BRAHMAPUTRA – The Story of Lachit Barphukan, Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji
1. Jayadhwaj Singha
Jayadhwaj Singha, king of the Ahoms, was wearing the ochre coloured robes of a simple soldier. His sword, a weapon with a long hilt and a straight blade called a heng dang which denoted his royal stature was missing, and his arms had been covered with cuts and bruises. Tears trickled down his face, mingling with the constant drizzle. He was glad that no one could see his tear stained face, but there was no escaping the lump in his throat which felt heavy and gnawed at his very soul. He turned his gaze to his left, to a little mound jutting out of the third. It was a burial vault of one of his ancestors. The burial vault was an echo of his ancient Tai Ahom tribal religion of Fralung – much of which had been given up by the Ahoms. But the age old Fralung practise of burying the dead along with the deceased person’s possessions and treasures had stood the test of time and a fast changing civilisation. Jayadhwaj Singha’s heart ached as he saw the Mughal soldiers attack the burial vault with pick axes, hammers, shovels and swords. Fury raged in his eyes. But there was little he could do about it. Far above him, the dark dank clouds converged into an ugly black mass, adding to the gloominess already enveloping the Ahom king. He looked away as the Mughal soldiers began looting the sacred burial vaults of his forefathers. His gaze turned to the east, where two huge black stallions towered above the landscape, reaching into the grey skies. Grotesque in shape and gigantic in size with eyes that seemed empty and lifeless. Astride one was a colossal figure with a white beard and high cheekbones. He was wearing the rich robes of a Mughal noble and a richly adorned pagdi. watching the Mughal soldiers go about defiling the burial vault. On the stallion beside him, was a wicked looking man sitting in the saddle. He too wore the exquisite robes of a Mughal noble. Fair of skin and with cold and cruel eyes, his samsher hung from his cummerbund, still stained with blood. His Afghan turban rested easily on his head, with an end dangling carelessly over his shoulder. Jayadhwaj Singha recognised the two as Mir Jumla and Diler Khan – Mughal sardars who had tormented the Ahoms. Suddenly he heard a little girl crying. He turned around, only to see his own daughter of six years, standing there, clutching her rag doll. What was she doing there? In the midst of the Mughal soldiers and those two Mughal sardars he wondered? He felt someone was looking at him, and turned around to find Mir Jumla glaring at him, with cold, unfeeling eyes.” The Ahom king must no longer even look at his own daughter. She belongs to the Mughal harem now” the figure on the ugly black stallion bellowed. The cruel conditions of the treaty he had signed at Gilijharighat came back flooding to Jayadhwaj Singha …. “Aaah…” said Jayadhwaj Singha and awoke with a start. He could feel his heart pounding. Sweat trickled down his forehead. Outside, the cold, dark night stretched into the distance. The unnerving silence pervading everything being broken only by the rhythmic chirping of crickets. Jayadhwaj Singha’s breathing was heavy. All the horrors of the past few months had been brought alive in one cruel nightmare. Tears welled up in his eyes as he remembered his daughter, a mere child of six years, now in the Mughal harem. He mutterd to himself, asking for her forgiveness. The frightening images of the Mughal soldiers danced before his eyes. And what good was he? He had heard whispers that the people were calling him “bhagodiya raja” for having abandoned his capital of Gargaon and sought shelter in the hills of Namrup to the east. But how was he to explain that the arduous journey to the small village of Bakata was also for his people alone – to regroup his armies and inspire them to 4 d Brahmaputra Brahmaputra d 5 fight the Mughals once again. The Ahom king coughed loudly and felt a liquid thud into his hands. The commotion woke up his wife, who rushed towards her husband. Jayadhwaj Singha coughed again and blood splattered onto his simple white clothes. His wife frantically called for the vaidyas and deodhais. Attendants rushed about in panic. Jayadhwaj Singha knew his end was near. He felt drained and spent, both physically and emotionally. With a voice barely audible and symptomatic of the great pain he was in, he whispered to his wife “Send for my cousin, Supungmung” he said the words in great pain. “Quickly, rush to his camp across the stream and bring him here. Tell him to reach here as soon as possible” his wife shouted, his voice having more than a hint of panic. “He will rule after me … Supungmung… tell him so….” Jayadhwaj Singha’s breathing was heavy as he spoke. His queen was crying, her tears streaming down her face and staining them. She held Jayadhwaj Singha’s hand, hoping for a miracle. The vaidyas and deodhais frantically brought herbs and potions for the king, but with every passing minute, Jayadhwaj Singha’s condition only worsened. He coughed once again, staining the white clothes of the deodhai a deep red. Then suddenly the hand went limp, and Jayadhwaj Singha’s heart stopped beating forever….
SAHYADRIS TO HINDUKUSH –
Ch 1 – A new Peshwa .
The mountains rose out of the surrounding plains, strong, tall massifs. The table-top land bore a straw coloured look, save for the green shrubbery at the base of the hills. The merciless summers had taken their toll, rendering the landscape nearly barren and bare. Grass which had grown plentiful on the steep slopes in the monsoons and winters, now succumbed to the harsh sun. The sturdy grass rose up the slopes of the hills, ending in vertical walls of stone, too steep for even the grass and soil to conquer. Here, the black basalt heart of the mountains stood out, almost like a natural, impregnable wall. The sun beat down on the hills, a bright yellow ball of light in a cloudless and endless blue sky. An eagle screeched overhead, far above, no doubt looking for its nest in one of the hills.
Chhatrapati Shahu rested his hand against one of the many crenellations of the fort wall. The fort of Satara was Shahu’s home and capital of the Hindavi Swarajya. Shahu thoughtfully peered long and hard into the distance. He could see the hill of Yeoteshwar. The swallow tailed saffron standard fluttered proudly over it, as it did on many others, throughout the land.
The Chhatrapati though, was in a pensive mood, with worry written all over his dark, suntanned face. The death of his Peshwa, Bajirao, had come as a great shock to him. He who had not lost a single battle had succumbed to the vagaries of nature. The middle aged Shahu let out a deep breath, reminiscing of past events.Who could replace his Peshwa, Bajirao? he wondered. Was that even possible? He looked heavenward as as if seeking an answer. But even he knew the answers would have to be found by him and his ministers alone. He had called the various Maratha chieftains to his court, to hammer out a solution. He had in fact, a young boy in mind for the coveted job, but still believed it necessary to seek the opinion of the other Maratha chieftains. Shahu could ill afford falling out with someone like Raghuji Bhosale or Malharrao Holkar; protégés of Bajirao. They had started trooping in, one by one, or had at least sent representatives from the far flung places the Marathas had managed to conquer over the course of twenty years. From the corner of his eye, Shahu suddenly sensed some movement.Turning to look, he could see that a horseman clad in pure white had almost reached the fort.Shahu smiled, for the newcomer was none other than Chimaji Appa, the brother of the deceased Bajirao, and an important Maratha courtier. Shahu watched him make his way slowly up the broad staircase which wound its way to the top of the hill, ending in a massive and imposing darwaja made of the black and sturdy stones of the Sahyadris . His spotless white clothing gleamed in the bright sunlight. A red pagdi, typical of Brahmin courtiers, with a large plume of velvet adorned his head. A necklace of large pearls around his neck, symbolic of his royalty. On the upper part of his right ear, was a small ring of gold, with a couple of small pearls strung through it. The bhikbali, for that is what the unique earring was called, was synonymous with his high standing at the court.Shahu hurried away from the fort wall, and towards the darwaja, to receive him.
“Welcome Chimaji” said Shahu with a broad smile on his face, even as he personally stepped out of the tall, grand gate of the fort at Satara to receive him. Chimaji got off his horse, happy to see Shahu . An attendant quickly rushed forward and took the horse away to the stables , even as Shahu approached Chimaji with a smile on his face. He spread his arms wide and warmly hugged Chimaji Appa, “Wish we could all meet under happier circumstances. Raghuji Bhosale, Holkar, Scindia, yourself, it is sad we have to meet on such an occasion,” said Shahu as they began walking towards the palace.
“It has been HIS will. We must accept it,” said Chimaji with a slight smile on his face, not betraying the slightest note of sadness, although Shahu knew, he must have been shattered by the news.The two of them walked in silence towards the durbar set in the grand building that was the seat of Maratha power . Chimaji was ushered into the court where the splendor of the rising Maratha empire was more than evident. The large hall had tall arches of teakwood, exquisitely carved pillars and beautifully done, large windows, of the Deccani style. Expensive carpets with minute details covered the floor and huge , rich tapestries hung from the walls. At the corners of the hall, the walls had been cut into an octagonal shape, keeping in step with traditional Marathi architecture. The courtiers had already assembled, and bowed in respect as Chimaji made his way to his place at the durbar, closer to the Chhatrapati.
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