For a long time we considered the rebellion of 1857 as the first war for independence in British India. However, in 2017, the central government finally acknowledged that the Paika Rebellion of 1817 was the first war to be fought for independence in a united India. It was fought between the dispossessed Paikas (soldiers) of the defunct kingdom of Khorda and the British East India Company to overthrow British rule in what would become the state of Odisha.
The seeds of rebellion were planted back in 1804 when the British conquered Khorda, deposed Raja Mukund Dev II of Khorda and executed Jayi Rajguru for raising arms against them. The British employed a policy of alienation against the Paikas, depriving them of hereditary lands and abuse by company officials. This built a lot of resentment among the Paikas, who had been the traditional militia of the kingdom of Khorda.
Now there is no need of assistance of Paiks at Khurda. It is dangerous to keep them in British armed forces. Thus they should be treated and dealt as common Ryots and land revenue and other taxes should be collected from them. They must be deprived of their former Jagir lands (Rent free lands given to the Paiks for their military service to the state.) Within a short period of time the name of Paik has already been forgotten. But still now where the Paiks are living they have retained their previous aggressive nature. In order to break their poisonous teeth the British Police must be highly alert to keep the Paiks under their control for a pretty long period, unless the Paik community is ruined completely the British rule cannot run smoothly.Walter Ewer, British Commissioner of enquiry into the causes of “Paik Rebellion”, 1818
Both zamindars (landlords) and commoners felt the sting of the company’s land revenue policy which was exorbitant and had to be paid in silver. The earlier policy of cowrie shells as currency was abolished, impoverishing many common folk. Taxes on salt also increased the ire of the populace against British rule.
Besides regular land revenue, the ryots were over burdened with many unauthorised abwabs and impositions. The demands were nearly arbitrary and certainly oppressive.William Trower, Collector of Cuttack
The field was ripe for a leader to take the reins and gather arms and men to oppose the rule of the British East India Company.
Spark for the Kindling
Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mahapatra Bharambhar Ray otherwise known as Bakshi Jagabandhu had been a commander in the army of the King of Khorda. After Khorda was annexed by British forces, he lost his hereditary estates of Rodang and was turned destitute.
Depending on donations, he was forced to live a hand to mouth existence and his experience was shared among the other Paikas. Land revenue was now in the hands of British appointed officers, most of which were very corrupt. Many tribes were feeling the pressure on their livelihood and discontent against the British was building up.
Then at the end of March 1817, a 400 strong militia of Kandha tribe marched onto Banapur from Ghumsur. This was taken as an excellent pretext by Bakshi Jagabandhu and his force of Paikas descended on Banapur. Paikas, Paika sardars, Daleis and Dulbeheras from all over Khorda answered the call for rebellion. Thus began the Paika Rebellion of 1817.
The Course of the Rebellion
The rebels attacked government offices and police stations. British officials were killed in the ensuing melee and the treasury and British properties at Banapur were looted. Salt agent Betcher of the southern division managed to escape but his boat on the Chilika Lake got captured and plundered. The traitor Charan Patanaik was executed in his home village of Rathipur.
From Banapur, the rebel marched to Khorda and sacked the government buildings. The treasury was looted and British officials fled in fear for their lives. The rebellion spread to Panchagada and Bolagada. The kings of the princely states of Gadjat however, did not join in and rejected Jagabandhu’s offer.
The Magistrate of Cuttack E. Impey sent a detachment of troops under Lieutenant Prideaure to Khorda to quell the rebellion. He also sent another detachment under Lieutenant Faris to Pipli to protect Limbai paragana. As for him, Impey accompanied Lieutenant Travis to Khorda on 1st April 1817. On seeing the deteriorating situation he retreated to Cuttack.
Lieutenant Faris was shot dead at Gangapada by Paikas. Prideaure managed to reach Khorda but had to retreat back to Cuttack on seeing 5000 paikas under Jagabandhu standing against him. Bakshi Jagabandhu captured Pipli on the 7th of April and was joined by another 300 paikas under Raja Balabhadra Chhotray of Gadapadmapur.
Captain Wellington was dispatched to Puri to protect it and keep an eye on Raja Mukund Dev II. the former king of Khorda in exile. On 9th April Bakshi Jagabandhu commanding a force of Paikas several thousand strong accompanied by the Khonds of Ghumsur descended on Puri though Loknath Ghat. Several government buildings were torched.The officials fled to Cuttack.
Raja Mukund Dev II rejected Bakshi Jagabandhu’s offer to elevate him to throne of Khorda once more and sent a secret message to the British for military aid.
On the same day Captain Le Fevere left for Khorda and captured it without any bloodshed. Meanwhile Khorda was now under martial law. So were Pipli, Puri, Limbai and Kothadesh. Major General Gabriel Martindell was appointed the military commissioner and the commander of British forces in Odisha.
Le Fevere reached Puri on 16th April, reoccupied it and arrested Raja Mukund Dev II. Meanwhile Bakshi Jagabandhu and his forces managed to flee to Banapur. On 28th April the king and his son were sent to Cuttack by Major Hamilton to be imprisoned at the Barabati fort.
Despite the best efforts by the British, the rebellion spread to Gop, Tiran, Kujanga, Pattamundai and Asureswar. The rebels looted and plundered British aligned zamindars and Amalas and routed the police in Gop. However Captain Kennet with his force of 2000 soldiers finally managed to suppress the rebellion at Kujanga in September 1817.
Fate of the Rebellion
Raja Mukund Dev II was imprisoned at the Barabati Fort at Cuttack and died there on 30th November.
The government appointed Gabriel Martindell and Walter Ewer to a commission to determine the causes of the rebellion and to recommend measures to prevent further insurrections.
Raja Madhusudan Sendha of Kujanga was released after his surrender as he helped the British Government in capturing some of the rebel leaders. Amnesty was proclaimed for all offences of the rebels connected with the rebellion. But Bakshi Jagabandhu, Krushna Chandra Bidyadhar, Gopal Chhotray, Pitabas Mangaraj, Padmanabha Chhotray, Pindaki Bahubalendra and some other rebel leaders who were already in prison were not included in the amnesty.
One hundred and twenty three rebel Paika leaders were sentenced to transportation for life. Bamadev Patajoshi and Narayan Paramguru the rebel leaders of Kujanga
were sentenced to fourteen years of imprisonment. Parsuram Routray, the killer of
traitor Charan Patanaik was sentenced to death and was executed in April 1818.
A prize was announced on the heads of rebel leaders who had managed to escape capture. However Jagabandhu and his close associates Nityananda Mangaraj, Dasarathi Paikaray, Lokanath Baliarsingh, Upendra Jagadev, Rama Chandra Samantasinghar, Adikanda Bidyadhar, Sambhunath Patsahani, Dama Subudhi and Mir Hyder Ali remained couldn’t be traced.
In the course of time some leaders were captured and other surrendered to Commissioner Robert Ker. Bakshi Jagabandhu on the hand still remained at large
Surrender of Bakshi Jagabandhu
Bakshi Jagabandhu fled Khorda and hid in the forests of Ghumsur. Then he went to his father-in-law, the zamindar of Shergada and stayed for a time. From there he made his escape to the forests of Boudh and Dasapalla.
The British under Major Roughsedge contacted Raja Chandra Sekhar Dev of Boudh to capture Jagabandhu but he got news of the happening and fled back to Ghumsur. In this endeavour he was assisted by the common people of Khorda who contributed funds to him. Then Brigadier General Thomas attacked a Kandha village in Ghumsur in a surprise raid to capture Bakshi Jagabandhu. However he managed to escape to Nayagarh.
Having no recourse, the British government proclaimed that if he surrendered he would not be executed and would be given an allowance. But Bakshi Jagabandhu ignored the bait and did not surrender. Finally, his family was arrested and imprisoned in Barabati fort on 29th October 1819. Still Jagabandhu was not moved, so the British government was forced to release the family in 1820.
As a last attempt, Commissoner T. Pakenham issued a strongly worded letter to the king of Nayagarh to get Jagabandhu to surrender. According to the terms of the agreement, he would be under house arrest in Cuttack with his family and a monthly pension of Rs 150 would be granted to him for his life.
Seeing this agreement as favourable, Bakshi Jagabandhu surrendered on 25th May 1825 and lived in Cuttack with his family till his death on 24th January 1829. As per the agreement his pension was stopped after his death.
Thus ended a chapter in the struggle against the British occupation of India.
Though the rebellion lasted only a few months in 1817 it had long lasting consequences. It was an attempt to expel British rule in Odisha and bring back the rule of the hereditary king of Khorda back to the throne and gain back the right to self rule.
The rebellion was a crusade, the object of which was to expel the English from all interference with the land of Purushottam Chhuter.William Trower, Collector of Cuttack
Though it did not succeed, the Paika Rebellion inspired further insurrection in Odisha. There were uprisings in Tapanga in 1825 and in Banapur in 1835. Two separate Kandha uprising also followed and there was another rebellion in Sambalpur under Veer Surendra Sai and the Gonds. The Bhuyan also rose up in insurrection led by Dharnidhar Naik. History is littered with many such examples. The ruinous land revenue policy of the British East India Company that led to this uprising still continued unabated.
There are further stories to be told of the freedom struggle in Odisha but they are for another article. Thank you and keep being the wonderful people you are.
- Khurda Paik Rebellion – The First Independence War of India, Braja Paikaray, Orissa Review, February-March, 2008
- The Paik Rebellion of Khurda of 1817, Pabitra Mohan Barik, Orissa Review, February-March, 2008
- The Oriya Paika Rebellion of 1817, Prof. N.R. Mohanty, Orissa Review, August, 2008
- Paika Rebellion of Odisha, Press Information Bureau, Ministry of Culture, Government of India, 20 July 2017