Lachit Barphukan: The national hero

Lachit Barphukan was the youngest son of one of the most famous historical figures of Assam
Lachit Barphukan: The national hero

Dr. B.K. Gohain

(The writer can be reached at

Lachit Barphukan was the youngest son of one of the most famous historical figures of Assam, namely, Momai Tamuli Barbarua who made outstanding contribution towards nation building and reorganization of the state by setting up model villages and reclaiming new areas for creation of ideal villages. His greatest contribution was making weaving and rearing of silk and cotton compulsory for the Assamese girls and ladies making Assam self-sufficient in handloom and handicrafts. Setting up Sualkuchi as the focal centre of handloom industry by bringing in a group of expert weavers from Upper Assam for setting up weaving centres and training the locals is a milestone in handloom and handicrafts industry. Likewise, developing Ramdia and Sarthebari as metal industries is another landmark in his career.

Lachit was the commander in chief of royal guards when he could attract the attention of the Heavenly King Chakradwaj Singha of Assam by dint of his sense of loyalty to the King and his young graceful and respectful presence and gait. Being close to the King when he was travelling, he came to the close scrutiny of the King and in the aftermath of the insulting and haughty behaviour of the Envoys of the Emperor of Delhi, the Heavenly King was on the lookout for a man who could command the Royal Army. The King was highly impressed by Lachit's sense of bravery when he was asked his opinion about the Nawabs lording over Guwahati, the nerve centre of Assam which unfortunately was to be acceded to the Mughals by his brother King Jaidwaj Singha as per terms of the Ghiladhari treaty. Lachit submitted to the King that the Nawabs were mere men only and could be vanquished if the dust of the feet of the Royalty fell upon a suitable person.

As was the custom, his lineage was traced and it was found that his progenitor was one who came with Chaolung Siukapha. After consulting with the Dangarias (Buragohain, Bargohain and Barpatragohain), Lachit was appointed the Commander in Chief of the Royal Ahom Army and as was the custom, he was taken to Charaideo, sanctum-sanctorum of the Ahom State and religion for offering obligations to the Lord of Heaven and others.

When the King found from intelligence reports that there was a lesser strength of the Army of the Mughals in Guwahati, he selected the commanders to accompany Lachit with the Royal Army and sent them to Guwahati by ships and boats which was the only mode of communication during the Ahom rule.

When Lachit Barphukan, the Commander-in-Chief and other Commanders saluted him laying prostrate at his feet, the King warned that there was no dearth of suitable men in his country to command the forces which were fully trained to face the enemy. Two years of preparation in men and war materials personally supervised by the King would not be allowed to go waste. He also sent his young Prime minister Atan Buragohain with the Royal Army but as a measure of discipline, he would obey Lachit. Posting of an astute diplomat like Atan Buragohain was so crucial that during the course of diplomacy and war, his sound advice worked wonders.

Lachit Barphukan had his success in capturing the Fort of Itakhuli which was the strongest and strategically the most important Mughal stronghold. Here Lachit used his spy system to locate the weakest links in Mughal system of defence. His chor-bocha (spies) found that if the canons guarding the Mighty Brahmaputra from the top of the hill could be neutralized at night, the Ahom soldiers could enter the Fort and could also open the main gate for the soldiers on foot, the Mughals would not be able to withstand the onslaught of the Assam army and navy.

So some chor-bocha were sent to climb up the steep edge of the bank of the river Brahmaputra and relaying water carriers up to pour water into the muzzles of the canons on the Itakhuli hill thereby neutralizing the cannons and then opening the main gate of the Fort for the foot soldiers and commanders to enter.

This strategy of Lachit Barphukan worked wonders. The canons were neutralized, the Mughal Thanedar and his commanders and the soldiers were caught unawares. There was complete success and the Mughal army was expelled from Guwahati and the Assam boundary was pushed to Manash. Some Nawabs were made captive and sent to the Ahom capital Garhgaon. The Heavenly King exclaimed in joy that he could now take his meal in peace.

The success of the Ahoms in recovering possession of Guwahati and Lower Assam was no mean achievement. It was an important and a turn-around victory for the Ahoms. A stone pillar found in Guwahati bears the inscriptions in Sanskrit, meaning of which is as follows:

'The Barphukan of Namjani (Lower Assam) son of Barbarua, lived with glory in the saka year 1589 (1667 AD0. After having attained victory over the Yavanas (Muslims) who were equipped with various war weapons, elephants, horses and commanders. The person of the Barphukan is adorned with every ornament, and his heart is enlightened with knowledge of the various branches of learning. He is beautified by attractive qualities which are free from the evils of the Kali-Yuga. The Barphukan shines effulgent in his prowess; and is the commander of elephants, horses and soldiers. He is the ocean or receptacle of the highest forms of fortitude, self-respect, valour and depth of judgement and gravity.'

It is interesting to note that in an Assamese chronicle, the physical description of Lachit was given with his face like a full moon, his head held high and the front side of his shirt marked with the imprint of the Ahom dragon and his dagger (hengdang) with gold embedded handle sticking out of his waist band.

An inscription on a cannon found at Silghat, near the Simaluguri fort in Nagaon district, refers to the recovery of the weapon by King Chakradwaj Singha after having 'destroyed the Yavanas battle in saka 1589'.

The immediate action taken by the King was to appoint officers in-charge of various paragonas of Kamrup for effective administration of the newly recovered areas of lower Assam. Next, the King ordered for creating the Daphtar (office) for the Barphukan in Guwahati as it was the most important office for the Ahom administration. Barphukan, who was the Governor of Lower Assam. The official residence of the Barphukan was the Itakhuli hill extending from the Sukleswar temple covering the areas up to the present Deputy Commissioner up to S.P office and the office called Dopdar was constructed on the river bank in the area presently called Fancy Bazar. All the official visitors were to be received in the Dopdar and Barphukan had to ceremonially proceed from his residence on horseback or in a palanquin attended by a retinue of officials like Phukans and others and with the beating of drums.

On the request of the Barphukan, the King entrusted the work of the fortification of Guwahati on both banks of the Brahmaputra to the Premier and Barpatra Gohain along the areas which were found strategic by Lachit Barphukan. The fortification was complete in record time.

Now the Emperor Aurangzeb appointed Ram Singh, the King of Amber as the Commander in Chief of the Mughal Army in order to punish the refractory Chiefs of Kooch Behar and Assam and sent him with a huge army. Ram Singha was accompanied by Sikh Guru Tegbahadur and five Peers (Muslim fakirs) and he had a strong naval force with a few Portuguese naval Captains. The Emperor sent Nawab Rashid Khan, the former Thanedar of Guwahati with the Raja; Raja Ram Singha was not in the good book of Aurangzeb as he was suspected of complicity in the escape of Sivaji from the prison. On his way to Assam, he was asked to call on the Nawab of Bengal, Shaista Khan, the maternal uncle of the Emperor and seek his guidance. Ram Singha was advised by the Nawab who happened to be a friend of his famous father Raja Jai Singha of Mewar that he should be very careful as Assam had raised many forts and ramparts to make it impregnable.

As has been stated, Lachit, on recovering Guwahati and the 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 and Minister Barpatragohain 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. The defence mechanism was strengthened by erection of walls on the banks of the rivers and stockades were built in the midst of waters 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 Singha) as impregnable. Saista Khan, the world famous brother of Mumtaz Mahal, the Governor of Bengali told him in the same vein to be careful as Assam had already fortified the country in every conceivable way and it would not be easy for Raja Ram Singh 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, Navy, 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 planned not to expose the Assamese infantry to the Mughal cavalry and infantry as their cavalry was much faster. But he rightly assessed that the Assamese navy which got rejuvenated and trained and which had the experience of facing the Moghul navy led by foreign naval 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, one commander Pelon Phukan misfed the royal envoy resulting with the submission of 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 army of 10,000 strength was completely destroyed on their victorious retreat from the battle field having been unscrupulously pursued by the cavalry and infantry of the enemy under the leadership of Ram Singha himself at Alaboi on the grand. This Alaboi victory 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 on Lachit who took solace that it was a worse turn of events for the Assamese on victory retreat. Lachit collected the remaining Assamese army and guided to safety. He also countered the boast of the Moghuls by telling Ram Singh 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 a part of the royal army.

Thus diplomacy played a major role in prolonging the war to the irks 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 the Ghiladharighat treaty. He repeated the demand. It was but natural on the part of Lachit to reply that his sovereign was the lord of the East while 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.

He displayed his love for his motherland and respect for his King when he, even being very seriously ill being bodily supported by his close officials entered into the scene of war at a time as the Moghuls entered the river Brahmaputra and came near Santipur and was on a winning spree so much so that one Nawab was sitting on the south bank and smoking his hucka confidently. Some of his commanders were ill. Seeing the retreating Assamese commanders and soldiers, Lachit struck some of his boatmen with the back of his sword when they fell in water and the news spread like wildfire among the retreating Assamese commanders and naval soldiers that Lachit had started killing his own fleeing soldiers. This was the turning point when all the Assamese boats turned back and conversed on the advancing Moghul navy so much so that 'anyone could walk on the bridge of boats' and the Assamese defeated the enemy. The Hucka smoking Nawab 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 a glorious victory by virtue of sheer personal courage and absolute determination and love for his country by the Lachit Barphukan, the Great, whose heroism is comparable to those of Rana Pratap Singh and Chatrapati Sivaji. He demolized the Mughal hegemony and has been recognized as the National Hero and his war tactics are studied in the defense academies with a sense of pride.

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