How Kalyan Singh Gurjar Terrorized the British by Killing Many Britishers in 1822-24
Kalyan Singh Gurjar! He was also nicknamed Kalua Gurjar. He was a pehelwan and a general under the riyasat of Gurjar Raja Vijay Singh during the beginning of 1820s. Such was the level of his atrocities against the British during their transit in the Saharanpur Meerut area that he was termed a ‘Dacoit’ by the colonials. He played an instrumental role in fighting against British forces in 1824 at Koonja Bahadurpur, a principality located in present Roorkie, bordered by Haridwar, Saharanpur, and Dehradun. Sadly, we don’t get to read in History books about the heroic exploits of this brave son of Bharat Mata.
There is not much evidence available about the childhood of Kalyan Singh Gurjar. Cassell’s Illustrated History of India by James Grant contains a detailed account of this brave Gurjar warrior and an entire Gurjar clan numbering over 800 in the Sharanpur-Meerut belt dated 1822-24.
The British had established their supremacy in almost all major parts of India in the beginning of the 1800s. They established direct rule in many princely states while in few places they allowed the rulers to continue their rule against payment of tax and certain terms and conditions. Unfair tax extraction from poor Indians was humdrum for the British. They looted Indian treasure and were unfair in administration. In 1857, there were major revolts across the country. But before this there were several major uprisings and wars which don’t find a place in history books. One is the Uprising of 1822-24 in the Saharanpur Meerut belt. It was led by Raja Vijay Singh and his general Kalyan Singh Gurjar.
Raja Vijay Singh was the ruler of Koonja Bahadurpur. His riyasat extended as far as Saharanpur and Meerut. The raja declared his independence and held siege of Koonja Bahadurpur fort. He made Kalyan Singh Gurjar his general.
The British had stationed forces in colonial outposts across the country. One of their outposts in the Northern belt was located at Saharanpur (British termed it as Saharanpore). Mr. Grindall was then the local magistrate of this region. According to an account by Mr. Grindall, as described in Cassell’s Illustrated History of India that finds mention of Raja Vijay Singh as ‘kower’, “part of the district has risen in rebellion that upwards of 800 men principally Goojurs, headed by a notorious freebooter named Kower, had taken possession of the ghurry of Koonja, in that neighborhood and was committing every species of atrocity. He announced his advent as Kali, the last of the Hindoo avatars, for the purpose of putting an end to the reign of foreigners.”
On one instance, when the British were transporting their treasury from Jawalapur to Saharanpur, escorted by 200 British soldiers, Kalyan Singh Gurjar, led by his men, attacked them. The Gurjars looted the treasury and killed a number of the British forces. The colonial rulers immediately set to action, but in vain. In between 1822-24, Kalyan Singh Gurjar under the advice of the Raja committed more atrocities against the British, looting them and butchering them. And then no British soldier or officer dared to trespass Raja Vijay Singh’s territory. Such was the terror stamped in the British minds!
The British branded the Gurjars as ‘dacoits’ and ‘criminals’. A few British soldiers could not curb the rising rebellion of the Gurjars in the Saharanpur-Meerut region. They needed a robust armed force.
It was the year 1824. British forces employed Gurkhas for this task and marched towards Koonja Bahadurpur. According to Cassell’s Illustrated History of India “Mr. Grindal solicited the aid of 200 rank and file of the Sirmoor Battalion, which had been formed of disbanded Nepaulese in 1815; and this detachment instantly marched, under Captain Young (commanding the corps) accompanied by the Hon Frederick Shore, of the Bengal Civil Service, who with his accustomed zeal and love of enterprise, marched with the little band. Mr. Grindall joined the detachment at Secunderpore with 150 men of the Sirmoor Battalion, attended by Lieutenant Debude, of the Engineers and Dr. Royle, as volunteers.”
Learning about the approaching army of the British towards Koonja Bahadurpur, Raja Vijay Singh, Kalyan Singh Gurjar, and the other Gurjar warriors were all ready to fight. Along the skirts of the village outside the fort, a section of the Gurjar warriors stationed themselves in fighting order. They struck at the advancing British army. A fierce fight ensued between the Gurjars and the British army outside the fort. Many Gurjars were martyred. The British were superior in terms of advanced weaponry and artillery.
Captain Young’s target was to enter the fort. But the walls of the fort were high, which was a hindrance. Climbing up the walls of the fort was impossible, as there was neither detachment nor ladders. And they had no gun to blow open the gate. On Mr. Shore’s suggestion, a large tree was cut and its branches were lopped off by the Ghorkhas using their sharp kookeries. They obtained ropes. Using the ropes and the tree, they rammed against the gate. They made several attempts. At every attempt the Gurjars attacked, thrusting long spears through the opening of the iron gate of the fort. The British opened fire. In the fifth attempt, the British succeeded in making an aperture in the gate, but only large enough to admit of entrance in a stooping posture.
Captain Young dashed through the opening attended by two soldiers and followed closely by Shore and others. As Young rushed on through the opening, a Gurjar warrior, sprang from a corner and was about to strike a desperate blow at the back of the Captain’s neck when Shore came to his rescue. Shore took out his sword and struck at the Gurjar warrior when the latter’s sword just touched Young’s neck. The lifeless trunk of the brave freedom fighter bound past Young. Due to the effect of the blow by the Gurjar mutineer, Young’s neck turned blue.
Soon the British forces penetrated into the fort. A fierce fight ensued thereafter. 150 Gurjars were slain by the British forces inside the fort. Kalyan Singh Gurjar has been described by the British author as a “gallant, athletic and gigantic pehelwan’….who was perfectly naked, with the exception of a middle cloth…he was gaily and fantastically painted, ‘for this, his last battle’. He was armed with a sword and a shield…”
Kalyan Singh Gurjar scornfully addressed Frederick Shore as they advanced towards each other at the flat roof of a house adjoining the ramparts of the fort. The brave Gurjar warrior by then had killed seven soldiers of the British forces using his sword and shield. A fight ensued between Kalyan Singh Gurjar and Shore. Their swords flashed in the setting sun. Such was the might of the Gurjar pehelwan general that Shore’s shield was rendered nearly useless by the loss of its corded handle. Shore could only grasp the two rings to which the shield had been attached. Singh hit several blows with his sword on Shore’s chest. He was about to hit the final death blow to the heavily wounded Shore with his sword when Captain Young, who turned up by then, opened fire at him.
In the British author’s own words, “Captain Young…levelled his ‘Joe Manton’ at the Goojur’s breast; the first barrel flashed in the pan, but a ball from the second pierced his chest just as he was making a desperate cut. The sharp blade swept under Shore’s unsteady shield and gashed his side at the moment his antagonist fell back dead.”
The bullet hit Kalyan Singh Gurjar but such was his aim that his ‘sharp blade swept under Shore’s unsteady shield and gashed his side’ before he fell dead to the ground.
150 Gurjars and 37 British forces lost their lives and several were wounded in the battle within the fort. They captured Raja Vijay Singh; he was later hanged at Saharanpur. Raja Vijay Singh’s head and Kalyan Singh’s waist (dhad) were hung on the main gate of Dehradun Jail. Later the head was transferred to Thomson College (University of Roorkee).
The British captured the local Gurjars, especially men, of Koonja Bahadurpur. In a single day, 100s of them were hung by neck until death on a huge tree. This tree still contains the iron rings (kunde) where they were hung. The British razed the fort to the ground and destroyed the standing structures within.
Do you know Frederick Shore never recovered from his wounds? In the words of the author, “His originally robust constitution never recovered the wounds received at Koonja, though he survived till 1837, when he died at Calcutta, in his thirty-eighth year.”
Salute to Kalyan Singh Gurjar and the brave sons of the soil, who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the motherland.
Featured image courtesy (representation purpose only): picbear.online.
1. Cassell’s Illustrated History of India by James Grant
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