Battle of Saraighat and the importance of Assam history in historical research

Across the periods Assam had held a distinct and independent political existence. In different periods of history she has been a refuge to many people. However very little is known about the past history of Assam, though it has produced great warriors, statesmen, poets and reformers. The history of Assam, ancient or mediaeval, is as important and interesting as any other part of India. Assam’s history is replete with stories of battle conquests, annexation and reconciliation. The history of Assam is of absorbing interest to students of Indian History, some of the greatest figures of the times – Emperor Aurungzeb, Shivaji Maharaja and Guru Teg Bahadur. All of whom were directly associated with the deputation of Raja Ram Singha to Assam. The story is also interesting for the revelations concerning the offshoots and ramifications of the Mughal conflicts from the standpoint of the invaded country. In the 16th and 17th centuries when the Mughals had almost the whole of Indian sub continent except Assam. During that period, the mighty Ahoms ruled Assam who indeed had put up a brave front against the Mughals.

 From the beginning the relation between the Ahoms and the Mughals was hostile and that was due to certain factors, such as, Mughal alliance with Koch Bihar ,the western enemy of the Ahoms and secondly the growing advance of the Mughals in north-eastern frontier which alarmed them. When the Mughals appeared in the north-eastern frontier, a state of indirect rivalry began between both the parties. After the final defeat of Parikshit, the first organized Mughal attack upon Assam was made with a view to conquer the kingdom. It was the outcome of the aggressive imperialism of the Mughals. Boundary relations and trade rivalries appeared to complicate the situation and political issues precipitated the conflict. Moreover the rich natural resources of Assam and the prosperous kingdom of Kamrup in lower Brahmaputra valley and abundant in elephants and aromatic exotic plants invited the attention of the Mughals and they were determined to force open the door of Assam. The river has been a witness to numerous battles over the ages. This was the river which acted as a conduit for the Mughal armies who invaded Assam several times during the rule of the Ahom rulers. It was on the bank of the Brahmaputra that many decisive battles were fought. One such battle was the battle of Saraighat. The Battle of Saraighat was fought during the reign of Ahom king Chakradhvaj Singha in 1671. The Ahom general Lachit Barphukan inflicted a crushing defeat on the Mughal General Ram Singh.

Mughals invaded Assam for the third time during the reign of Chakradhvaj Singh (1663-1670). Both the Mughals and the Ahom accused each other. The Ahoms complained that the Mughals violated the· terms of treaty of 1663 without vacating the territory they had to vacate and not releasing the prisoners ·of war. The Mughals on the other hand accused the Ahoms for withholding payment of indemnity as per the terms of the treaty. Retaliating, Chakradhvaj Singha appointed Lachit, the son of  Mumai Tamuli Bar-Barua, the great general of Pratap Singha as the Barphukan and the task of recovering Guwahati was entrusted to him. By extraordinary dent of arms Lachit recovered Guwahati from the hands of Mughal in 1667.Receiving the news of defeat; Aurangzeb sent his imperial forces under the command of Raja Ram Singha, Raja of Amber to teach a good lesson to the Ahom king.

Ram Singha had already realized that peace negotiations had proved futile and ineffective. He now resolved to decide the issue by resuming offensive operations. The Barphukan was very ill and being deprived of his personal command the Ahoms did not entertain much hope of success. A part of the naval fleet had already boarded the boats with a view of retreat.  The promptness with which the Barphukan dealt with the oarsmen spread a reign of terror among the naval army and thus began a terrible conquest between the two armies. This combat came to an end with a decisive victory of the Assamese. As a result of the victory, the Ahoms recovered the whole of Kamrup. The river Manas became the western boundary of the Ahom kingdom. But the joy of victory was marred by the death of Lachit Barphukan soon after the battle of Saraighat.  

The loss of the battle by the Mughals at the hands of the Assamese was a huge setback in their political conquests. The Mughals faced defeat at the hands of the Ahoms not once, not twice but seventeen times. The Battle of Saraighat holds a lot of historical significance. This battle was the last battle fought between the Mughals and the Ahoms. Their victory established the fact that the Mughals attempts to conquer this part of the country will never be successful. Ram Singha himself was in awe of the exemplary leadership and craftsmanship of Lachit Barphukan and his naval fleet.  In spite of all this our mainstream history books have acted in a partial manner towards the Assamese people.  In the history of India as a whole, the history of Assam is seldom mentioned and few writers have devoted more than just a dozen lines to the treatment of the history of this province.

Over a century ago, the incisive colonial historian Edward Gait, who compiled the first compendium of history in modern Assam, lamented the fact that “there is probably no part of India regarding whose past less is generally known. In the histories of India, as a whole, Assam is barely mentioned, and only ten lines are devoted to its annals in the historical portion of Hunter’s Indian Empire.” However some writers have dealt with it their own way” A.D Wade wrote in “An account of Assam”.  This is a voluminous text. The writer appears to have taken great pains in gathering materials from the Buranjis and the chronicles. However some of the dates mentioned in the text are not correct. In 1341, Robinson published his”Descriptive Account of Assam” As the title indicates it is mainly a work on the geography and the natural aspects of the country rather than its political history. It is poor in assessing the historical materials of our period. In 1372, Blochmann wrote an article. This is a picture from a one-sided angle and is neither accurate nor complete. The Buranjis and the local chronicles appear to have been sealed books to its author. In 1905 Sir Edward Gait published “A History of Assam”. This is no doubt the first historical work on Assam, on the lines of modem research. He has elaborately discussed the history of ancient and mediaeval Assam but has hardly done justice to the period under discussion.  It is however evident that there are no books that discuss about the history of Assam and the historical events and battles that they fought against any foreign powers.   It is not because of the paucity of materials and their fabulous nature that a good history of mediaeval Assam is yet to be written, but owing to weakness in properly assessing the known materials. That the Ahoms established a powerful kingdom in the north-eastern quarter of the Indian sub-continent and ruled there gloriously for about 600 years, is a fact which it appears to have been almost ignored at the present time.

 Worst- still, the fact that no reference to the most important achievement of Assam in checking the Muslim penetration in the north-eastern frontier of the mediaeval Hindustan, finds a place in any standard work. It is unfortunate that while a number of excellent histories of this period have been written in recent years in the different provinces of India, no historian since Gait has attempted to study this fascinating and patriotic chapter of Indian history according to the principles of modern historical research. In short, the history of mediaeval Assam remains practically a virgin field of study. However this loophole in the history writing cannot remain unnoticed anymore. The crisis through which the Assamese people passed through during their conflicts with the Mughals and the manner in which they overcame it is eternally inspiring which needs to be known not just by the people of Assam but by everyone.

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