April, 19th, 1998
Akhilesh Mithal

A Fresh Look at the Events of 1857

The British deliberately and with malice diminished 1857 uprising.











In a verse of great charm and wit, Mirza Ghalib says

Pukdey jaatey hein ferishtoan kay likhay pur naahuq aadme koaee humaaraa dumay tehrreer bhee thhaa?
(We are condemned to hell on the evidence of only the recording farishtas (angels); how is this justice?

Was there anyone from our side, when the evidence was being recorded? In the Muslim belief all good and bad deeds are recorded by watchful angels perched on the shoulders of each mortal. One records the good ones and the other, the wickedness.

On the basis of this evidence, on The Day of Judgement, a man or woman is sent to heaven or hell. Our poet, Mirza Ghalib was remonstrating with the powers that be about the unfairness of it all. The evidence is all produced by angels who are, by definition, the supporters or employees or companions of the agency for prosecution.

Thus there are no witnesses for the poor defending sinner! The Great 1857 uprising story rests mostly upon the records (evidence, etc.) of the victorious British. They deliberately and with malice diminished the event as well as all Indians who took part in the 1857 uprising.

One of the most maligned men is Nana Dhondo Pant Peshwa. To give readers an idea of what he was really like, we provide an excerpt from a travelogue. The author is a contemporary, Vishnu Bhatt Godshe Varsaikar.

The book was translated from the Marathi in Sambat 2005 Vikrami, which was 50 years ago and is published by Rai Ananda Krishna of Sharada Prakashan, Banaras. Nana Saheb has lost Kanpur after 10 days and nights of unceasing battles in which he and his brother and the men under his command performed prodigies of valour but failed.

Bhatt writes, “On the eleventh day the winds of war began to blow against the blacks. And the smoke and grime of enemy guns started assailing their eyes. Many of the blacks had been killed earlier. And a very large number had fled to save their lives. The remnants now started fleeing.

The Goaraas (whites/Tommies) cleared the nails from the match-holes of their cannon to make them workable and used them on the blacks, who started running helter-skelter in all directions. Nana Saheb’s brother, Bala Saheb, with great emotion cried out for his men to rally and fight again.

One gunner had died near his cannon. He himself took over and started firing the piece. Just then the gunner of the next piece fell to a bullet. Like this cannon after cannon was becoming unmanned.At this juncture the Nana Saheb, Dhondo Pant arrived on the scene with his other brother, Rao Saheb.

He said to Bala Saheb, “God has not bestowed the glory of Jaya or victory upon us. We have suffered defeat. We should retreat, regroup and fight again. There is no purpose to laying down our lives here.”Bala Saheb mounted his horse and the three brothers rode on to Bitthour / Brahma- varta.

At Bitthour a knot of 30 or 40 persons was sitting at Bhouteyshwara in wait for news of the outcome of the grim battle of Kanpur. Each of them was giving his own version of what was likely to be the outcome of the battle. Suddenly three horsemen were seen approaching from the direction of the embattled city.

The anxious citizens walked to meet them some way ahead. They recognised the Shreemunt (Nana Saheb) and his brothers although they were covered in dust, gore and grime. Their faces were set in expressions of despair as if they were stone sculptor.

Their eyes were red like the blossoms of the hibiscus flower. Clearly the battle had been lost. Everyone became speechless in sorrow. Nana Saheb exhaled his breath in a long drawn out sigh and said, “Until now we have tried our best to uphold the Hindu dharma.

But if Ganga Maiyyaa (Mother Ganges) wished (ichhchhaa) defeat upon us we are prepared even to forsake life. God’s Will will be done!” Nana Saheb then proceeded to the palace. The ladies and their maids stood around him in a silent tumult of anxiety which became still as he spoke.

Nana Saheb was speaking a few words in measured tones to give his message of grave import. “The enemy will soon be here. We must immediately cross the river and enter the land of Begum Hazrat Mahal. Once we are there we can combine forces and give joint counsel as to how best to fight the feringhee.

"Therefore take whatever you can pick without delay and come to the river where boats are ready for departure.” Nana Saheb took out a large shawl and spread it on the floor to collect the family treasures.

The first thing he retrieved was the loincloth of Samarthha Ramdas which Chhatrapati Shivaji himself had worshipped and kept in the temple in a sandalwood chest Chhatrapati Shahu had bestowed it upon the Peshwa of his time.

The other objects collected were the flowers of the Vata Vriksha (Burd or banyan) given to the temple in offering by Peshwa Madhav Rao I. Also a glorious arrow called Gauri Shankar and the auspicious shankh (conch) to the right sided whorl having tied these treasures in the shawl the three brothers prostrated before the family deity.

Tears streamed from their eyes as they looked their last upon their home.”Vishnu Bhatt asks, “How can their suffering at leaving their birthplace where they grew to manhood in the pomp, pageant and panoply of royalty be narrated?”

The path to the river was teeming with citizens who had been their subjects. As the brothers passed the men and women, murmurs, moans, sighs and the drone of “Shiva, Shiva, Hara, Hara” arose from throats choked with emotion. At the river bank Nana Saheb offered Ganga Maiyyaa a saree of silk and brocade of bright red colour along with a green and gold blouse.

He said, “Mother! We have lived in your shelter until today, it appears to be your wish that we part and so we leave. Let Your will prevail.”Having prayed thus Nana Saheb stepped into the boat. His mother, the widow of the Peshwa Balaji Rao II and her adopted daughter, the wives of all three brothers and the two younger brothers followed.

Vishnu Bhatt describes the heart-rending scene at the river bank with everyone present wanting to accompany the defeated leaders into exile and how they were dissuaded by Nana Saheb invoking the intercession of Mother Ganges.The boatmen were then released from their duties in order to save their lives.

The princes and the solitary attendant, Raghoba manned the oars. After a mile’s distance had been covered Nana Saheb opened the knot of the shawl and took each of the treasures out and consigned it to the waves to save it from desecration.

The long night of India’s suffering under the jackboot of the alien feringhee had started. The above account should give readers a glimpse of the kind of men the Peshwa and his brothers were. Also that the Brahmin of that time had no need to be ashamed of being “Brahmins” or to consider “Brahmanwaad” a terrible thing.

These later developments are the distortions of slavery to alien rulers.For foreign education was to twist and diminish all Indians including the Chitpavan Brahmins who gave India Nana Dhondo Pant. This distortion was to make them communal and destructive of other Indians.

Muslims were to become their target. All this was to lead to the murder of Gandhi in which Savarkar was the mind and Nathuram Vinayak Godse the hand of the assassin. Both were Chitpavans. As Christ had said centuries earlier, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do!”

Akhilesh Mithal, 1991-1998. All rights reserved.
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