The Battle of Saraighat – Part 2

Read Part 1

January, 1670
Council of the Lords, Royal Palace
Garhgaon (Capital of the Ahom Kingdom)

Atan Burhagohain waited for the Lords to reach a conclusion. He had spent the last three hours trying to sway the opinion of the Lords.

The Lords had been eager to concede to Ram Singh’s diplomatic initiatives. They wanted no more bloodshed. Their king had just died of grief and the new King had trusted their opinion on how to best continue this row with the Mughals. Ram Singh had offered a Mughal payment of 300,000 rupees in return for an Ahomi evacuation of Guwahati. It was a generous option that the Rajput King had opened. However, they could not set aside the warnings of Atan Burhagohain.

He was best analyst and statesman they had. He had warned them that the Mughal Emperor will not honour Ram Singh’s pact. He will press his other vassals to proceed further into the Ahomi kingdom. Who will stop him, if he wants to take the whole of Kamrup? What if he proceeds further to capture Garhgaon? Can they put their trust in an Emperor who had an ambition greater than the whole of Bharat? And was the Council of the Lords so cowardly that it would not avenge the lives of its people? Has the resources of the Kingdom been overdrawn for nothing?

Atan looked at their faces: brows burdened with the blood of 10,000 men, the once lustrous eyes dimmed by apprehension and the whole countenance turned into a shadow of defeat.

Slowly these faces turned to him. Their decision was unanimous: The Kingdom of Ahom rejects the offer made by Raja Ram Singh. There shall be no retreat. There shall be no surrender. The Ahom will not fall as long even one Ahomi can carry a sword.

The message was sent to the Rajput Raja. Another message was sent for reinforcements. Guwahati was to be guarded with life.

March, 1671
Gatehouse of Itakhuli Fort

Lachit Borphukan observed the clash of the navies of the Ahom and the Mughals from his sickbed. His illness had come all of a sudden, leaving him too weak to lead an assault. The admiral was also struck by disease. The Nara Raja was leading the Ahom Navy; Laluk Borgohain Phukan rallied the Ahom army.

Initially, the Ahoms had enjoyed the upper hand. The terrain was better suited to their style of warfare than that of the Mughals. However, the Mughal were no novices either. They had adjusted quickly and were gathering momentum. They had infiltrated deep into the Ahom defenses. The Ahom soldiers had panicked; breaches of command had followed. Boats had started to fall back with total disregard to the Commanders’ orders.

Lachit rose from his sickbed. He could not allow the Ahoms to fall. Not like this, not in panic. He ordered the scribe nearest at hand to send in letters of encouragement announcing his entry into the battle. With another scribe, he sent orders to gather seven war-boats under his command. With the help of Nadai of Kharangi, he got on to a boat. Those beside him pleaded him to stand down, to regard his health. In reply, he shouted back, “The King has put all the people in my hands to fight the Mughal. Shall I go back to my wife and children? If you want to flee, flee. The king has given me a task here and I will do it well. Let the Mughals take me away. You report to the king that his general fought well following his orders.” He pushed a few soldiers off the boat to drive his point through, once and for all. He had not come to war with desires of retiring when his men needed him most. He had not come here to flee for safety, condemning his people to a life of mindless, worthless servitude. The death of so many Ahoms will not be the fodder for the ego of an ambitious Mughal Emperor. This war will have a different ending.

Mughal Admiral Munnawar Singh had not expected the gunshot to his back, when he sat smoking his hookah. He coughed blood and collapsed. His eyes asked one loud question before shutting down forever – How did the Ahoms breach the Mother Ship?

The Amirs fell to the river, one after the other, wounded by the instruments of war, shocked by defeat and paralysed by the fright of death. How did the Ahoms achieve such a reversal? Had they not fled like scared ducks just minutes ago?

Raja Ram Singh stared on. He could do nothing more. His stomach refused to digest the events of the past hour. Decades on the battlefield had not shown him such a sight. Seven War-boats had appeared from the shadows of defeat. Their cry was menacing – one name filled the wind. Lachit Borphukan. What powers this name had was beyond the comprehension of the Rajput Raja. The name was stronger than any victory trumpet – boats from all over the River had filed in with these seven boats. These small boats, not even the equivalent of ants before the mighty Mughal Navy had circled round the Mughal Warships. One by one, the ships were taken down. One memory kept flashing back – he had seen lions take down even the strongest of elephants.

One man, too sick to even stand without support, has this effect on the Ahom army? One man has turned the tide around, simply by the pull of his presence? Who is this Lachit Borphukan? How does he command such reverence? Why does he not fall?

Ram Singh sounded the retreat. Conquering the Ahom will not be possible with Lachit Borphukan at its head.

He wrote to Lachit, acknowledging his defeat, “Glory to the king! Glory to the counselors! Glory to the commanders! Glory to the country! One single individual leads all the forces! Even I Ram Singh, being personally on the spot, have not been able to find any loophole and an opportunity!

Dramatized history based on true events. Originally published in a student magazine in the Spring of 2011.

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