Dr Birendra Kumar Gohain
Within two months, the Ahoms under the leadership of Lachit Barphukan whose policy was either to do or die succeeded in recovering the lost possessions and the lost glory and prestige of the Assamese. It was because of the determination of the heavenly king Chakradwaj Singha and the commitment of the Commander-in-Chief of the Ahom army namely Lachit Barphukan. This was a decisive and strategic battle called the Battle of Itakhuli (present Panbzaar) resulting in the resounding victory and expulsion of the Mughals from the soil of Assam. A stone pillar found in Guwahati bears an inscription in Sanskrit praising the courage and the strategic victory of Lachit Barphukan.
Lachit Barphukan inspected in and around Guwahati to find suitable sites for constructing the forts and discussed the security scenario with the commanders in Guwahati saying these words: 'The Bengals (Moghuls) can see us as we can see them. It is, therefore, advisable to fortify our positions by constructing some forts. It will be like fighting as if sitting in our own homes. What do you all say?" The Barphukan wanted to fortify the base at Guwahati as it was the first base where the Ahom army would have to face the enemy in the south bank and if the enemy could occupy it, the situation would become critical. Thus the location was strategically important for the Ahoms. The king, after having consultations with the three Dangarias deputed Premier Atan Buragohain and the Barpatragohain to Guwahati. He also held consultations with the commanders and constructed a strong fortification that extended to both the banks of the Brahmaputra.
When the Assamese people heard about the Emperor's decision to send Raja Ram Singha of Amber as the Commander-in-Chief of the Imperial Army, they were awakened to a new height of consciousness as they were to suffer at the hands of the religious bigot Mir Jumla and his cohorts who did not have any respect for the people. The heavenly king, therefore, ordered the deployment of the Assamese forces under able commanders.
Lachit Barphukan, the Commander-in-Chief of the Assamese Army made strategic deployment of the Assamese forces on both the banks of the Brahmaputra on the apprehension that Emperor Aurangzeb would despatch a heavy and powerful force. The Barphukan was aware that the Mughals would try to invade the country on the north bank of the Brahmaputra as they could move faster on the land routes in the north bank. The south bank of the Brahmaputra was relatively safer as the enemy needed to cross the mighty river Brahmaputra to attack the Assamese forces on the south bank. Moreover, the Assamese naval force was relatively stronger. The border posts were strategically important and hence he fortified the border posts.
The fortifications of Guwahati were further strengthened and Lachit Barphukan did not spare anyone if his orders were not strictly and promptly carried out. His maternal uncle could not complete a fortification within the fixed time. Lachit executed his uncle saying- "My uncle is not greater than my motherland." Secondly, he posted the Assamese army on the banks of the Brahmaputra under the commands of the Assamese generals. He strengthened the spy network by appointing Chorbasa or spies who used to gather intelligence of the enemy movements as we as fight as soldiers. Lachit Barphukan constructed the fortresses and army camps on the banks of the River with no land spaces on the fronts. The Assamese naval forces were reorganised and large boats called ships were deployed with a sufficient number of boatmen for their effective movements. Lachit Barphukan infused in the minds of the Commanders and the Army the fear of God by taking an oath that he would severe the head of anyone deserting the battles.
On December 1667, the Emperor, on hearing of the loss of Guwahati, the stronghold of the Moghuls on the south bank of the Brahmaputra and the cornerstone of the success of any adventures against the Ahoms, discussed the matter with his advisers and decided to send Raja Ram Singha, son of Raja Jay Singha to Assam. Ram Singha proceeded with a huge army with foreign naval commanders and effective land forces of Rajput and Mughal contingents. As advised by the Emperor, Ram Singha met Sayesta Khan, the Governor of Bengal on his way to Assam. The Nawab himself was not very optimistic about the success of Ram Singha. He said to Ram Singha, "Assam has erected many forts. Be careful".
Ram Singha reached Rongamati in February 1669. But from the beginning his task was hopeless. Service in Assam was extremely unpopular and no soldier would go there unless compelled. The Ahoms, being a nation in arms mustered one hundred thousand soldiers when mobilised. Unlike the time of Mir Jumla's invasion, the mastery of the water now belonged to the Ahoms.
There was the deployment of forces on both the banks of the Brahmaputra. The Assamese forces were deployed scientifically. The forces were deployed in units and groups with a select group of soldiers called chorbosa in Assamese. A unit of command including the jurisdiction of a commander was called 'Pali' in Assamese (meaning a group). Each commander was provided with a contingent of fighting men and the requisite number of weapons and ammunition and other provisions were provided to him for his men. He had also at his command and his beck and call several commando soldiers known as chorbosa in Assamese meaning the pick of the soldiers who were employed in the collection of information regarding the movement and intentions of the enemy, in measures connected with the security of the detachment to which they were attached, and in performance of acts of extraordinary courage and tactfulness. Palis were constituted to cover the whole line of fortifications on both the banks of the river Brahmaputra without any break or loophole. The Palis were reorganised in 1669 to fit the scheme of operations against the invading Moghul army under the command of Ram Singha and other Moghul commanders.
Raja Ram Singha then set out from Rangamati on boats. On the next day of departure of three Rajkhowas vacating their positions at Barapita post, he crossed Manah river and went to offer prayers to Madhab at Haju. Then he camped on the bank of the Kulhati river for a night. The next day he set out towards Sarai fort and positioned him at camps near the Sarai fort at a distance beyond the range of the common fire.
Rashid Khan, however, kept himself aloof from the Raja Ran Singha. Nawab Shadmath Khan was at Agiathuti hills, Hajor Bag was at Sindurighopa and Kayam Khan and Kabi Kishore Patra were at Pandu. Raja Indramal and Ali Bakkar Khan were camping in front of the fort with utmost caution.
In May 1669, many battles were fought between the Ahoms and the enemy. In June 1669 there was intense fighting. The Ahoms came out of the forts and fought the Moghuls. Once the Ahoms found the fights to be difficult, they would retreat into the forts and then another batch of warriors would come out and fight with them.
Ram Singha then resorted to diplomatic moves to win over the Ahom commanders to regain the lost Moghul territory gained from the Ahoms by the treaty of Ghiladharighat. Ram Singha then deployed Raja Indramal who would engage the Ahoms in naval battles near Pandu fort and Raja Joynarayan would fight them near Sindurighopa and Kabikishore would go with the soldiers of the Emperor in the front while Ram Singha would fight from the front with his and emperor's soldiers. Lachit Barphukan ordered his men to come to Saraighat and stay there.
One day, the Muslims laid siege on our fort at Rangmahal. The Barphukan, the Saringia Phukan and Silani Deka rushed out with the whole body of men and fought with the enemies. The Musalmans being repulsed withdrew to Hajo. The Barphukan sent the news to the heavenly king who was at Taimung. The heavenly king sent Katakis (messengers) to the Buragohain, the Bargohain, the Marangikhowa Gohain, and Sadiyakhowa Gohain ordering them to proceed there. Then Jaynarayan and Badsa Musalman Raja advanced and besieged our fort near Asurar Ali. Then the Barphukan and the Ahataguri Rajkhowa hurried there and surrounded the enemies. A great number of Muslims fell dead. The Muslims could not get the victory. They retreated to Pandu. Then the Muslims of Huramati proceeded to attack the fort under the command of Guimelia Bargohain and also the fort at Luthuri. They also erected two forts at Saraighat. The Dihingia Bargohain built two forts. The Barphukan after having held a council with the Dangarias (nobles and commanders) at Saraighat dispatched one Maka, one Sadrai, one Kasi, one Bukruphan, the son of Lakaitam, one Khutai and one Lakat, the six Hazarikas to proceed against and surround the Muslims. The six Hazarikas proceeded accordingly and attacked the Muslims. The Muslims gave way. Our army got many cannons and shields and offered them to the Barphukan.
Ram Singha came to attack the Assamese army at Alaboi on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra. Then the Barphukan consulted with all the officers and decided what was to be done. He proceeded to Alaboi (Altamui) and thence to Agiathuti. One day our men attacked the Muslims both by land and by water. The Barphukan fought with the navy. The Barphukan ordered our men to put to death all the Muslims whom our men might meet near Sessa. Our men captured several Muslims with their horses. Then the Kaliabaria Phukan, the son of Lasai Dhanudharia, Ashingdeu and all other officers massacred the Muslims of Agiathuti. Raja Ram Singha came up and attacked our army. Ashingdeu, the grandson of Majumelia Gohain with his army retreated on horses and elephants. The Muslims assembled in great numbers and massacred our land force. The Barphukan and Nadardeu attacked the Muslims.
Chakradwaj Singha (Siunpungmung)'s brother succeeded him after his death. In 1670 AD, the Buragohain and the Barphukan were negotiating peace with the Muslims. They informed the king of the matter. The king said in reply, "My brother and I wished the Muslims to send good Katakis to settle the boundary of our country but no action has proceeded". The Barphukan after having had a consultation with the Dangarias decided to send some Katakis to settle the boundary affairs. Then the Dangarias and the Phukans, after holding a council with the Barphukan, ordered Kaupatia Hazarika and Madhacharan to proceed with twenty ships to talk with the
Muslims. Paritrai and another man of the Muslims advanced with twelve ships to meet our Katakis. In the month of Baisakh, the Barpatra Dangaria with many Phukans and other men proceeded to Kurua and there he constructed a fort and remained there. Then the Muslims asked our king to settle the boundary. The Barphukan was informed of this. He, to do away with the proposal, said, "I do not know that the boundary should be fixed from Kalikajan. The king has said to me nothing on the matter". Ram Singha said in reply," If the Barphukan was not advised by the king, the Barphukan may come to us personally. We are waiting in our ships to settle the matter".
The Mughals wanted to make peace. The king then sent a letter to the Muslims telling them to go back. He ordered our officers to repair all the forts, both on land and in water. The king ordered the Buragohain who was at Kathalbari to proceed to Saraighat with twenty thousand men. The king ordered the Barphukan to come up. Then our officers engaged themselves in repairing the land and water forts.
One day one Manohar Khan and three Amiras of Delhi joined with Ram Singha. They said to Ram Singha. "You have been fighting for ten months, yet you have not been able to do anything or frighten the enemies. You have arranged to make peace. We will not allow you to do so". Raja Ram Singha said in reply. "I could not get the victory. But now, I wish to see you get the royal umbrella".
The Battle of Sarai Ghat (March 1671):
Being defeated on all fronts on land, Ram Singh had to rely on his navy as the last resort. His original fleet of forty ships was chiefly manned by Firinghis (foreigners). Added to that there were several ships brought by Munnawwar Khan. The Moghul naval commandant Sharip Khan, assisted by a few other officers, was ordered to lead a naval attack on Gauhati. At this crucial moment, the two chief naval Commandants, Dauki Pani Phukan and Naoboicha Phukan and also the Barphukan himself fell ill. The Moghuls advanced up the Brahmaputra with their fleet of war–vessels carrying their army and the horses to land at Andharu at Gauhati. A few days back the Moghul ambassador Panditraj had visited the Barphukan's Court and saw no embankments at Andharubali. This was reported to his general. It was therefore thought by the Moghul Commendars that the landing of their men and horses would be easy at that open shore for an attack on Gauhati. But, in the meantime, high sandbanks were thrown up by the Ahoms all along it from the foot of the Kamakhya Hill to that of Sukreswar. When the Moghul fleet reached Juria Hill the Ahoms retreated to Asvakranta. This compelled their land forces also to retreat to avert an encircling movement by the enemy. The absence of the chief naval officers from the field of battle, particularly the illness of the Barphukan, worked as a major crisis at the moment in the naval command of the Ahoms and initially dispirited their forces and those, charged with the conduct of the naval warfare, were in the hesitancy when the offensive was led by the Muslims with great strength. Even with high temperatures Lachit Barphukan remained alert and had to be informed every few minutes about the advance of the enemy up the river. There was such a concentration of the Ahom navy at Gauhati that it was possible to walk over the bridge of war-boats alone from one bank to the other of Brahmaputra. The Moghuls pressed forward to the open shore of Andharubali and the Ahoms fell back to the Bar-Sila after an action which did not succeed in stemming the enemy's progress. It seemed as if there was a break-down in the command, though there was no inherent lack of energy and strength of the Ahom navy, which had regained its supremacy under Chakradhvaj Singha. It did not take long for the Ahom experts, after their conflict with the European naval fighters under the Mir Jumla, to reorganize their navy on a new and more efficient basis. Some of the Assamese boatmen wanted to retreat to Kajal and Samdhara. The Barphukan was watching this scene from his camp at Andharu and was upset at the cowardice and foolishness on the part of his men. When the enemies were sighted not far from Andharubali and a critical situation developed, the Barphukan sent Katakis to all the land and naval forces ordering them to attack the enemies. He also called for himself seven war-boats and asked his attendants to take him into one of them. His fleet of seven boats with mounted guns sped towards the enemies. This gallant and extra-ordinary act of the Ahom General at once restored the morale of his army and the navy and immediately the shore batteries of the Ahoms and the archers, on the north and south banks, went into action with terrific volleys and their naval forces fell upon the Moghul fleet and threw it into confusion. There was a big battle in the area of Sarai Ghat and both sides called up their strength. The Shairing Phukan, the Neog Kataki and many Hazarikas proceeded from Rangmahal and joined their army in the violent contest. The Moghul Commandant Sharip Khan and two other Omraos commanding the navy fell dead. Innumerable Moghul soldiers were killed and many of their boats with men, horses and war materials were sunk. The survivors made a precipitate retreat in their boats. A vast amount of booty came into the possession of the Ahoms. There was no other fighting after the naval fight. That was the historic battle of Sarai Ghat fought in the middle of March 1671, which became Waterloo for the mighty Moghuls in the east and their territorial ambitions in this direction was curbed for all time except for a short period on the treacherous transfer of Gauhati to them by Lachit's successor.
According to one Buranji, being unable to take Gauhati by fighting for one year Ram Singh retreated to Rangamati when still there were six days of Chaitra (about 7th April) in the year 1671. In the Ahom Buranji also the date of the retreat is given as Lakni Daprao or A.D. 1671 in the month of Dinha (Chaitra or March-April) and as such early April seems to be the probable date. On his way to Rangamati, Ram Singh again visited the Hayagriva Madhav temple at Hajo where he made the remarks before Brahmins that 'the Bar Nawab (Barphukan), too, is a man of extraordinary capacity. His fortification resembles a machine. I found no loopholes anywhere. The Hengarabari Thakuria personally communicated these remarks to the Barphukan, who then inferred from them that the enemies had lost their morale. Ram Singh's retreat was carefully watched by the Ahom spies and the possibility of his return was studied. Some enthusiasts wanted to attack the retreating General with the object of seizing a rich booty, but the Barphukan reminded them of the lesson of Alabi against such a hasty proposition. Ram Singh appears to have lived at Rangamati on the Assam border for about five years before he received permission finally in A.D. 1676 to leave Bengal and he reached the Imperial Court in June of that year. He was probably too war-weary and weak to return for a fresh attack. After Kamrup was brought under the Barphukan, being directed by the king, he made Chandranarayan the Raja of Uttarkul and Gandharbanarayan the Raja of Dakshinkul.
The various forts and check-posts all over this territory, both on the north and south banks, were reconstructed and duly garrisoned. It appears from Lachit Barphukan's works after Ram Singh departed from Assam that he did not die of the illness he had at the time of the battle of Sarai Ghat. His death occurred about April 1672, that is, about one year after the battle. He must have been buried in his estate at Meteka. His elder brother Nimati Phukan was then appointed Barphukan, who was also known as Laluksola Barphukan.