Guwahati: Assam is celebrating the 400th birth anniversary of one of the state’s greatest sons, 17th-century Ahom general Lachit Borphukan, which is culminating with a three-day program in the national capital Delhi. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be the chief guest at the valedictory celebration on November 25 at New Delhi’s Vigyan Bhawan, which is being organised by the Assam government.
While 24th November is celebrated as Lachit Diwas every year, this year various programs are being organised in Assam for the last several months, on the occasion of the 400th birth anniversary. The 3-day event in Delhi began on November 23 morning with the inauguration of an exhibition by finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
During the event, Assam CM Himanta Biswa Sarma said that Indian history ignored the heroism of Ahoms and Lachit Borphukan, and other similar dynasties in the country. He said that this initiative would help people to know the real heroes of the country. The CM announced that Home Minister Amit Shah will inaugurate a documentary on Lachit Barphukan on November 24th, while Prime Minister Narendra Modi will attend the closing ceremony on Friday.
While the entire nation will be celebrating the great commander’s birthday, people should be aware that if it hadn’t been for Lachit Borphukan, history would have definitely gone a different path. Unless the legendary 17th-century Ahom General had not inflicted a crushing defeat on the Mughals in the 1671 Battle of Saraighat, the Northeast would almost certainly have different characteristics.
The expansionistic Mughal empire tried for over 60 years in the seventeenth century to conquer Assam, which had ended after their defeat in the 1671 war. According to records, there were 17 wars between the Ahoms and the Mughals, and the Ahoms won most of them. The Mughals had won a major war in 1663 when they occupied the Ahom capital.
The conflict had started with the split of the Cooch Behar after the death of its second ruler Nara Narayan. The Cooch Behar kingdom lay between the Mughal empire and the Ahom kingdom in Assam. After the split, the Western part, Koch Behar ruled by Nara Narayan’s son Lakshmi Narayan, decided to ally with the Mughals during the time of Jahangir, while the eastern part Koch Hajo under Raghudev decided to form an alliance with the Ahoms.
Koch Hajo included the current-day West Assam region, while the Koch Behar included the current-day North Bengal region. Koch Hajo region included most of the Kamrup region. Between Koch Hajo and Ahom kingdoms, there was the Darrang kingdom, ruled by independent rulers supported by Ahoms.
After gaining entry to Koch Behar, the ambition of the Mughals grew, and they wanted to conquer Assam and the rest of the territories in the northeastern region. The first encounter between the Ahoms and Mughals started after the Ahom kingdom caught and punished a trader named Ratan Singh in 1615 for illegal trade, and expelled him from Assam. In retaliation, the Mughals sent an army under Abu Bakr and Raja Satraji to Assam. While the Ahoms suffered some losses initially, they were successful in defeating the Mughal army.
After that, there were several minor conflicts between the two sides during Jahangir’s rule. However, during this time the Mughals concentrated on increasing their influence in Kamrup.
The conflict escalated under Shah Jahan when the Ahoms tried to capture Kamrup in 1636 with the help of Darrang king Bali Narayan. Ahoms had also angered the Mughals by giving asylum to hill chiefs who had escaped from the Bengal region under the Mughals. Both these factors led to a war between the two sides, after which the Mughals occupied Kamrup in 1937. After that, following a treaty signed by the two sides, the entire western Assam up to Guwahati went under the control of the Mughals.
After Shah Jahan fell ill, his sons started to fight each other to grab power. Using this situation, Ahom king Jayadhwaj Singha occupied the west Assam region. When Aurangzeb became the ruler, he ordered Bengal subedar Mir Jumla to recapture Koch Behar and Assam. Mughals easily occupied Koch Behar and reached Assam in 1662. While the Ahom army resisted them, the Mughals won a series of victories and reached all the way to the Ahom kingdom capital Gargaon. King Jayadhwaj Singha abandoned the capital and took refuge in the Eastern Hills.
The Mughals looted the capital, occupied it, and stayed there. However, things started to change when the monsoons started by the next year. Their communications with the Mughal empire were cut, and their soldiers were hit by diseases. Unable to fit into the harsh monsoon season, the Mughals abandoned the Ahom kingdom, and the Ahoms started to recapture the lost region. But soon the monsoon ended, and the Mughals had reinforcement from Dhaka and other nearby regions. As a result, Ahom King Jayadhwaj Singha called for a peace
The result was a humiliating treaty the Ahoms were forced to sign. The kingdom had to give away western Assam, pay 3 lakh rupees as a war indemnity, and worst of all, he had to send his own daughter Ramani Gabharu and his niece to the Mughal Harem. It was a disastrous treaty for the Ahoms, and Jayadhwaj Singha died soon after in the year 1663.
But Jayadhwaj’s successor Chakradwaj Singha swore to avenge the humiliation, and he refused to pay any indemnity to the Mughals. He announced that Ahoms will not now down to the Mughals, and ordered his ministers to prepare for war. When Kamrup Faujdar demanded the money promised in the treaty, Chakradwaj Singha decided to attack Kamrup instead. Ahom army sailed down the Brahmaputra, and recaptured Guwahati and Itakhuli by 1667. They were successful in chasing away the Mughals up to Manas River, in the current Barpeta district in Assam, and became the boundary between Ahoms and Mughals.
Ahoms were able to release many people captured by Mir Jumla, and recaptured most of the land from the Mughals. In the meanwhile, Chakradwaj Singha appointed Lachit Borphukan as the commander of the Ahom Army in 1667. Lachit was the son of Momai Tamuli Borbarua, former commander-in-chief of Ahom army. The king ordered Lachit Borphukan to raise a competent army to defeat the Mughals. However in 1670, the king died, and his brother Udayaditya Singha became the Ahom ruler.
Aurangazeb was furious with the defeat, and he sent a massive army under Ram Singh and Mir Jumla to take revenge, and retake Kamrup and Ahom kingdom. Lachit Borphukan and his faithful friend Ismail Siddiqui, also known as Bagh Hazarika, were ready with the Ahom forces.
The Saraighat War
Although the Ahoms had fewer resources and manpower, the Mughals’ difficulty with the terrain gave the Ahoms an advantage. Despite this, the Mughals were able to reach the frontiers of the Ahom kingdom thanks to superior resources and guns. The Mughals reached the western border of Ahom kingdom by 1671, where the Ahom army was waiting for them. Lachit Borphukan realised that it was impossible to defeat the cavalry and mounted forces of the Mughals on land, and knew that they were weak on the water. On the other hand, Ahom soldiers were expert naval fighters on the rivers.
Lachit Borphukan decided that Sarighat near Guwahati will be the best place to block the Mughals on the river, as the river is narrowest at this place, just 1 km wide. Therefore, he made a strategic retreat to Guwahati. To force the Mughals into the water, he decided to build a series of mud walls or embankments around Guwahati. The earthen walls will join with the existing hills in the region to create a barricade. The task of one such strategically important wall on the north side of the wall was assigned to his maternal uncle.
History has it that when Lachit came to assess the progress of the work the night before the war, he was shocked to see the workers sleeping under the stars. When asked, his uncle replied that the workers were tired so he allowed them to rest for some time. Lachit became furious at this reply, drew his sword in wrath and removed his uncle’s head in one stroke, saying, ‘Dekhot koi Momai Dangor Nohoi’, which meant- “My uncle is not greater than my motherland.” The workers soon got down to work and the wall was ready by the morning.
As a result of the walls, the war moved to the river, but Lachit Borphukan became seriously ill and he could not join the war. This demoralised the soldiers and the Mughals started to gain. As the Mughals inched closer to victory, Lachit Borphukan jumped into a warship and started to lead the army. He heroically commanded the soldiers despite his ill health, and what followed was a fierce battle between the Ahoms and the Mughals.
The doctors asked Lachit not to go out on the battlefield at a crucial stage of the battle due to his serious illness. As the Mughal army advanced and Lachit’s health worsened, so did the spirit of the Ahom army. The Mughals had also started to advance on the land. Lachit eventually realised that his health was secondary to his responsibility to protect his people.
He was lying on the bed the next day, during the final day of the battle. Some soldiers came to him demotivated, saying they had lost faith in him due to his ill health. To maintain the soldiers’ ardour, he ordered his soldiers to transport his bed to the battlefield on a boat.
The motivated Ahom army launched a massive attack on the invaders and started to chase them away. When the Mughal admiral Munnawar Khan was killed by a gunshot, the Mughal naval force became leaderless and they could not maintain the attack. They lost several top leaders and ultimately had to retreat.
The Ahoms chased them up to Manas River, which became the boundary between the two kingdoms. The Mughals had invested a lot of money in the war, with hundreds of boats and thousand of men and animals, along with a large number of arms and ammunition. It is said that the loss in the Saraighat battle was one of the factor contributing to the fall of the Mughal dynasty. The Mughals never attempted to capture Assam after the 1671 war.
Lachit Borphukan used a brilliant combination of guerilla tactics, subterfuge, diplomacy, daring and psychological warfare to attack the Mughal army. As a result, his army was able to defeat the much larger army of the Mughals.
In memory of India’s one of the greatest patriot and war hero, Swargadeo Udayaditya Singha built the Lachit Maidam at Hoolungapara, 16 Km away from Jorhat in Assam in 1672. The remains of this great warrior lie here and he is still remembered and honoured by the people of Assam. Assam celebrates Lachit Devas every year to commemorate Lachit Barphukans heroism and the victory of the Ahom army at Saraighat on 24 November.
The 1671 battle under the leadership of Lachit Borphukan delivered the Mughals a tremendous psychological blow, destroying the illusion of their invincibility.
If the Mughals had won the key battle of Saraighat in 1671 and vanquished Borphukan, they would have massacred the Ahoms, including non-combatants, raped and enslaved all women as sex slaves, while forcing all surviving men and children to convert to Islam.
That is how the Mughals and invading Muslim armies around the world treated the vanquished who put up a strong defence and resisted their attempts at conquest. Many examples of such savagery performed by Muslim soldiers on the ‘kafirs’ they conquered may be found throughout history.
The Ahoms and Lachit Borphukan have contributed significantly to India’s North Eastern region. Because of his bravery, the North Eastern region remained free of Mughal dominion until it was finally annexed by the British. Lachit Borphukan’s endeavours ensured that the holy territory of Kamakhya and Pua Mecca did not fall to the ruthless Mughals.
To mark the 400th birth anniversary of the great Ahom army general, the Assam government launched a mobile app and a web portal last month. The portal and mobile application were created so that individuals from Assam and beyond, including international countries, could express their appreciation for Lachit Barphukan through write-ups and essays.
Himanta Biswa Sarma urged the people of Assam to light earthen lamps in their homes on November 24, which will be celebrated as ‘Lachit Divas’ across the state.
Assam Government releases theme song to celebrate 400th birth anniversary of the 17th-centuary was hero
Sarma told the reporters that the Assam government will hold a series of activities in the national capital from November 23 to 25. Dignitaries from many walks of life will attend these gatherings.
Ahead of the 400th birth anniversary celebrations of Lachit Borphukan in Delhi, Assam chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma released a theme song based on the 17-centuary war hero. The song has been composed by Assam’s popular singer-actor Zubeen Garg.
“The Assam government has planned a district-wise programme from November 18 onwards and also several events planned in the run-up to the main event,” said Sarma during a press conference.
“We are all geared up to make the celebration of Lachit Borphukan’s 400th birth anniversary a memorable event. Launched official theme song of Lachit Divas sung by youth icon Zubeen Garg whose mellifluous voice has raised the spirit of patriotism,” the chief minister wrote on Twitter.
Earlier, on February 25, then-President Ram Nath Kovind launched the 400th birth anniversary celebrations of the Assamese war hero, laying the groundwork for a war memorial and a 150-foot bronze statue of the commander who defended Assam from the Mughal invasion. Borphukan, who led the army of the Ahom empire, which included much of modern-day Assam, is one of the country’s most revered military icons.