Revolt of 1857 AD and the Role of Surendra Sai

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The Revolt of Surendra Sai was another landmark in the history of the resistance movement in Odisha. The British imperialism was visible with the arrival of Lord Delhousie as the GovernorGeneral of India who wanted to grab as much as native states by the implementation of the „Doctrine of Lapse‟. When Narayan Singh was placed on the throne of Sambalpur after Mohan Kumari, Surendra Sai revolted. He was captured with his brother Udanta and uncle Balararna and they were sent to the Hazaribagh jail. Sambalpur was annexed to the British territory in 1849
with the implementation of the „Doctrine of Lapse‟. At this juncture, the Great Revolt of 1857 created circumstance for the release of Surendra Sai from that jail who gave a tough fight to the British authorities in order to assert his claim over-the throne of Sambalpur which shook the
British administration in Odisha.

Role of Surendra Sai in the Revolt of 1817


Surendra Sai played the key role in the Revolt of 1817. As it is known that Balaramadeva, the scion of the Chauhan dynasty of Patnagarh, was instrumental in establishing the kingdom of Sambalpur in the second half of the sixteenth century. The Bhonsles of Nagpur imprisoned Jayanta Singh ans his son Maharaj Sai of the same dynasty and established their authority over the kingdom.The British occupied the land in 1804 and after due negotiation, the Maratha rule was again re-established their until 1817 when during the third Anglo-Maratha War, it wassurrendered to the British who released Jayanta Singh and his son Maharaja Sai from the Maratha clutch and placed the former on the throne of Sambalpur. After his death, Maharaja Sai was placed over the throne in 1820 because Rani Mukta Dei recommended him as the successor. Maharaja Sai died in 1827 without a son. Now the Britishers nominated, the widow of the deceased king named Rani Mohan Kumari whose claim over the throne of Sambalpur was challenged by Surendra Sai, a descendant of Raja Madhukara Sai, the fourth Raja of the Chauhan dynasty of Sambalpur.

About Surendra Sai

Under the above circumestances, the revolt was launched by Surendra Sai. His fight against the British Governement shows his bravery and heroism. He gave a tough fight to British imperialism at Sambalpur. Born at village Khinda of Sambalpur town, he had six brothers namely, Udanta, Dhruba, Uliala, Chhabila, .Jajjla and Medini and the only sister named Anjana. The accomplished manner of Surendra popularized him among the people including the tribals such as Gonds and Binjhals. He came to eminence in 1828 when he challenged the claim of Rani Mohan Kumari to the throne of Sambalpur. Though he had gathered the popular support behind him, his claim was rejected by the British authority. The chain of events that followed one another in the following sequence, led him to raise revolt against the British Government.

Support of Zamindars and his brothers in the revolt

Being supported by the zamindars of Khinda, Barapali, Sonepur and Gauntias and his brothers Udanta, Surendra revolted against queen Mohan Kumari. Though, Captain Wilkinson started military operation against them he was unsuccessful in quelling the rebellion. To solve the problem immediately, Wilkinson removed the queen from the throne of Sambalpur and placed one Narayan Singh, an old man of the Chauhan dynasty as king in 1833. His accession to the throne brought a great discontentment among the people of that region. In September 1837, Balabhadra Deo was killed in a skirmish at Debrigarh hills with the British sepoys and Surendra Sai escaped. Durjaya Singh, the only zamindar of Rampur was supporting Narayan Singh. Surendra attacked his house and killed his father and son. Surendra, his brother Udanta and uncleBalarama Singh were captured in 1840. They were sent to the Hazaribag jail as political prisoners where Balarama Singh breathed his last.

Application of the Doctrine of Lapse in Sambalpur

The death of Raja Narayan Singh on 10 September, 1849 without a male successor brought Sambalpur under the direct control of the British authority by the application of the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’. J.H. Crawford, the Agent to the Governor-General, assumed the charge of the administration of Sambalpur. The economic grievances of the people of that region multiplied. With new revenue settlements, the revenue levied upon the people of that area increased. Without giving preference to the natives of the locality, the British authority settled some villages in favour of the Europeans, particularly the English people who by their tyrannical measures extracted more revenue from the people of those villages. This created gross dissatisfaction among all sections of People in Sambalpur. The tribals like Gonds, Binjhals, the feudal chiefs, the business community and the common people, etc. became enemy of the British Raj.

Impact of the Great Revolt of 1857

When the sepoys of the Great Revolt of 1857 reached Hazaribag, they broke the two jails of Hazaribag open and liberated many prisoners in August 1857. Among the prisoners Surendra Sai and his brother Udanta were released from the jail and fled away towards Sambalpur which created political storm in Sambalpur. Both of them were welcomed by their relatives and the people of Sambalpur at large. Captain R.T. Leigh, the senior Assistant Commissioner of Sambalpur wanted to capture Surendra and his followers. The detachment which he had to receive from 40th Regiment, M.N.I., majority of that joined hands with the rebellious persons under the guidance of Surendra Sai.

Negotiation between Surendra Sai and the British authority

Under the above circumstances, Captain Leigh was compelled to send Parwanas to Surendra for negotiation with the British authority. The negotiation between the two parties took place on 7 October, 1857, Surendra promised not to revolt, if the British authority would cancel the remaining terms of imprisonment awarded to him and his brother Udanta. Secondly, he shouldbe recognized as the king of Sambalpur. Captain Leigh agreed to the first proposal and told Surendra to stay at Sambalpur with twenty followers for the consideration of the second proposal
of the latter.

Declaration of the revolt

In the meantime, Surendra Sai sent two petitions to the Commissioner of Chhotnagpur with the same prayer. The Commissioner rejected his prayer for the throne and suggested him to stay as a political prisoner at Sambalpur. However, Captain Leigh suggested to deport the Sai brothers to Cuttack. In the meanwhile, detachments were sent to Sambalpur under Captain J. B. Knocker and Captain Hadow. Smelling something odd, Surendra Sai declared open revolt against the British authority on 1 November, 1857.

Strategy for the revolt by Surendra and his associates

The tribal zamindars of Ghens, Kolabira, Paharsirgira, Laida, l.olsinqa, Lakhanpur, Machida, Kodabaga, Bheden, Patkulanda etc. had joined with Surendra, supporting his cause Surendra stationed his supporters in two strategic places-Jharghati and Khinda. One such party attacked captain Knocker at Jharghati, twelve miles away from Sambalpur and killed one sepoy and wounded another. Another party stopped postal communications on the Cuttack road from Nagpur to Bombay and from Sambalpur to Burma. They brought serious dislocation in the British administration.

Operation against Surendra Sai

Looking at this, the British authority started operation against Surendra Sai. The British troops became sick while fighting with the followers of Surendra in forests. So, G.F. Cockburn, the Commissioner of Cuttack sent two medical officers namely Dr. T. Moore and Dr. D. Hanson with a small troop to look after the health of the British sepoys at Sambalpur forest areas. On 17 November, 1857 the rebels, under the leadership of Madhu Gauntia and Srikrishna Bora, attacked the two doctors and their party near Jujumura. Dr. Moore fought with the rebels and was
killed. Dr. Hanson entered into the jungle and was rescued two days later by the British troops. Of course, captain Leigh visited the spot with fifty soldiers but most of his soldiers were killed and injured by the insurgents.

Measures taken by Cockburn against Surendra

After this incident Cockburn sent military officers from Cuttack like Captions Wood, Woodbridge, Sweeny, Valiance and others to Sambalpur to help, Captain Leigh. Later on, Cockburn and Major Wyndham reached Sambalpur to carry on direct operation against the insurgents. On the other hand, the rebels took possible measures to oppose the British troops. The British authority threatened the local zamindars and Rajas to be prepared for the confiscation of their property and title if they helped the rebels. Simultaneously, they were also given the offer of several rewards to be conferred upon them, if they helped the British in suppressing the revolt. By the second week of December, 1857, 1500 rebels gathered at Sambalpur. Captain Saxton, the assistant Surveyor General was violently attacked by the rebels. On 17 December, they laced the combined attack of Lieutenant Hadow, Lieutenant Chisttlen and Hannath Singh. The insurgents fled away to jungle being unable to face the cannons of the British troops.

Attack of Captain E.G. Wood

On 30 December, 1857, Captain E.G. Wood attacked the insurgents at Kudopali. Making the detachment under him fully prepared, Wood showed his retreat. The rebels, being unable to understand the strategy of the Captain, came out from their hiding places and attacked the retreating party. Captain Wood turned back charged his cavalry and killed 53 rebels. Surendra Sai escaped but his brother Chhabila Sai was shot dead. This encouraged the British authority to deal with the rebels more vigorously. On 7 January, 1858, Major Bates besieged the Jharghati Pass and then, attacked Kolabira, a stronghold of the insurgents. Later on, he was joined by Captain Wood.

Murder of Wood bridge

The insurgents were thinking to avenge the murder of Chhabila Sai. Such a chance came on 12 February, 1858. Captain Woodbridge, on that particular day, besieged the fort of Paharasirgida hills. In the battle, Woodbridge was shot dead by the insurgents. Immediately, Captain Leigh, Captain Wood and Captain Dyre marched to the spot. The insurgents avoided fighting with the British troops and fled away to the jungles. Surendra Sai did not lose heart. He moved with his followers to the hills near Dewaree but the British troops appeared there promptly and broughtunder their control the large store of arms and supplies of the rebels who had left the place with the approach of the British troops.

Measures taken by Colonel Forster

The arrival of Colonel Forster who took over the charge of Sambalpur from Captain Leigh in March 1857, changed the situation dramatically. He arrested the people at random and gave them punishment. The Raja of Patna was remitted the fine of Rs. 1,000 imposed upon him previously for giving asylum to Ujjala Sai whom he captured and surrendered to Colonel Forster. He arrested and court martialled a large number of suspected rebels. The zamindaries of Kolabira, Karkutta, Bheden, Khorsal, Patkutunda and Rampur were confiscated and offered to zamindar Rai Rup Singh Bahadur as rewards who helped the British to trace out the rebels. Surendra Sai fled to the central provinces and in 1860 encamped in the zamindari of Khurral supported by the Garjat chiefs of Raipur. Colonel Forster did not leave his repressive measures in Sambalpur and nearby areas. So, the insurgents did not get any scope to enter into Sambalpur.

Action of the rebels

Inspite of the efforts of Colonel Forster, the rebels under the leadership of Khageswar Deo, killed Trikait Deo of Kusumunda who acted as spy for the British. Receiving help from the Khalsa villages of Sambalpur, they made their camp at Barapahar. In the last week of January 1861, they attacked the village Manpura. It was only because, the people of that village had supported the British authority. The joint operation of Captain J. Smith, Lieutenant R. Dundas, Captain John Dyre and Lieutenant Cornish foiled their attempt and the rebels fled to the territory of Bamara.

Proclamation of amnesty

Major H.B. Impey succeeded to W.R. Forster as the Deputy Commissioner of Sambalpur in April, 1861. Now, he adopted a conciliatory policy towards the rebels. He restored the zamindars their confiscated zamindaries. On 24 September and 11 October, 1861, the proclamation of amnesty were issued granting pardons to all rebels who would surrender. Many rebels and their supporters like the Rajas of Bamara, Sarangagarh and Patna, now came to help the British. Persuasion was made to Surendra Sai for his surrender but he did not pay any heed to it. Since, the plans on Impey bore no fruit, R.N. Shore the Commissioner of Cuttack moved to Sambalpurfor military operation against the rebels. Impey’s persuation to Surendra for refraining from such activity, led another proclamation of amnesty in favour of the rebels. This acted like magic and many more rebels surrendered. Still then, rebels like Kartika, Sindhu, Bhuboo, Udanta, Dayal Singh and many others including Surendra Sai did not surrender. They tried to gain public sympathy for the rightful claim of Surendra to the throne of Sambalpur.

Operation of Rattray

The operation of Major Rattray against the rebels in the last week of December, broke the spirit of the rebels to a greater extent. This led Surendra Sai to write to Impey about his surrender if his claim for the gadi (throne) would be considered which Impey denied. On the other hand, he assured Surendra of liberal provision for his maintenance. Thus, on the historic day of 16 May, 1862, Surendra Sai with his 40 followers, surrendered before Major Impey who guaranted him free pardon. A pension of Rs. 1,200 and an amount of Rs. 4,600 per annum were granted to
Surendra Sai and his family respectively. It was decided that Surendra would stay in the village Bargaon.

Peace and tranquillty now prevailed over Sambalpur. Kunjal Singh and Kamal Singh, the two rebellious leaders did not surrender. In March 1863, the Chief Commissioner Richard Temple visited Sambalpur. The prominent persons of the district appealed Richard Temple to
restore the Chauhan dynasty to the throne of Sambalpur and that prayer was outrightly rejected by the Chief Commissioner J.N. Berrill, the Superintendent of Police of Sambalpur, revealed that Surendra had link with the dacoits. It was also suggested that Surendra had instigated the people
to make such representation to the Chief Commissioner for his restoration to the gadi of Sambalpur. Now, Impey was pressurised to imprison Surendra Sai. However, he rejected that plea and retained his full faith in the honesty and integrity of Surendra Sai.

Ruthless measures taken by Major A.B. Cumberledge

After the death of Major Impey, Major A.B. Cumberledge took over the charge of the administration of Sambalpur as the Deputy Commissioner. He had no faith on the conciliatory policy of Impey. Some British officers like Captain Stewart, the Deputy Inspector General of
Police of Chhatisgarh Division and J.N. Berill, the Superintendent of Police of Sambalpur impressed Cumberledge that Surendra Sai and his followers had been planning to wage waragainst Her Majesty’s government. Charged with anger, a party headed by Cumberledge, surrounded the house of Surendra Sai at Bargaon in the night of 23 January, 1864. Of course, Surendra had left the house by that time only to be captured at Sambalpur by the treachery of
Dayanidhi. Subsequently, Mitrabhanu Sai, the son of Surendra, Dhruba Sai, Udanta Sai, Dharanidhara Misra and others were captured and imprisoned.

Trial of Surendra Sai

The trial of Surendra Sai and others began at the Sessions Court at Raipur on 23 June, 1864. J.B: Balmain examined the reports and held Surendra Sai, Udanta, Dhruba, Khageswar Deo and many others guilty for the treason and sentenced them to transportation for life with the confiscation of their all property. The accused rebel leaders appealed to John Scarlett Campbell the judicial Commissioner of the Central Provinces against the verdict of the Sessions Court. After hearing the petition, Campbell delivered his judgement on 18 August, 1864 completely reversing the judgment of the Sessions Court. The court found the judgment of the sessions court as unacceptable.

Last days of Surendra

The order of the judicial commissioner completely exposed the malafied intention of the government officers of Sambalpur. However, Richard Temple justified the arrest of Surendra Sai and other rebels by the administrative and police action of the government officers at Sambalpur. Under Regulation III of 1818, Surendra Sai and other six prisoners like Udanta, Dhruba, Medini, Mitrabhanu, Khageswer Deo and Lokanath Panda were ordered to be detained in the Nagpur jail being transferred from Raipur. In 1866, Surendra and others appealed through Attorney M.T. Pearson to the Governor-General-in-Council against their illegal detention even after their acquittal by the Judicial Commissioner of the Central Province. The petition was rejected by the Governor-General-in-Council. Petitions were filed again in 1871 and 1876. By that time, Medini Sai and Lokanath Panda had already breathed their last. On 22 November, 1876, Dhruba Sai and Mitrabhanu Sai were released by the surety given by the king of Bonai. on 28 February, 1884, Surendra Sai died in the cell of Asirgarh. With his death, ended the Sambalpur revolt.

Results of the revolt of Surendra Sai

Although Surendra Sai got failed to get the Gadi , but the effects of the revolt, launched by Surendra Sai were far reaching.

1. Peace and stability established in Sambalpur

With the arrest of Surendra Sai and his subsequent imprisonment, peace, tranquility and political stability were restored in Sambalpur. The government officers got a fresh relief from the task of dealing with the rebels. The sleepless nights they had passed inside the jungles and the encounters they had with the rebels, now ended for them.

2. Impositions of restrictions on the local zamindars

The British authority imposed restrictions on the local zamindars and regulated their activities. Henceforth, they never become the undisputed masters of their localities. The system of bethi and begari was abolished. Besides, effective measures were taken in regard to a regular land revenue settlement in Sambalpur.

3. Transfer of Sambalpur into the Central Province and Odisha Division

In 1864, Sambalpur was transferred to the Central Province. It created a lot of problems for the administrative authority due to the ethnic and linguistic differences of Sambalpur with the districts of the Central Provinces. As a result of which, Sambalpur was again transferred to the Odisha Division of Bengal in 1905.

4. British imperialism

Further, the British imperialism was totally felt by the people of that region. The manner in which the claims of Surendra Sai was set aside, the way Surendra and his supporters were allegedly captured and imprisoned after the verdict of the judicial commissioner etc. exposed the British authoritative attitude towards the people of that region. Of course, by these coercive methods, the British government was successful in suppressing the revolt launched against it by Surendra Sai.

5. Sambalpur remained permanently under the British control

With the suppression of the revolt, Sambalpur remained permanently under the British clutch. No cry for the restoration of the Chauhan dynasty to the gadi of Sambalpur was heard hereafter. The revolt proved that whatever powerful might be the local rebels, they could not withstand the British power that ultimately suppressed them.

Last Words to Say

The revolt by Surendra Sai was anti-British in nature as he could not get the Gadi. It was rebellion against the unlawful annexation of Sambalpur under Doctrine of Lapse to the British suzerainty ignoring the rightful claim of Surendra Sai. In course of time, not only the local people, zamindars, the kings but the tribal people of Sambalpur and the nearby area at large, supported the cause of Surendra Sai. Primarily, it was an uprising, a resistance movement where the tribal bulk played a dominant role. Although, the revolt of Surendra Sai got failure, but it had stirred the British administration in Odisha.


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