Meghna Heli Bridge, Tangail Air Drop

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During the 1971 War, the Pakistani Army had left the roads to Dhaka, undefended, focusing on the bridge heads and some strong points.  The tactic was to delay the Indian Army advance long enough, hoping for UN and international pressure to stop it. Two back to back operations by the Indian army foiled the plan, one was the Meghna Heli Bridge Airlift on December 9 and another the Tangail Airdrop on December 11.

Meghna Heli Bridge Airlift

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Meghna one of the largest rivers in Bangladesh, one of the 3 that forms the Ganges Delta, and the only way to cross it was the Ashuganj Railway Bridge,which had become heavily fortified by the Pakistani army. This was the only bridge across the huge river which even at it’s narrowest point was around 4,000 yards wide

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When the Dhaka campaign began, the first target was to capture the heavily fortified city of Comilla in Chittagong division. By December 8, the IV Corps and 57 Mountain Division, under Sagat Singh, had occupied the territory up to the Meghna River and only the Ashuganj Bridge stood in their way as a barrier. Lt Gen Sagat Singh, who headed theIV Corps realized the strategic importance of the bridge, once captured, it would make the advance to Dhaka much more easier. However couple of factors made this a tough task, one was the bridge itself that was heavily fortified, with the Pakistani army having dug in. Also an earlier motorable bridge across the river was blown up.  The other one was at Kushtia, where the II Corps was held up by the Pakistani defences in one really intense conflict. Any operation to take the bridge, would be a long drawn affair, that would only delay advance and result in high casualties. Constructing a new bridge by Indian army engineers too was ruled, out due to the time factor involved. This was when Sagat Singh, came up with the idea of airlifting the troops along with Maj Gen B F Gonsalves.

However it was quite a risky idea, the troops to be airlifted had no artillery support, which meant they would be landing straight in enemy territory, open to fire.  The assumption was made that the troops would face no or minimal opposition from the Pakistani forces at Raipura. It was one risky move that could backfire spectacularly too. And thus began one of the largest airlift of troops ever post World War II on Dec 9, 1971.

The troops were airlifted to Raipura, on the southern side of Ashuganj Bridge, and from there they would be airlifted again to Narsingdi, from where access to Dhaka was easy and not defended. PT 76 tanks were told to ford the Meghana River, to provide support to the airdropped troops.  Gp Cpn Chandan Singh led the airlift to Raipura , and used Mi-4 choppers that were used in the Sylhet Air Lift earlier.

Around 600 troops were first airlifted on the night of December 9th to Raipura, and though there was resistance from Pakistani forces, they managed to hold their own well, with support from IAF. Over the next 36 hours, 110 sorties would be flown airlifting the entire 311 Brigade. The Mi-4 choppers that could normally carry only 14, carried as many as 23. While the 73rd Brigade moved across the Meghana River in amphibious crafts. It was one of the largest airlift of troops in military history, and carried out in 2 phases.

After Raipura was secured, the troops were again airlifted to Narsingdi, which was secured, while Daudkandi and Baidder Bazar were captured on Dec 14 and 15 respectively. One of the most successful airlifts ever in military history was carried out, giving Indian Army full access to Dhaka now.

The hero of the day was Lt. Gen Sagat Singh, from Bikaner, who had served in Iraq and Ahwaz( Iran) during World War II. Joining the 3rd Gorkha Rifles after independence, he would later command India’s only parachute brigade, and was the first to enter Panaji during the Liberation of Goa in 1961. Later as Major General, he led active counter insurgency operations in Mizoram too.  He would be one of those present during the Pakistani surrender at Dhaka and was later honored with the Padma Bhushan.

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Tangail Airdrop

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Tangail was one of the major cities in the Dhaka division, the main objective here was to capture the Poongli Bridge( now called the Bangabandhu Bridge) across the other major river, Jamuna in Bangladesh.  This was carried out by 2nd Batallion Special Ops of the Parachute Regiment under Lt Col Kulwant Singh Pannu on December 11, 1971. It was reinforced by an engineering team, and logistics team. Capturing the bridge, would cut off  Pakistan’s 93rd Brigade which was retreating from Mymensingh to defend Dhaka.

The Paratroop unit also had to link up with the Maratha Light Infantry on ground that  was advancing towards Dhaka. Landing on the ground at 4:30 PM on Dec 11, the paratroopers were greeted by a jubilant crowd of locals, some even assisting.

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By 7 PM, the Para 2 secured the area cutting off Pakistan 93 Brigade from the North towards Dhaka. On the other side, the Maratha Light Infantry broke through Tangail defense, and linked up with the Paras establishing total control.1000 Paratroopers were airdropped at Tangail, one of the largest ever such post WW2. The operation involved An-12, C-119, 2 Caribous and Dakotas. IAF also did some dummy airdrops to fool the Pakistani Army.

Tangail Airdrop along with the capture of the Poongli Bridge, gave the Indian Army, space to take the undefended Manikganj- Dhaka route, sidestepping the more strongly defended Tongi- Dhaka route. The Army went all the way up to Mirpur Bridge right at gates of Dhaka.

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The hero of Tangail was Lt.Col Kulwant Singh Pannu, who received the Maha Vir Chakra. Joining the 3 Gorkha Rifles in 1952, Pannu distinguished himself with his leadership during the Tangail airdrop.  Consider this, the paradrop at Tangail was widely dispersed, and he had to move from location to location under enemy fire, to get all the scattered platoons together. And then guide them to capture the Poongli bridge, repulsing enemy counter atttacks. An exemplary display of leadership and courage under fire.

 

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Balaji Baji Rao

Quite often, growing up in the shadow of a banyan tree can be quite inhibiting, however much you grow, and you shall always look small against the banyan. And it has been the case in Maratha history, Sambhaji often had to measure up to his more illustrious father, Shivaji. And on the other hand, we had Balaji Baji Rao aka Nana Saheb Peshwa, the son of the legendary Baji Rao and Kashibai.  Nana Saheb presided over both the highest and lowest points of Maratha history.  The Maratha Empire expanded all the way till Attock under his reign, Pune emerged as a great city, and yet the humiliating rout at Panipat took place in 1761.  Much like Sambhaji and Sadashiv Rao Bhau, Nana Saheb too has been judged harshly by historians, who felt he was not as great a warrior as his father, nor a good diplomat either. Again a rather unfair assesment of him.

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It was not an easy ascent to throne for Nana Saheb, he had to face stiff opposition from Raghoji Bhonsle on being made Peshwa in 1740 at just 19 after his father had passed away.  Not to forget his rather scheming brother Raghunath Rao, whose greed for the throne got the better of him later on. It did not help matters that his wife Gopika Bai, alienated others, including his cousin Bhau, with her rather overbearing attitude.

Raghoji Bhonsle had played a role in expanding the Maratha Empire towards South and East. He had defeated and killed Dost Ali Khan, the Carnatic Nawab in his battle against Pratap Singh Bhonsle of Thanjavur,  and became a bitter opponent of Nana Saheb.  The Peshwa in turn expelled him from Odisha, forcing Raghoji to seek help of Chatrapati Sahu and taking charge of Eastern India, and by 1752 had secured his position there.

The other opponent Nana Saheb had to face was Tarabai, the widow of Raja Ram Chattrapati, who wanted to make her grandson Raja Ram II, as the next Chattrapati. When Shahu passed away in 1749, Rajaram II became the next Chattrapathi. However when Tarabai, asked Rajaram II, to depose Nana Saheb, who was then on a campaign against the Nizam, the latter refused and she threw Raja Ram II into prison.  However she failed to get any support from the nobles or the Nizam against Nana Saheb, and she took the help of Umabai Dabhade, whose eldest son Trimbak Rao was killed by Baji Rao, in the Battle of Dabhol, where he had allied with the Mughals and Nizam. The Dabhades held sway over Gujarat, and though they had to share the revenues with the Peshwa, they never did it.

Balaji Baji Rao inherited an empty treasury, thanks to his father’s long military campaigns, in debt to tune of 14 lakh rupees, and he began to force all the provinces to pay up their dues, that included Gujarat too. Umabhai lent her support to Tarabai, and sent a large unit under her lieutnant Damaji Rao Gaekwad, who would later be the second Maharaja of Vadodara. Gaekwad reached all the way till Satara where he joined forces with Tarabai. However Trimbak Rao Purandare, routed Gaekwad in March 1751, on the banks of the Venna and forced him to flee from the battlefield.

Nana Saheb who was in the North, rushed back to Satara, covering around 650 km in 13 days, and stormed the Yavateshwar garrison, defeating Tarabai’s forces. He forced Gaekwad for a treaty, one of the conditions being half of the Gujarat territories. Later with Tarabai’s own troops rebelling against her, she agreed to sign a peace treaty with Nana Saheb, taking an oath in the famous Khandoba Temple at Jejuri in 1752. Raja Ram II was released and made as Chattrapathi later, though more of a figure head, the real power was with the Peshwa.

The Dabhades too were arrested, their jagirs taken over by the Peshwa. However with Yashwant Rao Dabhade, refusing to cede Gujarat, he had him Damaji Gaekwad locked up in Lohgad. He sent a military expedition under his brother Raghunath Rao to capture Gujarat, who however could go only up to Surat. Seeking to put an end to the conflict, he negotiated with Damaji, who finally agreed to abandon the Dabhades and join the Peshwa. Damaji was made Maratha in charge of Gujarat, and also would later play a role in expelling the Mughals from there. Balaji Baji Rao also managed to conquer Karnataka from the Nizam, thanks to his able general and cousin  Sadashiv Rao Bhau.  Raghoji Bhonsle also came to peace ceding parts of Berar to him.

The other important episode was his relations with the Rajputs, when Sawai Jai Singh passed away in 1743, a war of succession broke out between his sons Ishwari and Madho Singh. While Mewar and Bundi supported Madho, Ishwari was initially backed by the Marathas. However Jagat Singh of Mewar, got Malhar Rao Holkar towards his side, while Jayappa Scindia backed Ishwari.  It would mark the beginning of a long rivalry between the Holkars and Scindias,  and also Maratha interference in Rajput affairs, which was one of the causes of the Panipat disaster too. Though Madho Singh managed to become ruler of Jaipur, he had no love lost for the Marathas, especially after his brother’s suicide.  It sparked off a long round of conflict between the Rajputs and Marathas, forcing Madho Singh to seek help from Shuja Ud Daulah of Avadh and later Abdali too.

Again when another succession war broke out in Jodhpur between sons of Abhai Singh, however Ram Singh ascended the Marwar throne in 1749, sought help from Madho Singh, the Rohillas and Mughals against the Marathas. After another long conflict, Ram Singh agreed for a peace treaty, during which Jayappa Scindia was assasinated by emissaries of Vijay Singh. This again lead to another round of conflict between the Marathas and Rajputs, before Dattaji Rao Scindia bought around the two warring parties in 1756. There was also the long conflict with Jat ruler Surajmal, who had supported Ishwari Singh in the Jaipur conflict.

When the Mughal wazir Safdar Jung sought Suraj Mal’s assistance against the Mughal emperor, the other king maker Imad-Ul-Mulk sought the Maratha help, to which Raghunath Rao responded. Raghoba seeking a share of the revenues from Bharatpur state, sent Malhar Rao Holkar and after a 4 month long siege of Kumher Fort in 1754, Surajmal sued for peace, and agreed to pay around 30 lakhs to the Marathas. Balaji Baji Rao also managed to secure Malwa, when he proteced the Mughal emperor from internal revolt of Safdar Jung, who had allied with the Nizam. When the Rohillas rebelled against the Mughal emperor, and invited Abdali, once again the Marathas managed to sudbue the Rohillas, and by the 1752 treaty were granted Malwa.

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One of Balaji Baji Rao’s major achievements would be the way he transformed Pune into a major city from a small settlement. It was under him that Pune grew into a city, and most of it’s current shape was due to his efforts. Most of the Peths in Pune, were developed by Balaji Baji Rao, esp Shaniwar, Budhwar, Ravivar, and that expanded the city even more. He also built Pune’s first wooden bridge over the Mutha River, I believe now the concrete bridge there is called Lakdi Pul. Another great achievement of Balaji Baji Rao was the reservoir at Katraj to supply water to Pune, as also the Parvati Temple on the hill, one of the city’s landmarks.

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“2 pearls have been dissolved, 27 gold coins have been lost and of the silver and copper the total cannot be cast up”

Sadly however Nana Saheb’s rule would end in ignominy, due to Panipat, the rout there shattered him mentally. It was a shattering blow , he lost his cousin Sadashiv Rao and his son Vishwas Rao, never recovered from it. It’s said that he  spent his last years on the Parvati hill in Pune, where he passed away heart broken. His samadhi is now located on Parvati Hill, where he spent his last years. The rout at Panipat though would never diminish the sterling work he did for expanding Maratha empire as well as developing Pune. If not for anything, Peshwa Nana Saheb, would forever be remembered for making Pune what it is today, giving it it’s basic shape.

 

 

 

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Mahadji Scindia-The Great Maratha

The 3rd Battle of Panipat, had dealt one of the worst blows ever to the Maratha empire, Balaji Baji Rao, the Peshwa, could not recover from the debacle and died broken hearted in the very city of Pune, that he so lovingly built.  The Marathas lost the entire Northern territories of India from Delhi onwards, and the empire ran up into huge debts. It was at such a critical juncture that Madhavrao I, became the Peshwa on June 23, 1761, at a very young age of 16. Due to his rather young age, his uncle Raghunathrao was appointed as his regent to assist him in the administrative affairs.

Madhavrao I managed to bring the administration back into track,  and also secured the treasury that was being looted.  He had the unenviable task of rebuilding the Maratha Empire that had suffered a body blow, after Panipat and setting right the rot in the administration.  Madhavrao I’s reign however  would be remembered for the creation of the semi autonomous Maratha states in the Deccan and the North, it was a tactical decision to keep the Maratha empire intact.While the Peshwas ruled over Pune, in the Western part of India, Pilaji Rao Gaekwad captured Baroda from the Mughals in 1721, leading to the establishment of the Gaekwad dynasty there. The Peshwa authority by now had considerably eroded post Panipat, and the semi autonomous dynasties like the Gaekwads began to assert themselves even more.  In Maharasthra itself, the Bhonsle’s established semi autonomous fiefs at Nagpur, Satara and Kolhapur, while smaller semi autonomous provinces like Dhar, Sangli, Aundh etc sprang up. In Indore, Malhar Rao Holkar founded the Holkar dynasty, that would be a powerful kingdom on it’s own.

And in Ujjain, one of the holy cities of Hinduism, one of the 12 Jyotirlinga Kshetras, a village patil from Kannerkheda in Satara dist, would found one of the more powerful kingdoms in 1731. Ranoji Scindia, one of the 3 senior most commanders under Baji Rao, during the invasion of Malwa in 1723.  The Scindias, or Shindes were Kunbis, one of the lower peasant communities, who made up the bulk of the Mavalas in Shivaji Maharaj’s army.  Matter of fact even the Gaekwads of Baroda, were Kunbis too, and they are mostly concentrated in Vidarbha. They served as shilledars or cavalry men in the Bahmani sultanate, and later under the Peshwa, which accounts for their surname too.

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The greatest of the Scindia rulers, would however Ranoji’s illegitimate son, his youngest one, Mahadji Scindia.  None of Ranoji’s immediate successors, had a distinguished reign, Jayappaaji Rao  was killed in a clash with the Maharaja of Jodhpur, after he got involved in their internal affairs. While Jankoji Scindia, took part in the disastrous battle at Panipat, and was killed by  Bakhurdhar Khan, after being taken prisoner by him. And for 2 years, they had no leader either, till Kadarji Rao Scindia, was appointed.

It was not an easy ascent to power for Mahadji Scindia, Jayappa’s widow Sakhubhai, Raghunath Rao were both against him.  Raghunath Rao even tried making Mahadji’s nephew Kedarji as the ruler, however the latter refused to conspire against his uncle whom he greatly respected. It was the siege of the Jat fortress of Gohad, that tilted the balance in favor of Mahadji. Gwalior was under the Jat ruler of Gohad, and the Marathas had planned a long siege in 1767. Mahadji intervened and managed to bring about a settlement between the Marathas and Jats, which impressed the young Peshwa Madhavrao. After due consultation with Nana Fadnavis, Malhar Rao Holkar and Haripant Phadke, he declared Mahadji to be the true ruler of the Scindias in 1768.

Mahadji had earlier given indications of his prowess, capturing Mathura from the Jats in 1755, when he was just 25. A devotee of Shri Krishna, he rebuilt many temples in Mathura and also established a Sanskrit school there. He was fluent in both Sanskrit and Persian, not to mention the fact that he was a great warrior. He was one of the few who escaped the carnage at Panipat, thanks to a water carrier named Rane Khan, who pulled him to safety and later became his close aide.

Ascending the throne, he made Shah Alam, the Mughal emperor in 1772, who out of gratitude appointed him as his vakil ul mulatuk or honorary regent. In the meanwhile Madhav Rao Peshwa passed away, and the ambitious Raghunath Rao, egged on by his scheming wife Anandi Bai, murdered the young succesor Narayan Rao, his own nephew. However Nana Fadnavis  formed the Barabhai council of which Mahadji was a part, taking matters into his own hands, and Raghunath Rao was deposed, making Sawai Madhav Rao, the next Peshwa.

Raghunath Rao, meanwhile sought the help of the British, to become Peshwa again, and the first Anglo Maratha War began .  Leading the Maratha forces, Mahadji encircled the British army at Wadgaon and routed them in a bloody battle in 1779. He forced the British to sue for peace, where they would not support Raghoba, and have several regions adjacent to Bombay.  However the then Governor General, Warren Hastings, refused to honor the treaty,  and series of conflicts broke out.  Capt Goddard in west, Capt Poham in North attacked many of the Maratha provinces, making Mahadji counterattack. With neither side gaining much, the conflict was becoming a stalemate.

This led to the Treaty of Salbai in 1782, by which British ceased all support to Raghunath Rao and pension him off. Sawai Madhav Rao would be the legitimate Peshwa, while Mahadji would no longer be a vassal of the Peshwa, but an independent ruler in his own right. While Mahadji would be the legitimate ruler of the Northern areas, the Peshwa would still rule over the Deccan. This move though however sparked off a long rivalry between Mahadji Scindia and Nana Fadnavis, it also did not help that both had no love lost for each other.  Fadnavis was wary of Mahadji’s growing influence in the North, and felt he would be more powerful than the Peshwa soon.

Mahadji also had to face opposition from the Holkars, a rivarly that went back to the days of the Maratha campaigns in Rajputana, where they often supported rival factions. Fadnavis sent Tukoji Holkar and Ali Bahadur, Baji Rao’s grandson from Mastani, to undermine Scindia in the North. Mahadji however managed to rout Holkar at Lakheri in 1793, while Ali Bahadur would later form the princely state of Banda in Bundelkhand.

Mahadji by now had become a powerful force in the North, wresting Gwalior in 1783 from the Jat ruler Chattar Singh and securing it as the Scindia capital.  He also built a professional army on European lines with the help of Benoit de Boigne, a former French commander. He had some real trusted people around him, like Ambuji Ingle, Rana Khan, Rayali Patil, Jivbadada Baksh and  Ladoj Deshmukh.  When  the Mughal Emperor, Shah Alam II, was blinded and deposed by the Rohillas under Ghulam Qadir in 1788, he rushed to his aid. The Rohillas were routed at Delhi and Shah Alam II was placed on the throne.  Mahadji struck terror among the Rohillas with  a series of raids, and their capital at  Najibabad was sacked too.

Mahadji also defeated a combined army of Jaipur and Jodhpur at the Battle of  Patan in 1790 and later at the Battle of Merta, forcing the Rathores to cede Ajmer to him. He also defeated the Nizam, restricting them to the Deccan, while Tipu Sultan had to sue for peace in 1792. Also inspite of his rivalry with Nana Fadnavis, he remained loyal to the Peshwa all his life. While the Peshwa through Mahadji’s friend Haripant Phadke, managed to bring about a truce between Scindia and Fadnavis.

Mahadji Scindia passed away at Wanwadi near Pune on February 12, 1794, where there is a magnificient chattri built in his honor. A 3 storied building in typical Rajput style with a Shiva temple and memorial, worth a visit.

 

 

Posted in Indian History, Marathas, Medieval India, Scindia, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Ahom Chronicles- The Mughal Conflicts

One of the most fascinating aspects of Ahom history, has been their long conflict with the Mughals.  While we do known about the long Maratha-Mughal war,  not much is known about  the  long history of Ahom resistance to Mughal rule from 1615 when their kingdom was atttacked by Abu Bakr  to the Battle of Itakhuli in 1682 that saw a decisive Ahom victory, resulting in the Mughal retreat. There were 18 major conflicts between the Ahoms and Mughals, out of which only one in 1663 was a major victory for the latter. In most other conflicts, the Ahoms either routed the Mughals and sent them back, or even if the Mughals won, they could not hold for long on to their gains.

 

Flag of Cooch Behar

One of the primary factors behind the Ahom-Mughal rivalry was the kingdom that lay to the West, the Cooch Behar princely state.

Cooch Behar was formed in 1586, following the breakup of the Kamata Kingdom, one of the older Assamese kingdoms. Earlier under the Khem dynasty, it later came under the Koch dynasty in 1515 with Vishwa Singha being their first ruler. When it’s second ruler Nara Narayan passed away, the kingdom split into two parts, the eastern part was Koch Hajo under Raghudev, his nephew, and the Western part Koch Behar under his son Lakshmi Narayan.  It was this part that allied with the Mughals, right from Jahangir’s time, which was the genesis of the conflict too. When Lakshmi Narayan allied with the Mughals, the Ahom ruler Sukhampaa allied with Koch Hajo, by marrying his son to Raghudeva’s daughter. While Koch Hajo includes the districts of Barpeta, Kamrup, Darrang, Koch Bihar mostly covered Northern Bengal, bordering Bhutan.

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Another factor was the aggressive Mughal imperialism that sought to expand its territory into the North East starting with Assam. The Mughals considered the territory east of Barnadi up to Singri as part of their empire, added to it the rich natural resources of Assam too, especially after the break up of the Kamata kingdom. Kamrup was one of the more prosperous, fertile areas, with it’s elephants, aromatic plants, and the Mughals were determined to have it.

The very first foray the Mughals made into Assam, at Kajali in 1615, was sparked off by the Ahom rulers punishing Ratan Singh, for illegal trade by expelling him.  The Mughals sent an imperial army under Abu Bakr and Raja Satrajit of Bhusna. Though the Ahoms suffered an early loss, they fortified Samdhara, regrouped and managed to drive back the Mughals.  It was a disaster for the Mughals, and in a way would set the pattern for future Ahom-Mughal conflicts also.

For quite some time there was a low key conflict between both of them, with the Mughals preferring to focus on the Kamrup region more.  The Ahoms however continued their hostile policy, as they encouraged the rebels in Kamrup, with Pratap Singha making a rather failed attempt to install Bali Narayan, as the king of Darrang. In 1619 asylum was given to the hill chiefs of Dhanikal fleeing from the tyrannical Bengal subedar Qasim Khan Chisti. Though the Ahoms managed to defeat the Mughal forces and occupy Ranihat, the latter struck back reoccupying Dhanikal.

While there was a brief lull in hostilities, the conflict again rose its head under Shahjahan’s reign. Two factors spurred this, one  was the asylum given by the Ahom king to the hill chiefs of Dhanikal, another was the double game played by Satrajit, who egged on Bali Narayan to capture Kamrup, with Ahom assistance. The attack on Kamrup by Bali Narayan and Ahoms in December 1636, reignited the conflict. And by November 1637, the Mughals managed to occupy Kamrup, in spite of a gallant resistance  put up by the residents of Samdhara fort.

The treaty of Asurar Ali signed in 1639, between the Ahom general Momai Tamuli Borbarua and Allah Yar Khan, saw the entire Western part of Assam, till Guwahati pass under Mughal control. For the first time, the Ahom ruler, formally acknowledged Kamrup as a part of the Mughal Empire, marking it as the Western boundary to his kingdom.  In spite of the peace treaty and acknowledgement of boundaries, regular skirmishes kept breaking out between the Mughals and Ahoms. When Shahjahan fell ill, and his sons were caught in a bloody war of succession, the Ahom king Jayadhwaj Singha, took advantage of it, and chased out the Mughals from Assam, reoccupying the entire Western region till Guwahati.

Aurangzeb on ascending the throne, ordered his Bengal subedar Mir Jumla to recapture Cooch Behar and Assam, establishing Mughal rule in that region. With Koch Behar falling to the Mughals, Mir Jumla entered Assam in 1662. He had a series of successes initially, occupying a whole lot of forts between Manaha and Gauhati. He was also helped by the internal dissensions in the Ahom kingdom, due to Jayadhwaja appointing a Kayastha as viceroy of Western Assam. This decision was not accepted by the dominant Tai-Ahom nobility, who regarded the top posts as their exclusive privilege, leading to disunity among the ranks.

In spite of the Ahoms, regrouping after the Mughal attack on Kaliabor, Mir Jumla easily overran Simulgarh, Samdhara and entered Garhgaon by March 1662. Jayadhwaj Singha, abandoned the capital, taking refuge in the Eastern hills, and the Mughals got hold of a massive treasure, that included  82 elephants, about 300,000 coins in gold and silver, 675 big guns, not to mention 1000 ships. However when the monsoon struck, communications were cut off  with the Mughal fleet at Dhaka and Lakhau.  Also an epidemic broke out at Mathurapur, causing many deaths forcing Mughals to abandon camp there, and neither they could adjust to the climate there.

Taking advantage of the Mughal misery, the Ahoms recovered most of the lost territories except Garhgaon. However with the monsoon easing out by September , communication was re established, roads were available, contact was established with the fleet at Lakhau.  Under constant  attack,  the Ahom ruler Jayadhwaj Singha, sued for peace, and the result was the utterly humilating Treaty of Ghilajarighat in January 1663. Western Assam was ceded to the Mughals, war indemnity of 3 lakh rupees to be paid and the worst of all, he had to send his own daughter Ramani Ghabaru, as well as his niece to the Mughal harem. It was complete humiliation for the proud Ahoms, and Jayadhwaj Singha later died heartbroken.

“My ancestors were never subordinate to any other people; and I for myself cannot remain under the vassalage of any foreign power. I am a descendant of the Heavenly King and how can I pay tribute to the wretched foreigners”

However Jayadhwaj’s succesor Chakradwaj Singha, swore to avenge the humiliation, and refused to pay any indemnity. “Death is preferable to a life of subordination to foreigners”, he defiantly proclaimed, and in 1665 summoning an assembly of nobles, he made it clear that the Ahoms would no longer accept Mughal rule and ordered measures to drive them out from Western Assam.

When Syed Firoz Khan, the new Faujdar at Gauhati, demanded him to pay up the money, Chakradwaj made up his mind, and launched an atack. Sailing down the Brahmaputra in two divisions, in August 1667, the Ahoms encamped at Kaliabor, which they would use as the base to launch operations from.  By November 1667, Itakhuli was recaptured along with Gauhati, and the Mughals were chased down to the Manas river, that formed the boundary. They also managed to free many of the Assamese who were taken into captivity by Mir Jumla. When he heard the news of the victory, Chakradwaj proudly said

It is now that I can eat my morsel of food with ease and pleasure

The Ahoms managed to recapture most of their old territory, which would make Aurangzeb send a huge army that would result in the epic battle of Saraighat.

 

 

Posted in Ahom History, Assam, Medieval India, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Ahom Chronicles-Origin and Founding

The Ahoms were primarily descendants of Tai who are found all over China, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. The culture they follow is pretty much a mix of the original Tai culture, Tibetan, Burmese and elements of Hinduism. The Ahoms assimilated into Hinduism, adopted many native Indian practices, retaining some of the original Tai traditions too. They practice a kind of Hinduism that is more based on their Furalung religion, which does not believe in a specific God. Basically the belief system states that Fra, the cornerstone of Furalung, is nothing and yet is everything. Gods and Goddesses are basically Great men and women, so in a way Fra symbolizes the nature.

For a long time, Ahoms buried their dead, in coffin like boxes called Maidam, however their ruler Swargdeo Rajeshwar Singha, adopted cremation, with the funerary rites, conducted by a Maithili Brahmin priest. Like Hindus, ancestor worship is prevalent among Ahoms. The belief is that ancestors must be worshipped as it is they who protect the household. Festivals like Bihu, marriages, harvesting season is the time, when ancestral spirits have to be invoked.

Ahom kingdom was established in 1228 by Chaolung Sukaphaa, regarded as its founder. It’s believed he was a descendant of the god Khunlung, and during reign of Suhungmung, his origin was more explicitly described as bringing the divine diamond chum-Phra-rung-sheng-mung in a box, a divine elephant, the divine chicken Kaichengmung and the divine sword Hengdan.

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While there are conflicting versions of his origin, and early life, before he came to Assam, what most agree upon is that he was a Tai prince, who had to leave his native Mong Mao( now the region lying on the boundary between China and Myanmar) after he crossed 19 years. Sukhapa’s father Chao Chang Nyeu, was a prince of the neighboring Mong Ri kingdom, who travelled to Mong Mao on an expedition, and made friends with Pao Me Pung, the prince there. Chao Chang married Me Pung’s sister Blak Kham Sen, and Sukhapa was bought up by his maternal grandparents. With Pao Me Pung, having no male heir, Sukhapa was slated to succeed him, however with the queen giving birth late to a son, his claim was overruled.  He left Chieng-Sen, the capital of Mong Mao in 1215, on the advice of his maternal grandmother who said “no two tigers live in the same jungle”.

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Travelling with his 3 queens, 2 sons and a daughter, along with dependent chiefs from 5 Mongs, priests and soldiers he headed a large contingent of around 9000 which also had 300 horses and 2 elephants. An epic journey it was travelling along the older route from Yunnan to Assam that passed through the Upper Irawady river valley and in 1227 reached the Nangyang Lake, where he subjugated the Nagas after a fierce battle. Leaving it in charge of Kan-Khrang-Mong, he crossed the Patkai hills via the Pangsau Pass , and reached Namrup, now an industrial township in Assam’s Dibrugarh disrict, on the Disang River in the Brahmaputra Valley.  This journey took around 13 years, and December 2, 1228 is considered as the year of the founding of the Ahom kingdom, the State Govt celebrates this as Sukhapa Diwas or Asom Divas. 

At Namrup, he bridged the Sessa River, and went upstream looking for a colony for wet rice cultivation. However not finding any such place, he went downstream to Tipam. However the continous flooding of the Brahmaputra, meant he had to keep moving from place to place, and he finally settled at Charaideo in 1253, which would be the first capital of the Ahom kingdom. Though the Ahom capital kept changing later, Charaiedo (now near Sibsagar) remained the symbolic center of the kingdom. All the Ahom rulers were burried there, in mound shaped structures called the maidams. In a sense these were like the pyramids of Egypt, and are pretty much worth a visit.

 

Sukhapa began the process of Ahomization, as he encouraged his nobles and soldiers to intermingle the local Barahi, Moran tribes, marrying their women. He introduced the techniques of wet rice cultivation, as also the Ahom administrative structure. In fact Assam is believed to have got it’s name from Ha Cham, which is what the Barahi, Moran tribes called Sukhapa’s people. Again this is one of the numerous theories about the etymology of Assam. He also established 3 large wet rice cultivation farms with the help of local tribes called Barakhowakhat, Engerakhat and Gachikalakhat. 

Sukhapa passed away in 1268, but he laid down the foundation and principles of the Ahom kingdom, as also their society and culture. At his death, the kingdom stretched from Brahmaputra in the West to the Naga hills in the East, and from Disang River in North to Dikhow River in South.

 

https://www.sac.or.th/databases/siamrarebooksold/main/index.php/history/jss/295-a-short-account-of-the-ahom-people

Posted in Assam, Indian History, Medieval India | 1 Comment

Bipin Chandra Pal

You wanted magic. I tried to give you logic. But logic is in bad odor when the popular mind is excited. You wanted mantaram, I am not a Rishi and cannot give mantaram…I have never spoken a half-truth when I know the truth…I have never tried to lead people in faith blind-folded.

It was the 1921 Congress session, when one of the delegates made this scathing attack on none other than Mahatma Gandhi.  The attack was on Gandhi’s support to the Khilafat movement, which he felt was a disastrous move.  While Gandhi felt supporting Khilafat movement, would bring about Hindu-Muslim unity, he felt it would only promote Pan Islamism.

This man was was Bipin Chandra Pal, one of the members of the Lal-Bal-Pal trio in Congress, others being  Bal Gangadhar Tilak and Lala Lajpat Rai. A nationalist,  writer and thinker, and above all, a man who was uncomprosingly independent in his views.

The man who dared to take on Gandhi for his support to the Khilafat movement, was born on November 7, 1858, in a small village, near to Habibganj in Sylhet division( now in Bangladesh). His father was a leading lawyer, and came from a well to do Zamindari family. Though  not a very good student, he however read extensively, and was a great admirer of Bankim Chandra Chatterjee, whose works along with the early Vaishnava poets, influenced his thoughts a lot. Emerson and Theodore Parker were Bipin Chandra’s favorite English writers, and he also studied Geeta, Upanishads.

Bipin joined Presidency, and he initially had problem in adjusting, as his Sylheti accent, was different from the Kolkata one. It was at college, he came into contact with many notable personalities, who influenced his views. Keshab Chandra Sen motivated Bipin to become a Brahmo and he was impressed by his eloquence, wanted to be an orator like him. And when he heard a speech by Surendranath Banerjee, he was convinced, destiny bought him to Kolkata, to make him a great orator.

However when Bipin’s mother and sister died, he began to look for solace, from his pain and it was during this time he met Sivanath Sastri, a brilliant poet and scholar. However his acceptance of Brahmoism, did not go down well with his father, a staunch Vaishnavite.  He was disowned by his father, did not receive the money for his studies, and  had to drop out. With his father disiniheriting him, he received no share in the property either, and he began to teach in various schools, to make ends meet.

He also worked as Librarian for the Kolkata Public Library from 1890-91, and wrote biographies on Queen Victoria, Keshub Chandra Sen. His political association started in 1877, where he combined,the social idealism of Brahmos with political idealism of Surendranath Banerjee. As a member of the Congress, Bipin Chandra Pal,compelled it to take up the cause of tea laborers in Assam, and their harsh lives.

It was around this time that the Nationalist movement in Bengal began to gain momentum. Bipin relocated to the newly founded Nationalist school in Sylhet, where he taught, and also worked as an editor for the Paridashak newspaper. Along with his childhood friend Sundari Mohan Das, who was now a doctor, he founded the Sylheti Sammelan, for the cause of women’s education.

Bipin went to England for higher studies at Oxford funded by his friends and well wishers. It was in England, he came to be known as a good orator, giving lectures on various topics, and he did the same in US too later. It was during this time, he realized, that he did not belong to a free country.  And felt that unless India attains freedom, it would never get due respect in the world. Returning to India in 1900 he  began the newspaper New India to advocate Purna Swaraj much before Congress advocated it, and vehemently criticized Curzon’s partition of Bengal in 1905. He however did not favor a centralized state like England or France, he was more in favor of a federal structure, where every province, district, village would enjoy a fair degree of autonomy. He was an ardent nationalist, and he also believed in value of personal conscience and universal humanity. It was around this time he became a close associate of Tilak too.

In 1906, he  started the daily Vande Matram, and the editor was Aurobindo Ghosh, whom he described as a stormy petrel. He advocated boycott of English goods, total severance with the British Raj, and national Government during his tour of India in 1907.  He was arrested by the British, when he refused to testify against Aurobindo in the Bande Mataram sedition case.  Though not a supporter of Aurobindo’s revolutionary activities, Bipin Pal, he neverthless backed him all the way. Aurobindo rightly called him one of the mightiest prophets of nationalism, his oration could move thousands of young people.

Released from prison, Bipin Pal, spent 3 years in England, where he conceived of a federal union, where India, UK would be equal partners. He was also a part of the India House, the meeting point for revolutionaries there, but post the assasination of Curzon Wylie by Madan Lal Dhingra, he had to move out, with the British cracking down strongly.

He was one of the few Congress leaders who recognized that Pan Islamism was going to be a major threat to India. This was why he opposed Mahatma Gandhi’s non cooperation movement because it was associated with the Khilafat movement, at a time when none dared to question the Mahatma. He was aware that the Khilafat movement was an excuse for perpetuating Pan Islamism, that always put religion above the state.  It was not just on Pan Islamism, he also differed with Gandhi on the economic boycott. Where the Mahatma, just wanted to reject foreign goods, Bipin called for a total economic boycott, that would strike at the very root.  He openly declared that mere moral pressure would not work against the British, but only factors like war in Europe, or an internal mutiny would do. He was prophetic, in a way, as Britain’s economic devastation post World War II, and the Naval Ratings Mutiny, played a major factor in their decision to quit India.

Bipin Chandra Pal’s stand on these issues, and his differences with the Mahatma, cost him politically as he ended up marginalized in the Congress. But then he was always independent in his stance,  be it in the social or political sphere, a true rebel of his times. He was ostracized from his own family, for becoming a Brahmo, and by marrying a Brahmin widow, he walked the talk. Again while a Brahmo, in the later stages of his life, he was greatly influenced by Adi Sankara’s Vedantic philosophy and later under Bijay Krishna Goswami, turned  towards the Vaishnava philosophy of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. For him Swadeshi was not just political freedom, but also a spiritual revival,and he sought reform in education system.He wanted educational system to be reformed to inculcate feelings of nationalism and spiritualism among Indians.

Apart from being an activist, Bipin Pal was also a great writer too, he wrote extensively on Bengal’s rich Vaishnava heritage. He also wrote a series of biographies on Raja Ram Mohan Roy, Keshab Chandra Sen, Aurobindo, Tagore,Annie Beasant.And apart from that,he wrote expositions on Indian culture, history, interpreted the Bengal Renaissance.

Sadly with the Congress marginalizing him,  he spent his last days in relative obscurity and loneliness. And on May 20, 1932 one of the tallest leaders of the freedom struggle, passed away in Kolkata, unsung. Yet generations to come his insights and thinking would inspire many a freedom fighter and revolutionary.

 

 

 

Posted in Bengal, Indian Freedom Struggle, Indian History, Modern India | 1 Comment

Vasudev Balwant Phadke

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After the 1857 revolt, was effectively crushed by the British, they had become the sovereign masters of India. All the rebellious princely states, were disbanded, while the others ended up as their vassals. It also meant they created a whole educated class, that believed anything Indian was inferior, and it was the Western civilization that was the greatest. Caught between a self-loathing, educated class, indifferent to the plight of her people, and the ordinary masses, who were drained of their spirit, energy, and had become a victim to casteism, superstition, ignorance, India was passing through her darkest phase. However the darkest times often throw up some of the greatest heroes, and one such would emerge during that time.

Vasudev Balwant Phadke, often called as the father of the Indian armed revolt, an inspiration to many a revolutionary. He was an inspiration for Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s landmark novel Anand Math, which incorporated many references from his life. A Chitpavan Brahmin from Konkan, who rallied the lower peasant castes like Dhangars, Kolis, Bhils as well as warrior communities like Ramoshis against British rule. He often attacked rich English businessmen or zamindars, to raise funds for his liberation struggle and at one stage, managed to secure complete control over Pune.

Phadke was born in the coastal Konkan village of Shirdhon, in Raigad district, on November 4, 1845. He showed no interest in regular school education, and preferred to learn wrestling, horse riding. He dropped out from school, and after some time managed to secure a job as a clerk in the military accounts department in Pune. His mentor was Krantiguru Lahuji Salve, an expert wrestler, and Dalit belonging to the Mang community, who taught him sword fighting, dandapatta and rifle shooting. But more than anything, Salve, emphasized the importance of getting the backward communities in the freedom struggle to Phadke.

It was during this time too that Phadke, began to attend lectures by M.G.Ranade, where he came to know of how the British destroyed the Indian economy, and was deeply anguished. He founded the Aikya Vardhini Sabha, a voluntary organization in Pune to educate the youth, and inculcate nationalist feelings. He along with Laxman Indarpukar, and Waman Bhave also formed the Poona Native Institution which became MES, one of the leading institutes now.He   later started the Bhave School in Pune, and currently the MES runs around 77 institutes in Maharashtra. An interesting aspect, most of the freedom fighters in Maharashtra invested a lot in education, be it Tilak( Fergusson) or Phadke.

When the Gaekwad ruler of Baroda was deposed by the British in 1875, Phadke launched the protest against the Govt, and toured the Deccan, then reeling under a severe famine. However with most of the upper castes not supporting him, he felt only a mass based armed revolt, involving the smaller peasant communities, could strike against the British rule. The more backward peasant communities like Dhangars, Kolis, Bhils rallied around Phadke, while he took in the Ramoshis, who had a long history of being the footsoldiers in the Maratha wars.

These men were taught shooting, horse riding and fencing, and soon Phadke created an armed insurgent group of 300, that aimed to liberate India. In need of funds, he made his first raid on a small village near Shirur on a local businessman Balchand Sankla, in whose home, the income tax collected by the British was kept. Phadke attacked Sankla’s home, took the money for the benefit of the villagers, but was branded as a dacoit. Now on the run, he traveled from village to village, sheltered often by his followers most of whom were the poor peasants.

His followers were mainly small farmers, from the backward communities, who were worst hit by the British rule. The villagers of Nanagaon, offered him refuge in the forest nearby, from where he made his regular raids now.Soon he began to conduct many more such raids, primarily around Pune and Shirur, his followers began to swell. His raids were to raise funds for feeding the famine affected peasants, and would often involve cutting off all communications and raiding the treasury.

However Phadke suffered a major blow when his close associate, the Ramoshi leader,Daulat Rao Naik, was killed at Ghat Matha in Konkan on May 10,1879 by Major Daniel, while returning from a raid. He moved further south, to Srisailam, to escape from the British, where he spent some time incognito at the Mallikarjuna Temple. His grand plan of organizing multiple attacks on the British met with limited succcess. After a direct engagement with the British at Ghanur, a bounty was offered on his head. Phadke struck back offered a reverse bounty for the capture of the Governor of Bombay, and followed it up with offering bounty for any Britisher killed or captured.

Phadke tried to get the Rohillas in the Nizam’s army to fight along side him. However Abdul Haq then Police Comissioner of Hyderabad State, along with Major Henry Daniel, got wind of the plans, and he once again was on the run. The bounty offer by British was a succces, as one of his associates betrayed Phadke, and on July 20, 1879 he  was captured in a temple at Kaladgi( now in Bagalkot dt), en route Pandharpur, after a bitter fight.

Phadke was taken to Pune for trial, where he was was defended by Ganesh Vasudev Joshi, a prominent lawyer, also called as Sarvajanik Kaka, after the organization he founded. Ganesh Joshi would later be the guide to Tilak and Agarkar, and one of the first generation freedom fighters. He was housed in Pune for some time  district sessions court jail, located near Sangam Bridge that currently houses the state CID Dept.

Phadke was later transported to Aden, from where he tried to escape in 1883, breaking the prison door. He however was recaptured and went on  a hunger strike unto death in prison. Finally on Feb 17, 1883, he breathed his last in prison, giving up his life for freedom.  His legacy however would live on in Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s epic novel Ananda Math, which incorporated many episodes from his life. Coincidentally the year in which he passed away, would be the same year in which a certain Vinayak Damodar Savarkar was born.

 

Posted in Maharashtra, Maharashtra, Revolutionary Movements | 2 Comments