“Our great-grandfather Dharmapal came from Korno Suborno to become the king of Kamrup. He established the capital of Kamrup at Godondo Mountains, or Kuberachal, on the north bank of the Brahmaputra. Korno Suborno was actually a part of Gourh, earning him the moniker Gourheswar. Since he was the king of Kamrup, he was also called Kameswar or Kamrupeswar. The Jitari clan is well-known on both banks of the Brahmaputra and throughout the entire western kingdom of Gourh. Revered. Always keep in mind the glorious history of our dynasty in whatever you do, dear daughter-in-law,” says Yajnavati, the great queen mother.

In the bedchambers of Queen Mother Yajnavati, inside the royal palace of Pratappur, a teenage empress, Chandraprabha, is sitting on a gold-inlaid low seat. Behind her, the queen mother is coiling gold thread around Chandraprabha’s long hair and twisting it into a knot. A silver tray with gold hairpins, a small gold comb and many other ornaments, including a kopali worn on the forehead, has been placed atop a wooden table with carved ornamental details. Chandraprabha holds a mirror studded with precious stones and gems in her hand. Yajnavati invites Chandraprabha to her bedsuite on most evenings, where the queen fashions her hair in various styles and imparts wisdom gained from her mother-in-law and her own experience. The queen mother talks about topics ranging from make-up and health to housekeeping and politics, determined to assist her son’s newlywed wife in upholding the traditions of their dynasty and equipping her with a broad range of knowledge. The new bride has just crossed adolescence to step into her youth. Her marriage to Pratapchandra has brought her to Pratappur recently, so the queen mother also spends some of her early afternoons training Chandraprabha.

But not regularly.

Most of Chandraprabha’s days are spent with Pratapchandra, her husband and the king of Pratappur. Whenever the king is in the capital, he prefers to spend his leisure time in her company, and if he has to go somewhere, he takes her along. Today, King Rajdhar of the neighbouring Bhuyan kingdom of Tembuwani has arrived, and Yajnavati is pleased that it will be late by the time her son returns from his official obligations. Pratapchandra and Chandraprabha had been away from the capital for the past few days, taking a royal tour of the kingdom after offering prayers at the Lord Mahabhairav temple. It has been days since Yajnavati has met Chandraprabha.

Weary of her solitary days, the queen mother is relieved to be in her daughter-in-law’s company. After coiffing Chandraprabha’s hair into a bun, the queen mother engages her in conversation. She deeply cares about Chandraprabha and sometimes feels that this simple girl with captivating looks is more like her own daughter than a daughter-in-law. Since Chandraprabha’s arrival, the atmosphere in the royal palace of Pratappur has become joyful. Previously, the king spent very little time at home, and Yajnavati felt immensely lonely after the death of her husband, Sompal. However, things have changed now. She has found a companion with whom she can share her feelings, even though it can hardly be called sharing. Chandraprabha doesn’t say much; she just listens. She listens attentively to everything her mother-in-law says and tries to obediently carry out her instructions.

Even now, as she looks into the gold mirror, the young queen keenly listens to Yajnavati, attempting to master the art of creating a chignon. Apart from asking a few questions, she remains mostly quiet. While adorning the neatly tied hair bun with gold hairpins, the queen mother remarks, “Bhuyan Rajdhar from Tembuwani has arrived today; did you know, dear?”

“I did not, honourable mother.”

“Have you ever heard of his name?”

“I think I heard it once.”

“Well, Rajdhar’s father, Chandibor, was Shiromani Bhuyan. During the reign of my grandfather-in-law King Tamrodhwaj, he established his kingdom at Tembuwani. My great grandfather-in-law King Dharmapal and King Durlav Narayan of the west were descendants of the same dynasty. King Durlav Narayan also adopted the title Gourheswar, which commanded a great deal of respect in those days, you see. Even the landless kings proudly wore the title ‘Panch Gourheswar’. King Dharmapal and Durlav Narayan were mighty rulers, and there was a conflict and subsequent political alliance between Durlav Narayan and the Ahoms, who are now a formidable force upstream.”

“Honourable mother, if King Dharmapal became the emperor of Kamrup and established his kingdom in the Godondo Mountains, how did we come to settle here?” Chandraprabha asks.

“It’s a long story, my dear. Even I am unaware of all the specifics. What I know is that King Dharmapal married Banamala, the sister of Moinavati, the queen of Manikchandra, also known as Pratapdhwaja, the king of Bengal. King Manikchandra had several queens. Durlav Narayan is the son of his first queen, Parvati. Although they were cousins, King Dharmapal engaged in a battle with Durlav Narayan after establishing his capital in Dharmapur, seeking to expand his kingdom. The entire region where the shrine of Lord Billeswar stands today was once part of King Dharmapal’s kingdom. Eventually, Durlav Narayan and King Dharmapal reached a truce. Upon King Dharmapal’s request, Durlav Narayan sent a group of high-caste and sub-caste Hindus, including brave soldiers like Chandidhar and virtuous Brahmin pandits, to settle near Kamrup.”

“But you are aware, aren’t you, of the Kshatriya rulers’ strong desire to expand their kingdoms? Isn’t my son Ramchandra the same? Well, Durlav Narayan assassinated Dharmapal and took over Kamrup Komota. The brave Chandibor crossed the Bornodi river and abandoned Kamrup. King Dharmapal’s son, Tamradhwaj or Ratnapal, my father-in-law, moved further upstream and settled here in the village of Kanyaka. I have once before told you about Chandibor, who settled in Tembuwani and became known as Shiromani Bhuyan. His eldest son, Rajdhar, and second son, Gadadhar, ruled the kingdom from Tembuwani and Routa. During their reigns, the realm was not as vast as it is now. Ramchandra expanded our territory up to the Bornadi by defeating Gadadhar Bhuyan. He has also stretched our rule from Majuli in the south to Komota in the west. Where we now live used to be Nagshankar’s capital in the fourth century. Ramchandra has fortified the capital, but governing such a vast region is not an easy task. I feel there is no need to stretch the territory any further. Don’t you think so? It is only because of Minister Sogor’s wisdom that Ramchandra has been able to smoothly govern the kingdom. If he plans another expedition, you must stop him. Make him understand. I will try my best.”

Excerpted with permission from The Divine Sword, Rita Chowdhury, translated from the Assamese by Reeta Borbora, Pan MacMillan India.