Arunachal Pradesh History

May 8, 2009

Arunachal Pradesh is India’s easternmost state, bordering the countries of Burma/Myanmar to the east, Tibet to the north and Bhutan towards the west. When viewed on a map, the state seems to be disconnected from the country, connected only by the flimsiest of land. Due to the fact that it is the easternmost portion of India, it is sometimes known as the “land of the rising sun” and “land of the dawn lit mountains”, which is actually the meaning of the state’s name.

There are practically no definitive records that relate to the history of Arunachal Pradesh except, apparently for some oral literature and several historical ruins that are mainly found in the foothills that date back to the early Christian era. What is known, however, is that the first ancestors of the tribal groups that populate the area now migrated there from Tibet during the prehistoric period and were later joined by their Thai-Burmese counterparts. The earliest references to the state can be found in the texts of Ramayana, Mahabharata and the other Vedic legends.

Only the Ahom chronicles during the 16th century provide recorded history for the state, although recent excavations of Hindu temple ruins have shed new light about the ancient history of Arunachal Pradesh. The 14th Malinithan located at the foot of the Siang Hills on West Siang have paintings of Hindu gods as well as altars that haven’t been touched by humans in years. Another temple, the heritage site Tawang monastery, which is 400 years old, also provides evidence that Buddhist tribal peoples have lived in the area. The tribal kingdoms of Monpa and Sherdukpen, the former of which flourished between 500 BC and AD 600, are recorded to have controlled the area during their times. The Ahom and the Assamese controlled a big part of the state until India was annexed by the British empire in 1858.

Parts of the state have been claimed by mainland China, Tibet and Bhutan as parts of their territory. In 1913-1914, representatives of China, Britain and Tibet negotiated the Simla Accord, whose objective was to define the borders between Inner Tibet, Outer Tiber and British India. The British administrator at that time, Sir Henry McMahon, drew up the McMahon Line, an 890 kilometer border that serves to separate British India and Outer Tibet. This line ceded Tawang as well as other Tibetan areas to the British. While there was no issue between the three representatives regarding this border, the Chinese representative had issues regarding Inner and Outer Tibet and as a consequence, China walked out of the agreement. Since then, China’s position has been that since it has sovereignty over Tibet, the line was invalid without Chinese agreement.

When Chinese power in Tibet collapsed, any serious challenges to the line disappeared and no new maps of the region were published until 1935. In 1937, the Survey of India published a map that showed the McMahon Line as the official boundary between the two countries and in 1938, the Simla Convention was published, meant to be a bilateral accord. The 1938 Survey of India showed Tawang as part of the British India. In 1944, the British established administrations in the area, but Tibet altered its position of the McMahon Line in 1947, claiming Tawang as part of their territory. This was developed further as India gained its independence and the People’s Republic of China was established late in the 1940s. With the threat of China taking over Tibet, India declared the McMahon Line to be the boundary of its lands in 1950, forcing the last remnants of Tibetan administration out of Tawang.

The North East Frontier Agency (NEFA) was finally established in 1950 in what would become Arunachal Pradesh and the relationship between the Chinese and Indians were cordial until the eruption of the Sino-Indian War of 1962, when China captured most of NEFA. However, China declared victory and voluntarily drew back to the McMahon Line in 1963 and returned Indian prisoners, although the war resulted in the termination of the barter trade with Tibet.

Arunachal Pradesh continued to be known as NEFA until 1972, when it was constituted as Union territory and was later renamed to Arunachal Pradesh. On February 20, 1987, Arunachal Pradesh became the 24th state of the Indian Union.


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