How an Unknown Hindu Yogi Shot Dead a British Captain in Front of British Army in 1857!
The War of Independence of 1857! Part of the many divisions of the British army marched towards Kanpur, then called Cawnpore, from Calcutta on 21st of September. They were to reach Lucknow via Benares, Allahabad, Futtehpore, and Kanpur. Around 2200 Indian sepoys had laid siege of the British Residency in Lucknow including Sikandar Bagh. Sikandar Bagh was a villa and garden spread over an area of 4.5 acres located in Lucknow. It was built as a summer residence during the first half of the 19th century by Wajid Ali Shah, the last Nawab of Oudh. This villa had a fortified wall along the boundary on all four sides.
The Ninety-Third Sutherland Highlanders, also a part of the British army used rail, bullock carts to reach this destination. They also marched on foot, especially in areas where rail facility was not available. Elephants were used to carry tents and other necessities including ammunition. En route to Kanpur, the Highlanders reached Benares on the 17th of October 1857.
The British Army dreaded the freedom fighters of the region from Benares to Allahabad. In the words of William Forbes-Mitchell, a Sergeant with the Ninety-Third Sutherland Highlanders, who wrote about the 1857 War of Independence in his book Reminiscences of the Great Mutiny wrote, “From Benares we proceeded by detachments of two or three companies to Allahabad; the country between Benares and Allahabad, being overrun by different bands of mutineers, was too dangerous for small detachments of one company.”
According to this book by William Forbes-Mitchell, railway tracks have been built up to Lohunga, about forty-eight miles from Allahabad. This line was to connect Kanpur. No stations were built. A considerable force of the British army assembled in Allahabad.
Missionary workers involved in converting the Hindus to Christianity were active in this region during that time. Mitchell mentions about meeting a group of missionary workers at Futtehpore, located seventy-two miles from Allahabad. He wrote, “I met some native Christians whom I had first seen in Allahabad, and who were, or had been, connected with mission work, and could speak English. They had returned from Allahabad to look after property which they had been obliged to abandon when they fled from Futtehpore on the outbreak of the Mutiny.” This proves that the War of Independence of 1857 affected missionary workers too. Had the war been a success, India would have been a different nation today! Maybe there was lack of communication amongst the freedom fighters across the length and breadth of the country, which led to their failure.
Freedom fighters from Banda and Dinapore and adjoining areas, “numbering over ten thousand men, with three batteries of regular artillery, mustering eighteen guns” crossed the Yamuna River to check the advances of the British army. Mitchell mentions about this in his book, but there is no mention whether any skirmish between the two forces occurred.
The British Army reached Kanpur. Indian sepoys and civilians of Kanpur had laid siege of the city in June 1857. The sepoy forces captured 120 British women and children, killed them, and threw their dead bodies in wells. This came to be known as the Bibighar Massacre. The incident drew hateful criticism amid the British in India and their home country. The angry British recaptured Kanpur and started widespread retaliation, killing and hanging captured sepoys and civilians. Brigadier Wilson of the Sixty-Fourth Regiment was in command of Kanpur when more forces of the British directed for Lucknow reached this city.
Mitchell happened to meet a man, a local guide, a Mohammedan from Peshawar, who could speak broken English and who knew many secrets. He took him to the “slaughter-house in which the unfortunate women and children had been barbarously murdered, and the well into which their mangled bodies were afterwards flung.”
The Peshawari guide narrated a secret related to Nana Sahib, who led the uprising in Kanpur. Nana Sahib was the adopted son of the exiled Maratha Peshwa Baji Rao II and adopted brother of Rani Laxmi Bai of Jhansi. According to the guide’s account, Nana Sahib, through a spy, tried to bribe the commissariat bakers who had remained with the English. He asked them to put arsenic into the bread they baked for the British. The bakers were Mohammedans. They refused to add poison to the bread. After the Bibighar Massacre, Nana Sahib had these bakers “taken and put alive into their own ovens, and there cooked and thrown to the pigs.”
The British army marched from Kanpur towards Lucknow. They reached the outskirts of a village on the east side of Secunderabagh (Sikandar Bagh) in November (1857). They made a short halt at the centre of the village. They came across a Yogi in meditation, which Mitchell described as ‘naked wretch’. The British never termed the Indians with respect then. The Yogi looked like a bodybuilder. His head was cleanly shaven except a shikha (a tuft of hair at the back of head) adorning it. It was a ritual followed by not only Brahmins but also many other Hindus. Out of the seven chakras or energy centres in the human body, the shikha is believed to cover that part of the skull wherein lies the Shasrara Chakra. The tuft of hair is retained to protect it. Mitchell’s book finds no mention of the name of this Yogi. His body was smeared with ashes and his face painted in white and red. He was seated on a leopard’s skin. He was counting a rosary of beads when the British army saw him.
In the words of Mitchell, the Yogi “was of a strong muscular build, with his head closely shaven except for the tuft on his crown, and his face all streaked in a hideous manner with white and red paint, his body smeared with ashes. He was sitting on a leopard’s skin counting a rosary of beads”.
James Wilson, a British soldier aimed his bayonet at the Yogi, addressing him a ‘painted scoundrel’ and ‘murderer’. Another officer, Captain A. O. Mayne, Deputy Assistant Quartermaster-General of that troop, stopped him. Mayne said that Hindu Yogis were harmless. He had just scarcely uttered the words and his sentence not yet completed when the Yogi stopped counting the beads, took out a pistol, and fired at the chest of Captain Mayne in seconds. It all happened at the lightning’s pace! Mayne lay dead. The British army could not stop his action then.
Here is what Mitchell described about the encounter, “The words had scarcely been uttered when the painted scoundrel stopped counting the beads, slipped his hand under the leopard skin, and as quick as lightning brought out a short, brass, bell-mouthed blunderbuss and fired the contents of it into Captain Mayne’s chest at a distance of only a few feet. His action was as quick as it was unexpected, and Captain Mayne was unable to avoid the shot, or the men to prevent it.”
Immediately, the army was set to action. The Yogi was already surrounded by thousands of the British army at the time of the assassination. They quickly bayoneted and shot him dead.
Was he really a Yogi? Or was he only waiting, disguised, to kill a high ranking British officer without fearing for his life? No records of History mention this! Thanks to the account by Mitchell. My India My Glory salutes the valor of the unknown Yogi. Jai Hind!
Ref: The Project Gutenberg EBook of Reminiscences of the Great Mutiny 1857-59, by William Forbes-Mitchell
Featured image courtesy: Wikipedia (The 93rd Highlanders storming the Secundra Bagh National Army Museum, London (NAM 1987-06-12) and panchadravida.com