The stage is set for celebrating the 400th birth anniversary of one of the greatest warriors Assam has ever produced, Lachit Barphukan, who crushed the formidable Mughals in the historic Battle of Saraighat.
To commemorate the 400th birth anniversary of this great warrior, the Government of Assam is organising a two-day mega event not only in Assam but also in the national capital on November 23 and 24. The purpose behind holding the event in Delhi is to bring into the national limelight the great warrior, who is hitherto not known in other parts of the country.
Chief Minister of Assam, Dr Himanta Biswa Sarma, is taking special interest in glorifying the illustrious life of Veer Lachit Barphukan on the national stage and giving the great warrior the rightful place in the annals of history. No other dispensation in the past took such a laudable initiative to catapult the legendary warrior into the centre stage than the BJP-led Government headed by the dynamic Chief Minister. In a letter, Sarma requested that his counterparts in other states include a chapter on the warrior in their textbooks for school and college students. The Chief Minister is making a strong case for granting national hero status to the legendary warrior of Assam, Lachit Barphukan, in the same category as Chattrapati Shivaji and Maharana Pratap Singh.
As part of the celebrations, an exhibition and seminar shedding light on the life and times of Lachit Barphukan are being lined-up. A book on Lachit Barphukan will be released together with the screening of a documentary. The rich cultural heritage of Assam will also be showcased.
To ensure massive participation, the Chief Minister launched a Mobile App and a Web Portal lachitbarphukan.assam.gov.in, wherein people can get a wealth of information on the legendary warrior and can upload write-ups which will enable them to get a certificate of appreciation from the Government. The essay competition will be held in schools and colleges across the state, and the best essays will be awarded at the district and at the state level. Assam Police will conduct a march past in which National Cadet Corps will participate.
The whole purpose behind this massive exercise is to turn the epoch-making event of Lachit Barphukan’s 400th birth anniversary into a mass movement. On February 25 this year, the then President of India, Ram Nath Kovind, inaugurated the year-long 400th birth anniversary celebrations of the 17th century Ahom General in Guwahati.
The defeat in the Battle of Saraighat near Guwahati in 1671 ended the Mughals’ expansionist policies in the North East. In the greatest naval warfare ever fought, Ahom General Lachit Barphukan inflicted a crushing defeat on the formidable Mughals.
But before this battle, the Ahom forces led by Barphukan lost the Battle of Alaboi on August 5, 1669. However, it was not due to Barphukan that the battle was lost. It was because his king grew impatient when Barphukan waited for the monsoon to strike at the Mughal army and instead ordered him to launch an attack on the enemy, following which the Ahom forces had to suffer losses. There was a reason why Barphukan wanted to avoid direct combat. The Ahom soldiers were afraid of taking on the Mughal cavalry. Mughal chronicler Shihabuddin Talish, who accompanied Mir Jumla in his Assam campaign, had written about the fear of cavalry among Ahom soldiers—while one Ahom soldier was more than a match for 10 Mughals, one Mughal horseman equalled a hundred Ahoms.
It would not be out of place to recall the contributions of former Governor of Assam, Lt Gen (retd) SK Sinha, in taking the story of Lachit Barphukan to the rest of India. One of Sinha’s most significant achievements was convincing the National Defence Academy (NDA) authorities in Pune to institute an award in the name of Lachit Barphukan
Despite knowing this weakness, Barphukan obeyed his king’s command. Consequently, at the Battle of Alaboi, the Ahoms were routed by the Mughal cavalry and lost 10,000 soldiers in a single day. Prior to that, in 1663, the Ahoms had to suffer another defeat at the hands of Mir Jumla, the Bengal subedar of the Mughal kingdom, during the reign of Jayadhwaj Singha. The next Ahom king, Chakradhwaj Singha, took the vow that he would not rest till he regained the territories ceded to the Mughals following the Treaty of Ghiljarighat. And there was no better choice to lead the Ahom army than the man of steely resolve, Lachit Barphukan. Chakradhwaj appointed Barphukan as commander of the Ahom army in August 1667. Soon after, on November 4, 1667, Lachit’s army emerged victorious and regained Guwahati from the Mughals. Following this significant setback, Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb sent a massive army under the command of Raja Ram Singh comprising 30,000 infantry, 4,000 troopers, 21 Rajput chiefs with their contingents, 18,000 cavalries, 15,000 archers, 5,000 gunners, 1,000 canons and 40 ships, to recapture Guwahati.
In the face of serious challenges he was confronted with, Barphukan resorted to guerilla warfare tactics and constructed several mud embankments in and around Guwahati to slow down the movement of the Mughal army. Behind this strategic move was to force the Mughal forces to take the river route, as Barphukan was aware that though the Mughals were superior in cavalry, they were not in a state of preparedness to wage naval warfare.
Against all odds, the Ahoms, under the leadership of Barphukan, went on to raise mud embankments to foil the attempt of the Mughal army to reconquer Guwahati. While during an inspection of an embankment at midnight at Agiathuti near Guwahati, Lachit saw no activity at the construction site with the soldiers fast asleep. He got enraged and asked his maternal uncle, who was put in charge of building the embankment, why there was no construction work. His uncle replied that the soldiers were fatigued to carry out further work. Without waiting for a moment, Barphukan took out his Hengdang (Ahom sword) and beheaded his uncle, saying, Dexhotkoi Momai Dangor Nohoi (My uncle is not greater than the country).”
Following the reversal at the Battle of Alaboi, Lachit took almost two years to regroup his forces. With meticulous planning, Barphukan was waiting to take on the Mughals. However, he fell seriously ill. When this news spread, the Ahom soldiers became a demoralised lot. Against the advice of physicians, an ailing Barphukan went to the battlefield. His patriotism for his land and people is amply evident when he uttered, “In the midst of an invasion against my country and my army fighting and sacrificing its lives, how can I rest my body because I am ill? My country is in trouble. How can I think about heading home to my wife and children?” Lachit’s presence infused great vigour and enthusiasm in the soldiers. Ahom warships started striking the Mughal navy from all directions, following which Mughal admiral Munnawar Khan and more than 4,000 Mughal soldiers were annihilated. The Mughal forces were pushed to the Manas river, the westernmost part of the Ahom kingdom.
In the wake of the humiliating defeat, Ram Singh, the commander of the Mughal army, wrote a letter to Emperor Aurangzeb showering high praises on the Ahom soldiers: “Every Assamese soldier is an expert in rowing boats, archery, digging trenches and wielding guns and cannons. I have not seen such specimens of versatility in any other part of India. One single individual leads all the forces. Even I, Ram Singh, was not able to find any loophole.”
Soon after this historic and decisive victory, Lachit Barphukan succumbed to his illness in Kaliabor. Today, he remains perhaps the most unifying symbol of Assamese pride and valour. To perpetuate his hallowed memory, a war memorial is being constructed at Alaboi near Dadara in the Kamrup district. Besides Barphukan’s statue, the monument will also feature a 100-ft-long ‘Hengdang’.
It would not be out of place to recall the contributions of former Governor of Assam, Lt Gen (retd) SK Sinha, in taking the story of Lachit Barphukan to the rest of India. One of Sinha’s most significant achievements was convincing the National Defence Academy (NDA) authorities in Pune to institute an award in the name of Lachit Barphukan. The NDA confers the Lachit Barphukan gold medal to its best cadet every year. Sinha was also instrumental in unveiling Lachit’s bust at the NDA’s entrance on November 14, 2000. The monument in North Guwahati, known as Kanai Borosi Bowa Sil, also owes its resurrection to Sinha. The memorial consists of three rock inscriptions, which depict some of the most glorious military achievements of the Ahom army, including the historical battle of Saraighat led by Barphukan.
Let us rekindle the patriotic fervour of great warriors like Lachit Barphukan to foil the sinister designs of nefarious forces and work in unison in nation-building. That will be a fitting and lasting tribute to the great hero.