If you had been to Delhi, you would have travelled along the Rao Tula Ram Marg from the airport or when going to Gurgaon. You have hospitals, markets and even a university named after him. But not many really know about the man behind the name. When one speaks of the 1857 Revolt, some of the names that immediately come to mind are Nana Saheb, Tantia Tope and above all the Rani of Jhansi. One such name not so well known, but equally significant is that of Rao Tula Ram, the Ahir leader from Haryana’s Ahirwal region, who led a spirited uprising against the British during 1857.
Ahirwal a region covering South West Haryana and the North Eastern part of Rajasthan, a small princely state once upon a time, with Rewari as the capital. It primarily consists of Mahendragarh, Gurgaon districts in Haryana, and Alwar, Bharatpur in Rajasthan. A semi-arid region, whose inhabitants mainly depend on agriculture, marked by dry climate and large stretches of sandy soil.
Rewari, the erstwhile capital of this region, just around 51 km from the glittering skyscraper dotted skyline of Gurgaon, is believed to have got its name from Revati, the wife of Krishna’s brother Balarama. When she got married, her father the king, gifted this land, which was called as Rewa Wadi that in due course of time became Rewari.
It was the centre of a cannon foundry industry in medieval times, that was developed by Hemu Chandra Vikramaditya, who was later defeated by Akbar in the 2nd Battle of Panipat. For a long time under Mughal rule, it later came under Maratha rule, before being taken over by the British. In post Independent India, this place gained fame during the Battle of Rezang La during the 1962 War, when the C Company of 13 Kumaon that made a defiant last man stand, was made up entirely of Ahirs from this region.
Rao Tula Ram hailed from the Rao family of Rampura village in Rewari where he was born on December 9, 1825 to Rao Puran Singh and Rani Gyan Kaur. He belonged to the Yaduvanshi Ahir clan that claims direct descent from their founder Yadu, after whom the Yadavas were named. Educated as per the traditional learning system, he knew Persian, Urdu, Hindi and a fair amount of English too. He took charge of Rewari, after the death of his father in 1839 and changed his name to Rao Tula Ram from Tula Singh.
Tula Ram ruled from Rampura village, primarily over Rewari, Bhora and Shahjahanpur, his commander was Gopal Dev. An able administrator he organized the revenue department well, and was assisted by the mahajans in Rewari financially. He raised an army of 5000 soldiers, and set up a workshop at Rampura to manufacture guns, arms and ammunition. During the 1857 Revolt it was Rao Tula Ram who supported the rebel sepoys financially, and also supplied them with arms. Coming from a very illustrious lineage of ancestors who had supported the Marathas against the British in 1803, they had their jagirs confiscated, and were given a grant of 58 villages after losing the war. So when the 1857 Revolt broke out, Tula Ram was one of the first to join it, the memories of what the British did was still fresh in mind. The people of Rewari also took up arms, listening to the stories of Meerut, one of the hot spots. On May 17, 1857, he attacked Rewari with his followers, deposed the Tahsildar, and took all the Government buildings into possession.
When Delhi fell to the British on Sept 20, 1857, and the Emperor was deposed, the British targeted Rao Tula Ram. Brig General Showers led the assault on Rao Tula Ram, his orders were clear, “destroy him and raze his fort at Rewari”. Foreseeing the destruction Rao Tula Ram, made a strategic retreat abandoning both Rampura and Rewari forts, with his men and arms. The British took Rampura, Rewari forts without much effort, but he was still elusive, biding his time somewhere. Even though Showers sent a message to Tula Ram, promising amnesty if he surrendered, he turned down the offer.
Col Gerard who captured Rampura now planned to proceed to the town of Narnaul via Karnaud, and marched there on Nov 16. However at a place called Nasibpur, en route to Narnaul, Tula Ram and his men made a surprise attack on the British contingent. Leading the charge from the front Tula Ram scattered the British forces, the Patiala Infantry and Multan Horse were totally routed. However the Guides and Carabineers in the British army, attacked him and his men with heavy artillery, which was too much for them.
Just as the British seemed to be winning the battle, Col Gerard was mortally wounded, and their ranks were thrown into confusion. Taking advantage of the chaos, Rao Tula Ram, pounced on the British forces, and soon they were under retreat from an all-out attack. The British were now scattered, the Multan Horse fled away from the battle field, the guns were recaptured, and both wings of the British forces were totally in disarray.
Major Caulfield then ordered heavy bombardment against the rebels, however Rao Tula Ram did not flinch and stood his ground well. In spite of the brave stand of Rao Tula Ram and his men, the British artillery was too strong, and they began to break under the assault. Two of Tula Ram’s best commanders Kishan Singh and Ram Lal, died in the battle, and his men now were disheartened. By now most of his men had either fled under the assault or were killed, and soon he stood alone on the battle field.
Tula Ram along with his trusted lieutenant Adbus Samad Khan, escaped the British, but some of his best men were killed in the battle. In spite of the fact that the British had superior arms, he managed to inflict heavy casualties on them, and went down fighting.70 people were killed on the British side, they lost their best commanders Gerard and Wallace, 3 Lieutenants were heavily wounded.
The British had gained a decisive victory in the Battle of Narnaul, but at heavy cost, due to some stiff resistance by Rao Tula Ram. After this he joined Tatya Tope’s forces and fought under him for a year, before the revolt was finally crushed. With the British considering him on the chief offenders of 1857. Tula Ram escaped to Afghanistan where he finally died in Kabul.
The British revenge was swift, Tula Ram’s family was confiscated of their Jagir, and many villages were burnt. Those villages that supported Rao Tula Ram had to pay a heavy price, with many of them massacred en massed by the British. His legacy lives to date with the road in Delhi named after him, and also his inspiring story of defiance and heroism. While many are aware of Rani of Jhansi, Nana Sahib, Tatya Tope, not many really know about Rao Tula Ram’s role in the 1857 Revolt.