Battle of Saraighat
Battle of Saraighat

Unveiling the Epic Saga: The Legendary Battle of Saraighat

Revisiting History's Crucible: Triumph, Valor, and Legacy Along the Banks of Saraighat

One of the most important historical occurrences that took place during the Ahom Kingdom's rule (1228 CE-1826 CE) is considered to have been the Battle of Saraighat. The fight, fought in Saraighat, Guwahati, in 1671 CE between the Mughal army under Raja Ram Singh (son of Mirza Raja Jai Singh) and the Ahom Kingdom under Lachit Borphukan, was crucial in forming the history of the northeastern region and the Brahmaputra valley. One of the Mughals' alleged final great attempts to enlarge their empire into Assam and its surrounding regions was the conflict.

Historical context of the battle:

Early in the 17th century, the Mughals began to realize the strategic significance of the Brahmaputra valley. It is said that the Mughals and the Ahoms have engaged in around seventeen battles since then. During the reign of Swargadeo Pratap Singha in 1639 CE, the Mughal Fauzdar Allah Yar Khan and the Ahom Commander-in-Chief Momai Tamuli Barbarua signed the Treaty of Asurar Ali. The boundary between the Mughal Empire and the Ahom Kingdom was finally determined by the treaty to be the Barnadi River to the north of the Brahmaputra and the Asurar Ali to the south. The Ahom Kingdom persisted in trying to drive the Mughals out of Assam, but Mir Jhumla, the Mughal Governor of Bengal, eventually succeeded in taking Kamrup and subduing the Ahom Kingdom by occupying their capital, Garhgaon.

Impact of  Treaty of Ghilajharighat:

The Treaty of Ghilajharighat was signed in response to the invasion of Mir Jhumla. On February 23, 1663 CE, the Ahoms signed the Treaty, which was reportedly humiliating for them. Aurangzeb, the Mughal Emperor, gained a tributary in Ahom Swargadeo Jayadhwaj Singha. In accordance with the terms of the Treaty, Swargadeo Jayadhwaj Singha gave the Mughals access to a vast array of riches as well as its entire domain, extending from Guwahati to the Manas river.

Following Jayadhwaj Singha's death in 1663 CE, Swargadeo Chakradhwaj Singha named Lachit Borphukan as the new Commander-in-Chief.

Lachit Borphukan as the new Commander-in-Chief:

Lachit Borphukan has previously occupied a number of important roles, including Superintendent of the Royal Household Guards and Superintendent of the Royal Horse Stable. Lachit Borphukan was given the order to gather his army and attack the Mughals by Swargadeo Chakradhwaj Singha, who was determined to drive the Mughal soldiers out of Assam.

In the summer of 1667 CE, Lachit finished his preparations, and his army drove the Mughals out of Guwahati.

Raja Ram Singh:

Following news of the defeat at Guwahati, Emperor Aurangzeb dispatched a force led by Raja Ram Singh. Lachit Borphukan received word of Raja Ram Singh's departure from Delhi quite fast, thanks to Assamese spies. Lachit Borphukan, who was well aware of the Mughal army's superiority in terms of numbers and technology, began a thorough investigation of Guwahati in order to determine its strategic location and transform it into a battleground.

Strategy of the battle:

Guwahati's location, on the banks of the Brahmaputra River and encircled by hills on all sides, protects it from outside threats. Knowing that the Mughals were untrained in naval combat, Borphukan sought to capitalize on this weakness. He pinpointed an area known as Andharubali that linked Aswakranta on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra with Nilachal Hill and Itakhuli on the southern bank. He believed that fighting the Mughals would be most effective in this area. Lachit Borphukan was directly in charge of the southern bank of the River Brahmaputra, while Atan Burhagohain was in charge of the northern bank. The King assigned Atan Burhagohain to build the required defenses on both banks.

In February 1669 CE, Ram Singh arrived at the Rangamati frontier fortress. At a meeting in Guwahati, the commanders of the Ahom army prayed at the Kamakhya temple. Every commander received a detachment of soldiers along with the necessary amount of arms and ammunition. Ram Singh allegedly dispatched a messenger with a bag of poppy seeds and a note saying, "The Borphukan should evacuate Guwahati, we have an army as large as the poppy seeds in this sack." In response, Borphukan sent a counterreply that included a sand-filled tube and the note, "If the poppy seeds are pounded down, they will become a thin paste. Our army is as vast and unbreakable as the sands in the tube that is being sent with it."

The tactics and outcome:

Swargadeo Udayaditya Singha took over the throne in 1670 CE after Chakradhwaj Singha passed away. In 1671 CE, the Mughal army under the command of Raja Ram Singht sailed up the Brahmaputra with a naval flotilla to Guwahati. By employing a number of techniques, the Ahom army was able to entice the Mughal army into the Guwahati battle zone. The Ahom land and naval forces were commanded to assault the Mughals just as they were ready to land at Andharubali. From his sickbed in the gatehouse of the Itakhuli fort, Lachit Borphukan led his army gallantly into the maritime battle zone despite his ailing health. The Ahom army's bravery was inspired by Lachit Borphukan's arrival, and soon the entire area was crowded with soldiers and Ahom warships. They overcame the Mughals near to Saraighat by fighting bravely and strategically all the way to the end. From Guwahati, the Mughal army was compelled to retreat. They were chased to the western border of the Ahom Kingdom, the Manas River. According to reports, the modern-day regions of Pandu Ghat, Abhaypur, Sadilapur, and some of Jalukbari in Guwahati were once part of the Saraighat region.

When the Ahom Kingdom governed the area for about 600 years in a row, the Battle of Saraighat was a historic occasion. Even today, people praise the remarkable military acumen and leadership of Ahom General Lachit Borphukan, who drove out the Mughals and retook the areas they had previously controlled. Though it was the most significant conflict of the Ahom-Mughal era, the Battle of Saraighat was not the final one. These two armies engaged in the Battle of Itakhuli in 1682 CE, under the reign of Ahom Swargadeo Gadadhar Singha, which resulted in the Mughals' permanent expulsion from Assam.

Some Frequently Asked Questions on Battle of Saraighat

Q: What was the significance of the Battle of Saraighat?

Answer: The Battle of Saraighat was a pivotal event in Indian history, marking the decisive victory of the Ahom Kingdom over the Mughal Empire in 1671. It halted the Mughal expansion into the northeast region of India and ensured the sovereignty of the Ahom rulers.

Q: Who were the key figures involved in the Battle of Saraighat?

Answer: The battle was led by Lachit Borphukan, the Ahom general renowned for his strategic brilliance and valor. On the Mughal side, the forces were commanded by Ram Singh, the Mughal viceroy of Bengal.

Q: What were the strategic implications of the Battle of Saraighat?

Answer: The battle secured the Ahom Kingdom's control over the Brahmaputra River and protected Assam from Mughal invasion. It also symbolized the resilience and military prowess of the northeastern kingdoms against external powers.

Q: How did the Battle of Saraighat shape the course of history in India?

Answer: The defeat of the Mughal forces at Saraighat marked the decline of Mughal influence in the northeast and reinforced the autonomy of the region. It also exemplified the spirit of resistance against foreign domination, becoming a symbol of Assamese pride and identity.

Q: What are some of the lasting legacies of the Battle of Saraighat?

Answer: The battle is commemorated annually in Assam as a symbol of regional pride and unity. It continues to inspire narratives of courage and patriotism, serving as a reminder of the importance of defending one's homeland against external threats.

Advait IAS