Lachit Borphukan was a military general and commander-in-chief of the Ahom kingdom in ancient India, during the 17th century. He is best known for his leadership in the Battle of Saraighat against the Mughal Empire in 1671. The battle was a decisive victory for the Ahom kingdom, and Lachit Borphukan is revered as a hero in Assam and the wider northeast region of India.
Lachit Borphukan is remembered for his military tactics and strategic thinking, as well as his unwavering loyalty to the Ahom kingdom and its people. He is regarded as a symbol of Assamese cultural identity and is celebrated as one of the greatest military leaders in Indian history. Today, Lachit Borphukan is remembered through cultural festivals, plays, and monuments, including a statue in his honor that stands in Guwahati, the largest city in the state of Assam.
Background of Lachit Borphukan
Lachit Borphukan was born on 24 November 1622 to Momai Tamuli Borbarua and Kunti Moran. His father was the commander-in-chief of the Ahom army. The Ahom kingdom was located in the Brahmaputra valley of eastern India, first established in 1228. The kingdom was frequently attacked by Turkic and Afghan rulers of the Delhi Sultanate and later the Mughal Empire
The Mughal-Ahom conflict first began in 1615 and continued afterward. It was against this backdrop Lachit grew up in. After finishing his education in humanities and military strategies, Lachit served as the Soladhara Barua (scarf-bearer), a modern-day equivalent of a private secretary to the Ahom King.
He held other important positions such as Superintendent of the Stable of Royal Horses and Superintendent of the Royal Household guards before being appointed as the commander of the Ahom Army.
By the time of Lachit Borphukan’s appointment as commander, the Mughals had occupied Guwahati and had forced the Ahoms to sign the humiliating peace Treaty of Ghilajharighat in 1663 which imposed harsh conditions on the Ahom kingdom. King Chakradhwaj Singha decided to rid the entire region of the Mughal occupation
Battle of Saraighat
Lachit raised the army and preparations were completed by the summer of 1667. His army successfully retook Guwahati from the Mughal forces. Emperor Aurangzeb sent an expeditionary force from Dhaka under Ram Singh. Due to the numerical and technical inferiority of the Ahom forces, Lachit resorted to guerilla tactics that successfully faded away from the Mughal army.
Knowing fully well that Ahom forces would easily be defeated if their commander was removed, Ram Singh resorted to subterfuge. An arrow carrying a letter by Ram Sing was fired into the Ahom Camp. It later reached Chakradhwaj Singha. The letter stated that Lachit had been paid 1 lakh rupees to evacuate Guwahati. Furious that his commander was allegedly in negotiations with the enemy, the king started doubting his sincerity, but his prime minister Atan Buragohain persuaded him that this was a trick by the Mughals to make Chakradwaj Singh dismiss the commander who successfully fought the Mughals so far.
Ram Singh made his way to Guhawati with a naval flotilla sailing upwards of the Brahmaputra river in 1671. He came upon an Ahom flotilla led by Lachit Borphukan himself near Saraighat.
The Ahom soldiers, being less in count, began to lose their will to fight. Some elements began to retreat and seeing this Lachit boarded a boat himself to rally his troops. Offered to be taken to safety by one of his troops, Lachit furiously threw some of them into the water bodily despite being severely ill, loudly proclaiming that he would “die fulfilling his duty to his king and country, even if it meant he had to do it by himself”. Inspired, Lachit’s soldiers rallied and a desperate battle ensured on the river Brahmaputra.
Lachit Borphukan was victorious. The Mughals were forced to retreat from Guwahati. The Mughals were followed to the Manas river, the Ahom kingdom’s western boundary. The Borphukan ordered his men not to attack the retreating army.
Death of Lachit Borphukhan
Lachit Borphukan would die in 1672. His remains lie in rest at the Lachit Maidaam constructed in the same year by King Udayaditya Singha at Hoolungapara 16 km from Jorhat.
This would not be the end of Mughal invasions into Ahom territory as the Mughals would take Guwahati in 1679, retaining it until 1682 when the Ahoms would permanently end the prolonged Ahom-Mughal conflict.
Beginning in the early twentieth century, a few localities in Upper Assam started to commemorate November 24 as Lachit Divas (trans. Lachit Day) as a medium of protest against the pro-migrant policies of the colonial government.
The contemporary burgeoning of public interest in history meant that the legend of Borphukan had “attained an iconic status” by the first quarter of the century; yet, Lachit was one of the many quasi-historical icons who were appropriated by Assamese elites towards different politico-cultural ends and his popularity remained below Joymoti Konwari and others.
In 1947, Surya Kumar Bhuyan published Lachit’s biography against the backdrop of Ahom’s conflicts with the Mughal Empire; not only did the work grant a front of “academic respectability” to the legend but also “mythologized” his exploits in the Assamese psyche.