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Tag: Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav

Nilamber and Pitamber -The heroic brothers from Jharkhand – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence – 4

Here is the fourth story in the series of “Azaadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav – Celebrating seventy-five years of Independence”.

This a story of two brothers from the present-day Jharkhand who fought against the British.

Siblings fighting for the common cause of independence was not rare in Bharat. Prominent siblings among the early freedom fighters were the Marudhu brothers from present Tamil Nadu, Chinna Marudhu and Periya Marudhu, who were hanged together by the British. Dheeran Chinnamalai, who gave up his life for the cause of independence was also hanged along with his two brothers who were with him always in his struggles. (The story can be read here)

This story is also about one such set of brothers namely, Nilamber and Pitamber who belonged to a tribal community of the present-day Jharkhand. This is a story which I read very recently and want to share it with you all.

In the early 19th century, there lived a person by name Chemu Singh in the village of Chemo-Senya in Palamau district in Chhota Nagpur area of Jharkhand. He belonged to the Kharwar tribe who had farming as their occupation, but he was a ‘Jagirdar’.

The ‘Jagirdari’ system was started by the Mughal kings in which, a person was made in charge of a particular tract of land to manage the revenue and tax collection. He was called Jagirdar. He did not own the land but had to manage the people cultivating it and collect the taxes. A portion of the collection was given to him as salary. The balance amount was deposited into the treasury. This system continued even after the decline of the Mughal kingdom through the time of the British East India Company till it was abolished by the Indian Government in 1951.

Coming back to the story, Chemu Singh was a kind-hearted person. Therefore, when he collected taxes, he was very considerate and many times collected less revenue taking into account the adversities faced by the farmers. Naturally he had to face the ire of the British Officers who admonished him every time the revenue collected by him was less.

Chemu Singh was married and soon he was blessed with a baby boy Nilamber. Chemu loved his son very much. As Nilamber grew up to be a young boy, he learnt martial arts like archery, sword-fighting and also agriculture. He always accompanied his father when he went to remit the collections to the British officials. Many a time, he saw his father being demeaned and insulted by the officials and he could not bear to witness it. Sometimes the officials threatened his father with removing the ‘jagirs’ under him which meant his father would lose his income. Nilamber often asked his father why he should not fight back. His father could not, somehow, gather the courage to fight back.

In the course of time, Nilamber had a younger brother Pitamber. Nilamber loved his younger sibling very much. In a couple of years, misfortune struck the family and Chemu Singh fell seriously ill. After a few days, he passed away. Pitamber was still a toddler and the death of Chemu Singh came as a big blow to Nilamber and his mother.

Now Nilamber took up agriculture to earn a livelihood. He also took upon himself the responsibility of bringing up Pitamber. He took Pitamber along when he went for work and also taught Pitamber archery, sword fighting and other martial arts which he had learnt himself.

In 1857, the revolt of the Indian soldiers (Sepoy Mutiny) had started against the British at Meerut and the effect had started spreading elsewhere in the country.

Pitamber happened to visit Ranchi at that time and witnessed the soldiers of the Ramgarh Battalion fighting the British.

Subsequently, he also visited Chatra where he witnessed the fight between the British soldiers and the natives. He came to know that this revolt was led by Thakur Viswanath Shahdeo who was ruling the Barkaghar estate and Pandey Ganpat Rai, a chieftain of Lohardaga district.

Pitamber understood that the country had started revolting for her independence. He was greatly inspired by what he saw and rushed back to his village to tell his elder brother. Nilamber was equally inspired and agreed with Pitamber that the time was ripe to jump into this movement for freedom from the shackles of the British East India Company.

Accordingly, the brothers rallied all young men of the various tribes namely Kharwar, Chero and Bhogta clans and gave a call for unity in attacking the foreigners. They announced that they were now ‘independent’ and made it clear that they were no longer under the rule of the British or by anyone who was paying allegiance to the British.

So, on 21st October 1857, a group of about 500 men under the leadership of Nilamber and Pitamber launched their attack on the properties of a local Zamindar by name Raghubir Dayal, of Chainpur. This Zamindar was very loyal to the British and this was the reason for their attack. They knew that this would send a message to the British.

Next another group went to Lesliganj and literally shooed away the British officials using swords and sticks.

The British had never thought in their wildest dreams that a tribal population would ever rise against them and therefore, caught unawares, they were jolted. The acting Commissioner, named Lieutenant Graham, brought about fifty soldiers to fight the them but they were effortlessly driven away and Graham had to hide in the bungalow of the Zamindar Raghubir Dayal!

The army of Nilamber and Pitamber went in hot pursuit and surrounded the bungalow making it difficult for the Lieutenant and his men to come out. The higher officials of the British came to know of this and sent about four hundred soldiers under Major Cotter to assist Lieutenant Graham.

All the soldiers had guns and Nilamber and Pitamber along with their men were outnumbered and had to flee. The British chased them and after a few days caught hold of Devi Baksh who was also fighting along with the brothers.

They tortured Devi Baksh in the hope of getting information on Nilamber and Pitamber’s whereabouts but Devi Baksh would not budge. The tribal men started living in the jungles and attacking property of people who supported the British. Now Lieutenant Graham brought six hundred more men but had no luck in catching Nilamber, Pitamber and the others.

The British were so desperate to finish off the brothers that now they sought help from the Madras Regiment and Ramgarh Cavalry.

With their help, the Commissioner Mr. Dalton decided to go himself to capture the brothers. He started out in the middle of January of 1858 and reached a village near Palamu. There he was met by Lieutenant Graham who informed that the tribal men had taken shelter in the fort at Palamu.

The twin forts at Palamu are still a tourist attraction. They were built by a Chero king Medini Rai in the 17th century. The Chero kings were a powerful clan who ruled this area before the Moghuls attempted to rule this place. The forts were very well built and very strong. The forts had escape ways through tunnels.

On 21st January 1858, Mr. Dalton himself marched to the fort with all these soldiers and ordered firing on the fort. The soldiers were much more in number than Nilamber and Pitamber’s men put together and so the men inside the fort had to flee. As locals, they knew the forts well. So they fled through the secret tunnels into the thick cover of the forests.

The British waited for some time for them to come out but later realized that they had fled through the secret exits. Furious, they tried chasing them. There were about two thousand soldiers targeting Nilamber and Pitamber and their group. However, try as they might, they could not catch them. Mr. Dalton suspected that they would have gone to their village Chemo and led his troops there. He reached there by the middle of February 1858.

On not being able to find Nilamber and Pitamber, an angry Dalton ordered the whole village to be destroyed. The British soldiers targeted the households of the tribals and seized all their cattle and grains and the lands so that neither them nor their families would be able to survive, were they to return to the village from their hiding place.

The British never gave up their search for the brothers and finally in 1859, Nilamber and Pitamber were caught through a covert operation.

The British were jubilant. And as was their practice with anyone who raised their voice for independence, the British hanged Nilamber and Pitamber on 28th March 1859 at Lesliganj.

The voices of the two sons of Jharkhand were silenced, but not before they kindled the thirst for independence in many, many others in this country.

Jharkhand has the Nilamber Pitamber University in honour of these heroic brothers. The area of ‘Daltonganj’ has been renamed as ‘Medininagar’ in honour of the King Medini Rai.

It is time the stories of such heroes occupied the main pages of our history books.

Jai Hind!!

Dheeran Chinnamalai – Celebrating seventy- five years of Independence -1

Bharat, is celebrating its seventy fifth year of Independence this year– Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav.

On this occasion it is my pleasure to narrate the stories of Indian brave-hearts, freedom fighters and precious gems among the general public who have given their whole life for a specific cause and inspired millions of people.

As my contribution to Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, I plan to narrate a story every month for one year beginning this August, on one such inspirational character.

Pleased to begin the series with the story of Dheeran Chinnamalai – a warrior from Kongunadu, who was one of the first to rebel against the British, much before the revolt of 1857.

Prior to independence, present day Tamil Nadu comprised of various regions like Kongunadu, Thondainadu, Pandiyanadu, Cholanadu and so on. The area covering Nilgiris, Coimbatore, Erode and some part of Dharmapuri was called Kongunadu.

Dheeran Chinnamalai was born in this Kongunadu in Melapalayam near Erode in in April 1756 CE to Rathinaswamy Gounder and Periyatha. He was the second of the six siblings. He was named Teerthagiri Sakkarai Manradiyar. His elder brother and the youngest brother took up farming and managing the family’s large tracts of land. His sister was married at the appropriate age.

Teerthagiri, however was much interested in learning martial arts, horse riding, archery and warfare. With his other two brothers following suit, they took upon them the task of protecting their territory consisting of many villages from dacoits, robbers and infiltrators and solving disputes through Panchayats. They also trained the local youth in the villages in horse riding and wielding the sword and archery. Since they protected a territory known as ‘Palayam’ in Tamil, they were called ‘Palayakkarars’. Other notable Palayakkarars were Veerapandiya Kattabomman and Marudhu brothers of whom Teerthagiri was a contemporary.

(The Marudhu brothers were associated with yet another brave queen Rani Velu Nachiyar whose story I have already written in my blog. You can click here to read it)

Coming back to our story, the area of Kongunadu, was under the reign of Hyder Ali of Mysore. Once Teerthagiri and his brothers came to know that Mohammed Ali, a Diwan (minister) from Mysore was collecting taxes using unfair methods, from the people of their villages. This infuriated Teerthagiri.

He and his brothers confronted the minister at a place between two mountains Sivan Malai and Senni Malai. The minister was shocked at being accosted thus. The men then pounced on the minister and snatched the money bag from him.

“We will give back the money to the villagers!” said Teerthagiri. “If your king asks for the money, tell him that a ‘Chinna Malai’ (small mountain) between Senni Malai and Sivan Malai took away the money.” He laughed aloud at the thought of referring to himself as ‘Chinna Malai’.

The angry minister retorted, “Don’t play with the king His Highness Hyder Ali Saab! You will soon face the consequences!”

“King? What king?” chuckled Teerthagiri. “Go and tell him that we people from Kongunadu can rule ourselves quite well. We don’t need a king from Mysore to rule over us!”

The startled minister had to beat a hasty retreat. Teerthagiri distributed the money back to those from whom it was collected. The villagers were overjoyed and started to address Teerthagiri as ‘Chinnamalai’ and the name stuck. Because of his heroic deeds he was addressed as ‘Dheeran Chinnamalai’.

Hyder Ali’s minister returned to Mysore seething with anger and humiliation. He arranged for a battalion of soldiers to be sent to attack Chinnamalai.  Chinnamalai and his men met them and defeated them at the banks of the Noyyal river. This was despite the fact that Chinnamalai had very less men with him.

This was the first time Chinnamalai was actually fighting an armed contingent, and in a way, his first battle. Now, he realized that he would have to fight with a bigger contingent of Hyder Ali any time. In preparation for the same, Chinnamalai and his brothers recruited lot of young men and started training them in warfare methods, archery etc. He had the full support of the villagers and his elder brother and his wife gladly played host to the crowds which thronged to their place on account of these activities.

Chinnamalai was nothing short of a king except that he was not specifically crowned as one. However, there was no retort from Hyder Ali for the defeat by Chinnamalai. Hyder was busy fighting the British and other enemies of his. The heroic deed of Chinnamalai though, was now known everywhere including in the Mysore state.

In 1782 CE, Hyder Ali died and he was succeeded by his son Tipu Sultan. Tipu was totally against the British and had frequent clashes with them. Tipu had heard about the bravery of Chinnamalai and sent messengers to request Chinnamalai to join his side in fighting against the British. The British had humiliated Tipu in the third Anglo Mysore war to a very great extent that Tipu was making big plans to avenge his humiliation.

Though Chinnamalai had reservations in joining Tipu Sultan, for the greater good of liberating our land from the clutches of the British, he agreed and went along with his army, his brothers and their trusted lieutenants Karuppan and Velappan. This army was called the Kongu regiment and Dheeran Chinnamalai was the chief. This regiment was of great support to Tipu Sultan. Tipu Sultan was taking the help of the French and the French were supporting Tipu and also trained his warriors. This training benefited the Kongu regiment.

However, in the Fourth Anglo Mysore war in 1799 CE, Tipu Sultan was killed. British also captured Chinnamalai’s lieutenant, Velappan. Velappan promised the British that he would work for them as their agent.

Chinnamalai and his men returned to Kongu and in a place called Oda Nilai, Chinnamalai built a fort and resumed his training activities knowing fully well that there would be wars with the British in future and he had to be prepared. He started manufacturing arms also. The British came to know of this and could not digest the fact that an individual was doing all this activity independently.

This was the period of the Second Polygar war between the Palayakkarars and the British. ‘Polygar’ was a crude pronunciation of the word ‘Palayakkarar’ by the British.  After Veerapandiya Kattabomman (who was also a Palayakkarar) was hanged to death on Oct 16,1799 by the British, his brother Oomathurai, the Marudhu Brothers, Pazhassi Raja of Malabar had together formed a grand alliance covertly and there was a joint uprising against the British. Arms were being manufactured in secret factories including in Oda Nilai. The Palayakkarars and their men were also receiving clandestine training from the French.

The British barracks at Coimbatore were being attacked. But the British could not travel there easily and had to pass through thick jungles under cover, because of the presence of Dheeran Chinnamalai and his army in the Kongu region. He was a thorn in their flesh. And he was not even a crowned king! They could simply not digest his audacity.

They sent word to him to sign a pact with them and promised him favours. But Chinnamalai would not budge to give up freedom for anything in return. So now, the British sent a contingent of soldiers in 1801 CE under Colonel Maxwell to attack Chinnamalai. Chinnamalai had advance information and defeated them on the same banks of Noyyal as he had done with the soldiers of Mysore earlier.

The British sent soldiers once again in 1802 CE and yet again they miserably failed. They waited and waited and again in 1804 CE, they sent General George Harris who had actively taken part in the Fourth Anglo-Mysore war. This time they had information that Chinnamalai with all his people would be visiting a local temple at Arachalur for the festivities. The plan was that George Harris would go and occupy the fort when no one was there and then attack when Chinnamalai and his people came back from the temple.

When General Harris came, the fort appeared unoccupied. But suddenly, Chinnamalai rode from the inside of the fort in lightning speed, and threw hand grenades at the surprised Harris and his men. There was utter chaos as the horses ran hither-thither neighing aloud, throwing their riders off their backs. Harris had to retreat hurriedly.

The adamant British, however, would not give up. And this time they sent a huge army with cannons also to attack the fort.

Yet again, General Harris got a shock as he found the fort completely empty. It seemed abandoned. He went inside and as he was looking around, he found a pair of sandals. Interestingly one sandal was split open with a chit sticking out. As the curious Harris picked it up, it contained a message and to his shock, he found that it was a message from Velappan (whom the British had captured in the Mysore war) informing Chinnamalai of the plan of Harris.

Velappan had actually been informing Chinnamalai every time by sending pairs of new sandals in which chits were hidden. That was how Chinnamalai was always prepared when attacked.

Harris was furious and shot Velappan dead. In his anger, with the cannons he had, he completely destroyed the fort, razing it to the ground. The act of inadvertently leaving the sandal at the fort had cost Chinnamalai the life of his friend Velappan.

Chinnamalai, now with his brothers went into hiding in the forest in an area known as Karumalai. Their lieutenant Karuppan, was stationed at Melapalayam to keep them informed of what the British were up to. Chinnamalai and his brothers went about in disguise into the nearby villages during the day and went into hiding in the forest, at night.

In the village they met a person Nallappan who seemed to be very hospitable. Nallappan was a cook by profession and he volunteered to provide dinner for the brothers every day at his place. The offer was accepted by Chinnamalai and his brothers and they regularly dined there at night.

Nallappan was actually a snake in the grass and was greedy for wealth and was exactly the type of person British would use for carrying out their malicious intentions. Nallappan, lured by the British, allowed them to dig a trench from afar right up to the inside of his house. And one night when Chinnamalai and his brothers were having dinner in a relaxed mood, the British soldiers came inside through the trench.

Chinnamalai and his brothers, totally caught unawares, were outnumbered. Quickly understanding the role of Nallappan in this drama, Chinnamalai strangulated him to death then and there. The British arrested him along with his brothers and took them to a prison at Sankagiri near Salem. Karuppan who was hiding at Melapalayam also surrendered. The British talked to Chinnamalai asking him to accept their supremacy and pay taxes to them in which case he would be set free and pardoned. Chinnamalai flatly refused the offer. So arrangements were made to hang the four of them from a tamarind tree which was on top of the Sankagiri fort. This was in 1805 CE.

On the day of hanging Chinnamalai and his brothers told the executioners to move away. They then took the ropes themselves and thrust their necks into the nooses and jumped from the fort, hanging themselves in the process.

Four brave-hearts were wiped out from Bharat, the land which they considered more precious than their own mothers. Brave-hearts, who lived as per the saying, “Janani Janmabhumishcha Swargadapi Gariyasi” meaning mother and motherland are dearer than even heaven.

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