Supriya Dutta
Interaction Designer
Behind the Screens: 600 years of Ahom Kingdom



The Ahom dynasty was the most celebrated rule in Assam’s assamese history. With a successful reign of 600 years they were able to enrich Assam with agriculture, architecture, cultural richness and different scientific interventions. Ahoms were the descendants of Tai or Shan race who came from Mungmao, currently in Yunan province of China. They came to Brahmaputra Valley of North East India in 1228. The kingdom of Ahoms established during 13th century entails an important part of the Assamese history.



Why do we need a visualization for the said Dynasty?

Historic accounts of the said kingdom are often presented textually and through other mediums (such as movies and series). These accounts are dense in information, designed primarily for historians, hence do not inspire a casual read. Structuring the resources into a visual narrative (in this project), is expected to make readers understand, visualize better and draw inferences from.



This was an academic Project done as a part of master’s thesis at IDC School of Design, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay. The aim of this project is to transform the textual accounts of history to a more accessible medium. An exploratory approach was made to convert the data available into a data-driven story narrative, and help audience drive their own inputs from the visualizations.



Objective:

The project in the form of an interactive website is expected to reach more audience. The users will be able to interact with the data and derive their own inferences about the kingdom.


Data sources

  • Itihase Suwara Sohota Bosor by Sarbananda Rajkuwar
  • A history of Assam by Sir Edward Gait
  • Ahom Buranji by Rai Sahib Golab Chandra Barua
  • Chaolung Sukhaphar Pitridesh Mung Mau Lung by Bipin Chandra Gogoi
  • Historical Monuments of Sivasagar
  • Prachin Kriti-Chihnasamuhar Samu Parichai by Narayan Chandra Gogoi.
  • Buranjir Pasas by Dilip Kumar Buragohain



Existing visualizations

I took help from different medium and sources to understand how to visualize historic data. My objective here was to see how large data are visualized, focusing more on Family trees and Administration systems. While I took help from a lot of visualizations, infographics, interactive mediums, here are a few which inspired me a lot:



Data collection

I started by reading books: noted down dates, kings, geographic locations on my notebooks, post-its and a lot of chart papers. It started off slow, as most of the books were available locally in regional language - Assamese.

After quite a lot of hours, I got these


And then converted them into spreadsheets



Topics, Data-sets, Explorations and ideations

I wanted to explore the information available on their long reign, of 600 years. I took Family and Administration system as my main topics and tried to investigate on the same.
I also wanted to see how their family trees were organized and gain insights on the characters who proceeded to become kings. I started with sketches…



and map Data


While reading through the books, I discovered a peculiar pattern in their administration, unique of their time. And so my explorations began in that front (I did get detective-y feelings ~.~)
first with sketches..

and moving to digital viz..



Insights

From the sketches and visualizations, I discovered :

  1. The political part of the administration system which started off with only two people, grew to a council of 26 members. When compared with the geographic area of the kingdom, it was observed that, with the increase in geographic area, new posts were added to the administration system
  2. Officers elected to the administration system were chosen from different families. After plotting the officers and their families in a matrix form, it was observed that, most important and higher ranks were allotted only to Ahom people.
  3. From the visualization, we can conclude that by the later part of the timeline, ministers started exploiting their powers and elected Kings based on their preferences. This might have been one of the reasons why in the later part of the history the kingdom grew internally weak.



Development

Tools:
Working with maps:

To work on maps, I tried to map the places mentioned in the data as accurately as possible into papers maps first. To create GeoJSON files for further development, I took help from QGIS and Mapbox.



Colors:

I wanted to find a color palette with rustic colors: one because Ahom Architectures has a rustic tone to it(or at least how I see it) and next was to have a historic feeling. After scrolling through numerous Ahom building images from Google and my camera, Instagram, and Pinterest, I narrowed down the following.



Evaluation and improvements:

I appointed a group of five people to evaluate the story narrative and the visualizations. Participants were asked to think aloud, and their interpretations were recorded. We also tried to engage in collaborative discussions on how the prototype could be improved.

The prototype was improved based on the feedback received. It was put into evaluation again with another group of five people, and here is the summary of the feedback I received:

  • Appreciated the concise structure of the story
  • Insights drawn were appreciated
  • Last two viz with the scrollable content were appreciated
  • Liked the color palette
  • History will be more interesting with data-viz then, just text Wars fought

And after I made the site online! I hope you like my work on Ahom history.

Also sorry for the loooooooong post ^( - . –‘)^












FIN.