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Kunwar Singh

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Kunwar Singh
An imaginary illustration of Kunwar Singh in The History of the Indian Empire, c. 1858[1]
Raja of Jagdishpur
PredecessorSahabzada Singh
SuccessorBabu Amar Singh
Born(1777-11-13)13 November 1777
Jagdishpur, Shahabad district, Bengal Presidency, Company India
Died26 April 1858(1858-04-26) (aged 80)
Jagdishpur, Shahabad district, Bengal Presidency, Company India
DynastyUjjainiya
FatherRaja Sahabzada Singh
MotherPanchratan Kunwar Devi

Kunwar Singh, also known as Babu Kunwar Singh was a chief organiser of the Indian Rebellion of 1857 from the Bhojpur region of Bihar. He was originally the ruler of Jagdishpur principality. [2] He led a selected band of armed soldiers against the troops under the command of the British East India Company. [3]

Early life[edit]

Kunwar Singh was born on 13 November 1777 to Raja Sahabzada Singh and Panchratan Devi, in Jagdishpur in the Indian state of Bihar. He belonged to a cadet branch of the Ujjainiya dynasty which ruled the Jagdishpur principality.[4] A British judicial officer offered a description of Kunwar Singh and described him as "a tall man, about six feet in height".[5] He went on to describe him as having a broad face with an aquiline nose. In terms of his hobbies, British officials describe him as being a keen huntsman who also enjoyed horse-riding.[5]

After his father's death in 1826, Kunwar Singh became the ruler of Jagdishpur. His brothers also got some share and inherited some territory however a dispute arose as to their exact allocation. This dispute was eventually settled and the brothers seemingly returned to having cordial relations.[5]

He married the daughter of Raja Fateh Naraiyan Singh of the Deo Raj who belonged to the Sisodia clan of Rajputs.[6]

Role in the 1857 rebellion[edit]

A miniature portrait of Kunwar Singh, watercolour on ivory, c. 1857.[7]
Kunwar Singh and his attendants

Singh led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in Bihar. He was nearly eighty and in failing health when he was called upon to take up arms. He was assisted by both his brother, Babu Amar Singh and his commander-in-chief, Hare Krishna Singh. Some argue that the latter was the real reason behind Kunwar Singh's initial military success.[8] He was a tough opponent and harried British forces for nearly a year. He was an expert in the art of guerilla warfare. His tactics sometimes left the British puzzled.[9]

Singh assumed command of the soldiers who had revolted at Danapur on 25 July. Two days later he occupied Arrah, the district headquarters. Major Vincent Eyre relieved the town on 3 August, defeated Singh's force and destroyed Jagdishpur. During the rebellion, his army had to cross the Ganges river. The army of Brigadier Douglas began to shoot at their boat. One of the bullets shattered Singh's left wrist. Singh felt that his hand had become useless and that there was the additional risk of infection due to the bullet-shot. He drew his sword and cut off his left hand near the elbow and offered it to the Ganges.[9][10]

Singh left his ancestral village and reached Lucknow in December 1857 where he met with other rebel leaders. In March 1858, he occupied Azamgarh in North-Western Provinces (Uttar Pradesh) and managed to repel the initial British attempts to take the area.[11] However, he had to leave the place soon. Pursued by Douglas, he retreated towards his home at Arrah. On 23 April, Singh had a victory near Jagdishpur over the force led by Captain Le Grande (pronounced as Le Garde in Hindi). On 26 April 1858 he died in his village. The mantle of the old chief now fell on his brother Amar Singh II, who continued the struggle for a considerable time, running a parallel government in the district of Shahabad. In October 1859, Amar Singh II joined the rebel leaders in the Terai plains of Nepal.[10]

Death[edit]

In his last battle, fought on 23 April 1858, near Jagdispur, the troops under the control of the British East India Company were completely routed. On 22 and 23 April, being injured, he fought against the British Army and with the help of his army, achieved victory. The battle ended when he brought down the Union Jack from Jagdispur Fort and hoisted his flag. He returned to his palace on 23 April 1858 and soon died on 26 April 1858.

Contemporary British accounts[edit]

Sir George Trevelyan, a British statesman and author noted about Kunwar Singh and the battle of Arrah in his book, The Competition Wallah, that:[12]

Two facts may be deduced from the story of these operations - first that the besiegers of the house at Arrah were neither cowards nor bunglers ; and the next that it was uncommonly lucky for us that Coer Singh was not forty years younger.

George Bruce Malleson, a 19th-century English officer stationed in India during the rebellion of 1857 stated about Kunwar Singh:[13]

One of the three natives of India thrown up to the surface by the mutiny, who showed any pretensions to the character of a strategist — the others being Tántia Topi and the Oudh Moulvi— Kúnwar Singh had carefully for borne to risk the fortunes of his diminished party which, however favorable might be its commencement, must certainly end in its complete defeat.

Legacy[edit]

To honour his contribution to India's freedom movement, the Republic of India issued a commemorative stamp on 23 April 1966.[14] The Government of Bihar established the Veer Kunwar Singh University, Arrah, in 1992.[15]

1966 commemorative stamp

In 2017, the Veer Kunwar Singh Setu, also known as the Arrah–Chhapra Bridge, was inaugurated to connect north and south Bihar.[16] In 2018, to celebrate 160th anniversary of Kunwar Singh's death, the government of Bihar relocated a statue of him to Hardinge Park. The park was also officially renamed as 'Veer Kunwar Singh Azadi Park'.[17]

He is mentioned in many Bhojpuri folk songs as a hero who fought against British oppression. One particular folk song states:[18]

Ab chhod re firangiya ! Hamar Deswa ! Lutpat kaile tuhun, majwa udaile kailas, des par julum jor. Sahar gaon luti, phunki, dihiat firangiya, suni suni Kunwar ke hridaya me lagal agiya ! Ab Chhod re firangiya! Hamar Deswa!

Translation in English :-

O British ! Now quit our country ! For you have looted us, enjoyed the luxuries of our country and oppressed our countrymen. You have looted, destroyed and burnt our cities and villages. Kunwar's heart burns to know all this. O British ! Now quit our country !

In the 1970s, a private landlord militia known as the 'Kuer Sena/Kunwar Sena' (Kunwar's Army) was formed by Rajput youth in Bihar to combat naxalite insurgents. It was named after Kunwar Singh.[19]

A play by Jagdish Chandra Mathur titled Vijay Ki Vela (Moment of Victory) is based on the later part of Kunwar Singh's life. He is also mentioned in the poem "Jhansi Ki Rani" by Subhadra Kumari Chauhan.[citation needed]

In April 2022, Indian Home minister Amit Shah announced the installation of a statue commemorating Kunwar Singh at Ara, Bhojpur. About 78,000 national flags were waved by the public as a matter of world record during this announcement.[20][21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Martin, Robert Montgomery; Roberts, Emma (1858). The Indian empire : its history, topography, government, finance, commerce, and staple products : with a full account of the mutiny of the native troops ... Vol. 1. London ; New York : London Print. and Pub. Co.
  2. ^ Hartwell, Nicole (2021). "Framing colonial war loot: The 'captured' spolia opima of Kunwar Singh". Journal of the History of Collections. doi:10.1093/jhc/fhab042.
  3. ^ Kumar, Purushottam (1983). "Kunwar Singh's failure in 1857". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 44: 360–369. JSTOR 44139859.
  4. ^ Dirk H.A. Kolff (2002). Naukar, Rajput, and Sepoy: The Ethnohistory of the Military Labour Market of Hindustan, 1450-1850. Cambridge University Press. p. 168. ISBN 9780521523059.
  5. ^ a b c E. Jaiwant Paul (1 August 2011). The Greased Cartridge: The Heroes and Villains of 1857-58. Roli Books Private Limited. pp. 90–91. ISBN 978-93-5194-010-4.
  6. ^ Kalikinkar Datta, Biography of Kunwar Singh and Amar Singh, K.P. Jayaswal Research Institute, 1984, p.20
  7. ^ "Nana Sahib, Rani of Jhansi, Koer Singh and Baji Bai of Gwalior, 1857, National Army Museum, London". collection.nam.ac.uk. Retrieved 17 October 2017.
  8. ^ P. Kumar (1982). "Hare Krishna Singh-The Prime-Mover of 1857 in Bihar". Proceedings of the Indian History Congress. 43: 610–617. JSTOR 44141296.
  9. ^ a b Sarala, Śrīkr̥shṇa (1999). Indian Revolutionaries: A Comprehensive Study, 1957-1961, Volume 1. Bihar: Prabhat Prakashan. p. 73. ISBN 978-81-87100-16-4.
  10. ^ a b History of Bhojpur Archived 14 June 2012 at the Wayback Machine. Bhojpur.bih.nic.in. Retrieved on 2011-10-12.
  11. ^ K. Datta (1957). Unrest Against British Rule In Bihar(1831-1859). Superintendent Secretariat Press. pp. 51–55.
  12. ^ Trevelyan, George Otto (1864). The Competition Wallah. Macmillan. p. 92.
  13. ^ Malleson, George (1896). History of the Indian Mutiny, 1857-1858: Commencing from the Close of the Second Volume of Sir John Kaye's History of the Sepoy War, Volume 2. Longmans, Green, and Company. pp. 453–454.
  14. ^ Stamp at Indiapost. Indianpost.com (1966-04-23). Retrieved on 2011-10-12.
  15. ^ Veer Kunwar Singh University Archived 29 June 2011 at the Wayback Machine. Vksu-ara.org (1992-10-22). Retrieved on 2011-10-12.
  16. ^ "Veer Kunwar Singh Setu". McElhanney. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  17. ^ PTI (22 April 2018). "Kunwar Singh statue relocated to Hardinge Park, CM to inaugurate tomorrow". IndiaToday. Retrieved 3 March 2019.
  18. ^ Badri Narayan (1998). "Popular Culture and 1857: A Memory against Forgetting". Social Scientist. 26 (1/4): 86–94. doi:10.2307/3517583. JSTOR 3517583.
  19. ^ Ashwani Kumar (2008). Community Warriors: State, Peasants and Caste Armies in Bihar. Anthem Press. pp. 118–. ISBN 978-1-84331-709-8.
  20. ^ "On Bihar visit, Amit Shah honours 1857 Rebellion hero Kunwar Singh". 24 April 2022.
  21. ^ "Veer Kunwar Singh Biography in English". 22 March 2023.

External links[edit]