Lachit Barphukan is known throughout Assam as the man who saved the Kingdom from the Mughals, maintaining Assam’s independence until the nineteenth century. But he would never have been able to achieve success without the support of Supangmung, the man who ruled Assam during Barphukan’s period in the sun.
Supangmung was the cousin of his predecessor as Ahom King, Sutamla (who in the style of all Ahom kings since the 16th century took Hindu names, was known as Jayadhawaj Singha.) He was a grandson of Suleng Deoraja, himself son of the famous Suhungmong, the Ahom King who saw off Muslim invasions and expanded the Ahom Kingdom.
As Sutamla had no sons, Supangmung was called to the throne, having previously served as Crown Prince.
Upon his ascension to the throne in 1663, Supangmung took the name Chakradhawaj Singha.
The gauntlet gets thrown down
As had become custom, envoys came from the nearby kingdoms to offer their congratulations, and one envoy in particular caused quite the storm.
The envoy came from the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb-then newly settled into his imperial role and looking to make a mark-and offered Supangmung a robe of honour known as a ‘khelat’ which he insisted be worn there and then. Supangmung, considering himself of divine origin, viewed this as a humiliation and remarked. “Death is preferable to a life of subordination to foreigners. I have to surrender my independence for a suit of sewn garments!”
This remark of course referred to the state of tension that existed between the Ahoms and the Mughals following the start of the Mughal invasions during the reign of Shah Jahan.
The war for Assam
Shortly after his coronation, Supangmung started reconstruction work on forts at Patakllangand and Samdhara, and reformed the Ahom army, which had been allowed to decay by previous monarchs. As I have previously mentioned, Supangmung worked closely with Lachit Barphukan to improve the state of the army and prepare the Kingdom for the war that was closing in.
In 1665, the King decided that he wished to recapture Western Assam and expel the Mughals from the Kingdom once and for all. Working with Lachit and his other noble advisors, a plan of conquest and consolidation was devised, such that by 1667, all was deemed acceptable.
The excuse that Supangmung had wanted, to enable him to start the war came in the form of a letter, written by Saiad Firuz Khan, the Thanadar of Guwahati, who demanded the payment of an indemnity balance (agreed by Supangmung’s predecessors), which was still outstanding.
In traditional fashion, Supangmung angrily denounced the letter and issued the declaration of war.
Aware of the vast difference between his army and the Mughal army, Supangmung did all he could to provide his troops with sufficient advantages. This included arms, elephants, cannons and anything else that could be found. But most importantly, Supangmung gave his commanders his trust and told them not to worry about administration for he would handle all that business. All they had to do was win their homeland back.
Supangmung the administrator who won the war
Lachit Barphukan rightly wins plaudits for fighting and claiming many a victory against the Mughal war machine, however, he would not have been able to achieve any of his success without the support he was provided by his King.
Not only was Supangmung a patriot who bristled at any indication that he had to be under any other monarch, he was also possessed of diplomatic and administrative skills that were unparalleled by any ruler alive at the time.
A man with an eye for detail, Supangmung trained the Ahom archers himself, oversaw the acquisition of supplies based off of estimates for how long the campaign was expected to last and wrote letters and negotiated alliances with neighbouring kingdoms. These negotiations either provided ceasefires to allow the Ahoms to fight unimpeded, or allowed for tacit support in the form of supplies.
Supangmung managed the internal affairs of the Kingdom, ensuring that sufficient funds existed to continue the campaign and that the law was maintained. Furthermore, when needed, he provided inspiration through his words (such as when he refused Ram Singh’s offer for a duel whilst insulting the man, showing he would not be cowed,) and through his deeds.
When Guwahati was finally captured, Supangmung did not rest on his laurels, instead he quickly organised and streamlined the administrative and revenue collection systems in lower Assam and appointed competent officials to continue overseeing this process.
Death and Legacy
Despite his achievements and his bravado, there was one foe that Supangmung could not defeat, and that was death itself. The war against the Mughals had taken everything from Supangmung and in April, 1670, he died.
Whilst he did not get to see his ultimate victory at Saraighat, he was pivotal in giving the Ahoms the fight they needed to stand up to the Mughals.
Where others might have shirked their duty and cowered before the Mughal juggernaut, Supangmung stood firm and refused to bend.
It was thanks to him that Lachit Barphukan was able to fight so successfully, and it was thanks to him that the Ahoms refused to bend to the Mughals ever again.