History of Nagaland:from vedic age to gupta period
The Nagas have various theories of migration and settlement, which are recorded mostly by foreign writers. Claudius Ptolemy made the earliest reference to the Nagas in his popular work, ‘Geographia’, written in 150 A.D. Referring to the Naga territory in its present position, he called it as ‘the realm of the naked.’16 Sir G.A. Grierson traced the origin of the Nagas to that of the Tibeto-Burmans on the basis of language.17 Huang Tsang, the Chinese pilgrim who visited Assam in 645 A.D. made mention of the tribes east of Assam.18 Ahom Buranjees have records that when the Ahoms came to Assam in the 13th Century, the Nagas were already settled in the Naga Hills.19 Written sources do not provide the exact date of the Nagas’ arrival into the Naga Hills, the exact place of origin, or why they migrated. However it is very probable that the Nagas have entered the Naga Hills before the Christian era.
According to Dr. S.K. Chatterjee, the Nagas are none other than the Kiratas (Indo- Mongoloids) mentioned in the old Sanskrit literature in 1000 B.C.20 The Vedas mentions about the Kirata at various occasions. The Yajurveda makes the earliest.
reference to this by mentioning a mountainous wild man. This is followed by the Atharvaveda, which mentioned a Kirata girl searching for medicinal herbs from the mountains. In the Mahabharata, the Kiratas are the hill men living in the eastern Himalayas. According to legend, Ulupi, the Naga princess fell in love with Arjuna, the great hero of Mahabharata, the handsome Pandava Prince, who came to eastern India. Ulupi took Arjuna to ‘Naga lok’ (the land of the Nagas) where they lived happily for sometime until Arjuna moved on to Manipur. In the great war of Mahabharata, the Nagas also are shown to have fought on the side of the Kauravas.
Different scholars have come up with the theory that the Nagas have links with Tibet, China, and Southeast Asian countries like Indonesia, Malaysia and Myanmar. This theory is based on Naga art, material culture, language and practices. Interestingly Southeast Asia has been connected with China and India for much of its history. The earliest settlers in Southeast Asia were Palaeolithic or pre-Palaeolithic food gatherers, hunters, fishers and folks.21 The units of this organisation, like the hunting group or the clan or tribe were small. They were nomadic and generally moved in a defined hunting territory.
With the passage of time, some of the tribes created new living space for themselves. Keeping in view the nature of the primitive agrarian structure, as population increased, the pressure necessitated more area of land, causing some of these groups to migrate. This is taken as one factor that led to migration within Asia. The migrants were directed by the barriers of mountains and jungles southwards along the seaways of the Malayan world.
The origin of the word ‘Naga’ is much debated by different scholars. The two largely accepted viewpoints are taken from the etymology of the word ‘Naga’, and its varying connotations in the Burmese and the Assamese languages.
In Burma, the Naga tribe is called ‘Na-ka’, which in Burmese means ‘people with pierced ear-lobes’. Piercing of the ear lobes is a widespread practice among the Naga tribes. Traditionally, it is an important step for young boys who are about to enter manhood. The Burmese used the name ‘Naka’ or ‘Naga’ for the tribes, and it was from the Burmese that the British first came to know about the Nagas during the Anglo-Burmese Wars (1795-1826).
The Naga tribes had something in common that has made them recognisable as a people, since at least the time of Ptolemy, who used the words ‘Naga log’ to mean the realm of the naked people during the 2nd Century A.D. Interestingly, the location which Ptolemy described about the naked people has been the exact place in which the present Nagas are living now.
The Greeks had heard of the Nagas during the first century A.D. during their visits to western India and South India as a wild people with the characteristic flat nose of the Mongol race. According to Captain J. Butler, the term ‘Naga’ is derived from the Bengali word ‘Nangla’ or the Hindustani word ‘Nanga’, meaning naked, crude and barbarous. According to Verrier Elwin, the most likely derivation is that ‘Naga’ is traced from the word ‘Nok’, which means people, in some Tibeto-Burman languages. According to Dr. Hutton, it is typical of Assamese dialect to change ‘a’ to ‘o’ and so ‘Nanga’ is changed to ‘Naga’ since the second ‘n’ is nasal and pronounced as ‘Noga’.
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