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Ahom Kingdom and the famous Battle of Saraighat

Niranjan Bhombe

Rushikesh Shinde

4 March 2023

"Across the ages Assam had retained an unique and independent political life. It has provided countless...."

.....individuals with safety at various points in history. Although Assam has produced outstanding warriors, statesmen, poets, and reformers, relatively little is known about its earlier history. Assam's history, whether ancient or medieval, is just as significant and fascinating as that of any other region in Bharat.


In the 16th and 17th centuries the Mughals had nearly the whole of Indian sub-continent except Assam. During that time, Assam was ruled by the strong Ahoms, who had fought the Mughals bravely. The Mughal Empire and the Ahom Kingdom engaged in a naval combat at Saraighat in 1671 on the Brahmaputra River close to Saraighat. The conflict was the final significant Mughal attempt to expand their dominion into Assam. By making excellent use of the terrain, shrewd diplomatic maneuvers to buy time, guerrilla warfare, psychological operations, military intelligence, and taking advantage of the feeble Mughal navy, the Ahom kingdom beat the Mughal Empire.


The Mughals recognized the strategic value of the Brahmaputra valley in the early 1600s. After a few conflicts with Ahom rulers, they agreed to the Asurar Ali Treaty in 1639, which established the Barnadi River in the north bank of the Brahmaputra and Asurar Ali in the south as the boundaries between the Ahom Kingdom and the Mughal Empire. Mir Jumla, the Mughal Viceroy in Dhaka, was urged to retake Assam by Aurangzeb when he assumed the throne of the Mughals. He invaded Ahom in 1661 with a sizable army, overpowered them, and took Garhgaon, their capital. King Jayadhwaj Singha of Ahom consented to a demeaning contract.


Ahom agreed to give territory from Guwahati to the Manas River as well as a sizable sum of money under the terms of the treaty. As the Mughals withdrew, Mir Jumla passed away from illness. The Battle's Approach King Chakradhwaj Singha, his successor, began making plans to reclaim the exiled lands. Lachit Borphukan was named as the new supreme commander by him. The Ahom army moved from Garhgaon to Guwahati in 1667. Guwahati was taken by Lachit, forcing the Mughals to leave. To prevent a Mughal retaliation, Lachit began boosting Guwahati's defence by building walls and placing barriers. Due to the Brahmaputra River and the surrounding hills, Guwahati has excellent natural defences. Lachit was committed to ensure Guwahati's complete safety and anticipated every move the adversary would make.


Under the command of Raja Ram Singh and Rashid Khan, the ex-faujdar of Guwahati, the Mughal forces included 4,000 troopers called char-hazaari mansab, 1,500 ahadis which were soldiers recruited by the Emperor, 500 barqandezes by an additional 30,000 infantrymen, 21 Rajput chiefs with their contingents, 18,000 cavalry, 2,000 archers and shield. Due to their status as Mughal Empire vassals, armies from Koch Bihar also enlisted in the Mughal army. Lachit Borphukan chose the hilly terrain of Guwahati because it was on the route to the center of the Ahom kingdom and lacked open fields where the Mughal forces would not have sufficient mobility and because it was aware of the military might of the Mughals and the weakness of the Ahom militia, particularly against the professional cavalry and mounted forces in open fields. The Brahmaputra River, which flows through it, was the only route east.


The Brahmaputra at Saraighat, which is only 1 km wide at its narrowest point, was perfect for a naval defence. Lachit constructed a sophisticated network of mud embankments in Guwahati to halt the march of the Mughals. The Garos, Jaintia, Nagas, Rani of Darrang, and Raja of Rani joined the fight as allies of the Ahom. The Ahom defence was listed as follows:


Atan Burhagohain was in charge of the north bank. Lachit Borphukan was in charge of the south bank. Each pali was reformed in reaction to the threat posed by Ram Singh's soldiers, and both leaders had a number of pali commanders, each of whom was in charge of protecting a distinct strategic location. There were four divisions in the Mughal army


Ram Singh in charge of the north bank. Ali Akbar Khan, Mir Sayyid Khan, Raja Indramani, Raja Jaynarayan, and Marul Khan ruled the south bank. Jahir Beg, Kayam Khan, Ghanashyam Bakshi, and three Baruahs from Koch Bihar—Kavisekhar, Sarveshwar, and Manmatha—are at the gate to Sindurighopa. The naval captains Mansur Khan, Latif Khan, Iswarpati, Europeans and one Kapidan Raja defended the river.


The Mughals would be compelled to employ their fleet, which was their weakest asset, when they discovered Guwahati was impregnable by land. Lachit made the decision to make a calculated retreat to Guwahati once the Mughal march had reached the Manas River and had routed several Ahom forces. In order to keep the Mughal soldiers in view but out of range of their guns, three Rajkhowas were sent to meet the Mughal forces and retire to Guwahati. When the Mughals got close, he began a phoney dialogue with Ram Singh, who had set up camp at Agiathuti, by using the kidnapped Firuz Khan. He spoke to the Mughal Emperor as the "Bhai Raja" brother royal to the Ahom king.


When he was prepared for the Mughal assaults, he wrote to Ram Singh saying that because the Koch had conquered Guwahati and Kamrup, "Guwahati and Kamrup do not belong to the Mughals" and that the Assamese were ready to fight till the end. For over a year, Guwahati was under Mughal siege. Lachit began guerilla warfare because he was aware that his army would be unable to defeat the Mughals in an open-ground assault. Ram Singh requested a battle with the king of Ahom after growing upset about unsuccessful discussions and assaults on his soldiers. If he was defeated, he vowed to leave Assam with his army.


Chakradhwaj Singha declined the offer on the grounds that it would be beneath his dignity to fight a simple servant (who is not a "Chhatrapati") "who has no umbrella over his head." Ram Singh's suggestion infuriated him, so he gave Lachit the command to fight the Mughals on the battlefield. Despite their reluctance, Lachit brought in 40,000 men and used an anti-koch strategy that had been successful against Chilarai to disguise their vanguard archers and musketeers as Brahmans in order to dissuade the Rajput warriors from killing them. In contrast, Ram Singh assigned Madanavati, a woman who was costumed as a male, to command the vanguard and deny the Ahoms any honor in the event of a victory.


The Alaboi hill's neighboring fields were the scene of the conflict. 10,000 Ahom soldiers were slaughtered in the chaos that ensued when Ram Singh let out his seasoned horsemen. By excavating a line in the back of his army, Lachit did a wonderful job of creating a preventative defence that saved the rest of his soldiers from being completely destroyed. Saraighat battle The Asrur Ali Treaty of 1639 was something the Mughals wanted Ahom to uphold. Ahom would receive fair compensation from the Mughals. Ahom, however, was unwilling to cede control of their western portion of the kingdom.


Atan Burhagohain had a hunch that the Mughal emperor would not ultimately uphold Ram Singh’s promise. Additionally, granting Guwahati to the Mughals would have amounted to giving them control over the Brahmaputra valley and a base from which to launch raids against the eastern part of the realm. The Ahoms rejected this suggestion after he was successful in convincing the other commanders to do so. The Mughals launched a huge naval attack on the river at Saraighat in response to the diplomatic efforts' failure. Lachit Borphukan and their admiral were both in critical condition, and the Ahom warriors had not yet recovered from their earlier defeat.


The Mughals were due to land at Andharubali at this critical juncture in the fight, and the Borphukan gave orders via katakis to all of the land and naval forces to strike. Lachit requested that his soldiers transfer him onto a boat. Seven ships steamed up to face the Mughal navy. The Ahom warriors were electrified by their leader's entry into the conflict. Numerous small Ahom boats rushed into the river and collided with the Mughal warships. The small boats' onslaught was too nimble for the Mughals' huge boats to fend off.


The Ahoms used a combined front and rear attack since the Brahmaputra River's triangle between Itakhuli, Kamakhya, and Aswakranta was crowded with troops and boats. A bullet to the back of the Mughal admiral Munnawar Khan, who was enjoying a hookah, caused the Mughals to lose focus. The Mughals had to quickly flee after this and the deaths of several more key officials. The Mughals had lost their best soldiers in the river battle, forcing Ram Singh's land forces to retire. Lachit stopped his soldiers at the Manas River, where the Mughals had been halted, to consolidate his victories. With the Ahoms defeated, Ram Singh would soon depart for Rangamati. The western limit of the Ahom kingdom, the Manas River, saw the Mughals being chased. A year later, Lachit passed away due to natural causes. Ahom reclaimed Guwahati in 1682 after the Mughals briefly recaptured it after a few years. Since that time, the Mughal Empire never included the Brahmaputra valley.


The Mughal defeat in the war to the Assamese was a major setback for their political victories. Not once, not twice, but several times the Ahoms were able to overcome the Mughals. History has a lot to say about the Battle of Saraighat. The Mughals and the Ahoms engaged in this conflict for the last time. Their triumph proved that the Mughal attempts to dominate this region of the kingdom would fail. Ram Singha was astounded by Lachit Barphukan's naval fleet and his display of outstanding leadership and skill. Despite this, the Assamese people have been treated unfairly in our conventional history books. The history of Assam is rarely discussed in the history of Bharat as a whole, and few authors have spent more than a dozen lines on the subject of this province's history.


Long before Bharat’s ruling dispensation celebrated the valor and heroism of Lachit Borphukan, its Army had instituted an award in the honor of the legendary Ahom general. Since 1999, the Pune-based National Defence Academy (NDA) has been conferring the best passing-out cadet with the Lachit Borphukan gold medal, perhaps the best tribute the 17th century Assamese war hero deserves.

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