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Explained: Hero of ‘greatest battle ever fought on a river’

Indian Express tells the story of Lachit Barphukan, and why Assam is honouring him with a statue in the Brahmaputra.

Written by Samudra Gupta Kashyap |
May 25, 2015 12:27:54 am
Lachit Barphukan, Ahom general statue, statue in Brahmaputra, Brahmaputra staute ahom general, Lachit Barphukan statue, statue of Lachit Barphukan, Lachit Barphukan history, ahom general statue in Brahmaputra, Indian Express, #ExpressExplained, India News, Assam News A bronze statue of the Ahom general Lachit Barphukan waits to be installed in the middle of the Brahmaputra at Machkhowa in Guwahati on Friday. PTI


Guwahati will soon get a new landmark: a 35-foot statue of Lachit Barphukan, the great Ahom general who inflicted humiliating defeat on the mighty Mughal army in the Battle of Saraighat in 1671, bringing the curtain down on the last major attempt by the Mughals to take Assam. Historian S K Bhuyan has described the battle as “Assam’s Trafalgar”, and Lt Gen (retd) SK Sinha, former governor of Assam and Jammu & Kashmir, has called Saraighat “the greatest naval battle ever fought on a river”.


In his five-volume Comprehensive History of Assam, H K Barpujari described the final moments of Saraighat: “The right-angled triangle of the Brahmaputra (Itakhuli-Kamakhya-Aswakranta) became a complicated tangle of boats and men battling to save themselves from drowning. The Assamese spanned the Brahmaputra by an improvised bridge of boats placed side by side. They also resorted to a wily trick, combining a frontal charge with a surprise attack from behind, that proved decisive. The Barphukan pretended to attack the Moghul fleet from the front with some men on a few ships and lure it forward and then stabbed it from behind with the main army and fleet… The Moghul admiral, Sarif Khan, smoking his hooka, advanced forward only to be killed by a gunshot from behind. The suddenness of the event threw the entire Moghul fleet out of gear and it retreated. The panic-stricken Moghul army could not be recalled to order. His death marked the end of the battle. For the Moghuls, who suffered heavy casualties, with three top-ranking amirs and 4,000 dead and wounded, it was not merely a defeat but a disaster.”

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After his defeat, Ram Singh of Amber, commander of Aurangzeb’s army, wrote to the Emperor: “Every Assamese soldier is expert in rowing boats, shooting arrows, digging trenches and in wielding guns and cannons. I have not seen such specimens of versatility in any other part of India. Glory to the King. Glory to the Commander. One single individual leads all the forces. Even I, Ram Singh, being personally on the spot, have not been able to find any loophole.” The Barphukan’s victory is recorded in a stone inscription in Guwahati. The best cadet officer of every batch graduating from the National Defence Academy gets the Lachit Barphukan Gold Medal. A bust of the Barphukan stands at the entrance to the NDA.


The Assamese remain upset that Lachit Barphukan, the Hero of Saraighat, has never received the kind of nationalrecognition that other symbols of resistance to Mughal imperial domination, such as Chhattrapati Shivaji and Maharana Pratap, have. Following repeated demands, however, NCERT has recently included a chapter on him in the CBSE curriculum.

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First published on: 25-05-2015 at 12:27:54 am
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