One hundred and fifty km east of the famous Kaziranga National Park, in the state of Assam, lies the town of Sibsagar where a mighty dynasty of rulers known as the Ahoms (Tai) reigned supreme as an invincible power for 600 years, until the British annexed the region in 1826. Here, rising on the periphery of a large 129-acre artificial tank called the Sibsagar Lake (which had given the town its name), are the archaeological remains, palaces, and temples of the Ahoms, now being preserved as national protected monuments.
Assam, in fact, derives its name from the Ahom dynasty which held such undisputed sway in the east that even the Mughal rulers, who had extended their dominance over most of the northern parts of the subcontinent, could not make inroads into Ahom territory in spite of 17 attempts at invasion (one of which was made by Emperor Aurangzeb, in the mid-17th century).
True to the mindset of the picture-postcard scenery, the tall-elongated 104 feet (31 m) high dome of the Shivadol (Shiva Temple) rises into view as one approaches Sibsagar. The 250-year-old Sibsagar Tank constructed by Queen Madambika is said to have a water level that stands higher than the surrounding ground although it is situated right in the middle of the town. Siberian migratory ducks come all the way here to spend the winter months in this stretch of water and birds flutter around in large numbers as visitors make their way to the cluster of three temples-the Shivadol, Devidol and Vishnudol -along the road skirting the tank. One interesting fact is that at Vishnudol, dedicated to Lord Vishnu, there is a Shiva lingam in the sanctum sanctorum, which is unusual (devotees are normally followers of either Vishnu or Shiva, not both).
At a short distance away from the temples, ancient cannons made from iron have been preserved as relics from the time of the Ahom rule. Facing the road and the picturesque tank is the tourist office and tourist lodge flanked by the office of the Archaeological Survey of India that has resurrected and regenerated interest in the ruins of a bygone era.
Twenty-eight kilometers east of the present Sibsagar is Charaideo, where one can see the maidams or burial vaults and mounds of the royal families. A seven-storied mansion known as the Gargaon Palace, at Gargaon, which is 13 km east of Sibsagar, has become one of the main tourist attractions of the region.
Six kilometers from Sibsagar town is another monument, the Kareng Ghar and Talatal Ghar, the latter a seven-storied structure of which three are underground.
Close by is Rang Ghar, an oval shaped, two-storied pavilion from which the Ahom kings are said to have watched elephant fights and other events. The base of the monument has a series of arched entrances and atop the roof is a decorative pair of carved stone crocodiles. All these structures have been designated as protected national monuments. In many of these, only the brick framework exists with vestiges of sculptural adornments here and there. The Ahoms, who used special thin baked bricks, did not have the use of cement and, therefore, used a paste of rice and eggs as mortar for their construction.
At Rangpur (which was the name of the old Ahom capital), five km from Sibsagar, there is another large man-made lake known as the Joysagar built by king Rudra Singha in 1697, a year after he came to power. The lake and the temple Joidol (erected a year later, in 1698) commemorate the memory of his mother, Queen Joymati, who was tortured to death. Just as Sibsagar tank had three temples constructed on its shores, Joysagar too has a set of three temples of which Joydol is one; the other two are, as at Sibsagar, the Shivadol and Devidol, dedicated to Shiva and Devi, respectively. From what remains of the sculpture decorating these temple walls, one can see carving of elephants and other animals in panels and rows reminding one a little of the workmanship at Belur and Halebid in Karnataka state. There is a depiction of Brahma astride a peacock and hunting scenes on the outer panels along with a rare 16-armed Durga and Narashimha. The most unfortunate thing is that many of these relics have been irretrievably lost.
Rudra Singha who erected the temple around Joysagar was also responsible for the construction of the Namdang stone bridge cut from a monolithic rock over the Namdang River, 12 km from Sibsagar. Today, the National Highway 37 passes over this historic bridge. Rudra Singha's son, Lakshmi Singha built, in turn, one more tank in memory of his father in 1773 and named it Rudrasagar. Situated 8 km from Sibsagar, this tank too has a temple on its banks dedicated to Shiva.
Yet another man-made tank with its own set of three temples along the bank can be seen at Gaurisagar, 12 km from Sibsagar. Built by Queen Phuleswari Devi who lived in the middle of the 18th century, the Gaurisagar tank is spread over 150 acres and is dedicated to Gauri or Goddess Durga. The three temples here as at Sibsagar and Joysagar, are Vishnudol, Shivadol and Devidol.