Bir Chilarai (1510 – 1571 AD) was a great general who belonged to the Koch royal dynasty of Assam. By his valour, he played a significant role in expanding the empire of his elder brother, Maharaja Nara Narayan.
The Koch dynasty set up their kingdom in the western part of Assam after the fall of Khen dynasty in 1498 AD and Chandan was crowned king of Kamata kingdom. Maharaja Chandan ruled for thirteen years but as he had no sons, after his death Viswa Singha was enthroned.
The reign of Maharaja Viswa Singha marked a glorious episode in the history of Assam as he was the founder ruler of the Koch royal dynasty, who newly established his kingdom in 1515 AD. He had many sons but only four of them were remarkable. Shukladhwaj, later known as Bir Chilarai, was his third son.
Born on a full moon day, Shukladhwaj had a fair complexion and hence he was called by that name. He along with his brothers learnt warfare and they all mastered the art very well. For achieving higher education, he and his elder brother Malla Dev went to Varanasi. They learnt various subjects and acquired knowledge in Sanskrit, Grammar, Literature, Law, Astrology etc.
After the death of Maharaja Viswa Singha, his son Malla Dev ascended the throne. He was better known as Maharaja Nara Narayan. Shukladhwaj was appointed army commander and he assisted his brother in extending the kingdom. A brave warrior and an exceptional general, Shukladhwaj was extremely quick in his actions. He came to be known as ‘Chilarai’ as he was swift like the bird chila or the kite in capturing the foes.
In 1562 AD, an intense battle took place when Nara Narayan crossed River Brahmaputra and attacked the Ahom kingdom. Chilarai commanded his soldiers to fight both on land and through water. The defeated king finally fled with his army and Nara Narayan achieved victory. Later, a truce followed between them.
In 1568 AD, another battle ensued when Nara Narayan attacked Gour, ruled by Soleman Karnani. But this time he had to face defeat as Kalapahar, the army commander captured Chilarai. Kalapahar with his soldiers then destroyed many temples including Kamakhya while he proceeded towards Tezpur.
Nara Narayan defeated the king of Cachar and brought his kingdom under his rule. The king of Manipur surrendered as he decided not to combat with such a powerful ruler. Chilarai then attacked the states of Jayantia, Tripura and Sylhet. He defeated the kings in the battles and killed them. Observing the condition of the neighbouring states, the rulers of Khairam and Dimoriya submitted their petty states. Thus with the help of Chilarai’s heroism, Maharaja Nara Narayan extended his vast empire and earned revenues from several rulers.
Nara Narayan attacked Gour for the second time when Akbar, the Mughal emperor sought help from him. They had an alliance with Sisya Singha Raikat and Debraj, the king of Bhutan while invading Gour. Chilarai captured Ghoraghat and seized the whole area of Gour. After defeating King Gourpasha, the kingdom was shared between Nara Narayan and Akbar.
During the second invasion of Gour, Chilarai breathed his last on the banks of River Ganga as he suffered from pox. After his death, battles subsided. It was the courageous deeds of Chilarai that led the Koch kingdom reach the zenith.
Later, Nara Narayan divided his kingdom into two parts namely, Koch Bihar and Koch Hajo. He kept Koch Bihar, the western part under his authority while Koch Hajo, the eastern part was given to Raghudev, the son of chilarai.
The birth anniversary of the great hero is celebrated every year as Bir Chilarai Divas. From the year 2005, the government of Assam has been conferring Bir Chilarai Award, the highest honour for bravery to individuals. The gallant accomplishments of Bir Chilarai in the regime of Maharaja Nara Narayan shall be remembered forever.
[Published in the blog ‘North-East India’ on 9 February 2012]