By Dr Birendra Kumar Gohain
“The false pride of the Moghul empire
Was dashed to the ground
As I uprooted the enemy
From my motherland.
That is Saraighat
Famous but with eloquent silence.”
Thus the poet-ultimate Rupkonwar Jyotiprasad Agarwala eulogized the heroism of Veer Lachit – The Unconquerable, to inspire in us a sense of heroism as a citizen of the great country. It is in every way true that Lachit saved us and the entire Northeast from the mighty Moghuls who conquered Bharatvarsa in its entirety except the land of gold Mung Dun Suun Kham (Assam). He not only saved the Northeast from the Moghuls, but the grand design of the Moghuls of extending their sway up to Burma ( Myanmar) and thereby Islamizing all these lands was thwarted. This was no mean achievement.
Why was Lachit successful in saving his motherland from the ever-growing loot of the country and expansion of the Moghul empire? Simplistically speaking, in the words of the mother of Ram Singha of Amber, the great Rajput general and commander-in-chief of the Moghul army: “It was because the me of Lord Krs reverberates in Assam in every heart of the Assamese people who congregate in the prayer halls spread over all the State and the benign grace of Lord Krs saved them even from the evil clutches of Majum Khan (Mirjumla – Terror personified) who had to make a hasty retreat from that country for fear of God.”
The practical reasons of the defeat of the invaders by the Assamese are described by Raja Ram Singha himself as follows:
“Every Assamese soldier is expert in rowing boats, in shooting arrows, in digging trenches, and in wielding guns and cannon. I have not seen such specimens of versatility in any other part of India.
Glory to the king! Glory to the counsellors! Glory to the commanders! Even I, Ram Singha, being persolly present on the spot, have not been able to find any loophole and opportunity!”
The over-riding emotion in the mind of every Assamese of those days was love for his motherland and there were no agent-provocateurs in this country who worked for the enemy for any reason. If perchance anyone sided with the enemy, he either faced death pelty or perished or left the country for good.
This love for freedom was displayed by the utterance of King Chakradvaj Sinha (1663- 1670 C.E.) when the newly crowned king was asked to don a robe sent by the Moghul emperor Aurangzeb through messengers which was meant for a tributary king.
“Death is preferable to a life of subordition to foreigners. I have to now surrender my independence for a robe sent by a foreign king.’’
In March 1665, he summoned a meeting of the council of ministers and nobles and asked them to find means and take measures to expel the Moghuls from the lower province – West Assam – of his motherland. The words uttered by him on this occasion speak volumes of his love for independence and for his country: “My ancestors were never subordite to any other people and I for myself cannot remain under the vassalage of any foreign power. I am a descendant of Chaolung Siukapha – the Heavenly King; how can I pay tribute to the wretched foreigners?”
It was not that the whole country Assam was under the subjugation of the Moghuls during the reign of King Chakradvaj Sinha. His brother Jayadvaj Sinha had to enter into an inglorious treaty med Ghiladharighat Treaty (in January, 1663) by which Assam had to pay a war-indemnity of three lakhs of rupees and an annual tribute of twenty elephants. Jayadvaj Sinha also had to suffer the indignity of handing over two princesses to the harem of the Moghul emperor.
But the greatest shock for King Chakradvaj was that Lower Assam including the strategically important city of Guwahati was surrendered to the Moghuls and a wab mely Rashid Khan was breathing down his royal neck, having been appointed as the Fauzadar of Lower Assam newly ceded to the Moghuls. The Koch kingdom was already subjugated by the Moghuls.
It is not that late king Jayadvaj Sinha was a coward. His advice to his ministers at his death-bed speaks volumes of his love for independence. He said, “You should be of one mind and direct your efforts towards restoring your devastated country to peace and prosperity. It should be your earnest endeavour to extract from the tion’s bosom the spear of humiliation embedded upon it by our enemy the Moghuls.’’
The sagacity of King Chakradvaj Sinha in selecting Lachit Barphukan as the commander-in-chief of the Assamese army was displayed when Lachit, a born leader of men, encouraged the Assamese army to wrest Itakhuli fort in Guwahati from the clutches of the Moghuls. Lachit, son of the great Assamese noble Momai Tamuli Barbarua, chosen by the King as the commander-in-chief, was the Kaliaboria Phukan (holding charge of the important fort of Kaliabor) and famous for his singular devotion to the king and the country. Lachit’s first strategy in winning over Guwahati and the Lower Assam was to deploy select band of expert soldiers and to send them from the Brahmaputra river at night to scale the hill of Sukreswar, Guwahati so as to neutralise the Moghul cannons mounted on the hilltop by pouring water into the muzzles by relaying water from the river by bamboo containers filled with water. How difficult it was can be gauged if one goes to the site of Sukreswar hill below and looks up at night. The alacrity with which these soldiers, who were in reality spies, after scaling the hill opened the main gate of Guwahati fort for entry of Lachit Barphukan and other commanders who destroyed the enemy as well as captured even Syed Firoz Khan, the Fauzadar of Guwahati and Syed Sa Sirdar Mir-Bakshi and others – was commendable and historic. This displays the skill and martial planning of Veer Lachit.
No wonder, after this success of the Assamese army in recovering Itakhuli fort, the King got inscribed on a stone pillar in Guwahati eulogizing that Lachit, the Barphukan of mjani (Lower Assam) son of Barbarua lived with glory in 1667 C.E. after having attained with glory over the Yavas (Muslims). Lachit was described in this inscription as a person adorned with every orment, with a heart enlightened with knowledge of various branches and was beautiful by attractive qualities. “Lachit was the recipient of the highest forms of fortitude, self respect, valour and depth of judgement and gravity etc.’’ In an Assamese chronicle, there is a physical description of Lachit. He is stated to be with a round face (like a full moon), decked with a necklace of precious stones and earrings with a golden sword ( hengdan), bow and arrows and with a war cap on his head and donning a robe on which the royal insignia (the Ahom dragon) was imprinted.
Lachit, on recovering Guwahati and Lower Assam, inspected the passes and defiles all over greater Guwahati and mounted guns on the ramparts, which were constructed under the supervision of Premier Aton Buragohain on the orders of the king and on the suggestions of Lachit. He placed guns on the hills and dales each under a trained artillery man. He placed commanders at the ramparts and the entire greater Guwahati from Pandu to the Asurar Ali on the south bank and from Sarai to Kurua on the north banks was covered by the commanders and the artillery. Earlier, there was no fort called Asurar Gar there but only a road called Asurar Ali existed. The defence mechanism was strengthened by erection of walls on the banks of the rivers and stockades were built in the midst of water by stout bamboo piles with sharpened ends of the bamboo posts jutting out under water. The Assamese forts were already praised by Moghul writer Sahabuddin Talis (who accompanied Mirjumla in his adventure during the reign of King Jayadvaj Sinha) as impregble. When Raja Ram Singha, on way to Assam visited Dacca, Saista Khan, the famous brother of Mumtaz Mahal, the Governor of Bengali, told him in the same vein to be careful as the Assamese army had already fortified the country in every conceivable way and it would not be easy for Raja Ram Singha to overcome the hurdles. Lachit’s spy system was highly effective
Raja Ram Singha reached Rangamati in February 1669. Hearing the news, Lachit Barphukan detailed commanders and infantry and expert spies on both the banks of the Brahmaputra. His military planning was to lure all the Moghuls, vy, infantry and cavalry to come to the war-zone of Guwahati, surrounded by the hills on all sides with forts and garrisons at regular intervals He declared in presence of his commanders and his force that one could fight the enemy on the river from inside their own ramparts and garrisons as if they were fighting the enemy from home. He assessed that the Assamese infantry could never face the cavalry and the infantry of the Moghuls as their cavalry was much faster. But he rightly assessed that the Assamese vy which was rejuveted and trained and which had the experience of facing the Moghul vy led by foreign val captains and others during the war with Mirjumla, was much superior in strength and skills. So he avoided direct confrontation with the Moghul army on land.
Alas, a commander Pelon Phukan sent a false report to King Chakradvaj that it was possible to fight the enemy on land; a land-battle was ordered by the King to be fought by the Assamese army. The Assamese unit of 10,000 strength was completely destroyed by the cavalry and infantry of the enemy at Alaboi on the river bank (presently situated in front of Ganesh Mandir on along Guwahati-Hajo road). This was the first taste of victory in Assam for Ram Singha and he was highly elated. But the good counsel of Rajmantri Atan Buragohain prevailed upon the King and Lachit took solace that it was uvoidable. Lachit countered the boast of the Moghuls by telling Ram Singha in reply that the frontier kings under Assam sent some people to test the strength of the enemy and the soldiers who got killed were not part of the royal army.
Thus diplomacy played a major role in prolonging the war to the annoyance of the imperial army which detested staying in Assam in the damp climate and in situations full of incidence of cholera, malaria etc — on the other hand, giving time to Lachit to strengthen the army and repair/ reconstruct the forts/ garrisons/ camps.
Raja Ram Singha now started demanding the return of Guwahati to the Moghuls as per the provision of Ghiladharighat treaty. It was but tural on the part of Lachit to reply that his sovereign was the Lord of the East while the Padshah was the Lord of the West. It was up to the will of his Swargadeo to look into the matter as Barphukan was not competent to decide the issue. Lachit prolonged the diplomatic overtures to gain time. Ram Singha was desperate to leave Assam as he got the news that his son was thrown into a den of tigers by Aurangazeb with the intention of killing him, but his son fought with the tigers valiantly and slew them in true Rajput spirit.
Lachit attained the victory in the val war by his persol courage, heroism and determition when he, even being very seriously ill, entered into the scene of war at a time when the Moghuls were moving upstream and came near Santipur and were on a winning spree so much so that one wab was sitting on the south bank and smoking his hucka confidently. Seeing the retreating Assamese commanders and soldiers, Lachit struck some of his boatmen with the back of his sword when they fell into the water and the news spread like wildfire among the retreating Assamese commanders and val soldiers that Lachit had started killing his own fleeing soldiers. This was the turning point when all the Assamese boats turned back and converged on the advancing Moghul vy, so much so that ‘anyone could walk on the bridge of boats’ and the Assamese defeated the enemy. The hucka smoking wab was also killed on the spot. The Moghuls were pursued and when they left our country, then only Lachit Barphukan was happy. He sent a messenger to inform King Udayaditya of the victory.
Thus the war of Saraighat ended. Imminent defeat was turned into glorious victory by virtue of sheer persol courage, absolute determition and diehard love for his country by Veer Lachit, the Great.