The far flung region of North East India is seldom mentioned in our history books ! One such unsung hero is Lachit Barphukan, the Assamese commander who defeated the huge Mughal armies of Aurangzeb, commandeered by none other than Ram Singh, the Raja of Amer. The Battle of Saraighat is an extremely famous naval battle, fought on the river Brahmaputra, which finally crushed all Mughal hopes. Lachit Barphukan was the hero of that battle, as he rallied his forces against the Mughals even while he himself was very ill and weak. Lachit Barphukan’s undying patriotism and sense of duty is what endeared him to his king, his Prime Ministers and all his soldiers. Today, Lachit’s is a household name across Assam. The mere mention of Lachit Barphukan brings a smile to the lips of the Assamese. Even the receptionist at the nearby Assam Bhavan looked genuinely happy when I spoke to him about Lachit Barphukan. Moreover, when I had visited Guwahati for researching for my book on the great man, I could see genuine admiration for Lachit Barphukan amongst a variety of people, be it rickshawallahs , museum caretakers, school teachers etc. I was instantly reminded of the admiration and adulation Chhatrapati Shivaji evokes in Maharashtra.Many a times, it is the small anecdotes or important remarks made by a person that grant him respect and immortality. Lachit Barphukan is one such person. Here I will describe two incidents from his life which have become folklore now in Assam. Following this are a few statements attributed to Lachit Barphukan, which bring out his qualities as a statesman and commander
1. Momai Kota Garh – ( Garh where uncle was slaughtered)
Perhaps the most well known of anecdotes during the war with the Mughals. Lachit Barphukan had recaptured all the Assamese areas lost to Mir Jumla and Diler Khan by Aug 1667. The city of Guwahati had once again passed into Assamese hands. Lachit Barphukan knew that Aurangzeb would once again send a large force to retake Guwahati – which he did in the form of Ram Singh and his 80,000+ soldiers. Lachit Barphukan’s plan was simple – he intended to fortify and guard the city of Guwahati so as to prevent the Mughals from sailing further east to Gargaon, the capital. All possible resources were thrown into the war effort. By the time Ram Singh reached Dhaka from Agra and began sailing towards Guwahati, the embankments and fortifications were complete – save for one very crucial patch. The person in charge was Lachit’s own maternal uncle. Lachit Barphukan realized that time was short and exhorted his uncle to keep working through the night so that the embankment would be complete. It was afterall , just a question of a few more hours of work. But Lachit’s uncle completely ignored his orders !The next morning, Lachit Barphukan beheaded his own maternal uncle for dereliction of duty and being callous towards defending the Brahmaputra Valley. For Lachit Barphukan, his attitude amounted to treason – punishable by death.* The exact location of the embankment is unknown, but the story itself is very popular as Assamese folklore.
2. The envoys and Ram Singh
A little story which happened during the Mughal invasion of Assam around 1668 : Around that year , Ram Singh had led a huge Mughal army into the Brahmaputra and a few skirmishes with Assamese outposts on the river had followed . Still , it was early days , and both Lachit Barphukan , the Assamese commander and Ram Singh wanted to try out negotiating a settlement instead of plunging headlong into war . So , as part of the talks , Ramcharan and Nim , two Assamese envoys , once reached Ram Singh’s camp bearing Lachit Barphukan’s message . Over there , Ram Singh had a couple of beautiful wooden birds on display , the likes of which neither Ramcharan nor Nim had ever seen ! . Knowing it would be very difficult to obtain these birds elsewhere , Ramcharan requested and begged the Mughals to gift him one . Ram Singh agreed and gifted him two instead ! . On hearing about this , Lachit Barphukan was furious . He immediately summoned Ramcharan and had him bound in iron fetters . Lachit had clearly marked out duties for everyone on the battlefield . He himself was steadfast in his duty of keeping Assam free and expected the same from everyone else . His messenger’s duty was to deliver a message and do nothing more . Accepting the gifts amounted to going against orders and in a way accepting a bribe . Lachit Barphukan had seen how infighting , turncoats and bribes had given Assam to Mir Jumla just five years earlier .He would not let it repeat again .
Quotes attributed to Lachit Barphukan –
“ As for Ram Singh’s request to give him fight for an hour, I would like to say we are prepared to fight as long as there remains a drop of blood in our veins”
– Lachit to Ram Singh as told to Firoz Khan
“ Tell your men I am going to die on this spot and I will never think of abandoning my charge. I have bought a slice of earth on Chila Hill which will provide sufficient accommodation for my remains. If I survive, I shall go after all the people have left this place” –
Lachit Barphukan at battle of Saraighat.
“ His majesty has given me supreme command of my army. He has put all faith in me so that I may fight the enemy. Should I now desert the fight and revert to the embraces of my wives and children”
– Lachit Barphukan at Battle of Saraighat on being advised to take rest.
© Aneesh Gokhale
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