The Mughal period and its history has been extensively written and taught. However, many of us are unaware of the other mighty dynasties and valiant kings and their generals. For instance, the mighty Ahom kingdom in the Brahmaputra Valley of Assam which throttled 17 invasions by Mughals and cemented its rule over its territory for over 600 years is buried deep in the pages of history. Unawareness towards the North-Eastern region of India is so inherent in us that we fail to recognise and acknowledge an inseparable portion of Indian history. Nevertheless, a glimpse at the life of Lachit Borphukon, the greatest Ahom warrior chief of all time will enable an understanding of the most crucial episodes in Ahom history.
Lachit Borphukon was born in Gargaon, which is located in the Sivasagar district of Assam, which approximately 328 km far from Guwahati) His father Momai Tamuli Borbarua was the commander-in-chief of the Ahom army during king Pratap Singha's reign in Assam. It is speculated by many historians that perhaps Lachit was moved by his father's dedication and loyalty to his motherland and this had inspired him to join the prestigious Ahom forces. In addition to learning and acquiring remarkable warfare skills through rigorous training, Lachit also became a scholar in humanities and indigenous Ahom scriptures, which made him highly capable of handling any organisational work.
The Mughal empire in the early 1660s under Aurangzeb adopted a very aggressive expansionist policy. He desperately eyed the Brahmaputra Valley as it was considered to be the 'Gateway of North-East'. In 1661, Aurangzeb launched a full-scale invasion of the Ahom kingdom. The Mughals under the leadership of then Viceroy of Dhaka, Mir Jumla were successful in capturing most of the territories of the Ahom kingdom, which stretched from Guwahati to the Manas River. Aurangzeb was overwhelmed after his military victory. However, little did he know that the Ahoms can rise like the phoenix and fight to reclaim their motherland.
Chakradhwaj Singha was crowned the next Ahom emperor after the loss of Ahom territories to the Mughals under his predecessor Jayadhwaj Singha's regime. Chakradhwaj Singha is considered to be an aggressive monarch who made reclaiming the prestigious Ahom territories from the Mughals his first priority. One interesting fact about the Ahoms is that, similar to the titles- "Maharaja" or "Sultan" that were assigned before the names of many kings, Ahom kings were addressed as "Swargadeo" (in Ahom language Chao-Pha). Chakradhwaj Singha appointed Lachit Borphukon, one of the most renowned and capable generals in the Ahom army, as the commander-in-chief and entrusted him with the responsibility to seize control of their lost provinces from the Mughals. It is said that Chakradhwaj Singha also gave Lachit a traditional Ahom weapon known as the "Hengdang" (sword with a golden handle) for the war.
Image: Hengdang or Sword with a golden handle
Lachit Borphukon knew that defeating the mighty Mughals which clearly outnumbered the Ahom army won't be a cakewalk. Therefore, he used realistic and smart military tactics to annihilate the Mughals. The Ahom forces under his leadership resorted to guerrilla warfare and attacked only during the night. It is said that Ahom soldiers disguised themselves as demons when they killed Mughal soldiers at night to create an atmosphere of fear and demoralise them. Traumatised by these constant attacks, the Mughal leader Ram Singh once wrote to Lachit and called his strategy an act of cowardice. To this Lachit replied- "Lions fight only during the nights". Eventually, Lachit and his Ahom soldiers were successful in accomplishing their goal of regaining control over Guwahati.
However, the worst wasn't over. Lachit knew very well that Ram Singh would be preparing for a counter-attack to turn the tables on Ahoms. This prediction soon became a reality as the Mughals returned with nearly 1,000 canons, 15,000 archers and 30,000 infantries. On the night before the war, Lachit instructed his soldiers to construct an earthen wall and appointed his maternal uncle to supervise their progress. However, his lazy uncle abandoned his responsibility and fell asleep. When Lachit came to review the progress in the middle of the night, he was furious to find his uncle sleeping and the soldiers relaxing. To set a precedent, Lachit took out his 'Hengdang' and sliced his uncle's throat with one stroke after saying- "Dexot koi mumai dangor nohoi" (my uncle is not greater than my motherland). After witnessing this, the soldiers resumed work with full vigour out of fear. As an outcome of their efforts, the construction was completed within that night.
Image: Representation of the Battle of Saraighat
The next morning Lachit had a clear idea of what to do. The idea behind constructing the earthen wall was to block the land route and force the Mughals into taking the route through the Brahmaputra River. The Ahoms might have been weak in comparison to the Mughal forces on land. However, they were the mighty rulers of the river. The Ahoms led by Lachit, who were excellent naval fighters surrounded the Mughals from all sides and destroyed them in no time. This war, which also happens to be the last military confrontation between Ahoms and Mughals came to be known as the Battle of Saraighat.
Lachit Borphukon took his last breath on 25th April 1672, a year after the Battle of Saraighat. To commemorate his heroism and glory, 24th November is celebrated as Lachit Divas every year in Assam. The Lachit Maidan in Jorhat, Assam which was established in his memory, serves as a symbol of his legacy.
Image: Lachit Borphukon's statue in Lachit Maidan, Jorhat, Assam
Riyan Buragohain, Intern @DH
BA EPH, Christ University, Banglore