Battle of Saraighat: A Story of Bravery

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Battle of Saraighat

The battle of Saraighat was a naval battle fought between the Ahom army under the leadership of Lachit Bophukan and the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s army led by Ram Singha. The Battle started in 1670 with a treaty and ended after two years with Ahom forces emerging as the winner. The battle marked the end of the aspirations of the Mughal Empire to rule over the region of Nort-East.

Background of the Battle

The Koch Kingdom was a buffer state between the Mughal Empire and the Ahom Kingdom. After the death of the Koch Kingdom’s ruler Nara Narayana in 1587, the kingdom was divided into two.

  • The western Koch Bihar allied with the Mughal Empire and attacked the eastern Koch Hajo rule.
  • The Mughals used the attack as a pretext to invade the Ahom Kingdom, leading to a series of battles between them.
  • The Treaty of Asurar Ali was signed in 1639, fixing the boundary between the Ahoms and the Mughals. 
  • Aurangazeb tasked Mir Jhumla II with the conquest of the entire region of Assam in 1660.
  • Mir Jhumla defeated the Ahoms in several battles and occupied the Ahom capital of Garhgaon in 1661. 
  • The incessant guerilla warfare and the torrential rains prevented Mir Jhumla from consolidating his rule, and he was pondering abandoning his gains. 
  • Jayadhwaj Singha, ruler of the Ahom Kingdom, was unaware of this and sued for peace, resulting in the Treaty of Ghilajharighat in 1663. 

During the 17th century, the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb’s army invaded Assam, which was led by Mirjumla, and made the state of Ahom a tax-based state. 

  • By the time Lachit became commander, the Mughals had already occupied the main city of Guwahati. However, the regions suffered from some harsh terms and conditions laid by the Mughals.
  • To restore the glory of the past and to get rid of the treaty, Swargadeo Chakradhwaj Singha appointed Lachit Borphukan as the Senapati (general) to lead the army in the campaign against the Mughals. 
  • King Chakradhwaj Singha presented Lachit with a gold-hafted sword (Hengdang) and other honours, and Lachit raised the army and made preparations during the summer of 1667. 
  • Lachit successfully regained control of Guwahati from the Mughals and defended it against their forces during the Battle of Saraighat. 

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Progression of the Mughals

In February 1669, Mughal troops led by Ram Singh attacked Assam. Despite the Ahom army not being fully prepared, Lachit Borphukan showed wise leadership and was ready to face the potential threat. Unfortunately, ten thousand soldiers from Ahom died on the same day. Although Lachit was momentarily upset, he remained brave and determined.

  • When one talks about the battle of Saraighat, no one can forget the brave Lachit Boprhukan
  • In 1667, Lachit formed an army and completed preparations by summer. The army managed to recapture Guwahati from the Mughal forces. 
  • Upon learning of the defeat, Emperor Aurangzeb dispatched an expeditionary force from Dhaka led by Ram Singh. 
  • As the Ahom forces were inferior in number and technology, Lachit adopted guerrilla tactics to weaken the Mughal army, which eventually led to their defeat.

Ram Singh, realizing that the Ahom forces would be easily defeated if their commander was removed, used cunning tactics. He sent an arrow with a letter falsely stating that Lachit had been bribed to evacuate Guwahati, which made the king doubt his commander’s loyalty. However, Prime Minister Atan Buragohain explained to the king that it was a ploy by the Mughals to make him dismiss the commander who had successfully fought them until then.

  • In 1671, Rarn Singh arrived at Guwahati by navigating a naval fleet up the Brahmaputra river. There, he encountered an Ahom flotilla led by Lachit Borphukan near Saraighat. 
  • Despite being outnumbered and outgunned in an open space, the Ahom soldiers began to lose their morale and some of them started to retreat. 
  • In response, Lachit boarded a boat himself to boost his troops’ spirit and motivate them to fight.

Some historians have quoted the battle conversations as – when Lachit was offered to be evacuated to a safe place, by one of his troops, he furiously threw some of them into the water.  He was so determined that despite being severely ill, he loudly proclaimed that he would “die fulfilling his duty to his king and country, even if it meant he had to do it by himself’.

The proclamation inspired the soldiers and they marched towards the army and a desperate war ensured in the mighty Brahmaputra river.

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Victory of Ahoms

The fight went on for two years with the Mughal army coming with great force every time, but Ram Singh was not able to break the Ahom army. 

  • At the last stage of the Battle, Ram Singh took advantage of the illness of Lachit and almost broke the Ahom army at Saraighat, the Ahom soldiers began to lose their motivation to fight. Even some of them retreated.
  • Despite being seriously ill, Lachit Borphukan showed great courage by boarding a boat himself and leading seven others against the Mughal fleet. 
  • He motivated his soldiers by telling them “to flee if they wished, but he would stay and fulfil the task given to him by the king.” 
  • His soldiers rallied and a fierce battle ensued on the Brahmaputra river. In the end, Lachit Borphukan emerged victorious, forcing the Mughals to retreat from Assam on 5th April 1671.
Lachit Borphukan

Following the Battle of Saraighat, the Mughal army was chased up to the Manas River, which marked the western boundary of the Ahom kingdom. The Borphukan issued orders to his soldiers not to attack the retreating enemy. Sadly, Lachit Borphukan passed away a year later in 1671 at the age of 50 due to natural causes. Today, his remains are interred at the Lachit Maidaan, which was constructed in 1672 by Swargadeo Udayaditya Singha near Hoolungapara, approximately 16 km away from Jorhat.

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