Paika Bidroha(Rebellion) - Untold Stories of Patriotism

Tuesday, August 9, 20111comments

We all know that the first battle of Indian Independence was fought in 1857 but very few of us know that there was a very strong and visible glimpse of a mass uprising 40 years prior to that. I know about it because I had a chapter in Oriya Literature in my secondary classes about it. It’s famously known as “Paika Bidroha”(Uprising of the Paika class). This revolution gave the nation the first direction towards the war for Independence. I got the below article on the coverage of the Paika Bidroha from the Khorda Nic website. So thought of sharing.

Coastal Orissa, mainly in Khurda region, the village of Banapur to be more specific. Its here that on a fine day in 1817, the declaration of war against colonialism was made.This was a rebellion of the Paiks,i.e., the landed militiants of Orissa to whom the English conquest had brought little but ruin and oppression. Brave and undaunted as the Paikas were in comparison to the British Sepoys, the nature of the country and their intimate knowledge of it gave them an advantage which rendered the contest very severe. Sterling has written about the Paiks who combine with “the blindest devotion to the will of their chiefs, a ferocity and unquietness of disposition which have ever rendered them an important and formidable class of the population of the Province”.A body of local landed militia of this kind might have been a tower of strength for the British Government, had liberal and conciliatory measures been adopted from the beginning. But by a fatal and shortsighted policy, Major Fletcher was allowed to resume their service lands shortly after the confiscation of the Khurda estate. This was not all. Deprived of the lands which they had enjoyed from time immemorial, they were subjected to the grossest extortion and oppression at the hands of the Sarbarakars and other underlings to whom the Government entrusted the collection of the revenue. The tyrannies of a corrupt and venal police didnt help the cause at all. A leader was all that was required to fan the lurking embers of rebellion into open flame.

And then enters Baksi Jagabandhu Mohapatra, an officer who had inherited his ancestors post of Commander of King of Khurdha’s army. All his property and belongings were taken over by the britishers at the time of conquest of Khurdha in 1814. Because of his lack of faitn in the court system of the British empire, he had chosen not to appeal against the confistication of his property. He was reduced to begging and survive on alms and voluntary contribution made by the people of Khurda in his support. He was constantly attended by a ragged tribe of followers bearing the insignia of state pertaining to his former condition.

In March, 1817 when a body of 400 Kandhas, from the State of Ghumsur crossed over into the Khurda territory and openly unfurled the banner of revolt, the Paiks rose as one men and joined them under the their former leader, Jagabandhu. They proceeded to attack the police station and other government buildings at Banpur where they killed over a hundred men in the employed by the foreign government and carried off some fifteen thousand rupees worth of treasure. The rebels then marched on to Khurda itself, increasing in numbers as they proceeded. Their success at Banpur had set the whole country in arms against the British and seeing the hopelessness of resistance the whole of the government officers stationed in Khurda sought safety in flight. All the civil buildings were burnt to the ground by the rebels and the treasury sacked.

Another body of the rebels advanced into Paragana Lembai and murdered one of the native officials who had who was very infamous amongst the countrymen.

When the news of these events reached Cuttack, the British Government sent a force strong enough to resist the fiery mob. One detachment marched directly to Khurda and another proceeded to Pipli to protect Paragana Lembai.

The Magistrate thinking that his presence would help to restore order, set out on the first of April, accompanied by a detachment sixty sepoys with the intention of joining the force which had proceeded to Khurda. On the evening of the following day he arrived at angapada, a village only about two miles away from Khurda. A barricade had been erected here, which was defended by a considerable body of rebels. The British troops were fired upon, and as it was growing dark, it was resolved to halt for the night and attempt to force the stockade early in the next morning. A letter was sent off to the officer who had proceeded to Khurda begging him to march out with his force from Khurda so as to place the enemy between two fires. Early next morning the messenger returned with the intelligence that the village of Khurda had been totally destroyed, and that the troops were nowhere in the neighbourhood. There was nothing for it under the circumstances but to beat a speedy retreat. No provisions had been brought from Cuttack and none were to be procured on the spot. The sepoys were worn out with hunger and fatigue and the number of the rebels gradually swelled to about three thousand men. As soon as the retreat was commenced the Paiks opened a brisk fire. The English troops kept as much as possible to the open, the Paiks on the other hand, kept well under cover of the jungle, from which they suddenly emerged now and again to fire, or to secure whateverbaggage had been dropped or abandoned in the confusion.

The situation was a critical one, but no loss of life was sustained, and after marching without a halt from 5.30 a.m. until 3.30 p.m., the troops safely reached Balakati on the Puri road, and there halted. While preparing to resume their march at 9.30 p.m. they were again attacked under cover of the darkness by a large body of insurgents; but a well-directed volley soon scattered the rebels, and the troops continued their retreat without further molestation. They reached Cuttack on the 4th of April, having lost tents, elephants, and every article of heavy baggage which they had taken with them.

After the retreat of forces from Khurda and Pipili, the officer in command of the Pipli detachment, in attempting to force the rebel position at Gangapada and effect a junction with the Khurda force, was killed at the head of his men. On the other hand, an officer who had been despatched with a force for the protection of Puri, reached that town on the second of April and found all quiet there. His progress had not been molested in any way, and he wrote to recommend that a force should be detached for the special duty of falling upon the rebels and bringing on a decisive action with them. Accordingly on the ninth of April, an officer with five hundred and fifty men and few guns, marched on Khurda, and on the twelfth of April martial law was proclaimed in the Khurda territory.

On the morning of the same day a large body of the isurgents assembled at Sukal, a small village near Puri. In the evening they entered the town by the Loknath Ghat, and burnt the Government court-house and several other public and private buildings. The houses of the European residents were situated then on the sea-shore about half a mile from the town. In these the Indian officers of the Government took refuge. The troops were located in the bungalow of the Salt Agent. On the morning of the thirteenth of April, the rebels emerged from the jungle which skirted the town on the east and opened a desultory fire. The sepoys returned it, and the contest was continued for about two hours, but at length the sepoys charged the enemy and drove them back into the town.

The success was, however, only temporary. The insurgents returned in greater numbers, having been reinforced by others of their own party and joined by many of the rebels belonging to the temple and to the Raja’s private establishment. Some of the inhabitants of the town also joined the rebels, and the priests of the temple openly proclaimed the fall of the English rule and the restoration of the authority of the ancient line of sacred kings. Being thus hemmed in on the three sides by the insurgents and the sea, the British deemed it advisable to beat a speedy retreat to Cuttack by the only road till left open. Provisions were beginning to run short, and it was found impossible to procure a fresh supply. It was important, too, to prevent the Government treasure from falling into the hands of the rebels. Puri was, therefore, abandoned ; and the fugitives, among whom were the Salt Agent and the Collector of the Pilgrim Tax, reached Cuttack on the eighteenth.

All communication between Cuttack and the southern portion of the Province was now completely cut off; consequently, nothing had been heard of the force despatched to Khurda on the ninth of April, and the greatest apprehensions were entertained for its safety. The detachment, however, reached Khurda without encountering any opposition; and the officer in coomand, on hearing that the insurgents had gone in great force in the direction of Puri, proceeded against them by forced marches. On the second day after leaving Khurda he came upon the rebels, about a thousand strong drawn up behind a line of embankments.

The Paiks, as they were small in number and ill equipped, could not successfully encounter this large body of disciplined and better armed troops and had to retreat into jungle. The British force resumed its march on Puri, enteredthe town, and captured the Raja who could not be successful in his escape.

Several other encounters took place between the British troops and the insurgent Paiks, and the rising spread to Cuttack, where it was stamped out without much difficulty. British authority soon re-established itself everywhere, although the country did not at once recover its accustomed tranquility and security.Bands of Paiks continued to infest the jungles of Khurda for sometime after the pacification of the rest of the country, and disturbed the Britishers in their administration. In May, 1817, two English Judges were posted at Khurda to award punishments of death, transportation and long term imprisonment to the imprisoned rebels. In the early part of the year 1818, the British Government had also to take recourse to military operation in the jungles of Khurda which lasted till the year 1826. In this operation bands of Paiks, including Bakshi Jagabandhu, were hunted down and many were brutally murdered. The British Government appointed a Commission to investigate into the causes of this outbreak. The Commissioners reported that the Government itself was to a large extent to blame and that the peasantry had many real grievances to complain of. The resumption of large tract of service land, the currency regulation which compelled the people to pay their land tax in silver instead of in cowries as before, the heavy salt duty, the extortions and chicanery of subordinate officials, were all bitter grounds of discontent. These grounds can very well show that the Paik Rebellion of 1817 was a common man’s agitation, it was not initiated by any aristocratic blood. In fact, the Raja of Khurda and Bakshi Jagabandhu joined the rebellion were accepted as leaders by virtue of their past postions.

Raja Mukunda Deva died a captive in November, 1817. He was the last king of Khurda and after him his successor came to be known as the Raja of Puri, the title of ‘Raja’ being only nominal, and he depended on a political pension. The management of the Puri temple, however, remained in his hands.

Ramachandra Deva III(1817-56), the son of Mukunda Deva, built a new palace on the Car Road at Puri and amassed much wealth by his thrifty habits. He was succeeded by Birakishore Deva II (1856-62) and the latter by Dibyasingh Deva II (1862-77) who was transported for life on a charge of murder. His successor Mukunda Deva III died in 1926 and was succeeded by his adopted son, Ramachandra Deva IV, who was the Superintendent of the Jagannath temple till 1960 when the management of the temple was taken over by the Government of Orissa. The present king of Puri (Gajapati) is Sri Dibyasingh Deva III who is son of Sri Ramachandra Deva IV.
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October 23, 2017 at 7:52 PM

Why CONgress hid this first freedom struggle of India?

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