Battlefields of Delhi – Part II

After the battle over Qila Lal Kot, for many centuries, the Pandav-era Bhairav temple witnessed countless bloody battles between different medieval dynasties for the rule over Delhi. The areas around present day Mehrauli, around Siri Fort and also the areas near Old fort might have seen those battles. However, it was about 750 years later, interestingly, in the year 1857; the modern-day Delhi had witnessed another battle, which took place within the city walls, with the main context of ousting the foreign rulers from Delhi. The foreign rulers called it a Mutiny, but the nationalist regard it as the first war of Independence.

Augharh Nath Ji Temple, Meerut

Augharh Nath Ji Temple, Meerut


On 10th May 1857, the Augharh Nathji Temple at Meerut became the scene of the spark that ignited many across the country. During those days, it used to be a small temple of Lord Shiva frequented by the army men of the native battalion, making it known as “Kali Paltan temple”. In 2011, about 150 years later, I found it as an imposing building situated in the Meerut military camp area. Inside its premises, a war-memorial had also been erected to remind us of the war of Independence. Almost everyone in Meerut was proud of that temple and was dedicated to it. Socially it had become a part of its folklore about the war of independence. Local people used to visit the place, not only to worship, but also to make promises, to take resolve, to settle disputes and also to express their love. This substantiated my conviction that the monuments are best preserved when the local population attaches itself to the said monuments as a part of its social life.
From there, the Kali Paltan moved towards Delhi by crossing the river Yamuna on 11th May 1857. 100 kilometers away from the city of Meerut, the atmosphere in the Pandav-era Bhairav Temple must be electric when the news of arrival of Kali Paltan would have started pouring in. The social mass, depressed with the foreign oppression, might be feeling something differently happening in the society and somewhat empowered by the new turn of events. When the native army entered the walled city after overpowering the resistance of the British-led forces, it would have put many into dismay and disbelief as the notion of invincibility of the British were broken. The Bhairav Temple would have erupted in joyous celebrations when the news of anointing Bahadur Shah Jafar as the Emperor again would have reached there.

Magazine

Magazine


In the meantime, the small British-led company had taken over the Magazine so as to prevent it from falling into the hands of the native army. On 11th of May, 1857, the magazine fell, but not before those British officers destroyed it along with its arms and ammunition. Today, its remnants in the form of the gateway are situated on the middle of the traffic island of the busy Lothian Road. The commemorative marble plaque installed by the British still reflects the heroics of the British officers. The Indian Government, after the independence, had placed another marble plaque denoting the bravery of the native forces.150 years later, millions of people cross by its side, but how many remember the bravery of the native or the British forces? Gradually, this piece of battle heritage, which is directly connected with the Indian Independence, seems to be in danger of fading away into deeper layers of history.
Flag Staff Tower

Flag Staff Tower


Another great piece of the heritage is the “Flag Staff Tower”, which is situated in the Delhi University area. It is said that many of the foreign inhabitants residing in the walled city had taken shelter in this small round structure, which was mainly used as a communication tower. Those, who could not be accommodated there, had fled to Karnal. Those, who remained at the tower, had tried to establish communication with their forces coming from outside the city. At that time, the communication systems in the warfare were not as developed as those systems in the present days. The positioning of the flag staff at the highest point of the ridge might have ensured light-based communication between the forces. The native army must have tried to take control of this communication system, but was resisted fiercely. On 07th June 1857, the native army was defeated here and the control of the area was taken over by the British. 150 years later, this tower has become a social place for almost entire population living nearby and is used for morning walks and jogging. Only a few remember that the land beneath their feet is tainted with blood for native forces, which fought for evicting the foreign regiment.
Victory column at Badli-ki-sarai

Victory column at Badli-ki-sarai


In the evening of 08th June 1857, sad news arrived at the Bhairav Temple. It was about the defeat of native forces at the Battle of Badli-ki-Sarai. Her Majesty’s 75th regiment had locked horns with the native forces since morning of that fateful day. The native forces had the control of the field-batteries mounted on the mound there. However, mainly due to lack of visionary military leaders in their command, the native forces lost those guns by evening in the direct bayonet to bayonet fight. The mound was filled by the blood-stained bodies of the native and the Gurkha-battalion of British forces. The British erected a column in red stone at the site to commemorate the efforts of the forces. It is still situated at the mound, but is surrounded by domestic cows, goats and thousands of manual rickshaws that cater to the needs of the nearby Mandi. This battle heritage is also in danger of fading away from the minds of the population.
Kashmere Gate

Kashmere Gate

By September 1857, the British Forces had gathered enough fire-power and resources and planned to storm the city through breaching the “Kashmiri Gate” and also through the Yamuna River. The location of Kashmiri Gate might have chosen by them as it was near to their main cantonment. On 12-14th September 1857, it turned into a battle ground between the native forces and the colonial forces. It is said that the fall of the Kashmiri Gate led open the opportunity to storm the city and to re-capture it. Its walls still retain the scars of pounding by the colonial forces. It is a great piece of the battle heritage that is fading away from the memory of the people. 150 years later, the Delhi Metro passes by it mixing the era bygone with the modern times.

Humayun’s Tomb

Humayun’s Tomb

On 20th September 1857, it is said that the City of Delhi was re-captured by the Colonial rulers and it was cleared of the rebel forces. When I read about “Cleared of rebel forces” in one day, I can only imagine one way to do so. And, to my mind that way might have been extremely horrific. It must have started with disarming them and mercilessly butchering for their act. Here comes the interpretation of the war. Those sepoys of the native forces were true in their commitments towards an ideology they supported and the victorious forces had their own justifications. Humanity turns into a different facade after the war. Anyway, on 21st September 1857, the scene gets shifted to the tomb of Humayun. The last Mughal Emperor, Bahadur Shah Jafar had shifted himself from the Red Fort to the Humayun’s Tomb. I do not understand what made him to take that decision. But, I am sure that the Bhairav temple must have seen the beginning of another chapter in the battle history of Delhi, when the news of imprisonment of a crest-fallen emperor would have arrived there.
For victorious army, it was their moments of arrogance, which became horrifically prominent, when General Hudson shot three bullets into the bare-chested three young princes of Bahadur Shah Jafar on 22nd September 1857. The place, that witnessed that cowardice, is still standing and was named as “Khooni Darwaja”. Millions of vehicles passed by the gate, little realizing that it had been stained with blood of three young princes of India.

Khooni Darwaja

Khooni Darwaja


Whenever a city falls, the aftermath of the battle takes prominence. The wounded ones are carried to the medics for nourishment and care. The dead ones are buried and mourned. Ones, who is defeated, tries to re-assemble their once-shaken confidence and one, who is victorious, makes merry with abandon. The story was no different with Brigadier-General Nicholson, who had planned and implemented the storming of Delhi for the colonial rulers. However, while doing so, he had been wounded in the battle. On 23rd September 1857, the Brigadier General of the victorious army expired and was buried in the burial places, now named as Nicholson cemetery, presently situated opposite Inter State Bus Terminal, Kashmiri Gate. As a grave stone, the heroic general got a marble stone taken from one of the garden seats of the Red Fort. Taking a marble stone from the palace of the defeated army might have been an act of heroism or arrogance of those times. But after 150 years later, does it make any sense?
Grave of General Nicholson

Grave of General Nicholson


Sometimes the past actions amuse me. The trial of the Bahadur Shah Jafar was also such an act. Was the prolonged trial necessary to keep the native forces and the general people in hope till the public perception of the rebellion gets melted away? To my mind, his extradition to Rangoon proves that the entire trial was only to be seen trying to dispense justice so as to win the sympathy of the population and to buy time. Anyway, the acts of administration are always interpreted in variety of ways. Moreover, it does not change anything altogether. But, I still want to know the journey account of Bahadur Shah Jafar from Delhi to Rangoon. What would have happened when his entourage would have passed the areas which he had ruled over once? Whether people would have been allowed to meet him throughout his passage? What would have been their interaction on emotional level? These are some of the questions that often come to my mind. I often wish to be able to write or read about the emotional aspects of the journey of a defeated emperor through the entire length of the sultanate that he used to rule over. Presently, I went to see the Masjid Mubarak Begum at Hauz Qazi area near Chandni Chowk. It is said that an emotional mushaira called “दिल्ली की आखिरी शमा” was organized by the elite of those times to address the mood and sentiments caused by the extradition of the Mughal emperor, who was himself a great poet. What an emotional response to the extradition order!
Masjid Mubarak begum

Masjid Mubarak begum


Anyway, the victorious army was celebrating their victory as if nobody knew that such a victory would not have lived for long. In 1863, they erected a “Mutiny Memorial” on a highland on the Delhi ridge in a purely Victorian architecture. In the memorial, all the important events of seize of Delhi were inscribed in marble along with complete count of men, who took part and lost their lives. But, it seems that they had counted the numbers of only the men loyal to them. But, it is not their fault. How to count millions of the countrymen, who had seen the courage of the native forces? How to count the millions of aspirations? They did not have the ways and means to count the number of years that limited their rule of this great country. The subtle choices made at the battle of Delhi ultimately bore fruits a little later, when the country became free.
Mutiny Memorial

Mutiny Memorial


The Government of and an-independent India, on its 25th Independence day in 1972, had changed the name of the Mutiny Memorial into “अजीतगढ़” to commemorate the sacrifice of all the native forces that had fought the war of the Independence and dedicated the same to the country. The Pandav-era temple of Bhairav had smiled again! But, God forbids, if there be another battle on the soil of Delhi.

14 Comments

  • Jatinder sethi says:

    Uday, I just read your next installment of Battlefields of Delhi,. seems you have done lot of research to write this detailed study of 1857 “Mutiny”. Admire your scholarship of this work.
    I have just finished reading a book by H.G.Garrett, called”THE TRIAL OF BAHADUR SHAH ZAFAR ” with an introduction by M.J.Akbar.Its a detailed study of court proceeding of British case against the last king-Bahdur Sha ZaferJust a few quotes. “DAY-XIV Friday ,12,Feburary 1858. ‘The Court reassembled this morning at 11 AM in theHall of Special Audience in the Palace at Delhi.The President.Members ,Interpreter a d Deputy Judge Advocate-General are all present.
    The Prisoner(Zafar) is brought into Court.”
    How the British suffered at the start; a quote”As the Cavalry mutineers had arrived and had shot down all the officersof the 54th Native Infantry,I immediately ordered two companies to lead and while this was being done Colonael Ripley came out of Cashmere Gate wounded in several places.”

    Finally.In October 1858,accompanied by Zeenat Mahal(his favourite wife)and Jiwan Bakhat, the last of the TIMURIDS departed from Delhi to be conveyed to Rangoon Where Bahadur Shah ended his days in 1862 at the age of 87
    Here is a couplet from one of poems. immortalized by Mehdi Hassan”Baat katnee mujhey mushkil kabhee aisee to na thhee–Jaisee ab hai teree mehfil kabhee aisee to na thhee…..”

    AJAY .awaiting your next. Keep it up.

    • Uday Baxi says:

      Dear Mr. Sethi

      What a wonderful comment! I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks for sharing the snippets from the accounts of Bahadur Shah Jafar’s trial.
      But, I am yet to find an account of his journey to Rangoon. How would the people reacted at different points of the journey? Please do share with me, if you find an account of his last journey. His pain is reflected in the most famous couplet:

      ????? ?? ?????? ?????? ????? ?? ???
      ?? ??? ????? ?? ? ???? ??-?-??? ???

      Regards

      • Jatinder Sethi says:

        Little more info” Bahadur Shah Zafar ran away from his Palace(Red Fort) and hid himself with his grand children in Kutab. But later on surrendered himself to Skinner with the promise that his life will be spared. This was granted but Skinner shot dead other members of his family who were accused of murdering the English Ladies.
        After the trial and Guilty verdict he was to be transported overseas.Zeenat Mahal and Jiwan Bakhat(her son) were given the option of accompanying him or being confined in Bengal,The Govt. of India agreed and ordered Bahadur Shah to be sent to Calcutta under a strong escort. His future destination to be intimated to him on arrival.
        In October1859, accompanied by Zeenet Mahal and Jiwas Bakht, they departed from Delhi. ON REACHING CALCUTTA the party were AT ONCE placed on board a warship and conveyed to Rangoon.
        An Interesting Point(War of Independence).Seven years after Bahadur Shah Zafar died,having destroyed the hopes of his age and the independence from British, On 2 October 1869 ,in the city of Porbander, Mohandas Karanchand Gandhi was born

        • Uday Baxi says:

          Dear Mr. Sethi

          Great flash back Sir and good correlation with the birth of Gandhi.
          But, I reiterate again that I was unable to find the detailed journey account of last Mughal emperor. How was the journey completed? how was it funded? Did British provide necessary wherewithal at every stage of halt? How people reacted when they saw the emperor as prisoner? Some of these questions are still un-answered. Plus, there is no account on it from the pen of any native intelligentsia of those times.

          Anyway, I really enjoyed reading your comments. Thanks a lot.

          REgards

          • JNSETHI says:

            That co-relation Of Zafar dying on October 2,1862 ,and Gandhi born on October2 1869,is from the commentary of MJAKBAR-not mine.

  • Appreciate the hard work of Uday. Interesting comments coupled with some interesting facts from Sethi Sir.

  • Tarun Talwar says:

    What an amazing series Uday ji. Very well researched. Awaiting the next.

  • Nandan Jha says:

    Lucid and thought-provoking. Just last week, we were at Delhi Gate and were talking about ‘Khooni Darwaza’. We didn’t time our visit well and landed right at the Iftaar time (eateries are closed while the Iftaari is going on) but we drive around the old Delhi area.

    Often, it is discussed at this forum or having some kind of heritage walk. May be Uday, you can initiate one when your time allows :-).

    Reading Sethi Sir’s comments has always been a rewarding experience. Thank you both. I almost felt like a khadim, at a distance, awed by the conversations between a budding young historian and a wiser (of all the years he has seen) Jatinder :-).

    • Uday Baxi says:

      Dear Sir

      Thanks for appreciation.

      Organising a heritage walk for Ghumakkar friends is a good idea. That will give an opportunity for interaction with those present. I can initiate one on any route/trail. But, I do not know how to coordinate.

      Regards

  • Nandan Jha says:

    @ Uday – Here is some context of the last meet
    http://www.ghumakkar.com/ghumakkar-digest-september-2014/

    I can help with contact email ids and we can socialise and promote the event at Ghumakkar. For logistics, I would suggest that we fall back on one of the online event creation/scheduling/confirmation sites. Vipin used Facebook but there are others as well. Whatever works.

    And a small motley committed group of 15 would be a great quorum. Wishes.

    • Uday Baxi says:

      Thats a great idea. Lets target September-October-November 2015 for some kind of a meet again. In between also a small get-together can also be arranged fro those who are In Delhi/NCR.

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