They Lived Dangerously- Kakori, 1925

Kakori is a small town located near Lucknow, famous for it’s kebabs, Dasheri mangoes and Zardozi work. It is also the seat of the Qadiriya Qalandari Sufi order, and since the 15th century, one of the main abodes of the Alavi, Abbasi branches of the Kakorvi Shaikh community. Like most of the towns in Avadh, it has large palatial homes of landed Muslim gentry. Many famous Muslim writers like  Mohsin Kakorvi, his son  Noorul Hasan Nayyier who compiled Nurul Lughaat, a well known Urdu dictionary and satirist Ghulam Ahmed Alavi hail from here. The town would however be more well known for an incident that happened here on August 9, 1925, the  Kakori Conspiracy or the Kakori Train Robbery an important chapter in the revolutionary struggle.

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The mastermind of the conspiracy was Ram Prasad Bismil, one of the greatest revolutionaries ever who had co founded the Hindustan Republican Association along with Sachindranath  Sanyaland  Jadugopal Mukherjee. Bismil already had a well running business in Shahjahanpur which he had left to organize the revolutionary movement.  However the lack of funds was proving to be a main hindrance. While he led some dacoities initially to gather money, Ram Prasad realized it was not sufficient, and there was no point in harassing his own fellow Indians.  It was at such a time, while he was travelling from Shahjahanpur to Lucknow, by train, he observed that at each station, the Station Master bought bags of money and placed them in the guard’s carriage, there was no one to guard them.

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The 8 Down between Shahjahanpur and Lucknow used to pass through Kakori daily, and that was the genesis of the conspiracy.  The intention was to stop the train at Kakori, loot the money bags, which would be used fo fund the revolution. And soon a team was assembled with Bismil leading it,and his close friend Ashfaqullah Khan, the next in charge.  Both of them were from the same town Shahjahanpur, then a leading revolutionary hub, and Ashfaq was an admirer of Bismil’s poetry from long. They had joined the Congress in 1921 along with another freedom fighter Prem Kishen Khanna.  When the HRA was founded, he was Deputy to Ram Prasad Bismil, and together both expanded the revolutionary activity in the Northern plains.

Ashfaqullah had initially opposed the plan, saying it was too risky, and the Government would crack down real hard. However with others like Rajendra Lahiri, Thakur Roshan Singh going along with Bismil, he too lent his support. The other members of the team included  Chandrashekhar Azad, Sachindra Nath Bakshi , Keshab Chakravarty, Mukundi Lal,  Banwari Lal Pandey , Kundan Lal, and Pranawesh Mukherjee. And above all Manmath Nath Gupta, whose book They Lived Dangerously, would give an excellent perspective of the revolutionary struggle for freedom.

August 9, 1925

It was around evening time, the revolutionaries had already boarded the train. Rajendra Lahiri pulled the chain at Kakori station, while Ashfaqullah held the driver hostage with his Mauser pistol .  While Ram Prasad Bismil pushed the guard down and looted the Government money from his cabin. However when none could break the safe, it was Ashfaq once again who managed to break it with all his strength.

There was no bloodshed, except for one passenger killed accidentally. Soon the Government cracked down, on the Kakori conspirators and, and arrest warrants were issued. While  Azad managed to evade the crackdown, Ram Prasad was arrested soon enough at Saharanpur, while Ashfaqullah went into hiding for some time.  Ashfaq spent some time in Kanpur, working in Ganesh Vidyarthi’s printing press.  And for quite some time he wandered all over the North from Kanpur to Bihar to Rajasthan, changing names. He finally went to Delhi, and wanted to somehow escape India and meet Lala Hardayal. However he was betrayed by his own friend in Delhi, to the police and was arrested by Ikramul Haque.

Around 40 more people were arrested from different cities. Prominent among them were Ashfaqullah, Bismil, Roshan Singh from Shahjahanpur, Sachindranath Sanyal from Bengal, Sachindranath Bakshi from Pratapgarh.

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Of these 15 were released due to lack of evidence, while  Banwari Lal and Indu Bhushan Mitra turned approvers for a more leninent sentence.

May 21, 1926

The trial began against the remaining in the special sessions court of  A. Hamilton.  Jagat Narayan was appointed as public prosecutor deliberately, he had been the prosecutor earlier in the Mainpuri Conspiracy case and had no love lost for Bismil.  Even though the police pressurized Ashfaqullah to testify against his colleagues, he refused to do so.

The revolutionaries were defended by Gobind Ballabh Pant, Mohan Lal Saxena and Chandra Bhanu Gupta among others. While all the major leaders of the freedom movement like Motilal Nehru, Jawaharlal Nehru, Madan Mohan Malviya, Lala Lajpat Rai and Ganesh Shankar Vidyarthi came out in support.

And finally the verdict was pronounced,  Ram Prasad Bismil, Ashfaqullah Khan, Rajendra Lahiri and Thakur Roshan Singh were sentenced to death. While Sachindranath Sanyal and Sachindranath Bakshi were to be deported to Cellular Jail.  Sanyal wrote  Bandi Jeevan, A Life of Captivity, detailing his experiences there. Manmath Nath Gupta was sentenced to 14 years of imprisonment, while the rest got relatively lesser periods.

Widespread protests broke out against the verdict, members of the central legislature petitioned the viceroy to commute the death sentence to life. However by August 22, 1927, the main court endorsed the original judgement. Madan Mohan Malviya sent a clemency petition to Lord Irwin, with signatures of around 78 members which too was rejected. S.L.Polak sent a final mercy appeal on September 16, 1927 to the King, which too was rejected. And they were hanged one by one, Ashfaqullah at Faizabad, Ram Prasad Bismil at Gorakhpur on December 19, 1927, while Thakur Roshan Singh was hanged at Naini near Allahabad on the same date.  Rajendra Lahiri was hanged two days earlier at Gonda.

The voices fell silent, but the spirit would continue to inspire countless other revolutionaries.

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Pingali Venkayya

The Indian flag is a symbol of the country’s sovereign state, its history and culture. The Tiranga is something we salute on every Republic Day and Independence Day. Yet how many of us know about the man who actually designed it.

Pingali Venkayya, hailing from Machilipatnam in Andhra Pradesh, a freedom fighter, was the man who designed it. Not so well known is the fact that he was an equally good geologist and agriculturist too.

Pingali Venkayya was born on August 2, 1876 in small village near Machilipatnam. His father Hanumantha Rayudu was the village Karanam of Yarlaggada , while his grandfather Adivi Venkatachalam was the Tahsildar of Challapalli Samsthanam. He studied in Hindu High school, of Machilipatnam, and later in Colombo. At the age of just 19 he joined the Army and took part in the Boer War. On his return he worked as plague inspector for some time in Madras and later Bellary.

He did his degree in Political Economics from Colombo, and later joined DAV Lahore, where he learnt Sanskrit, Urdu, Japanese. In fact so fluent was he in Japanese, that people called him “Japan Venkayya”. He had a long association with Gandhi, having met him in South Africa earlier. He used to regularly attend all Congress session from 1913, and discuss with the leaders about the possible design of the National flag.

He also wrote a book “National flag for India”. And in 1916, the flag he designed was flown at the Lucknow session of Congress. The original flag had only 2 colors,Saffron and Green, it was Lala Hansraj who suggested a wheel in the center. During the 1921 Vijayawada session, Gandhiji suggested adding white in between Saffron and Green, along with the wheel. And the tricolor as we know today was flown for the first time there, designed by Pingali Venkayya.

During the Constituent Assembly held on July 22, 1947, the suggestion was made to replace the wheel with the Ashoka Chakra, to represent our ancient culture.Apart from the National flag, Pingali Venkayya, also played a role in many of the movements during freedom struggle, the Vandemataram movement. Home Rule. He had an undying passion for knowledge, and was always restless in his quest for learning.

A polyglot who was fluent in Telugu, English, Hindi, Sanskrit, Urdu and Japanese, Pingali Venkayya, also did a lot of extensive research on Japanese history, culture and language. He was an authority in that subject during his tenure at DAV. He was equally passionate about Science, he did a lot of research on different varieties of cotton at Nadiguda( near Suryapet), on the request of the local Zamindar there. He came up with a special kind of cotton called Cambodia cotton. He got the nickname of “Patti Venkayya”( Patti is Telugu for cotton). Matter of fact it was at Nadigudi that he designed the National flag, did prayers at the Ramayalam there, before introducing at the 1921 Congress session in Bezawada.

He also wrote the biography of Chinese leader Sun Yat Sen. And did his diploma in Geology from Madras Presidency College, and did extensive research on Mica deposits in Nellore district. In fact he also did extensive research on precious stones in Hampi. book “Vajrapu Tallirayi”( Motherlode) , was extensively about the minerals and precious stones found near Hampi, that in a way explains the city’s prosperity too.

After independence, Pingali Venkayya, was appointed as consultant to the Minerals Research Department, a post in which he worked till 1960, before retiring. Sadly such a brilliant scholar and genius, had a rather sad ending to his life. His later years were miserable, he lived alone in a small hut, in utter povety. The brilliant man, who seflessly contributed to the nation, got no support from the Govt. Like many others he never got due recognition.

Forget about financial support, Pingali Venkayya was not even given due credit, for designing the national flag. The man who dedicated his life to the nation, had to live like a destitute in his last years, not even having proper food to eat. Finally it was left to people like Dr K.L.Rao, Katraggada Srinivasa Rao, to help out Pingali Venkayya financially and also felicitating him in January 1963. On July 4th, 1963 Pingali Venkayya, breathed his last, another great son of Bharat, passed away unmourned.

Before dying, this was Pingali Venkayya’s last wish

“My time is nearing close. When I pass away, cover my body with the tricolor, after cremation, tie the flag to a Raavi tree there””

Pingali Venkayya, was a true son of Bharat, of whom we should all be proud. Not just as designer of national flag, but also his research on cotton, minerals. A polyglot and a scholar, who selflessly served the country without expecting anything. A truly great soul. It is sad, that a true patriot, scholar like Pingali Venkayya, who selflessy served the nation, had to live the last days of his life in such a miserable state.

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Veer Kunwar Singh

Of the many well known Rajput clans in the North, one of them is the Ujjainiya found primarily in Bihar, tracing it’s origin to Ujjain. The clan claims descent from Raja Bhoj, and by the 17th century, they were recognized as Parmar Rajputs. They however arrived in Bihar, sometime in the 14th century under Hunkar Sahi, and fought with the Cheros, the traditional ruling dynasty of Bihar and Jharkhand. It was a long rivalry,with both sides inflicting casualties, before the Cheros retreated to Palmau. They later waged a long conflict with the Jaunpur Sultanate, taking on the Sultan Malik Sarwar. Though they initially had some success, under Raja Harraj, they lost in later battles and had to resort to guerilla attacks. Later they assisted Sher Shah Suri in the Battle of Surajgarh against the Muslim rulers of Bengal, who were by then a major force. Raja Gajapati led a 2000 strong unit, and helped Sher Shah rout the Bengal forces, their general Ibrahim Khan was killed in battle. Most of the Purbiya soldiers who fought for the Mughals, the Marathas and later the British, were from this clan.

What is currently regarded as the Bhojpuri region is primarily Purvanchal or Eastern UP, and the Western part of Bihar, bordering Mithila and Magadha. This region of Bihar was primarily one single district Shahabad, that was bifurcated in 1972 into Bhojpur and Rohtas( Sasaram), and later Buxar district in 1992 from Bhojpur, Kaimur( Bhabua) in 1991 from Rohtas. In ancient times this region was part of the Kashi Mahajanapada, and the Son River formed the boundary with Magadha. Most of the Indian indentured labor taken to Trinidad and Tobago, Mauritius, Guyana were from here.

Jagdishpur in Bhojpur district, was one of the more prominent Zamindari estates ruled by the Ujjainiya Rajputs. Established in 1702 by Sujan Sahi, it was expanded later by his son Udwant Singh. After his death it was subdued by the Mughals, but they still had a reputation for being one of the finest warriors, especially their cavalry. And to this clan, belonged one of their greatest heroes, Veer Kunwar Singh. A man who at 80 years of age, was the oldest warrior of the 1857 revolt, in a league that included such greats like Rani of Jhansi, Rao Tula Ram, Nana Saheb and Tantiya Tope.

Kunwar Singh was born on November 13, 1777 to Maharaja Shahabzada Singh and Maharani Panchratan Devi in Jagdishpur. An imposing physique, about 6 feet tall, he was also a keen huntsman and enjoyed horse riding. His brothers Amar Singh, Dayal Singh and Rajpathi Singh were as formidable warriors as himself. Inheriting the estate of Jagdishpur after his father’s death in 1826, he married the daughter of Raja Fateh Naraiyan Singh, a wealthy zamindar of Gaya who belonged to the Sisodia clan.

When the 1857 revolt broke out, Kunwar Singh was 80, his health was failing, yet he led the revolt in Bihar along with his brother Amar Singh. It was his commander in chief Hare Krishna Singh who convinced him to take up arms against the British. On July 25, 3 regiments of the sepoys at Danapur had revolted against the hanging of Pir Ali of Patna, one of the rebel mutineers. These regiments marched towards Jagdishpur, where they joined forces with Kunwar Singh.

The British comming to know of this invited Kunwar Singh for a feast to trap him. However being suspicious of the British intentions, he refused the invitation. He then attacked the district headquarters at Arrah, where a large number of British employees of the East India Company were present, looting the treasury, destroying the prison and their Govt offices. The Englishmen there took refuge in the Arrah House,along with 50 Sikhs. The rebels made many attempts to win the Sikhs over to their side.

The British immediately rushed a force from Danapur under Captain Dunbar with 270 Englishmen and 100 Sikhs to relieve the siege. However Kunwar Singh’s forces attacked them at night and a fierce battle ensured, in which Dunbar and many of the Company’s soldiers were killed.Only 50 managed to survive the massacre. The British sent another force under Captain Ayer, with 3 cannons. Getting wind of the information Kunwar Singh, attacked him in the forest,however the rebels fell to the cannon fire, and had to flee. After 8 days, Ayer managed to recapture Arrah and relieve the siege of Arrah House.

Kunwar Singh retreated to Jagdishpur and tried to mobilize his army, however Ayer attacked once again, forcing him to flee and take refuge in the jungles nearby. Jagdishpur was captured by Ayer on August 14, 1857 and Kunwar Singh’s palace was taken over. Knowing that he had far less strength, Kunwar Singh bided his time, till he learnt that a combined British-Nepali force was starting from Azamgarh towards Lucknow. Kunwar Singh decided to attack once again using guerilla tactics and on March 18, 1858, some other rebels too joined him.

Knowing that he was camping at Atrauli, the British under Millman attacked with a 300 strong infantry, cavalry and 2 cannons. When the British reached Atrauli on March 22, the rebels made a strategic retreat, making them believe that they had secured the place. Just as the British were relaxing, the rebels surrounded them and fired from all sides,forcing Millman to flee. Kunwar Singh kept harassing the British from Atrauli to Kausila using a series of guerilla attacks. A totally harried Millman, managed to reach Azamgarh exhausted from hunger and thirst, chased by the rebels all the way.

After Azamgarh was secured, Kunwar Singh advanced towards Varanasi, planning to secure this city as well as Allahabad.His plan was to cut off the road from Kolkata to Lucknow, denying British the movement. Lord Canning immediately ordered Lord Marker, famous for his exploits in the Crimean War, to attack. Advancing with a force of 500 and 60 cannons, he clashed with Kunwar Singh on April 6,1858 near Azamgarh. While the cannons were assaulting his forces, Kunwar Singh attacked the British from the rear, foiling Marker’s plan. The British once again had to retreat in the face of the furious assault towards Azamgarh. Sensing their intentions, he gave up his plan of capturing Varanasi and Allahabad, and instead choose to recapture Jagdishpur.

And for this he needed to evade the British well, who under Gen Luggard were comming to relieve Azamgarh. Leaving some of his very skilled soldiers on the bridge across the Tons River to stop Luggard, he left for Ghazipur. He instructed them that when the entire rebel army, would join them on the road to Ghazipur, then they could retreat from the bridge. And the rebel soldiers fiercely counter attacked Lugarde not allowing him to cross the bridge, before making a sudden retreat.

Lugarde seeing the retreating rebels, went in hot pursuit of them, for around 12 miles, before he found himself fully surrounded by Kunwar Singh’s army. They had been drawn into a trap, and another fierce battle ensured, where the British were again routed. On hearing of the defeat Col Douglas, once again advanced to attack the forces, Kunwar Singh again asked some of the rebels to block the British, while splitting up the rest into two advancing towards the Ganga. However when this group was resting at a place called Manohar, Douglas arrived at night with his cavalry,and launched an assault. The rebels lost to the British, who captured many elephants and ammunition.

Knowing that defeat was imminent now, Kunwar Singh split up his army into smaller units, and asked them to gather at another location. It was another ruse, as the British were tricked into believing the army had disbanded, when in fact they were once again advancing. He also fed false information to the British that they would be crossing the Ganga by elephants, ensuring Douglas rushed to Ballia, where he lay in wait for the rebels. However once again the British were fooled, as the rebels escaped across the Ganga by boats.

But the British attacked the rebels, and this was when Kunwar Singh was hit by a grenade in the shoulder. Badly injured and bleeding, he had to amputate his arm. Finally on April 22, 1858, Kunwar Singh attacked Jagdishpur and captured it back from the British. Furious the British commander Legrand, launched an assault on Jagdishpur on April 23. Kunwar Singh once again attacked the British in the forests, routing them, Legrand himself was killed. Just 80 of the 190 odd British forces survived the rout. The Union Jack was bought down on Jagdishpur palace. Veer Kunwar Singh passed away on April 26,1858, but not before he had given the toughest fight ever to the British in Bihar and Eastern UP. A true legend.

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Kalpana Datta

Chittagong now in Bangladesh, was one of the most important cities strategically for the British during their rule. Located on the banks of the Karnaphuli river, the city was host to many British companies like like James Finlay, Duncan Brothers, Burmah Oil, the Indo-Burma Petroleum Company, Lloyd’s. Not to mention the fact that the city was a front line defense in the event of a Japanese attack.

And this was the reason why the city was chosen to be the venue of one of the most audacious attacks ever by Indian revolutionaries during the British rule. Organizing a strike in Chittagong, and securing it, would mean hitting at one of the nerve centres of the British rule in India. It was not just the armoury, 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 severe Chittagong from the British. It was one of the most audacious, ambitious plans ever carried out, mind boggling in its scope.

And the mastermind behind this audacious plan was a humble school teacher affectionately called as Master Da aka Surya Sen, born in a small village called Noapara, near Chittagong 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.

And one of the more prominent faces of the raid was Pritilata Wadedar, she would play a major role in the attack on the Pahartali European Club in Chittagong, as part of the Armory Raid.

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One of her classmates at Bethune College was Kalpana Dutta, who would play a pivotal role in the Chittagong Armory Raid. 

Kalpana Dutta was born on July 27,1913 in Sripur a small village near Chittagong. Unlike Wadedar’s more nationalist family, her family was more pro British. Her friendship with Wadedar at Bethune in a way moulded her ideology and future course too. Both Kalpana and Pritilata were inspired by the bravery of Rani of Jhansi, through their teacher Usha Di, who used such stories to spread the nationalist feeling among students.

They both became part of the Chatri Sangha, a revolutionary group headed by Kamla Dasgupta. The Chhatri Sangha, became a training ground for female revolutionaries in Bengal, with study circles and training in physical combat. Girls from Victoria, Bethune, Scottish Church, Diocesian began to flock to Chhatri Sangha to be trained.

After the Chittagong Armory Raid of 1930, she joined the Indian Republican Army, Chattagram, where she met Master Da, whom she described in her memoir as

He was a smallish short man, very reserved. Nobody would guess that this man was the daring ‘King of Chittagong

Impressed by his character and demeanour, she soon learnt guerilla warfare under him and became an active member of the resistance group.

Along with her comrade Mani Dutt she learnt how to hide under water for hours together holding their breath, to avoid the British. From another comrade Anant Singh, she also learnt the techniques of making gun cotton, and proved to be really good at it.

I had a wrong idea about the worth of women in revolutionary work. They should forgive me for my mistake.

In a way both Kalpana and Pritilata, broke the “unsaid rule” that women were not fit enough to join the guerilla movement and male revolutionaries should steer clear of women. It was their ability that gave Master Da enough confidence to entrust them with another daring mission, the raid on the Pahartali club in Chittagong, one of the exclusively for Europeans club, which had a signboard saying “Dogs and Indians not allowed”.

However with Kalpana being arrested just a week before the attack, it was Pritilata who led the attack on September 23, 1932 and committed suicide, rather than surrendering. The suicide of her friend greatly affected Dutta, who was now at home under police observation. Again when Master Da was arrested on February 17, 1933, she once again managed to escape.

Finally during the Second Supplementary Trial in 1933, of the Chittagong Armory Raid, she was once again arrested and sent to the Hijli Jail meant for political prisoners. It was here she met Bina Das, who was arrested for the attempted murder of Bengal’s Governor at Kolkata University. It was at this time she was attracted towards Communism and the works of Marx and Lenin.

Communism is the true spirit of patriotism

Released in 1939, she graduated from Kolkata University in 1940 and joined the Communist Party of India. During the 1943 Bengal famine she served as a relief worker, as well as during Partition, when refugees flooded Kolkata. She also married P.C.Joshi then General Secretary of Communist Party.

But her most well known work would be “Chattagram Astragara Akramanakaridera Smriti Katha”, an autobiographical work, that describes her life as well as the Chittagong Armory Raid. The book was later translated into English as Chittagong Armoury Raiders: Reminiscences by Arun Bose & Nikhil Chakraborty in 1945. She also contested the 1946 elections for Bengal Legislative Assembly, as a Communist Party of India candidate from Chittagong, but lost. After independence she joined the Indian Statistical Institute, where she worked till retirement. And finally on February 8,1995 she passed away.

Her elder son Chand Joshi, was a noted journalist  known for his work, Bhindranwale: Myth and Reality, while his wife Manini Chatterjee penned another book on the Chittagong Uprising, titled Do and Die: The Chattagram Uprising 1930-34. Her legacy would forever be in the form of her memoir due to which we know about the Chittagong Uprising and Master Da’s stellar contribution.

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Battle of Pavan Khind

In my previous posts I had covered the rise of Shivaji Maharaj through his victories at Pratapgarh and Panhala. With the Adil Shahis having had to face many routs at the hands of Shivaji, the Bijapur ruler Ali Adil Shah II, decided to go all out, putting all his resources together. He also aligned with the Mughals, who attacked from the North under Shaista Khan. The Adil Shahi offensive was led by Siddi Masud, the son-in-law of the famous Siddi Jauhar.

The huge 10,000 strong Adil Shahi army laid siege to the fort of Panhala earlier. Shivaji Maharaj’s plan was to escape to the nearby Vishalgadh Fort , which was under a Maratha chieftain Narayan Orpe. Around the same time two other Maratha sardars,  Suryarao Surve and Jaswantrao Dalvi, who belonged to the Adilshahi side, also beseiged Vishalgadh. Shivaji’s plan was to wait till the besieging Adil Shahi forces began to run out of food stocks and supplies, which he felt gave him enough space to escape.

He reckoned that along with Baji Prabhu Deshpande, and around 600 of his men, he would be able run through the Adil Shahis in the night, to take advantage of their weary, tired out condition. On the night of July 13, 1660, made his escape from Panhala taking advantage of the darkness, accompanied by Baji Prabhu Deshpande, and others. One of the men Shiva Kashid, volunteered to dress like Shivaji to throw the Adil Shahis off guard.

However the Adil Shahis were soon alerted, and a force of 10,000 began to pursue Shivaji and the fleeing Marathas, who by now were hopelessly outnumbered both against the Adil Shahis and the Mughal garrison at Vishalgadh. Shivaji Maharaja then decided that while a smaller force would engage and hold off the Adil Shahis, the remaining would escape with him to Vishalgadh.

This small unit of 300 would be led by Baji Prabhu Deshpande,a giant of a personality, who was a long time follower of Shivaji, playing a major role in his campaigns. A master of the Danda Patta, he would now fight the greatest battle of his life at Pavan Khind.

The original name of Paavan Khind was Ghor Khind, literally meaning horse ravine, which is where Baji Prabhu would make his epic last man stand. One of the narrowest passes in the hills, through which only few could pass, this made it a strategically important point. He occupied the pass, blocking the path of the Adil Shahi pursuers, aided by his brother Fulaji Prabhu as well as sardars such as Shambusing Jadhav. Both Fulaji and Shambhu Singh fell after a fierce resistance. The 10,000 strong Adil Shahi army repeatedly tried to break through the defenses, but were beaten back repeatedly by the 300 odd Marathas, led by Baji Prabhu.

In spite of severe injuries, Baji Prabhu kept fighting off the Adil Shahi hordes, waiting for the cannon fire signal from Vishalgadh, that would signal his master was safe. Only a few of the 300 Marathas survived, Baji Prabhu Deshpande himself fell fighting to the last. But they had not just inflicted severe casualties on the Adil Shahi forces, but also slowed down their advance.

In the meantime Shivaji Maharaj himself had to face fierce resistance from the Mughals at Vishalgadh, and the Maratha sardars who had encircled it. Fighting with the Dandapatta in both hands, Shivaji fought back fiercely, and soon Narayan Orpe, sent his man to bring Maharaj safely into the fort. With a fresh set of troops, the Marathas pounced on the Adilshahi forces, as well those of Surya Rao and Jaswant Rao, inflicting heavy losses on them.

Baji Prabhu Deshpande’s sacrifice was on par with Tanaji Malusare’s at Singhad, Shivaji Maharaj renamed Ghor Khind to Paavan Khind( Sacred Pass) in honor of the great man’s sacrifice and bravery. And honored his family with maanache pahile paan( Court Honor).

Baji Prabhu Deshpande’s epic last stand inspired many nationalist leaders too. Aurobindo composed a English poem in his honor, while Veer Savarkar wrote a famous ballad on him in Marathi, to instigate the people against British rule.

Baji Prabhu Deshpande, led 300 Marathas against 10,000 Adil Shahis at Paavan Khind, fought till the end, helped his master, Shivaji Maharaj to escape to safety. A true hero, whose sacrifice needs to be celebrated and remembered.

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Maharaja Ranjit Singh- The Sikh Empire

I had earlier covered Ranjit Singh’s early life and the events leading to capture of Lahore, that laid the foundation of the Sikh Empire. Here I will be looking primarily at how he expanded his Empire, and his kingdom.

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Ranjit Singh formally crowned himself as the Maharaja of Punjab in 1801, the investiture ceremony was carried out by Baba Sahib Singh Bedi , a descendant of Guru Nanak. Calling his rule as Sarkar Khalsa and his court as Darbar Khalsa, he ordered new coins to be issued in the name of Guru Nanak, called Nanakshahi.

He captured Amritsar in 1802, from the Bhangi Sikhs, and announced that the Harmandir Sahib which was desecrated by Afghans would be renovated with gold and marble. In 1807 he captured Qasur from the Afghans, it would also be the first independent expedition of Hari Singh Nalwa who would later play a major role in his campaigns.

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Hari Singh Nalwa played a crucial role in expanding Ranjit Singh’s empire, especially his battles with the Afghans. It’s said Afghan mothers would put their kids to sleep with “Hari Ragla” such was the fear he inspired in them.He kept the entire Afghan force led by Dost Mohd Khan at bay, with just a handful of forces.Multan was conquered by Ranjit Singh in 1818, bringing the whole Bari Doab(current day Majha region in Punjab) under his control. While his first attempt to invade Kashmir in 1813-14 failed due to heavy rains, and stiff resistance by Afghans, he managed to capture it by 1818, appointing Dewan Moti Ram as Governor.

One of his major achievements was the successful battles against the Afghans, whom he managed to subdue.  Dewan Mokham Chand, one of Ranjit Singh’s trusted generals, played a crucial role at the Battle of Attock, against the Afghans. Attock was one of the crucial forts, in the Khyber Pass, it was strategically important for both Afghans and Sikhs. He led the charge against the Afghans at Attock in 1813, under Dost Muhammad Khan,one of their prominent leaders. In an intense battle, Mokham Chand mounted a deep cavalry charge on top of an elephant, routing the Afghans. So significant was the impact of this victory, that Amritsar, Lahore were illuminated for 2 months to celebrate it.

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Dost Muhammed accepted Ranjit Singh’s sovereignity over Peshawar,agreeing to pay him a revenue of Rs 1 lakh per year. He also acquired Dera Ghazi Khan, Hazara and Mankera between the Jhelum and Indus from 1820-21.

Battle of Jamrud was the last major Afghan-Sikh confrontation, where  Nalwa fought the Afghans till his last breath. While Nalwa died in the Battle of Jamrud, he ensured his spirited resistance, would make the Afghan forces retreat. Other famous generals were Veer Singh Dhillon,from Gurdaspur, who captured the entire Eastern Punjab. And Zorawar Singh who conquered Ladakh, Baltistan, and went all the way up to Tibet.

Hari Singh Nalwa’s death was however a major blow to Ranjit Singh, the Sikh empire was restricted till the Khyber, cud not expand more. Under him the Sikh Empire covered the entire Punjab, the hill states, Kashmir, Gilgit, Khyber Pass and part of W.Tibet. He generally had a secular rule,where all faiths were respected, and had freedom to practice their own. His army and court, consisted of equal number of Hindu, Sikhs and Muslims, some European officers too.

Ranjit Singh also employed many European officers to train his army, in the latest techniques and strategies. He organized his army on an European model, where the cavalry was based on British system, and a French style infantry.  Jean Francois Allard, was one of the French generals in Ranjit Singh’s Army, he was the one who organized the cavalry.  Along with another European officer Jean Baptiste Ventura, commanded the Army in Battle of Nowshera, defeating the Afghans.

Another European officer Claude Auguste Court, was responsible for the training of Ranjit Singh’s artillerymen and establishment of arsenal. Before the Sikh Army was mainly cavalry based, under him, infantry and artillery gained importance too.

Ranjit Singh also renovated the Golden Temple, most of the intricate marble work there and the gold gilding was his contribution. He also built the Patna Sahib Gurudwara, considered one of the Paanch Takt of Sikhism. The Takht Huzur Sahib Gurudwara at Nanded was also built by Ranjit Singh, in tribute to Guru Gobind Singh. Apart from being a great warrior, Ranjit Singh was an equally wise and able ruler, provided an effective governance to his subjects.

One important measure by Ranjit Singh was banning cow slaughter in his empire. Even the European officers in his army, were expected to follow this rule. Though Ranjit Singh recruited European officers, he insisted they follow the Sikh code of conduct. They were not allowed to eat beef, smoke or cut their hair. In fact they more or less adopted the Sikh traditions, while under the service of Ranjit Singh. While a devout Sikh, Ranjit Singh, gave equal respect to Hinduism, took part in the reciting of Vedic hymns in temples. His royal priest, Raj Guru, was a Hindu, whose son later became the ruler of Gurshankar in Punab.

This was Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s empire at it’s peak, as you can see he controlled the entire North West.

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His period was to the Sikhs, what Shivaji’s was to the Marathas, one of the finest eras in their history. Forging a loose confederation of Sikh Misls into a single kingdom, and expanding it into an empire, was his greatest achievement ever.

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Nilkantha Somayaji

One of the most famous schools of mathematics and astronomy in India was the Kerala school of maths and astronomy, founded by Madhava of Sangamagrama during the 14th century, who made pioneering studies in infinite series, calculus, trignometry, geometry and algebra. He was the first to use infinite series approximations for a range of trigonometric functions, which has often been regarded as a significant step to move from the finite step of ancient mathematics towards an inifinite limit. Most of the mathematical discoveries of the Kerala school, came from an effort to solve astronomy problems. Their most important results, related to series expansion for trignometry was recorded in a book called Tantrasangraha. They also provided what is now considered the first example of a power series, two centuries before Europe invented calculus.

Nilakantha Somayaji | BOOK OF DAYS TALES

One of the foremost mathematicians and astronomers of this school was Nilakantha Somajayi, known for his astronomical treatise Tantrasamgraha and a commentary on Aryabhatta. He was born in a small village near Tirur in Mallapuram district on June 14, 1444. Though he personally claimed e was born on a Kali Day, 1,660,181, a reference to the Kali Yuga, as per his account his father was Jatavedasa and a brother named Sankara. Again as per his own account Nilakantha Somayaji claimed he was a Bhatta belonging to the Gargya Gotra, and a follower of Asvalayana Sutra.

As per his own Laghuramayana, he belonged to the Kellalur family, his wife’s name was Arya, and he had two sons Rama and Dakshinamurthy. While he had learnt the Vedanta under Ravi, it was Kottesora Damodara who initiated Neelakantha into astronomy and also basic principles of Maths computations.Thunchaththu Ezhuthachan, the great Malayalam poet was believed to be his disciple. Nilalkantha got the title Somayaji, as he was assumed to have the performed the Somayajna ritual as per Namboodiri tradition.

He was a true polymath, with mastery over philosophy, grammar, astronomy, math.It’s believed that he could refer to a Mimamsa authority during a debate and also apply a grammatical dictum to same purpose. Sundaraja a contemporary Tamil astronomer called him sad-darshani-parangata, one who mastered 6 Systems of Indian philosophy.

His greatest work to date is Tantrasangraha, completed in 1501, which has around 8 chapters, written in Sanskrit. In this work he revised Aryabhatta’s model for the center of Mercury and Venus, and it remained the most accurate till Kepler came up with his own laws. His seminal work contains the following chapters

Madhyama-prakaranam- Astronomical computation
Sphuta-prakaranam-Primarily on planets, RSine, sum of series of natural numbers
Chhaya-prakaranam – Sun’s position, and it’s use in computations.
Chandragrahana-prakaranam- On the Lunar Eclipse,
Ravigrahana-prakaranam- On the Solar Eclipse
Vyatipata-prakaranam- Longitudes of Sun and Moon
Drikkarma-prakaranam- Rising and setting of moon and planets
Sringonnati-prakaranam- Lunar cusp.

His other work is Aryabhatiyabhasya, a commentary on Aryabhatta’s work where he developed a computational system for a partially heliocentric model, where the planets orbit the Sun, which in turn moves around the Earth, similiar to Tyco Brahe’s system. And also Jyotirmimamsa , where he outlines the methodology for astronomical and mathematical work, as also the Vedic influences in the astronomical work.

Some other important works by Nilakantha were
Golasara- Basic astronomical elements and process
Candrachayaganita- Calculation of time based on sun and moon’s shadow
Grahapariksakrama- Verification of astronomical observations.

It is not really possible for me to go into depth of Nilakantha Somayaji’s work, on astronomy and mathematics. This is only a very humble layman’s tribute to one of the great mathematicians we had in medieval times.

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Banda Singh Bahadur

September 1708

Guru Gobind Singh while hunting in the Deccan happened to come across a small hut. He ordered his disciples to cook food immediately, as they had not eaten for days together. The hut belong to an ascetic named Madho Das, who was enraged on hearing the news and confronted the Guru. The Guru remained un ruffled by the confrontation, and asked Madho Das in a calm manner

“Who are you?”

Accepting defeat, Madho replied “I am your slave( Banda)”.

The Guru asked him if he knew who he was, to which Madho replied that he was none other than Guru Gobind Singh himself. The Guru had a long talk with him, encouraging him to give up his ascetic lifestyle and become a true warrior to fight for righteousness and justice.

Madho Das obeyed the Guru’s word and he would be one of the greatest Sikh warriors ever. A man who was a terror to Mughals, a hero they called Banda Singh Bahadur.

The great warrior was born as Lachmann Dev on October 1670 in Jammu’s Rajouri region to a Rajput family. It is believed he took to Sanyas, after seeing a pregant doe, he shot, writhing in pain and dying. He met a Sadhu named Janaki Das and became his disciple, adopting the name of Madho Das. After travelling all over the North, he finally settled on the banks of the Godavari near Nanded.

The Guru was dissatisfied with the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah for not punishing the Governor of Sirhind, Nawab Wazir Khan for the murder of his two sons Sahibzada Zorawar Singh and Fateh Singh. It was then that he decided to send Madho Das to Punjab to end the persecution of Sikhs and Hindus under the Mughals there.

At a darbar in Nanded on September 3, 1870,the Guru baptized Madho Das with a Khanda Di Pahal,and gave him the name of Banda Singh Bahadur. He conferredtotal political and military authority on him, a standard arrow, as well as a 5 member advisory council and around 25 personal bodyguards. The 5 members were Baj Singh( a descendant of Guru Amar Das), his brother Ram Singh, Binod Singh( a descendant of Guru Angad Dev) and his son Kahan Singh, and Fateh Singh. He was specifically chosen to attack Sirhind, the city where Wazir Khan, the killer of Guru Gobind’s sons resided.

In the meantime Guru Gobind Singh himself was stabbed to death on October 1708, with the active connivance of Wazir Khan. The murder of Guru Gobind Singh, ignited the feelings of vengenance in Banda Bahadur, who now swore total revenge on the Mughals. Travelling across Maharashtra and Rajasthan, which were then seething with revolts against the Mughals, he reached Narnaul.

At Narnaul, Banda Bahadur, saw at first hand, the Satnami sect massacred en masse by the Mughals, and his blood boiled. He received a huge welcome at Hissar from both Hindus and Sikhs, as the representative of the Guru. also sent letters to the Malwa Sikhs, requesting them to join the battle against the Mughals. And he marched towards Sirhind, conquering Sonepat, Kaithal on the way, looting the Mughal treasury.

His first target was Samana, where resided the executioner of Guru Tegh Bahadur, Jalal-Ud-Din Jallad. On Nov 16, 1709, Samana was attacked, and the city destroyed, by Banda, it’s inhabitants massacred.The attack on Samana, also marked Banda Bahadur’s “Take no Prisoners” strategy, for him it was total annihilation of the enemy. And that was the main reason why Mughals feared him more than any one, he was utterly ruthless, towards them.

In a way Banda Bahadur also laid down the Sikh practice of take no prisoners, when the enemy was defeated, eliminate them ruthlessly. And soon place after place fell, Ghuram, Thaksa, Thaska, as he swept across Punjab, people began to join him, every day around 1000 men, willing to fight under him against the Mughals. He was ruthless, when he captured a city, he put his own men in charge, and all the enemy combatants were massacred.


Though Banda Bahadur’s main target was Sirhind, he wanted some time to study the city and prepare for the mission. So he settled down for some time at Mukhlispur, which he renamed as Lohgarh, and it also became the first capital. Located at the foothills of Shiwaliks became Banda Bahadur’s capital, where he established his rule. As a ruler he abolished the Zamindari system, declared the tillers to be the actual owners of the land.Banda Bahadur’s support base was primarily peasants, small time cultivators, warriors, and he stood for them always. He was equally ruthless against the dacoits in the region, he stamped them out, and ensured law and order was maintained.

The reason for Banda Bahadur’s popularity was the dignity he accorded to people from the lower classes, gave them a better life. Most of his followers were Sikhs seeking to avenge the Guru’s death, as well as the peasants from lower classes. In the meantime Wazir Khan himself declared Jihad against Banda Bahadur, and got most of the Muslim chieftains, to support him.Wazir Khan had a large, professional army, while Banda’s army was mostly irregulars and some of the older Sikh soldiers.

On May 12, 1710 the armies of Banda Bahadur, clashed with those of Wazir Khan near Sirhind. The cries of Sachcha Padishah, Fateh Darshan, Sat Sri Akal rent the air, as Banda Bahadur led from the center against Wazir Khan’s forces. The Sikhs suffered heavy casualties from the artillery fire of the Mughals, but they did not allow themselves to be beaten. A pitched battle was fought between Wazir Khan and Banda Bahadur, who in the mean time was joined by Baj Singh, Binod Singh.And soon Wazir Khan was killed by the Sikh soldiers in battlefield, the Guru’s death was avenged .The Sikh soldiers mounted Wazir Khan’s head on a spear, and the Mughal forces were routed and scattered in disarray.

The Sikhs did not spare the Mughal soldiers, and fell upon them, massacring them en masse, even those fleeing. Soon Banda Bahadur turned his attention to Sirhind, the city was bombarded, many Muslim nobles fled from there. The city’s treasury was looted and then it was razed to the ground. Many Muslims actually embraced Sikhism to save their lives, such was the fear Banda Bahadur struck.

Banda was now the ruler of the entire province of Sirhind, that extended from the Sutlej to the Yamuna, from the Shivaliks to Karnal. His march was unstoppable now, Hoshiarpur, Jalandhar, Malerkotla all fell, as he marched towards Lahore itself. Though Banda Bahadur laid siege to Lahore, he could not occupy the city due to it’s strong fortifications, and had to retreat. His unstoppable march across Punjab, his take no prisoners policy, had infuriated the Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah to no end.

The fact is Banda Bahadur literally decimated the Mughal rule in Punjab and North West, and rather ruthlessly too. The Mughal Army struck back against the Sikhs, and many were massacred en masse in retaliation.Banda Bahadur had to take refuge in the Shiwalik hills, and was soon fighting a losing battle against the Mughal forces. However once again the Sikhs gathered in large numbers, behind him, and struck back at the Mughals.

Bahadur Shah was succeded by Farrukshiyar, who had an even more fanatical zeal, and began to hit back at the Sikhs. Though not having the superior armory of the Mughals, the Sikhs more than made it up with their fighting spirit. They had only the most primitive of weapons, but they fought the Mughals with a never say die attitude. Banda Bahadur became a nightmare for the Mughals now, many of them did not even want to face him in combat.

For 8 months, Banda Bahadur withstood the siege of the Mughals at Gurudas Nangal, an epic last stand if ever there was one. Sadly differences of opinion, meant Baba Binod Singh and 3 others deserted him, when they were needed the most. Finally Banda Bahadur was forced to surrender, his men could no longer withstand the siege, all resources were exhausted. 300 defending Sikhs were massacred, Banda Bahadur was shackled with chains and put in an iron cage.

Deg O Teg O Fateh o nusrat bedirang
Yaft Az Nanak Guru Gobind Singh”

(The kettle and the sword (Symbols of charity and power), victory and blessing have been obtained from Guru Nanak-Gobind Singh).- Letter to his troops.

In spite of the torture and indignities they were subjected to the Sikhs remained as calm and composed as ever.Banda Bahadur himself was dressed in a mock turban, and a heavy robe, was taken through jeering crowds. The Mughals promised amnesty to any one who converted, but not one of the captured Sikh soldiers did so.

As each Sikh was beheaded, they defiantly cried out the praises to the Guru, and not flinching even for a moment. 700 odd Sikhs were executed, not one of them asked for amnesty, not one of them even considered converting to Islam. Next all the sardars loyal to Banda Bahadur were tortured cruelly, but they held steadfast, never once seeking amnesty.

Banda Bahadur was paraded through the streets of Delhi in front of jeering crowds, along with his son Ajay Singh. All the loyal Sikh Sardars of Banda Bahadur were tortured and then impaled to death right in front of his eyes. His own son Ajai Singh was cut into pieces before his eyes, the flesh thrown at him. When asked why he was suffering all this, when he could have easily accepted Islam, Banda Bahadur replied without flinching, even face in the face of death.

When the tyrants oppress their subjects to the limit, then God sends men like me on this earth to mete out punishment to them. God is not being unjust to me in any way.”

And then Banda Bahadur was executed in the most gruesome manner, he was first blinded, his arms and legs cut off, his flesh torn off, and finally he was executed and body cut into pieces. The gruesome torture and death of Banda Bahadur, did not however crush Sikhism, it rather strengthened it even more. His heroism, his martyrdom became an inspiration for many a Sikh warrior, who carried on his struggle.Banda Bahadur had dealt a death blow to the Mughals in Punjab, not even his gruesome torture and death cud change that. While the Sikhs went from strength to strength, reaching it’s glory under Ranjit Singh, the Mughal Empire on the other hand crumbled.Incidentally Farukhshiyar who ordered the brutal torture and execution of Banda Bahadur, was later overthrown and tortured, executed in the same manner

Banda Singh Bahadur a true hero, a true warrior and a just ruler, who began the end of the Mughal rule in Punjab.

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Operation Meghdoot

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Siachen, which ironically  means “Rose Garden” in local Balti language, located in Eastern Karakoram, it is 75 km long, and is the highest battlefield in the world. The 110 KM line beyond NJ9842 is called the Actual Position Ground Line. One of the most important military operations was Operation Meghdoot in 1984, to secure the glacier.

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Background

The genesis of the Siachen conflict lay in Partition, after the first Indo-Pak war, the 2 nations agreed on the ceasefire line. The problem is that the line was not demarcated beyond a point NJ9842, as it was an inhospitable area.  The agreement simply said that the beyond NJ9842, the line would run North of the glaciers, which included Siachen, Rimo and Baltoro. It was believed that no military operations would take place there at those inhospitable areas, and both sides, did not care much about it.

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After the ’71 war, as per the 1972 Shimla Agreement, this ceasefire line became the LOC, and once again the Siachen glacier was left out. As it was considered an inhospitable area, no attempt was made to enforce jurisdiction over it. And this was a blunder by the Indian establishment, as Pakistan had already begun making changes in it’s maps to include Siachen within it’s ambit. Between 1964-72, a series of maps by Pak, showed Siachen as part of it, and this was accepted globally too.

While India contended that the Pakistan’s territorial limits lay only till Saltoro Ridge, Pak contended that territory was till Karkoram.For a large part of the 70’s and early 80s, there were rival mountaineering expeditions, to climb the peaks located in the Siachen region. Col Narendra Kumar led one of the first Indian expeditions to Siachen in 1978, undertaking a 24,631 foot ascent to Teram Kangri. Nicknamed “Bull”he also pointed out that while Pakistan allowed mountaineers from all over, India denied access to it’s own soldiers there.

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The trigger was a German mountaineering map, which Narendra Kumar showed to Lt. Gen Chibber, then Dir of Military Ops, in which the whole of Siachen and surrounding areas was shown as part of POK( Pakistan Occupied Kashmir). At one stage, during Kumar’s 1978 expedition to Siachen, a Pakistani Sabre jet flew right over his team, which is when he recommended that India establish a post there. However Army HQ rejected his proposal saying it was impractical to set up in such conditions.

The fact is way till 1978, Indian establishment, did not consider Siachen as much of significance, being an inhospitable area. While Pakistan all this time, was allowing international mountaineers there, and claiming it in it’s maps. However when the Pakistani Army sent a warning note in 1982, asking India to keep out of Siachen, Chibber who was then the Northern Army commander, countered back, and patrols were set up in that region.

By the end of 1983, it was obvious to India that Pakistan was moving it’s troops to Siachen to occupy it. Intelligence reports had shown large scale troop movement by Pakis, as also purchase of high altitude gear in large numbers from Europe. The trigger to Operation Meghdoot was the Pak Govt allowing a Japanese expedition on Rimo I, one of the important peaks in 1984.Overlooking the northwestern part of Aksai Chin, that is occupied by China, Rimo I, was a strategically important peak in Siachen.

Indian army believed that Rimo I expedition cud pave way for a trade route between China and Pakistan, and prove to be of strategic use.Indian Army decided to deploy from Northern Ladakh, most of the troops were already acclimatized to the conditions. A rigorous training expedition in Antarctica in 1982, had acclimatized the Indian troops to the conditions in Siachen.Indian Army had already got intelligence reports that Pakistan might attack on April 17, they decided to carry out pre-emptive strike.

India then decided to act swiftly in order to prevent Pakistan from occupying the Siachen glacier. The move was approved by Indira Gandhi.The Indian Army operation on Siachen, was named after the character in Kalidasa’s play Meghdootam. Brig Vijay Channa, was given the task of occupying Saltoro Ridge, in Sector 26. He choose April 13, as it was Baisakhi Day, as the Pakistani’s believed Indian Army would not launch an attack on such a date.

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Incidentally Israel launched it’s Entebbee Operation on Sabbath, as the Arab hijackers believed, they would not do anything on this day.  Lt.Gen. Prem Nath Hoon, GOC, 15 Corp, in Srinagar,led Operation Meghdoot on Siachen, on April 13,1984.Indian Air Force began the airlift of troops and supplies through the aircraft Il-76, An-12 and An-32 to the high altitude airfields.

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April 13, 1984 at 5:30 AM, the first Cheetah helicopter took off carrying Capt Sanjay Kulkarni, by noon, 17 such sorties were undertaken and 29 soldiers were airdropped at Billafond La. Mi-7,8 and HAL Chetak helicopters were used to transport the troops to the eastern part of Siachen. Lt.Col D.K.Khanna, led a full battalion of Kumaon Regiment and some Ladakh Scouts units initially along the Zozila Pass.

Major R.S.Sandhu established first position on Siachen, Capt Sanjay Kulkarni secured Bilafond La pass.Capt P.V.Yadav, led the remaining deployment units to capture the Saltoro Ridge, and by April 13, Indian troops had taken up most area. The pre-emptive assault on Siachen ensured that when Pakistan attacked, all the major passes in Siachen were occupied by Indian troops.Indian troops were in full control of Sia La, Gyond La and Bilafond La, the 3 major mountain passes, when the Pakistani troops attacked.

Operation Meghdoot ensured that India captured nearly 2600 sq km of territory in Siachen, as well giving a tactical advantage. Twice Pakistan launched an assault to recapture Siachen in 1987 and 1989, both times they were beaten back. Pervez Musharaf, who was Brig-Gen in 1987, led the first attempt to recapture Siachen, managed to capture some points, but was pushed back.Bana Singh, led an assault on a Pakistani post located at a height of 6500 metres, trekking through an absolutely hazardous route.

The Pakistani post at a height of 6500 metres in Siachen, was considered a fortress, with 457 metres high ice walls on either side.Leading a team of 162 soldiers, Bana Singh, launched a frontal attack on the Pakistani post, and captured it after fierce fighting. The attempt by Pakistan in 1987 to recapture Siachen, would be noted for the bravery of Subedar Bana Singh who got a Param Vir Chakra. The attack on the Pakistani post in 1987 by Bana Singh was codenamed Operation Rajiv.

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The heroes of Siachen- Col Narendra “Bull” Kumar, who bought to light Pakistani occupation there. Lt. Col Chibber, who was in charge of Northern Command, Lt.Gen.Prem Nath Hoon, Lt.Col. D.K.Khanna, Bana Singh,Major R.S.Sandhu, Capt. Sanjay Kulkarni, the ones who led the action.

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Jallianwala Bagh Massacre

Jallianwala Bagh,a name that evokes painful memories in our history, a reminder of the brutality of the British rule. It was a place I actually visited in 2001, walked through the narrow entrance, stood on the ground stained with the blood of Indians, saw the well where many jumped in. And was totally shaken up by the magnitude of the atrocity.

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The backdrop to Jallianwala Bagh was the Ghadr mutiny, which planned for a large scaled armed uprising against the British. The planned February mutiny was crushed by the British, and they passed the Defense of India Act in 1915, that basically granted them powers to detain without any trial.

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Michael O’ Dwyer, then Lt Governor of Punjab, was one of the strongest supporters of the Defense of India Act, with the state in the throes of a total revolt. In the meantime outbreak of WWI, caused untold suffering in India too with heavy taxation, trade disruption. The freedom struggle intensified after end of WWI, with Mahatma Gandhi taking charge. On the other hand, though the Ghadr movement was crushed, the revolutionary movements were still active in Punjab, Bengal and the North.

The British passed the draconian Rowlatt Act in 1919, to clamp down on the growing unrest. It was met with widespread protests, Jinnah resigned from his position, and on Gandhi’s call, there were large scale demonstrations against the act. Punjab especially witnessed the most intense protests against the draconian Rowlatt Act, rail and telegraph communications were cut off. Lahore witnessed massive protests, and Amritsar saw more than 5000 gathering in protest.

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Prior to Jallianwala Bagh, there was a large protest in Amritsar on April 10, 1919 at the residence of the Dy. Comissioner. It was to demand the release of Dr. Saifuddin Kitchlew and Satyapal Dang, two of the more popular leaders, detained in an unknown location. A military picket fired at the crowd, leading to large scale violence, in Amritsar. Banks, the Town Hall and many Govt buildings were attacked and set on fire by the protestors. 5 Europeans were killed in the ongoing clashes, while around 20 Indians were killed in the firing. While Amritsar was somewhat quite on the following days, the rest of Punjab continued to burn. Railway lines were cut, telegraph posts destroyed, Govt buildings attacked, by April 13, the province was entirely under martial law.

April 12, 1919

Meeting was held at Hindu college in Amritsar, Hans Raj, an aide to Dr. Kitchlew, announced that a large scale protest meeting wud be held the next day at Jallianwala Bagh to be organized by Mohd Bashir and Kanhaiya Lal, both senior Congress leaders. 

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April 13, 1919

It was Baisakhi, a day of festivities and joy, that was soon to turn into a day of darkness and tragedy. Col Reginald Dyer, announced a curfew in Amritsar, and a ban on all processions and meetings. By mid afternoon around 1000s had joined the protest meeting in Jallianwala Bagh, many of them had earlier visited the Golden Temple for prayers and were coming back. This was the narrow entrance to the Bagh which was blocked by Dyer.

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Jallianwala Bagh is roughly around 200 by 200 yards in size, surrounded by 10 feet walls, and houses overlooking it. There was a well, a small cremation ground, and just one narrow entrance to it. The place was a veritable death trap. The fact is though Dyer was well aware of the large crowd, he showed no intent in giving them a warning and asking them to disperse. It was clear that the  massacre was a deliberate “punishment” which he intended to mete out.

Around 4:30 PM, Dyer arrived at Jallianwala Bagh with a force of around 90 soldiers, mostly Sikh, Gurkha and Baluchi. Armed with .303 Lee-Enfield bolt rifles, 2 armored cars with machine guns, which however cud not enter inside. It had around 5 entrances to it, of which only one was in use, and that too a narrow one. Surrounded by houses on all sides, nowhere to go really, a complete death trap.

Dyer gave no warning to the crowd, blocked both the exits. And then began the horror, the troops began the shooting, he purposely directed it towards where the crowds were largest. For around 10 minutes, firing continued, it was carnage all over. Gen Dyer, explicitly stated later, he had no intention in asking the crowds to disperse, he wanted to teach them a lesson for civil disobedience. He was truly the Butcher of Amritsar, what was worse he was hailed as a hero by sections of British media.With nowhere to run, people began to run helter, skelter. Many died in the stampede. Many jumped into this well to escape the firing, later that well was filled with corpses. What was happening was a murder of humanity.

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This well at Jallianwala Bagh was filled with the corpses of those who jumped in to escape the firing. Even now you can see, the bullet marks on the walls, it was one of the most horrendous atrocities ever inflicted on humanity.

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While numbers were not known, it is estimated around 1500 people died in the horror at Jallianwala Bagh. More than the numbers it shattered the myth of the “civilized British”. Gen Dyer was a monster, who had no guilt about his actions. If  Jallianwala Bagh was horrendous, what followed was even worse, martial law was declared all over Punjab. Indians were made to crawl on the streets, flogged in public. General Dyer, unleashed a reign of terror in Punjab.

“Some Indians crawl face downwards in front of their gods. I wanted them to know that a British woman is as sacred as a Hindu god and therefore they have to crawl in front of her, too.”

Gen Dyer’s action was roundly condemned by then British PM Asquith and Secretary of State Winston Churchill, around 247 MPs voted against Dyer in the House of Commons, and his action was censured. However many ordinary Britons considered Gen Dyer a hero for saving British rule in India. Some even raised funds for him. What was worse, some of the Sikh priests granting a saropa to Dyer for maintaining peace in Punjab.

I … wish to stand, shorn, of all special distinctions, by the side of those of my countrymen who, for their so called insignificance, are liable to suffer degradation not fit for human beings. -Rabindranath Tagore.

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Called for enquiry before the Hunter Comisssion, Gen Dyer, had the least remorse on his act. He clearly stated that his intention was to unleash a reign of terror in Punjab. And he stated he did not stop shooting, till ammunition was exhausted.

” Supposing the passage was sufficient to allow the armoured cars to go in, would you have opened fire with the machine guns?”

Gen Dyer- Yes 

In that case much higher casualties”.

Gen Dyer- Yes

Colonel Reginald Dyer, the Butcher of Amritsar, the face of pure evil, and this is what he had to say

“Its only enlightened people who deserve freedom, Indians want no such enlightenement”

And never ever forget all those who died at Jallianwala Bagh, it was darkness on Baisakhi.  Every Indian should ensure that at least once in their lifetime, they make a visit to Jallianwala Bagh, stand there, feel the horror of that fateful day, look at the bullet marks in the walls. You will come out of it totally overwhelmed.

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