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Paika Rebellion – The 1st war of Indian Independence that has not received its rightful place

Exactly 40 years before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 took place, there was another revolution that shook the then British administration in India. In fact, it was the first organised revolution against the British rule in India. Paika Rebellion, also known as Paika Bidroha, is a story of gallantry, courage and patriotism exactly two hundred years ago.

For the first time in the history of Independent India, the Central government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi has rightly appropriated the historicity of the great event. It is a matter of immense pride that the nation is celebrating the bicentenary of Paika Rebellion.

Paika Rebellion was not just a local event restricted to Odisha. In fact, the struggle inspired many future movements against the British. But strangely, the great historic event has not received the rightful place it deserves in the annals of Indian history, thanks to the Left-leaning historiographers. Nor Odisha has ever done justice to the most significant pride point for the state.

Explained celebrated Odia poet, essayist and columnist Dr Haraprasad Das while speaking to Opindia.com, “We started writing our history for the first time only after Independence. Until Independence, the role of Indian history, including the regional histories that have been written, have been orientalised. We saw ourselves in the light of the British or the foreign vision in which they wanted us to be. The missing chapter of the great Paika rebellion underscores this very fact. There are upteempth number of such historic events in India which are in need of rediscovery.”

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The backdrop

The year was 1803. The British invaders occupied Odisha from the Marathas after laying foundation stone for their Rule in the neighbouring Bengal province in 1757. The first thing the British did after taking of Odisha was snatching away of the management of Jagannath Temple in Puri in 1804 from King Mukunda Dev-II, then ruler of Khordha.

The Paikas

The word Paika is derived form of the word padatika (infantry). Paikas are the traditional landed militia of Odisha based out of Khurda. They used to serve a dual role for the state. During the wartime the Paikas used to serve as warriors and during the peacetime they used to perform the role of police. The Paikas were given vast tracts of agricultural land in return for their service to the state.

The Paikas were divided into three ranks – Prahari, Banua and Bhenkias. The Praharis used to keep a vigil with swords in their hands. The Banua were adept archers. The Dhenkiyas were swordsmen who used to fight in the warfronts.

Why the Paikas revolted?

There are social, political and economic reasons behind Paika rebellion. With the taking over of Odisha by the British East India Company in 1803, the fall of the power of Mukunda Deva II and the reduction of the status of  the Paikas began. The Paikas were squeezed out of their jagir (ancestral) rent-free lands.

The attitude of the British towards the Paikas was underlined by Walter Ewer, who was heading the Commission who remit was to look into the causes of the Paika Rebellion:

“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.”

The British demonetised the prevalent cowrie currency and introduced silver currency. They slapped heavy taxes on the people of Odisha. They imposed ban on making salt from the seawater and at the same time raised the price of the salt.

This gave rise to widespread discontentment against the British in Odisha. The Paikas along with King Mukunda Deva II hatched the plan for a revolt against the British. But soon the plot was discovered and the king’s territory was confiscated.

Buxi Jagabandhu – The hero of Paika rebellion

Buxi Jagabandhu Vidyadhar Mahapatra Bhramarbar Ray was the Buxi (General) of King Mukunda Deva II. In 1814, he was thrown out of his familial estate named as “Rodang” by one KC Singha, a dishonest Bengali Dewan of the then Collector of Puri, by using fraudulent means.

Jagabandhu’s lands were also taken over by the British and he was left penniless. The humiliation perpetrated on the Buxi has further angered the Paikas. When the Paikas rose in revolt, Buxi Jagabandhu was their natural leader and King Mukunda Deva II was their supreme leader.

The rebellion

A full-fledged uprising by Paikas against the British East India Company government broke out in 1817 projecting Lord Jagannath as the symbol of Odia unity.

The uprising, which began from Khurda, quickly spread to other parts of Odisha such as Banpur, Puri, Pipili, Cuttack, Kanika, Kujanga, Pattamundai and Keonjhar before it was ruthlessly put down by the Company forces. Number of rajas (kings), zamindars and scores common people of Odisha participated in the movement.

It is pertinent to mention that Kandha tribals from Ghumusar (now Kandhamal), who were already smouldering discontentment against the British rule on economic and cultural grounds, played a stellar role in the revolution against the British. In March 1817, about 400 Kandha tribals from Ghumusar came marching towards Khurda and joined the Paikas led by Buxi Jagabandhu. Kandhas of Banapur also joined in.

Paika-Kandha joint force set ablaze the police station and post office of Banpur. They killed around 100 British men and looted a whopping Rs 15,000 from the local treasury of the British government.

Then the Paika-Kandha joint army marched towards Khurda, from where the British fled. They killed some native officials of the East India Company. They sacked the local administrative office of the Company and the government treasury in Khurda.

To quell the rebellion, Collector of Cuttack E Impey dispatched two platoons of forces – under Lieutenant Prideaure to Khurda and Lieutenant Faris to Pipli – on 1 April, 1817. The British forces were forced to retreat to Cuttack after they were met with sustained attacks in the hands of rebel forces. Lieutenant Faris was also killed by the Paikas. Similarly, the despatch sent to Pipili was defeated by the Paika-Kandha joint forces. Pipili Police station was looted by the Paikas.

On 1 April, 1817, the Collector of Cuttack marched towards Khurda with 60 soldiers. They were interpreted on their way to Khurda with massive grenade attacks from Paikas. The Collector narrowly escaped in the attack and fled to Cuttack losing his tents, ammunition and elephants.

On 18 April, 1817, the British sent another platoon of 50 soldiers – under Captain Wellington – to Puri with whom the Paikas strongly fought. Unable to resist the attack from Paikas, the British forces fled to Cuttack. The Paika burnt the Puri Court and a number of government quarters there. They captured Puri and declared Mukunda Deva II as supreme ruler of Puri. Pandas of the Jagannath Temple had announced that the British rule had been thwarted and the Gajapati’s reign had been restored.

But the victory was short-lived. The British finally defeated a strong but ill-equipped force of the Paikas and the Kandhas. The British contingent, led by Captain Le Fevere, recaptured Khurda and Puri and proclaimed Martial Law there. Mukunda Dev-II was captured when he was trying to flee.

Post-rebellion

The Paikas kept their resistance alive for some years by resorting to guerrilla warfare technique. In 1818, the British recruited special forces to search, arrest and kill the rebels. The anti-Paika operation continued till 1826. Scores of Paikas were brutally killed by the Company forces, many were imprisoned in Barabati Fort, some banished to Andamans and rest were deported as slaves to work in British colonies abroad.

The British publicly hanged 50 priests of Jagannath Temple. Mukunda Dev died inside the prison on 30 November, 1817. Buxi Jagabandhu died at Cuttack on 24 January, 1829.

The East India Company government appointed a Commission of inquiry in May 1817 to inquire into the causes of the Paika Rebellion. Two Judges were appointed to punish the “offenders”.  By May 1817, the British managed to regain control over Odisha under the newly appointed Commissioner of Cuttack Robert Ker.

Though the Paika rebellion could not succeed, but the great event played the role of a torch bearer in shaping the future freedom movements against British Raj in India.

Post-script

Very obviously it was not the Sepoy Mutiny, but the Paika Rebellion which is the first war of independence against the British. It is time Indian history must correct itself. It is time the Government of India declared Paika rebellion as the first war of independence.

References:

– Buxi Jagabandhu: The path finder of Freedom Movement of India (By Prof BC Ray)
– Economic History of Orissa (By Nihar Ranjan Pattanaik).
– Itihasha prustare Pipili (Pipili on the pages of Histroy) (By Prof Jagannath Patnaik)
– Odishare swadhinata sangramara purbardha (Pre-Independence history of Odisha) (By Dr Braja Mohan Mohanty)
– District Gazetteer of Khordha
– Odisha State Archives
– Martial tradition of Odisha (Odisha State Government reference manual)

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Saswat Panigrahi
Political writer, policy observer.

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