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Lachit Borphukan: The hero of the 1671 Battle of Saraighat against the Mughals and preserver of Northeast Indian civilisation

Lachit Borphukan was born on November 24 in the year 1622 (exactly 400 years ago), in Charaideo the first capital of the Ahom kings. He led two battles against the Mughal army and is remembered for the daring naval battle in Saraighat in 1671.

  “Glory to the king! Glory to the counsellors! Glory to the commanders!”

Commander-in-Chief, Lachit Borphukan

                                                                                                  

North East: The geographically rich region of India

North Eastern Region is the easternmost region of India. It comprises eight states – Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and Sikkim.

This region shares an international border of 5,182 kilometres – about 99 per cent of its total geographical boundary- with several neighbouring countries – 1,395 kilometres with Tibet, 1,640 kilometres with Myanmar in the east, 1,596 kilometres with Bangladesh in the, 100 kilometres with Nepal and 455 kilometres with Bhutan. It has an area of 262,230 square kilometres, almost 8 per cent of that of India.

Guwahati city in Assam is called the Gateway to the North East and is the largest metropolis in North East India. It is rich in tea, oil, timber popularly called ‘TOT’ and floriculture and is a great economic source for the nation. Unfortunately due to distance from the mainland, difficult terrain and political reasons this region did not get the infrastructure as much as it should have got. A policy reflected in the Year End Review of the Ministry of External Affairs, which stated that: “India’s Look East Policy has now been given a new dimension by the Government.” In recent years under the leadership of PM Modi new vigour has been given to develop this region. A separate ministry exists for the development of this rich region.

As they say ‘out of sight is out of mind’, most of the Indians have very little knowledge of this region and its importance, both economically as well strategically. It is logical to assume that the people of mainland India will have very little knowledge about the history and heroes of this part of the nation too.

Failure of the Mughal Empire to capture and rule North East

One thing that would stand out is that Mughals ruled large parts of India for centuries yet none of their rulers could ever capture this region and not even a part of it!

The Ahom kingdom of Assam was located in the Brahmaputra valley and it was first established in 1228. The kingdom was repeatedly attacked by Turkish and Afghan rulers of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire.

The valiant Ahoms had successfully repulsed frequent attacks on their homeland from the time of Muhammad Ghori on no less than seventeen invasions. This was something that the most barbaric emperor, Aurangzeb, wanted to change. As a result, he made repeated attempts to capture Assam.

Aurangzeb tried his best to push his kingdom’s boundaries to the farthest extent. The seeds of the Moghul Empire’s ultimate destruction were also sown during his reign because he was hated by Hindus and Sikhs alike. One of the reasons for the dislike was his religious bigotry and his intolerance towards Hindus, which alienated large sections of the Hindu-majority population. His idea of the destruction of temples, open hatred towards Hindus, and above all, the way he brutally killed his brother Dara Shikoh, who wanted a tolerant approach to all religions, distressed many. The revolts broke out successively one by one, the first one by the Sikhs after the beheading of Guru Teg Bahadur.

The Marathas under Shivaji, harassed the mighty Mughal army with guerilla raids, taking back vast territory; and to the east was the Ahom kingdom of Assam. Chaolung Sukapha was a 13th-century ruler who founded the Ahom kingdom that ruled Assam for six centuries. The Ahoms ruled the land till the province was annexed to British India in 1826.

Even today, we see the culture of Assam being preserved because, during the dark days of Aurangzeb’s tyranny, brave hearts like Lachit Borphukhan the Army chief of Ahom Army ensured the preservation of North Eastern civilization.

The Ahom king was the supreme commander of the state as well as the Military. The Ahom king himself led the state forces in time of war. Their Army consisted infantry, navy, artillery, elephantry, cavalry and spies. The main war weapons consisted of bows and arrows, swords, Javelins discus, guns, match-locks and cannons.

They had the capability to send spies to the enemy’s camp to study their strength and war strategies. Their soldiers were experts in guerilla warfare. On occasions, they allowed their enemies to intrude on their territory without mounting any resistance, and then cut off their communications and charge them with a pincer attack formation—ambushing the enemy from the front, sides and rear.

They also learnt the technique of constructing boat bridges in the rivers.

Above all, the mutual understanding among the civil and military wings, and unity among the nobles always worked as strong weapons of the Ahom

But unfortunately, this great treasure trove of bravery hailing from Assam has not been given its due. The unsung hero- Lachit Borphukhan’s name should be taught in all Indian households like that of Shivaji and Rani of Jhansi. 

Shivaji was his contemporary, who also led a heroic campaign against the Mughals. Chhatrapati Shivajiraje Bhosale (19 February 1630 – 3 April 1680) was founder of the Maratha Empire. He was formally enthroned as Chhatrapati in 1674 at Raigad Fort.

The great contribution of Lachit Borphukan

Lachit Borphukan was born on November 24 in the year 1622 (exactly 400 years ago), in Charaideo the first capital of the Ahom kings. He led two battles against the Mughal army and is remembered for the daring naval battle in Sarai Ghat, said to be one of the last efforts of the Mughal Army to expand into the northeast frontiers.

Mughals took advantage of some internal issues of the Ahom kingdom and captured Guwahati with the aim to conquer more territory in Assam. However, they were badly defeated in later battles and could not progress further.

Aurangzeb had ordered the invasion under his ally Rajput Raja Ram Singh I who led a combined Mughal and Rajput army on 5th August 1669 – known as battle of Araibol. Ram Singh found himself in unfamiliar territory and difficult terrain. The Ahom’s advantage lay in their knowledge of the lay of the land. While the Mughals preferred an open battle, Borphukan took advantage of the terrain and engaged in guerrilla warfare, assaulting the invaders and then falling back. Ultimately Ram Singh unleashed his entire forces on the Ahoms, defeating them in the Battle of Alaboi.

The loss in Alaboi inspired the Ahoms to bounce back for another battle two years later in Saraighat, where they engaged the Mughals in a naval battle. They prepared and trained hard. The Mughal army faced a sudden stream of attacks from the riverfront coupled with the charging of Ahom warriors who inspired by Lachit’s gallantry fought till their last breath. Lachit had already taken the precaution of digging a line of defences at the back of the advancing army to which they could fall back if forced to do so. After facing massive casualties the confused and beleaguered Mughal army was forced to retreat.

He was certain that it would be difficult for him to fight on land, so Lachit asked that seven boats be rigged and loaded with bows and arrows. He dressed for war and got ready to attack from the river. Lachit BorPhukan tricked the Mughals by feigning an attack in front. As the fleet advanced on the river Brahmaputra, the main Ahom fleet attacked from behind, achieving a victory.

Ram Singh was impressed so much that he wrote back to Aurangzeb describing the tenacity and capability of the Ahom soldiers who were all, according to him, experts at rowing boats, shooting arrows, using critical weapons and deploying cannons. In the letter, Ram Singh relates that one single individual had led all the forces and that he had not seen such warriors in any other part of India. He was referring to the strategy and bravado of Lachit Borphukan.

Ram Singh had tried every trick to defeat Lachit and planted a fake letter in the camp of Ahoms claiming that Lachit was offered by Moghuls a bribe of one lac to evacuate Guwahati! The letter reached the king and before he could take any action the Prime Minister of the Kingdom convinced the king that it was a fake letter to defame and disgrace the army chief- Lachit Borphukan.

His bravery and loyalty to his kingdom were par excellence. During one of the battles, Lachit had fallen sick and was advised by the physician not to take part and instead rest. He told his men who were demoralized due to his illness that ‘How can I go back home to my wife and kids for such a small illness when my entire country is in trouble and facing an enemy invasion?’

Honour to the people of Assam and Lachit Borphukan

The recognition of the northeastern soldiers remains to this day and is represented by the Assam Regiment. On the occasion of the regiment’s raising on 15 Jun 1941, Sir Robert Reid, the Governor of Assam had said, “You are the living symbol of Assam’s martial ardour, the embodiment of her physical strength and I have no doubt your steadfastness, your bravery, your skills and your endurance will surpass all.”

Assam Chief Minister Sarbananda Sonowal unveiled a seven feet statue of General Lachit Borphukan at Dinjan Military Station, the headquarters of 2 Mountain Division in Tinsukia district.

November 24 is celebrated as Lachit Divas in Assam to commemorate the heroism of General Lachit Borphukan and the victory of the Assamese army at the Battle of Saraighat.

Mahabir Lachit Award is presented to notable personalities of Assam by Tai Ahom Yuva Parishad.

Today, Lachit’s extraordinary courage and leadership are honoured by the National Defense Academy (NDA) which awards a gold medal in his name for leadership every year since 1999 to the best cadet. A bust of Lachit also stands at the NDA’s entrance.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi called 17th-century Ahom general Lachit Borphukan a symbol of India’s “Atmanirbhar military might”.

On a visit to Assam, former President Ram Nath Kovind inaugurated the year-long celebration of the 400th birth anniversary of Lachit Borphukan, commander of the Ahom forces and an icon of Assamese nationalism. He also laid the foundation stone for the Alaboi war memorial, a tribute to soldiers who had fought and the Mughals at Alaboi.

India will be successful when UP, Bihar, West Bengal, Assam and other parts of North East India are strengthened. India cannot develop till the eastern part of the country develops.”

Narendra Modi
Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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Virender Kapoor
Virender Kapoorhttp://www.virenderkapoor.com/
Author, inspirational Guru. 'What you can learn from military principles' 'Excellence the Amitabh Bachchan way' 'Speaking the Modi way' 'Winning Instinct - decoding the power within' 'PQ - How it matters more than IQ'

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