Battle of Saraighat

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The Battle of Saraighat was fought in 1671 between the Mughals (led by Kachwaha king Raja Ramsingh I), and the Ahoms (led by Lachit Borphukan, the Ahom governor of Guwahati) on the Brahmaputra river at Saraighat near Guwahati. Although considered to be the weaker force, the Ahom army defeated the Mughal by using a combination of guerrilla tactics, psychological warfare and military intelligence.


[edit] Background

Main article: Ahom-Mughal conflicts

Mughal interest in the Brahmaputra valley began in 1602 when the Nawab of Dhaka attacked Parikshit Narayan of Koch Hajo at Dhubri, the western most corner of Assam. The first Mughal-Ahom conflict took place in 1615 when the Mughals attacked the Ahoms, then under Pratap Singha, for protecting Bali Narayan, the brother of Parikshit. This resulted in a period of Mughal-Ahom war with fluctuating fortunes that ended with the Treaty of Asurar Ali in 1639 between Momai Tamuli Borbarua and the Mughal commander Allahyar Khan which fixed Barnadi river in the north bank and Asurar Ali in the south bank of the Brahmaputra as the boundary between them. This and the defeat of the Koch king at Pandu in 1641 resulted in a period of Mughal administration in Kamrup (Guwahati and Hajo.

After the fall of Shah Jahan in 1658, Pran Narayan of Koch Bihar decided to occupy Koch Hajo, but the Ahoms under Jayadhwaj Singha took Guwahati and pushed him back beyond Dhubri. Soon after Aurangzeb occupied the Delhi throne, Mir Jumla was made the Nawab of Dhaka, and the Mughals decided to take back the lost imperial lands in Assam. Mir Jumla marched in 1661 and defeated the Ahoms at successive encounters to finally take the Ahom capital Garhgaon. But the constant raids by the Ahoms and the rains succeeded in cutting off Mughal communication lines making it impossible for Mir Jumla to consolidate Mughal rule. As a result, Mir Jumla decided to move back to Dhaka after the Treaty of Ghilajharighat (1663), which brought Guwahati back into Mughal rule. The boundary which was fixed at Barnadi in the 1639 was pushed further east to Bharali river in the north bank and the Kolong river in the south.

[edit] Preparations for war

After this humiliating defeat, King Jayadhwaj Singha died in despair. On his deathbed, he exhorted his nephew and successor, King Chakradhwaj Singha, to "remove the spear of humiliation from the bosom of the nation (Assam)." The new king was determined to restore the Ahoms' national honour and began making elaborate preparations for the recovering of territory lost to the Mughals. Stockpiles of food and war materials were built up and an expeditionary army was organised and trained. These preparations were completed by August 1667 and Lachit Borphukan, as the new Commander-in-Chief of the new Ahom army accompanied by the Prime Minister Atan Buragohain, advanced from Garhgaon, the Ahom capital to Guwahati.

[edit] First conflict

Lachit Borphukan soon captured the Mughal post in north Guwahati and, later, their fort in south Guwahati. The current Kamrup Deputy Commissioner's bungalow is now situated on this site. The greatest threat to Lachit's army were the many Mughal cannons. The cannons were disabled by an Assamese Muslim subordinate of Lachit, Bagh Hazarika, and other commandos in a secret mission executed the night before the battle. During the night, Hazarika poured water into the cannons' barrels, soaking their gunpowder. With the Mughal cannons disabled, the Ahoms bombarded the Guwahati fort with their cannons. After a heavy cannonade and a determined charge the Mughals were defeated. At midnight, on Thursday, Kartik 17, 1589 saka, or November 2 1667 or near about, Itakhuli and the contiguous garrison of Gauhati fell into the hands of Ahoms. The defeated Mughals abandoned Guwahati and were chased down to the mouth of the Manaha (Manas)river, the old boundary between Assam and Mughal India.

[edit] Mughal retaliation

Lachit Borphukan anticipated a larger retaliatory attack by the Mughals and he started arranging defenses, obstacles and garhs (earthen walls) around Guwahati, relying upon the hillocks around Guwahati and the Brahmaputra River as natural barriers against an invading army. Lachit was thorough and ruthless in preparing for the defense. He even beheaded his own uncle for neglecting his duty. When Lachit askae his uncle why the work was not progressing as expected, his uncle complained of boredom. Lachit in a fit of fury cut off his uncle's head and said "my uncle is not greater than my country."

The Mughals struck back in March 1669. Raja Ramsingh I was the commander-in-chief of the advancing Mughal army which consisted of 30,000 infantry, 15,000 archers, 18,000 Turkish cavalry, 5,000 gunners, more than 1000 cannons and a large flotilla of boats. Portuguese and other European sailors were employed to man the fleet. These forces moved up the Brahmaputra from Dhaka to Guwahati. Lachit's spies kept him informed of the progress of Ramsingh's advance. The Mughals laid siege to Guwahati that lasted for more than a year.

Lachit fought from within the barriers knowing that his small cavalry would not stand against the Mughal cavalry on open ground. His guerrilla attacks against the Mughal caused them to suffer many casualties. Although Ramsingh made many efforts, including one attempt to bribe Lachit, he failed to defeat Lachit and capture Guwahati. His failure was, in part, due to the north-east Indian monsoon.

[edit] Ahom setback

The Ahom king, however, became impatient (mainly because of a misunderstanding resulting from Ramsingh's failed attempt to frame Lachit Borphukan as a traitor) and ordered Lachit to attack the Mughals on open ground. Lachit reluctantly obeyed this command, and attacked the Mughal army in Allaboi. After some initial success, in which the Ahom captured the local Mughal Commander, Mir Nawab, the Ahom drew the full force of Mughal cavalry, personally led by Ramsingh. The Ahom army was decimated by the Mughal cavalry on the open plain losing some 10,000 troops. Lachit had taken the precaution of digging a line of defense at the rear of his advancing columns, to which they could fall back to if forced to do so. In doing so, he managed to save the remainder of his forces and retreat into his prepared defenses.

[edit] Final battle

The Mughal could not penetrate these defenses and ultimately launched a massive naval assault on the river at Saraighat. They had large boats, some carrying as many as sixteen cannons. The Ahom soldiers were demoralised after their losses at Allaboi and their commander-in-chief, Lachit Borphukan, was seriously ill. At the sight of the massive Mughal fleet, they began to lose their will to fight, and some units commenced retreat.

Lachit had been observing this development from his deathbed. Despite having a high fever, he had himself carried to a boat and, along with seven other boats, advanced headlong against the Mughal fleet. His bold advance inspired his retreating army to rally behind him. A desperate battle ensued on the Brahmaputra. The Ahom in their small boats outmaneuvered the larger, more sluggish Mughal boats, and the river became littered with clashing boats and drowning soldiers.

The Mughals were decisively defeated when they retreated from Guwahati, and Ahom territory, up to Manas River. Thus ended the Battle of Saraighat, giving Lachit Borphukan legendary fame in Assam. It is remembered as a glorious Ahom victory, despite seemingly insurmountable odds.

Lachit Borphukan died of his illness in his hour of triumph.

[edit] Postscript

The Mughal commander-in-chief, acknowledging his defeat, praised the Assamese soldiers and the Ahom Commander-in-Chief. He wrote: "Every Assamese soldier is expert in rowing boats, in shooting arrows, in digging trenches and in wielding guns and cannons. I have not seen such specimens of versatility in any other part of India!" He further added "One who comes to fight against Assam should be thrashed on the cheek by scavengers with their broomsticks."

[edit] External links

Battle of Saraighat

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