India’s first war of independence, better known as the Indian Rebellion of 1857, began on this day, May 10 in the year 1857. The first martyr of the revolt was Mangal Pandey and the war was the result of accumulation of many factors over time.
The rebellion of 1857 is considered the first blow that came to shatter the British rule in India. Some of the rebellions and leaders included Rani Lakshmibai, Kunwar Singh, Bahadur Shah, Nana Saheb, Tatia Tope and Begum Hazrat Mahal.
Jayajirao Scindia of the Scindia Dynasty of the Marathas was the ruling Maharajah of Gwalior from 1843 to 1886 under the British rule.
Jayajirao, whose ancestors had fought and been defeated by them, was known as a good friend of the British.
His minister, Dinkar Rao, along with Major Chartres Macpherson, the British representative to Gwalior, convinced him to initially stay neutral to 1857’s War and later to side with the British, despite unrest amongst his troops and his people who wanted to join the freedom fighters.
On 1 June 1858 the Maharaja Jayajirao Scindia led his forces to Morar, a large military cantonment a few miles east of Gwalior, to fight a rebel army led by freedom fighters Tatya Tope, Rani Lakshmibai and Rao Sahib.
This army had 7,000 infantry, 4,000 cavalry and 12 guns while he had only 1,500 cavalry, his bodyguard of 600 men and 8 guns.
He waited for their attack which came at 7 o’clock in the morning; in this attack the rebel cavalry took the guns and most of the Gwalior forces except the bodyguard went over to the rebels (some deserted).
The Maharaja and the remainder fled without stopping until they reached the British garrison at Agra.
The Central India State Gazetteer Series Vol-i compiled by Captain C. E. LUARD, M.A. (Oxon.), LA. Superintendent of Gazetteer in Central India: describes:
On May 30th (1858) Tantia Topi [sic] and Lachmi Bai [sic], ‘the Rani of Jhansi’, appeared before Gwalior and called on Sindhia to join them. Jiyaji Rao not only refused but without waiting for the column on its way from Agra, led out his troops against them on June Ist. But his army, except the Maratha bodyguard, went over en masse to the enemy, and he and Dinkar Rao fled to Agra.
On the 16th June Sir Hugh Rose arrived at Gwalior and, after a fight lasting two days, occupied the fort and town of Gwalior and the city of Lashkar. On the 20th Sindhia, accompanied by Sir Hugh Rose and Major Macpherson was reinstated in his capital.
For his services in the mutiny lands worth 3 lakhs a year revenue were made over to him, while he was allowed to increase his infantry from 3,000 to 5,000 men and his artillery from 32 to 36 guns.
On June 17, 1858, during the fighting a Kotah-ki-Serai, five miles south east of Gwalior, the Rani, dressed in male attire, was shot at and fell from her horse.
Most of the freedom fighters went into hiding, but Tatya Tope remained in the field. Aided by monsoon rains which delayed his pursuers, Tatya continued to dodge around Central India. Other leaders joined him, among them Rao Sahib, Man Singh, and Firuz Shah (who had been fighting in Rohilkhand). Eventually in April 1859, Tatya Tope was betrayed by Man Singh, and hanged.
In 1861, Jayajirao was honored with Knights Grand Commander of the Order of the Star of India. His photos appeared in the London press and was regarded as the friend of the British Empire. In 1877, he became a Counsellor of the Empress and later on a GCB (Knight Grand Cross or Dame Grand Cross) and CIE (the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire, an order of chivalry founded by Queen Victoria).
The bravery of Lakshmibai is the mainstay of many folk stories and songs of Bundelkhand.
Nagaha chup huye sab, a gayi bahar Rani
Fauj thi ek sadaf, us mein gauhar Rani
Matla-e-jahad pe hai gairat-e-Akhtar, Rani
Azm-e-paikar mein mardo’n ke barabar Rani
[Suddenly there was silence, here comes the Rani
The army was the oyster, the pearl was the Rani
In the battlefield, you could shame the stars, Rani
In bravery and courage, equal to men is the Rani]