Guwahati came into prominence during British rule mainly due to strategic and commercial considerations; the river Brahmaputra served as the main carrier of commercial goods, including tea, and also provided the rulers a strategic route in defence plans. So, as early as in 1934, the post of Deputy Commissioner was created with headquarters in the town. Along with the Deputy Commissioner’s office came up the court (kutchary), the treasury (koshagar-khazana) and a small jail (phatak).

A long poem titled Guwahatir Bibaran (description of Guwahati), published in the June 1853 issue of Arunodoi, the first Assamese newspaper, gave a vivid description of the imposing buildings that housed the kutchary, treasury and the collector’s office. The narrative did not refer to a record room though. But, a few years later, in the early 1860’s we find reference of a mahafezkhana (record room) in the diary of Harakanta Sarmah Mazindar Barua, the Sadar Amin of Guwahati. The record room must have thus come up sometime between 1855 and 1865.

The British, particularly since the Crown took over in 1858, were very particular in maintaining records. It is a strange fact that during the Raj treasuries and record rooms all over India got equal importance so far as construction was concerned. These were by far the strongest structures, with 20-inch thick walls. The Guwahati Record Room, commonly referred to as mahafezhana, was no exception. The room was constructed near the treasury and served as a ready archive. Apart from administrative orders, it was the custodian of all kinds of land records, patta, jamabandi and namzari papers.

The 86 ft x 77 ft mahafezkhana is a brick and corrugated sheet structure with solid iron entry gates. It has a covered verandah running all around in order to provide double protection to the main room.

 Huge uniform sal trees measuring between 40ft and 45ft hold up the tall structure, and have survived for more than 140 years without damage. Wrought-iron tiered racks with its legs placed inside concrete holders of anti-pesticides have kept yesteryears’ records free from termites and other pests. The sal pillars have likewise been protected from white ant attacks.

After the creation of Guwahati Municipality, systematic survey of land was undertaken and maps of wards and blocks that were created were drawn up. Today hundreds of such maps exist in the record room in cylindrical holders.

However, Surya Kumar Bhuyan who visited the record room regularly for historical research, was to write in the 1920s that the standard of maintenance of the record rooms at both Shillong and Guwahati was not satisfactory.

 “I have visited the record room of the government, and am very disappointed with the chaotic condition of the records in Assam; there is no press list or catalogue--and it is not possible to lay one’s hand on any document for want of necessary reference,” wrote Bhuyan.

Bhuyan took up the matter with the government. Sir Laurie Hammond, the then British Governor of Assam, wrote back, “About the usefulness of such a measure on the part of the government, I would only say that this is the thing for which I have been crying for the last few years.” Bhuyan’s single-handed effort to preserve all records was later to lead to the establishment of the Department of Historical and Antiquarian Research, where many invaluable records were transferred. The mahafezhana however continued to function. All land records of he town in particular have been kept here for posterity.

Until a few years ago, the koskagar-khazana, the mahafezkhana and a small phatak used to be the earliest-known brick structures in Guwahati. But after the koshagar khazana (treasury) was dismantled to house the State Bank of India building, only the record room and the small phatak stand in old-world glory. The records are ill-maintained but retain an archaic grace.

The record room situated in the fourth part of town under Ulubari mouza, dag number 64, adjacent to the Deputy Commissioner’s office, has, like the Northbrook Gate, withstood the tremors of both 1897 and 1950. This possibly makes it the oldest building in town.