Brahmaputra : The Story of Lachit Borphukan, Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji

The almost-unknown story of Lachit Borphukan, the Ahom warrior who stood up to the marauding Mughals, flows as smoothly as the Brahmaputra itself, with the author interspersing historical fact with a vivid Amar Chitra Katha-like narrative, says Amlan Jyoti Hazarika

(This is a book review of ‘Brahmaputra : The Story of Lachit Barphukan, Assamese contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji,’ a book by Aneesh Gokhale. It first appeared in DNA newspaper)

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The name may not ring a bell for most outside Assam, but the story of Lachit Borphukan, a great warrior and a contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji, is the stuff of legend and folklore. As Aneesh Gokhale’s narrative suggests, the two men had similar traits and destinies, especially their love for their land and people and the unflinching determination to defend both in the face of danger. While Shivaji’s sphere of action was middle Bharat, especially the Maratha-ruled kingdoms around Pune, Lachit fought valiantly to get the adversaries out of his motherland, Assam. Their foe – the marauding Mughals.

Brahmaputra flows as smoothly as the river itself. What keeps one glued to the tale is Gokhale’s unusual manner of storytelling interspersed with historical facts and Amar Chitra Katha-like depiction.

The story is set during the rule of Emperor Aurangzeb, who had brought nearly all of Bharat under his dominion but faced two challenges – in the west and in the north-east. Most of us know about Shivaji and the Marathas, but few know of Lachit and the Ahoms, who ruled over modern Assam and surrounding areas for over 600 years before it was annexed by the British in 1826.

Gokhale must be applauded for his effort to bring to ‘mainland’ Bharat the little-known story of a man who stood up successfully to a mighty power.

The stories of Shivaji, a king, and Lachit, commander of the Assamese army, run parallel to each other, bound, as the author puts it, by their “undying patriotism, will to set right historical wrongs and the bravery needed to stand up to a huge empire”.

In 1661, Aurangzeb deputed commanders Mir Jumla and Diler Khan to Bengal and Assam and Shaiste Khan to the Deccan. While the huge Mughal army under Mir Jumla conquered parts of Assam till Guwahati, Shaiste Khan wrested Pune’s Lal Mahal.

The Mughals decimated everything in their way. Swargadeo Chakradhwaj Singha, the Ahom monarch, was worried. Sitting in his court in capital Gargaon, about 400km from Guwahati, he contemplated the future of his beloved land. Then his gaze fell on Lachit – the leader of his bodyguards. A tough, well-built man with his heng dang (like a Samurai sword) dangling from his cummerbund.

Lachit was made the Borphukan (commander) of the army. Guwahati was eventually won back from the Mughals. But Lachit knew that was just the beginning. Aurangzeb would certainly send a larger force to regain his lost ground. And so he did, with the famed Ram Singh as commander.

The author goes on to regale readers with details of the epic battle. The Assamese army started fortifying Guwahati on the banks of the Brahmaputra. A messenger conveyed the news that Ram Singh had almost reached Guwahati. It was getting dark, and part of an important fort had still not been completed. The man overseeing the work was Lachit’s own maternal uncle. A furious Lachit thundered, “My uncle is not greater than my motherland”, and ordered him to be beheaded.

Over the next few days, Lachit fell ill. When he learnt of Lachit’s illness, Ram Singh moved his fleet forward in the ocean-like river. Lachit wrapped a shawl over his body, unsheathed his heng dang, and boarded his boat. The Mughals faced a resounding defeat in the naval battle of Saraighat in 1671. That was the end of the Mughals in Assam.

The waters of the Brahmaputra flowed as smoothly as ever.

© Amlan Jyoti Hazarika

Book: Brahmaputra- The Story of Lachit Barphukan, Assamese Contemporary of Chhatrapati Shivaji

Author: Aneesh Gokhale

Publisher: Shree Vyankatesh Prakashan

Purchase Brahmaputra on Flipkart

This book review first appeared in DNA newspaper

(HinduPost Note: It is heartening to see that authors like Aneesh Gokhale are now bringing to light a forgotten history that generations of Marxist establishment historians like Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib etc. have kept hidden from our history textbooks and the mainstream public discourse. Spreading awareness about icons like Lachit Borphukan is a must if a rejuvenated, resurgent, wholesome Bharat has to emerge from the shadows of centuries of colonial mental enslavement which continues to this day)