Lachit Barphukan: The Lion of Saraighat

On 24th November, 1622 at Charaideo, Assam, the man who stopped the Mughal invasion of Assam, Lachit Barphukan was born. 

The youngest son of Momai Tamuli Borbarua who was the commander-in-chief of the Ahom army, Lachit grew up in an atmosphere of war and strife, as the Ahom Kingdom was fighting a war for its very survival against the Mughal Empire. 

Lachit’s father, Momai held the distinction of being the first Borbarua of upper-Assam, appointed by Prataap Singha, and with this position of prestige in mind, Momai set about cultivating a diverse education for his son. Lachit grew up learning about humanities and military strategy, alongside lessons on Ahom scripture, Hinduism and Economics.

As a young adult, Lachit first came to prominence in the position of personal assistant and ‘Ghura Baruah’ where he subdued a great many formidable horses that others had stayed away from. His superiors were impressed with his bravery and appointed him chief officer of the Shimaluguria games, as Shimalugria Phukan. With the success of the games, Lachit’s rise continued, with a promotion to Dulakasharia Baruah, which gave him control over the King’s transport as the King travelled to Dula.

It was in this role that Lachit first came to the attention of Swargdeo Chakradhwaj Singha, the Ahom King. So, impressed by what he saw, the King appointed Lachit ‘Commander-in-Chief’ and Borphukan of the Kingdom. 

Lachit’s first task was to prepare the army and the Kingdom’s defences for the inevitable Mughal invasion. Tensions between the Ahom Kingdom and the Mughal Empire had been growing for years since the first act of war in the reign of Shah Jahan. 

An army under the command of Mir Jumla invaded the Ahom Kingdom in 1662. At first, the Mughals swept all before them, and the great weaknesses of the Ahom Kingdom were exposed. But, Lachit, working with the King’s blessing reformed the army and improved the defences, so that by 1667, the Ahoms were ready to fight back.

In November, 1667, years of preparation paid off as the Ahoms under the command of Lachit captured Guwahati, the base of Mughal operations within Assam, driving the Mughal forces westward, and avenging the humiliations of past defeats. Of course, the Mughals would not accept this defeat lying down.

Aurangzeb named Ram Singh as his new commander and ordered him to take all of the Ahom Kingdom. Ram Singh advanced eastward and despite harsh conditions and guerrilla tactics managed to force a battle at Alaboi, which after ferocious fighting ended in a Mughal victory. 

It was at this juncture that Ram Singh issued his famous challenge to the Ahom King, offering to resolve the whole issue with single combat. 

Swargdeo Chakradhwaj Singha, a man who believed himself divinely appointed to the Kingship, refused the challenge with the words. “Ram Singha is a mere servant and he has no umbrella over his head. So I do not like to fight a duel with such a man.”

Of course, the efforts of the war had taken their toll on the Ahom King and he passed in 1670, his successor however shared his zeal for driving the Mughals from Assam, and encouraged Lachit to renew plans for war.

These plans culminated in the Battle of Saraighat. 

At Saraighat, Lachit demonstrated his experience and his military nous. With Guwahati surrounded by hillocks on either side of the Brahmaputra, Lachit closed the gaps between the hills with earthen ramparts, erecting a protective ring around the city, thus preventing any chance of the Ahoms being surprised. Lachit took this duty so seriously that when his uncle protested and tried to prevent the work on the fortifications being completed, he executed him, proclaiming. “My Uncle is not greater than my country!”

Lachit also ordered his soldiers to harass the approaching Mughal army such that by 1671, events had to come to a head. 

 Ram Singh was forced to sail up the Brahmaputra toward Guwahati, Lachit met the man with his own flotilla. However, the Mughals had superior numbers and guns, and the Ahoms were quickly losing morale. Sensing this, Lachit loudly proclaimed. “I would rather die fulfilling my duty to my King and country, even if it means that I will do it by myself.” 

Inspired by such bravery and boldness, Lachit’s men rallied and fought a desperate battle on the river.

The fighting was so intense and so furious that it could have gone either way, however, as it seemed the Ahoms would break, Lachit stepped forward and issued yet another bold declaration.

“If you soldiers wish to flee, flee. The King has given me a task here, and I will do it well. Let the Mughals take me away. You report to the King that his general fought well following his orders.” Once again his soldiers rallied and found the strength to defeat the Mughals forcing them to flee from Guwahati.

Lachit and his army pursued the Mughals to the Manas River, the western boundary of the Kingdom, and though another opportunity arose to drive the Mughals completely into the ground, Lachit ordered his men not to do so. 

A year later, Lachit died from natural causes; his remains lie at rest in Lachit Maidaan, built that same year by Udayaditya Singha at Hoolungapara. 

Lachit Barphukan’s achievements in driving the Mughals from Assam are inspiring. He took a force of men that were outnumbered and outgunned, and trained them into a fighting force worthy of defending their Kingdom. With his inspiring speeches and boldness in battle, he encouraged them to fight when lesser men might have given up and fled.

Together with his King, Lachit ensured that the Ahom Kingdom remained out of the grasp of the Mughals, and when years later, some officials tried to hand the Kingdom to the Mughals, the memory of Lachit and his King, inspired resistance and determination.

The memory of the Lion of Saraighat lives on.

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