“ATAN BURAGOHAIN SAKO”

At the outset, it should be remembered that the Battle of Saraighat (1669-1672) was not fought against India. India was an occupied territory at that time. Like the occupation of Europe by Nazi Germany for 4 years during the Second World War, India was occupied for 664 years by invaders originally led by Ghori and Babur --- these are the names of ballistic cruise missiles of Pakistan today. During the 4 years of Nazi occupation (1940-1944), the European countries ran their “Government in Exile” in England, the only territory free from the Nazi Rule. Being the only territory in India free from the Ghori-Babur occupation (1193-1857), the landmass of Assam was “India in Exile” for 664 years. Similar to the Battle of Tarain (1193), Battle of Haldighat (1576), the Battle of Saraighat (1669-1672) was fought to keep India free from the occupying foreigners and their quislings and petains and pierre lavals.

While paying tribute to General Lachit Borphukan, Prime Minister Atan Buragohain and King Swargadev Chakradhwaj Singha, Assam must not forget the Queen Mother of Jaipur, mother of Raja Ram Singh and grandmother of Krishna Singh, Raja Ram Singh’s twenty year old son. Young Krishna Singh was forced to fight a leopard to entertain the Emperor at the Mughal Court in Delhi while his father was away in his Assam campaign.

After his defeat at the Battle of Saraighat, while mobilizing his forces again on behalf of his Emperor in the Mughal provincial headquarters of Dhaka for his next attack on Assam, Raja Ram Singh received a letter from his mother. After reading his mother’s letter, he demobilized the Army and went back to Delhi. Ram Singh did not make the second attack on Assam. Historians should publish that letter word for word so that people of Assam may say a prayer of gratitude in memory of the Queen Mother of Jaipur. Assam is also grateful to Lt. General (Retired) Sriniwas Kumar Sinha and Lt. General (Retired) Ajai Singh, the previous and the current Governors of Assam, for their deep understanding and unflinching support.

Ram Singh’s second attack would have been disastrous for Assam because by this time Lachit had passed away, Atan Buragohain was stripped off his position and later executed on the sands of Koliabar in yet another fratricidal feud of Assam. Assam’s history is beset with glorious times of victory, alternating with gloomy periods of fratricide and betrayal, lingering to the modern times of AGP/Congress flip-flop.

Similar to the Battle of Balaclava (1854), the Alaboi tragedy (1669) in the Battle of Saraighat (1669-1672) took place due to an erroneous military order. Lord Tennyson immortalized Balaclava in his famous poem “Charge of the Light Brigade.” Today the Saraighat Journalists’ Forum has touched a raw nerve of our emotions for 10,000 Alaboi martyrs by planting 10,000 seedlings.

The erroneous order in Balaclava was a field mistake, whereas the erroneous order of Alaboi came from the capital Gargaon … a distance of 300 miles from Saraighat … directly from King Udayaditya Singha. With extreme reluctance, the General Lachit Borphukan had to implement the King’s order. This point will be elucidated later.

Dauntless in their own lives, Lachit and Atan were never callous of the lives of their manpower. “Each one of my soldiers is like an elephant” Lachit lamented after the Alaboi disaster, as it was recorded by the late historian Dr. Surya Kumar Bhuyan. Lachit knew his soldiers. Like the Gurkhas in the last two World Wars, the Assamese soldiers had historically proved themselves to be very formidable in close combat. One example was the famous historical record of Kalachu Sandikoi who, fighting single-handedly, killed twenty enemy combatants before he was killed.

In every battle, it is very important to make a correct assessment of the enemy’s strength. Learning from the previous battles, particularly from the victory of Mir Jumla in year 1662-1663, Lachit and Atan knew the fact that, compared to the invaders, Assam was weak in cavalry. They also knew another weak point that Assam had a small population against the invaders who could mobilize an unlimited supply of mercenaries from their vast occupied territory of the Indo-Gangetic plains.

To answer these weak points, Atan and Lachit developed a very intelligent strategy ---Don’t confront the invading Cavalry on an open field. Slow down the enemy cavalry by digging up moats and by building earth ramparts to connect one hill to another. The only choice left to the invaders will be to put their horses and cannons and other supplies on large boats and advance upstream the mighty Brahmaputra … the Assamese will be ready with their highly maneuverable small boats that could rush downstream at a high-speed to drown the large boats of the enemy.

Of all the famous battles of the world, the Battle of Saraighat must be recognized as one of the supreme. Strategically, the decision to select Saraighat (and, not Koliabar seventy miles upstream) to block the invader was itself a masterpiece. At Saraighat, the Brahmaputra is narrow, with hills on either bank within a downhill cannon range, an advantage not available in Koliabar.

Compared to the Battle of Saraighat, even Napoleonic battles appear to be crude cannonade. In his tactics to outsmart the Mughal cavalry, Shivaji used hideouts in the hills. Lachit connected the natural hills by man-made earth ramparts. Shivaji defeated the enemy mostly by surprise attacks, an option not available at Saraighat. Similar to Alexander’s battles, in Saraighat, a small army defeated a much larger army by using rivers, swamps, forests, moats, hills and every bit of the contour of the terrain, skillfully deploying all possible natural assets including Time.

Time was a very valuable asset for Lachit and Atan. Delay of each day contributed exponentially to the homesickness and restlessness of the invading army and suspicion of the Emperor in Delhi. On the other hand, Lachit and Atan would be fighting a defensive war, and delay of each day helped them to fortify their defenses. Unfortunately, some 300 miles away in the capital Gargaon, the new king Udayaditya Singha, became impatient right at the beginning. Udayaditya had just ascended to the throne after the demise of his predecessor, Swargadev (King) Chakradhwaja Singha.

Swargadev Chakradhwaja Singha inherited the throne from bhogaraja (the defeated king) Jayadhwaja Singha who died heartbroken in 1663 (or 1664.) Within 4 years, without any foreign aid, Swargadev Chakradhwaja Singha and Prime Minister Atan Buragohain readied a defeated land for its next major battle. In spite of the terrible defeat and a consequent famine, people of Assam did not lose their dauntless spirit. The King personally visited the boat factories (nao-shal), iron factories (kamar-shal), saltpeter extraction plants (kharghar), etc., and encouraged workers of all trades. This was the time when his Prime Minister Atan Buragohain made a historically famous statement: “sakalo dravyat thaki chaul kotha he prodhan” (rice is the most important commodity), a statement that Napoleon repeated after 135 years: “An Army marches on its stomach.” This was the time when Swargadev Chakradhwaja Singha selected Lachit, a young officer who was in charge royal bodyguards (dola kasharia barua), to the post of Borphukan to lead the next battle.

Lachit was a veteran of guerrilla warfare. During the one year of Mughal occupation (1662-1663), Lachit was in charge of guerrilla attacks in Dikhoumukh area, which was dangerously close to enemy strongholds in Gargaon. Throughout their occupation period, Dikhoumukh (confluence of the river Dikhou and the river Brahmaputra) was a very strategic point where Mughal boatmen used to transfer goods from large boats to small boats. They used large boats to bring goods upstream by the river Brahmaputra, but those boats were too big for the small stream of the river Dikhou. Mir Jumla was sitting in Gargaon upstream at the bank of the river Dikhou. The disjunction created by Lachit’s friends at Dikhoumukh was a major contribution to drive out Mir Jumla from Gargaon in 1663.

As the new Borphukan, using his guerrilla tactics, Lachit repossessed Guwahati from the Mughal Governor in 1668. When the news reached Delhi, the Mughal Emperor was furious. He deputed Raja Ram Singh, a descendant of the famous dynasty of Raja Man Singh and Raja Jai Singh, with a huge Mughal Army that arrived Assam in 1669.

Unfortunately, Swargadev Chakradhwaja Singha passed away at this time (exact date need to be verified). The new King Udayaditya, immediately after his ascension, apparently became too impatient, and sent a special messenger to Lachit with the order “khedi goi nadhara kiyo” (why not engage the enemy by running into them?)

Lachit did not enjoy the advantage of Alexander, Shivaji or Napoleon not to take orders from anybody. He had to carry out the King’s order in stark contradiction to his own judgment, and the result was the tragedy of Alaboi (1669) where his 10,000 foot-soldiers were killed by the Invading Cavalry in a single day. Completely dejected, lamenting over the massacre of his men, Lachit arranged a special messenger to take the news to the King in Gargaon. This was where Atan Buragohain, who was all the time with Lachit in Saraighat, intervened.

An astute statesman of very high caliber, Atan Buragohain knew that Lachit’s confrontation with the new King would create dissension and disunity. Unity was imperative at that junction of a high national crisis, as it is true again in Assam today. Atan agreed with Lachit that loss of their men was terrible, but a battle was a battle, one must not lose sight of the final goal of expelling the Invaders.

In spite of all the sadness of losing their men at Alaboi, Atan had to assuage Lachit: “Even while roiling a pond for a community fishing at someone’s backyard, eight or ten guys get stung by shingi fish. Why do you have to bother the King with the news that eight or ten thousand men fell in a battle?” (barir pukhuri eta sinchileo aath dahta manuh shingiye bindhey … )

Lachit did not send the messenger to the King. Instead, he employed himself day and night in the preparation for the final scene … the Battle on the River Brahmaputra (April, 1672) where the invaders were routed and their commander, Raja Ram Singh, retreated to Dhaka to remobilize his army for a planned second attack, which did not happen.

As for our tribute to the legendary Atan Buragohain, I think Assam should do a little more than naming a road from Dadara to Pacharia. I propose that we should build a highly visible architectural, elegant, three-span foot-bridge in Brahmaputra from SP Bungalow--Karmanasha—Urvashi--Umananda and call it \\"Atan Buragohain Sako” that will take us across three centuries of Time to a spirit of unity that we need today.

I also urge my countrymen to build a statue of Swargadev Chakradhwaj Singha who will remind us the spirit of intelligent organization, pure sincerity, an indomitable urge for freedom and a hard resolve to end the seizure of our land by foreign invaders.

I imagine a west facing marble statue of Swargadev Chakradhwaj Singha to replace the existing pillar on the rock of Urvashi. When seen from the steps of Kacharighat in Guwahati on a clear afternoon, this pure white statue, lighted by a setting sun, will shine bright against the deep green background of Umananda.

Beauty of a bridge is in its visibility from a distance. An open spandrel arch of the \\"Atan Buragohain Sako” spanning from Karmanasha rock to Urvashi will be seen at an elevation below the statue, as if paying tribute to Swargadev Chakradhwaj Singha.

A bridge can speak for people, because people talk about their bridge. People feel their bridge in its entire environment. It may be necessary to regain the natural environment of the site by relocating some old British administrative buildings that ruined the riverbank. I urge the artists and architects and bridge engineers of Assam to imagine a graceful bridge with “poetry in its geometry” as a permanent and constant reminder of what we achieved in the past. \\"Atan Buragohain Sako” is not for crossing a river. It will take us across three centuries of Time to fill our heart with hope, glory, self-confidence, self-sacrifice and a strong determination.