(Tripura) and Sylhet were also vanquished and put to death by Chilarai and his army. It must be mentioned that Chila Rai never committed brutalities on unarmed common people and even those kings who offer their surrender were treated with utmost respect. Only those kings and soldiers who refused to surrender were treated with strong hands. But the brothers never annexed conquered territories nor oppressed the people. They only collected tributes from the vanquished kings. Even enemy- prisoners were kindly treated and given land-grants to settle”. The duo (Chilarai and Naranarayan) turned towards Bengal but due to unforeseen circumstances Chilarai was captured by the Afghan Sultan Sulaiman Karrani while Naranarayan retreated to his capital. Much of the Koch kingdom was captured by the Afghans thereafter. However, Chila Rai and Nara Narayan later rebuilt the Kamakhya temple that the Sultan’s army had destroyed. They also patronized the great Vaishnavite movement of Sankardev. Chila Rai died in 1577 of smallpox on the bank of Ganges. An interesting fact about Bir Chila Rai was that he had adopted various guerrilla warfare strategies much before Chatrapati Shivaji had adapted against Aurangzeb much later.

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The significance of gaining attention to Chila Rai is that though he is revered in Assam and his birth anniversary is celebrated with great splendor throughout Assam since 2005 along with an award being issued in his honor, he is however not well known amongst other communities across India. This is being capitalized by the BJP who during their election rallies has promised more economic benefits and bigger packages to the Rajbonshi community, more than those which are being offered by the State government and Mamata Banerjee led TMC. In this context, it is important to note that Amit Shah has planned a tour circuit covering the Madanmohan Temple and certain other local Kamptapuri attractions and even promising to make the Raash-Mela a national festival. All these must be taken within consideration of the vote bank politics does help in a sobering way that these just might be empty promises, but observing the record of the BJP and Amit Shah shows us hope that these must not be empty promises. Hope still remains that the Coch people and their culture would receive the deserved attention after all these years.


Photo by Tingey Injury Law Firm on Unsplash

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