By Patial RC
The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (BORI) and Heritage India, Pune conducting online month-long courses on Indian heritage. Course is attracting people to learn the story of India from across all walks of life and all age groups. I had the opportunity to command the battalion in Sibsagar, Assam the capital of the Ahoms who ruled Assam for 600 years. This is the reason for writing the article about the forgotten Ahom rule over Assam and the Battle of Saraighat.
The name Assam (Asama) means invincible, which also is a local name for the Ahom tribe. The Ahom kingdom was established in 1228 by Chao Lung Siu-Ka-Pha from a Shan tribe from Yunnan, China. The Mughals could not conquer Assam and here they suffered their most humiliating defeat in history in the decisive battle of Saraighat in 1671 on the Brahmaputra. The only reason why the great Mughals were never able to proceed beyond Bengal into Assam was General Lachit Borphukan, a courageous and powerful General of the Ahom Empire.
General Lachit Borphukan of the Ahom kingdom is a forgotten Hero of the Indian History. I am sure if a survey is carried out, not even one percent of the Indian government officers would know about this Great General and his contributions. General Lachit Borphukan a true domicile of Assam is totally a forgotten identity in Sibsagar where he has his roots. Lachit Borphukan was born on 24th November 1622 to the Ahom Commander-in-Chief Momai Tamuli Borbarua in Garhgaon present day Sibsagar. The day is now celebrated as a Victory day in honour of his great victory in the decisive battle of Saraighat in 1671.
The kingdom of Assam comprised of a stretch of land 600 miles long along the banks of river Brahmaputra. Assam extended from the river Manas on the west (the eastern extremity of the Mogul Empire) to the hills of Sadiya on the east. It was surrounded by high hills and thick forests. The capital was at Garhgaon present day Sibsagar and General Lachit Borphukan administered from Guwahati. Terrain in general was then covered with thick forests with large number of rivers and there were hardly any roads. All transport, as well as trade, took place over the river Brahmaputra flowing through the heart of Assam. River Brahmaputra was the lifeline and so the entire length of the Brahmaputra was protected by a series of strong forts. The Brahmaputra valley was rich in timber, elephants and so it was under constant attacks.
Assam was invaded several times by the armies of the Delhi Sultanate in the 16th century with no success. The only invader, who managed to conquer some parts of Assam was the Mughal Governor of Bengal Mir Jumla who had occupied large parts of the Ahom kingdom including Guwahati and the capital, Garhgaon. Within five years, the Ahoms took back control of most of the lost territories. In August 1667, the Ahom General Lachit Borphukan had recaptured Guwahati. The Mughal emperor Aurangzeb sent Ram Singh with a large force in what would be the last Mughal attempt to conquer Assam.
In 1670, the Mughals under Ram Singh’s army comprised of 21 Rajput chiefs, 30,000 infantry and 18,000 horses. General Lachit was well prepared for the Mughal army. Guwahati surrounded with forested fortified hills had a ring of defences spanning 25 square miles. Moreover, the fortifications of Guwahati were surrounded by hidden ditches with bamboo spikes, to impale enemy cavalry. The unsuspecting and ill prepared Mughal army marched into the war zone of Guwahati almost unopposed. To check the Mughal, advance a complex system of mud embankments were prepared in Guwahati.
Since the Mughal army was huge in comparison to the Assamese, Lachit strictly used guerrilla warfare and avoided head on combat. The Ahoms would attack only at night. There was even an instance when the Ahoms entered the Mughal camp and walked out with all the silverware! Guerrilla attacks were part of a larger psychological warfare. Demoralized and ill-prepared, the Mughal army under Ram Singh even tried to make peace with General Lachit, only to be rejected by Aurangzeb who was adamant to destroy the Ahoms.
The final battle was fought in early 1671, when the Mughals made a desperate attempt to break through the fortifications. When Lachit got grievously injured, the Ahoms started withdrawing. It was then that their General Lachit said; “If you want to go back you are free, but I even despite my wounds will fight until death. Go back and tell the king that I fought with determination till my last breath!” Lachit’s these motivational words moved his army and attacked the huge Mughal army head on and were able to defeat the numerically much superior Mughals! The courageous commander continued his fight with his men till he threw back the Mughals who never dared to enter the north east following their humiliating defeat. A few days after the Saraighat war, Lachit died a martyr due to his war wounds!
The battle, which came to be known as the ‘Battle of Saraighat’, was fought on the Brahmaputra. Ahom boats built an impenetrable fortification on water placing their boats in a row, one after the other across the breath of the river. This also worked as an improvised bridge of boats and resorted to a combined front and rear attack. The whole stretch of Brahmaputra got littered with boats and dead bodies. The Mughal flotilla was destroyed, and the Mughal admiral Munawar Khan was shot dead. It is believed the Mughal Army suffered the loss of three top-ranking Amirs and 4000 dead. It was a complete and decisive victory for the Ahoms.In the Battle of Saraighat, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s army was headed by Ram Singh Rajput prince of Amber in Jaipur and son of Raja Sawai Jai Singh. and the Ahom army was led by General Lachit Borphukan.‘Buranji’ the official chronicles of the Ahom kings have the record of this famous Battle of Saraighat a forgotten battle for the rest of the country.
After the victory at Saraighat, the Ahom kings ruled Assam for over 150 years more, that is till the annexation of the kingdom by the British in 1826.Today, Lachit Borphukan is revered as the greatest military hero of Assam. The 24th day of November is celebrated all over Assam as a Victory day as the Lachit day in honour of his great bravery.
It is sad that General Lachit Borphukan is an unsung forgotten hero. We must tell his tale of valour to the coming generations in the school textbooks. He is an example that no matter how strong the enemy is, the will and patriotism will overcome all odds. The nation and particularly Assam should remain indebted to General Lachit Borphukan who limited the spread of the Mughal empire. But strange, most Indians don’t even know his name. This is because the historians over the years have focused on the Mughal and British history.