Base Camp, Mughal Army
Rangamati (in present day Bangladesh)
Raja Ram Singh of Amber had only one thing in mind: to live up to his father’s name, Mirza Raja Sawai Jai Singh. Shahenshah Aurangzeb has commissioned him to retake Guwahati into the mighty Mughal Empire. The loss of Guwahati to the Ahoms was something the Emperor had not liked. Ram Singh had vowed to himself that he will not fail the Emperor, not with the army he commands.
It has been more than a year since he left Delhi with 4,000 troopers, 1,500 ahadis (elite cavalry) and 500 barqandezes. Accompanying him are two great leaders – Rashid Khan, the ex-faujdar of Guwahati and the Sikh Guru Tegh Bahadur. The Emperor has graciously augmented his forces by an additional 30,000 infantrymen, 21 Rajput chiefs (Thakurs) with their contingents, 18,000 cavalry, 2,000 archers and shieldmen and 40 ships. The vassals from Koch Bihar have pooled in with their armies. To man the fleet, Portuguese and other European sailors have also been employed.
Yes, victory is imminent – Raja Ram Singh commanded his forces to move up the Brahmaputra from Dhaka. The Ahoms will fall.
Base Camp, Ahom Army
Lachit Borphukan sat sharpening the blade of his Hengdang, the gold-hafted sword that was conferred to him during his appointment as Commander-in-Chief of the Ahom Army. This blade had drawn blood of many Mughal soldiers when he had taken Guwahati back from their hands. He has to draw more.
His spies have brought him information about the Mughal advance up the Brahmaputra. The Mughal Army is more than what his troops can handle on open field. Definitely, he has been fortunate to have Atan Burhagohain Rajmantri Dangaria (Prime Minister of the Ahoms) at his side. Atan’s military and diplomatic foresight has enabled the Ahoms to put a strong defense around Guwahati. Atan’s scheme has been working. The initial diplomatic bouts with Ram Singh have given Ahoms enough time to assess the situation and prepare for battle. They have chosen the area around Saraighat as their field of operation. It is hilly, on the way to the heart of the Ahom kingdom and without open fields where the Mughal forces would not have sufficient mobility. The only way east is via the Brahmaputra River passing through it. The Brahmaputra at Saraighat, at its narrowest 1km width, is ideal for a naval defense. The complex system of mud embankments in Guwahati that he has set up should worry the Mughals. When the Mughals find Guwahati impregnable by land, they would be forced to use their navy, which is their weakest asset.
Lachit thought over the whole strategy – it was the only way he could turn the numbers game around. The Monsoon will also pitch into the battle later on. Surely, Mughal Army cannot fight in this terrain, not with the forces of nature piled against them.
Ram Singh ordered full retreat. He has had enough of this thieves’ affair. Lachit Borphukan has proved a formidable opponent – the one people worship as a hero. With him, the Southern Banks of Brahmaputra is out of Mughal’s reach. Along the Northern Banks, Atan Burhagohain has been employing his guerilla tactics, the so-called dagga juddha, all summer. The monsoon has not made life any easier. The Mughals have got bogged down in the mud, separated from each other due to flowing streams. It is not dignified for the royal army of the Mughals to indulge in such warfare. Has it all descended to trickery?
This game, then, can be played both ways. Ram Singh called out to his scribe. He ordered a letter to be written, addressed to Lachit Borphukan. It stated that Lachit had been paid one lakh to evacuate Guwahati and urged him to do so soon. He ordered that this letter be shot into the Ahom Army Camp.
The implications did not escape even the simple-minded scribe – it is sure to cause confusion. Betrayal from their hero would strike the Ahom soldiers hard. With no leadership, the Ahoms would be reduced to mere mortals united only in grief. Without Lachit’s forces, Atan’s raiding parties will not get the necessary diversion. Victory can be had with one arrow!
However, the Mughal Commander could not allow any blemishes on his character. This meant that he needed a dignified plan of action – one that can be declared in public. He ordered the scribe to draft another letter – this time to Chakradhwaja Singha, King of Ahoms. It was to be a proposal to the King for an open duel, instead of lowly guerilla raids. If Ram Singh were to be defeated by the Ahom King, Ram Singh would leave the lands of Assam with a promise of never to return.
Ram Singh pondered over his move – the Ahom King will not agree to this. However, it is certain that the King will feel humiliated. With some chance, the King may actually force Lachit to bring the battle to open grounds; he would not trust a guerilla leader, tainted with the accusation of betrayal. He would find it more convenient to test the man’s patriotism and loyalty in a battle on open fields, where his movement can be tracked by spies.
Yes, this move is convenient.
August 14, 1669
Battlefield of Alaboi Plains
Lachit stood before his army, trying to gauge the numerical disadvantage they were at. The Mughal horses looked formidable and menacing before the Ahom ponies. This was a mistake all along. His heart grieved that the King had fallen for Ram Singh’s trickery. Now, he had to prove his patriotism at the cost of so many Ahom lives. There is no doubt this will be a massacre.
The Ahom archers and infantry were dressed like Brahmins to deter the Rajput soldiers from killing them. It was not much, but Lachit had to bank on the Rajput pride. But the bluff was easy to see through. No, this will end in disaster. Tears rolled down his eyes. He uttered, “It is a tragedy that my country is facing this dire catastrophe during my Phukanship. How will my king be saved? How will my people be saved? And how will my posterity be saved?”
The casualties to the Ahom Army have crossed the mark of 10,000. All their tactics have failed. Ram Singh had cried ‘Havoc’ and let slip his dogs of war. It was the worst sight Lachit had seen in his life. The men slaughtered by swords, impaled by spears, blown to bits by cannon balls.
Taking Atan’s advice, Lachit had dug up trenches as a safe haven, in case they had to make a retreat. He has been trying for the past hour to make that retreat. Only one thing went on in his mind – he cannot give up now. The kingdom can still be saved. But today he has to live. The King will understand his move. No king wants to send his soldiers on a suicide mission for a second time. The Mughals won’t be able to follow him into those trenches. It will be suicide for them.
He trumpeted the sound of retreat and spurred his horse forward.
Read Part 2. Dramatized history based on true events. Originally published in a student magazine in the Spring of 2011.