Sunyatphaa-The Weaker Successor

In 1670, the future of Assam hung in the balance. Whilst Lachit Barphukan had managed to hold the Mughal advance off with the support of King Supangmung, the latter’s death and the oncoming Mughal return threatened to turn everything upside down.

However, Supangmung’s successor Sunyatphaa (Udayditya Singha) shared his brother’s fierce patriotism and quickly gave his support to Lachit Barphukan, support that was to prove crucial.

Battle of Saraighat

Like his brother, Sunyatphaa trusted Lachit to the hilt, and worked alongside him to formulate an appropriate strategy to halt the Mughal advance. However, unlike his brother, when the Mughal commander Ram Singh proposed that if the Ahom garrison at Guwahati surrendered, the Mughals would not proceed further beyond this boundary, Sunyatphaa seemed to consider it a valid proposal.

Indeed, many of his ministers, who were exhausted by the long war and wanted peace, urged the King to agree to these terms. It was only the harsh words of both Atan Buragohain and Lachit that convinced the King not to give in, reminding him that if he agreed to these terms, the sacrifices made by everyone would have been in vain.

The rest, as they say, is history. Lachit’s tactical genius led to victory at Saraighat and the Mughals were chased all the way to the west of the Manas River.

However, Lachit’s death following the war did not allow the Ahoms to truly savour their victory, and the King’s own lack of skills would soon throw the Kingdom into crisis.

Chaos with the Dafala Tribe

Hardly had the war with the Mughals concluded then the next challenge to the Ahoms emerged, in the form of the Dafala Tribe.

The Dafala Tribe were the inhabitants of the hills around the present day Lakhimpur district, and they used to go on marauding expeditions, capturing people from the Ahom Kingdom and their properties. The Ahoms had many years previously come to an agreement with the tribe to stop their raiding. In return for receiving a sum of money, the tribe would stop their raiding and would keep to themselves.

However, due to the transferal of funds toward the war effort against the Mughals, no money had been sent to the tribe, which they consequently complained about and took action to rectify by raiding several border villages, capturing innocent villagers and killing others. 

Whilst his brother might have sought a diplomatic solution, Sunyatphaa decided to pursue a military solution, against the advice of his ministers. He ordered Ghorakonwar Borbarua to command a force into the hills to rout out the Dafalas and bring peace to the region. 

However, weather and Dafala ingenuity meant that Borbarua was completely frustrated, and found the enemy villages empty. Terrified of being accused of treachery and knowing that if he returned empty-handed he would be killed, Borbarua tried to find the enemy. Instead the enemy found him.

The Ahom army was brutally attacked and many prominent soldiers died, Borbarua himself was humiliated, and stripped of his position, being spared death only thanks to the intercession of the King’s mother.

Eventually, when they were satiated, the Dafalas returned the goods they had taken and made peace with the King.

Paramananda Bairagi

Another issue that came to bite Sunyatphaa was his association and devoutness to Paramananda Bairagi. 

Bairagi originated in the region of Gakulpur and claimed to possess the ability to perform miracles, which earned him a number of disciples. Both his ability to perform miracles and his claimed ability to know exactly what was being said in the Royal Palace, despite not being resident there, impressed the King and earned him the King’s patronage.

Such was the devotion the King had to Bairagi that he commanded the 12 Vaishnava Mahantas to become disciples of the man, when they refused, they were persecuted, some were killed and others were driven into hiding. 

Furthermore, the King demanded that his courtiers and nobles become devotees of Bairagi and any who refused were driven into exile or faced punishment.

All of this ended up causing huge resentment against the King and Bairagi and the discontented nobles rallied around one specific commander, Debera Hazarika, who with his ally and the King’s brother Sarugohain prepared to deal with the threat once and for all.

Death

In the early hours of 1672, Sarugohain and Debera Hazarika alongside their allies surrounded the Royal Palace, before being let in by the discontented guards. They quickly surrounded the King’s chamber, preventing him from leaving or for any support to come to him.

They then formally declared him stripped of his crown and his authority and ordered his arrest. Sarugohain was proclaimed King, and took the name Ramadhwaj Singha, whilst Debera became his chief minister.

Sunyatphaa was taken to Charaideo, and despite promises made to their mother that the brothers would rule together, he was killed. Before he died, he put a grain of rice in his mouth and proclaimed. “An innocent is being killed! O, Great God, may retribution descend on him who is committing this crime!”

Bairagi was also put to death and the Vaishnava Mahantas were brought back into favour and into influence.

A reign that had begun with such promise at Saraighat had been brought to an end in disgrace.

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