The Battle of Saraighat is considered one of the most notable historical events that occurred during the reign of the Ahom Kingdom (1228 CE-1826 CE). Instrumental in shaping the history of the Brahmaputra valley and the north-eastern region, the battle was fought between the Mughal army led by Raja Ram Singh (son of Mirza Raja Jai Singh) and the Ahom Kingdom led by Lachit Borphukan in 1671 CE, at Saraighat, in Guwahati. The confrontation is said to be one of the last major attempts of the Mughals to expand their empire into Assam and its neighbouring areas.
The Mughals started understanding the strategic importance of the Brahmaputra valley in the early phase of the 17th century. Since then, the Mughals and the Ahoms reportedly fought around seventeen battles. In 1639 CE, the Treaty of Asurar Ali was signed between the Mughal Fauzdar Allah Yar Khan and the Ahom Commander-in-Chief Momai Tamuli Barbarua, during the reign of Swargadeo Pratap Singha. According to the Treaty, the Barnadi River on the north of the Brahmaputra and the Asurar Ali on the southern bank were finalised as the boundary between the Mughal Empire and the Ahom Kingdom. Despite continuous efforts by the Ahoms to remove the Mughals from Assam, Mir Jhumla, the Mughal Governor of Bengal finally captured Kamrup and defeated the Ahom Kingdom by occupying their capital, Garhgaon.
The invasion of Mir Jhumla led to the signing of the Treaty of Ghilajharighat. The Treaty, said to be humiliating for the Ahoms, was signed on 23 February 1663 CE. Ahom Swargadeo Jayadhwaj Singha became a tributary of the Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb. As per the Treaty, Swargadeo Jayadhwaj Singha agreed to give a huge amount of resources to the Mughals along with its territory from Guwahati to the Manas river.
Swargadeo Chakradhwaj Singha, after succeeding Jayadhwaj Singha in 1663 CE, appointed Lachit Borphukan as the new Commander-in-Chief. Before this, Lachit Borphukan had held other significant positions, such as Superintendent of the Stable of Royal Horses and Superintendent of the Royal Household Guards. Swargadeo Chakradhwaj Singha, who was adamant to remove the Mughal forces from Assam, instructed Lachit Borphukan to raise his army to fight against the Mughals.
Lachit completed his preparations by the summer of 1667 CE, and his army recaptured Guwahati from the Mughal forces. Emperor Aurangzeb, after being informed of the defeat at Guwahati, sent a force under Raja Ram Singh. The news of Raja Ram Singh’s departure from Delhi was quickly communicated to Lachit Borphukan by Assamese spies. Well aware of the numerical and technological wealth of the Mughal army, Lachit Borphukan initiated a detailed survey of Guwahati to understand its strategic location and develop it as a war zone.
Situated on the banks of the River Brahmaputra and surrounded by hills from all sides, the location of Guwahati keeps it safe from external attacks. Borphukan was aware that the Mughals were inexperienced in naval battles and wanted to take advantage of this fact. He identified a particular region called Andharubali, which connected Nilachal Hill and Itakhuli on the southern bank and Aswakranta on the northern bank of the Brahmaputra. He felt that this area would be the most strategic site to fight with the Mughals. The southern bank of the River Brahmaputra was under the direct command of Lachit Borphukan, while Atan Burhagohain commanded it from the northern bank. Atan Burhagohain was appointed by the King to erect the necessary fortifications on both banks of the river.
Ram Singh reached the frontier garrison of Rangamati in February 1669 CE. All the commanders of the Ahom army met at Guwahati and offered prayers at the Kamakhya temple. Each commander was provided with a contingent of troops and the requisite quantity of weapons and ammunition. It is said that Ram Singh, to break Lachit Borphukan’s confidence, sent a messenger with a bag of poppy seeds along with a message that read, “The Borphukan should evacuate Guwahati. Our army is as numerous as the poppy seeds in this bag." To this, Borphukan sent a counter-reply with a tube filled with sand and a note which read, “The poppy seeds if pounded down, will become a thin paste. Our army is as numerous and indissoluble as the sands in the tube despatched herewith.”
In 1670 CE, Swargadeo Udayaditya Singha succeeded to the throne following the death of Chakradhwaj Singha. The Mughal army led by Raja Ram Singht made its way to Guwahati with a naval flotilla sailing upwards of the Brahmaputra in 1671 CE. The Ahom army managed to lure the Mughal force into the war zone of Guwahati using several strategies. As soon as the Mughals were about to land at Andharubali, the Ahom land and naval forces were ordered to attack the Mughals. Despite his ill health, Lachit Borphukan headed towards the naval battle zone from his sickbed in the gatehouse at the Itakhuli fort and led his army valiantly. The entry of Lachit Borphukan galvanised the courage of the Ahom army, and the entire region was promptly filled with men and Ahom warships. They fought with great courage and tactics till the end and defeated the Mughals near Saraighat. The Mughal army was forced to retreat from Guwahati. They were pursued to the Manas river, the western boundary of the Ahom Kingdom. The historic Saraighat region is reported to have included the present-day areas of Pandu Ghat, Abhaypur, Sadilapur and parts of Jalukbari in Guwahati.
The Battle of Saraighat was a landmark event during the reign of the Ahom Kingdom, which ruled the region consecutively for almost 600 years. The extraordinary leadership and military intelligence of the Ahom General Lachit Borphukan, who defeated the Mughals and recaptured the regions previously occupied by the Mughal forces, is hailed even today. However, the Battle of Saraighat, although the most crucial battle of the Ahom-Mughal war, was not the last war. In 1682 CE, during the reign of Ahom Swargadeo Gadadhar Singha, the Battle of Itakhuli was fought between these two forces and the Mughals were expelled from Assam forever.