The Revolt of 1857, often called India First War of Independence, is always to be remembered as a violent opposition of the British rule in India. It launched a new phase in Indian policies and policies and political ideas, and there emerged amongst the people of India a consciousness of belonging to one country. Undoubtedly, the uprising of 1857 was a liberation movement, and today, its relevance lies in its enormous significance as a focus for nationalist sentiment in modern India.
After the definitive history of the Revolt by D.P. Chattopadhyaya, Hira Lal Gupta, P.C. Joshi, S.N. Sen, R.c. Majumdar, S.B. Chaudhuri, Bipin Chandra and Eric Stroke, much needed fundamental research and interpretation is added to the earlier accounts of Sir John William Kaye, Sir George Forrest, G.B. Malleson, James J. McLeod Innes, Martin R. Montgomery and Thomas Rice Holmes. Today, as the nation observes the 150th anniversary of the Revolt of 1857, we naturally wish to have images and visuals of those who have images and visuals of those who rose in arms in the great uprisings. Though we have several textual narratives, we have, however, few illustrations of the incidents of the Revolt, and of the rebels as individuals.
The present volume illustrated with the contemporary pictures of the major events of 1857 commemorates this epic of human race. These historical illustrations thoroughly captivating take us back to their days and invent a feel of the times, and present an evocative portrait of the time through the eyes of a new British artists and eye-witnesses what it looked like to them, how it felt, how it sounded and how it smelt. The illustrations, even if tainted by a sense of vengeance, are by-and-large historical and testify to their sense of realism.
About the Author
S.P. Verma (born in 1942) taught art history at Aligarh Muslim University. His publications include Art and Material Culture in the Paintings of Akbars Court (New Delhi, 1978), Mughal Painters and Their Work, a Biographical Survey and Comprehensive Catalogue (New Delhi, 1994), Painting, the Mughal Experience (New Delhi, 2005) and numerous articles in academic journals. Also, he is a practicing artist and the recipient of awards by the Indian Academy of Fine Arts, Amritsar (1981) and the Academy of Fine Arts, Kolkata (1982). In 1986-87, he was a Fulbright Fellow at the Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., and a Senior Fellow (2004-06) at Indian Council of Historical Research, New Delhi.
Recently, Verma has organized an exhibition of the British Artists Drawings of the Revolt of 1857 (prepared under the auspices of ICHR to commemorate the 150th year of the Revolt) at Aligarh (5-9 April, 2007) and New Delhi (2-6 May, 2007).
History of the Revolt of 1857 is largely understood through the writings of Britishers. Greater parts of the records out of which history takes shape, come from British sources; and the large material of the Indian side suffered destruction during the course of revolt, 1857-1858. The most celebrated sources on the subject are the works of Kaye (1864-67), Matrin (1858-61), Holmes (1904), Malleson (1904), Forrest (1904), Ball (1858), and Majendie (1858), and Majendie (1859). Gubbins volume An account of the Mutinies in Oudh and Siege of Lucknow Residency is a contemporary account of great historical merit. Ball's observations are of considerable importance. They show the views of contemporary British historians. The works of Hilton (1957), Metecalfe (1898), Palmer (1966) and Llewellyn (1977) are the major European works published in the 20th century.
In independent India, the historical writings on the uprising of 1857 appeared late in 20th century. Earliest are the works of R.C. Majumdar, The Sepoy Mutiny and the Revolt of 1857 (Calcutta, 1957), Surendra Nath Sen, Eighteen Fifty-Seven (Delhi, 1957) and S.B. Chaudhuri, Civil Rebellion in the Indian Mutinies, 1857-1859 (Calcutta, 1957). Chaudhuri's other work include Theories of Indian Mutiny, 1857-1859 (Calcutta, 1965) and English Historical Writings on the Indian Mutiny, 1857-1859 (Calcutta, 1979), which are equally important. The last work of Chaudhuri is of greater importance since it explains British historians approach to the Revolt and provides a critical evaluation of their work. A critical review of the works of Majumdar and Sen is also there. Additionally, a comprehensive bibliography appended at the end of the volume is of great importance.
Majumdar and Sen do not describe the events in detail. One finds the military character of the revolt of 1857 under focus in Sen's work. Majumdar's great concern is the rise of the popular Revolt and its spread far and wide both in space and time. Chaudhuri puts an explicit emphasis on the civil character of the Revolt. The work of these historians are undoubtedly afresh with their characteristic critical approach. It is notable that P.C. Joshi introduced Marxist perspective to our knowledge of 1857. He finds that in a rational interpretation of the event of 1857, the pressure of economic forces is urgent. Even earlier to it, H.P. Chattopadhyaya in his volume The Sepoy Mutiny: A Social Study and Analysis (Calcutta, 1947) concentrates on the social groups: the aristrocates, the middle class, the peasants and the artisans etc. which stimulated the course of the Revolt. John Bruce Norton subscribes this view and has explained in his book, Topics for Indian Statesmen (London, 1858), that the outbreak of 1857 was really a rebellion of the people rather than merely mutiny of the soliders. Lester Hutchinson's The Empire of the Nabobs (London, 1957), too exhibited a left-wing political bias and explained the revolt of 1857 as the last protest of a feudal order that felt itself inundated by the forces of modernity!
Karl Marx's ideas on the 1857 uprising, which showed that for a period the Empire played a progressive role, are dismissed as little theoretical analysis. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar's book, History of the War of Independence, aimed at inspiring the people of India to rise again and wage a war to liberate India, too is exposed to critics. Chaudhuri writes, "From a historical point of view the book is exposed to the criticism that the author started with a preconceived theory based on evidence selectively used and ignored inconvenient facts." However, he finds this book to be a turning point in the historiography of the mutiny as a whole. He writes:
Few books had a more far-reaching influence on historical outlook of the uprising of 1857 than the work of Savarkar. A book, dynamic and truly national, it rang with a noble indignation against the alien rulers. No writer has done so much to point to the plausibility of the revolt of 1857 being regarding as a movement expressing desires fro freedom and few have done so much to leave a legacy of noble ideas which inspired the national struggle for freedom of India. Savarkar's History of the War of Indiependence' is an epoch in Indian historiography and though oriented by subjective sentiments it was least harmful. We read what Savarkar said not as the sentence of a judge but as a theme worthy of itself, a revelation, a yearning that was wishful.
Numerous volumes have appeared on the revolt of 1857, and there is found divergent views and opinions regarding the nature of this historic event. In this context, the growth of interpretative writing and Indian nationalism in the twentieth century have further advanced the theories, and of course, the controversies.
An analytical study of the proclamations issued by the Indian leaders calling upon the people to support them against the British, neglected till date has to offer more details to strengthen the theory ascribing the uprising of 1857 the distinction of a popular revolt. These proclamations relate to the people of all the sections of social, political and religious groups, and in general, represent the feelings of the people. The proclamations motivated zamindars, merchants, artisans, public servants and religious teachers.
The Revolt was not merely an outcome of sepoy's discontent but a product of popular dissatisfaction and hatred among people against British authority and Raj. The presents, artisans and soldiers fought as a united force and firmly jerked the foreign rule. Undoubtedly, it began with the mutiny of sepoys (soldiers of East India Company's army) and soon enveloped large sections of people of Northern and Central India. Discontent among the people had been since long, and most importantly the Kutch Rebellion and Kol uprising of 1839 and the Santhal uprising of 1855 bear testimony of it.
Religious factor played a major role in the revolt of 1857. P.C. Joshi writes that the suspicion that the British government was out to Christianise the Indian people was widespread:
It is abundantly clear, therefore, that the British rulers for their imperialist motives were out for some decades preceding 1857 to culturally denationalize India by the method of mass conversion to Christianity. This was seen as a menacing danger by the mass of Indians, irrespective of their viewpoint whether it was Sir Syed Ahmad Khan or Bahadur Shah, whether it was the enlightened Bengali intellectual in Calcutta or the Nana Saheb at Bithoor, by the mass sepoys both Hindu and Muslim. Thus when the religious factor played a big role as it did in the struggle of 1857, it was a part of the national factor.
Bipin Chandra also thinks that an important role in turning the people against British rule was played by their fear that it endangered their religion. The soldiers, too, considered that the British were interfering in their religion and were determined to convert Indians to Christianity. The annexation of Oudh, economic exploitation, role of religion preachers, oppressions, and corrupt administration were the other factors which flared up Indian feelings.
The proclamation of March, purported to have been made by Shah of Persia addressing the Muslims to join in a jihad against the British, too, incited anger and an outbreak of disorder.
The proclamation of March, purported to have been made by Shah of Persia addressing the Muslims to join in a jihad (a holy war) against the British, too, incited anger and an outbreak of disorder.
The mysterious act of circulation of chapattis, too, is considered by numerous contemporary observers to have been associated with the outbreak of the revolt of 1857. The chapatti distribution, though widespread, is an isolated event. It served as a chain letter from village to village throughout the provinces of the northwest. Ball narrates this event thus:
It was reported to the authorities, that the chowkeydars, or village policemen, mere speeding from Cawnpore through the villages and towns of the peninsula, distributing on their way a symbol, of the origin of which no European could at the time form an intelligible idea, or conjecture the purpose. The manner of effecting this singular movement - which later events have shown to be somewhat analogous to that of the Fire-cross of our own Highland clans in earlier times - was as follows:- One of the chowkeydars of Cawnpore ran to another in Futteghur, the next village, and placing in his hands two chapattis (small unleavened cakes about the size of a gingerbread-nut, and similar in composition to the ordinary food of the poorer classes), directed him to make ten more of the same kind, and give two of them to each of the five nearest chowkeydars, with instructions to perform the same service. He was obeyed; and in a few hours the whole country was in a state of excitement, through these policemen running from village to village with their cakes. The wave spread over the provinces with a velocity of speed never yet equaled by the bearers of government dispatches. The English officials in the districts through which this extraordinary and mysterious operation progressed with the rapidity of light, were bewildered; some of the messengers wee arrested, and themselves and the cakes examined by the magistrates and superior police, who looked at, handled, and tasted the latter, but could arrive at no satisfactory conclusion inspecting them.
Notably, an association of the chapatti, the common food of the people and the lotus flower with the Revolt was so great that both these constitute the emblematic flag of the Emperor of Delhi.
Thus, the grounds for a mass upheaval were ready, and the issue of the greased cartridges sparked the soldiers mutiny which in turn provided an occasion to people in general to revolt:
The sepoys, Hindu as well as Muslim, were enraged. The use of the greased cartridges would endanger their religion. Many of them believed that the government was deliberately trying to destroy their religion. The time of rebel had come.
With the rise of Mangal Pande (soldier of the 34th Native Infantry stationed at Barrackpore, about 16 miles form Calcutta) as a martyr (court-martialled, condemned, and hanged on 8th April 1857 in front of the whole garrison at Barrackpore), followed by the insurrection of 3rd Light Cavalry at Merrut on 24th April, the Revolt begun; and with the proclamation of the Emperor Bahadur Shah as the leader of the movement, Delhi became the centre of the Revolt. The Emperor's leadership signified India's political unity. Further, with an active participation of the civil population, the peasants, and the artisans etc., the struggle led by the soldiers attained the character of a popular revolt. Here an observation of Bipin Chandra is relevant:
After the sepoys had destroyed British authority, the common people rose up in arms often fighting with spears and axes, bows and arrows, lathis and scythes, and crude muskets. It many places, however, the people revolted even before the sepoys did or even when no sepoy regiments were present. It is the wide participation in the Revolt by the peasantry and the artisans, which gave it real strength as well as the character of a popular revolt, especially in the areas at present induced in Uttar Pradesh and Bihar
It is of some importance to note that in many of the battles commoners far surpassed the sepoys in numbers.
R.C. Majumdar opined that the civil outbreak or popular revolt was the direct outcome of the initial success of the sepoy mutiny. According to him, if there had been no sepoy mutiny, there would have been no civil outbreak.
Alexender Llewellyn thinks that the events of 1857 quantified
a military coup. He informs that all the regiments of cavalry and mutinied and sixty-one of the seventy-four battalions of infantry. The revolt spread quickly, and the east part of Punjab, Oudh, Rohilkhand, the Doab, the Bundelkhand, large parts of Bihar and the Central India challenged the British authority. The effective mutinies followed at Ambala (15th May), Nowshera and Hote-Mardan (20th May), Aligharh (21th May) Etawah and Mainpuri (23rd May), Roorkee (25th May), Bulandshahr (29th May), Hodal, Mathura and Lucknow (30th May), Bareilly and Shahjahanpur (31st May), Moradabad and Badaun (1st June), Azamgarh and Sitapur (3rd June), Muhamdi, Benaras and Kanpur (4th June), Jhansi and Allahabad (6th June), Faizabad (7th June), Dariabad and Fatehpur (9th June), Mhow and Hathras (1st July), Chotanagpur and Muzaffarpur (31st July), Bhagalpur (14th August), Jabalpur (18th September), and several other places.
The Britishers ruthlessly crushed the Revolt and waged war against the sepoys and the people of India. Entire villages were burnt the Revolt and waged war against the sepoys and the people of India. Entire village were burnt and the men massacred. Public hangings and executions without trial further uncovered the cruelty of Britishers.
Bipin Chandra believes that a determined fighting should have altered the fate of 1857. According to him, Indian altogether underestimated British strength; and this error costed the rebels dearly. It would be not out of place of mention here at observation of Ainslie T. Embree:
When independence finally came to India in 1947 it was by very different methods form those used in 1857, but surely one reason for the success of the methods of the nationalist period was that the British and learned in 1857 that if the people of India united against them, their defeat was certain.
In the history of England as well the battle fought by the Britishers to dissolve the Revolt of 1857 is a landmark. Sir Charles Crosthwaite, the Anglo-Indian historian, aptly called it "the epic of the race".
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