The burial mounds of Ahom royalty, also known as ‘Maidams’ or ‘Assam’s pyramids’, will be India’s sole nomination for recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site this year, Chief Minister Himanta Biswa Sarma said on Saturday.
The dossier on the ‘maidams’, in Assam’s Charaideo district, has been selected by Prime Minister Narendra Modi out of 52 heritage sites across the country seeking the coveted tag, CM Sarma said at a press conference.
The Prime Minister’s Office, Union Ministry of Cultural Affairs “informed me of this momentous news and the nomination will be submitted to the UNESCO office in Paris tonight”, he said.
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, he added.
‘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’, CM Sarma said.
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, he said.
‘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’, the chief minister 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 mediaeval (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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