Assam’s Rang Ghar: Asia’s oldest amphitheatre

Assam’s Rang Ghar: Asia’s oldest amphitheatre

A special cementing substance called the Karal or Karhal prepared out of black gram, duck eggs, sticky rice, resin and snail lime was used for its construction in 1744

Assam’s Rang Ghar: Asia’s oldest amphitheatre ahom kings 30stades

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy, is one of the most famous ancient monuments in the world. Built almost 2,000 years ago, the oval-shaped Colosseum is the largest standing amphitheatre across the globe today. The mammoth structure could hold around 80,000 spectators and was used for entertainment

But did you know that India is home to the Colosseum of the East?

The Rang Ghar in Assam is the oldest surviving amphitheatre in Asia.

It is located near Rangpur Palace, which is just 3 km from Sibsagar or Sivasagar town.

The Rang Ghar, which translates as House of Entertainment, was built in the 18th century during the rule of the powerful Ahom kings who ruled Assam for 600 years. The structure was built using bamboo and wood during the reign of Swargadeo Rudra Singha. Later, his successor, Swargadeo Pranatta Singha rebuilt it with bricks in 1744 AD.

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There are two stone-carved crocodiles at the entrance of Rang Ghar. Pic: Wikipedia 30stades
There are two stone-carved crocodiles at the entrance of Rang Ghar. Pic: Wikipedia

Like the Colosseum, the Rang Ghar too was used for entertainment and sporting events. The royals and nobles would watch wrestling matches, buffalo fights and other sporting events as well as dance performances held during the Rongali Bihu festival in the amphitheatre.

Given its historical significance, Rang Ghar was used as a logo for the 33rd National Games held in Assam in 2007.

Today, the historical monument is in a precarious condition. Frequent earthquakes have caused many cracks in the thick walls. Nevertheless, the grandeur of the building and its architectural precision makes it worth a visit.

Architecture style

The Rang Ghar is a fine specimen of Ahom architecture; it is made of baked red bricks and an indigenously developed mortar. The building has withstood ravages of time and nature, pointing to the fact that the architecture, as well as the ingredients used in the mortar, were of the best quality. The building is protected and maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India (ASI) which is in the process of giving it a facelift.

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The steep staircase leading to the upper floor where the royalty and nobles would sit and watch programmes and events. Pic: Flickr 30stades
The steep staircase leading to the upper floor where the royalty and nobles would sit and watch programmes and events. Pic: Flickr

The Ahoms used thin baked bricks and an indigenous type of plaster to construct the building. The plaster was made using rice paste or Maati Maah, eggs and a fish called Borali Maach. The same mortar was used in the construction of the Talatal Ghar, the palace of the Ahom kings.

A special cementing substance called the Karal or Karhal prepared out of black gram, duck eggs, sticky rice (bora saul), xilikha (a local fruit), resin, snail lime etc. was used for construction.

Glittering pieces of snail shells are still visible on the walls.

It is also believed that the Ahoms might have used some technique of water-proofing these walls, as the surface of the bricks seem to exhibit an oily texture when coming into contact with water. The interiors of the building are decorated with delicate floral patterns which are expertly engraved into the concrete.

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The building stands 10 meters high. Its roof is shaped like an Ahom long royal boat and is decorated with two stone-carved crocodiles. The base of the building has a series of entrances. The exterior of the building has exquisitely carved floral and geometrical patterns.

Rang Ghar's roof is shaped like an Ahom long royal boat and is decorated with two stone-carved crocodiles. Pic: Wikipedia 30stades
Rang Ghar’s roof is shaped like an Ahom long royal boat and is decorated with two stone-carved crocodiles. Pic: Wikipedia

At the entrance to the Rang Ghar are a series of richly carved arches. Two stone-carved crocodile structures flank on either side of the entrance. A steep staircase leads to the upper floor where the royalty and nobles would sit and watch programmes and events.

The arches open into a vast ground, known as Rupohi Pathar.

During the Ahom rule, wrestling matches, elephant fights, cock fights and bullfights were organised here.

Now it is a well-manicured field with lush green grass.

Ahom architecture

Ahom king Rudra Singha, a pioneering ruler, established his capital at Rangpur (then known as (Tengabari) at the beginning of the 18th century CE. It was Rudra Singha who introduced permanent structures in non-religious buildings.

Before Rudra Singha’s reign, all buildings apart from temples were constructed using materials such as bamboo, thatch and cane. Only temples were built of stone.

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When Mughal general Mir Jumla invaded the Ahom kingdom in 1662, Shihab-ud-din Talish, who recorded the war operations, noted in Tarikh-i-Assam, that there was no building of stone, brick or mud in the whole of Assam except the gates of the Garhgaon and some temples.

When Rudra Singha shifted his capital from Garhgaon to Rangpur, he brought artisans from Cooch Behar to introduce new designs and construction styles. He wanted his palace to be built of bricks but since no one in the kingdom knew how to do this, he had to bring artisans from Cooch Behar who built the palace, Rang Ghar and other brick buildings.

(The image featured at the top of this page has been sourced from Wikipedia.)

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