Lachit Barphukan
Lachit Barphukan's statue near his maidam (burial tomb), named as The Statue of Valour in Jorhat, Assam, India
Born(1622-11-24)November 24, 1622
Ahom Kingdom
Died25 April 1672(1672-04-25) (aged 49)
Kaliabor,[1] Nagaon
Buried
Lachit Borphukan’s Maidam, Holongapar, Jorhat, Assam, India
AllegianceAhom Kingdom
Service/branchAhom Army
RankBorphukan (General)
Commander-in-chief
Battles/wars
MemorialsHolongapar, Jorhat, Assam, India
RelationsMomai Tamuli Borbarua (father)
Nang La Cheng (mother)
Laluksola Borphukan (brother)
Pakhori Gabharu (sister)
Marangi Borbarua (brother)
Bhardhora Borphukan (brother)
Lao deca (brother)
Datukaria (brother)
Ramani Gabharu (niece)
NationalityAhom Kingdom

Lachit Borphukan (24 November 1622 – 25 April 1672) son of Momai Tamuli Borbarua was an Ahom Borphukan, primarily known for commanding the Ahom Army and the victory in the Battle of Saraighat (1671) that thwarted an invasion by the vastly superior Mughal Forces under the command of Ramsingh I.[2] He died about a year later in April 1672.[1]

There is keen contemporary interest in Lachit Borphukan today—he has emerged as a powerful symbol of Assam's historical autonomy.[3][4] Since the rise of BJP in Assam, the party has been keen to project him as a warrior against Muslim invasion instead.[5] This communalisation of Lachit Borphukan and the Battle of Saraighat is contested by historians who claim that Lachit himself was not Hindu rather followed Tai religion,[6] that he had Muslim commanders like Bagh Hazarika (Ismail Siddique) under him,[7] and that he fought against a Hindu Mughal commander, Ram Singh I.[8]

Biography

Lachit was youngest born to Momai Tamuli Borbarua, a commoner who rose to the rank of Borbarua under Pratap Singha (r. 1545–1641).[9][10] His sister was Pakhari Gabhoru, a queen to the Ahom kings Jayadhwaj Singha, Chakradhwaj Singha and Samaguria Raja, and his niece was Ramani Gabharu, the Ahom princess who was given to the Mughals as part of the Treaty of Ghilajharighat. A few Buranjis give some details on Lachit's life and education.[11][a] He is said to have participated in battle against Mir Jumla's forces at Dikhaumukh and rose up the ranks of Ahom officialdom—Ghora Barua, Dulia Barua, Simalugiria Phukan and Dolakasharia Barua.[12] Following the Chakradhwaj's preparations to retake Guwahati and on the eve of the march, Lachit was appointed the Borphukan (Ahom viceroy in the west) and the commander of the Ahom forces.[13][14]

Guwahati campaign

Lachit set up his base-camp at Kaliabar and then advanced on Guwahati in August 1667 in two divisions;[15] and after a series of battles, finally retook Guwahati with the fall of Itakhuli in November 1667.[16]

Death

Lachit Barphukan's maidam at Hoolungapara, Jorhat.

A few Buranjis briefly describe Lachit's victory over the Mughal naval fleet, led by Ram Singh, in the Battle of Saraighat.[17] He died soon after in Kaliabor and was buried at Teok in Jorhat in a maidam,[18][1] which are burial grounds for Ahom royals and nobles.[19]

Contemporary narratives

In the pre-colonial times Buranjis were not available for popular consumption.[20] Beginning in the early twentieth century, a few localities in Upper Assam began commemorating November 24 as Lachit Dibox (trans. Lachit Day).[21][22] The account of the celebrations and use of Lachit in Charingaon then were very different from those in the 1970s when Lachit had become a symbol of the Assamese.[23] The contemporaneous burgeoning of public interest in history ensured that the legend of Barphukan had "attained an iconic status" by the first quarter of the century and Surya Kumar Bhuyan published an article comparing him with Shivaji;[24] but Lachit was only one of the many historical icons who were appropriated by Assamese elites towards different politico-cultural ends, and his popularity was later surpassed by Joymoti Konwari and others.[9]

In 1947, Bhuyan published Lachit's biography against the backdrop of Ahom conflicts with the Mughal Empire; not only did the work grant a veneer of "academic respectability" to the legend but also "mythologized" his exploits in the Assamese psyche.[9][21] However, in state-building in postcolonial Assam, cultural heroes like Lachit were largely displaced by anti-colonial activists; Jayeeta Sharma notes the legend of Lachit to have "retired into the domain of knowledge, away from activism."[9][b] Nonetheless, the legend survived in the backwaters of Assamese sub-nationalism, with the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) — a secessionist organization seeking the creation of an independent and sovereign Assam — extensively using Lachit's imagery for propaganda.[21][c]

Lachit's memory would be significantly appropriated by the state only under the governorship of Srinivas Kumar Sinha;[d] Sharma, writing as of 2004, found that it was no more the ULFA but the Government of Assam that tried the most to bring him into prominence.[9][21] Coterminous to the rise of Bharatiya Janata Party in the state, Lachit has been inducted within the framework of a Hindu Nationalist grammar, as a Hindu military hero who defended against Muslim aggression which is contested by historians who claim that Lachit followed Tai religion.[26][21][9][27]

His fellow commanders in the Saraighat War included Assamese Muslims, also known as "Gariya" and the most famous among them was Ismail Siddique, locally known as Bagh Hazarika.[28] However, the Mughal forces were led by a Hindu Rajput named Ram Singh.[27]

Notes

  1. ^ PAB: Purani Asam Buranji, ed., Hem Chandra Goswami; SMAB: Assam Buranji obtained from the family of Sukumar Mahanta; BKK: Tai-Ahom Buranji from Khunlung and Khunlai; AB: Ahom Buranji, tr., G. C. Barua; TB: Tungkhungia Buranji, ed., S.K. Bhuyan; Lachit: Lachit Barphukan and His Times by S. K. Bhuyan
  2. ^ The Government of Assam's only attempt at institutionalizing Barphukan's memory was probably in the naming of the Saraighat Bridge in 1962.
  3. ^ In 1968, ULFA established the Lachit Sena (Lachit Army) to drive away all foreigners but to no effect. A couple of decades hence, Suresh Phukan wrote Moidamor Pora Moi Lachite Koiso (trans. This is Lachit speaking from my burial tomb) which exerted significant influence on ULFA cadres and sympathizers; it had Barphukan, in the narrator's robe, admonishing Assam's political class for betraying the interests of the native people and commending the separatist cause.[21]
  4. ^ Sinha started the annual "Lachit Barphukan Memorial Lecture" at Gauhati University in 1998 and lobbied the Ministry of Defense to confer the best passing out cadet from the National Defence Academy with an eponymous medal; probationary IAS cadres from the state were required to enact Lachit defeating the Mughals.[21][25]

References

  1. ^ a b c "Lachit Barphukan, who had literaly staked his life and honour, soon died at Kaliabar, April 1672..." (Sarkar 1992:228)
  2. ^ "In 1671 he commanded the Ahom forces that defeated the vastly superior Mughal army led by Raja Ram Singh of Ajmer in the battle of Saraighat." (Baruah 2020:146)
  3. ^ "Lachit Borphukon is a powerful symbol of Assam’s autonomous past for many in Assam." (Baruah 2020:146)
  4. ^ "That event subsequently served as basis for the proud claim by modem Assamese nationalism that Assam was one of the few regions to stave off ‘alien’ rule by ‘Bangals’ or ‘Yavanas’, as the buranjis classified these would-be conquerors from the Indian heartland." (Sharma 2004:176)
  5. ^ "Ever since the BJP’s rise in Assam, however, the party has been keen to project him as a warrior of national significance. Sarma, for one, has frequently praised Borphukan for warding off “Muslim invaders”." (Zaman 2022)
  6. ^ "Besides, [Udayaditya Bharali, a historian and former principal of Guwahati’s Cotton College] said, Borphukan himself was not Hindu. “Lachit was from the Tai religion,” he said. “History can’t be written forcefully as one wishes. Hinduism only became the predominant religion during the reign of Sib Singh [1714-1744]. Many soldiers under Lachit were from the tribal faith.”" (Zaman 2022)
  7. ^ "Udayaditya Bharali, a historian and former principal of Guwahati’s Cotton College, pointed out Muslims also held important posts in the Ahom army – the navy general Ismail Siddique, for instance, also known as Bagh Hazarika." (Zaman 2022)
  8. ^ '"Lachit fought against the Mughals because they were outsiders or the invading force," said Jahnabi Gogoi, who teaches at Assam’s Dibrugarh University and specialises in mediaeval history. "There is no religious angle to it as the mughal general whom Lachit fought was Raja Ram Singh Kachwaha [a Rajput] of Amber. In Aurangzeb’s troops, there were many Hindu soldiers."' (Zaman 2022)
  9. ^ a b c d e f Sharma (2004)
  10. ^ "The supreme command of the expedition was entrusted to Lachit Deka, youngest son of Momai Tamuli Barbarua, the reputed statesman and general of Pratap Simha's time, who had earned renown in fighting the Mughals under Jahangir and Shahjahan." (Sarkar 1992:205)
  11. ^ "PAB, 104 (date); SMAB: 91; BKK, ii, 26-0; AB, 196-7; KB 91; TB, 4; Lachit, 17-24, based on MS. AB. Nos. 7, 8, 12, gives details of Lachit's family background, education;" (Sarkar 1992:206f)
  12. ^ "Lachit himself had given sufficient evidence of his prowess and power of leadership in lighting Mir Jumla's men at Dikhaumukh and in different posts held. e.g. Ghora Barua (Superintendent of the Royal Horses), Dulia Barua (Superintendent of Dola or palanquin-bearers of kings and incharge of royal palanquins), Simaluguria Phukan (Commandant of the levy usually posted at Simaluguri near the capital) and Dolakasharia Barua (Superintendent of the armed guards accompanying the king while moving on the royal sedan, and police constable, in effect Inspector General of Police of today)." (Sarkar 1992:205)
  13. ^ "Thus he was selected after considerable search and due tests and appointed commander-in-chief of the army and Barphukan in charge of the civil administration of Lower Assam." (Sarkar 1992:205)
  14. ^ "Lachit himself reached the rank of Barphukan, with charge of the Ahom territories in Lower Assam, near modern Guwahati." (Sharma 2004:176)
  15. ^ "On August 22, 1667, a large army, warned by the consequences of failure, sailed down the Brahmaputra from the capital. Fixing his base at Kaliabar, Lachit advanced towards Guwahati in two divisions." (Sarkar 1992:205–206)
  16. ^ "The fall of Itakhuli was followed by the flight of the defenders of Guwahati. Sayyid Firuz Khan faujdar and Sayyid Salar Khan Mir Bakhshi ("Sana' of Assamese sources) also fled with a few followers towards the Manah river, the old Ahom-Mughal boundary. The victors entered the capital about the middle of November, 1667." (Sarkar 1992:207); "The victory at Guwahati, won by Lachit, and implying the recovery of Kamrup up to the Manas, was a momentous chapter in Ahom-Mughal relations. It was the first round in turning the tide against the Mughals. In four years the Ahoms regained the prestige lost in 1663." (Sarkar 1992:208)
  17. ^ "In their accounts of the Ahom Bangal encounters, some of these chronicles made brief allusions to a victory narrowly won over the Mughal commander, Ram Singh, in a naval conflict by his Ahom counterpart, Lachit Barphukan." (Sharma 2004:176)
  18. ^ "Lachit did not live to savour his victory, dying shortly after his defeat of the Mughal forces at Saraighat." (Sharma 2004:176)
  19. ^ "Moidams are Ahom burial grounds for royals and nobles." (Baruah 2020:230f)
  20. ^ "The social function of pre-colonial Buranjis as an attractive reading subject was exceedingly limited, and even doubtful. Others than the pre-colonial elites and nobility, no one else had either the scope or the privilege to read these works." (Saikia 2008:489)
  21. ^ a b c d e f g (Baruah 2020:147)
  22. ^ "In a parallel development, Lachit was commemorated in similar manner through annual melas on a date declared as Lachit Diwas...The Lachit Diwas celebrations, in contrast, were much more localized, failing to spread much further than their epicentre at Charing Gaon, even within Upper Assam." (Sharma 2004:179–180)
  23. ^ "When the well known ‘freedom-fighter’ and bibliophile, Benudhar Sarma’s autobiographical writings were published in the 1970s, his reminiscences about the celebrations of Lachit Diwas, and of a Lachit Sena, that he and others had organized at his birthplace, Charing village in Sibsagar, became available to a new generation that knew Lachit in very different terms, as an Assamese ‘name-symbol’ (Sarma, 1960)." (Sharma 2004:187)
  24. ^ "Bhuyan wrote a biography of Lachit Barphukan, which was preceded by a paper presented in the first session of the Indian history Congress, held in 1935 at Pune. His choice of the subject and its critical relevance to the place of the conference cannot be ruled out. Bhuyan later stated that his paper had been appreciated by contemporary Maratha scholars who were also pursuing the career of Shivaji. See Bhuyan, Lachit Barphukan." (Saikia 2008:501f)
  25. ^ "Lachit Borphukan gold medal award: NDA ideal platform for grooming of cadets: Gogoi - Regional | News Post". Newslivetv.com. 18 February 2013. Archived from the original on 3 December 2012. Retrieved 3 April 2013.
  26. ^ "Besides, [Udayaditya Bharali, a historian and former principal of Guwahati’s Cotton College] said, Borphukan himself was not Hindu. “Lachit was from the Tai religion,” he said. “History can’t be written forcefully as one wishes. Hinduism only became the predominant religion during the reign of Sib Singh [1714-1744]. Many soldiers under Lachit were from the tribal faith.”" (Zaman 2022)
  27. ^ a b Zaman, Rokibuz. "Why Assamese historians and writers are protesting against the BJP's celebration of Lachit Borphukan". Scroll.in. Retrieved 27 November 2022.
  28. ^ "Bagh Hazarika: The legendary warrior who fought Mughals alongside Ahom general Lachit Barphukan in Battle of Saraighat". Northeast Now. Retrieved 25 August 2023.

Bibliography