Lachit Borphukan: saluting the redoubtable General of Assam

Amar Krishna Paul

Lachit Borphukan, the great warrior of Assam and the Ahom general, is a household name 
in the entire State. Complete dedication, strong determination and high moral courage 
to protect the motherland from enemies have empowered his life. The institution of a 
gold medal named after Lachit Borphukan for the best cadet with officer like qualities 
and the installation of his statue at the National Defence Academy, are fulfilments of 
a long cherished desire. In a sense, the Central Government has rightly instituted the 
gold medal as a mark of homage to the hero of Assam and spreading lessons from the 
life of Bir lachit to the country as a whole.

Lachit was the youngest son of an Ahom nobleman of great wisdom and administrative 
acumen, Momai Tamuli Borbarua. Thus Lachit Borphukan had the benefit of the upbringing 
the children of nobility had. His father arranged for his education in Humanities, 
Scriptures and military skills. As he grew up he was given positions of 
responsibilities. He was appointed Scarf Bearer to the Prime Minister functioning like 
his private secretary. He was successively appointed Superintendent of the Royal 
Horse, Commander of the strategic Simulgarh Fort and Superintendent of the Royal 
Household guards.

Lachit enters history almost with a bang. King Chakradhwaj Singha (AD 1663-1670) while 
on a tour of his territories near the hills situated in his worth eastern parts, 
called Lachit near him and in order to test him asked how the Mughal commanders in 
Guwahati could possibly be captured. Lachit gave a spirited reply which would be 
characteristic of him all through his later career.

He said, "Are there no men in Your Majesty’s Kingdom? He is only a man. Will not there 
be such men in our Kingdom?" The king himself a man famous in history for his words 
and deeds, immediately appointed Lachit commander-in-chief of the Assamese forces to 
be sent to Guwahati for driving out the Mughals.

Importantly, Assam was the only state of India which defeated successive attempts by 
Delhi Sultans and Mughal emperors. Starting from the invasion of Bhaktiyar Khilji in 
early thirteenth century to the invasions of the Mughal armies of Aurangzeb in the 
late seventeenth century. Assam defeated seventeen such invasions. No doubt the 
geographical remoteness of Assam was the major factor but no less important was the 
military leadership and the fighting qualities displayed by the people of Assam.

Of these seventeen invasions there was only one in which the invader achieved some 
success. This was Mir Jumla’s invasion. Mir Jumla was the Mughal Viceroy at Dhaka. In 
1662 as the head of the large Mughal Army he advanced up the Brahmaputra into Assam. 
There was dissension among the Ahoms and they could not put up any worthwhile 
resistance. The Ahom capital at Gargaon fell to the invader and king Jayadhwaj Singha 
fled to the hills. Like Napoleon at Moscow, Mir Jumla at Gargoan found that he had won 
only a pyrric victory. The French grand army got decimated in the severe winter of the 
Russian steeps. Similarly Mughal army got decimated by monsoon, malaria and dysentry. 
During its retreat, Mir Jumla died of illness. However before retreating Mir Jumla had 
imposed a humiliating treaty on the Ahoms. Two Ahom Royal princesses were taken for 
the Mughal imperial harem. Ahoms had to pay 3 lakh as war indemnity and an annual 
tribute of 20 elephants. They also had to cede the western half of their kingdom from 
Guwahati to Manas river.

The Ahom king was keen to avenge the defeat he had suffered at the hands of the 
Mughals and Lachit Borphukan proved to be the man of the hour.

King Jayadhwaj Singha died soon after the defeat he had suffered at the hands of Mir 
Jumla. At his death-bed, he exhorted his nephew and successor king Chakradhwaj Singha 
to remove the spear of humiliation from the bosom of the nation. The new king was 
determined to retrieve national honour and started making elaborate preparations for 
recovering territory lost to the Mughals. Stock of food and war material were built up 
and an expeditionary army organized and trained.

Preparations were complete by 1667 and the king entrusted the command of the 
expeditionary army to lachit Borphukan. This force started from Gargaon in August 1667 
and advanced down the Brahmaputra to Guwahati. Lachit soon captured an important post 
of the Mughals on the north bank and Mughal reserves got drawn there. He beat back 
Mughal counter attacks. Simultaneously he organized night raid by his commandos on the 
south bank of the river against the Mughal fort at Guwahati. The commandos poured 
water into the mouth of Mughal canons and the Ahom army after a heavy cannonade 
pressed a determined attack. Lachit captured the fort and the Mughal Governor was 
taken a prisoner along with a large number of Mughal soldiers.

The Mughals abandoned Guwahati and Lachit advanced up to Manas river liberating the 
Ahom territory ceded to Mir Jumla. A stone victory pillar with inscription in Sanskrit 
now in Guwahati museum praises Lachit Borphukan for his victory against the Mughals at 
Guwahati in 1667.

Lachit was not the one to just rest on his laurels. He realized that the Mughal 
emperor was bound to send a large army to avenge the defeat of his forces had suffered 
at Guwahati. He, therefore, set about organizing the defenses of Guwahati in a very 
meticulous manner for the anticipated invasion of Mughal forces. The terrain around 
Guwahati of low hills on either bank of the river, helped Lachit in organizing 
impregnable defenses. He organized prepared defenses at gaps of 9 ft. on the plains 
and 13.5 ft on the hills. The river line within the defensive perimeter on both banks 
was fortified and stockades were put up on sandbanks in the river to deny the use of 
the waterway. All round defence and defence in depth were insured. For nearly two 
years he was developing his defenses while the Mughals organized a large force and 
advanced to Guwahati. It is said that Lachit was very ruthless with his subordinates 
in ensuring preparation of defences. He beheaded his own uncle who was found negligent 
in this regard, "My uncle is not greater than my country".

The Mughal Army under Ram Singh consisted of 30,000 infantry, 15,000 archers, 18,000 
Turkish cavalry, 5,000 gunners and over 1,000 cannons besides 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 Ram Singh’s advance. With the impregnable defences that he 
had prepared at Guwahati, he was confident to beat back the Mughal attack. He realized 
that he stood no chance in open ground on the plains against the immensely superior 
Mughal cavalry of Turkish and Arab horses. His small ponies were no match for them. 
The Mughals had to be denied any opportunity to exploit their overwhelming superiority 
in cavalry.

The Mughals made contact with Lachit’s defences in March 1,669 and laid siege to 
Guwahati, which lasted for a little over one year. There were five distinct phases of 
the battle fought at Guwahati. In the first phase the Mughals made repeated attacks 
against Ahom defences on both banks of the river but failed to achieve a breakthrough. 
In the second phase they tried to send raiding parties by boats to get inside the Ahom 
defences. Lachit’s river line defences foiled this attempt. A heavy monsoon set in 
during the third phase.

The Mughals got bogged down in mud and got isolated from each other due to flowing 
streams. The Ahoms were at an advantage. They were more used to the terrain and 
accustomed to the climate. They carried out extensive guerilla warfare, causing heavy 
losses to the Mughals. Ram Singh was very contemptuous of these operations and called 
it a ‘thieves affair’. He challenged Lachit Borphukan to a duel. He also offered a 
bribe of 3 lakh to Lachit to abandon Guwahati defences. When this did not work, he 
tried a ruse.

A letter addressed to lachit, attached to an arrow was host into the Ahom camp. It 
mentioned that Lachit had been paid one lakh to evacuate Guwahati and urged him to do 
so soon. The letter found its way to the Ahom King at Gargaon who became suspicious of 
the loyalty of Lachit Borphukan. Fortunately, the Prime Minister managed to convince 
the King that it was a trick being played by the Mughal Commander and he should not 
doubt Lachit’s loyalty. However, the King insisted that Lachit come out of his 
defences and engage the Mughals in battle on open ground. Despite his objections to 
such a suicidal move, Lachit was forced to follow the order of the King. He came out 
of his defences on to the Allaboi plains to attack the Mughal army in the open. This 
was the fourth phase of the battle.

After some initial success in which the Ahoms captured the local Mughal Commander, Mir 
Nawab, the Ahoms drew the full weight of Mughal cavalry personally led by Ram Singh. 
The Mughal cavalry decimated the Ahom army on the plains learning 10,000 Ahom soldiers 
dead. Lachit had taken the precaution of digging a line of defences at the rear of his 
advancing columns to which they could fall back if forced to do so. Thus he managed to 
extricate the remainder of his forces and moved back into his prepared defences.

The Mughals could not penetrate these defences and ultimately decided to launch a 
massive naval assault. They had large boats, a few of them mounting up to sixteen 
canons. The Ahom soldiers were demoralized after the Allaboi disaster. Their 
Commander-in-Chief was seriously ill. At the sight of the massive Mughal fleet, they 
began to loose their will to fight. Some elements commenced retreat.

Lachit was observed this development from his sickbed. He had himself carried on a 
lotto a boat and with seven boats advanced headlong against the Mughal fleet. This had 
an electrifying effect on his soldiers. They rallied behind him and a desperate battle 
ensued on the Brahmaputra. The Ahoms in their small boats cut circles round the bigger 
but less maneuverable Mughal boats. The river got littered with clashing boats and the 
water of the river became red. Finally Lachit won the war. (PIB)

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