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Atan Buragohain: The Forgotten Hero

Atan Buragohain: The Forgotten Hero

Sentinel Digital DeskBy : Sentinel Digital Desk

  |  23 March 2019 10:29 AM GMT

Parag Phukan

Atan Buragohain, who? This question must have cropped in the minds of many readers. Apart from a few ardent followers of Assam history, most of us, unfortunately, are unaware of the great Assamese statesman, let alone the people of pan India at large. In the history text books too reference to this seventeen century astute Prime Minister of Ahom kingdom is hardly been found. Atan Buragohain remained almost a forgotten hero of Assam history. Till today not a single monument has been erected, officially or privately, to pay due homage to the great man who shaped and reshaped the destiny of the people of the land for long seventeen years as the prime mover. It’s rather unfortunate.

When one flips through the pages of world history, one finds that at many crucial and critical junctures of a nation, great, wise and mature leaders emerged to sail the people through the turbulent waters to safety and rejuvenated them. To name a few: the keen political sense and wisdom of Chanakya in olden India, Voltaire in France, Bismarck in Germany, Disraeli in England, Ataturk in Turkey etc. led their respective nations with determination, vision and patriotism in most difficult times. Atan Buragohain was a man of that stature and is our answer to the world. We rightfully and proudly remember the unprecedented feat of Lachit Barphukan, our hero of the Saraighat battle when Atan Buragohain as the Prime Minister was the main strategist and counsel behind Lachit’s great achievements. The rare combination of velour of Lachit and wisdom of Atan proved fatal for the Mughals. But we have failed to give due recognition to Atan Buragohain, yet.

Earlier, Momai Tamuli Barbarua, father of Lachit, settled the boundary disputes between Assam and Mughals through a treaty wherein Asur Ali (near Guwahati) was demarcated as the western boundary of Ahom kingdom. But subsequent Swargadeo Jayadhwaj Singha defied the treaty and reoccupied Guwahati and lower Assam. Unfortunately, the kingdom was not prepared for the possible retaliation. Furious Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb deputed Bengal Nawab Mir Jumla to attack Assam who proceeded without much resistance and occupied Gargaon, the capital. Swargadeo Jayadhwaj was forced to flee to Namrup. The kingdom was in turmoil. At this crucial juncture young Atan Bahgharia Gohain (from Bahgarh) was appointed as Buragohain, the Prime Minister, which later proved to be a boon for the king and the populace.

A well trained and skillful warrior himself, Atan immediately organized military resistance against Mir Jumla. Well known for his military tactics of guerilla warfare, he initiated many sporadic guerilla attacks on the enemy harassing them beyond their comprehensions. He also strategically cut the enemy supply lines thereby even forcing the hungry soldiers to survive by killing their own horses. Dejected, Mir Jumla’s ambition to include Assam in Mughal empire got scattered and he was forced to leave lock-stock and barrel within ten months by entering into a treaty where Koliabor was marked as Assam’s western boundary. Swargadeo Jayadhwaj was reinstalled to the throne. That was the first major achievement of Atan Buragohain. The world credits Che Guevara as the pioneer of modern guerilla warfare. But Atan achieved greater feats through his guerilla tactics even a few centuries ago.

Atan was a tall man with elegant strides. The ruddy complexioned premier with his broad face was a personality admired by the potentates and masses alike. During his 17 years of premiership he served eight Swargadeos when Assam was passing through series of crises from foreign invasion to internal disruptions to a famine. But, Atan Buragohain conducted the affairs of the state with rare foresight, probity, judgment and patriotism which made him the darling of them all. During the domestic turmoil, he was offered the crown twice but he refused both the times saying, “It does not behove a minister to become a monarch; kingship should go to the scion of a royal family”. A very rare and wise gesture when many power hungry ministers aspired to be the king. Wisdom is acquired not thrust upon.

After Jayadhwaj Singha, Swargadeo Chakradhwaj Singha ascended the throne. The young king was restless to recover the lost part of the kingdom and glory. But the wise counsel Atan advised him to take time for making full proof preparations. Accordingly, the Buragohain put all efforts to arrange war arsenals and other requirements secretly for a possible long drawn war. At the same time he maintained a good but fake diplomatic relation with Mughals. Meanwhile young Lachit was appointed as the Barphukan (General). With preparations ready, Guwahati was recovered by driving away the Mughals.

A highly skilled military engineer, Atan, and Lachit developed a very intelligent strategy. They took full advantage of the contours of the terrain by making earthen ramparts by joining hills and digging moats to slow down enemy cavalry. As expected, a huge Mughal army under Raja Ram Singha arrived for a war in 1679. Atan skillfully delayed the confrontation by diplomatic overtones and used the time for strengthening fortifications. Atan also used his guerilla commandos to attack enemy camps, looting their treasures and even pouring water in the cannons. Looking at the impenetrable fortifications the enemy got demoralized and was forced to use their slow large boats for a confrontation upstream Brahmaputra in the Saraighat battle where small fast boats of Lachit’s army sailing downstream massacred the Mughals (1671). The rest is history.

Defeated general Raja Ram Singha commented on Atan Buragohain: “It is really wonderful that a man can be so intelligent at this tender age. Who will be able to cope with such a minister when he comes to years? Pride should be the heritage of that land where such a counselor has taken his birth.” Let us all pay due homage to the great son of Assam.

(The author of the column is a former Vice President of Reliance Defence & Engineering Ltd., Gujarat. Presently, he is a freelance writer, management consultant and professional trainer. He can be reached at paragphukan13@gmail.com.)

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