In this article, we will delve into the significant historical event known as the Battle of Saraighat in 1671. Fought between the Ahom Kingdom and the Mughal Empire, this naval battle took place on the banks of the Brahmaputra River and marked the last attempt by the Mughals to capture Assam and extend their empire.
We will explore the causes that led to the battle, examine its aftermath, and uncover important facts surrounding this historic clash. This article aims to provide a comprehensive understanding of the Battle of Saraighat, which holds great relevance for those preparing for the UPSC IAS Exam, particularly in the General Studies Paper-1 prelims and mains.
Battle of Saraighat
The Battle of Saraighat fought on the banks of the Brahmaputra River, was a decisive naval encounter between the Ahom Kingdom and the Mughal Empire in 1671. It marked the last attempt by the Mughals to capture Assam and expand their empire. Led by Lachit Borphukan, the Ahom Kingdom emerged victorious in this historic battle.
However, despite their initial success, the Ahoms faced subsequent challenges, including the recapture of Guwahati by the Mughals in 1679. Nevertheless, the Ahom Kingdom reclaimed Guwahati in the Battle of Itakhuli in 1682, effectively ending the Mughal presence in Assam.
Following are the important points on the Battle of Saraighat:
- Aurangzeb was a prominent Mughal Emperor who ruled from 1658 to 1707.
- Lachit Borphukan was a notable leader who commanded the Ahom Kingdom during the Battle of Saraighat.
- The Battle of Saraighat took place on the Brahmaputra River.
- The Brahmaputra River divides the Ahom Kingdom, nearly splitting it into two halves.
- Fought between the Ahom Kingdom led by Lachit Borphukan and the Mughal Empire led by Raja Ram Singh.
- It was a naval battle and the last attempt by the Mughals to capture Assam and expand their empire.
- Guwahati, the capital of Assam, was temporarily recaptured by the Mughals in 1679 but later regained by the Ahoms in the Battle of Itakhuli in 1682.
- Since 1999, the National Defense Academy has awarded a gold medal at the Passing Out Parade annually.
Causes of the Battle of Saraighat
The Battle of Saraighat in 1671 was driven by a series of events and circumstances leading up to the clash between the Ahom Kingdom and the Mughal Empire. Here are the causes that set the stage for the battle:
- Mughal Emperor’s Orders: In 1661, Emperor Aurangzeb instructed Mir Jumla, the Mughal Viceroy, to capture Assam. The strategic importance of the Brahmaputra Valley and the defeat of the Ahom Kingdom led to the Mughals’ ambition to extend their control in the region.
- Treaty of Asurar Ali: As a result of the Mughal victory, King Jayadhwaj Singha of the Ahom Kingdom agreed to the Treaty of Asurar Ali. Under this treaty, the Ahoms ceded the region from Guwahati to the Manas River to the Mughals.
- Appointment of Lachit Borphukan: King Chakradhwaj Singha, the successor to Jayadhwaj Singha, appointed Lachit Borphukan as the commander-in-chief of the Ahom forces. The king aimed to reclaim the lost territories and entrusted Lachit with this mission.
- Ahom Offensive: Lachit Borphukan led an offensive to recapture Guwahati, strategically fortifying the city to ensure its safety against potential Mughal retaliation. Guwahati’s natural defenses, such as the Brahmaputra River and surrounding hillocks, added to the city’s fortification.
- Mughal Army’s Arrival: In 1669, the Mughal army, accompanied by forces from Koch Bihar, arrived near the Manas River. The Mughal army consisted of a significant number of troops, including 4,000-foot soldiers, 18,000 cavalries, 2,000 shieldmen and archers, and 40 ships.
- Ahom Defense Strategy: Aware of the Mughal army’s strength, Lachit Borphukan chose the hilly terrain of Guwahati as the battleground. The difficult landscape restricted the mobility of the Mughal forces and provided an advantage to the Ahoms.
- Negotiations and Guerrilla Warfare: Lachit engaged in negotiations with Mughal commander Raja Ram Singh through intermediaries, including Firuz Khan. He also employed guerrilla warfare tactics, avoiding direct confrontation due to the vast size of the Mughal army.
- Battle at Alaboi Hills: Despite negotiations, skirmishes, and diplomatic efforts, tensions escalated, and a battle ensued at Alaboi Hills between the Ahoms and the Mughals. The Ahoms suffered losses, with approximately 10,000 soldiers falling in battle.
- Mughal Naval Attack: Unable to achieve a decisive victory through negotiations and land-based warfare, the Mughals launched a naval attack on the Brahmaputra River at Saraighat, leading to the final battle between the two forces.
These causes collectively set the stage for the Battle of Saraighat in 1671, as the Ahom Kingdom defended its territory against the Mughal Empire’s attempts to expand its control in Assam.
Ahom Kingdom – Preparation
After the devastating loss suffered by the Ahom Kingdom under the invasion led by Mir Jumla, the kingdom underwent a series of preparations to strengthen its position and reclaim its territories. Here are the key steps taken by the Ahom Kingdom in preparation for the war:
Succession and Urgency: Following the death of King Jayadhwaj Singha, his cousin Chakradhwaj Singha was chosen as his successor. Before his passing, King Jayadhwaj Singha urged Chakradhwaj Singha to restore the kingdom’s honor and take action against the Mughal invaders.
Rehabilitation and Rebuilding: The Ahom Kingdom initiated a comprehensive rehabilitation program to bring back the people who had been displaced due to Mir Jumla’s invasion. Efforts were made to reestablish settlements and ensure the well-being of the population. Additionally, attention was given to increasing food production and military resources.
Fortification: New forts were constructed and existing ones were maintained to strengthen the defensive capabilities of the Ahom Kingdom. These fortifications played a crucial role in safeguarding key areas and preparing for potential conflicts.
Expeditionary Force: A formidable expeditionary force was organized, with Lachit Borphukan taking charge of the military operations. Lachit Borphukan emerged as a prominent commander known for his strategic brilliance and leadership skills.
Alliances: The Ahom Kingdom renewed alliances with neighboring kingdoms such as Jaintia and Kachari. These alliances provided additional support and resources for the Ahom forces.
Diplomatic Resistance: The Ahom Kingdom diplomatically refused Mughal imperial demands, carefully navigating the delicate situation. However, when Firuz Khan, the new faujdar (garrison commander) of Guwahati, forcefully pressed the matter in March 1667, the Ahoms were compelled to take action.
Recapturing Guwahati: In August 1667, under the leadership of Lachit Borphukan and Atan Burhagohain, the Ahom army sailed downstream to recapture Guwahati. This strategic move aimed to reclaim the city from Mughal control and restore Ahom’s authority in the region.
These preparations and actions undertaken by the Ahom Kingdom played a crucial role in strengthening their position and readiness for the upcoming war. The Ahoms, led by Lachit Borphukan, were determined to reclaim their territories and defend their kingdom against further Mughal encroachment.
What happened during the Battle of Saraighat?
The Battle of Saraighat witnessed significant developments and maneuvers by both the Ahom Kingdom and the Mughal Empire. Here’s an account of what transpired during the battle:
- Mughal Proposal and Ahom Rejection: The Mughals proposed compensating the Ahoms and emphasized honoring the Treaty of Asurar Ali, which established the boundaries of the Ahom Kingdom. However, the Ahoms rejected this proposal, as they suspected the Mughals’ commitment and were reluctant to cede Guwahati, which held strategic significance.
- Mughal Naval Attack: As diplomatic negotiations failed, the Mughals resorted to a massive naval attack against the Ahoms. The Ahoms, demotivated by their previous defeat and with Lachit Borphukan being seriously ill, faced a challenging situation.
- Lachit Borphukan’s Leadership: Despite his illness, Lachit Borphukan took a decisive step. He ordered his troops to carry him to the boat and sent a message to all naval and land forces to attack when the Mughals were about to land at Andharubali. This act of bravery and determination instilled renewed motivation among the Ahom forces.
- Ahom Naval Strategy: The Ahom forces swiftly maneuvered their small boats into the Brahmaputra River, launching a fierce assault on the large Mughal warships. This unexpected and intense attack made it difficult for the Mughals to counter.
- Triangle Formation: The Ahoms adopted a strategic formation, creating a combined front and rear attack by positioning themselves in a triangular formation in the Brahmaputra River, between Itakhuli, Aswakranta, and Kamakhya. This effectively surrounded the Mughals and restricted their movements.
- Victory and Mughal Retreat: During the battle, Mughal Admiral Munnawar Khan was killed by a gunshot. The Ahoms successfully pushed the Mughals back to the Manas River, marking their victory over the Mughal forces.
The Battle of Saraighat showcased the indomitable spirit and military prowess of the Ahom Kingdom, led by the valiant Lachit Borphukan. Their strategic maneuvers and fierce determination resulted in a significant victory, repelling the Mughals and safeguarding their territories. This historic battle remains an exemplification of Ahom’s resilience and their successful defense against Mughal expansion.
Who won the Battle of Saraighat?
The Battle of Saraighat resulted in a decisive victory for the Ahom Kingdom. Led by Lachit Borphukan, the Ahom forces successfully repelled the Mughal Empire and emerged as the winners of the battle. Their strategic maneuvers, tenacity, and fierce resistance led to the defeat of the Mughal forces. The victory at Saraighat played a crucial role in halting Mughal expansion in Assam and safeguarding the sovereignty of the Ahom Kingdom.
Aftermath – End of Ahom-Mughal Conflict
After the Battle of Saraighat, several significant events unfolded in the aftermath:
- Death of Lachit Borphukan: In 1672, Lachit Borphukan, the esteemed commander-in-chief of the Ahom forces, passed away due to natural causes. His leadership and bravery were instrumental in the Ahom victory at Saraighat.
- Abandonment of Guwahati: Lachit Borphukan’s successor, Laluk Sola, decided to abandon Guwahati, which was subsequently captured by the Mughals in 1679. This temporary setback allowed the Mughals to regain control over Guwahati.
- Battle of Itakhuli: In 1682, the Ahom forces, led by Dihingia Alun Borbarua, launched the Battle of Itakhuli. They successfully defeated the Mughals and reclaimed Guwahati, ending the Mughal occupation once again.
- Permanent End of Mughal-Ahom Conflict: The victory at the Battle of Itakhuli marked the permanent end of the Mughal-Ahom conflict. With the Ahoms regaining control of Guwahati, the Mughals refrained from further attempts to expand their presence in Assam against the Ahom Kingdom
Comparison of Military Forces in the Battle of Saraighat
|Military Forces||Mughals||Ahom Kingdom|
|Infantry||30,000||Smaller in numbers|
|Cavalry||18,000||Limited cavalry forces|
|Warships||40||Limited naval fleet|
|Troopers||4,000||N/A (Not specified)|
|Ahadis Soldiers||1,500||N/A (Not specified)|
|Barqandez||500||N/A (Not specified)|
|Archers and Shieldmen||2,000||N/A (Not specified)|
|Rajput Commanders||21||N/A (Not specified)|
The Mughal forces in the Battle of Saraighat had a significant advantage in terms of numbers and well-equipped military. With a large infantry, a sizable cavalry, warships, and various specialized units, they possessed superior firepower and resources. However, the Ahom Kingdom had a smaller military force and limited cavalry compared to the Mughals.
Recognizing their numerical disadvantage, the Ahom forces strategically utilized their knowledge of the terrain and weaknesses of the Mughal forces. They created mud embankments to hinder the mobility of the Mughal cavalry, forcing them to rely on naval warfare. The Ahoms understood that the Mughals had vulnerabilities in naval defense, which they exploited to their advantage.
Despite being outnumbered and having a weaker military, the Ahom Kingdom, under the leadership of Lachit Borphukan, emerged victorious in the Battle of Saraighat. Their determination, strategic maneuvers, and effective utilization of the terrain enabled them to overcome the Mughal forces and defend their kingdom against Mughal expansion.
The Battle of Saraighat in 1671 was a pivotal moment in the history of the Ahom Kingdom and the Mughal Empire. It represented the final clash between these powers and showcased the valor and strategic acumen of leaders like Lachit Borphukan.
While the Ahom Kingdom initially triumphed, the subsequent challenges posed by the Mughals were eventually overcome, leading to the complete expulsion of the Mughals from Assam. Aspirants preparing for the UPSC IAS Exam should delve into the causes, aftermath, and important facts surrounding this battle to gain a comprehensive understanding of this significant historical event.