Nana Sahib better known as Dhondupant was the adapted son of exiled last Peshwa Baji Rao II. He played very important role during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 as dubbed by the Englishmen while Indians claimed it as first war of Indian independence. All Maratha forces rallied around him during the struggle.He was well supported by his commander in chief Tantya Tope in the war. The rebellion was the outcome of the outrageous policies of Lord Dalhousie of East India company , their doctrine of lapse, ill treatment of native troops and greasing of rifle cartridges with fat of pigs and cow. He has to be squarely blamed for the uprisng. He was in hurry to grab princely states and succeeded in raising the revenue to the company. But he did great damage to the organization and sowed the seeds for hatred and discontentment in Indians. The Englishmen who came earlier as traders slowly entrenched themselves in the country and got involved in the local political feuds between various princely states along with the French men. They soon became powerful with the decline of power of Mughals at Delhi. After the battle of Plassey in 1757 fought against Nawab Sirajuddaula of Bengal by Lord Clive of East India Company and they almost became masters of large provinces and with in few years, their influence spread throughout India. In south too, they became very powerful after the defeat and death of Mysore tiger Tippu Sultan the ruler of Mysore kingdom at Srirangapatnam. He was considered a very great and grave threat to the Englishmen in India.
Dhondu pant was born to Narayan Bhatt and Ganga Bai in 1824. In 1827 his parents went to the court of the last Peshwa Baji Rao II. Nana Sahib was adopted by Baji Rao on 7 June 1827, and thus he became heir-presumptive to the throne. Nana Sahib was well educated. He studied Sanskrit but had no Western education. He subscribed to all the leading Anglo- Indian journals which were translated to him daily by an individual. He was married to a cousin of the Chief of Sangli. Tantia Tope and Nana Sahib were close friends from child hood . Rani Laxmi Bai and Nana Sahib were extremely fond of each other from their childhood. He had an excellent stable of horses, elephants and camels. His armory was stocked with weapons of every age and country. He moved freely in public and graced by his presence on all occasions of festivity and pomp.
He was much proud of his birth and being an Indian. He was very fond of entertaining the English gentry at Kanpur and every now and then arranged parties in the European style in his mansion at Bithoor ( in UP). His generosity endeared him to the Englishmen who came in contact with him. They all praised him with one voice for his generosity and hospitality. His knowledge of English, however, was scanty. Nana Sahib however did not like various reforms of the English men.
In 1851, the exiled Peshwa Srimant Baji Rao II passed away and the annual pension of Pounds sterling 8,00000/00 granted to the last Peshwa was discontinued and Nana sahib was not recognized as the successor to Baji Rao II by virtue of doctrine of lapse made by Lord Dalhousie the Governor General of East India Company in India . This hurt him much. He pleaded his case by sending the Diwan Azimullah Khan to the court of directors in England, but it was disallowed. Although he was unhappy, Nana Sahib did not prefer any open hostility with the Englishmen whom he befriended. In fact, Nana sahib appeared reconciled to his position and did not contemplate any military uprising and force of arms. However on 4 June 1857 Sepoys at Kanpur revolted and it is believed that Nana Sahib was in fact forced to join the mutineers under threat to his life and prevalent circumstances compelled him to join the rebellion.. His troops sent to assist the Englishmen joined the rebels. Various accounts have been written by many writers including some historians glorifying Nana’s role in the rebellion and in the massacre of the surrendred Englsihmen, women and children.. He was in fact forced by the circumstances (2).
Nana Sahib won the confidence of Charles Hillersdon, the Collector of Cawnpore . It was planned that Nana Sahib would assemble a force of 1,500 soldiers, in case the rebellion spread to Cawnpore.
On June 5, 1857, at the time of rebellion by forces of the East India Company at Cawnpore, the British contingent had taken refuge at an entrenchment in the southern part of the town. Amid the prevailing chaos in Cawnpore, Sahib and his forces entered the British magazine situated in the northern part of the town. The soldiers of the 53rd Native Infantry, who were guarding the magazine, thought that Sahib had come to guard the magazine on behalf of the Company. However, once he entered the magazine, Nana Sahib announced that he was a participant in the rebellion against the Company, and intended to be a vassal of Bahadur Shah II.the Mughal nominal emperor at Delhi.
After taking possession of the Company treasury, Sahib advanced up the Grand Trunk Road stating that he wanted to restore the Maratha confederacy under the Peshwa tradition, and decided to capture Cawnpore. On his way, Sahib met the rebel Company soldiers at Kalyanpur. The soldiers were on their way to Delhi, to meet Bahadur Shah II. Sahib wanted them to go back to Cawnpore, and help him defeat the British. The soldiers were reluctant at first, but decided to join Sahib when he promised to double their pay and reward them with gold, if they were to destroy the British entrenchment.
On June 5, 1857, Sahib sent a letter to General Wheeler informing him to expect an attack next morning at 10 AM. On June 6, Sahib’s forces (including the rebel soldiers) attacked the Company entrenchment at 10:30 AM. The Company forces were not adequately prepared for the attack but managed to defend themselves as the attacking forces were reluctant to enter the entrenchment. Sahib’s forces had been led to believe that the entrenchment had gunpowder-filled trenches that would explode if they got closer. The Company side held out in their makeshift fort for three weeks with little water and food supplies, and lost many lives due to sunstroke and lack of water.
As the news of Sahib’s advances over the British garrison spread, several of the rebel sepoys joined him. By June 10, he was believed to be leading around twelve thousand to fifteen thousand Indian soldiers During the first week of the siege, Sahib’s forces encircled the attachment, created loopholes and established firing positions from the surrounding buildings. The Company Captain John Moore retaliated and launched night-time sorties. Sahib retreated his headquarters to Savada House (or Savada Kothi), which was situated around two miles away. In response to Moore’s sorties, Sahib decided to attempt a direct assault on the British entrenchment, but the rebel soldiers displayed a lack of enthusiasm.
The sniper fire and the bombardment continued until June 23, 1857, the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Plassey. The Battle of Plassey, which took place on June 23, 1757, was one of the pivotal battles leading to the expansion of the East India Company rule in India. One of the driving forces of the rebellion by sepoys, was a prophecy that predicted the downfall of East India Company rule exactly one hundred years after the Battle of Plassey. This prompted the rebel soldiers under Sahib to launch a major attack on the entrenchment on June 23, 1857. However, they were unable to gain an entry into the entrenchment by the end of the day.
The entrenchment had been steadily losing its soldiers and civilians to successive bombardments, sniper fire, and assaults by Sahib’s forces. It was also suffering from disease and low supplies of food, water and medicine. General Wheeler’s personal morale had been low, after his son Lieutenant Gordon Wheeler was decapitated in an assault on the barracks.
Sahib and his advisers came up with a plan to end the deadlock. On June 24, Sahib sent a female European prisoner, Rose Greenway, to the entrenchment to convey their message. In return for a surrender, he promised the safe passage of the Europeans to the Satichaura Ghat, a dock on the Ganges from which they could depart for Allahabad. General Wheeler rejected the offer, because it had not been signed, and there was no guarantee that the offer was made by Sahib himself.
Next day, on June 25, Sahib sent a second note, signed by himself, through another female prisoner, Mrs. Jacobi. The entrenchment divided into two groups with different opinions — one group was in favour of continuing the defence, while the second group was willing to trust Sahib. During the next day, there was no bombardment from Sahib’s forces. Finally, Wheeler decided to surrender, in return for a safe passage to Allahabad. After a day of preparation and burying their dead, the Europeans decided to leave for Allahabad on the morning of June 27, 1857.
On 27 June 1857, Europeans who had been promised safe passage from Wheeler’s entrenchment arrived at the Sati Chaura Ghat (jetty) to take the boat out when Sahib’s army ambushed them and killed many
On the morning of the June 27 a large column led by Wheeler emerged out of the entrenchment. Sahib sent a number of carts, dolis and elephants to enable the women, the children and the sick to proceed to the river banks. The Company officers and military men were allowed to take their arms and ammunition with them, and were escorted by nearly the whole of the rebel army. They reached the Satichaura Ghat (now Satti Chaura Ghat) by 8 AM. Sahib had arranged around 40 boats, belonging to a boatman called Hardev Mallah, for their departure to Allahabad.
The Ganges river was unusually dry at the Satichaura Ghat, and the Europeans found it difficult to drift the boats away. Wheeler and his party were the first aboard and the first to manage to set their boat adrift. There was some confusion, as the Indian boatmen jumped overboard and started swimming toward the banks. During their jump, some of the cooking fires were knocked off, setting some of the boats ablaze. Though controversy surrounds what exactly happened next at the Satichaura Ghat, and it is unknown who fired the first shot , the departing European were attacked by the rebel sepoys, and most either killed or captured. Some of the Copmpany officers later claimed that Sahib had placed the boats as high in the mud as possible, on purpose to cause delay. They also claimed that Sahib had previously arranged for the rebels to fire upon and kill all the Europeans. Although the East India Company later accused Sahib of betrayal and murder of innocent people, no definitive evidence has ever been found to prove that Sahib had pre-planned or ordered the massacre Some historians believe that the Satichaura Ghat massacre was the result of confusion, and not of any plan implemented by Sahib and his associates.
Nevertheless, the fact that sniper fire from cannons pre-positioned along the riverbank was reported on the scene might suggest pre-planning. Whatever the case, amid the prevailing confusion at the Satichaura Ghat, Sahib’s general Tantya Tope allegedly ordered the 2nd Bengal Cavalry unit and some artillery units to open fire on the Europeans. The rebel cavalry sowars ( Horse mounted soldiers) moved into the water to kill the remaining Company soldiers with swords and pistols. The surviving men were killed, while women and children were captured, as Sahib did not approve of their killing Around 120 women and children were taken prisoner and escorted to Savada House, Nana Sahib’s headquarters during the siege.
The rebel soldiers also pursued Wheeler’s boat, which was slowly drifting to safer waters. After some firing, the European men on the boat decided to fly the white flag. They were escorted off the boat and taken back to Savada house. The surviving men were seated on the ground, as Sahib’s soldiers got ready to kill them. The women insisted that they would die with their husbands, but were pulled away. Sahib granted the British chaplain Moncrieff’s request to read prayers before they were killed. The British were initially wounded with the guns, and then killed with the swords The women and children were taken to Savada House to be reunited with their remaining colleagues.
The surviving women and children, around 120 in number, were moved from the Savada House to Bibighar (“the House of the Ladies”), a villa-type house in Cawnpore. They were later joined by some other women and children, the survivors from Wheeler’s boat. Another group of women and children from Fatehgarh, and some other captive women were also confined to Bibighar. In total, there were around 200 women and children in Bibighar. Nana sahib placed the care for these survivors under a prostitute called Hussaini Khanum (also known as Hussaini Begum). He decided to use these prisoners for bargaining with the East India Company. The Company forces consisting of around 1,000 British, 150 Sikh soldiers and 30 irregular cavalry had set out from Allahabad, under the command of General Henry Havelock, to retake Cawnpore and Lucknow. Havelock’s forces were later joined by the forces under the command of Major Renaud and James Neill. Sahib demanded that the East India Company forces under Havelock and Neill retreat to Allahabad. However, the Company forces advanced relentlessly towards Cawnpore. Sahib sent an army to check their advance, and the two armies met at Fatehpur on July 12, where General Havelock’s forces emerged victorious and captured the town.
Sahib then sent another force under the command of his brother, Bala Rao. On July 15, the British forces under General Havelock defeated Bala Rao’s army in the Battle of Aong On July 16, Havelock’s forces started advancing to Cawnpore. During the Battle of Aong, Havelock was able to capture some of the rebel soldiers, who informed him that there was an army of 5,000 rebel soldiers with 8 artillery pieces further up the road. Havelock decided to launch a flank attack on this army, but the rebel soldiers spotted the flanking maneuver and opened fire. The battle resulted in heavy casualties on both sides, but cleared the road to Cawnpore for the Company forces.
By this time, it became clear that the Company forces were approaching Cawnpore, and Sahib’s bargaining attempts had failed. Sahib was informed that the British troops led by Havelock and Neill were indulging in violence against the Indian villagers. Some believe that the Bibighar massacre was a reaction to the news of violence being perpetrated by the advancing Company troops.
Sahib, and his associates, including Tantya Tope and Azimullah Khan, debated about what to do with the captives at Bibighar. Some of Sahib’s advisers had already decided to kill the captives at Bibighar, as revenge for the murders of Indians by the advancing British forces. The women of Sahib’s household opposed the decision and went on a hunger strike, but their efforts went in vain.
Finally, on July 15, an order was given to kill the women and children imprisoned at Bibighar. Although some Company historians stated that the order for the massacre was given by Sahib, the details of the incident, such as who ordered the massacre, remain unclear. According to some sources, Azimullah Khan ordered the killings of women and children at Bibighar. At first, the rebel sepoys refused to obey the order to kill women and children. When they were threatened with execution for dereliction of duty some of them agreed to remove the women and children from the courtyard. Sahib left the building because he did not want to be a witness to the enfolding massacre .The women and children were ordered to come out of the assembly rooms, but they refused to do so. The rebel soldiers then started firing through the holes in the boarded windows. After the first round of firing, the soldiers were disturbed by the cries of the captives, and adamantly refused to fire at the women and children.
An angry Begum Hussaini Khanum termed the Sepoys’ act as cowardice, and asked her lover Sarvur Khan to finish the job of killing the captives. Sarvur Khan hired some butchers, who murdered the surviving women and children with cleavers. The butchers left, when it seemed that all the captives had been killed. However, a few women and children had managed to survive by hiding under the other dead bodies. It was agreed that the bodies of the victims would be thrown down a dry well by some sweepers. The next morning, when the rebels arrived to dispose off the bodies, they found that three women and three children aged between four and seven years old were still alive. The surviving women were cast into the well by the sweepers who had also been told to strip the bodies of the murder victims. The sweepers then threw the three little boys into the well one at a time, the youngest first. Some victims, among them small children, were therefore buried alive in a heap of corpses.
FALL OF KANPUR TO THE BRITISH
The Company forces reached Cawnpore on July 16, 1857. General Havelock was informed that Sahib had taken up a position at the Ahirwa village. His forces launched an attack on Sahib’s forces, and emerged victorious. Sahib then blew up the Cawnpore magazine, abandoned the place, and retreated to Bithoor. When the British soldiers came to know about the Bibighar massacre, they indulged in retaliatory violence, including looting and burning of houses. On July 19, General Havelock resumed operations at Bithoor, but Nana Sahib had already escaped. Sahib’s palace at Bithoor was occupied without resistance. The British troops seized guns, elephants and camels, and set Sahib’s palace to fire.
Sahib disappeared after the Company recapture of Cawnpore. His general, Tantya Tope, tried to recapture Cawnpore in November 1857, after gathering a large army, mainly consisting of the rebel soldiers from the Gwalior contingent. He managed to take control of all the routes west and north-west of Cawnpore, but was later defeated in the Second Battle of Cawnpore.
In September 1857, Sahib was reported to have fallen to malarious fever; however, this is doubtful Rani Laxmibai, Tatya Tope and Rao Saheb (Nana Sahib’s close confidante) proclaimed Sahib as their Peshwa in June 1858 at Gwalior. By 1859, Sahib was reported to have fled to Nepal. In February 1860, the British were informed that Sahib’s wives had taken refuge in Nepal, where they resided in a house close to Thapathali. Sahib himself was reported to be living in the interior of Nepal .
Shree K. V. Belsare’s book on the Maharashtrian Saint Shree Brahmachaitanya Gondhavalekar Maharaj states that after losing the battle with the Company, Shree Nanasaheb Peshwe went to Naimisharanya, the Naimisha Forest in the vicinity of Sitapur, Uttar Pradesh where he met Shree Gondhavalekar Maharaj, who assured Shree Nanasaheb:
Tumachya Kesala dhakka lagnar naahi. Ya pudhil ayushya tumhi Bhagavantachya chintana madhe ghalavave. Me tumachya antakali hajar asen.(No one can harm you now. You should spend rest of your life in God’s service. I will be near you at your last breath)
Shree Nanasaheb then was living in a cave in Naimisharanya with his 2 servants (from 1860 to 1906, until his death). He occasionally visited his family at Nepal to meet his wife and son Shamsher Bahadur. According to the book, he died on 30th / 31st Oct / 1st Nov 1906 at the age of 81 years, when Shree Gondhavalekar Maharaj was present with him. Shree Maharaj performed all his rituals after his death.
A new evidence has been claimed in 1953 as reported in Hindu news paper. As per the report published, Nana Saheb Peshwa who led the war for Indian Independence against the British in 1857 had actually been alive till 1926 according to Bajirao alias Suraj Pratap, who claimed to be a grandson of the famous Maratha leader. Historians had written that Nana Saheb died in Nepal in 1858, leaving behind a daughter, Bayabai, who was married into the Gwalior family, and died early in the 1920s. Suraj Pratap met Mr. A. G. Kher, Speaker of the U.P. Legislative Assembly in Lucknow with a Hindi translation of the diary of Dewan Azimullah Khan, one of the lieutenants of Nana Saheb. According to the diary, after the 1857 war Nana Saheb went into hiding in Nepal but did not die there. The then British Government was misled into thinking he died, as the body of a servant of Nana was sent to the King of Nepal, who informed the British Government accordingly. Dewan Azimullah Khan recorded that Nana Saheb later returned to Pratapgarh district in Uttar Pradesh and had three sons. Mr. Suraj Pratap claimed to be a son of Nana Saheb Peshwa’s youngest son, who, the diary said, had married a Kayastha girl in Pratapgarh district. The diary indicated that Nana Saheb died near the Gomti River near Naimisharanya in Sitapur district in 1926 at the ripe old age of 102 (3).
Thus we find that a mystery surrounds the death of Nana sahib. The Englishmen gave up their efforts to arrest Nana sahib after some years. It was presumed that he died in the jungles of Nepal due to Malarial fever. It is also rumored that he died during a tiger hunt having been attacked by a ferocious tiger. Things are not clear about his death. It is necessary that all available evidence should be scrutinized thoroughly and mystery should be solved. But as usual, the pseudo secular Indian leaders who matter are busy in vote politics, money making, various scams, loot mar ( Money making by ill means) hoarding money at Swiss banks, ensuring dynastic successions have no time to correct the Indian history and turn Nelsons eye to the truths. Let us hope some day truth would prevail. Sadly Indian youth have no time to dwell on past history and are very busy in keeping themselves involved on face books, twitters, , running after film actors and their new born grand children, drinking, gossiping and shaking their groins at pubs and in IT craze. They have forgotten our past heroes such as Shaheed Bhagat singh, Raj guru, Sukhdev, Chadrasekhar Azad, Ramprasad bismil, Subhash Chandra Bose, Laxmibai, Kiladi Rani Chennamma, Kittur Rani Chennamma, Rani Abbakka, Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj, cHatrapathi Sambhaji Maharaj, Peshwa Baji Rao I, Uddham singh, Rani Durgavathi, Thakur Durga Das, Amar singh Rathore, Maha Rana Pratap singh, Veera Pandya Katta Bomman, Veer Savarkar, Velu Thambi, Veer kunwar singh, Lala Lajpat Rai, General Tantya Tope, General Tanaji Malsure, Kapayya Naika,Veera Ballala, Vema Reddy, Krishna deva Raya, Prataparudradeva, Jambukeswara, Baji Prabhu, Mangal Pandey and many more. Let us pray to almighty that our youth would soon wake up and tread on right path and bring glory to the nation.