It is generally believed that Gujarat remained dormant during 1857; that the Revolt had no impact on Gujarat, nor did the inhabitants of the region show any sympathy towards the rebels. However, this impression is erroneous because there were several incidents in Gujarat during the period 1857-59 which were directly linked to the Revolt. This article looks at the upheaval in Gujarat, especially in the region of Saurashtra or Kathiawad in one of the important pilgrimage centers of Hindus, Dwarka.
Against the backdrop of the rebellion in northern and central India, the insurrection broke out in various parts of Gujarat. Some stray skirmishes took place against British rule in Ahmadabad, Dahod, and Godhra. But the Dwarka have an important role to play in 1857.
There was a major uprising in the peninsular region of Gujarat. This region is called Saurashtra or Kathiawad. The peninsula of Saurashtra presented a conglomeration of 222 big and small princely states. In this region the most important rebellion was that of the Waghers of Okhamandal (comprising Dwarka, Bet, Okha). The Waghers had dominated the region till the Gaekwads established their rule in Okhamandal. Okhamandal continued to be a part of the Baroda state of the Gaekwads even after Baroda had accepted overall British supremacy. The Waghers looked upon both the Gaekwads and the British as their enemies.
The following excerpts from the book ‘Saurashtra no itihas – 1807 – 1948’ (History of Saurashtra), by A.V. Jani, published by Darshak Itihas Nidhi (Darshak history fund), give some idea of the 1857-58 revolt in Okhamandal.
On the eve of the uprising of 1857, there spread a rumor in Okhamandal that the rebels had succeeded in ousting the British from India. Pilgrims coming from north India to the famous shrines of Dwarka and Bet (which are situated in Okhamandal) carried news about the spread of the Revolt in different parts of the subcontinent, thereby reinforcing the rumor. The Waghers felt that this was an opportune moment to rebel against the Gaekwads and their colonial masters and liberate the region. In 1858 the Waghers were mobilized by Jodha Manek and his nephew Mulu Manek to carry out a struggle to overthrow the rule of the Gaekwads.
The Waghers attacked the Gaekwad army and British troops stationed in the Baroda state. The troops were forced to retreat and the rebels established their control over Dwarka and Bet. Jodha Manek was the leader of the rebels and he was declared ‘king of Dwarka’. He expelled Govind Rao, the thanedar of the Gaekwad, and took over the administration of the area. Many of the retreating soldiers of the Gaekwad’s army were killed by the people. The Waghers captured 28 guns, 2000 arms, 1000 maunds of gunpowder, 700 pounds of sulphur and 125 vessels from Dwarka, Bet, and Okha.
The entire area remained under the control of the rebels till 1859.
The British responded immediately to this critical situation which resulted in the liberation of Okhamandal. The Bombay government asked for troops to be sent immediately to help the Baroda state to suppress the revolt. A contingent of 1350 troops under Col. Donavan was despatched to deal with the rebellion. This contingent was to be reinforced by troops under Col. Scribe who was ordered to march from Rajkot to Dwarka. However, the arrival of the Rajkot troops got delayed.
BRUTALITY AT BET AND DWARKA
Upon reaching Bet, Col. Donavan’s army launched a major offensive from sea and land on October 4, 1859. The naval offensive was carried out by warships Empress of India, Victoria, and Clide. There was heavy bombardment of rebel positions by the warships. The Waghers put up a brave resistance. In this engagement Capt. Mecormack of the 28th Regiment and Williams of the 6th Regiment were killed along with ten other British soldiers. Many more officers and soldiers were wounded. The two officers who were killed in this battle were buried at Bet and their graves can still be seen at the place.
The Wagher leader Deva Chhabani was also killed. This was a great loss to the rebels. But most of the rebels were able to move from Bet to Dwarka. They established their control over Dwarka on Dussehra. After the recapture of Bet, the British army demolished the Bet fort, destroyed temples and other structures, and looted treasure amounting to over three lakh rupees from the temples. The soldiers indiscriminately massacred innocent men, women, children, and killed cattle and horses.
The brutality displayed by the British at Bet caused widespread anger among the Waghers and other people of the region. They now began to make preparations to challenge the British from their base in Dwarka. When Col. Donavan learnt of this he rushed to the place along with his troops. Dwarka was attacked from both sea and land. The warships Zonabia and Firoz engaged in heavy shelling on October 31, 1859. Though the rebels put up a determined fight the British army proved superior. The rebels were defeated and Dwarka was captured. A large number of Waghers escaped to the nearby Abhapara hills.
In Dwarka the British repeated the cruelties that they had perpetrated in Bet. Temples and other structures were demolished; humans and cattle were killed; jewels and treasure was looted. This led to protests by rulers of Kutch, Porbandar and Jamnagar. Chambers of commerce also joined in the protest. Representations were made for the return of treasure that had been looted from temples. The Gaekwad and British authorities were warned that if the treasure was not restored there would be widespread discontent in the region. The Bombay government was forced to take note of the incidents and intervened to reassure the rulers of princely states that the treasure would be restored and that such incidents would not occur in future.
After the defeat of the rebels at Dwarka most of the Waghers surrendered their arms by 1859. Some of the leaders were arrested and were sentenced to imprisonment for terms extending from two to twelve years. Many other rebels under the leadership of Jodha Manek and Mulu Manek however continued to elude the authorities. They found shelter in the hill range of Abhapara. From here they carried out a guerilla struggle. The British saw this as a continuation of the 1857 Revolt. The continuing struggle in the Abhapara region needed to be crushed urgently. The princely rulers of Saurashtra were asked to render their support in this task. Accordingly the Junagadh state sent Diwan Anantji Amarchand with 700 soldiers; Jamnagar state sent Jalamsinh Jadeja with 1000 soldiers; Porbandar state sent Diwan Karamchand Gandhi with 200 soldiers and Gondal state sent Manishanker Nibheram Vaidya with 400 soldiers. They joined the British army led by Major Hommer. This princely army of 2300, along with the British army, jointly carried out military operations against the remaining Wagher rebels in the Abhapara hills and forced them to disband by the end of 1859. Jodha Manek escaped with some of his supporters and eventually died in 1860 at Sasan in Gir, where he was cremated.
A small band of Waghers continued their struggle from their hidden shelters in the hills of Barda and Gir under the guidance of their leaders Deva and Mulu Manek, who was later betrayed, captured and sentenced to imprisonment for fourteen years, though he managed to escape from jail as well. By this time the struggle had been completely suppressed.
This forgotten chapter in the history of the Revolt has to be seen as part of the larger struggle of the people of Gujarat against colonial oppression and against the collaborationist role of a large number of princely states. The fact that Gujarat did not remain unaffected by the upheaval of 1857 underlines the wide geographical extent of the Revolt. Further, as was the case in many parts of the subcontinent, the rebellion in the Okhamandal area of Saurashtra went on beyond 1857-58, thereby providing a link with the struggles of the post-1857 period.
1. Sketches of Jodha Manek and Mulu Manek can be seen on the link: http://www.jhaverchandmeghani.com/life-2.htm
2. Jhaverchand Meghani, the well known figure in Gujarati literature has written about the life and struggles of these heroes in his book Sorthi Baharvatiya.