Sunday, July 09, 2006

The first Sepoy Mutiny

The Sepoy mutiny is famously thought of as happening in 1857. Even the recent Mangal Pande movie was focused on that. But did you know that the first Sepoy Mutiny actually happened in my hometown in 1806? July 10th is the Bicentenary of this incident in Vellore Fort.

After the demise of Tipu Sultan the prince of Mysore, his entire family was captured and kept in Vellore Fort by the British. The Indian soldiers were forced not to follow their own traditions. Hindus were not allowed to wear the mark on their forehead and Muslims were forced to shave their head and beard. The soldiers who protested were publicly given 900 lashes. These soldiers decided on the first Sepoy mutiny. A traitor named Mustapha Baig provided information about this revolt to the officers but the revolutionaries got wind of this betrayal and pre-poned the mutiny from July 14 to July 10.

On July 9th was the wedding celebration of Tipu Sultan's daughter, an unknown soldier opened the fort gates and let in a number of soldiers. At 3am they attacked all the British soldiers in the fort and raised Tipu's flag on the fort and crowned Fateh Hyder, the second son of Tipu as King. Major Gootes an officer ran to Ranipet (about 30km from Vellore) to get help. Her Majesty's 19th Dragons led by Col. Gillespie reached the spot at 7am and launched an assault on the fort killing 800 soldiers and arresting 600 and hanging 17. Those who were captured were jailed in the Vellore and Trichy Jails. Monuments for the slain British soldiers were made in the Central Church here.

After Independence, a memorial for the slain Indian soldiers was created in the junction between Bangalore Road and Officers lane in Vellore by the then Chief Minister Karunanidhi in 1998. Today the fort has been taken over by the Archaeological survey of India. The fort now houses the Jalagandeshwar Temple (for Shiva) and also a Mosque and the Central Church is right opposite the Fort Maidan now providing a place for unity in diversity where all are free to follow their own traditions. Many people visit all places of worship irrespective of their religion. Outside the complex is a statue of Gandhi to show that what could not be achieved through weapons was achieved through sheer will power.

The city's administrative services and police training grounds including facilities for Hockey, Badminton, football, basketball and athletics are also available within the fort complex apart from the Thiruvalluvar college. I also visited a unique museum with rare bronzes of Shiva, Vishnu, Durga and Mahavira from the 9th century and anthropological analysis of the life of ancient people in the district, flora and fauna of the days gone by. Unique is a Greek coin used for Indo-Greek trading in 160B.C (Megasthenes the greek ambassador to India at that era travelled as far south as Madurai establishing international relations).

To celebrate the 200th anniversary, the place where Tipu's Family was kept captive is open to public till July 11th only. Tipu's family was buried nearby (on the way to Sathuvachari) and the burial ground is also available to those who visit Vellore during this memorable time.


Gowri said...

Written so well. I did not know Vellore holds such history. Thank you, Kalyan.

your cousin from Canada

Anonymous said...

Wow, this was a really quality post. In theory I' d like to write like this too - taking time and actual effort to make a great article... but what can I say... I procrastinate alot and in no way appear to get something done.