In this final article in the series, we will look at the military administration, strategies and major wars fought by the Ahoms having previously acquainted ourselves with the cultural and administrative aspects of the Ahom rule (read Part 1 & Part 2 here).
Mighty empires require formidable armies to be sustained for a long period of time. The fact that Ahoms ruled for 600 years itself speaks of their mighty military administration. They never hesitated to opt for diplomacy and other such methods when war felt undesirable and burdensome. Marriage was the most common and strong means of maintaining diplomatic relations between Ahoms and neighbouring kingdoms.
The Ahoms also had a network of spies scattered around Assam and bordering kingdoms to help the keep a watch on their enemies. The Ahoms constructed forts on top of hills where there were fewer chances of open engagement. The fortifications acted as strong objects of defence with some soldiers assigned the task of repairing them as soon as they got damaged.
They excelled in Guerilla warfare and were highly disciplined. Ahoms started using firearms around 1532, earlier they used only swords, spears and bow and arrows. The cavalry consisted of elephants and horses.
The Ahoms’ love for valour is evident from their tribal names. The tribal names of the Ahom kings usually commenced with “Su” (meaning ‘tiger’) and ended with “pha” (meaning ‘heaven’). Thus Sukapha means ‘a tiger coming from heaven’; Sunenpha, ‘a beautiful tiger from heaven”; and Sukhrungpha, “ a furious tiger of heaven”.
Almost the entire manpower of Assam was employed in the service of the Ahom military. More often than not every able-bodied male was a member of the royal force and was called a paik. The Got consisting of 3 Paiks was the lowest fighting unit. An officer called Bora commanded 7 Gots. 5 such Boras with 100 paiks were under the command of another officer called Saikia.
Ten such Saikias with one thousand paiks were commanded by a Hazarika, whose immediate commander was Rajkhowa, the commander of three thousand paiks. Six thousand paiks were commanded by Phukan. Bar Phukan was the head of the army. The non-combatants in the Ahom army can be categorized into four types which were astrologers, medics, food suppliers and spies.
Geographically Assam had a large network of rivers formed by the mighty Brahmaputra and its tributaries. Navigation being fast in these waters helped in the quick mobilisation of forces. The Ahoms had an efficient Navy with the same organizational structure and discipline of the military.
The Ahoms fought numerous wars in their long rule with neighbouring kingdoms and tribes namely Kacharis, Chutiyas, Nagas and Jaintias. They also had clashes with some Muslim rulers of Bengal and Odisha region. The two wars which changed the course of Ahom history were: the Mughal wars and the Burmese invasions. While the former raised the Ahom banner high, the latter sealed the fate of Ahoms.
During the seventeenth century, the independence of Eastern Assam remained practically undisturbed, while suzerainty over western Assam which had first belonged to the Kochs, fluctuated between Ahoms and Mughals. In the reign of Jaydhvaj Singh, a post-war treaty was concluded in 1663, according to which Ahoms ceded Western Assam to the Mughals. Jaydhvaj Singh was succeeded by Chakradhwaj Singh, and with his accession commenced a new era in the Ahom-Mughal conflicts.
Mortified at the reduction of his kingdom to the position of practically a vassal state of the Mughals, the king decided to regain the lost pride of Ahoms and commenced secret preparations for war. Lachit, a dutiful and courageous officer was made the army general and Barphukan (viceroy of Western Assam). It was this Lachit (popularly known as Lachit Barphukan) who is revered as the epitome of Ahom valour in Assam.
In 1667, the Ahom army under the leadership of Lachit Barphukan reclaimed Gauhati from Mughals. On receiving this news, Mughal emperor Aurangzeb despatched a strong army under the leadership of Raja Ram Singh of Amber to re-establish Mughal prestige in North East. Ram Singh with his mighty army reached the frontiers in 1669. A long and fierce battle ensued in which after receiving few setbacks, Ahoms emerged victorious. This battle is known as ‘Battle of Saraighat’.
The topography, natural hills, dense forests and rivers provided Ahom forces with natural defence potentials. Rains and diseases also affected the Mughal soldiers in camps. A strong navy, disciplined army and heroic leadership of Lachit Barphukan acted as the biggest strengths of Ahoms. Lachit Barphukan even fell ill during the war but his sense of duty towards his motherland motivated him to lead the army in that crucial situation. He protected the liberty and freedom of Assamese people from the Mughals fighting merely for victory.
On 24 November each year, Lachit Divas is celebrated in Assam to commemorate the heroism of Lachit Barphukan and victory of Assamese army in Battle of Saraighat. The best passing out cadet of National Defence Academy (NDA) is conferred the Lachit Barphukan Gold Medal every year since 1999.
It is appalling that our textbooks contain no mention of this great hero. It is also shameful that Ahoms – who made history by defeating Mughals were denied a place in our history textbooks.
In the early 19th century, internal rebellions and gradual disintegration of the paik system weakened the grip of Ahoms on their kingdom. Taking this opportunity, the Burmese invaded Assam. Ahoms were reduced to mere vassals under the Burmese rule from 1819 to 1824. The condition of Assam was deplorable under Burmese rule. Ahoms tried to oust the Burmese but all their efforts were in vain. In 1826 with the advent of British rule in Assam, the 600 years long glorious rule of Ahoms came to an end.
- A History of Assam, by E. A. Gait
- Lachit Barphukan and his times, by S.K. Bhuyan
(Featured Image Source: Quora)
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