Purandar Fort – A post 1818 history.

Originally published in DNA on 8 Sept 2019.

When things had reached the breaking point between the East India Company and the Peshwa Baji Rao II in 1818, the British set out on a campaign to capture the forts in the Sahyadris. Purandar, along with Sinhagad, Raigad and Trimbak, commanded a status of importance even at the turn of the 19th century, as is evident from various letters of the day. These four forts were demanded from the Peshwa by the East India Company in connection with the Trimbakji Dengale case. Various sources also mention how Purandar and Sinhagad were regarded as watch towers of the city, meant to defend it and/or to provide a safe haven in case of an attack on Pune city. The campaign to capture the Maratha forts began in February 1818, with Sinhagad the first to fall on March 3 to General Plitzer. Save for a small fight given by a Sindhi contingent at the house of Aba Purandare at Saswad, Plitzer made it to Purandar on the 11th of the month. The guns were laboriously pulled up a spur and fire opened on Vajragadh. Curiously, an almost ditto tactic was used by Diler Khan when he took the fort many decades earlier. The neighbouring fort of Vajragadh was the first to fall on the morning of the 15th and Purandar later that evening. The East India Company brought under its control over a hundred hill forts spread across the Sahyadris by July of that year. But, unlike in previous times, the forts did not merely change masters. Mountstuart Elphinstone ensured that their lives as forts were finished forever. The garrisons were disbanded and their fortifications destroyed. The deserted forts were then left to the elements. Purandar, however, was treated slightly differently. It retained a military presence, albeit in a modified form. Instead, a convalescent centre was set up on the fort. Its aim was to provide the sick British soldiers from Pune and Ahmednagar cantonments, a change of climate to help recover. The cool, fresh mountain air acted as a medicine! If you go to the fort of Purandar, you will see an old gothic style abandoned church on it, quite out of place with all the Maratha history surrounding it. This church was built in the memory of Col Frederick Fitz Clarence of the 36th Regiment, Commander in Chief of the Bombay Army who died whilst recovering on Purandar fort in 1854. The convalescence centre was built from buildings and parts of the erstwhile fort itself, and was said to accommodate around a hundred persons. ‘The Good Words and Sunday Magazine’ of 1878 tells us how a 400-year-old former warehouse for storing grain had been converted into living quarters! Little much happened on that fort after that, save for the attached garrison rotating itself like any other army barracks. For example, at the turn of the century, the Royal Scots regiment took up residence there. Curiously enough, the fort served as a detention centre for German prisoners of war during the Second World War. These were essentially German citizens, and a few from other nationalities such as Italy, detained at Purandar so as to nip any pro-Nazi attempts in the bud. It was a kind of house arrest, with some of the ‘inmates’ even being allowed to cycle to Pune on the condition that they return before sunset. Called the ‘Purandhar Parole Settlement’, it was a home to over a hundred people from 1940 through to 1946. A certain Hermann Von Goethe wrote an account about the fort during his stay there, while others busied themselves in various pursuits. Another German, Paul Von Tucher has also described life at the parole camp in a small book. Mention is of one Eva Mayer who composed poems about their stay at Purandar. Her husband, a qualified doctor — started a free clinic for the local people.Some were attached to various German missions. They got together and established a Theological faculty on the fort in 1943. Surprisingly, nearly 20 of the 100 or so Germans were qualified doctors. One Dr Walter Fabisch was appointed as the Medical Superintendent of the camp. With couples staying on the fort, some children were born on the fort during the war years. It would be interesting to see which Germans today calls Purandhar their birthplace, a status they would coincidentally share with Chhatrapati Sambhaji and Madhavrao Peshwa. There was constant influx into the camp of new refugees or prisoners, so much so that the place had to accommodate twice the number by the end of the war. A Red Cross visit right at the close of the Second World War (Aug 1945) lists over a hundred Germans, around twenty Italians and over fifty detainees of other nationalities. The Parole Camp was not emptied as soon as war ended, because Britain was too busy picking up itself and exiting India. The last people on the fort left as late as mid-1946. Post independence, the hospital barracks gave way to a NCC Training Centre which continues to this day.a

Google Hangouts session on Indian History with Vision India Foundation , IIT D , IIT R students

Some days ago, I was invited for a Google Hangout session by a group of IIT Delhi and IIT Roorkee students, some of them associated with a group named Vision India foundation. It was indeed a privilege and honour for me to interact with them. A big thank you to Shubham Kumar for organizing the whole thing.  A wide variety of topics were discussed, right from what inspired me to write Brahmaputra to why is the general outlook towards Indian history the way it is etc. It was a sort of question answer session. Unfortunately we could not do a video recording, but Ishan Batta very helpfully noted down the questions that were asked during the interaction, so now I can present it in this format. Hope you enjoy reading it.  More like a transcript.
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Well so there we are , technology being put to good use here – me sitting in Australia and some of them are  in India, rest of them in the United States. We had to decide not just an appropriate time but appropriate time zone too. Pleasantries get exchanged. A brief intro round follows, participants in the interaction are students, working professionals, students pursuing a PhD etc. After which we try recording the whole thing, but doesn’t work out. Anyways, it is to be a discussion where I answer questions. There are nine – ten of us.  It’s something I am really looking forward too

Q : How did you go about researching for Brahmaputra – The Story of Lachit Barphukan ? 

A : Researching was not very easy, if I have to compare with research for my earlier book, Sahyadris to Hindukush. Reference books are not easy to come by when it comes to Assamese history. But my trip to Guwahati was really helpful, they have this area there called Pan Bazaar which has lots of old well established bookshops. So that’s where I found the best reference books. Also, there is Dept of Historical and Antiquarian Studies near the Guwahati High Court, where I found this awesome book called Tarikh e Ashaam – greatly helped me painting an accurate picture of the times. This was the reading and reference part. I also went to various places in and around Guwahati associated with Lachit Barphukan. So that really helped me in creating an atmosphere in the book that could immerse a person in seventeenth century Assam. And last but not the least, I spoke to Assamese people, both when in Assam and from home. That gave me a good overview of the Tai Ahom customs, culture and most importantly what the name Lachit Barphukan means for the average Assamese person.

Q: We have a narrative for Freedom Struggle . Is there a similar narrative about the counter to Islamic invasions ?

A : Yes, as far back as 736 AD, a grand alliance of Indian kings defeated an Arab invasion which threatened everything from Kashmir to Gujarat. Alliance which included Bappa Rawal , Nagabhatta , Chalukyas of Badami etc. I have written about it in some detail in this DNA Article  . Then we have Raja Suheldev and Battle of Baraich, the efforts of Hemchandra and further in the south we had Vijayanagar Empire , Chhatrapati Shivaji and Maratha empire. Talking of the east we have the Eastern Ganga and Gajapati dynasties of Odisha and ofcourse the Ahoms of Assam. But unfortunately all this is rather ignored.

Q: Why do you think that is the case ?

A : Well , I would say because we have had one particular ideology dominating the discourse for the past sixty – seventy years. The formal study course with regards to history is still centered around Delhi Sultanates etc . I have given talks in schools and colleges, and students are totally ignorant of other facets of  India’s history, even those which affected the whole subcontinent. But fortunately with help of social media , books etc an alternate narrative is slowly forming and becoming popular.

Q: And having a favourable government at centre will definitely help in this.

A : Well let us hope so. So far not much has been done. Anyways, I would concentrate on how can I contribute to building this alternate narrative.

Q: List of books you would suggest for someone wanting to know more about medieval India ? 

A : I have written on Maratha history and Assamese history, so I will limit myself to that.
I found GS Sardesai’s books extremely informative and useful when writing my first book. Also books such as Seir Mutaqherin, and those by Kincaid and Parasnis. On Assamese history , Prof H K Barpujari’s books are quite detailed and extensive. Tarikh e Ashaam, like I mentioned earlier, is also a good contemporary source. S K Bhuyan another name which comes to mind. British authors have also written extensively, on every region in the country and their books are readily accessible today. But, one must be wary of the pro – British slant as also some errors in their work.

Q: Mughal – Assam struggle had nothing to do with Hindu – Muslim. Will that be correct way to put it ? 
A : Actually Ram Singh was leading Mughal armies of essentially Aurangzeb. In the years preceding and following this struggle, he had issued many edicts which were solely aimed at Hindus – such as Jaziya. So Lachit Barphukan, in achieving what he did, definitely protected the Indic way of life and Assamese culture from the depradations of the Mughal empire. He laid the foundations on which kings like Rudra Singha and Rajeshwar Singha could build. So I would say it was a struggle between Assam and Mughals to protect and preserve the age old Indic culture of the North East.

Q : When you started writing , was there an interest in historical fiction which inspired you ?

A : My interest in history, Maratha history, was sparked in large part due to my trekking hobby. I started off wanting to write a story that was entirely fiction, but then as I read more and more on the topic, I realised that a dramatisation of actual events, without playing around with historical facts will appeal more. And thats how I went about writing my first book – Sahyadris to Hindukush.

Q : How do you keep all those facts and references you read together ; and manage to weave it into a book ? 

A : Well, I would say my second book – Brahmaputra – I managed to plan it way I wanted to. Essentially you should be clear about the time period you want the book to fit in, so automatically anything beyond that is not required to be read in detail. Some people follow a set time everyday to write – might work for them, does not work for me . I prefer writing for six – eight hours on one day and then nothing at all for next few days. Helps to note relevant reference books when working on certain chapter. If I felt some part of the story needed more exploring to do reference wise, I would make a note there that more referencing needs to be done and move on. Even my chapters are not written in one order from start  to finish, it all depended on how best my ideas were formed.

Q : Writing as a part time career ? 

A : Well , can’t really say, since I would call mine a “hobby” . But definitely if it is being looked at as a full or part earning source than the question of how much are you capable of earning via your writing and books comes in. It is not easy, since writing a book is just the first step towards earning anything out of it.

Q : Coming back to history, Aneesh do you think Aurangzeb’s motives were religious or purely political ? 

A: I would call it religio – political. Aurangzeb was a pious and devout person. His religious worldview definitely impacted his politics. At a time when people were in general much more religious, it would be hard to separate the two. He passed many religious edicts, which had nothing to do with politics. And he heavily depended on the clergy for his political hold on the far flung empire, passing many laws compliant with the Sharia, but shorn of administrative or political logic.

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Many thanks Aneesh, it was a great session interacting with you. Hope we can look forward to more sessions like these and also meeting in person if possible.

Been my pleasure. Thank you.

Aneesh Gokhale’s two books can be purchased at Amazon India

Sahyadris to Hindukush (Flipkart & Amazon India)

Sahyadris to Hindukush – The Maratha Conquest of Lahore and Attock
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Interview in DNA viz Sahyadris to Hindukush

A historical novel describing the rise and spread of the Maratha empire , culminating in the conquest of Attock , situated on the banks of the holy river Indus ( Sindhu ) .’

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The year is 1740 and the budding Maratha empire has already spread across much of western and central Hindustan .Their commander Bajirao has died an unexpected and untimely death . The onus is now on Balaji Bajirao , Shahu , Holkar , Scindia , Bhosale and others to keep their flag flying high .
At the same time , across the Hindukush mountains far to the northwest , the Pakhtuns are coalescing under their new leader – Ahmed Shah Abdali .
This novel attempts to bring alive the life and times of the Indian subcontinent in the 18th century , complete with it’s grimy politics and stories of defeat , betrayal , inspiration and victory .

PRAISE FOR THE BOOK –

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“With these tales of courage, Aneesh Gokhale helps rebuild our pride in our land and its people”—  Mr Yogesh Pawar ( Asst Editor , DNA)

” A lot of pains have been taken by the author to research and write this book. To have done so at such a young age is indeed commendable” — Prof Bhalchandra Kolhatkar, ( Kesri, Pune)

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Raireshwar – Nakhind – Aswalkhind : Jan 2011

DAY 1 : Raireshwar – Nakhind – Kudali

It had been 5 months since my last trek , what with me being away in Delhi . For someone accustomed to trekking once every 20 odd days , 5 months was quite a sabbatical ! . So when Priti asked whether I was interested in a trek to Raireshwar , and further to Nakhind and Aswalkhind , I jumped at the chance ! More so , because this would be a raw , hardcore trek , right from finding the correct route . Organized trekking , though hassle free , does take away this element of exploration and watching the trek unfold before you through its various ups and downs .

The place we were to go to , Raireshwar , is a hill situated about 200 km away from Mumbai , in Satara . It is famous as the place where Chhatrapati Shivaji took his oath of swarajya , to free the Sahyadris from foreign rulers . Thus , for us it is a very important historical place , almost a pilgrimage . From Raireshwar , we were to proceed to Nakhind , a nearby hill , then descend down to a pass called Aswalkhind . At least that was the initial plan . Aswalkhind would put us close to Poladpur on the Mumbai – Goa highway. Thus, we were to trek and descend from the Mumbai – Bangalore highway (NH – 4) onto the Mumbai – Goa highway (NH -17)

We started from Mumbai for Bhor on Friday night , me joining from Vashi . Priti , Rajas , Ameya and Saurabh had boarded the bus much earlier in Parel itself . Manoj Kalwar would join us later , as he had been caught up in some work .The rickety state transport bus prattled down the highway to Pune , stopping at Panvel , Khopoli and Lonavla en route . I tried catching up on some sleep , which was quite a challenge considering the roller coaster rides that state transport buses offer !! . From Pune , the bus continued for an hour till Bhor , the driver all the while driving like a wannabe Schumacher . I reckon we reached our destination at around 4 in the morning . After that , there was nothing much to do apart from shivering in the cold and having a cup of hot piping tea from a roadside stall till Manoj arrived .  He did come finally , almost an hour later . We then busied ourselves in looking for someone to take us to Raireshwar , in one of those Sumos or Trax they have . One guy finally agreed for a total of 1000 . Which was quite good .

It was almost day break by the time we alighted from the jeep . I believe we got a good bargain considering all the driving he had to do through the narrow ghat. The sun rose from behind Kenjalgad , a nearby hill – fort , as we began trekking along a well worn path leading to the temple of Raireshwar . The flat saucer – like top of Kenjal could be seen beautifully silhouetted against the rising sun , as we plodded on . A couple of iron ladders had been put in place to make our job easier , as well as a wide well made staircase . Reaching the temple was thus a cakewalk . Priti , Rajas and Saurabh went ahead to a small village on the mountain , to arrange for some food while me , Manoj and Ameya decided to visit the temple .

The temple itself was rather small and simple , with a brown tin roof . In front of it a bust of Shivaji had been installed . Inside , especially inside the sanctum sanctorum , it was pitch dark and I had to make use of my torch to ensure I didnt stumble somewhere . The famous pindi , where Shivaji took his oath , was in this part , and we dutifully paid obeisance to it . A glorious painting , showing a young Shivaji taking his famous oath adorned one wall , while a pair of swords and a shield adorned the other . From the temple , we proceeded to the small village , where we had our breakfast . We also took care to pack bhakri and mirchi cha thecha from a kind villager , before we left . Now began our real trek ! . No one knew the route for sure , not even the guide we had taken with us . All we had to rely on were photographs clicked by some other trekker and maps from Google Earth ! So we began , at around ten in the morning , across the plateau of Raireshwar , which I reckon was around 15 km long . The sun was by now nearly overhead , beating down on us . Thankfully , it being the month of Jan , we did not get scorched ! The path was a well worn one , which alternated between flat patches of grass and dense undergrowth . The weed called ‘karvi ‘ in local parlance was in abundance here , and it would keep us company for a long time ! .There was nothing much we did , apart from trudging from one end of the plateau to the other . En route we got beautiful views of ___ dam as also Pratapgad , Chandragad etc . Our first aim was to have a good view of the nedha ( hole in the rock ) of Nakhind  . perhaps try and reach there if possible . Every nedha is unique in itself and a sight to see . After a couple of hours of walking , some of it through head high shrubs and a small traverse , we managed to get a clear view . But it soon became evident that getting there was next to impossible . The path ended over there , and beyond were simply tufts of dried grass overlooking a dangerous drop . So we trekked back to a fork in the road which had brought us there . This time , instead of going left , we turned right , and headed straight into some very thick and thorny shrubs . My hands , legs and ofcourse my sleeping mat were continually getting pricked by thorns m twigs and branches left right and centre . There was no route to speak of really , we were making one ! . Half the time I spent in avoiding tripping over some branch or weed at my feet , and the other half in stopping something from hitting my face . After trekking like this for some time , I reckon an hour , the shrubs opened up to a more regular forest . The trees were taller now , and the ground much better . A couple of them had even an arrow mark on them ! . Our guide then led us to a path , that , to me on first glance seemed to head into thin air . A closer look told us that it was a narrow and very exposed descent , possibly towards Aswalkhind . We asked our guide to take us there . ” It is a very difficult route . See if you can manage , we won’t be coming with you ” came the reply ! . Ameya and Saurabh then decided to check out the route for themselves , but came back after some time . ” It is difficult with our bulky bags . Plus , once we start , there is no turning back ” . Now we were in a quandary . Which way to go next ? But since it was already nearly 2 , we decided to have lunch , which also gave us time to think over our next step .

It was then decided that Priti and Saurabh would go towards the nedha , to find a route via one of the channels made by waterfalls . Ameya and Manoj proceeded , with the guide , to the far end of the hill , to find a route to Kudali village . Me and Rajas were left guarding the bags . Rajas promptly went off to sleep , while me , after stretching out on the bare ground for some time , busied myself with photography ! . After about half hour both search parties returned , one with good news and the other not so good . Priti and Saurabh , for want of a sickle , had been unable to get to the point of finding any route . The other two had been luckier ” Yes there is a route . A rarely used one , but a route for sure ” Ameya reassured us .The guide had left us by now , after taking his pay . From this point , we were entirely on our own .  Once again , we trekked , plodding through grass and karvy , till the path abruptly finished as the plateau ended . I could see a well worn path going across a ridge in the distance , but how would we get there ? I could make out a narrow path , the kind made by cattle , descending from Raireshwar towards the ridge . Dusk was almost upon aus as we began our descent . The path was narrow and exposed , with plenty of loose soil and dry grass . Using bottom theory was a good idea here ! . Slowly but surely , we got to the ridge as the sun set behind the mountains . We were glad we had managed the descent well before nightfall , and now had the luxury of watching a beautiful sunset . What’s more , we found ourselves on a well beaten track . Snacks and jokes and wise cracks followed in a relaxed atmosphere with sliced cake and biscuits and such stuff being passed around .

It soon started getting dark , and we had to take a call , whether to spend the night there itself on that ridge , or continue further . And there was no second opinion about it ! Out came our little electric torches and the night trek to Kudali began in right earnest . We followed the mud path which had guided us on the ridge . It snaked along , sometimes svwerving to the right , though our destination was to the left of the ridge . This did cause some doubt in our minds initially , but those were quickly put to rest . As we sped along , the stars came out one by one , making the sky a very beautiful and enchanting sight . Under the company of the stars , we finally reached the village called Kudali .

For dinner , Priti prepared her exquisite bhel . It did not last long among 6 very hungry and tired trekkers , though I think quite a quantity had been prepared ! . Quite expensive too .. we had put onions in it !! . After this , we proceeded to fill water from a nearby pond . Nothing refreshing like cool water after a day of hard trekking . We decided to put up in the verandah of the local school for the night . It had been a hard day of trekking .. more than 13 hrs of walking in total ,and I fell into a deep sleep almost immediately after lying down ! .

DAY 2  : ASWALKHIND

Next day dawned bright and clear , with a rooster waking us from our slumber . Mountains loomed over the small village , a pleasing sight first thing in the morning . The fresh morning sunlight falling on the sloping clay rooftops of huts  , nestled among the hills , made for a quaint picture . We busied ourselves in collecting firewood for preparing the morning tea . Thankfully , there was plenty in the village , and the villagers as usual helpful . We soon sat down on the bare ground for having breakfast by the newly made campfire / temporary stove ! . We finished off whatever was left of the bread , cheese , biscuits and sauce with us . We even roasted a few potatoes , which tasted quite incredible . And of course tea ! .

We finally hit the road at around 9 30 , towards Aswalkhind . We intended to cross the entire pass and end our trek in Kamthe , a village in the Konkan . The route began on a well made tar road , before branching out into a more rugged path . As always , there were kind people around who helped us with the road we had to take . The path rose slightly after leaving the road , along a riverbed , although at a height . At one point , it descended rapidly and we found ourselves walking across the dry stream . From here , we could have a clear view of the pass , nestled between two tall , thickly forested mountains .

Hereon , the path climbed steeply into the jungle , though it was still wide and quite safe . Sunlight filtered in to the ground , obstructed by tall trees . This created strange mosaics on the ground , the kind of thing only a walk in the wilderness can give . We continued on , without stopping . Adrenalin had kicked in fully by now I guess . I say that , because after 16 hrs of trekking in total , my knees ought to have been aching ! The path rose in fits and starts . A steep climb for some time , then a flat walk , then the process would repeat itself . And all along we had the shade of tall deciduous trees for company . In fact , at one point , we even spotted dry feaces by the wayside , which Priti identified as those of a tiger . We even proceeded to crush it with a stone , only to find pieces of bone inside . Quite a find actually , considering how rare anything related to a tiger is , especially in these parts .

After walking through the jungle like this for three three and a half hour , we came upon a queer rock formation . A few massive boulders had been clustered together , almost as if a giant had marked the place ! . We decided to take a small break here , the highest point in the pass . We were now actually parallel to Nakhind , albeit at a much lower level . Priti , Rajas and Saurabh clambered up a small hillock to have a look at the route we had abandoned the previous day . Their hunch was right ! The path did lead to where we were ! . But I reckon it would have been too much of a risk to try the route the previous day . We spent some time here , busying ourselves with the usual photo ops and stuff .

The path descended ferociously from there on . Again the same pattern of steep descents and flat walks . Some of these patches were quite exposed and full of scree , making trekking tedious . And of course we had the company of the jungle . But this steep descent – flat walk pattern did help us maintain a very good speed throughout . By around lunchtime , we had arrived at a small clearing , where we had our lunch . This place had an awesome view of Nakhind and few other mountains , the vertical basalt walls making for quite a sight . We could also see our destination , Kamthe in the distance . Lunch consisted of bhakri and mirchi cha thecha , which we had packed the previous day . Rustic food in a rustic setting . We descended quite quickly from here on . The path was a lot more rocky now , making the descent easier . In another hour or so , we were at the village .

Thankfully for us , we didnt have to wait to much for a transport , since a jeep bound for Poladpur was already in the village . After a bit of haggling , he finally agreed to take us all to Poladpur . Poladpur was the closest town from where we could hope to get a ST or similar transport bound for Mumbai . Thus after nearly 18 hrs of walking , and 2 very memorable days of trekking , our trek had finally come to an end .I believe we covered more than 40 km in total .   We clambered into the jeep bound for Poladpur . From there , we hired a Sumo bound for Mumbai . And by dinner time that night , I was home . Quite something that trek , which we started on the Mumbai – Bangalore road and ended on the Mumbai – Goa road !

As a closing comment , would like to thank Priti , Rajas , Saurabh , Ameya and Manoj for a great time ; and will cherish this trek for a long time to come .

The Battle of Saraighat – Role of the Ahom River Navy !

Chapter --27

The Ahom dynasty of Assam managed to stave off invaders for upwards of four hundred years from 1228 to 1671.  There were no more invasions after the Mughal invasion under Ram Singh was soundly defeated in the famous Battle of Saraighat by Lachit Barphukan.

This battle is extremely unique in India’s history – fought not on land or the sea but in the middle of a river . The mighty Brahmaputra was the theatre of this Mughal – Assam showdown. Saraighat was the final grand climax to a series of events stretching over several years. This blog of mine –> Lachit Barphukan  , gives a detailed description of events leading to Battle of Saraighat.

I do not intend to repeat them here. Instead, in this article I shall throw light upon the Ahom naval system and further more , try and understand the challenges that must have been faced while fighting on that mass of water , drawing on my knowledge of how boats and ships behave in a river.

The Ahom Naval System : 

The biggest plus point of the Ahom dynasty and its long history of successfully defending the Brahmaputra valley was that they were not personality driven , but policy driven. Keeping invaders west of the Manas river was something all rulers aimed for. Further more , the paik system ensured that each family in the Brahmaputra valley compulsorily contributed men to the army when so demanded. There were then khels or guilds for various activities – both military and civil. This was the agreed upon system , and the monarch or swargdeo had thousands at his beck and call at any given time. The military followed a set heirarchy of ranks – from the Deka controlling 10 paiks to the Phukan lording over 6000.

Thus defense of the land was not according to whims and fancy of sundry jagirdars and watandars. When a dynamic personality like Lachit Barphukan was added to this , the Ahom military system became near invincible in face of great adversity.

Secondly, the Ahoms made excellent use of the terrain and developed perhaps India’s only “river specific” navy ! It is one thing to have certain terrain around you , something else to harness it fully. Today in 2016 you will be hard pressed to count twenty boats plying the waters near Guwahati , but back in 1663 , the official Mughal waqnavis counted 32,000 boats as having passed the town in one month ! Inside out knowledge of the terrain was what made the guerilla warfare highly effective and deadly. Infact , they called it “Daga Yuddha”  ! An extremely apt name for the kind of warfare .

The Ahom Navy : 

The Ahom navy was overall led by the Pani Phukan . Even towards the close of the Ahom dynasty this rank held sway over 7000 sailors !   Smaller units operated under the Bar Neogs . The Pani Phukan was directly under the Barphukan – the supreme leader of the armed forces . The Barphukan could assume control of the naval forces too – as happened in the Battle of Saraighat with telling effect.

Like in the infantry arm , various departments were created even for the river navy arm.

The Naobachia Phukan was in charge of supplying able bodied boatmen . While the Naosaliya Phukan was tasked with upkeep of boat building and the docks. He had around ten docks under him for boat building purposes. These being at Gargaon , Guwahati , Dergaon etc .

Renowned historian Sir JN Sarkar has quoted Guwahati , Sadiya , Dikhowmukh , Kaliabor , Sadiya etc. as places where boat building yards were set up. Infact , one of the docks used for repairing / building boats during time of the Ahom dynasty can still be seen in Guwahati – popular now as ” Dighali Phukuri ” and developed as a lake – cum – park.

Another important facet of fighting on the water was development of a structure known as the well , the ” Pani garh ” . It was essentially the art of building a bastion or gadhi in the middle of the water without recourse to using an already existing island etc .

Summarizing historian PC Sarma’s words in the book “Martial Traditions of the North East ” , we can say —

The Pani garh consisted of first planting stout bamboo poles into the river banks on opposite sides and then joining them loosely with ropes made of Raidongia Bet a kind of coir stronger than jute. After this , platforms of timber would be floated onto the river , improvised upon by soldiers and builders , to function like floating “dam damas”  or small siege towers. Boats could also be used in lieu of wooden platforms.

There is evidence that such a blockage effected during the Battle of Saraighat proved to be very effective. HK Barpujari gives a similar description of such “floating” bastions.

Ahom Warboats – What were they made of ? How large were they ? 

They were known as “bacchhari ”  boats and had a single plank of wood to give strength to the keel or base of the boat. Something similar to how ship’s are strengthened today too !

The Ahom warboats were small , not only by today’s standards but by 17th century standards also. At a time when ships of an average length of 50 metre (150 feet) were plying the high seas, the Ahom warboats measured only about 20 metre (60 feet) . Their width was also scarce – just about 2-3 metres (7 feet) But there were sound reasons for this , and as we shall see in the next section, size proved critical in the Battle of Saraighat.

The Ahom boats were made of chambal type of wood. The advantage being that a boat constructed of this wood would not sink even if heavily burdened. Thus an Ahom warboat was able to carry loads upto thirty tons. Which would usually mean a mixture of soldiers and artillery pieces , as seen in “Battle of Saraighat” picture above. Historian UN Gohain says that Ajhar (Lagerstroemia reginoe) and Sam (Artocar-fins chaplasha) were the specific trees whose wood was used to build the Ahom boats. Planks were joined by nails and gaps filled with a mixture of resin , lac and bee wax. Also lime made of snail shells and jaggery was used for any repairs.  A well constructed boat could last upto ten years or more.

The boat described here was the large 60 feet war boat. Ones equipped with guns were called ” Hiloi Chara Nao ” . Apart from this , a variety of other boats were in use –

Chara Nao – For travelling and transport

Magari Nao – Decorative boats

Tulunga Nao – For fishing activities

Gerap Nao , Garami Nao – used in battles

Gach Nao – A huge warboat used by Mughals . Extremely slow and cumbersome in a river.

Such and twenty other type of boats for various purposes were prevalent in Assam !

Artillery on boats :

Simply having boats with people on them was not good enough. They needed to have them stocked with artillery too. Make gun – boats that is . Infact the Mughal invasion of Assam could well be called a case of failed “gun boat diplomacy” . Gun boats and armadas were extensively used by British empire to brow beat smaller nations into submission. Hence the adage.

These guns were cast , and much smaller in size than the land based cannons. Infact they more closely resembled the zamburak than the larger tof .  A few samples can still be seen in the museum at Guwahati , they are 2 -3 feet long at best.

The Battle of Saraighat  – An analysis.

Having seen what the Ahom navy consisted of , we shall now turn to the Battle of Saraighat – the acid test of all these Ahom military systems. Lachit Barphukan’s choice of chosing Guwahati to make a decisive stand against the Mughals had sound strategy behind it.

The Brahmaputra is at it’s narrowest at Guwahati. Thus , defending the river there was akin to defending a pass. Further more , the sudden narrowing would also cause an increase in the speed of the water. Thus , the Mughals, approaching from downstream would have to strain more.

The preference for small boats was also well thought out. Ram Singh went in with 40 huge war boats. In a naval battle on the sea , Ram Singh would have won. But in the river , the ships proved too cumbersome to turn and maneuver. Infact , the Mughal boats – each equipped with sixteen huge guns and manned with the cream of Mughal and European sailors in India, were winning the initial part of the battle. Lachit Barphukan’s illness had meant that the Ahom boats did not leverage their size and mobility in absence of a good leader and were fast getting blown apart. Which is why Lachit Barphukan’s entry into the battle is a crucial turning point.

The smaller boats , hence smaller guns meant that the Ahoms would have had to move close to the huge Mughal warboats. This , especially due to the speed of the water , would have drawn the smaller boats into the larger – a phenomenon known as interaction. That the boats were deftly steered shows the capabilities of people controlling them. Also , when the guns , whether they fired from Ahom or Mughal boats , would have also caused considerable movement of the boat – rocking it violently one side to another. Another aspect to bear in mind when going through this battle.

The river was choc a bloc with boats during the battle – which would have made life for the Mughals even more difficult.

And the end result was a resounding Ahom victory under leadership of Lachit Barphukan

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Why have I chosen to write “Brahmaputra”

Do check out this great animation on Lachit Barphukan of which I was happy to be a part in providing the info . Many thanks to Akshay Joshi for the same.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_fOayADK5NY

Book : Brahmaputra

Pgs : 232  , Price : Rs 250

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Why have I chosen to write a book on Lachit Barphukan ? A person largely unknown outside his native Assam ?

I had chanced upon an Amar Chitra Katha (comic book series on various personalities) on Lachit Barphukan around fifteen years ago. The Assamese warrior valiantly fought against the Mughal empire. What really spiked my interest were the similarities between the Assamese and Maratha warriors of those days – Lachit Barphukan being a contemporary of the great Shivaji Maharaj. The undying patriotism , willingness to set right historical wrongs and the bravery needed to stand up to a huge empire. The ability of Lachit Barphukan to rally his men to the common cause of freedom and the exquisite use of men , resources and terrain to achieve this aim are further similarities . Thus , Lachit Barphukan of Assam is an immensely inspirational figure. Unfortunately , he is totally unknown outside the North East , although his exploits had made Aurangzeb take notice. Hence , I decided to write a book on this great persona .
Research for the book was not easy. There is lot more material readily available on the Marathas and Mughals than on the Ahoms (rulers of Assam from 1206 to 1826). I undertook a trip to Guwahati for this purpose. I Visited the places where mighty battles were fought between the Ahoms and the Mughals. Took in the scenery and imagined how would it have been back in the 17th century. The crowded bookstores of Pan Bazaar proved extremely useful , leading me to books I would never have found otherwise.I am extremely greatful to all who helped me in this.

The average Assamese talks with great pride about Lachit Barphukan.Even the receptionist at the Assam Bhavan in Navi Mumbai broke into a broad smile on the mention of Lachit’s name. They have the same adulation for him , that Maharashtrians have for Shivaji.

A note on comparing Shivaji and Lachit Barphukan here. While there are many similarities in their personalities , there are also some fundamental differences . Primarily , Shivaji was a king and Barphukan was a senapati or commander. Their backgrounds were very different.Hence I would desist from literal comparisons. Having said that , both were immensely inspirational and both fought for their people and the Indic way of life. Many names familiar to Marathi readers crop up in Assam’s history – Aurangzeb , Shaiste Khan , Mir Jumla , Diler Khan , Ram Singh etc . This book also touches upon these little known connections .

In this book, I have used the word Assamese to denote the general people and troops on the army. The word Ahom has been used to denote the ruling dynasty and their courtiers, commanders which were dominated by this race.

Lets begin the journey then in 1663 A.D at Gargaon in Eastern Assam with the Assamese under the Mughals. Their land destroyed , their temples broken and their king being made to bow to a humiliating treaty …..

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Brahmaputra – Sample pages

BRAHMAPUTRA – The Story of Lachit Barphukan, Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji 

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Chapter 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  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, her 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….

© Aneesh Gokhale

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Chapter 3 – Jirga , Kandahar

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Sample pages from  ” Sahyadris to Hindukush “

Chapter 3 — Jirga , Kandahar

 

The dry brown-red cedar leaf crunched under the horse’s hoof, splintering into a hundred pieces with a distinct crackle. Rehmat Khan Barakzai, astride the sturdy Arabian horse, wrapped his keffiyah closer to his face, to protect himself from the chilly autumn winds that had begun to blow across the Afghan city of Kandahar. He looked across the barren landscape, a drab mixture of  grey , light brown and yellow. Here and there, the spruce and deodar trees sprang out of the ground, bereft of leaves, which lay scattered at the  base of their trunks. He scanned the area with the vision of a hawk, his eyes honed in the Pashtun highlands, watching the Afghans, clad in their usual long flowing clothes,go about their daily business. A bearded man carting away some fruit, a man on horseback rushing away to somewhere, few others strolling towards a mosque.Rehmat Khan was annoyed that the person he was waiting for hadn’t yet showed up. He put a hand to his forehead and peered into the distance. Rehmat Khan spotted a lone horseman, slowly making his way towards him. The outline of the pancake shaped kapol which covered his head  could be clearly made out. Finally!, thought Rehmat Khan Barakzai,  even as he raised his right hand and waved it,  signalling to the new comer.
“Taso sanga yay?” asked Barakzai, cheerfully in a loud voice as Mohamadzai came within earshot. “Pakhair” replied  Mohamadzai , his  white teeth glistening in a broad smile. He was well into his fifties, with a rapidly graying  beard and cheeks which had grown infirm with age. There was still a firm determination in his eyes though, a sign of the numerous trials by fire he had to  undergo as Khan of his tribe.
Barakzai gave a sharp jab to this horse with his right heel, and turned towards the dusty road leading to the tomb of Sher-e-Surkh. The old fort at Kandahar towered above them, lording over the Pashtun heartland. The two warlords had been invited to a jirga by the Pir Sabir Shah. Slowly they made their way their horses moving in a rhythmic trot over the barren track. It was customary for the Pashtuns to conduct such jirgas from time to time. These councils, would then decide issues of social and political importance to the Pashtuns. The untimely death of Nadir Shah, the Persian ,had prompted this latest jirga. Sensing that the Afghan lands would fall into disarray one again, Pir Sabir Shah had organized this jirga at the holy place. The Mohamadzai, Popalzai, Barakzai, Jadran, and other Pashtun chieftains had been specially invited.
Before long, the two of them had arrived at the simple sandstone monument that was the tomb of Sher-e-Surkh. Rehmat Khan Barakzai looked at the group of camel hide tents which came in view as they climbed a hillock. Coarse cream coloured fabric, blending into the surrounding plains. Barakzai and Mohamadzai trotted closer to the camp,where the Pir himself was ready to welcome them.

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Lachit Barphukan – Defeater of Mughals

Today I shall talk about Lachit Barphukan – a household name in Assam, but largely unknown outside of that region. He is perhaps the reason why Assam is a part of India today and retains , nay celebrates its dharmic and Indic connections. He led a the Assamese armies against the Mughals and ensured that Assam remained free.

The Sena dynasty of neighbouring Bengal (by this I mean West Bengal and Bangladesh both) was overthrown by 1206 by Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq and the same year attacks on north east started. They wud continue every now and then for next four hundred years – all ending in failures.

In Assam itself , the Tai Ahom dynasty, originating in Myanmar, assumed power in 1228 AD. They too kept out successive invaders from Assam.

But a new and real challenge came with the ascent of Aurangzeb to the Mughal throne. He deputed two of his best generals – Mir Jumla and Diler Khan are sent to Bengal and from there to Assam. The later region at this particular point in time was in a state of flux. The  senapati was from a tribe other than the Tai Ahom and this has caused widespread resentment. The Mughal armies encounter a divided land and people. The unity that had kept out invasion after invasion was now missing. Mir Jumla and Diler Khan had an easy route through Assam and many forts fell without a fight. The Ahom king – Jayadhwaj Singha retreated even further east , leaving his capital Garhgaon – the place is 300 km east of Guwahati. The Mughals managed to install a faujdar at Guwahati. This 1662 – 63 invasion ends with a humiliating treaty being imposed on the Ahom king , which includes giving up all territory west of the Barnadi , including the city of Guwahati. Large amounts of cash , war elephants and — giving up his six year old daughter to the Mughal harem. Mir Jumla and Diler Khan also desecrated many ‘maidams’ or burial vaults of the Ahoms

The king Jayadhwaj Singha dies heartbroken and is succeeded by Chakradhwaj Singha, who now has a monumental task ahead of him. For this , he needs a new senapati or “Barphukan” . The term Barphukan is a rank, not a surname. A leader of all the Phukans in the army was called a “Barphukan”. The Phukan was the highest rank in Ahom army after the Barphukan – commanding 6000 soldiers or paiks.

After deliberations with his ministers, particularly the Prime Minister or the “Rajmantri Dangaria” – Atan Buragohain – Chakradhwaj Singha settles for Lachit and makes him Barphukan.

The challenge before them is immense –

1. Demoralised troops, who do not have any memory of a defeat.

2. Army commanders and ministers divided against themselves, owing to the internal dissent which pervaded everything prior to the Mughal invasion.

3. The knowledge that the troops who had faced defeat at hands of Mughals would now be asked to undo the damage. There was no option of starting with a clean slate.

4. The fact that the Mughal empire was immense and a veteran like Shaiste Khan was Subhedar of the next door province of Bengal.

Nothing is known about Lachit Barphukan’s childhood or early life, other than the fact that he was Momai Tamuli Barbarua’s son. Momai Tamuli Barbarua was a high ranking official in the Ahom kingdom. The Assamese chronicles – or Buranjis – almost exclusively deal with administration , politics and warfare. There is almost no information divulged about the personal life of the Ahom commanders and ministers. It is surmised that Lachit Barphukan was born somewhere around the year 1620.

He was attending political meetings with his father in his young age, doing the job of carrying the relevant documents and betel nut trays. Later on, he became the scarf bearer. Further on Lachit got promoted to Gorakaksharia Barua – head of the royal stables. Then he was promoted to Dolakaksharia Barua – leader of the royal bodyguard. He was at this rank when the invasion of Mir Jumla happened. During that invasion, he had led his troops with bravery at Dikhowmukh.

He was thus promoted to rank of Barphukan. The situation at this point of time was dicey, and even though some suggested a surprise assault on Mughal held Guwahati, Atan Buragohain cautioned them against it. He was of the firm view, that any attack on Guwahati would invite a retribution from Aurangzeb and the huge armies at his disposal. Lachit Barphukan proudly declared that even if he was the last Ahom alive, he would still fight the Mughals.

So the Ahom king invested the next four years in rebuilding the army into a robust and powerful force. Soldiers were recruited, boats built at dockyards, weapons procured. Cannons made and fortifications strengthened. The king, the Prime Minister and the Barphukan would regularly visit to check the progress being made. All this while pretensions of friendship were maintained with the Mughals – by slowly complying with the terms of the treaty signed between Mir Jumla and Jayadhwaj Singha. This was a diplomatic master stroke, enabling the Ahom to rebuild without inviting suspicion or ruffling feathers at either Guwahati or the capital of Mughal Bengal – Dhaka.

In 1667, the faujdar of Guwahati – Rashid Khan is recalled to Agra and replaced with Firoz Khan. This person sends a direct demand to Chakradhwaj Singha – calling him a vassal and orders him to send young Assamese girls for his pleasure.

The preparations for the war are almost complete, and this insult to their king rallies the people. At the head of a large army, Lachit Barphukan sets off west to recapture Guwahati – after a gap of nearly four years.

The important point to note here, is that the Assamese, lead by the Ahoms, had a very robust military system in place. Yes, the terrain helped them perfect their skills of guerilla warfare, but that was not all. The Ahom military system was based on –

1. The paik system. Every family across the kingdom was required to provide at least three persons for the kingdom. At least one would serve in the army, two if required.

2. There was a definite hierarchy of command – starting with a Deka commanding 10 paiks Bora over 20 paiks , Saikias on 100 paiks ,  Hazarika of a 1000 paiks , Rajkhowa on 3000 paiks and Phukan of 6000 paiks etc. The Barphukan was the supreme commander of all of these.

3. They did not have a cavalry arm – owing to the frequent floods of the Brahmaputra and the topography and weather of the land – which made it difficult for large numbers of horses. Instead they had an excellent infantry and something very unique in the Indian context – a riverine Navy. This was the backbone of the Assamese army of those times – and helped them dominate the river Brahmaputra.

4. Improvements on this riverine navy – such as the panigarh . This would be a quickly built stockade in the middle of the river, on which guns could be mounted and enemy boats and ships countered.

5. Fortifications – A string of forts on either side of the Brahmaputra.

6. A strong network of spies – this enabled them to rebuild the army and procure weapons without arousing suspicion.

Lachit Barphukan, at the head of this large army, attacked many forts near Guwahati. But even after months of siege Guwahati itself could not be captured. The city at that point in time was being protected by the fort of Itakhuli – which was being defended by Syed Firoz Khan himself. It was naturally strong, having the Brahmaputra on one side and well defended by walls and cannons on all others. The Mughal cannons had infact kept Lachit Barphukan’s soldiers at a safe distance from the fort. A few months passed in this condition of stalemate.

Finally, Lachit Barphukan agreed to a bold plan in which one of his commaders – Ismail Siddiqui or Bagh Hazarika played an important part. This involved sneaking into the fort in the dead of the night in very small numbers – ten or twelve at most and immobilising the cannons by pouring water into them. This daring mission was then carried out by Bagh Hazarika , Japang Gohain and a handful of ace soldiers one August  night. The next morning Lachit Barphukan could fearlessly attack Itakhuli ! The fort fell into his hands and Guwahati was free once more.

Lachit Barphukan then chased the Mughals all the way to the mouth of the Manas river, freeing forts such as Jogigopha from the Mughals as a result. The Ahom banner once again began fluttering over Assam.

This event in 1667 was Lachit Barphukan’s first claim to fame. It was the result of a careful and calibrated rebuilding of the army which had delivered the goal. But Barphukan knew simply winning Guwahati was not enough, for the Mughals were sure to attack again.

The news of this victory reached the ears of Aurangzeb a few months later. He was determined to recapture Guwahati and finally decided to send Ram Singh. Partly because he held Ram Singh responsible for Shivaji’s escape from Agra, and wanted to test his loyalty. Partly because the architect of the previous victory – Diler Khan was busy in the Deccan.

Ram Singh started at the head of a very large army, totalling over 70,000 soldiers. Following infographic gives a break up of his forces.

Mughal army 1667

Ram Singh managed to reach Dhaka in 1668 / 69 and had an audience with Shaiste Khan, who assured him of further help against the Assamese and warned him about the land and its peculiarities.

As for Lachit Barphukan, he did not rest on his laurels for even a single day and immediately got down to the work on rebuilding the fortifications and strengthening the forts in view of the impending Mughal invasion. His plan was simple – to build a ring of very strong defenses around Guwahati and fight the Mughals tooth and nail at this point in the Brahmaputra. This was because the Brahmaputra was at its narrowest near Guwahati, thus he intended to trap the Mughals at this point in the river, much like one would choke an army in a narrow mountain pass (strategem). Sufficient number of paiks were placed to guard the fortifications.

One incident  which happened during the building of these embankments around Guwahati which has since become part of Assamese folklore.

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.

This raised Lachit Barphukan’s stature immeasurably in the eyes of the people and soldiers and they coalesced as one to face the Mughal threat.

Ram Singh began attacking the western outposts of the Ahom kingdom by 1669 and as planned, the soldiers retreated towards Guwahati , luring Ram Singh into the trap.

Ram Singh, seeing that he had easily gained a number of forts, grew haughty and believed his work was already done. In reality, he had almost fallen into the trap.

Ram Singh then sent a bag of poppy seeds to Lachit Barphukan, with the message that the Mughal army was as numerous as the seeds in the bag. Not one to bear an insult, either on the battle field or in diplomacy, Lachit Barphukan as a reply sent a tube full of sand from the river bank ! The message being that the Assamese army was as numerous as grains of sand. And while the poppy seeds could be ground into a paste, the sand was insoluble !

Now this message was sent to Ram Singh via two envoys – Nim and Ramcharan. At the Mughal camp, they noticed two exquisitely carved wooden birds, and took an instant liking to them. Although their job was only to deliver a message, Ram Singh persuaded Nim to accept two of the birds as a gift !

Lachit Barphukan was livid on getting this piece of news ! Dereliction of duty was not a trait he was looking for.

Thus, these two incidents showed the entire army that Lachit Barphukan meant to lead by example and indiscipline in the ranks when faced with a mortal danger would not be tolerated. The result was that the Assamese stood together like one monolithic rock inspite of the best of efforts by Ram Singh.

All attempts at conquering various forts were beaten back. Ram Singh sent part of his army to sneak in via a pass in Darrang, this too was found out and the soldiers mercilessly slaughtered. In general, the year 1669 ended with victories for Lachit Barphukan.

Finally a time came when the two armies were left facing each other on the opposite ends of the fields of Alaboi. Ram Singh then tried to sow dissent in the ranks of his enemy. made. Commanders who were not very happy with Lachit in charge  were offered huge bribes.

Lachit was wary of facing the Mughals on an open field, knowing full well that his own army did not consist of any cavalry, and his nemesis had perhaps the best cavalry. It would be suicide for his foot soldiers to face a cavalry charge. But the dissent being sown by Ram Singh and the long delays on the battlefield managed to make Raja Chakradhwaj Singha force his hand — and he issued an ultimatum to Lachit Barphukan to engage Ram Singh.

Much against his wishes, Lachit Barphukan was forced to battle Ram Singh on the open fields (5th Aug 1669). It ended as expected – a terrible disaster, with Lachit Barphukan losing over 10,000 of his best soldiers.

But the battle was a shot in the arm for Raja Ram Singh. Aurangzeb heard of it from Shaiste Khan and immediately increased Ram Singh’s mansab to 5000, making him a mansabdar of considerably high rank. He further asked him to push forward and capture Guwahati. Seasoned sailors like Munnawar Khan and Mohammed Saleh Karoh were deputed to aid him. White skinned freebooters and mercenaries plying around Bengal also joined the fray on the side of the Mughals.

In the meanwhile, negotiations had been opened between the Mughals and the Assamese, interspersed with skirmishes as before. Udayaditya Singha succeeded Chakradhwaj Singha in 1670 in the midst of all this.

Thus the year 1670 more or less passed with little happening of note.

By the beginning of 1671  Mughals also had built up their army , with the arrival of the firangees , fresh soldiers , Munnawar Khan and Mohamed Saleh Karoh to the Brahmaputra. Lachit Barphukan on his part was not slack. The forts were strengthened, pickets posted and a further twenty thousand soldiers requested to be sent from Gargaon.

Ram Singh discovered through his spies that there was a breach in the long line of embankments guarding Guwahati at Andurabali. Here was a golden chance to break through and capture the all important fort.

And at this critical juncture, with the Mughal armies amassed on the Brahmaputra with as many as forty war ships each carrying 16 guns and many smaller boats, Lachit Barphukan fell ill. To the extent that he could hardly stand and move around.

In the month of March 1671, the battle of began. It would go down in Assam and India’s history as the Battle of Saraighat. The grand climax to a series of events set in motion eight years ago with the invasion of Mir Jumla. It was unique, for it was the only major battle in India to have been fought entirely on a river ! But then the river Brahmaputra is gigantic in proportions – being a kilometre wide even at its narrowest point at Guwahati !

With their commander bed ridden, the Assamese faced off against the Mughals who were making one last determined effort to force their way through the breach at Andurabali and conquer Guwahati once more. In the absence of a leader, their movements were haphazard and the Mughal attack was devastating. Before long, withering in the face of the concerted attack, the Assamese began retreating their steps eastward !

Lachit Barphukan heard of this retreat and was livid. Much against the wishes of his vaidya and astrologers, he decided to join the war.

” I shall be the last one to leave the battlefield” he declared proudly ” And if I die, bury my mortal remains on a small plot of land I have bought on a nearby hill for the princely sum of four cowries” . But Lachit Barphukan would not lie on his sickbed while his soldiers were getting slaughtered.

He stepped into his warboat and unfurled the flag. That itself was like Adrenalin for his soldiers. Nothing could go wrong now !

The Ahoms turned around and faced the Mughals once more. Between the watery triangle formed by the temple of Kamakhya , the Bishnu Mandir at Aswaklanta and the Itakhuli Hill Fort a grand battle ensued. The Assamese made use of improvised defenses – such as the Pani garh — stockades built in middle of the water from where they could easily fire on the Mughals. Bridges of boats were built, acting like fortified barriers. The small   Ahom Bacchari boats were handled swiftly and deftly by their commanders , leaving the large war boats of the Mughals clueless. Lachit Barphukan and the Ahoms had perfected the art of fighting on the mighty river and it was at Saraighat that they scored their biggest victory.

By the end of that day in March 1671 , the Mughals were in retreat and would never again make a sincere attempt at annexing Assam.

Lachit Barphukan – Legacy and Importance.

Lachit Barphukan’s victory halted the Mughal march into Assam. It kept political control with the Ahoms. It was on this foundation that later day rulers like Rudra Singha could truly blossom and build many temples , tanks and give a cultural boost to Assamese society.

We do not know what would have happened in case of a Mughal victory. Total annihilation ? Vassalage ?  The ruling dynasty destroyed with the incumbent cruelly killed ? Destruction of temples ? We do not know, but all of the above had already been done by Aurangzeb  or would do in the years to come. But Lachit Barphukan prevented all of that through his valiant leadership.

The present shape of India is a sum total of all the various contributions through the ages by innumerable personalities. Each of them, battled in their own way to uphold Indic culture and lead us to where we are today.

 

Lachit Barphukan & Religion – A rebuttal to Commie deception.

Its a shame I have to write this, because frankly his religion should be least of our concerns. He fought against an army which represented Uzbek invaders and that is all that should concern us. But instead of recognising the flaw that was the Mughal empire, our secular donkeys issue following statements with regards to Barphukan – Mughal struggle :

  1. Lachit Barphukan was not a Hindu.
  2. He fought against the Hindu Ram Singh.
  3. Most important commander was a Muslim named Ismail Siddiqui.
  4. It was not a Hindu – Muslim struggle. Let us not paint it that way.
  5. Assam was never a part of India. (since definition of India is only as per Oxford dictionary)

So now, let us take the claims one by one.

Yes . He was not a Hindu. Surprised ? 

Technically speaking, he belonged to a religion called Fralung. This religion traces its origins to a God named Lengdon. Lengdon’s two children Khunlai and Khunlung came down to earth and started the Tai Ahom dynasty etc etc. Mythology basically, lets say Fralung mythology. Then all this manifests itself as deities like Ngi Ngau Kham etc. There was even a temple to this God at Charaideo in Assam.

But, there are some aspects of this ‘religion’ which are very close to classical Hinduism. Like for example – ancestor worship. Also there was a definite element of idol worship. Infact, an image of Lengdon was given to the king to signify his royal bearing. Then there was the Lakli calender, which closely resembled the Brihaspati Chakra. Also, there is a claim that Lengdon is Indra – but this is contested and since this is not a lecture on theology, I will not go into it. But why is he associated with Indra of all Gods ? A question to ponder.

Most importantly, adopting certain Hindu customs did not make them apostates. Even today, there are members of the Tai Ahom tribe, who while following many ‘Hindu’ customs, still follow Fralung customs like burial.

Even more important, is that after migrating from Burma, this dynasty adopted and enriched the local culture. They welcomed someone  Shankaradeva, built temples, tanks etc and ensured the well being of the people. So maybe initially they were not Hindu, but certainly did more for Hinduism in the north east than some “Hindus” elsewhere in the country. Also, they adopted more and more customs of classical Hinduism as time passed, till we had kings like Rudra Singha who was as Hindu as you or me.

Another interesting question for the commies to answer — why did this dynasty, at the peak of their power, exposed to so many different ideologies, adopt more customs of Hinduism ? Why not Islam – politically dominant every where else in India ?

For want of a better word – “Indic religion” is a good term to use for Lachit Barphukan specifically. The umbrella under which you will find Buddhism, Jainism perhaps even Sikhism among others. They are intrinsically different from Abrahamic religions and share many things in common. Moreover, in nations like China and Japan, people have been known top officially follow two religions at same time. Within India , is it odd to find Buddha statues in Hindu homes or Jains paying respects at Hindu temples ?

Commies  can think of a religion only in terms of my way or the high way — which is the crux of the problem.

2. He fought against the Hindu Ram Singh. 

Well, this I have mentioned firmly in my book. What’s more, he even prayed at the Hayagriv temple at Hajo. His father also prayed at some temple in the Deccan – when he invaded on behalf of Aurangzeb. But again the secular donkeys forget that while the sword was in Hindu hands, the thought was Mughal. And what did Aurangzeb do in all those territories captured for him by his Hindu mansabdars ? Jaziya is just one example. So, the correct assessment is, he fought against the Mughal empire of Aurangzeb. Again, a common trick of deception perfected by commies – missing the woods for the trees. The whole exercise is of course to absolve the Mughal empire of any wrong.

3. His most important commander was Ismail Siddiqui 

Well, I agree he was an important commander and was instrumental in capturing Guwahati in November 1667. For this he should be known to all and my deepest respects to him. But, he was not the only commander under Lachit Barphukan. As often happens in such cases, his importance has been over blown by many commies. My question is, why does the Muslim fighting for the Hindu (or the Fralung here) always get mentioned like it is something extra special ? Were not the other people who accompanied Siddiqui important ? How many have heard about Miri Sandikoi, who prevented his entire battalion from retreating at Saraighat ? Doesn’t this itself show that such had been the exception and not the norm ?

Coming to his rank , it was Hazarika. Meaning he led contingents of 1000 soldiers. There were ranks for three thousand and six thousand also. So frankly, there were higher ranked officers who also played a very important role in the Assamese victory.

Well, in this we can see another commie gem — He was patriotic and remained true to his king inspite of being Muslim.

And if you have not seen the problem in that statement, well god help you.

4. It was not a Hindu Muslim struggle. 

Well it was not. It was a struggle between people who wanted swarajya and Uzbek invaders. It had as much logic in it as the Indian Freedom Struggle. Maharashtra, Assam, perhaps Bundelkhand have the distinction in having participated and won in not one but two freedom struggles.

Now, will our commies and marxists  agree to this point ?

5. Assam was never a part of India. 

This again comes straight from Marx Tuition Classes. Commies have been trying to fit the Indian “nation” into European definitions and failed. In fact, a nation created on those very communal lines is on verge of falling apart.Pakistan that is. The commie assertion is — no “Indian” power has ruled, and hence it is never part of India. Basically till the British came, Delhi never ruled. Then this leads to usual commie dialogues

India has always been defined in cultural terms. And Assam very well fits in. Narakasur has been mentioned in the Mahabharat, as has been Bhagadatta. Then we have Ulupi and Chitrangada further east. Most important is the Kamakhya mandir at Guwahati. It is a very important Shakti peeth – symbolizing the Yoni. The other important Shakti peeth is in Balochistan ! And likewise there are over fifty spread all over the subcontinent.

This itself should tell us that Assam is culturally integral to India, much like the 12 jyotirlings. Also, the name of Burma was Brahmadesh, and Brahma idols are prevalent in that religion. Kamrup comes from Kamdev. The Yogini Tantra was also composed in Assam. And last but not the least the old name of Guwahati – “Pragjyotishpur” should finish all doubts about its cultural unity with India since ancient times.

well so .. there you go.

storieswithasoul

Hi friends, the following is an interview of author Aneesh Gokhale, on his second novel ‘Brahmaputra – The story of Lachit Barphukan’ . The novel is generating great reviews and is an excellent follow up to his first novel ‘Sahyadris to Hindukush’.

agAbout the Author :

Aneesh Gokhale, born March 1988, completed his schooling in Pune and is currently working in merchant navy as a navigating officer. He is an avid trekker, hiker and is passionate about  Indian history. He loves reading and writing.

Sahyadris to Hindukush was his first book ( 2012)

Brahmaputra is his second book (2015)

He has also given public talks on numerous occasions , on Maratha and Assamese history in both English and Marathi. His essays and interviews have been published in various newspapers and magazines. In 2015 he was also invited as Chief Guest for Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan (Pune) Independence Day celebration.

He can…

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