Revolt of 1857 AD and the Role of Surendra Sai

Surendra Sai’s Revolt was another watershed moment in the history of Odisha’s resistance movement. British imperialism became apparent with the appointment of Lord Delhousie as Governor-General of India, who sought to acquire as much land as possible through the implementation of the “Doctrine of Lapse.” Surendra Sai revolted when Narayan Singh was installed as Sambalpur’s king following the death of Mohan Kumari. He was apprehended alongside his brother Udanta and uncle Balararna and taken to the Hazaribagh prison. Sambalpur was annexed by the British in 1849 under the “Doctrine of Lapse.” At this point, the Great Revolt of 1857 paved the way for Surendra Sai’s release from that jail, where he fought the British authorities tooth and nail to assert his claim to the throne of Sambalpur, shaking the British administration in Odisha.

Surendra Sai’s Role in the 1817 Revolt

Surendra Sai was a pivotal figure in the 1817 Revolt. As is well known, Balaramadeva, the scion of Patnagarh’s Chauhan dynasty, was instrumental in establishing the Sambalpur kingdom in the second half of the sixteenth century. The Nagpur Bhonsles imprisoned Jayanta Singh and his son Maharaj Sai, both members of the same dynasty, and established their control over the kingdom. The British occupied the land in 1804 and, following proper negotiation, restored Maratha rule there until 1817, when it was surrendered to the British, who freed Jayanta Singh and his son Maharaja Sai from the Maratha clutch and installed the former on the throne of Sambalpur. Maharaja Sai succeeded to the throne following his death in 1820, after Rani Mukta Dei recommended him as the successor. Maharaja Sai died without a son in 1827. Now the British have nominated Rani Mohan Kumari, the widow of the deceased king, whose claim to the throne of Sambalpur was challenged by Surendra Sai, a descendant of Raja Madhukara Sai, the fourth Raja of Sambalpur’s Chauhan dynasty.

Surendra Sai initiated the revolt in light of the foregoing circumstances. His battle with the British Government demonstrates his valour and heroism. At Sambalpur, he put up a valiant fight against British imperialism. Born in Sambalpur’s village Khinda, he had six brothers named Udanta, Dhruba, Uliala, Chhabila, Jajjla, and Medini, as well as one sister named Anjana. Surendra’s accomplished manner made him popular among the populace, including tribal groups such as the Gonds and Binjhals. He rose to prominence in 1828 when he opposed Rani Mohan Kumari’s claim to the throne of Sambalpur. Despite the fact that he had gathered popular support, his claim was rejected by the British authorities. The following sequence of events led him to incite rebellion against the British Government.

Zamindars and his brothers’ support for the revolt

Surendra revolted against queen Mohan Kumari with the support of the zamindars of Khinda, Barapali, Sonepur, and Gauntias, as well as his brothers Udanta. Despite the fact that Captain Wilkinson initiated military operations against them, he was unable to put an end to the rebellion. To address the issue immediately, Wilkinson deposed the queen of Sambalpur and installed Narayan Singh, an elderly member of the Chauhan dynasty, as king in 1833. His accession to the throne sowed widespread discontent among the inhabitants of that region. Balabhadra Deo was killed in a skirmish with British sepoys in September 1837, and Surendra Sai escaped. Durjaya Singh, Rampur’s sole zamindar, backed Narayan Singh. Surendra launched an attack on his home, killing his father and son. In 1840, Surendra, his brother Udanta, and his uncle Balarama Singh were apprehended. They were detained as political prisoners at the Hazaribag jail, where Balarama Singh died.

Application of the Doctrine of Lapse in Sambalpur

Raja Narayan Singh’s death on 10 September 1849 without a male heir brought Sambalpur under direct British control through the application of the ‘Doctrine of Lapse’. J.H. Crawford, the Governor-Agent, General’s took over the administration of Sambalpur. The people of that region’s economic grievances multiplied. With the addition of new revenue settlements, the amount of revenue levied on the residents of that area increased. Without giving preference to indigenous peoples, the British authority settled some villages in favour of Europeans, particularly the English, who extracted more revenue from the villagers through their tyrannical measures. This resulted in widespread dissatisfaction among Sambalpur’s citizens. Tribal groups such as the Gonds and Binjhals, feudal chiefs, the business community, and the common people, among others, became adversaries of the British Raj.

Impact of the Great Revolt of 1857

When the sepoys of the Great Revolt of 1857 arrived in Hazaribag in August 1857, they broke open the town’s two jails and liberated a large number of prisoners. Surendra Sai and his brother Udanta were among the prisoners who were released and fled to Sambalpur, igniting a political storm in the city. Both of them were greeted warmly by their relatives and the general populace of Sambalpur. Captain R.T. Leigh, Sambalpur’s senior Assistant Commissioner, desired to apprehend Surendra and his followers. He had to receive a detachment from the 40th Regiment, M.N.I., the majority of which joined forces with the rebellious persons led by Surendra Sai.

Surendra Sai’s negotiations with the British authorities

Captain Leigh was compelled to send Parwanas to Surendra for negotiations with the British authorities in light of the foregoing circumstances. Surendra agreed not to revolt in exchange for the British authority cancelling the remaining terms of imprisonment imposed on him and his brother Udanta on 7 October 1857. Secondly, he should be recognised as Sambalpur’s king. Captain Leigh accepted the first proposal and directed Surendra to remain in Sambalpur with twenty followers pending consideration of the latter’s second proposal.

Revolt declaration

Meanwhile, Surendra Sai addressed two petitions to the Commissioner of Chhotnagpur, both of which contained the same prayer. The Commissioner rejected his prayer for the throne and advised him to remain in Sambalpur as a political prisoner. Captain Leigh, on the other hand, proposed deporting the Sai brothers to Cuttack. Meanwhile, detachments were sent to Sambalpur under the command of Captains J. B. Knocker and Hadow. Surendra Sai declared open revolt against the British authority on 1 November 1857, smelling something strange.

Surendra and his associates’ revolt strategy

The tribal zamindars of Ghens, Kolabira, Paharsirgira, Laida, l.olsinqa, Lakhanpur, Machida, Kodabaga, Bheden, and Patkulanda, among others, had banded together to support Surendra. Surendra strategically located his supporters in Jharghati and Khinda. At Jharghati, twelve miles from Sambalpur, one of these parties attacked captain Knocker, killing one sepoy and wounding another. Another group disrupted postal communications on the Cuttack road connecting Nagpur and Bombay, as well as between Sambalpur and Burma. They wreaked havoc on the British administration.

Operation against Surendra Sai

With this in mind, the British authorities launched an operation against Surendra Sai. British troops became ill while fighting Surendra’s followers in the forests. As a result, Cuttack Commissioner G.F. Cockburn dispatched two medical officers, Dr. T. Moore and Dr. D. Hanson, along with a small troop, to monitor the health of the British sepoys in the Sambalpur forest areas. On 17 November 1857, the rebels attacked the two doctors and their party near Jujumura, led by Madhu Gauntia and Srikrishna Bora. Dr. Moore fought alongside the insurgents and was assassinated. Dr. Hanson entered the jungle and was rescued by British troops two days later. Naturally, captain Leigh paid a visit to the location with fifty soldiers, but the majority of his men were killed or injured by the insurgents.

Following this incident, Cockburn dispatched military officers from Cuttack, including Captains Wood, Woodbridge, Sweeny, and Valiance, to assist Captain Leigh in Sambalpur. Cockburn and Major Wyndham later arrived in Sambalpur to conduct direct operations against insurgents. On the other hand, the rebels employed all available means to oppose the British troops. The British authorities warned local zamindars and Rajas that they would lose their property and titles if they assisted the rebels. Simultaneously, they were offered several rewards in exchange for assisting the British in suppressing the revolt. By the second week of December 1857, Sambalpur had gathered 1500 rebels. Captain Saxton, the assistant Surveyor General, was assaulted by rebels. On 17 December, they laced Lieutenant Hadow’s, Lieutenant Chisttlen’s, and Hannath Singh’s combined attack. The insurgents fled into the jungle, unable to face the British troops’ cannons.

Captain E.G. Wood’s Assault

Captain E.G. Wood attacked the insurgents at Kudopali on 30 December 1857. Wood demonstrated his retreat by fully preparing the detachment beneath him. Unable to comprehend the Captain’s strategy, the rebels emerged from their hiding places and attacked the retreating party. Captain Wood retreated with his cavalry and slaughtered 53 rebels. Surendra Sai managed to flee, but his brother Chhabila Sai was fatally shot. This prompted the British authorities to take a more aggressive stance against the rebels. Major Bates besieged the Jharghati Pass on 7 January 1858 and then attacked Kolabira, an insurgent stronghold. He was later joined by Captain Wood.

Assault on the Wood bridge

The insurgents intended to avenge Chhabila Sai’s murder. On 12 February 1858, such an opportunity presented itself. On that particular day, Captain Woodbridge besieged the Paharasirgida hills fort. Woodbridge was assassinated during the battle by insurgents. Captain Leigh, Captain Wood, and Captain Dyre immediately marched to the location. The insurgents evaded British troops by fleeing to the jungles. Surendra Sai maintained his composure. He moved with his followers to the hills near Dewaree, but British troops quickly arrived and took control of the rebels’ large store of arms and supplies, which had fled the area upon the arrival of the British troops.

Colonel Forster’s measures

Colonel Forster’s arrival in March 1857, when he took over command of Sambalpur from Captain Leigh, marked a sea change in the situation. He arbitrarily arrested and punished individuals. The Raja of Patna was refunded the Rs. 1,000 fine imposed previously on him for providing asylum to Ujjala Sai, whom he captured and surrendered to Colonel Forster. He apprehended and tried a large number of suspected insurgents. The zamindars of Kolabira, Karkutta, Bheden, Khorsal, Patkutunda, and Rampur had their zamindaries confiscated and offered to zamindar Rai Rup Singh Bahadur as a reward for assisting the British in locating the rebels. Surendra Sai fled to the central provinces and encamped in the zamindari of Khurral in 1860, aided and abetted by the Raipur Garjat chiefs. Colonel Forster’s repressive measures remained in place in Sambalpur and the surrounding areas. As a result, the insurgents were unable to enter Sambalpur.

The rebels’ actions

Despite Colonel Forster’s efforts, the rebels led by Khageswar Deo assassinated Trikait Deo of Kusumunda, a British spy. They established their camp at Barapahar with assistance from the Khalsa villages of Sambalpur. They attacked the village Manpura in the final week of January 1861. It was only because the villagers had backed the British authorities. Captain J. Smith, Lieutenant R. Dundas, Captain John Dyre, and Lieutenant Cornish collaborated to foil their attempt, and the rebels fled to Bamara territory.

Amnesty proclamation

W.R.’s successor was Major H.B. Impey. In April 1861, Forster was appointed Deputy Commissioner of Sambalpur. He has now adopted a conciliatory stance toward the insurgents. He returned confiscated zamindaries to the zamindars. The proclamation of amnesty was issued on 24 September and 11 October 1861, granting pardons to all surrendering rebels. Numerous rebels and their allies, such as the Rajas of Bamara, Sarangagarh, and Patna, now came to the British’s aid. Surendra Sai was persuaded to surrender, but he paid no attention. Since the Impey plans fell through, R.N. Shore, Cuttack’s Commissioner, relocated to Sambalpur to conduct military operations against the rebels. Impey’s persuasion of Surendra to abstain from such activity resulted in the proclamation of another amnesty for the rebels. This worked like magic, and a large number of additional rebels surrendered. Even so, rebels such as Kartika, Sindhu, Bhuboo, Udanta, and Dayal Singh, among others, including Surendra Sai, refused to surrender. They attempted to elicit public sympathy for Surendra’s legitimate claim to the Sambalpur throne.

Rattray Operation

Major Rattray’s operation against the rebels in the final week of December shattered the rebels’ spirit to a greater extent. This prompted Surendra Sai to write to Impey regarding his surrender in exchange for consideration of his claim for the gadi (throne), which Impey denied. On the other hand, he assured Surendra that he would be provided for liberally. Thus, on 16 May 1862, Surendra Sai surrendered with his 40 followers to Major Impey, who guaranteed him a free pardon. Surendra Sai and his family received a pension of Rs. 1,200 and Rs. 4,600 per annum, respectively. Surendra was to remain in the village of Bargaon.

Sambalpur was now enveloped in peace and tranquillity. The two rebellious leaders, Kunjal Singh and Kamal Singh, did not surrender. Chief Commissioner Richard Temple paid a visit to Sambalpur in March 1863. The district’s prominent citizens petitioned Richard Temple to restore the Chauhan dynasty to Sambalpur’s throne, but the prayer was categorically rejected by Chief Commissioner J.N. Berrill, Sambalpur’s Superintendent of Police, revealed Surendra’s association with the dacoits. Additionally, it was suggested that Surendra incited the populace to make such representations to the Chief Commissioner in order to secure his restoration to the Sambalpur gadi. Impey is now under pressure to imprison Surendra Sai. He, however, rejected that argument and maintained his complete faith in Surendra Sai’s honesty and integrity.

Major A.B. Cumberledge’s ruthless actions

Following Major Impey’s demise, Major A.B. Cumberledge assumed command of Sambalpur’s administration as Deputy Commissioner. He had no faith in Impey’s conciliatory policy. Several British officers, including Captain Stewart, the Chhatisgarh Division’s Deputy Inspector General of Police, and J.N. Berill, the Sambalpur Superintendent of Police, convinced Cumberledge that Surendra Sai and his followers were plotting an attack on Her Majesty’s government. In the night of 23 January 1864, an angry mob led by Cumberledge surrounded the house of Surendra Sai in Bargaon. Naturally, Surendra had fled the house by that time, only to be apprehended at Sambalpur by Dayanidhi’s treachery. Subsequently, Mitrabhanu Sai, Surendra’s son, was apprehended and imprisoned, as were Dhruba Sai, Udanta Sai, and Dharanidhara Misra.

Surendra Sai’s Trial

The trial of Surendra Sai and others began on 23 June 1864 at the Raipur Sessions Court. J.B. Balmain examined the reports and found Surendra Sai, Udanta, Dhruba, Khageswar Deo, and numerous others guilty of treason, sentencing them to life in prison and confiscating all of their property. The accused rebel leaders appealed to John Scarlett Campbell, the Central Provinces’ judicial Commissioner, against the Sessions Court verdict. Campbell delivered his judgement on 18 August 1864, after hearing the petition and completely reversing the Sessions Court’s decision. The court declared the session court’s judgement unconstitutional.

Surendra’s final days

The judicial commissioner’s order exposed the corrupt intentions of Sambalpur’s government officials completely. Richard Temple, on the other hand, justified the arrest of Surendra Sai and other rebels in Sambalpur through administrative and police action by government officers. Surendra Sai and six other prisoners, including Udanta, Dhruba, Medini, Mitrabhanu, Khageswer Deo, and Lokanath Panda, were ordered to be detained in the Nagpur jail upon its transfer from Raipur under Regulation III of 1818. Surendra and others appealed to the Governor-General-in-Council in 1866, through Attorney M.T. Pearson, against their illegal detention despite their acquittal by the Central Province’s Judicial Commissioner. The Governor-General-in-Council rejected the petition. Petitioners filed additional petitions in 1871 and 1876. Medini Sai and Lokanath Panda had already expired at that point. Dhruba Sai and Mitrabhanu Sai were released on 22 November 1876 as a result of the king of Bonai’s surety. Surendra Sai died in Asirgarh’s cell on 28 February 1884. With his demise, the Sambalpur revolt came to an end.

The outcome of Surendra Sai’s revolt

Although Surendra Sai failed to obtain the Gadi, the revolt launched by Surendra Sai had far-reaching consequences.

In Sambalpur, peace and stability have been established.

With Surendra Sai’s arrest and subsequent imprisonment, Sambalpur regained its peace, tranquillity, and political stability. The government officers were relieved of their responsibility for dealing with the rebels. Their sleepless nights inside the jungles and their encounters with the rebels were now over.

Restriction imposed on local zamindars

The British authorities imposed restrictions and regulated the activities of the local zamindars. They will never again become the undisputed rulers of their communities. The bethi and begari systems were abolished. Additionally, effective measures have been taken to ensure the regular settlement of land revenue in Sambalpur.

Sambalpur is transferred to the Central Province and Odisha Division.

Sambalpur was annexed by the Central Province in 1864. It created numerous difficulties for the administrative authority as a result of Sambalpur’s ethnic and linguistic differences with the districts of the Central Provinces. As a result, Sambalpur was once again transferred to Bengal’s Odisha Division in 1905.

Imperialism by the British

Additionally, the people of that region felt the full force of British imperialism. The manner in which Surendra Sai’s claims were dismissed, the manner in which Surendra and his supporters were allegedly apprehended and imprisoned following the judicial commissioner’s verdict, and so forth exposed the British authoritative attitude toward the people of that region. Of course, the British government was successful in suppressing the revolt launched against it by Surendra Sai using these coercive methods.

Sambalpur remained under British control in perpetuity.

Sambalpur remained permanently under British control following the suppression of the revolt. There was no subsequent cry for the restoration of the Chauhan dynasty to the gadi of Sambalpur. The revolt demonstrated that regardless of how powerful the indigenous rebels were, they were powerless to resist the British power that ultimately suppressed them.

Final Remarks

Surendra Sai’s revolt was anti-British in nature due to his inability to obtain the Gadi. It was insurrection against the illegal annexation of Sambalpur to British suzerainty under the Doctrine of Lapse, despite Surendra Sai’s legitimate claim. Over time, not only the local populace, zamindars, and kings, but also the tribal populace of Sambalpur and the surrounding area rallied to Surendra Sai’s cause. It was primarily an uprising, a resistance movement led by the tribal majority. Although Surendra Sai’s revolt failed, it galvanised the British administration in Odisha.

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