Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Battle of Saraighat - 1671 - Defeat of Mughal Army by Ahoms (Assamese)

The Battle of Saraighat was fought in 1671 between the army of the  Mughal empire (led by the Kachwaha king, Raja Ramsingh I), and the army and navy of Ahom Kingdom (led by Lachit Borphukan) on the Brahmaputra river at Saraighat, now in Guwahati, Assam, India. The Ahom Army defeated the Mughal Army by brilliant uses of the terrain.

The Battle of Saraighat was the last battle and the last major attempt by the Mughals to extend their empire into Assam. Though the Mughals managed to regain Guwahati briefly afterwards,  the Ahoms wrested control in the Battle of Itakhuli in 1682 and maintained it till the end of their rule.

The Mughal Emperor Auranjeb deputed the powerful Rajput king Raja Ram Singha as the Commander-in-Chief of the Mughal army to attack Ahoms.

The  king of Ahoms at that time, Chakradwaj Singha ordered the deployment of Assamese forces on both the banks of the Brahmaputra. Commander of the Ahoms, the Borphukan was aware that the Mughals would definitely try to invade the country on the north bank of the Brahmaputra as they could move faster on the land routes of the north bank. The south bank of the Brahmaputra was relatively safer as the enemy needed to cross the mighty river Brahmaputra to attack the Assamese forces on the south bank. Moreover, the Assamese naval force was fairly strong and it has strategic border posts. Hence Borphukan chose south bank as the point where he will fight the mughal army and he fortified the border posts.

Lachit Barphukan camped in Itakhuli. He had a very strong personality.  None could look straight at his face. After detailing his soldiers, he came and held discussion with the commanders.

On the Northbank, there was a debacle. At Alaboi,  ten thousand soldiers were killed by the Mughal army. It disheartened King Chakradwaj Singha. In fact, Lachit was not interested to fight the Mughal army on the north bank. On the insistence of the king, he had sent his soldiers to fight the land battle at Allaboi near Agiathuri resulting in a catastrophe.

After the death of king Chakradwaj, his cousin Udayaditya ascended the throne. He was in favour of a negotiated settlement and there were diplomatic missions between the Barphukan and Raja Ram Singha.  But the conditions given by Ram Singha that Guwahati be returned to the Mughal was totally unacceptable and so Lachit Barphukan procrastinated. On the other hand, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb was furious that Raja Ram Singha was not being able to wrest away Guwahati and the lower Assam from the Ahom king. He ordered Ram Singha to fight the Assamese.

Raja Ram Singha was now determined to fight the Assamese. So he sent Munnawar Khan, his nephew Rabat Khan, Lasid Khan, two Firingis (foreigners) on war boats. They fired their guns and shot their arrows from their boats to launch an attack on the Assamese. The Assamese fleet retreated to Amrajurighat.

It was, therefore, thought by the Mughal Commanders that the landing of their men and horses would be easy at that open shore for an attack on Guwahati. But, in the meantime, high sand banks had been built by the Assamese all along it from the foot of the Kamakhya Hill to that of Sukreswar. When the Mughal fleet reached the Juria Hill, the Assamese army retreated to Asvakranta.  Even with high temperature, Lachit Barphukan remained alert and was informed every few minutes about the advance of the enemy up the river. There was such a concentration of the Ahom navy at Guwahati that it was possible to walk over the bridge of war-boats alone from one bank of the Brahmaputra to the other. The Mughals pressed forward to the open shore of Andharubali and the Assamese fell back to the Bar-Sila after an action which did not succeed in stemming the enemy’s progress. It seemed as if there was a break-down in the command, though there was not any inherent lack of energy and strength of the Ahom navy, which had regained its supremacy under Chakradhvaj Singha.

Some of the Assamese boatmen wanted to retreat to Kajali and Samdhara. The commander at Aswaklanta, a Hazarika of the Miri Sandiqui family, asked the Barphukan to come to his rescue. Lachit Barphukan sent the following reply:-“Tell your men, I am going to die on this spot and I will never think of abandoning my charge. I have a piece of land on the top of the Chila hill which will provide sufficient accommodation for my dead body. If I survive I shall go after all the people who have left their places.” A commander named Nara Hazarika rushed from Sindurighopa, and knelt down before the retreating soldiers shouting, “My countrymen, do please flee if you want to pour poison on this platter of gold!” The Barphukan immediately placed 2,000 men at the disposal of Nara Hazarika.

The Buragohain was at Lathia. Hatibarua Deka loaded all the belongings of the Buragohain on the boats without his knowledge. Even the belongings of the Barphukan were also loaded without his knowledge into the boats which reached Latasil. The Barphukan who was very ill was watching this scene from his sick bed at his archery store .When he heard that the Mughals had reached Juria, he asked the attendants to take him out so that he could see how far the Mughals had arrived. He was taken out to the gate yard of his residence by four Bhuyans.

The Barphukan wanted to go to confront the Mughals but the astrologer Achyutananda Doloi said, “The time is not the auspicious for it”. The Barphukan said, “Doloi, I shall now severe your head before the Heavenly King does it!” The Doloi said, “You may do so.” The Barphukan remained at his gate house taking information about the naval battle. He said, “The Mughals have crossed Amrajuri; Doloi, the Heavenly King will not spare you nor me. You have paved the way for your annihilation, brought about my disgrace and destroyed my livelihood!” After a few seconds, the astrologer announced, “Now is the most appropriate time to catch the enemy!”

The Barphukan immediately came down the steps of the gate house, supported by Nodai of Kharangi and boarded his boat. Seeing the retreating of the Ahom soldiers, the oarsmen wanted to go upstream leaving the scene of contest. The Barphukan exclaimed, “How dare you row the boats upstream? The  King has given me the command of the people of the place here. Should I go back to my wife and family without fighting the enemy? How dare these serfs of boatmen venture to row up the boats without my permission?” So saying he hit four oarsmen with the blunt edge of his sword and threw them into the water. He beat up his body guards and threw them into the river. He, however, allowed them to come when their comrades entreated him for mercy.

The effect was electrifying. Words spread that the Barphukan   was killing those who were retreating without fighting the enemy and throwing them into the river. The Barphukan said loudly, “Let the Mughals capture me alive and let my people go home in peace!” His fleet of seven boats with mounted guns sped towards the enemies. This gallant and extra-ordinary act of the Ahom General at once restored the morale of his army and the navy  and immediately the shore batteries of the Ahoms and the archers, on the north and south banks went into action with terrific volleys and their naval forces fell upon the Mughal fleet and threw it into confusion. A big battle ensued in the area of Saraighat and both the sides called up their strength. The Sharing Phukan, the Neog Kataki and many Hazarikas proceeded from Rangmahal and joined their army in this violent contest. The Mughal Commandant Sharip Khan and two other Amirs commanding the navy fell downs dead. Innumerable Mughal soldiers were killed and many of their boats with men, horses and war materials were sunk. The survivors made quick retreat in their boats. A large amount of booty came into the possession of the Ahoms. There was no other fighting after this naval fight. That was the historic battle of Saraighat fought in the middle of March, 1671, which became the Waterloo for the mighty Mughals in the east.

The Assamese people regained their lost glory. The victory of the Assamese people in the battle of Saraighat was a landmark in the history of Assam and Assamese are proud of this great achievement of Veer Lachit.



Updated 16 August 2017,  16 August 2013

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