What are the Pyramids of Assam that have been recommended by India to be considered for UNESCO World Heritage Status?

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New Delhi: Charaideo Maidams the burial mounds of Ahom royalty commonly known as pyramids of Assam has been nominated by India for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site this year.

‘Maidams’, the original capital of the Ahom Kings built by Chaolung Sukhapa the founder of the dynasty in about 1229 CE. Charaideo was the first capital established by king Sukapha.

Charaideo is a blend of three Tai words Che-Rai-Doi. Che means Hillock, Rai means Shinning and Doi means town. It means ‘Shinning City’ on the Hillock.

History:

Sukhapa changed the capital many times but Charaideo remained the symbolic center as it contains sacred burial grounds of Ahom kings and queens. It was the place of Ahom worships and subsequently, it became the place of ancestral Gods. Fourty two tombs (Maidams) of Ahom kings and queens at Charaideo hillocks are usually compared to the Pyramids of Egypt as both the structures were used for burial purpose, made in a triangular shape and having very high social as well as historical values

Architecture:

It has a massive underground vault with one or more chambers having domical superstructure which is covered by a heap of earthen mound. A small open pavilion chow-chali is given at the top of the mound and octagonal dwarf wall encloses whole the tomb. The historical chronicles also inform that wives, attendants, pet animals and huge quantity of valuables were buried with the departed kings. There are as many as 150 tombs on this hillock and every tomb is of different size and shape. This denoted the power and status of buried individuals of the royals.

The ‘Maidams’ or the mound burial system of the Ahom dynasty in Charaideo was first listed in the tentative list of UNESCO’s World Heritage site in April 2014 but it took nine years for the dossier to reach the nomination status from the tentative list and this was possible only due to the initiative of the Prime Minister.

During the 400th birth anniversary celebrations of Ahom General Lachit Borphukan in New Delhi, an exhibition was held at Vigyan Bhawan which included a model of ‘Maidam’ that showcased the unique burial architecture and tradition of the Tai Ahoms, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Saturday.

‘The Prime Minister had viewed the exhibition and this nomination has been possible due to his interest in this heritage of ours. It is a matter of great honour for Assam that the country has decided to forward the World Heritage Site nomination dossier to UNESCO for evaluation’, he said.

The UNESCO team will visit Charaideo in September and it is expected to be declared a World Heritage site by March 2024, he said.

The ‘Maidams’ will be under the cultural segment as per the categorisation of World Heritage sites.

There is currently no World Heritage site in the category of cultural heritage in the northeast out of the 32 listed in the country. Manas and Kaziranga National Parks, both in Assam, are World Heritage sites under the natural category, of which there are seven in India, he said.

The state Directorate of Archaeology had prepared the dossier to push the case for the Charaideo Maidams which was submitted to the Archaeology Survey of India, following which the chief minister had written to the Prime Minister.

In 2019-20, the state government made a provision of Rs 25 crore for the protection, conservation and development of the Charaideo Archaeological site.

‘Maidams’ represent the late medieval (13th—19th century CE) mound burial tradition of the Tai Ahoms dynasty which ruled for 600 years in Assam.

Out of 386 ‘Maidams’ explored so far, 90 royal burials at Charaideo are the best preserved, representative, and most complete examples of this tradition, the chief minister pointed out.

The Charaideo Maidams, which are highly venerated, enshrine the mortal remains of Ahom royalty. Initially, the deceased with their personal belongings and other paraphernalia were buried, but after the 18th century, the Ahom rulers adopted the Hindu method of cremation and later entombed the cremated bones and ashes at the ‘Maidams’ at Charaideo.

The ‘Maidams’ are an outstanding new type of funeral architecture of the state in the geo-cultural context of south Asia and southeast Asia.

Charaideo for the Tai Ahoms, who are ancestor worshippers, is the final resting place of their ‘Swargadeos’ (kings who are like gods), other royals and ancestors.

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