The Battle Of Saraighat: How Lachit Barphukan Scripted One Of The Most Historic Military Victories Against Mughals

Vikram Sampath

Nov 21, 2022, 06:34 PM | Updated 06:30 PM IST

The cover of Vikram Sampath's 'Bravehearts of Bharat'
The cover of Vikram Sampath's 'Bravehearts of Bharat'
  • In this battle against the Mughals, Assam’s man of destiny, Lachit Barphukan, stood up to be counted and created history for himself and his clan.
  • An excerpt.
  • Bravehearts Of Bharat: Vignettes from Indian History. Vikram Sampath. India Viking. 2022. Pages 512. Price 655.

    The death of Chakradhwaj Singha, the illness of Lachit Barphukan and the new glimmer of hope that the breach at Andharubali held out, brightened the designs of a battle-weary Ram Singh. Massive reinforcements arrived in the form of war vessels and imperial officers. He was now determined to bring things to a head-on conclusion. There was talk of how Aurangzeb was threatening to chop his head off and also that of his family if he further delayed a victory in the long and costly Assam expedition.

    Moving along the north bank, Ram Singh was joined by ships with artillery and archers under five Rajput Sardars. The battle started on both land and water at Aswarkanta. Laluk Phukan pushed back the Mughals, but their naval forces compelled the Ahom boats to retreat further towards the Amrajuri Ghat. With the Mughals getting dangerously close to Andharubali, the Ahoms retreated further back to Kajali and Samdhara.

    And this is when Assam’s man of destiny, Lachit Barphukan stood up to be counted and to create history for himself and his clan. Disregarding his illness and fever and the counsel of his confidants, he barged out of his headquarters and boarded the warship, accompanied by six other vessels. He ordered all the land and naval forces to launch a terrible and spirited attack. Lachit’s entry had an electrifying impact on the demoralized Ahom soldiers, who now regained their mojo and attacked the Mughals fiercely. Ahom warships, playing on their strength, ambushed the Mughal navy from all sides. Between Itakhuli, Kamakhya and Aswarkranta, one of the fiercest river battles ever was fought. The entire Brahmaputra at the triangle between these three—Itakhuli, Kamakhya and Aswarkranta—was littered with boats and men struggling to escape drowning. The Ahoms created an improvised bridge of boats, by placing one boat over another, over the entire breadth of the river.

    The Mughals were then attacked from both the rear and front, their admiral Munnawar Khan was shot dead, totally unnerving them and scattering their forces. Four thousand of the Mughal army lay dead, their navy completely annihilated, and they were hotly pursued and literally pushed away to the westernmost part of the Ahom kingdom, the Manaha river. Darrang also saw a total and complete rout for the Mughals and ending with a decisive victory for the Assamese. This battle is known in history famously as the Battle of Saraighat.

    All hopes of Raja Ram Singh were dashed, and the battle ended in a thorough disgrace for him and the Mughals who never made any further inroads into Assam. Lachit Barphukan thus led the Ahom force to victory over a numerically larger and superior Mughal army, in what was to be one of the greatest and most historic military victories. The Alamgir-Namah states: ‘The Rajas of Assam have never bowed the head of submission and obedience, nor have they paid tributes or revenue to the most powerful monarch, but they have curbed the ambition and checked the conquests of the most victorious princes of Hindustan. The solution of a war against them has baffled the penetration of heroes who have been styled conquerors of the world.’

    While the Ahoms were expecting a reattack, Ram Singh had had enough. He ordered the folding up of the tents and prepared to sail down the river. Many in the Ahom army wanted to loot them, but Lachit strongly refused to loot a retreating enemy that had been suitably disgraced in war. Finally on 5 April 1671, Ram Singh left Assam, licking his wounds and cursing his destiny. 

    Sadly, for the Ahoms the joys of victory were short-lived. The Not for circulation pressures of battle had taken their toll on Lachit Barphukan. That despite running a high fever he had commanded the entire naval attack at Saraighat was something that his body could not possibly take. Shortly after the battle in 1672 Ce, Lachit Barphukan passed away at the relatively young age of fifty. His elder brother Nimati succeeded him as the Barphukan and came to be known as ‘Metakatalia Laluk Sola Barphukan’.

    The legacy and memory of this braveheart is perpetuated to this day at the National Defence Academy, where the best passing out cadet is annually awarded the Lachit Barphukan gold medal. This was instituted by the Government of Assam in 2000 and is a fitting tribute to a brave and loyal soldier, and a brilliant tactician and war strategist.

    Dr. Vikram Sampath is an author/historian/political analyst and a Senior Fellow at the Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, with an upcoming biography ‘ Savarkar: Echoes from a Forgotten Past’.

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