“Paika Bidroh” The First War of Independence of India
“Paika Bidroh”, the bloody mass revolution of Odisha from 1817 to 1825, is a landmark in the history of the freedom movement of our country. The Paikas and the common people revolted against the tyrannical British Rule and fought to free their motherland from the British yoke under the dynamic leadership of Buxi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mahapatra, the former Commander-in-Chief of Gajapati Maharaja. Buxi Jagabandhu, the great hero of the revolution, was not only a very seasoned commander, he was also extremely popular amongst the people and the Paikas, the armed forces, which created wonders in the battlefield under his command. The fire of revolt spread in the entire coastal belt of Odisha including many of the Gadjats (princely states). It continued for long eight years, i.e. from 1817 to 1825. British East India Company took over the administration of Odisha by a treaty with the Marathas in 1803. The Britishers, who were very cunning rulers, allured the Raja of Khurdaby promising to return four parganas of Puri which Marathas had occupied and were able to get his support. But this understanding was not honoured when East India Company took full control of the State and the Marathas were ousted. Hence, the Chief Minister of the Raja, Shri Jayakrishna Rajguru, forcibly collected land revenue from those parganas and clashed with the British soldiers. Ultimately, there was a full-fledged battle between the Raja & the East India Company in 1804 and being defeated both the Raja and Jai Rajguru were imprisoned and kept in Medinapur Jail. There was a mockery of trial and Jai Rajguru was sentenced to death and was very inhumanly killed in 1806. The Raja, being a minor then, was released and allowed to stay in his Balisahi palace at Puri where his movements had been restricted.
The East India Company gradually tightened its grip over administration in Odisha. Oriyas were not prepared to tolerate the foreign rule, which was harsh and oppressive. Most of the Company’s officers and the clerical staff were brought from Bengal, who tried to exploit Odisha and grab the properties of the people in different ways. The Paikas were mainly farmers and had been given landed properties in lieu of their service as State soldiers. The said landed properties were called Paika Zagirs, which they were enjoining from generation to generation.The government arbitrarily abolished these Zagirs without giving them any compensation. Land revenue of the farmers was increased and different taxes were imposed on the people. Due to monopoly of the company on salt business, the salt traders and their numerous labours, who were manufacturing salt in the coast of the sea and the Chilka Lake, had lost their living. What to speak of others, even Buxi Jagabandhu’s Zamidari Rodang was captured by the Bengali Dewan of the collector, Shri Krushnachandra Singh in a very cunning manner. Prominent persons who were closely associated with Buxi Jagabandhu advised him to approach the British authorities for restoration of his Zamidari. But due to his status and respect in the State, Buxi refused to make any appeal to the British government. There was dissatisfaction and resentment among the people against the British rule.
Buxi Jagabandhu was not only a very brave and experienced commander, he was well-known for his love for his motherland. He held meetings of the Dalbeheras, Daleis and other Paika leaders in different parts of the State and inspired them to fight against the Britishers for the freedom of the motherland. The people’s resistance with British rulers was properly planned. Accordingly the people started their non-cooperation with the government in every field. Buxi Jagabandhu asked the people in the coastal area to flout the salt monopoly policy of Company’s government and to collect salt in the coast of the sea and the Chilka claiming that to be their birth right. Banpur in the Puri District was found by Buxi Jagabandhu to be the most strategic point for starting the war due to its dense forest, hills, rivers and the Chilka Lake. He asked Dalbehera of Bhatapada fort Shri Dinabandhu Samantaray, one of his brave commanders, to wage war against the Britishers with the Paikas under his command and the Kandhas, who came from Ghumsar. British soldiers were defeated on 1st April 1817 and their commanding officer with the rest of the soldiers ran away from Banpur. The revolting Paikas ransacked the British soldiers’ camp and burnt that into ashes. Then they set fire in the Banpur police station, and breaking the government treasury had taken away 15,000 rupees. The victory of the Paikas at Banpur had spread like wildfire in the state and responding to the call of Buxi Jagabandhu the people started fighting against the Britishers in different parts of the State. Buxi Jagabandhu proceeded to Khurdha with Dinabandhu Samantray and his victorious Paikas through Bolgarh. When he reached Bolgarh the Paika leaders like Parsuram Routray, Sachidananda Patnaik and Dama Subudhi joined him with the Bolgarh Paikas. Mukta Dei, the Rani of Sambalpur, who was in charge of Panchagada, was terrified and had fled away to Cuttack and her Dewan Sadasiva Ray was killed. When Buxi reached Khurda, the number of armed Paikas had exceeded five thousand. Lt. Prideaux could not muster courage to face such a big force and left Khurda with his soldiers. Khurda was conquered without any bloodshed in the first week of April. Then Buxi with Krushnachandra Bhramarbar, other Paika Sardars and a large number of Paikas fought against the combined force of Lt Prideaux and Lt Perish at Gangapada, where Britishers had been defeated and Lt Perish was killed in the battlefield with a sizeable number of British soldiers. Mr. Imphy, who proceeded to Gangapada from Cuttack with St. Dravis and a Bengal Infantry, had to retreat from Gangapada.
The next target was Puri, where Mukunda Dev, the Raja of Khurda, was kept in the Balisahi Palace. When Buxi Jagabandhu reached Puri, the number of the armed Paikas was more than ten thousand. The British soldiers under the command of Captain Wellington were defeated and he along with his soldiers, District Collector & other officers ran away to Cuttack. There was a great jubilation among the people in Puri for this great victory of the Paikas and Buxi Jagabandhu returned to Khurda with Raja Mukunda Dev.
Due to their defeats in four battles like Banpur, Khurda, Gangapada and Puri, the Britishers were perturbed. Commenting on the horrors of the revolution, British historian G. Toynbee has written, “The rising was a veritable storm that burst with such relentless fury as to threaten the expulsion of British, if not from the whole of Orissa, at least from the territory of Khurda.” British government, thereafter, requisitioned a bigger Army from Madras and withdrawing forces deployed in different places of Odisha, attacked the Paikas at Gangapada, when Buxi was absent. The British soldiers, who were armed with all sophisticated weapons like guns, cannons etc., won the battle and several Paikas were killed. This became a deadly blow to the Paikas and the revolution. Buxi Jagabandhu, thereafter, changed his war strategy and resorted to guerrilla warfare. Remaining inside the forest and hills, the Paikas started making sudden attacks on the British officers, their soldiers and official establishments. Due to this Gguerrilla type of war, the administration was in constant terror of unexpected and sudden attacks of the Paikas, which continued till 1825.
Pranab Mukherjee lauds Paika Rebellion
Pre-dating what has been popularly regarded as the Fist War of Independence in 1857, the Paika Bidroha (Paika Rebellion) of 1817 in Odisha briefly shook the foundations of British rule in the eastern part of India. Paikas were essentially the peasant militias of the Gajapati rulers of Odisha, who rendered military service to the king during times of war while taking up cultivation during times of peace. They unfurled the banner of rebellion against the British under the leadership of Buxi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mahapatra as early as 1817 to throw off the British yoke.
Rulers of Khurda were traditionally the custodians of Jagannath Temple and ruled as the deputy of Lord Jagannath on earth. They symbolised the political and cultural freedom of the people of Odisha. The British, having established their sway over Bengal Province and Madras Province to the north and south of Odisha, occupied it in 1803. The Gajapati King of Odisha Mukunda Deva-ll was a minor then and initial resistance by Jai Rajguru, the custodian of Mukunda Deva-II, was put down brutally and Jai Rajguru was torn apart alive. A few years later, it was the Paikas under Baxi Jagabandhu, the hereditary chief of the militia army of the Gajapati King, who rose in rebellion, taking support of tribals and other sections of society. The rebellion started in March 1817 and spread quickly. Though Paikas played a larger role in the rebellion against the British, it was by no means a rebellion by a small group of people belonging to a particular class. The tribals of Ghumusar (part of present-day Ganjam and Kandhmal Districts) and other sections of the population actively took part in it.
In fact, the Paika Bidroha got the opportune moment to spread when 400 tribals of Ghumsar entered Khurda protesting against the British rule. The Paikas attacked British symbols of power, setting ablaze police stations, administrative offices and the treasury during their march towards Khurda, from where the British fled. The Paikas were supported by the Rajas of Kanika, Kujang, Nayagarh and Ghumusar and Zamindars, village heads and ordinary peasants. The rebellion quickly spread to Puri, Pipli, Cuttack and other parts of the province. The British were initially taken aback and then tried to regain lost ground but faced stiff resistance from the rebelling Paikas. Many a battle ensued with some victories to the rebels, but the British finally managed to defeat them within three months.
Widespread suppression followed with many killed and imprisoned. Many more were tortured. Some rebels fought a guerrilla war till 1819 but were captured and killed. Baxi Jagabandhu was finally arrested in 1825 and died in captivity in 1829. Though the Paika Bidroha enjoys a cult status in Odisha with children growing up with stories of the brave fight against the British, it has unfortunately received less attention at the national level than it should have got.
But with the onset of the Modi government, this rebellion has been in constant focus. Descendants of 16 families associated with the bloody rebellion against British colonialism, was felicitated by the Prime Minister in April this year. The Paika rebellion had been flagged by the Modi government earlier as well, in Finance Minister Arun Jaitley’s budget speech this year where he said, “Two hundred years ago in 1817, a valiant uprising of soldiers led by Buxi Jagabandhu [Bidyadhar Mohapatra] took place in Khurda of Odisha. We will commemorate the same appropriately.”
The demand for according the rebellion the status of ‘Wirst War of Independence’ got a national stage when the President of India Shri Pranab Mukharjee inaugurated the “Bicentenary Celebration of the Heroic Paika Rebellion of Odisha, a valiant uprising of Paikas against the British rule” organised by the Ministry of Culture on July 20, 2017 in Delhi. Minister of Tribal Affairs Shri Jual Oram, Chief Minister of Odisha Shri Naveen Patnaik, Minister of State (I/C) for Petroleum and Natural Gas Shri Dharmendra Pradhan and Minister of State (I/C) for Culture and Tourism Dr. Mahesh Sharma were present at the inaugural function.
Speaking on the occasion, Shri Mukherjee said that it was indeed a privilege for him to be present on the occasion of inauguration of year-long celebration of Bi-centenary of the Paika Bidroha of Odisha. He congratulated the people of the country and especially those of Odisha on the occasion. He stated that 40 years before the revolt of 1857, which was later termed as 1st War of Indian Independence against British Colonialism, a battle was fought under the leadership of Buxi Jagabandhu of Odisha. Many scholars, researchers and historians have opined that the Paika Rebellion of 1817 was India’s first organized armed rebellion against British Raj. He said that completion of two hundred years of this popular uprising is a special event. The legend of the heroics of Buxi Jagabandhu continues to inspire the people of Odisha. It is time, this struggle and sacrifice by a generation of Odia people got its due place in the annals of history.
The President of India further said that the Paika uprising was in the nature of a rebellion by people of Odisha. It was aimed at upholding the rights of the Odia people and sovereignty of Odisha. Paika Rebellion was not only the rebellion of Paikas, it was a National War waged by ordinary people at the grassroots level who resented the dispossession of their Sovereign of his rights and the consequential repressive measures that followed. As we celebrate 200 years of the Paika Rebellion, it is time to remember the great history of our country and pay respect to our great heroes. Along with Buxi Jagabandu, it is time to pay respects to other great warriors of Paika Bidroha, who fought side by side such as Dinabandhu Samantray Mohapatra, Dama Subudhi Manjaraj, Samanta Madhaba Chandra Routray (Dalbehera of Tapanga), Pindiki Bahubalendra, Krutibas Patsani and many more heroes of Paika Bidroha.
In his speech, Union Petroleum Minister Dharmendra Pradhan quoted Narendra Modi as saying that the Prime Minister has stressed the need to give prominence to historical events left ignored.
What appears is that a historical churning is on the anvil on whether Paika rebellion can be accorded the status of the First War of Independence; years after the Centre rejected a similar demand from Tamil Nadu. However, historians do not appear convincing with the proposal saying it lacks historical support. The uprising of 1857 is popularly known as the First War of Independence though the government has not granted such status. Almost a decade ago, some scholars from Tamil Nadu had made a similar demand to the Centre to declare the Poligar rebellion of 1799 as the First War of Independence. Sources at the time said the Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) did not find any merit in that demand.
Using the occasion, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik reiterated the proposal to the NDA government to declare the rebellion the First War of Independence. The Odisha cabinet has already passed a resolution to this effect a few days ago. Naveen justified the demand saying the rebellion symbolised the self-respect of Odias. He said: “It took place 40 years before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857. Considering its significance, Odisha Cabinet has recommended to the Government of India to declare it the First war of Independence.”
However, historians are somewhat sceptical of the demand as they say the demand could not be supported by historical facts. If the history is to be followed, then the Battle of Plassey between the East India Company and the Nawab of Bengal in 1757 was followed by nearly 900 rebellions, including 40 major ones, leading to a nationwide revolt in 1857. Prior to 1817, Odisha had witnessed a revolt against the British by Jaya Rajaguru, a dewan of Khurda king Mukund Dev-II, in 1804. The British had hanged Rajaguru in 1806. The king was later taken as prisoner and sent off to Puri.
Parlakhemundi, once part of Nizam state, came under British rule in 1766. The king of Parlakhemundi Narayan Deb revolted and was arrested. There has been a strong tradition of defiance in India. The revolts of 1804 or 1817 or 1766 in Odisha were the early phase of rebellion that assumed national character in 1857.
It is a fact that the revolt of 1857 in north and central India shook the foundation of British rule. No other rebellion was comparable to the 1857 revolt. But it is also true that the other revolts that took place earlier should also be recognised. By demanding the status of First War of Independence, the BJD had tried to put the BJP in a spot. The party is trying to expand in Odisha and has done well in the local body polls. BJP President Amit Shah, who, incidentally enrolled himself as a member of the BJP from Odisha during the digital enrolment drive held under his leadership, has made no secret of the fact that he sees the “Coromandel coast” as an appropriate theatre of expansion for the party. What lies in future of Odisha that only time will tell but the Central government focussing on such great rebellions is the need of the hour. India has the vast cultural history and the people have the right to know about its glorious past.
By Nilabh Krishna
The Gadjat Rajas and other Zamidars, who were giving all sorts of assistance to Buxi Jagabandhu for running his revolution, ceased to help him under British government’s threat and pressure. It became difficult for Buxi to maintain such a large number of Paikas, who could not be given any support for maintaining their families. Paikas also felt tired of fighting for long eight years against a powerful enemy like the Britishers, who were armed with much better and modern weapons. Due to the arbitrary abolition of the Zagirs, the Paikas, Paika leaders, the Dalai’s and Dalbeheras had become landless and most of their families faced starvation. Along with these the people were subjected to the oppression by British Administration. It was openly declared by the Britishers that so long as Buxi had not stopped his guerrilla war, this type of oppression would continue by them.
The British rule was then stabilised all over the country including Odisha and there was absolutely no possibility of driving away the Britishers from our country. Under such circumstances the tortured people wanted that the guerrilla war should be stopped and they would live in peace. British government, which was waiting for such an opportunity for having a peaceful and undisturbed administration, planned to have some understanding with Buxi Jagabandhu, whom they still considered to be a terror for their government due to his great popularity and command on the people and the Paikas. Britishers had the apprehension that if Buxi would be humiliated in any way, another revolt might take place. British government asked Raja of Nayagarh, who was a close friend of Buxi Jagabandhu, to negotiate with him for bringing an end to the guerrilla war for restoring peace among the people and in administration. As they knew that Buxi could sacrifice everything for the interest of the people and the Paikas, they asked the Raja to persuade Buxi placing before him the following people-oriented terms for the understanding. The government assured that if Buxi would stop his guerrilla war, the oppression of the people would be stopped and they would be given justice in every field. The arbitrary abolition of Zagir Land of the Paikas and Paika leaders would be re-examined and restored to the Jagir holders. Buxi Jagabandhu would remain with all his honour and dignity at Cuttack peacefully with the members of his family. The Raja of Nayagarh discussed with Buxi Jagabandhu about these terms of understanding as assured by the government and persuaded him to accept the same as that was also the people’s desire. He also told Buxi that driving away the Britishers from Odisha was absolutely impossible then and continuing the fight would serve no purpose.
On a careful examination of the above terms, Buxi accepted the advice of the Raja keeping the interest of the people in view and agreed for such an understanding. Buxi Jagabandhu was brought to Cuttack by riding on an elephant with all honour and dignity along with his associates on 27-05-1825 and lived there with the members of his family, but he could not live long. How a great patriot and the great hero of the bloody mass revolution like the “Paika Bidroh”, who had dedicated his life for the sake of his country and the people, could have survived for long when his motherland had lost its Independence. With utmost grief and remorse, this great hero retired from this world for ever on 24.01.1829 only within a span of less than four years, adding a very glorious chapter to the History of this country like the First War of Independence. Some historians argue that when there are 17 other rebellions in the country by different sections of the people in different years why ‘Paika Bidroh’ would have the glory of first War of Independence. In all these rebellions, there was no participation of the people of all walks of life who fought for the freedom of their motherland nor there was any distinguished leadership like Buxi Jagabandhu. Those rebellions are on different issues and not for the Independence of the country. Even “Sepoy Bidroh”, which is now accepted as the First War of Independence and for which we also feel proud, was originally the rebellion of the sepoys, though subsequently leaders like Jhansi Rani, Tatyatope and Nana Saheb joined the rebellion. The British government could crush this rebellion within a span of two years, i.e. by 1859, whereas Paika Bidroh continued for long eight years. Like the National Freedom Movement, Paika Bidroh was the revolution of the common people and the object was the freedom of the motherland. While Sepoy Bidroh had no proper planning, Paika Bidroh was well-planned and had the inspiring leadership of Buxi Jagabandhu. Like the resistance of monopoly policy of the Britishers on salt in the National Freedom Movement, the said policy was in defiance by the people at the time of “Paika Bidroh” under Buxi’s direction. During Paika Bidroh, people also started non-co-operation with the British government in different fields, especially in refusing to pay the taxes and land revenue like the National Movement for Independence. Considering all these aspects of the revolution, one can definitely reach the conclusion that Paika Bidroh, which was fought 40 years before the Sepoy Mutiny, is the First War of Independence.
By Biswabhusan Harichandan