The Maidoms of Charaideo in Assam
Massive brick-vaulted hemispherical structures covered by an earthen mound and topped with an open brick pavilion, the maidoms , scattered across Assam, tell a fascinating history of the burial of the dead royals
An Introduction to the Ahoms
When a group of Tai-Ahoms led by Chaulung Siukapha migrated from China to the Brahmaputra Valley in Northeast India and established the Ahom dynasty in 1228, it took them 25 years to find a suitable place to establish their capital city. In 1253, Charaideo — which is located at the foothills of the Patkai mountain range and 30 km from the present-day town of Sibsagar — was chosen as the first capital of the Ahoms. Though the capital city of the Ahoms would shift to other places during their 600-yearold reign, Charaideo remained an important place for them.
The Ahoms introduced their language, administrative system, and agricultural practices in their new kingdom. Over the centuries, they gradually assimilated with local traditions and beliefs, and built both religious and secular monuments. However, one original custom that the Ahoms continued with almost till the end of the 18th century was their practice of burying their dead royals in vaulted tombs known as maidoms. These maidoms are found in Sibsagar, Jorhat, Dibrugarh and Charaideo, with the maximum numbers in Charaideo. 
This is because the Ahoms believed that their Gods resided in Charaideo and since the Swargdeos (term used to refer to the Ahom Kings) were considered to be Gods on earth, they were entombed in Charaideo.
Maidoms and Burial Practices of the Ahoms
The maidoms of Charaideo have often been compared to the royal tombs of ancient China as well as the Pyramids of the Egyptian Pharaohs, especially in the context of the ritual system, the tradition of entombing a deceased royal, and the pomp and grandeur associated with the status of the dead.  
However, the maidoms look nothing like the impressive Pyramids of Egypt; instead they resemble small hillocks.
The maidoms are actually massive brickvaulted hemispherical structures covered by an earthen mound, and topped with an open
brick pavilion. The maidom reaches its shape and size by layering bricks and earth on top of the hemispherical mud-mound which, over time, gets covered with vegetation and transforms the area into a gentle undulating landscape. At Charaideo, the royal burial landscape created by maidoms are a one-ofa-kind necropolis in India.
The earliest maidoms used wood as the primary construction material, but from the 17th century onwards, stone and burnt bricks of varying sizes were used for constructing the inner chambers. The maidoms were built out of bricks and stones and cemented with a mixture of black pulses, jaggery, eggs, fish oil, limestone, and lime extracted from the shells of snails. 
Pebbles and cobbles from river beds, as well as broken stones and bricks were used in the construction of the maidoms. The vaulted chambers of the maidom can be accessed through a west-facing arched gateway. Depending on the power and status of the deceased royal or noble, the size of the maidoms vary — some of the maidoms are double-storied and 50 feet in height and cover 2–3 acres, while others are barely the height of an average human being. Each maidam is enclosed by an octagonal boundary wall. 
Though most of the maidoms are empty today, having been ransacked by invaders and/or grave robbers, it is believed that all Ahom kings, queens, princes, princesses and nobles would have been buried with their personal possessions that would have included the royal insignia, personal objects in wood, ivory, iron and gold, ceramic ware, weapons, and clothes.
 The Swargdeos were entombed with a retinue of attendants to serve him in the afterlife, and sometimes also wives and pet animals. This practice of entombing servants and wives was abolished by Swargdeo Rudra Singha (r. 1696–1714 CE). Further, the practice of entombing the royal dead ceased after the Ahom Queen Phuleshwari Devi (1722–1731 CE) converted to Hinduism and established the custom of cremating the bodies. However, it is believed
that the ashes of Swargdeo Rajeshwar Singha (1769 CE) was buried inside a maidom after he was cremated on the banks of the river Brahmaputra.
Present-day conditions of the Maidoms
Many of the maidoms at Charaideo have collapsed, or have been dug out with only 2–3 maidoms in a condition to be excavated. In 2002, the excavation of one such maidom yielded an ivory pen, cowrie shells, copper and wooden objects and so on, as well as some skeletal remains. All the excavated material is in the custody of the Archaeological Survey of India, and due to the absence of any written records, it has not been possible to identify who the maidom belonged to. In the past, the maidoms would have been sacred spaces with rituals and prayers happening on the site or on specially designated days. Today, the maidoms at Charaideo is a local tourist spot with the pathways constructed by the caretakers of the property, providing the perfect spot for a stroll or a photo-op. Walkways have also been constructed inside the aforementioned excavated maidom to give the visitor an idea of what the interiors are like.
The Maidoms of the Ahoms entered the Tentative List of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 2014 for its “outstanding universal value”, and efforts to restore the “structural integrity” of the maidoms. Yet, the reality is that most of the site as well as the maidoms
in other locations lie unprotected or even encroached upon. It is important to consider the implications of this and the effect this would have for the maidoms to be fully inscribed as a World Heritage Site.
Notes and references:
1.It is estimated that there are more than 150 maidoms at Charaideo. About 30 are under the protection of either the Archaeological Survey of India or the State Archaeology Department. The property and buffer zones are jointly protected and managed by these bodies. The remaining maidoms are unprotected. Some of the unprotected ones have been encroached upon, while some are in tea estates or forests. 2. Debojit Mitra (2017). An analytical study of Maidams of Ahom kings in comparison with Egyptian pyramids. International Journal of Advanced Research. 5(5), 1694–1699. 3.whc.unesco.org/en tentativelists/5915/ 4. The Ahoms considered the octagon as a sacred shape. While scholars are not in consensus as to why this was so, some of the reasons offered are: (a) it indicates the eight kingdoms subjugated by the Ahoms; (b) the Ahom kingdom was described as being eightsided; (c) they placed importance on the arithmetical number eight; (d) according to an Ahom belief, the earth is made of eight cones supported by eight pillars; and (e) the Ahom domain stretches out in eight directions as conceived by the Hindus. (Source: www.mintageworld.com/media/ detail/2051-enigma-of-octagonal-shape-ofahom-coins/) 5. Krutika Haraniya (2018). The Mysterious Mounds of the Ahoms. www.livehistoryindia. com/amazing-india/2018/09/18/themysterious-mounds-of-the-ahoms 6. Edward Gait (2012). History of Assam. EBH Publishers. 7. www.thenewsminute.com/article/videomiscreants-seen-pulling-down-pillar-hampitemple-ruins-police-launch-probe-96122