Shyamji Krishna Verma

( This was originally written at Quora by me, I am reproducing the same here. The original link here)

He was the mentor to many leading lights of India’s revolutionary movement, ranging from Veer Savarkar to Lala Hardayal to Madame Bhikaji Cama. Some one who gave up a flourishing legal career to take part in the freedom struggle. Was deeply influenced by the views of Swami Dayanand Saraswati’s teachings, as well as that of Herbert Spencer. He founded the India House in London, which would become the center for most Indian revolutionaries, operating outside of India or in exile.

Born to a laborer in one of the cotton mills of Gujarat, he was raised by his grandmother after his mother passed away. He migrated to Mumbai later, where he learnt Sanskrit, and was a student of the Wilson High School. It was in Mumbai he met Swami Dayananda Saraswati in 1875, and was deeply influenced by his teachings. He soon began to speak on Vedic philosophy and also became the first non Brahmin to be awarded the title of Pandit in Kashi in 1877, for his prowess in Sanskrit. He studied at Ballol College, Oxfored in 1881, and later came back to India in 1885 for law practice. During his stay in England, he delivered an impressive speech on the origins of writing in India, and was made a member of the Royal Asiatic Society.

In India he set up his legal practice at Ajmer, and also invested in cotton printing presses, there which gave him a steady income. He worked in the princely states of Ratlam, Udaipur for some time. However a rather bitter experience with a British agent in the state of Junagadh shook his faith in their rule, and he resigned in 1897.

Plunging headlong into the freedom struggle, he was a close associate of Bal Gangadhar Tilak, and a part of the Extremist section of Congress. After Swami Dayananda, it was Tilak who influenced him the most. He however had no faith in the Moderates tactics of petition, campaign, and felt only an aggressive resistance, could get rid of the British rule. He once again moved to England, where he would play a very significant role in the freedom struggle.

His major contribution was setting up the India House at London in 1900. Located in Highgate, this home would soon be a meeting spot for various revolutionaries living in exile or abroad. He used his money to fund scholarships in the name of Herbert Spencer and Swami Dayananda Saraswati, two thinkers he greatly admired. These scholarships would be greatly beneficial to poor Indian students, as well financially supporting Indian students in London.

His India House, by now had become a hub for the Indian freedom struggle abroad, and a refuge for many Indians arriving in England then. Veer Savarkar, Madame Bhikaji Cama, Lala Hardayal, Madan Lal Dhingra, all were nurtured in Shyamji’s India House in London. From Irish revolutionaries to free thinkers to rationalists, the India House was soon teeming with activity, it became a center of discourse.

He also started the Indian Sociologist, a magazine to spread, economic and political ideas. He aimed to awaken Indians against the British Raj, and also spread nationalism through it. In February 1905 he also set up the India Home Rule Society with the objective of securing home rule for India and carrying on the propaganda against the British rule. His activities however began to worry the British Govt that saw him as a threat. He was debarred from the Inner Temple, his membership was revoked. Even the British media wrote against him regularly, and he was put under constant surveillance by the Government.

Leaving India House in charge of Veer Savarkar, he managed to escape the police, and reached Paris in 1907. Though the British Government tried to extradite him, it was in vain, as he had the support of many influential French politicians too. Shyamji by now managed to get support for the cause of India’s independence all over Europe, and even among many sections in Britain. When Veer Savarkar was arrested, Shyamji successfully managed to ignite public opinion against him. However he had to once again flee Paris in 1914, to Geneva, due to the visit of King George V there. And with a ban on political activities, he had to live under virtual seclusion in Geneva. He spent his last years there and passed away in 1930, a disillusioned man, broken by the betrayal of what he felt were close friends around him. He however managed to guide and mentor, many Indian revolutionaries, rebels, from Bhagat Singh to Veer Savarkar to Lala Hardayal.

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Andhra Kesari

March 2,1928, Madras( nee Chennai)

It was the time, when India was rocked by protests against the Simon Comission. Slogans of  “Simon Go Back” rent the air, and black flags were shown wherever the commission members entered. With Mumbai being the epicenter of the protests, the British Government banned any strikes, demonstrations all over the country.  Considering the rather explosive situation, the Government banned all protests, rallies in Chennai. However a large crowd, gathered at Parry’s Corner, opposite the Madras High Court, and began to chant slogans of “Simon Go Back”. The police fired on the crowd, to disperse them. A youngster named Parthasarathi, fell a victim to the firing, and his lifeless body was lying on the square. The police warned that that anyone trying to carry the corpse, would also be similarly shot dead.

When the crowd was scared, one man stopped in with an imposing physique, sharp eyes, to take the body. As the police turned their guns towards him, he tore open his shirt in fury, bared his chest to them. And in a loud voice, roared , “Shoot you cowards, if you have any guts”, his chest bared to the police guns. The police taken aback by the defiance, and understanding the situation, gave way to him. That act of courage and defiance earned  that man, the appellation of “Andhra Kesari”( The Lion of Andhra).

That man was Tanguturi Prakasam Pantulu, one of the great freedom fighters from Andhra Pradesh, and also the first Chief Minister of the newly created Andhra State.

The man who openly defied the British to fire at his bare chest, was born in a small village, Vinodarayanipalem, in the Prakasam district of  Andhra Pradesh,to a pious Niyogi Brahmin couple, Subamma and Gopala Krishnayya on August 23, 1872.  His father was a Karanam of the village, and since his ancestors hailed from Tanguturu, a small town in Prakasam district, that became their surname. His father however passed away when Prakasam was just 11, leaving the family burden on his mother’s shoulders.  His mother left for Ongole, where she ran a small boarding and lodging home, to support her family. In those days people who did such work were often looked down upon by society. With a rather meager income from the boarding and lodging home, he had to work in homes of richer people, stay there to fund his studies.  With a rather fair complexion, a good physique he   would regularly take part in theater, often playing both male and female characters. He loved games and was quite good at cricket too.

However due to his interest in dramas and sports, Prakasam’s education suffered, and he got through his matriculation with great difficulty. It was his Mission School teacher Immaneni Hanumantha Rao Naidu who enrolled him in Pre Matric, and sponsored his education. When Hanumantha Rao, left for Rajahmundry, he also took Prakasam with him, as that city then was a well-known educational center. He enrolled Prakasam in an Arts course, and later sent him to Chennai to study Law.  Prakasam married his sister’s daughter, Hanumayyamma, and later took up a successful law practice in Rajahmundry. A successful lawyer, Prakasam, became the chairman of Rajahmundry Muncipality, at the age fo 35.

However since he was still a second grade pleader, Prakasam could not practice in the higher courts. In those days only barristers could plead in the higher courts, and one of them, suggested him to become one. Motivated by the advice, Prakasam left for London in 1904, and took a vow from his mother that he would not touch meat, liquor or tobacco. With his dedication and hard work, he became a Barrister and later actively campaigned for Dadabhai Nauroji’s election to the British Parliament. It was during this time, that nationalist feelings, social consciousness took root in Prakasam.

As a barrister in London

After graduating in Law, Prakasam returned to India in 1907 and began his practice in the Madras High Court. In a court where most of the leading barristers were either Englishmen or Tamilians,  Prakasam became the first Telugu person to gain fame as a barrister.  He would handle both civil as well as criminal cases. One of the most prominent cases he took up was that of the murder of Ashe, the British collector of Tirunelveli district. The murder happened when Bipin Chandra Pal was touring the South, and raising the nationalist consciousness with his fiery speeches. With his formidable debating skills, Prakasam ensured the convicted got away with a lesser sentence. He also edited the Law Times, a magazine for lawyers then. When the British Govt prohibited, people from attending what they felt were the seditious speeches of Bipin Chandra Pal, he once again defied them, by boldly going to his speeches. After the Lucknow Agreement, Prakasam became a regular at most Congress meetings and signed the declaration for Satyagraha in 1921.  He left his profession, and all the money he earned as a lawyer, he used it for the sake of the nation.

Leaving the lucrative law profession, Prakasam, became the editor of the Swarajya Magazine, in Telugu, English as well as in Tamil. He also started a national school, as well as a Khadi production center. He was elected as the General Secretary of Congress party in the 1921 Ahmedabad Session. He was pretty much a hands on leader, being one of the first to visit the spot of any unrest or riot. He visited Multan when Hindu-Muslim riots broke out there, as well as Punjab during the Akali Satyagraha. When outsiders were not allowed into Kerala during the Moplah revolt, Prakasam was one of the few who defied orders and visited it. As a consequence his entire property in Ooty was attached by the British Government. During the 1922 Non Cooperation movement he led a protest in Guntur with 30,000 volunteers and he entered the Central Legislative Assembly in 1926 on a Congress ticket. It was during this time, that Prakasam came in touch with other nationalist leaders like Madan Mohan Malaviya, Vittalbhai Patel.

In the meantime Swarajya, began to become popular among the people especially the Tamil and Telugu editions. That incident at Parry’s Square had made Prakasam somewhat of an icon among ordinary people, especially his open defiance.  However Swarajya had to shut down later on, when the Government increased the deposit money, making it financially inviable for him. In 1937, the Congress party swept the elections in the Madras Presidency and Prakasam had played a major role in the victory. Though he was the first choice for the post of Chief Minister, Prakasam had to make way for Rajaji who returned to active politics. Fact is  Prakasam was the one who led the campaign, while Rajaji was bought out of self-imposed retirement, yet he choose to heed the wishes of the Congress Working Committee.  Prakasam took up the post of Revenue Minister in Rajaji’s cabinet. One of his most important act as Revenue Minister was founding of the Zamindari enquiry committee that looked into the distortions in agriculture then due to the Zamindari system. With the outbreak of World War II, the Congress ministers resigned against not being consulted on Indian participation in the War. Prakasam was one of the prominent leaders down South, who led the Satyagraha against the British war preparations in 1941.

In 1942 Prakasam was arrested for 3 years for taking part in the Quit India movement, and on his release in 1945 toured all over the South to bring Congress closer to the people. The Congress once again came to power in the Madras Presidency in 1946, and Prakasam was sworn in as the Chief Minister. He was supported by Kamaraj, both of whom were against Rajaji, who was the choice of Gandhi and Nehru then. However Prakasam’s tenure lasted for just 11 months, with many lobbies in the Congress working against him.  The feeling was that Prakasam was not accommodating enough to the various interest groups in Congress. And finally Mahatma Gandhi ordered Prakasam to resign, faulting him for using party funds.




After Independence, Prakasam once again plunged into social activities, and toured Hyderabad State under the Nizam, inspite of Nehru’s warnings. He met Qasim Rizvi the leader of the dreaded Razakar’s and warned him that he was pushing his luck too hard. In 1952 he founded the Praja Party and ensured that all the Congress ministers ended up losing the elections, such was the man’s popularity and charisma. Around the same time Potti Sreeramulu started the movement for a separate Andhra State. Sreeramulu passed away after a hunger strike unto death in demand of a separate Telugu speaking state. The protest took a serious turn, there were riots all over Coastal Andhra and finally Nehru had to conceded the demand. When the Andhra State was formed in 1953, Prakasam became the first Chief Minister. It was during his tenure that the Sri Venkateshwara University in Tirupati was set up as well as the barrage on the Krishna River at Vijayawada that now bears his name. However with the Communists opposing his leadership and the Socialist faction withdrawing support, he had to resign as Chief Minister after 14 months.

By the time mid term elections were held in 1955, Prakasam had retired from active politics. And when Andhra Pradesh, was formed in 1956 with the merger of Andhra, Rayalaseema regions with Telangana, it was his counterpart Neelam Sanjeeva Reddy who became the Chief Minister. Though he retired from active politics, Prakasam still toured the state. And on May 20,1957 he passed away in Hyderabad, after suffering a sun stroke.  The Andhra Kesari was no more, the voice that roared in defiance of the British fell silent. However his legacy continues to live, when the Ongole district was renamed after him in 1957, and formed with Talukas from Guntur, Nellore and Kurnool district. A fitting tribute to a towering personality, who dominated the political and modern day history of Andhra Pradesh.

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And Quiet Flows the Krishna…

When one speaks of the Telugu states,  the Krishna and Godavari are more to us than just mere rivers. In my previous post on the Godavari Pushkaralu, I had explained the significance of the river, to the Telugu people.  Last year we had celebrated the Godavari Pushkaralu,  and closely following is the Krishna Pushkaralu.

Soutěska řeky Kršny u Šríšajlamu.jpg


Pushkaralu or Pushkaram is a festival dedicated to the worship of major Indian rivers. It is celebrated every 12 years on the banks of 12 sacred rivers of India. Apparently as the story goes, a Brahmin by name of Pushkar, got a boon from Shiva, that he would have the power to purify the holy river, whenever he enters it. Pushkar would enter each river, when Brihaspati( Jupiter)  would traverse from one zodiac sign to another. And this is  the reason each of the Pushkaram is associated with a particular zodiac sign. The Pushkaram for that river is celebrated depending on when Brihaspati is in that particular zodiac constellation.  Broadly speaking it is as follows

Ganga-  Mesha( Aries)

Narmada- Vrishabha( Taurus)

Saraswati- Mithuna( Gemini)

Yamuna- Karkataka( Cancer)

Godavari- Simha

Krishna- Kanya( Virgo)

Cauvery- Tula( Libra)

Bhima- Vrishcika( Scorpio)

Tapti- Dhanus( Saggitarius)

Tungabhadra- Makara(Capricorn)

Along with the above, you have Pushkaram for Indus and Pranhita too.

The Krishna

What we call as the Krishna originates in Mahabaleshwar, and is one of the longest rivers in India around 1290 Km in length. A small village called Jor near Mahabaleshwar is where the river starts, and it traverses through the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, Telangana and Andhra Pradesh, before it finally reaches the Bay of Bengal at a place called Hamsaladeevi in Krishna district.

Krishna River Origin

The Krishna has a whole lot of tributaries joining at on it’s course towards the Bay of Bengal. At the Preeti Sangam covering Satara districts, the Krishna is joined by 4 rivers, the Venna,Urmodi, Tarli and Koyna.  As it travels further, three more rivers meet it in Sangli district- Yerla, Warna and Panchganga. Near to Almatti in Karnataka is where the Krishna meets with the Ghataprabha.

Almatti Dam, Karnataka

Passing via the historic city of Raichur in Karnataka, it enters Mahboobnagar district in Telangana, where you have the Jurala dam.

And that in a way marks it’s entry into the Telugu states, where it is also referred to as Krishnaveni or Krishnamma in more colloquial terms. One of the most important places it touches is Alampur in Mahbubnagar district of Telangana, where it joins the Tunghabhadra.

Alampur is also called as Dakshina Kasi and is noted for it’s Navabrahma Temples. Surrounded by the Nallamala hills, Alampur is a noted Shaivite center down South, and it’s temples constructed in the Chalukyan style of architecture, are worth a visit.

Sangameshwar temple at Alampur

Sangameshwar temple at Alampur

The Navabrahma temples are primarily 9 temples dedicated to Shiva,  dating back to the 7th century AD, built during the rule of the Badami Chalukyas. The Swarga Brahma temple is the most prominent of the lot, noted for it’s very ornate sculptures.

Alampur is also home to one of the 18 Shakti Peethas. These shrines are dedicated to Shakti.  Apparently when a grief stricken Shiva, was walking around with the corpse of Sati on his back, the Gods appealed to Vishnu to save them from his wrath. Vishnu cut the corpse into pieces with his Sudarshana Chakra, and the places where different parts of the body fell are revered as Shakti Peethas.  Alampur is where the teeth are believed to have fallen and Shakti is worshipped here as Jogulamba.  Incidentally another Shaktipeetha is also located on Krishna river at Srisailam, where the neck is believed to have fallen, and she is worshipped as Brahmaramba there.

And from Alampur, the Krishna traverses through some of the thickest forests and valleys, touching the sacred place of Srisailam, one of the Dwadasa Jyotirlingas. Shiva is worshiped here as Mallikarjuna, while Shakti is worshiped as Brahmaramba.  Incidentally Alampur is also believed to be one of the 4 gateways to Srisailam, the others being Tripurantakam( Prakasam dt, AP), Siddhavatam( near Kadapa), Umamaheswaram( Mahboobnagar dt, Telangana). Adi Shankar’s famous Sivananda Lahiri was composed here at Srisailam.

Srisailam is also famous for it’s huge dam and hydro electric project, that is one of the main sources of power for the Telugu states.


Flowing through some of the most beautiful stretches of wilderness, with thick forests and valleys,  the Krishna river, enters Nalgonda district at the Nagarjunsagar Dam, one of the major irrigation projects in India. One of the “temples of Modern India” as Nehru called them.


The historic Buddhist spot of Nagarjuna Konda is located near by, also called as Sri Parvata.

Buddhist site 3rd century AD.jpg

One more worth seeing place on the route is Ethipothala water falls, which present a breathtaking sight in monsoon.

Ethipothala water falls.JPG

And the river now takes a turn towards the east, as it traverses across the plains of Andhra Pradesh, and giving life to many farmers, who are dependent on it. The holy town of Amaravati, another prominent Shaivite center, famous for it’s Amareswara Temple. This ancient city on the banks of the Krishna is a holy spot for Hindus and Buddhists alike.

Amareswara temple, Buddha statue, An overview of Krishna river, Mahachaitya

Today this historic city of Amaravati, will also be the new capital of Andhra Pradesh, post the bifurcation. I had written in detail about Amaravati in an earlier post.

And then it touches the city of Vijayawada, the second largest city in Andhra Pradesh, it’s political, economic and cultural hub. A major railway junction, a business center, Vijayawada gets it’s name from the fact that Durga rested here after slaying Mahishasur. The surrounding Krishna district is one of the most fertile and prosperous areas, which I will be covering in detail in my later posts.

Prakasam Barrage

Krishnaveni the River Goddess at Vijayawada

And sitting on the hill Indrakeeladri, is the Goddess Durga also called as Kanakadurga , the patron deity of Vijayawada, who protects the city, and showers her blessings on it’s citizens.

Kanaka Durga Temple

The Krishna is not just a river to the Telugu people, it is a part of our identity. It resonates in our culture, our traditions. To us the Godavari and Krishna, are what the Ganga and Yamuna  have been up north.  In view of the Krishna Pushkaralu, I would be covering more about the river and it’s surrounding areas.

Posted in And Quite Flows the Krishna.., Krishna, Kurnool | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Veer Savarkar- Cellular Jail

In my earlier post on Veer Savarkar, I had taken a look at his early years, and deportation to Cellular Jail.  Now when you talk of personalities like  Savarkar it is hard to do justice in just one blog post. That is because he was a multi faceted personality in every sense. A freedom fighter, a nationalist, a writer, a thinker, a social reformer. And that was the reason why I had gone for a series of blog posts. In my last post, I had concluded it with his deportation to  the notorious Cellular Jail in Andamans.  Today shall be exploring  more on his life here.  This is because I feel, this was the most significant phase of his life. It shaped his outlook, his character, his ideology. More important, many have this very wrong feeling, that Savarkar begged the British for amnesty. If only they knew what this man underwent in Cellular Jail.  And his plea for amnesty, was more a tactical retreat, something that every one does. To use that incident, as an excuse to paint him as a British agent, is doing the greatest disservice ever to one of the greatest nationalists ever.

Savarkar, was sent to Andamans on June 27,1911.  As he reached the place, his thoughts were more on how these islands, could be the outposts of a Free India. In a way it was prophetic too, when Netaji began his long armed struggle, he first captured Andaman and Nicobar Islands, which he promptly renamed as Shahid and Swaraj.  Cellular Jail was a literal hell on earth, the kind of place, you would not even wish for your worst enemies. It became a place, where the British Government sent, those freedom fighters, whom they regarded as particularly dangerous. And Savarkar to them was a far more bigger danger, than any of the petition pushing Congress leaders.  The prisoners were put to the worst form of torture, to break their spirits. The most vicious Pathans were employed to beat the prisoners, and they had absolutely no qualms whatsoever.

The jailor Barrie,  hated the revolutionaries, and inflicted the worst possible tortures on them.  They were yoked like cattle to the oil mill, and made to work all day. Back breaking labor, that could literally sap the life out of any one. And it did to many a prisoner, in this death land, where they entered, but rarely returned back. The horrors of  Cellular Jail, were on par with those of Auschwitz, Devil’s Island and the Gulags of Russia. Imagine living a life of solitary confinement, for not just one or two years. But for 12 years, yes, that was the amount of time, Savarkar spent in solitary confinement. Given the task of chopping coconuts with a heavy mallet, Savarkar’s hands bled. He was yoked to the oil mill, and made to work hard. And yet all the indignities inflicted upon him, Savarkar, bore it with fortitude, patience and character.

Savarkar not just bore the indignities inflicted on him, he also lifted up the spirits of his fellow prisoners. For most of them living a life, sapped out of energy, Savarkar’s very presence, lifted their spirits. Savarkar felt that Ujjain being in the center of India, was the right capital for it, not Delhi at all. Around the same time, an assassination attempt was made on Lord Hardinge.  The man responsible for it Rash Behari Bose, fled to Japan, where he would later found the INA.  In the meantime, Savarkar began to educate the prisoners on political science, economics and Constitutional law. He fought with the authorities to secure the rights of prisoners, and give them the basic amenities. He impressed upon the prisoners, the need for education especially on economics and constitutional law. In future, when India would be free, that knowledge would be need a lot for governance.

“Knowledge without action was lame and action without knowledge was limited”

Yogavasistha and the Imitation of Christ by Thomas Kempts, were two books that were Savarkar’s personal favorites. However Savarkar felt it was time, people in India get to know of the horrors of Cellular Jail. One Hotilal Verma, secretly managed to send a letter to Surendranath Banerjee, one of Savarkar’s staunch admirers, on the horros of the Cellular Jail.  Indu Bhushan Roy, Ulaskar Dutt arrested for the Alipore bomb case, Nani Gopala, were some of those who had suffered the most.  As the news of the horrors of Cellular Jail, spread in the Indian press, there was  massive outrage all over. The Imperial Council questioned the British Government, public opinion began to grow against the atrocities,  and finally they sent their home secretary Craddock in 1913. In the meantime Savarkar along with Nani Gopala, went on a hunger strike, before it ended with assurancs from the authorities. Finally faced with a hostile public opinion, stinging criticism in the press, the British government relented and decided to release those prisoners whose conduct they deemed satisfactory.

In the meantime Savarkar, made use of his solitary confinement to write. However with no reading and writing material, he used the prison as his medium. The walls of the prison turned into pages, the stones and thorns became the pens, and he wrote no less than 10,000 lines of poetry. An epic ballad on Panipat, composed entirely on the walls of his prison, one of the greatest literary feats ever.  He was one of the greatest writers ever, often rated equivalent to Kalidasa, by the Marathi critic Madkholkar.  His magnum opus Kamala is often regarded as the Shakuntala of modern India, in it’s usage of similes, and it’s graceful composition. He also introduced a blank metre verse called Vinayak in Marathi poetry.

His long time in Andaman, and the solitary confinement, began to bring a philosophical outlook towards life. Having experienced the worst ever indignities and torture, for him death really held no fear. And this was the time, when he began to formulate the philosophy of Hindutva.  How exactly this philosophy took shape, and it’s ideals, we shall be seeing in the subsequent posts.

Source-Veer Savarkar by Sanjeev Nayyar.



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Mewar Chronicles- Rana Pratap

The final part of my series on Mewar, looks at one of it’s greatest heroes ever, a man who was a legend by himself, whose very tale is that of valor and sacrifice. Maharana Pratap.

RajaRaviVarma MaharanaPratap.jpg

What do you make of a man who refused to bow before the mighty Mughal emperor Akbar, when all other Rajput rulers did?  When his own brothers sided with Akbar, leaving him virtually alone? Of a man, who preferred to face hardships in the jungles of Aravalli, than live a life of comfort, by surrendering to Akbar. It is not without reason, that Maharana Pratap or Rana Pratap is regarded as one of the the greatest heroes of India. Here was some one proudly independent, fearless in spirit, and yes a great warrior too.  In my previous posts on Mewar, I had examined how Pratap was the more well known inheritor of a rich legacy. A legacy that boasted of Rana Kumbha, a ruler whose vision, of building a protective network of forts, saw him come up with the Great Wall of India. A legacy that boasted of Rana Sanga, under whose rule Mewar expanded all over the North, before he was treacherously back-stabbed by one of his own. A legacy of a nursemaid called Panna Dhai, who sacrificed her own son for the future of Mewar.  Of Jaimal and Patta who fought to the end, during Akbar’s siege of Chittorgarh.

Rana Pratap took over as ruler of Mewar, in not exactly the best of circumstances. He had to fight a bitter succession battle, against his brother Jagmal to become the ruler. But more than anything else, he grew up listening to tales of his father deserting Chittorgarh, after Akbar laid seige to it.  Of how Akbar, devastated Chittor after capturing it, massacred it’s inhabitants,  mounted their skulls in a heap. There was no way Rana Pratap would have ever surrendered to Akbar, after listening to the horrors wrought on the inhabitants of Chittorgarh.  The other Rajput rulers of Marwar, Amber, Bundi, had accepted Akbar’s sovereignty, even forged alliances with him, but Pratap stood out defiantly.  For him to surrender to Akbar, would have meant insulting the sacrifice of Jaimal and Patta. It would have meant an insult to the souls of the thousands massacred after Akbar conquered Chittorgarh. And thus Chittorgarh became the ambition of his life, for him it was not just a fort, it was the very honor of his ancestors. His father Udai Singh had come to terms with the loss of Chittorgarh, and eventually founded a new city Udaipur, named after himself. But to Pratap, as long as Chittorgarh would not be recaptured from the enemy, he could never rest.

It was in keeping with this vow, that Pratap imposed an austerity regime of sorts, till Chittorgarh was recaptured.  Food was to be eaten only in leaf plates, no gold or silver vessels.  Beards were not to be trimmed, and they would sleep only on straw mats, till Chittorgarh was regained. He ruled for some time from Kumbhalgarh, as well as strengthening the mountain fortress of Gogunda.  Pratap however had to be fighting a lonely battle. The kingdom of Amber under Man Singh had already submitted to Akbar, and he would later be one of the Mughal Emperor’s close confidantes.  Maldeo of Marwar, who earlier had repelled Sher Shah Suri,  was compelled to follow, and submitted to Akbar.  Two major states, Marwar and Amber had surrendered to Akbar, most of the minor Rajput chieftains, who neither had the clout nor power to oppose the Emperor, surrendered too.

Akbar tried his best to bring over Rana Pratap to his side.  Even his own brothers Jagmal, Sagar, Shakti Singh had moved over to the Mughal camp. Akbar sent missions under Bhagwan Das, Todar Mal, and finally with Raja Man Singh, but to no avail. In fact when Man Singh met Pratap, the latter refused to even dine with him, stating he could not with some one who sold his soul to the enemy.  Man Singh was also related to Akbar, his sister was given in marriage to the Emperor, something which Pratap mocked at.  Exasperated with what he saw as Pratap’s insolence, Akbar knew there was no other option but war now.


A narrow mountain pass n the Arravallis located around 40 Km from Udaipur, connecting the districts of Rajsamand and Pali. Haldighati is believed to have got it’s name from the turmeric colored soil here. It was to be the venue of one of the greatest battles ever fought in Indian history.  Though most Rajput rulers were on the side of the Mughals, Pratap still had a formidable force, that included Ram Singh Tanvar of Gwalior with all his sons, the descendants of Jaimal and Patta, an Afghan contingent led by Hakim Khan Sur, and a Bhil contingent led by Rao Poonja. Hakim Khan was a descendant of Sher Shah Suri, and for him this was an occasion to seek revenge against the Mughals.  Ram Singh was deposed from the throne of Gwalior by Akbar, and it was only Mewar that had given him refuge.  Pratap had a 3000 strong cavalry, 2000 infantry, 100 elephants and 100 lancers.

On the other hand, the Mughal Army was huge, with a strength of 80,000 led by Akbar himself, followed by Man Singh, Prince Salim, Bahlol Khan, Multan Khan.  Haldighati was the only way to the plains, and who controlled it, had the strategic advantage. Though Pratap was outnumbered by the Mughal Army, he took over the surrounding hills, and on one side the Bhil tribals were stationed in the crevasses with their bows and arrows, ready to throw down rocks too. Pratap was stationed in the center, along with his minister Bhamashah, while Hakim Khan Sur led the front formation, Jhala Mansingh flanked the left, Ram Singh Tanwar on the right. And above all there was Pratap’s faithful horse Chetak, a Kathiawari breed war horse, that served it’s master well.

18 June, 1576, the armies clashed at Haldighati. With the hilly terrain proving to be an obstacle for artillery, the pitched battle was primarily between the infantry and cavalry. This was to the advantage of the Rajputs, as a massive attack, almost decimated the right and left flanks of the Mughal Army. However news of Akbar’s arrival, made the Rajputs retreat to the hills for some time. Pratap once again led from the front, his crimson banner fluttering proudly. And following him, were Jhala, Hakim Khan, Ram Singh straight into the ranks of the Mughal Army.  A pitched battle was fought between Rana Pratap and Man Singh, with the latter having to retreat.  Pratap then charged at Prince Salim on the elephant, and almost had him at his mercy, before the javelin, just missed the mark, killing the mahout. The battle now reached a feverish pitch, with neither side willing to yield, and the soil of Haldighati was soaked red with blood.  Pratap himself was rescued thrice, but the Mughals now were gaining an upper hand, thanks to their artillery power.  Jhala, understanding the gravity of the situation, urged Pratap to retreat from the battle field. He himself wore Pratap’s insignia, his helmet and charged into the Mughal ranks. Jhala fought like a cornered tiger till the end, before breathing his last. Man Singh was shocked to see that the man killed was not Pratap, but his own chieftain Jhala.

In the meantime Rana Pratap, was riding into the hills, pursued by the Mughal soldiers. His loyal horse Chetak, bore his master, over the treacherous passes and streams, inspite of being injured badly. Chetak took his master into the safety of the jungles, but succumbed to it’s injuries.  It was a total rout at Haldighati, Pratap had lost 500 of his own kin, only 8000 of his 22,000 strong force survived. Ram Singh of Gwalior perished in the battle along with all of his sons. For some time Pratap took refuge in the hills, before recapturing Kumbhalgarh again. However Akbar using a mix of treachery and a long siege once again captured Kumbhalgarh, while Man Singh captured the mountain fortress of Gogunda. Udaipur was captured by Mohammed Khan, while Farid Khan took over  Chanond.  Pratap was now essentially a fugitive with no place to call his own,  and moved with his family from hill to hill, from valley to valley, living on the verge of starvation in the jungles.

Yet Pratap’s resolve remained unshaken, and all the suffering did not make him reconsider his decision of not submitting to Akbar. However when one of his children fainted due to hunger, and his wife began to feel insecure, Pratap’s resolve was shaken for the first time. He sent a letter to Akbar, signalling his willingness to surrender.However one of Pratap’s staunchest admirers Prithviraj,  sent a letter to him, stating that he should never bring disrepute to Mewar.

The hopes of the Hindu rest on the Hindu ;yet the Rana forsakes them. But for Partap, all would be placed on the same level by Akbar ; for our chiefs have lost their valour and our females their honor.

This once again bought the spirit back to Pratap, and he vowed to rather die than surrender to Akbar. He resisted the Mughal Army that had come to take him, and when  all seemed to be lost, the Bhils once again came to his rescue, routing the Mughal contingent. And they also sheltered Pratap and his family too. However he still lacked the resources to fight against the Mughals. He had lost almost everything at Haldighati.

It was at this stage, that Pratap’s minister Bhama Shah, came to his rescue. Bhama Shah, was one of the wealthiest men in Mewar, accumulated over generations of service by his family to the throne of Mewar.He put all his wealth at Pratap’s disposal, saying it was needed more than ever for the liberation of Mewar. Soon Pratap once again, managed to raise an army, and resources with the help of Bhama Shah. Around the same time, the Mughals too were caught up with revolts in Bengal, leaving Mewar free for Pratap to recapture. Akbar himself was caught up in the North West,  and Pratap made best use of the opportunity. Soon Pratap recaptured the forts one by one, Kumbhalgarh, Gogunda,  Udaipur, Ranthambore. He also built a new capital of Chavand near Dungarpur. He succesfully used the guerilla tactics against the Mughals, and recaptured most of Mewar back. However Pratap’s dream of capturing Chittorgarh, still remained elusive. He died at his capital of Chavand, in 1597, still nursing dreams of his beloved Chittorgarh. And thus ended the life of one of India’s greatest heroes ever.

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Mewar Chronicles- The beginning

In a week from now, on May 9th we celebrate the birth anniversary of the legendary Maharana Pratap.  A warrior whose name has become a synonym for bravery, courage, and a fiercely independent spirit. When other Rajput rulers were surrendering to the Mughal emperor Akbar, there was one man who refused to do so. Today we really do not know the names of those who surrendered to Akbar, but we still remember the one man, who did not. Rana Pratap, the hero who took on the mighty Mughal Army, at Haldighati, and who gave them no peace till his death. This post is however not about Rana Pratap, it is about the region called Mewar, and the proud citadel of Chittorgarh.

To understand Rana Pratap’s fiercely independent streak, one must know about Mewar, a region that prided itself on it’s resistance to invaders since centuries be it the early Arab armies or the Mughals later. Rana Pratap is the more visible and prominent symbol of a legacy, that has seen such heroes as Bappa Rawal, Veer Hamir, Rana Kumbha and  Rana Sangha.   A legacy that saw some of the fiercest resistance to Muslim invaders be it Allaudin Khilji or Akbar later on. “Garh to Bas Chittorgarh Hai, Baaki Sab Garhaiya Hai” so goes the saying in Rajasthan. Which loosely translated means –“Only Chittorgarh is a fort, the rest are mere fortresses”. 

Flag Coat of arms

Technically speaking, Mewar primarily covers the south Western region of Rajasthan, bordering Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh. Consisting of the districts of  Bhilwara, Rajsamand, Chittorgarh and Udaipur,  it is flanked by the Aravallis in the North West, and the southern region is mostly hilly, dotted with forests.

The region’s rather rugged landscape could have played a role in shaping the spirit of it’s rulers, and people a tough, never say die, independent streak.  Ecologically this is one of India’s most important regions, being a part of the Kathiawar-Gir ecosystem, and containing wildlife sanctuaries like Kumbalgarh, Sita Mata, Bassi and Jaisamand. The rugged terrain consisting of  valleys, hills,mountain passes and forests, provided the backdrop for some of the fiercest resistance to the Delhi Sultanate and later Mughal rule. While the massive fort of Chittorgarh, and the sweeping grandeur of Udaipur, mark the region’s most visible landmarks, it has some other memorable landmarks. The huge fort of Kumbalgarh with it’s Great Wall of India, the crafts village of Shilpagram near Udaipur, the temples of Eklingji and Nathdwara,  the Jain temples of Ranakpur are equally prominent landmarks too. Apart from Rana Pratap, and the Ranas, the region has been home to two remarkable women- Meera Bai, the poetess and devotee of Krishna, one of the foremost icons of the Bhakti movement, and the brave, noble midwife Panna, who sacrificed her own son for the future of Mewar.

Meera temple Eklingji.jpg

The region was originally called Medhapat, which in due course of time, became corrupted to Mewar.  The patron deity of the region is Eklingji,  one of the oldest temples dating back to the 10th century built by the Guhilas.  Located near Udaipur, the current temple was rebuilt on the ruins of an earlier temple and is famous for it’s 4 faced image of Shiva in granite.  To date the ruler of Udaipur, visits this temple every Monday and he considers himself as the Dewan here. Shiva is also referred to as Medhapatheshwar, the ruler of the Mewar region.

The history of Mewar dates back somewhere to the 2nd century AD, when a certain Kanak Sen hailing from Kosala, migrated to Saurashtra.  His descendants, established the city of Vallabhi, now located near Bhavnagar in Gujarat.  The city was the capital of the Maitraka rulers, who expanded their territory all over Saurashtra as well as the Southern part of Rajasthan. Sometime in 770, when Vallabhi fell during the Arab invasion, the Maitraka queen, Kamalavati handed over her new born son to a Brahmin woman and committed Sati after her husband Shiladitya was killed in battle. The new born was named Grihaditya, also called as Guhil, one born in a cave, and he grew up in Idar( now in the Sabarkantha district of Gujarat).  He lent his name to the clan Guhilot which in due course of time, became better known as Gehlot. For a major part, the Guhilots supported the dominant Pratiharas  and Chauhans against the early Arab invasions.  While they initially ruled from Idar, they had to abandon it and later a new capital was established at Nagada( now located in Ujjain district of Madhya Pradesh).

The actual founder of the Mewar kingdom was Bappa Rawal, the son of Mahendra II, the last surviving Gehlot ruler of Nagada.  His real name as Kalbhoj, and though he belonged to the Gehlot clan, he never used that family name. Instead he established a new dynasty called the Rawals, after the area he had conquered.  Though born to a royal chieftain, he grew up near the hills of Nagada. Living as a shepherd,  it is believed he was blessed with Harita Rishi, that he would be the king. While his father was of the Gehlot clan, his mother belonged to the Paramara clan, and was the sister of Maan Mori, the Paramara ruler of Gujarat. While the Gehlots, claimed themselves as Suryavanshi Rajputs, the Paramaras on the other hand, identified themselves as one of the four Agnikula Kshatriyas( born from fire). The others being Chauhans, Parihars and the Solankis.

Bappa Rawal, would however earn his fame due to his exploits in the famed Battle of Rajasthan.  Primarily fought during the 8th century AD, the Battle of Rajasthan was a series of wars between the Rajput clans the invading Arab armies from Sindh. Uniting the smaller states of Ajmer, Jaisalmer, Bappa Rawal created a powerful alliance, that repelled the Arab invasion. Mohd Bin Qasim who practically overran Sindh, and defeated it’s ruler Dahir was forced to retreat thanks to Bappa’s aggression. In fact Bappa pursed Bin Qasim, back, through Saurashtra right up to the western banks of the Indus. Not content with that, he marched right up to Ghazni( now in Afghanistan) and defeated it’s ruler there.  He not only repelled the Arab invasions, but managed to expand his territory right up to Ispahan in current day Iran, and covered vast swathes of Afghanistan. After his conquests and a reign of 20 years, he abdicated the throne in favor of his son, and became an ascetic.

In subsequent posts will be looking at the rise of the Sisodias, and the emergence of the Ranas of Mewar.

Posted in Medieval India, Mewar, Rajputs | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

Master Da Surya Sen

January 12, 1934

The British officials entered the cell of the prisoner, and dragged him out. For the next few hours or so, the prisoner would be subjected to the worst possible torture ever. His teeth were broken, his limbs and joints were broken with a hammer. All his nails were pulled out, and his unconscious body was dragged to the gallows, where he was hanged to death. The dead body was later put in a small cage and thrown into the sea.

What made the Britishers hate this prisoner so much that they had to resort to the most brutal torture ever before hanging him? Why did they fear this man so much that they had to dispose of the dead body in such a clandestine manner? Who was this prisoner who had shaken the Britishers so much?

Surya Sen before 1934.jpg

The prisoner who was so brutally tortured and executed was none other than Masterda Surya Sen, the Bengal revolutionary, who shook the British like none else before. He was the one who led one of the largest ever raids on the British at Chittagong, attacking their armory, cantonment, the exclusive Europeans only club there and the telegraph office there. Never had the British witnessed such a massive assault on their institutions, in such a coordinated manner.  Though the raid was suppressed and it’s perpetrators arrested, the message it had sent out to Indians was clear, take up the arms against the British rule.

The man who shook the British so much in Bengal, was born in a small village called Noapara, near Chittagong( now in Bangladesh) in 1894. His father, Ramniranjan Sen was a teacher himself. As an intermediate student in 1916, while studying at Chittagong, he learnt about the history of the Indian freedom movement from his teachers. Motivated by one of his teachers, he joined the Anushilan Samiti, one of the noted revolutionary groups in Bengal then. The Anushilan Samiti was founded by Sarat Chandra Basu, with the encouragement of Sister Nivedita and Swami Saradananda, and it’s name came from a Bankim Chandra Chatterjee essay.  The Samiti, swore by revolutionary violence as a way to uproot the British Government. New recruits were asked to swear on the Gita, and practiced arms in front of a Durga idol. When he later joined Berhampore for a BA course, he was attracted to another revolutionary organization Jugantar and their ideals.  He later returned to Chittagong, in 1918, and worked as a teacher there.

It was during his stay in Chittagong, that he began to organize the Jugantar there, and spread it’s ideals among the people. His organizational ability, oratory skills, and ability to reach out to people, made him popular, and it was during this time, that he earned the moniker of Master Da. He also joined the Indian National Congress for some time, and was influenced by Mahatma Gandhi’s ideals. However, when Gandhiji called off the non cooperation movement, post the infamous Chauri Chaura incident, Surya Sen like many others was disappointed. He realized that the only way to overthrow the British was through violent revolutionary action.

Chittagong Armory Raid

Surya Sen realized the need for a concerted revolutionary strike on the British installations in India. He felt it was the only way to shake their faith in their ability to rule India, and also awaken the masses. It was then that he devised one of the most audacious plan ever to strike against the British rule. While the Chittagong, armory raid was ostensibly to hit at the twin armories in the city, the objectives were far more wider.  Chittagong was one of the major centers of British rule then, and also a prominent trading center. Many British oil companies were located there, and strategically the city gave the British a front line of defense in the event of a possible Japanese attack.  Organizing a strike in Chittagong, and securing it, would mean hitting at one of the nerve centers of the British rule in India. It was not just the armories, the raid also targeted, the telegraph office, the exclusive Europeans only club.

While the twin armories in Chittagong would be captured, the telegraph and telephone office would be destroyed cutting off all forms of communication. The exclusive Europeans only club, whose members were high ranking Government or military officials, would be targeted.  There would be a large scale massacre of these officers, while retailers of fire arms would be raided. All rail, road communications would be cut off, totally isolating the city. What was planned was nothing short of a mini insurrection, which if carried out, would complete sever Chittagong from the British. It was one of the most audacious, ambitious plans ever carried out, mind boggling in it’s scope.Surya Sen was the mastermind behind this audacious plan, supported by fellow revolutionaries Ganesh Ghosh, Lokenath Bal, Ambika Chakraborty, Ananta Singh, Nirmal Sen as well as women revolutionaries like Kalpana Dutta and Pritilata Wadedar.

18 April, 1930, 10 PM, Chittagong

Ganesh Ghosh led a group of revolutionaries to capture the police armory at Dampara, while Lokenath Bal, led another 10 revolutionaries, to capture the Auxiliary Forces armory, which is now the old Circuit House. The telephone and telegraph wires were cut, railways movement was disrupted. Around 15 of them captured the European club in Pahartali. However being a Good Friday, most of the members of the club were not in attendance, and word got out of the strike. This gave the British enough time, to alert their troops and send out in full strength to the club. This was not anticipated by the rebels, a bit of a miscalculation here.

Even the armory raid was not much of a success, while there were arms, but no ammunition was present. Collecting the bare minimum, the group headed by Surya Sen, hoisted the Indian flag at the Armory, took a salute,  and proclaimed a Provisional Revolutionary Government. The group of revolutionaries escaped into the nearby Jalalabad Hills, from where they began to conduct their activities.  The British having got information about their hiding place, attacked the group in the forest. A fierce encounter ensured, where many teenage revolutionaries lost their lives, including the brother of Lokenath Bal. It was a pitched encounter, that saw 12 revolutionaries shot dead, and a considerable number of troops. Some of the revolutionaries who escaped, began to reorganize themselves again. There was another attack on the European club, on September 24, 1932, by a group consisting of Debi Prasad Gupta, Swadesh Roy, Manoranjan Sen, that was led by Pritilata Wadedar. However the plan backfired, with most of the revolutionaries killed, while Pritilata committed suicide by consuming cyanide. Between 1930-32, the revolutionaries kept striking randomly, killing around 22 British officers, and 220 others. On March 1, 1932, the verdict was given in the mass trial of those arrested.  12 of the defendants were sentenced to deportation for life, 32 were acquitted and remaining were given 2-3 year sentences.

Surya Sen went into hiding for some time, moving from one place to another. He often took up odd jobs as a workman, sometimes a farmer, even as a priest or milkman to avoid detection. However he was soon betrayed by one Netra Sen, who out of greed for the bounty money offered, informed the British on his whereabouts. On Feb, 1933, the police surrounded the house  and captured Surya Sen. Netra Sen, however would not live to enjoy the benefits of his revolutionaries. He would dearly pay for his treachery.  Netra’s wife was a big admirer of Surya Sen, and was horrified at her husband’s treachery. Soon one of Surya Sen’s close associates came to Netra’s home when he was having his food, and he chopped off his head, right in front of his wife. When Netra Sen’s wife was asked about the murdered, she refused to reveal saying

“I saw with my own eyes but my heart will not permit me to tell you his name. I am sorry. I feel miserable that I was the wife of such a treacherous man as Netra Sen. My husband betrayed the great son of Chittagong. My husband betrayed the great son of Mother India. My husband cast a slur on the face of India. Therefore, I cannot take the name of the person who took his life. He has definitely done the right thing. You can do anything with me. You can punish me, you can even kill me, but I shall never tell the name of the person who killed my husband.”

Tarakeshwar Datta , president of the Chittagong branch of Jugantar once again made an attempt to rescue Surya Sen from prison. However the plot was foiled, and both Tarakeshwar, Kalpana Dutta were arrested. Tarakeshwar was sentenced to death by the British, and so was Surya Sen. Before his death, Master Da was tortured in the worst possible manner, with his teeth broken, limbs broken and his unconscious body hanged. His last letter to his friends and associates spoke about his desire for a free India.

“Death is knocking at my door. My mind is flying away towards eternity …At such a pleasant, at such a grave, at such a solemn moment, what shall I leave behind you? Only one thing, that is my dream, a golden dream-the dream of Free India…. Never forget the 18th of April,1930, the day of the eastern Rebellion in Chittagong… Write in red letters in the core of your hearts the names of the patriots who have sacrificed their lives at the altar of India’s freedom.”

And thus ended the life of one of India’s greatest revolutionaries, a man who inspired millions of Indians to revolt against the British imperialism. Master Da, a truly great son of India.


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