Battle of Saraighat - a look back into history

The Battle of Saraighat was a naval battle fought in 1671 between the Mughal Empire (led by the Kachwaha king, Raja Ramsingh I), and the Ahom Kingdom (led by Lachit Borphukan) on the Brahmaputra river at Saraighat, now in Guwahati, Assam, India.

Although weaker, the Ahom Army defeated the Mughal Army by brilliant uses of the terrain, clever diplomatic negotiations to buy time, guerrilla tactics, psychological warfare, military intelligence and by exploiting the sole weakness of the Mughal forces—its navy.

The Battle of Saraighat was the last battle in the last major attempt by the Mughals to extend their empire into Assam. Though the Mughals managed to regain Guwahati briefly later after a Borphukan deserted it, the Ahoms wrested control in the Battle of Itakhuli in 1682 and maintained it till the end of their rule.

After Nara Narayana died in 1587, the Koch kingdom (ensconced between the Mughal Empire in the west/south and Ahom kingdom in the east) was divided into the western Koch Bihar and the eastern Koch Hajo, ruled by his son Lakshimi Narayan and nephew Raghudev respectively.

These two kingdoms were bitter rivals. In due course the Mughals formed an alliance with Lakshmi Narayan and the Nawab of Dhaka, a governor of the Mughals attacked Parikshit Narayan, the son of Raghudev in 1602 at Dhubri, the westernmost corner of present-day Assam.

Following many battles, Parikshit finally accepted defeat and was sent off to Delhi; but his brother, Bali Narayana took refuge with the Ahoms, who were interested in keeping the Koch as a buffer between themselves and the Mughals.

The first Mughal-Ahom battle took place in 1615 when the Mughals attacked the Ahoms, then under Pratap Singha. This resulted in a period of Ahom-Mughal conflicts fluctuating fortunes that ended with the Treaty of Asurar Ali in 1639.

The Treaty fixed Barnadi river in the north bank and Asurar Ali in the south bank of the Brahmaputra as the boundary between the Ahoms and the Mughals. This, and the defeat of the Koch king at Pandu in 1641, resulted in a period of Mughal administration in Kamrup (Guwahati and Hajo).

Taking advantage of the Mughal war of succession after the fall of the Mughal emperor Shah Jahan in 1658, Pran Narayan of Koch Bihar tried to occupy Koch Hajo, but the Ahoms under Jayadhwaj Singha took Guwahati and pushed him back beyond Dhubri.

That the Ahoms reached Dhubri by defeating the Koch king and not the Mughals would form a central tenet in later Ahom diplomacy. Soon after, Aurangzeb occupied the Delhi throne.

Mir Jumla II, pursuing Shah Shuja in Bengal, was appointed the Subahdar of Bengal in 1660 and asked to retake Assam. Mir Jumla marched in 1661 and defeated the Ahoms at successive encounters to finally take the Ahom capital Gurgaon.

But the daga juddha (guerrilla warfare) of Atan Burhagohain and the rains succeeded in cutting off Mughal communication lines making it impossible for Mir Jumla to consolidate Mughal rule.

Unaware of Mir Jumla's difficulties and unnerved by Baduli Phukan's defection, Jayadhwaj Singha sued for peace, an opportunity Mir Jumla seized on. The Treaty of Ghilajharighat (1663) brought an end to Mughal occupation of Garhgaon, but the conditions of this treaty were so severe that the Ahoms were soon resolved to reverse them.

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