Sadashiv Rao Bhau


Quite often history judges some people rather harshly for their one big failure.  These people have had great stellar achievements to their credit, but the one big failure, in their life, ensures that either they are forgotten in ignominy or judged harshly. When one looks at the history of the Maratha Empire, two people who have been judged harshly, one is Sambhaji and the other one has been Sadashiv Rao Bhau.  Sambhaji had to live up to his father’s glorious legacy, and that can often be a trying task. It did not help, that his own wayward ways, rash behavior led historians to judge him as a wayward son. But then this was the same man, who stood steadfast in the protection of Dharma, even when he was brutally tortured to death.  Bhau is more remembered for the disastrous rout at Panipat, where he was the commander in chief. And for good reasons, his arrogant attitude, poor strategies, played a major role in the rout. But it was under Bhau, that the Maratha Empire expanded further, as he consolidated on the gains of Baji Rao 1’s conquests, and the same with the Peshwa Balaji Baji Rao, who actually built up Pune, took the empire to it’s zenith, and yet Panipat left him not just broken hearted, but ensured, he would be remembered for the wrong reasons.

Sadashiv Rao Bhau was born near Pune on August 4, 1730, into an illustrious legacy,  his father Chimaji Appa, had secured the entire Western coast from Portuguese,  and spread the Maratha empire all over the Konkan. His uncle, was none other than the legendary Baji Rao 1, one of the greatest heroes of the Maratha empire, who expanded it all the way up to the Khyber.   Having lost his parents at an early age, Bhau grew up in the care of his aunt Kashibai, who treated him like her own son. He was tutored by Ramchandra Shenvi, one of the shrewdest political brains among the Marathas then. So as can be seen, he had a solid grounding right from the start.

When Babuji Naik and Fateh Singh Bhonsle, failed in the task to capture Karnataka, it was Bhau who took it up.  Leaving Pune on December 5 with Mahadoba Purandare and Sakharam Bapu, at just 16 years of age, he embarked on his mission. Ajra, south of Kolhapur was where Bhau had his first major victory, defeating the Nawab of Savnur, capturing fort of Bahadur Bhenda. Chauth was levied and around 36 Parganas became a part of the empire.  That started the victory march for Bhau,  as city after city in Northern Karnataka fell, Kittur, Gokak, Bagalkot, Badami, Basavapatna, Navalgund, all overran by him. Yamaji Shivdev’s revolt was crushed, and soon he became the Diwan of the Peshwa, Balaji Baji Rao his own cousin. The Nizam of Hyderabad was decisively routed in the Battle of Udgir in 1760 by Bhau, and had to surrender Ahmadnagar, Daulatabad, Bijapur to him. By now Bhau was the master of the Deccan, having overran both Karnataka as well as routing the Nizam.

Just when he was lording over the Deccan, the news of Ahmed Shah Abdali’s arrival reached the Marathas. Dattaji Scindia was killed at the Battle of Burari Ghat, and with Abdali on the way to Delhi, in alliance with the Nawabs of Avadh, Rohillkhand as well as the Rajput rulers of Jodhpur and Amber, a major crisis was on hand.  Recalled from Udgir to Partur, Bhau was choosen by the Peshwa to  lead the Maratha campaign in the North against the Afghans, a decision that turned out to be rather hasty.  While Bhau was pretty much at home in the Deccan, the North was not really a familiar territory to him, especially the politics there. And this proved to be a major disadvantage, as he failed to get the powerful Rajput, Jat, Sikh chieftains on his side. While Bhau was a brilliant warrior, he was not the best of strategists,  and negotiation, was not exactly his forte. Matter of fact he was disastrous as a strategist, nothing better to explain his act of carrying 100,000 civilians, including family members and pilgrims wanting to visit the temples in North on a military campaign.  It was a totally disastrous tactic, as they became a burden on the army, who had to take care of the logistics as well as supplies for them.

Also Bhau adopted new tactics of infantry and artillery, as against the traditional Maratha reliance on hit and run tactics, which he felt would not work in an open plains warfare like in the North. However some like Holkar were not ready to accept Bhau’s tactics of using artillery and infantry, as they felt the army was not adequately trained. He neverthless went ahead, in spite of objections, and formed an artillery of 10,000. Though Holkar and Scindia tried to get the Rajput rulers, the Jat chieftain Suraj Mal and the Sikhs on the Maratha side, it did not work out.  The Maratha tendency to interfere in the succession battles of the Rajput rulers did not go down well with the latter, as also their collection of tribute.  In the meantime Holkar and Scindia persuaded Bhau to strike an alliance with Suraj Mal, who did join, inspite of the fact that he had no love lost for the Marathas. However Bhau’s rather overbearing nature, meant that the Jats did not give full fledged support, while some of the Rajput rulers, openly sided with Abdali.  The Jat rulers controlled the food supplies around Delhi, and Bhau’s attitude towards them would cost them really bad at Panipat. He also rejected the offer of Sikhs to aid him against the Afghans and that meant he lost one of the most vital support ever. Again another disastrous tactic,  as the Sikhs were battle hardened when it came to the Afghans, they knew their strategies well, Bhau missed out on a great opportunity here.

Bhau took Delhi with a strong artillery attack in 1760, driving out Durrani from there, however they got no support from the local chieftains in and around there. He advanced further north, and the fort of Kunjipura near Karnal was taken in a blitzkrieg attack, using artillery and infantry.  Durrani was forced to flee from Kunjipura, as his entire garrison was massacred by the Marathas.  It was a comprehensive victory for the Marathas over the Afghans at Kunjipura, some of Abdali’s best generals were killed. Once again presence of a large number of civilians in the Maratha contingent meant the supplies at Kunjipura were exhausted fast.

Exasperated by the loss, Ahmed Shah Abdali himself entered the fray, making a daring cross across the Yamuna at Baghpat.  The Marathas however managed to block Abdali’s return route back to Afghanistan, and soon there was a fierce skirmish at Sonepat. Though the Afghans lost 1000 men, they managed to drive the Marathas back, and completely cut off their supply lines. By Nov 1760, Durrani cut off the Maratha’s access to Delhi, and they were now trapped from all ends. Besieged in Panipat, the Afghans, managed to cut off all food supplies to the Marathas, who were now trapped at all ends. Finally with his soldiers morale running out, and starvation rampant, Sadashiv Rao Bhau had no option but to call for war.

Jan 14, 1761 on Makar Sankranti, the 3rd Battle of Panipat, as the Marathas and Afghans clashed in one of the most decisive battles ever. Till 2 PM, the Marathas actually managed to break the Afghan forces, Bhau himself leading a spirited attack.  So fierce was the assault of the Marathas led by Bhau, that the Afghans ran from the battle field.Just when the Marathas seemed to be gaining the upper hand, Vishwas Rao, the Peshwa’s son was hit by a stray bullet, and that was the turning point.Taking advantage of Vishwasrao’s death, Durrani attacked the Marathas, with 10,000 troops, totally encircling them. Bhau along with Ibrahim Khan Gardi and Jankoji Scindia was surrounded by the Afghans, while Holkar fled from the battlefield.

Bhau along with Ibrahim Khan Gardi put up a spirited fight against the Afghans, however Vishwas Rao’s death demoralized the Marathas.  When he saw his nephew Vishwas Rao dead Bhau dismounted from elephant and plunged straight into the battle.However the Marathas seeing the empty howdah thought Bhau too had fallen and were demoralized further now. He fought to the last, even though he knew it was a losing cause, before he finally fell like a hero on the battle field.  One of the greatest Maratha heroes, Sadashivrao Bhau, perished on the field of Panipat, fighting till the last. He in many ways revolutionized the Maratha army, bought in artillery and infantry, moved away from their traditional hit and run tactics.  It was Bhau who bought in Ibrahim Khan Gardi, who played a vital role in the artillery segment, and fell fighting on Panipat along with him. He also bought in European mercenaries, employed the latest artillery, in a way modernized the Maratha Army. He might be judged harshly by historians, but he lived, fought and died like a true hero on Panipat.






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This article was originally published by me at Offprint here.


It says in the Upanishads that the Supreme One wanted to be many. The urge for self-dispersal is at the root of this creation. It was through this kind of creative urge that Prafulla Chandra became many in the minds of his pupils by diffusing and thereby reactivating himself in many younger minds. But this would hardly have been possible unless he had the capacity to give himself away fully to others – Rabindranath Tagore

When the annals of modern Indian science are written, the name of Prafulla Chandra Ray will be one of those in golden letters. The father of modern Indian Chemistry, the first Indian to set up a pharma company, and a pioneer of modern chemical industries in India. But Ray was more than just a mere chemist, he worked actively in the fields of education reforms, employment generation, political advancement too. He was a social reformer, fought against casteism, advocated the use of mother tongue as medium of instruction.  He was elected as President of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, for his contribution to Bengali language. A man of simplicity who had no worldly possesions, lived in a single room all his life at the University College of Science in Kolkata. His only possessions were books, of which he was a voracious reader. He read anything he could get his hands on from science to philosophy to history to classics, and was a polyglot to boot.

 While a student at Edinburgh I found to my regret that every civilized country including Japan was adding to the world’s stock of knowledge but that unhappy India was lagging behind. I dreamt a dream that, God willing, a time would come when she too would contribute her quota. Half-a-century has since then rolled by. My dream I have now the gratification of finding fairly materialized. A new era has evidently dawned upon India. Her sons have taken kindly to the zealous pursuit of different branches of science. May the torch thus kindled burn with greater brilliance from generation to generation.

The multifacted genius was born on August 2, 1861 in a small village in the district of Jessore, now located in Bangladesh. He belonged to a rather well off zamindari family, his father Harish Chandra Ray, was a man of fine tastes, a good violin player too, as was his mother Bhubanmohini Devi. For his rather liberal views, however his father was branded as a Mlechha by the more orthodox villagers. P.C. Ray grew up in what has often been called the best of times, the decade between 1860-69, an era that gave us Swami Vivekananda, Tagore, Madan Mohan Malviya, Lala Lajpat Rai among others.  In 1870, his father shifted to Kolkata, a new world for Prafulla, a new phase in his life.Along with his elder brother Nalinikanta, he was admitted to the Hare School, one of the more prominent English medium schools in Kolkata then. Prafulla and his brother were ridiculed by classmates, for coming from Jessore, in those days, East Bangal was considered to be a rather backward place. Add to it a sudden attack of dysentery meant he had to leave school, and face an interruption in his studies too. However Prafulla made good use of the rest period by reading English classics and famous works in Bengali literature. And also learnt Greek and Latin too. After he recovered Ray resumed his studies, in 1874 at Albert School of Keshab Chandra Sen, and later took admission in the FA class of Metropolitan College, founded by Ishwar Chandra Vidyasgar. With his father’s financial condition in not a very good shape, Prafulla aong with his brother lived in lodges to save money.

It was at Metropolitan, that Ray would come into contact with Sir Surendranath Banerjee, regarded as the father of Indian nationalism, who was working as an English lecturer there. Later in his autobiography, Ray would state, that apart from the low fees, another reason for him joining Metropolitan(now Vidyasagar College) was Surendranath Banerjee, who at that time was an idol of sorts to most students in Kolkata. Having a keen interest in Chemistry, Prafulla performed experiments outside college with his friends too, setting up a mini lab in his lodging. Soon Ray would realize his father’s dream of studying abroad, when got the  Gilchrist scholarship from Edinburgh University, one of the only two persons who got this from India. For some one ridiculed by his classmates for not knowing English, he had mastered four languages that was needed for this.

In mid 1882, Ray left for England, where he was received by Jagdish Chandra Bose, who was then a student at Cambridge. Bose and Ray would later become pretty good friends for life. At the University of Edinburgh, Ray was taught by Alexander Crum Brown.  In an essay competition announced by the University on India Before and After the Mutiny, Ray criticized the British rule, for which he was not given the prize.

 The English people has yet to be roused to an adequate sense of importance of events which are now taking place in India. Thoughts and ideas which pervade the upper strata of society, are now percolating through the lower; even the masses are now beginning to be moved and influenced. The latter element, it would no longer do to treat as une quantite negligeable. England unfortunately now refuses to recognize the hard and irrestible logic of facts and does her best to strangle and smother the nascent aspiration of a rising nationality .

Ray distributed copies of his essay to fellow students, the general public and also to John Bright, their finest parliamentarian. Bright acknowledged and also agreed with the points raised by Ray in his essay. In 1885, he got his BSc and later in 1887 his DSc from University of Edinburgh for his work on ” Conjugated (gepaarte) Sulphates of the Copper-magnesium Group: A Study of Isomorphous Mixtures and Molecular Combinations “.  He also got the Hope Prize Scholarship that would enable him to stay for one more year and was also elected as Vice President of the Chemical Society.Ray returned back to India in 1888, as he wanted to pursue his research and share the knowledge with others too. Science in India was at it’s infancy, and there really were not much career prospects in Chemistry either. Only the Presidency College in Kolkata was offering a proper course in Chemistry, with practical studies. The existing private colleges were too few in number and did not have the sufficient resources either for practical studies. It was clearly not adequate to cope up with the major advances made in chemistry in the last half of the 19th century. Also all the opportunities were available only for Britishers, even those Indians in the Civil Service received far less pay. Some one like Jagadish Chandra Bose, was allowed entry into the Higher Services, on the condition that he would not be paid as per the grades. There was a rising uproar against this exclusion of Indians from higher services and the discriminatory attitude adopted. The British under Lord Dufferin came up with a patch work solution of creating two services Imperial for the British and Provincial for the Indians, and even then the pay in latter was far less.

Even though Ray had a letter of reccomendation from his teacher Crum Brown, and assurance from Sir Charles Bernard, Member of Indian Council, all he could manage to get was a temporary appointment as Asst Professor of Chemistry at Presidency. Even though the salary much lower, Ray accepted it, and worked in Presidency till 1916, where he retired as Head of Department for Chemistry.

After Presidency, Ray joined at the University College of Science in Kolkata, which is where he would go on to do his best work. He had already got an earlier invite in 1912 from Prof Ashutosh Mukherjee, the VC of Kolkata University to join. Ray joined as the first University Professor of Chemistry, and by this time it was equipped with some excellent laboratory equipment too. In many ways Ray was a staunch nationalist too, primarily on account of the discrimination he had faced at every stage. Though he could not directly take part in the freedom movement, he gave all his support to the Indian National Congress during the Non Cooperation Movement. Most of the top Congress leaders including Lalaji, Mahatma Gandhi were regularly in touch with him. He had a particularly close association with Gandhiji and Gokhale, and invited the former to Kolkata.  He would often say “Science can wait, Swaraj cannot”.

In his career, Ray published about 120 research papers in journals of international repute.  He conducted a systematic chemical analysis of rare Indian minerals, hoping to discover some of them as the missing elements in Mendeleev’s Periodic Table. He isolated mercurous nitrite in 1896, that bought him international recognition too. Another notable contribution made by him was synthesis of ammonium nitrite in it’s purest form. Till then it was believed that  (NH4NO2 ) usually underwent rapid decomposition into Nitrogen and Water. William Ramsay was greatly impressed by Ray’s findings while W.E.Armstrong called him the “founder of Indian school of Chemistry”.

 Ray’s real contribution to the development of chemical research in India rests not so much on his own personal research publication as on his inspiring and initiating a generation of young workers, who, dedicating themselves to a scientific career succeeded in building up what is now known as the Indian School of Chemistry-Priaydranjan Ray

In 1902, Ray published the first volume of his celebrated work The History of Hindu Chemistry, and the second volume in 1908.  The motivation for writing this book, was the great French chemist, Marcellin Pierre Eugene Berthelot , who wanted to know the contribution of Hindus to the field of chemistry.  Ray wrote his work based on the Rasendra Samagraha, an ancient work on Chemistry. Ray’s two volume series details the history of Chemistry in India, from the ancient times to the medieval period, somewhere around mid 16th century. Renowned international journals like Nature, Knowledge praised the book highly.

In 1892, Ray had started his Bengal Chemical and Pharmaceutical Works, more popularly called as Bengal Chemical, to create jobs for the youth. Working at a stretch, during odd hours, Ray threw himself completely into the project. His aim was to create the tonics in India, at a much lesser price than what would have to be paid for importing them. Using the latest laboratory equipment, and professional management, Ray soon built up Bengal Chemical into a limited company with it’s own capital.

Hailing from a rural area himself, Ray was always concerned about the life of the people there. He would visit the huts of poor farmers, distribute stocks of food to them in times of distress. When the Bengal famine broke out in 1922, and the British were indifferent, Ray stepped forward and appealed for help from fellow Indians. In one just one month, he managed to raise three lakh rupees for aid, women gladly gave him their jewelry, hundreds of young men volunteered to go and work in the villages on his call. Such was the appeal of P.C.Ray among masses that a European remarked “Had Gandhiji two more such Rays with him, Swaraj would have come faster”.

Ray wrote extensively on a wide variety of subjects in both English and Bengali. His Simple Zoology in 1893, is considered one of the best books on the subject. He frequently contributed in many periodicals like Basumati, Anandabazar Patrika, Manashi etc. Being a single person, Ray gave away most of his earnings in charity. He founded an annual prize in Chemistry, named after the great Buddhist alchemist Nagarjuna for a sum of Rs 10,000.  He also instituted another prize for research in zoology which he named after Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee. And donated around 1.8 lakh to the University of Kolkata, for extension of Chemistry Department. And while he founded Bengal Chemicals he did not accept any salary from it, he donated all the profts for the benefit of the workers.

On June 16, 1942, Ray passed away in his single room, in University of Kolkata, surrounded by friends, admirers and students. While a pure science enthusiast, Ray always sought the application of science for practical benefits. Living a spartan life, all alone, he was a true Karma Yogi, who gave his all to the cause of Indian science.

 “I have no sense of success on any large scale in things achieved…but have the sense of having worked and having found happiness in doing so. “

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Punya Tithi of Swami Vivekananda

svd14th of July, 1902

The day America was celebrating it’s Independence Day. It was the day a great soul would pass away into Mahasamadhi. Swami Vivekananda, a spiritual genius of commanding intellect and power who crammed immense labor and achievement into his short life. He obtained Mahasamadhi at 9:10pm at the age of 39 years and 5 months. fulfilling his own prophecy “I shall not live to be 40 years old”.

Just 3 days before his Mahasamadhi, Swami pointed out to his disciple Swami Premananda, a particular spot on Belur Math grounds where he wished his body to be cremated and  said “A great tapasya and meditation has come upon me, and I am making ready for death.”

Next day, Wednesday, he observed Ekadashi. After fasting, Swamiji had some fruits and vegetables, he poured water over hands & dried them with a towel. When his disciples protested he said ‘Jesus washed the feet of his disciples’, someone checked the answer & muttered ‘But that was the last time’… his words were left unuttered.


On the supreme day, Friday, Swamiji spent 3 hrs in formal meditation. Later he whispered, ‘If there were another Vivekananda, then he would have understood what this Vivekananda has done! And yet how many Vivekanandas shall be born in time!’ Swamiji asked his disciple Suddhananda to read a passage from the Yajurveda with the commentary of a well-known expositor. The Swami said that he did not agree with the commentator and exhorted the disciple to give a new interpretation of the Vedic texts.

He had his lunch with members of Math though he usually ate alone due to his illness. Then he taught Sanskrit grammer to the bramhacharis for 3 hrs. Later he walked for 2 miles with Swami Premamnanda within the Math grounds, discussing about a Vedic College setup in the Matha.On being asked ‘Why a Vedic college’, Swamiji replied “to kill superstition”.


On his return Swamiji enquired about each member of the Math, discussed with them on the Rise & Fall of Nations.

‘India is immortal, if she persists in her search for God, but if she goes in for politics & social conflict, she will die’, he said.

At 7 pm he went to his room & asked his attendant he was not to be disturbed. After an hour of Dhyana & Japa, he called his disciples to open all windows & fan his head. He laid down quietly. an hour later his hands trembled a little and he breathed heavily twice in a couple of minutes. His eyes became fixed in the centre of his eyebrows and with a divine expression the eternal silence fell.

‘There was,’ said a brother disciple of the Swamiji, ‘a little blood in his nostrils, about his mouth, and in his eyes.’ According to the Yoga scriptures, the life-breath of an illumined yogi passes out through the opening on the top of the head, causing the blood to flow in the nostrils and the mouth. The brother disciples thought that he might have fallen into samadhi, and chanted the Master’s name to bring back his consciousness. But he remained on his back motionless.The doctors were sent for & after a thorough examination the doctor opined ‘life was only suspended’ and artificial respiration was tried. At midnight he was pronounced dead by apoplexy or sudden failure of the heart.

The moment was there that had been foretold by his Master from the beginning. at 9:10pm on the wings of that meditation, his spirit soared whence there could be no return, and the body was left, like a folded vestiture, on the earth. This is the Nirvikalpa Samadhi that his guru Ramakrishna Paramahansa told him about… “This is your mango, Look! I lock it in my box. You shall taste it once more, when your work in finished.” and he waited for he knew that his time was near for he said this.


For centuries to come people everywhere will be inspired by Swami Vivekananda’s message,’O man! first realize that you are one with Brahman- aham Brahmasmi & then realize that the whole universe is verily the same Brahman — Sarvam Khalvidam Brahma.’





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Dheeran Chinnamalai



The Polygar Wars

While 1857 is often regarded as the first large scale revolt against British rule, there were many localized revolts that broke out. And one of them was the Polygar Wars down South between March 1799 to July 1805.  This was one of the bloodiest revolts ever faced by the British, fought primarily in Tamil Nadu, the Malabar region. And contrary to what most historians claim, the British did not have an easy run, the Polygar Wars were the most serious and bloodiest  challenge to their hegemony. The 6 long years, saw a large number of losses on the British side and they had to taste defeat in many a battle. And the major players in the Polygar Wars actually challenged and outwitted the British, head to head. In most cases, it took some cunning and treachery to capture and execute these warriors.

The Polygars or Palegars or Palayakarrars as they were called, were primarily small time chieftains, who rose to prominence during the Vijayanagara Empire. Renowned for their fighting capabilities, the Polygars were the sword arm of the Vijayanagara Rayas, and most had their own private armies, that did duty during major battles. Also the Polygars were well acquainted with the latest artillery, and were trained by the French, in the end most were done in by betrayal of fellow chieftains.  Some of the legends of the Polygar Wars included Veera Pandya Kattaboman and Kerala Varma Pazhassi Raja.

One such great warrior was Dheeran Chinnamalai,  born as Theerthagiri on April 17, 1756, at Melyapalam in Erode district, to Rathina Swamy and Periyaatha. He had an elder brother Kulandhaisamy and three younger brothers-Thambi, Kilothar and Kuttisamy and Parvatham, his younger sister.

His grandfather Kottravel Sarkkarai Mandraadiaar was one of the larger land owners, and his father looked after their lands in Melyapalam. While Kulandhaisamy and Kuttisamy, were involved in farming, Theerthagiri along with Thambi and Kilothar took care of administration and safety of the villages under their jurisdiction. Along with his brothers he  was well trained in the martial arts, archery, horse riding.  They also took part in village panchayats, and learnt how to settle family and land disputes.

The Kongu region, then was part of the Mysore kingdom under Hyder Ali, during the later half of the 18th century.  The diwan Muhammad Ali who was in charge of tax collection, followed rather unfair practices, sometimes even grabbing lands. Theerthagiri and his brother confronted Muhammad Ali between Sennimalai and Shivanmalai, and recovered the taxes he had forcibly collected. A furious Muhammad Ali, threatened them that Kongu being under Hyder Ali, the consequences would be severe. Theerthagiri shot back, saying Kongu would not accept Hyder’s rule, and it was capable of governing itself.  And this was when he got the name of  Chinnamalai, when it’s believed he stated to the Diwan- “I am Chinnamalai who reigns between Sennimalia and Shivanmalai”.

Hyder Ali, as expected struck back, sending an army to Kongu to attack Chinnamalai.  However Chinnamali, routed Hyder’s army on the banks of the Noyyal river. This only enraged Muhammad Ali even more, and vowed to wreak vengenance. Knowing Ali’s intentions, Chinnamalai himself began to build up his army. However Hyder was more preoccupied with the Nizam, British and Marathas, with whom he was in constant conflict, and so that attack never took place.

When Tipu Sultan took over in 1782, he adopted an even  more aggressive policy towards the British.  And in order to fight against the British, he requested the Tamils of Kongu, to help him out. Dheeran and his brothers responded to that, as also their trusted commanders, Velappan and Karuppan. Chinnamalai himself was the commander of the Kongu regiment in the Mysore Army, and took active part in the 3rd and 4th Mysore Wars.  However with the death of Tipu in 1799, Chinnamalai returned to Kongu along with Karuppan. Velappan however was captured by the British and he later became their agent.  Chinnamalai, had the benefit of receiving French training during his stint with Tipu Sultan.

On his return to Kongu, Chinnamalai built a fortress at Odaanillai and settled there along with his army, waiting for the right time to strike.  He also reached out to the rulers of Malabar and Salem, hoping for a larger alliance against the British.  Recognizing that Chinnamalai was a grave danger, the British tried to get him to sign a pact, where he was promised favors in return for accepting their sovereignity. He however refused to sign the pact, fully knowing it would result in war.

Chinnamalai’s defiance annoyed the British, a man with no title, technically not a ruler, yet refusing to accept their sovereignity, this when most of the Rajahs had surrendered to them.  In 1801, they sent a troop of soldiers under Colonel Maxwell, however Chinnamalai having got advance news of the attack,  defeated the British on the banks of the Noyyal. Maxwell returned again in 1802, and a long siege of Odaanillai fort, ended in total defeat for the British, and Maxwell himself was beheaded.

The British though furious, waited for the right opportunity and they got it in 1804, when during a particular day, Chinnamalai and his entire army would be attending the Arasalur Amman temple festivities. They felt this was the best chance and sent an army to capture Odaanilai under General Harris, who had led the campaigns in Mysore.  Chinnamalai however got the news, and stayed back at the fort, with his contingent, while some went to the temple. Harris was taken by surprise when he attacked the fort, and Chinnamalai stormed out, throwing hand grenades, forcing Harris to retreat.

The British were now more determined than ever, and built up a huge army to take down Chinnamalai, with men from Kallikudi and cannons from Madras. With 140 cannons and 30,000 men,  Harris attacked Odaanilai, and surrounded the fort, demanding Chinnamalai to surrender. However, they found that the fort was abandoned, and also found a note from Velappan, whom they had captured. The fact is Velappan was acting as a double agent, for Chinnamalai, while on the British side.  Harris executed Velappan, and also razed the fort to the ground using cannons.

Chinnamalai and his brothers now lived in exile, at a place called Karumalai near Palani, often using disguises to venture into the towns. One of the persons they would often meet was Nallappan a cook, who gave them refuge and food too. It was this very Nallappan who would betray them to the British, informing them of the whereabouts. And on one night when Chinnamalai and his brothers were having dinner, Nallapan signalled the British, who stormed the house from all sides.

An enraged Chinnamalai strangled Nallapan, to death before the British captured him, his brothers and their commander Karuppan. He was taken to the Sangagiri fort, and a 4 person tribunal demanded that he pay taxes, accept the British sovereignity. With Chinnamalai refusing to do so, he was sentenced to death.  And on July 31, 1805, Dheeran Chinnamalai, his brothers and Karuppan were all hanged to death at Sangagiri fort. Another brave son of India, gave up his life fighting the British.

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Hari Singh Nalwa

Hari Singh Nalwa british museum.jpg

“Hari Ragla” two words that struck terror in the hearts of Afghans.  Two words that made Afghan mothers put their kids to sleep with. Two words that just about summed up the man, who was a terror to the Afghans, dealt a death blow to their plans of territorial expansion.  A man who stood out like a colossus in the court of Maharaja Ranjit Singh, that itself was a galaxy of stellar personalities. A man who even in death, frightened the Afghans, to the extent they fled from the battlefield than face him.

Hari Singh Nalwa, the commander in chief of the Sikh Khalsa army, Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s sword arm. The man who conquered most of  North West India from the Afghans, expanded the Sikh empire beyond the Indus river, right up to the Khyber Pass.

This legendary hero was born in Gujranwala( now in Pakistan), in 1791, to Gurdial Singh Uppal and Dharam Kaur. Raised by his mother, after his father passed away when he was just 7,  he took the Amrit Sanchar and was initiated as a Sikh, when he was 10 years old. At the age of just 14, he impressed Maharaja Ranjit Singh, with his skills in horse riding and shooting, as well as his intelligence.  Ranjit Singh appointed him as a personal attendant. And soon he rose within the ranks of the Army to become a Sardar, commanding 800 horses and footmen. In 1804, he killed a tiger that attacked him with his bare hands, earning the epithet of Bagh Maar.

Hari Singh Nalwa fought around 20 major battles, and each time he inflicted a crushing defeat on the Afghans.  His first major battle was at Kasur in 1807, a strategically significant fort near Lahore, that was a major obstacle for Ranjit Singh.  He showed exemplary courage in the battle, and captured the fort, was granted a Jagir in recognition.  At just 17 years old, he was given indepdendent command of the army, and captured Sialkot from it’s ruler Jiwan Singh, after an intense battle.

He however emerged as a formidable warrior with the Battle of Attock in 1813,  the first major victory of the Sikhs against the Afghans.  Attock was strategically important, a replenishment point for armies crossing the Indus. The campaign to capture it was led by Dewan Mokham Chand, one of Ranjit Singh’s trusted generals,  and Hari Singh took active part in the battle. It was the first major victory for the Sikhs over the Durranis, and along with Attock, the adjoining regions of Hazara-i-Karlaugh, and Gandhgarh too became part of the Sikh Empire. However the attack on Kashmir in 1814, under Maharaja Ranjit Singh himself failed due to the bad weather, delay in arrival of reinforcements, and treachery of the Rajouri chieftains.

In 1816, once again Nalwa took part in the expedition to capture Mahmudkot( now in Pakistan),  a strongly fortified fort. Ranjit Singh approached it from the southern end,  Nalwa along with Diwan Chand, Fateh Singh Ahluwalia, fought in another bitter battle, that led to the conquest of the fort, along with Khangarh and Muzaffargarh. In 1818, Nalwa was instrumental in the capture of Multan, after a fierce resistance from Muzaffar Khan and his sons. When a bitter civil conflict broke out in Peshawar, with Kamran Shah, killing their Barazkai Vazir Fateh Khan, the Sikhs took advantage of it, and captured the city for the first time.

Nalwa was deputed as Governor of Peshawar to keep it under control, he later bought the territories of Mitha Tiwana and Nurpur under the Sikh empire. In April 1819, the Sikhs once again attacked Kashmir, under the command of Kharak Singh, and Nalwa leading the rear guard. After a fiercely fought battle on July 5, 1819, the Sikhs conquered Kashmir. It was a major victory for them, and for 3 nights the cities of Lahore and Amritsar were illuminated. Nalwa later took charge of Kashmir as Governor,  and in 1821 put down a revolt  by the Khakha chief Ghulam Ali.

His most spectacular success, came in Pakistan’s Hazara region at the Battle of Mangala in 1821. Crossing the Kishenganga river at Muzaffarabad with 7000 foot soldiers, he traversed the treacherous mountains, he reached Mangala.  It was now occupied by the Jaduns chief, who controlled the entire Damtaur region, who demanded a tax on all the goods Nalwa as carrying for safe passage. When he refused to pay up, all the tribesmen in that area surrounded and attacked him.  Against a combined tribal force of 25,000, Nalwa stormed their defences, and routed em, inspite of being outnumbered. In the meantime, the Sindh Sagar Doab, controlled from Mankera, by Nawab Hafiz Ahmed Khan, the Afghan governor.  After celebrating Dussehra, Ranjit Singh mounted his attack on this region in 1822,  and Nalwa met him on the banks of the Jhelum river. Mankera was surrounded by around 12 forts, which were built by Hafiz Ahmed’s predecessor, Nawab Mohd Khan. The Sikhs conquered these 12 forts, and only Mankera was left standing.  Leading  an army of 3 units, Nalwa stormed Mankera from the western side, the fort itself was built of mud and burnt brick,  surrounded by a dry ditch. After a 25 day long siege of the fort, Nalwa, finally managed to capture it and the Nawab accepted defeat.

In the meantime, Azim Khan, seeking revenge over the loss of Peshawar and Kashmir, attacked with a huge army at Naushera in 1823. Nalwa captured the  Akora Khattak fort first and then managed to secure the Yousufzai stronghold of  Jehangira, after a fierce resistance. Finally in a very intense battle on the banks of the Landai River, Nalwa along with Ranjit Singh, the Gurkha commander Bal Bahadur, inflicted another crushing defeat on the Afghans. It was a total rout and Nalwa chased them all the way to the Khyber Pass.

With the Afghans now totally dispirited, by Nalwa’s repeated attacks on them, hope came in the form of Sayyid Ahmad, belonging to the Yousufzai tribe.  Ahmad, led the Yousufzai revolt, and Ranjit Singh sent Budh Singh Sandhanwalia to subdue it. The Barakzais of Peshwar, though allies with the Sikhs, were in cahoots with the Yousufzais.  Sayyid arrogantly declared that he would first capture Attock, and then march on to Naushehra.  Nalwa stood guard at Attock, ensuring that he would hold Sayyid at bay till reinforcements came in.  On 14 February, 1827 one of the bloodiest battles ever was fought at Saidu, with cries of ” Allah Ho Akbar” and “Jo Bole So Nihal” renting the air.  For around 2 hours it was total carnage, as the Sikhs and Afghans clashed in one of the bloodiest conflicts ever. Despite much larger numbers, the Afghans were routed by the Sikhs, who went in hot pursuit of them, and Sayyid himself had to flee to the Yusufzai mountains. 8000 Sikhs under Nalwa, routed a much larger Afghan force of around 150,000, and the victors were feted at a large ceremony in Lahore.

In 1835, Dost Mohammed took charge of Kabul, and defeating Shah Shuja at Kandahar, gave a call for Jihad, and set off on a large campaign to wrest back Peshawar from the Sikhs.  On the 10th of May 1835, Nalwa along with Raja Gulab Singh, Monsier Court,  Sardar Tej Singh among others,  led the campaign, and encircled the Afghans in a semi circle. Ranjit Singh however wanted to avoid battle, and sent his Vakils to negotiate with Dost Mohammed.  He managed to win over Dost Mohammed’s step brothers Jabbar and Sultan to his side, rendering him helpless. Knowing his game was up, Dost Mohammed fled to Kabul, via the Khyber Pass,  was a total rout for him.

Battle of Jamrud

In October 1836, Nalwa attacked the village of Jamrud, right at the mouth  of the Khyber Pass.  The Misha Khel Khyberis, the main chieftains of this village, were known for their markmanship and rebellious nature.  Nalwa however managed to subdue them,  and began to strengthen the existing fort, the Sikh empire now extended all the way to Khyber Pass.  Nalwa did not rest on his laurels however, he attacked the rebellious Yusufzai territories and subdued them, occupying Panjtaar.  The chief Fateh Khan, lost all his territories and had to sign an agreement to pay tribute.

Dost Muhammad was now truly alarmed, the Sikhs were right at the mouth of the Khyber, and nothing could really stop them from taking Jalalabad and Kabul. With the Afghans totally helpless before Nalwa’s onslaught, nothing really seemed to stop him reaching all the way up to Kabul. Around the same time, Ranjit Singh’s grandson was getting married in March 1837, most of the troops were attending the wedding. Nalwa though was at Peshawar, as he was suffering from fever. Taking advantage of the occasion, Dost Muhammad, ordered the Afghans to capture the forts of Jamrud, Peshawar and Shabhqadar. Nalwa’s lieutnant, Mahan Singh was in charge of Jamrud, with just 600 men and very limited supplies. When the Afghans attacked and besieged the fort, Nalwa had to leave Peshawar for the rescue of his men.  Though the Sikhs were totally outnumbered, Nalwa’s presence once again gave them the strength, and the Afghans scattered on his arrival. Nalwa however was injured badly in an ambush attack, and had to be carried inside the fort. He told his men not to get the news out of his impending death to the Afghans, till reinforcements arrived from Lahore. Soon enough the army came from Lahore, beating back the Afghans. However Hari Singh Nalwa was no more, the lion had passed away. In his death too, he prevented the Afghans  from taking Jamrud and Peshawar.  After Nalwa’s death, Khyber Pass became the frontier of the Sikh Empire, and Ranjit Singh gave up on further conquests.

Nalwa was an equally capable administrator too,  serving as the Governor of  Kashmir, Greater Hazara,  Peshawar at various times.  He often handled the most troublesome spots in the Sikh empire, known for their volatile nature.  As Governor of Kashmir, he enforced the ban on cow slaughter, as ordered by Maharaja Ranjit Singh. He also built many forts, gurudwaras, temples, havelis and sarais, in the places he conquered. The fortified town of Haripur was built by him in 1822, a planned city, with an excellent water distribution system.  He was known for devising an excellent security system for the forts, many Khatri merchants migrated to Haripur, as they found it conducive for trade.  He also built up Gujranwala as a prosperous trading center, and built most of the forts in the Khyber region.  He built the Gurudwara Panja Sahib at the town of Hassan Abdal( now in Pakistan), and donated the gold to cover the dome of the Akal Takht in Amritsar.

Posted in Punjab, Sikh History | Leave a comment

Shanti Swaroop Bhatnagar

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All religions, arts and sciences are branches of the same tree. All these aspirations are directed toward ennobling man’s life, lifting it from the sphere of mere physical existence and leading the individual towards freedom.- Albert Einstein

Science and Art though ostensibly belonging to different spheres, overlap in many ways. Both involve ideas, theories, hypotheses, that are tested, for the scientist it is the lab, for the artist it is the studio or his study room. And much like the scientist, the artist too studies various disciplines like history, literature, culture, religion, using the same investigative techniques.  Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar was a bridge between the two worlds, one of the greatest Indian scientists of the modern era, who was an equally good writer. To most Indians, his name would be familiar with CSIR, that he founded as well as the awards given out in his name to aspiring scientists.  Yet not many know that he was also an equally good Urdu poet under the name of Seemab, and composed the Kulgeet for Benaras Hindu University in Sanskrit.  As a scientist, he played a major role in ensuring chemical industry is an important part of Indian economy, something he owed a lot to his teacher, the renowned P.C.Ray.

Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar was born on February 21, 1894 in Bhera, a small town now located in the Punjab province of Pakistan. His father Parameswar Sahai, was a Brahmo, driven by ideology,  and a second master at Anglo-Sanskrit High School in Shahpur district.  With his father passing away when he was just 8 years old, Shanti was bought up by his maternal grandfather, Munshi Pyare Lal, one of the earliest graduates of Rorkee Engineering College. Growing up in his grandfather’s rather large home at Sikandra in UP’s Bulandshahr district, Shanti spent time reading the books in the large private library he had. He would later pass over his grandfather’s entire collection to Lahore University in 1919. He also inherited the passion for engineering and science from his grandfather, especially the instruments, geometry, algebra. His love for literature was more from his mother’s side, which had a rich tradition of poets and writers. The most well known was Munshi Hargopal Tufta, who got the title of Mirza from none other than Mirza Ghalib himself.

Shanti’s schooling was at the A.V.High School in Sikandarabad, and was quite a brilliant student. His father’s friend Lala Raghunath Sahai, persuaded his mother to send him to Lahore, where he was working as the headmaster at Dyal Singh High School.  It was at Lahore that he came into contact with Pandit Shiv Nath Shastry and Abinash Chandra Mazumdar, both of them Brahmos, which in a way influenced his ideology too. Raghunath Sahai, would also be Shanti’s father in law later, and played a major role in shaping his thought process and ideals too.

In 1911, he joined the newly established Dyal Singh college in Lahore, where he was an active member of the Theater Society.  Earning a good reputation as an actor, he also wrote a one act play in Urdu called Karamati, with active encouragement, from Ms.Norah Richards, the English literature professor. His interest in literature continued in life, when after the death of his wife, he wrote a collection of Urdu poems in her memory called Lajwanti.  He joined Forman Christian College in 1913 for his BSc degree, where he took up a Honors course in Physics.

Mr. Shanti Swarup was one of the ablest students in that large class of about 100 students; indeed, I am of opinion that in all-round ability he was the ablest. He distinguished himself in every branch of the work of his class—literary, scientific, dramatic, social and he gave the most complete satisfaction to the Professor by the excellence of his behavior. He is a young man of more than usual ability and I feel sure that if he is given opportunities of developing his talent in some great European or American Centre of Scientific research he will do some remarkable work in science and will thus be in a position to render high service to his country- Welinker, Principal of Dyal Singh College.

After graduation he worked for some time as a Demonstrator in the Physics and Chemistry department of Forman Christian College, and he would later complete his MSc in Chemistry from the same college in 1919.  The Dyal Singh College trust granted him a scholarship to pursue his studies abroad, and he left for London.  He studied at the University College of London, under Professor F.G.Doonan, and was given the degree in 1921.  His main area of study in London was study of adhesion and cohesion in emulsions and his thesis was entitled ‘Solubilities of bi- and trivalent salts of higher fatty acids in oils and their effect on surface tension of oils.’

Returning to India, Shanti joined Benares Hindu University as Professor of Chemistry,  and worked there for three years.  During his stint at BHU, he created an active school of physical chemistry research, penned the University’s Kulgeet in Sanskrit. From BHU he once again moved to Lahore, where he was appointed as Professor of Physical Chemistry and Director of University Chemical Laboratories.  He worked for 16 years at Punjab University, Lahore till 1940, where he produced some of his best work.  While his areas were primarily colloidal chemistry and magneto chemistry,  he also did a lot of work in applied and industrial chemistry.  In 1928 he invented the Bhatnagar-Mathur Magnetic Interference Balance along with K.N.Mathur, a very sensitive instrument for measuring magnetic properties.

He also did considerable work in industrial and applied chemistry, one of his first projects was to convert bagasse( sugarcane peelings) into cattle fodder, which he did for Ganga Ram, one of the prominent Punjabi industrialists.  Another achievement of his was for Attock Oil Company at Rawalpindi, where they had an issue while drilling for oil. The mud used for their drilling operation would come in contact with saline water and get further solidified, making further work impossible. Shanti added an Indian gum, which lowered the viscosity of mud suspension, and increased it’s stability too against the electrolytes flocculating action.  Ms. Steel Brothers the parent company of Attock Oil, was so pleased, with his solution,  that they offered him a grant of Rs 1.5 lakhs for research on any work related to petroleum.

Bhatnagar used the grant to establish a Department of Petroleum Research at the University,  and this later carried out many studies on petroleum and it’s products.  Some of them included deodorization of waxes, utilization of waste products in vegetable oil. The company later increased the grant amount and extended the period to ten years, impressed by the work that was going on.  He never used any of the grants he receieved for his personal purposes, and utilized it only for strenghtening the research facilities at University.  Along with K.N.Mathur he wrote a book “Physical Principles and Applications of Magneto chemistry” which is regarded as a standard work on the subject. This is what the great chemist P.C.Ray had to say

On turning over the pages of Nature my eyes chanced upon an advertisement of Macmillan’s in which I find your book at last advertised. That the book is of a high standard is indicated by the most excellent review in Current Science by Professor Stoner, who is competent to judge. As far as I know Meghnad’s is the only text book in physical sciences which has been adopted by foreign universities; and it gladdens my heart that another work in physical science is likely to occupy a similar place. My days are practically numbered; and my great consolation is that you, in chemistry, are raising the reputation, abroad, of Indian workers

In 1933, Sir Richard Gregory, editor of Nature, while visiting the universities in India,  drew attention to lack of an appropriate central research organization for development of natural resources and new industries.   It was not just him, even others like Sir C.V.Raman,  Dr.J.C.Ghosh, had proposed for an Advisory Board for Scientific Research, on the lines of DSIR in Britian.  Indian scientists initiated schemes to launch National Institute of Sciences, and provincial Governments of Bihar, Odisha, Madras, too backed this demand.  The then Secretary of State for India, Sir Samuel Hoare, advised the Viceroy Lord Willingdon, to support the idea.  However Willingdon rejected it saying, it was not ncessary. In 1934, the Govt however made a small concession to create an Indian Intelligence and Research Bureau, with a very limited budget. This meant the institute could only do testing and quality control, but not undertake any industrial activity.

When the Bureau was proposed to be abolished during WWII,  Sir Ramaswamy Mudaliar, proposed the creation of a Board of Scientific and Industrial Research with more resources and wider objectives. Thanks to Mudaliar’s persistent efforts, the Board was created on April 1, 1940 for a period of two years and Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar was asked to take charge as the first Director, while Mudaliar became the first Chairman.  Allocated an annual budget of Rs 50,000, placed under Commerce Department, by the end of 1940, BSIR had about 80 researchers engaged, of whom around 20 were directly employed.  By 1942, the Institution came up with a number of processes, some of which included purification of Baluchistan sulphur, development of vegetable oil blends as fuel,  development of plastic packing cases for army boots and uniforms.  Bhatnagar persuaded the Government in 1941, to set up an Industrial Research Utilization Committee( IRUC) to transform research findings into action. The Central Assembly in Delhi accepted the reccomendations to constitute an Industrial Research Fund for five years on November, 1941.  And the efforts of Mudaliar and Bhatnagar came to fruit when the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research was founded on September 28, 1942 as an Autonomous body. In 1943, CSIR Governing body approved proposal to set up 5 national laboratories-the National Chemical Laboratory, the National Physical Laboratory, the Fuel Research Station, and the Glass and Ceramics Research Institute. CSIR got a grant of Rs 10 million to establish these laboratories, while Tata Group donated Rs 2 million for the Chemical, Mettalurgical labs.

Post independence, he played a major role along with Homi Bhabha, Vikram Sarabhai, P.C. Mahalanobis to build up the science and technology infrastructure, as well as policies. As Director General of CSIR,  Bhatnagar, also established the Central Food Technology Processing Institute at Mysore, National Mettalurgical Lab at Jamshedpur, Central Fuel Institute at Dhanbad. He also mentored other scientists like Syamdas Chatterjee, Asutosh Mukherjee, Shantilal Banereej at Kolkata, apart from being the Secretary of Ministry of Education. He played a major role in drafting the Scientifc Manpower Comittee Report of 1948, the first ever systematic assesment of the scientific manpower needs of India.  He was also instrumental in establishing the National Research Development Corporation( NDRC), and negotiated with oil companies for setting up refineries in different parts of the country. On January 1, 1955 he passed away at just 60, but not before leaving a very rich legacy in terms of establishing the scientific infrastructure needed for the development of the country.


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Veer Surendra Sai

When one looks at the history of the freedom struggle in Odisha, one name that would stand out would be that of Veer Surender Sai, who led a tribal revolt in Sambalpur that nearly rattled the British.  A born rebel, Surendra, hailed from the small village of Khinda, and was a Rajput belonging to the Chauhan clan of  Khinda-Rajpur.  His father Dharam Singh, was a descendant of Aniruddha Sai, the fourth Chauhan ruler of Sambalpur. When Maharaja Sai passed away in 1827 AD, Surendra Sai presented his legitimate claim to the throne of Sambalpur, as the Maharaja had no male heir.

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The British however found Surendra too much of an independent thinker for their own good. Predictably they were looking for some one more pliable, and their first choice was the Maharaja’s widow Mohana Kumari. The British had already occupied Sambalpur in 1804 AD after their victory in the 3rd Anglo Maratha War, when Odisha was one of the territories ceded by the Marathas.  The British allowed Mohana Kumari to rule over the State, the decision however led to a lot of resentment between her and other claimants to the throne. With Mohana Kumari proving herself to be incapable, the people themselves revolted against her.

The British put down the rebellion, deposed Mohana Kumari, and sent her to Cuttack in 1833 AD, where she lived as a pensioner. The British then placed another puppet ruler Narayan Singh, one of the offspring on the throne.  However Narayan, by then was already too old, not capable of handling the responsibilities of the state, and soon there was an outright challenge from other members of the Rajpur-Khinda Chauhan clan.  Surender was backed by his uncle Balaram Singh( brother of his father), on the grounds that being the direct descendants, they had a legitimate claim over the throne. The Gond tribals in Sambalpur too revolted against Narayan Singh, who died in September 1849 with no male heir.

Under the Doctrine of Lapse,  Lord Dalhousie annexed Sambalpur, and Surendra Sai, revolted against the British.  Surendra felt he had a legitimate claim to the throne, however the British were wary of his popularity and strong personality. Aware that he would not be the puppet ruler they wanted him to be, the British did their best to keep him away from the throne.  And thus began an intense and epic struggle against the British, that in fact had it’s genesis much earlier in 1827 AD.

The Beginning

Since 1827, Surendra backed by his uncle Balram,  had repeatedly laid claim to the “Gadi” of Sambalpur as the legal heir apparent. However with the British ignoring his claim, Surendra decided to go down the path of total revolt.  His 6 brothers Udyanta, Ujjala, Chabila, Jajjala and Medini too supported him, as did all the local Zamindars and Gauntias.  When Narayan Singh’s men killed the Gond Zamindar of Lakhanpur,  Balabhadra Deo, the furious Gonds too supported Surendra in his revolt. Some of them murdered the unpopular Zamindar of Rampur, Durjaya Singh, a camp follower of Narayan Singh.  Though Surendra had no role in it, the British neverthless implicated him in the case, and he was arrested along with his uncle Balaram and his brother Udyanta Sai.  Sent to Hazaribagh jail in 1840 AD,  Surendra spent as many as 17 years in prison, till the 1857 Revolt, when the mutineers, broke down the prison. His uncle who was his guiding force and mentor, however died in prison itself.

In the meantime, the Zamindars of Sambalpur, as well as the ordinary people, were fed up with some of the oppressive measures taken by the British, after they annexed the state.  The British indiscriminately raised the revenue to be paid by the Tribal Zamindars as well as the Gauntias.  When the 1857 revolt broke out and Surendra Sai was liberated from prison, the tribal masses in Sambalpur, gathered under him.  And this marked the second phase in his long struggle with the British.

1857 Revolt and Later

When the 1857 Revolt broke out and Surendra was released from prison by the rebels,  he was declared a fugitive by the British.  The authorities put a bounty of Rs 250 for  his arrest as well as that of his brother Udyanta.  Surendra however had become a hero for the common people, and returned to a rousing reception in Sambalpur.  Surendra made a petition to Capt R.T.Leigh, the Senior Asst Comissioner of Sambalpur to recognize him as the Raja of Sambalpur and remit his life imprisonment.  However the Odisha Comissioner,  G.F.Cockburn, strongly opposed any kind of amnesty to Surendra Sai, and recommended his deportation. The British bought in more troops and put Surendra under house arrest in Sambalpur.  He however managed to give them the slip and escaped to Khinda village where his brother Udyant was located.

31st October 1857, Surendra began his rebellion against the British, and soon many of the ordinary people, the tribal Zamindars, Gauntias all joined hands with him.  It was primarily a tribal revolt, with the Zamindars of Kolabira, Laidia, Loisinga, Lakhanpur etc, sacrificing all their comforts, and joining Veer Surendra Sai in his guerilla war against the British.  Fighting in the thick jungles of Sambalpur,  some of them lost their lives, while some had their estates confiscated, and some were arrested and hanged. The selfless spirit of sacrifice and heroism shown by the tribals, was Veer Surendra Sai’s greatest source of strength and support.

Surendra organized the rebels into different groups, and soon they began to cut off all the routes of communication used by the British to Hazaribagh, Ranchi, Cuttack. The dawk road to Bombay was blockaded, and the British by now had completely lost control over Sambalpur.  Veer Surendra Sai, regularly harassed the British with his guerilla attacks, and it became difficult for them to venture in to the thick forests. The soldiers were regularly ambushed, and when Capt Leigh undertook the operations, the rebels struck back hard, killing and wounding several of his 50 strong contingent.

Cockburn despatched more forces to Sambalpur, and the Government transferred Sambalpur from the Chota Nagpur division to Orissa division for more effective handling.  With the Chota Nagpur division Comissioner having his hands full, and the difficulties in controlling Sambalpur from the North, it was felt that having it in Orissa, would be better. And by  Dec 19, 1857, it became a part of the Cuttack division. Capt Wood arrived in the meantime from Nagpur with a large cavalry and made a surprise attack on the rebels at Kudopali on Dec 30, 1857.  Though Surendra Sai, managed to escape, he lost one of his brother Chabila Sai, as also about fifty rebels in the skirmish.

Major Bates arrived in Sambalpur on January 7, 1858 to take charge of the situation, and occupied the Jharghati pass connecting Ranchi, that was blocked by Udyant Sai.  Bates destroyed the village of Kolabira, it’s gauntia was arrested and hanged. Captain Woodbridge and Wood then launched another attack on the hill stronghold of the rebels Paharsgira on February 12, 1858. However the rebels managed to counter the British, and Woodbridge was killed, his headless body was later found in the forests.

With the situation in Sambalpur, slipping out of control, the British sent Col Forster in March 1858,  and gave him wide ranging military and civil power.  Forster cracked down hard, blocking the food stocks of the rebels. He convened a meeting of all the neighboring Rajas and Zamindars, and demanded their cooperation in suppresing the revolt of Veer Surendra Sai.  Ujjal Sai, another brother of Surendra Sai, was captured and hanged without a trial at Bolangir.  The Zamindars of Kharsal and Ghens who were sympathetic to Veer Surendar Sai,  were also captured and hanged.  In spite of all the repressive measures and crackdown, though Forster still could not capture Veer Surender Sai.

Major Impey was appointed as Dy. Comissioner of Sambalpur in April 1861, and believed a carrot and stick approach was better suited to end the revolt. He announced a policy of amnesty for all rebels who surrendered in September 1861, except Surendra Sai, his brother Udyant and son Mitrabhanu.  He issued another proclamation in October 1861, promising free pardon to all the rebels who surrendered.  Weary of the long conflict, and seeking a normal, peaceful life, many of the rebels surrendered to the British leaving the jungles.  Impey’s conciliatory approach worked, with many rebels now surrendering, and the local people too more or less reconciled to the inevitability.  The Zamindar of Kolabira, one of Veer Surendra Sai’s strongest supporters, received generous treatment after his surrender and this made many rebels trust the Government’s intentions.  Mitrabhanu surrendered on on January 7th, 1862 and 2 days later  his two brother Udyanta and Dhruva Sai too surrendered.

Surendra Sai once again negotiated with the British authorities for his claim to the throne of Sambalpur. They however rejected it, and and Impey assured him a liberal pension in lieu of that. He then demanded payment of arrears to his soldiers, to which Impey agreed, and soon Surendra surrendered on May 16th, 1862, bringing the long revolt to an end. It was however not the end of the story,  some of the British officers were not satisfied with the conciliatory moves towards the rebels and Veer Surendra Sai.

British officers like Berial, the Superintendent of Police, felt that Surendra Sai should have been charged with dacoity and murder. Pressure was put on the Dy. Comissioner for the arrest of Surendra Sai, and when Major Impey passed away in December 1863,  they saw it as a golden opportunity.  Capt Cumberledge joined as Dy. Comissioner, Sambalpur on January 19, 1864 and soon Surendra Sai, his son and some close followers were arrested on January 23, at their native village of Khinda. His brothers Udayant and Medini too were arrested, and all of them were sent to Raipur for trial.  After what was clearly a farcical and hasty trial, the Comissioner announced Veer Surendra Sai and others guilty, and sentenced them to deportation for life.

Even though the then Judicial Comissioner John Scarlett Campbell, called the trial a farce and the charges as baseless,  Surendra along with 6 others was detained at Nagpur.  Fearing his presence in Sambalpur would provoke another mass uprising, the British kept him at Nagpur till April, 1866 and and thereafter to the Fort of Asirgarh.  Medini passed away at Asirgarh, Dhruva and Mitrabhanu were released on January 1876.  Surendra however had to spend the rest of his life in prison, and it’s believed he passed away there at an unknown date. One of the great revolutionaries, a man who was a terror to the British in Sambalpur, passed away in anonymity in a remote prison.

Veer Surendra Sai was a true valiant warrior against British imperialism, who fought against them till 1862. An inspiring leader of the tribals in Western Odisha,  spent 37 years in prison. His aim was to drive the British out of his native Sambalpur, and though he could not succeed in his goal, he inspired a generation of freedom fighters in Odisha, and Jharkhand later on. A man who gave up the comforts, suffered untold miseries for the cause of his people,  Veer Surendra Sai, was a true hero, worthy of emulation.  When the history of Odisha is written, the resistance led by Surendra Sai, would forever be in letters of gold.


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