By Dr B K Gohain
Rupkonwar Jyotiprasad, the culture icon of the Assamese people eulogized the greatness of Lachit, the tiol Hero in his poem " Lachitar Ahban' aptly and some of the lines of his poem are reminder to the aborigil people of Assam to gird up their loins against the intrusion as well as invasion of the foreigners whose eyes always crave for a piece of land in Assam, the land of gold as termed by the first Tai king Chaolung Siu Ka Pha and subsequently by all Assam-loving people, whether in writing or in poetry or in their speech. Our motherland is the land of gold. History is replete with the instances of invasion by foreigners; while the Mughals attacked Assam seventeen times but were repulsed; the Burmese attacked twice and the British East India Company came in the disguise of friends and killed the Ahom kingdom, wrested the whole of our land of gold and made the Assamese people subjugated.
Lachit appeared as the saviour of our country when the Ahom king Swargadeo Jaydvaj Singha was defeated by the Mughals led by Mirjumla and his cohorts emboldened by traitors like Baduli Phukan and others who took side with Mirjumla and showed him the way to the treasures of the royal coffers and the infamous invader even looted the gold which were inside the moidam (the burial mounds) of the kings in Charaideo. He defiled the Garhgaon palace of the Ahom king by occupying it on 17th March, 1662 and making it his residence. He even struck Mughal coins there. The king and the Assamese army forced him to leave Assam by harassing the Mughal army by waging guerrilla warfare and by cutting their supply lines. Inconveniences caused by such covert actions and pestilences like cholera, malaria, dysentery etc., were to such an extent that the Mughal Ameers (nobles) and soldiers were not willing to stay in Assam. The Mughals were ready to leave provided the Ahom king entered into a humiliating treaty. According to the terms of the treaty called the treaty of Ghiladhari-ghat (Tipam) which was signed in January, 1663, the Assamese king had to hand over the strategically located Guwahati and the rest of Kamrup to the Mughal Emperor and made a promise of payment of three lakh rupees and ninety number of elephants as the cost of war to the Mughals. This treaty compelled the Assamese king to pay tributes of twenty elephants as annual tribute. A princess of minor age was also sent to the harem of the Mughal Emperor. The traitor Baduli and his cohorts numbering about three hundred left Assam with the Mughal army.
The Assamese king and the Assamese people, for the first time had to become tributary to the Mughals whom they used to defeat earlier every time they attacked. It became so unbearable for King Jaydvaj Singha that he died of grief after departure of the invaders. If one alyses the cause of defeat of the brave Assamese by the Mughal army, one must say that it was the disaffection amongst the nobles for the appointment of Manthir Bharali Barua of Bezdoloi family by the king arbitrarily as the Commander-in Chief of his army without following the age-old protocol. So the nobles did not prevent the advance of the invading Mughal army till they reached Koliabor. But it was too late and too disorganized efforts for which the Mughals reached the capital city Garhgaon and occupied it.
After the death of Jaydvaj Singha in November, 1663, his first cousin Chakradvaj Singha became the king of Assam. He was a shrewd persolity and was aware of the circumstances prevailing at the time of the Mughal invasion. He was a man of great determition. When a pair of dresses was sent to him by the Mughal Emperor meant for a tributary king to be worn by him, he refused to wear it and stated that death was preferable to remaining under the subjugation of the foreigners. He ordered his nobles to expel the Mughals who had already strengthened the Itakhuli fort situated at the Suklesvar hill in Guwahati. Only the Premier Atan Buragohain, who was a great diplomat and a strong persolity persuaded the king not to rush into such a war with the Mughals as the country was already ravaged by war and there were necessities of growing of crops and making weapons of war as well as war-boats to meet with the challenge.
Now the king did a very correct thing of choosing the Commander-in-Chief (Barphukan) to lead the army. After the new crops had grown and the weaponry and war boats were prepared under his direct supervision in the capital city, he ordered his royal priests to consult their books of lineages of the nobles and they found that Lachit, an officer attached to the king as the officer-in-charge of his movements with the royal guards, to be suitable for the position. To avoid future complication, he consulted his three principal nobles in the matter and with their consent appointed Lachit, the youngest son of Late Momai Tamuli Barbarua, the famous noble, as the Commander-in-Chief of the Assamese and directed all other nobles to obey his orders.
Lachit, who was a man of few words and 'whose face was like the full moon; whom none could look in the eyes' and who detailed his army on both the banks of the Brahmaputra in a very systematic manner with the principal objective of capturing the Itakhuli fort of the Mughals, after winning one fort after another said these words to his commanders after survey of the areas: "Listen one and all. Do not leave your post at any cost. Whoever leaves, I shall kill him with this hengdan (sword). Whatever army you command, know them well and ask them to fight for the king. We will have to inform the king."
These harsh words had the desired effect. He chalked out the strategy of sending men to climb up the hill of Suklesvar with the help of ropes and to pour water into the large canons placed by the Mughals on the top of the hill to make them ineffective and then to open the main gate of the Fort so that the Assamese infantry could enter and kill the Mughals. The Itakhuli Fort of Mughals was overrun and three Mughal commanders were made captive and sent to Garhgaon.
After this strategic win, he reorganized the pargos of Kamrup and placed them under the Ahom commanders for their effective defence. It was a foregone conclusion that the Mughals who were pursued up to Mah would definitely report the matter to Delhi and the Mughal Emperor would definitely send a strong army to vanquish Assam. Atan Buragohain, the Prime Minister, was in the Lathia hills in North Guwahati and was in supervision of the war-preparations on the North bank. On the advice of Lachit Barphukan, who used to visit places on both sides of the Brahmaputra, the King ordered the Buragohain and the Barpatragohain to build a continuous and strong stockade (garh) from South Guwahati to North Guwahati. Thus a stockade was constructed which acted as the defensive wall against the invaders. Lachit laid the way and on the south bank which touched Asurar Ali (Road) and on the south, it encircled Amingaon and Pandu and beyond on the north.
When the news of coming of the Mughals in large numbers accompanied by foreign captains reached Garhgaon and Lachit Barphukan, and it became known that Raja Ram Singha of Amber, a Rajput was appointed by Emperor Aurangzeb as the Commander-in-Chief of the Mughal army on 6th January, 1668, Lachit devised a strategy of not engaging the Mughal army on land but on water, as the Assamese vy was very apt to fight on water. He further strengthened the army and posted spies (chor-bosa) with every commander for spying on the enemy. The stockades in water near the river banks were built with stout bamboos and some bamboos with sharpened ends up were placed in water as barriers by digging holes to prevent entry of the enemy and a very small space was left in front of the stockades so that the enemy could not walk or ride in.
Lachit Barphukan resorted to diplomacy to gain time for further preparation of defence. Some earthen stockades were built. Ram Singha also got fed up with the delaying tactics of Lachit. He spread the rumour that Lachit took a bribe of one lakh of rupees. King Chakradvaj Singha became impatient and ordered Lachit to fight the Mughal infantry. He was thus compelled to send the Assamese army to attack the Mughal infantry at Alaboi (near the present Brahmaputra bridge). Alas, ten thousand Assamese soldiers were killed. Ram Singha was overjoyed while Lachit was mortified with grief. However, Prime Minister Atan Buragohain advised him to stay cool.
Then Svargadeo Chakradvaj Singha, the great king of determition, died in April, 1670. His younger brother Udayaditya became the king. Now Ram Singha sent a proposal to Lachit to relinquish Guwahati. But both Lachit and Atan Buragohain did not agree to it as Guwahati was the key to success. King Udayaditya agreed with them. In the meantime, Lachit delayed confrontation by sending envoys for discussion. But Aurangzeb became impatient. He even pushed the son of Ram Singha to fight with a tiger. His wife also expressed her grief that Ram Singha was fighting with the Vaisva devotees and the Assamese people who respected the Brahmins and cows. She said that even Mirjumla could not stay alive for long and died on way.
Ram Singha decided to attack the Assamese vy. Hearing that one stockade made of sand had a breach and that Lachit Barphukan was seriously ill and was bed-ridden, he launched his val attacks. But the sand-stockade was constructed overnight. Lachit was getting reports about the advance of the Mughals. The astrologer was also saying that it was not the most opportune moment to attack the Mughals. Lachit got up from bed and sternly asked the astrologer if the time was ripe for attack. When the astrologer said yes, Lachit leaned on two attendants and went to the war front. He rode on his ship and with the blunt side of his sword, he hit seven boatmen who fell into water. Now word was spread amongst the retreating Assamese soldiers that Lachit was killing the fleeting army. All the Assamese boatmen turned back and attacked furiously on the Mughal army. One Mughal wab who was smoking his hucca (smoking pipe) near Santipur, Guwahati on the bank of the Brahmaputra thinking that the Mughals had won the war, was shot by the Assamese army.
Raja Ram Singha had to retreat with his remaining army. Lachit sent report of victory to Swargadeo Udayaditya Singha. After winning the war, the seriously ill Lachit Barphukan died. The entire tion was saddened by the news. Lachit went to Heaven leaving an extraordiry example of bravery, love for his country and respect for his king.
No wonder, the Swargadeo allowed a rock edifice in honour of Lachit Barphukan which is a rare instance of giving recognition to the heroism of a General. This is found in Guwahati. The inscription reads as follows:
"Adorned with various orments, illumited with various knowledge, one with no sins committed and the bad effects of Kali age not touching him and, who is brilliant in war, and the possessor of elephants, horses and the army; who was with great patience, dignity, brilliance and gravity; who is famous as the son of the ocean-like persolity Momai Tamuli Barbarua, this amjaani Barphukan defeated the Muslims who were armed with many weapons, elephants and horses in 1589 saka''