Surendra ……Surendra…the return of the valiant fighter :
Mid-August 1857…The atmosphere in Sambalpur town on the bank of mighty Mahanadi in Odisha was boisterous yet tense.
The people had a great time few days back in celebrating Nuakhai – the pre-harvest festival.
In addition, the Dasaharaa was round the corner.
But, people in Sambalpur were anxious, worried yet something unknown had made them happy with trepidation.
The sky was getting reddish with rays of the set-down Sun.
All of a sudden there was a thundering yell from nowhere.. Surendra aayelaa na re.. ( Surendra has arrived).
Those who listened to the voice almost got stand-still. They looked at each other and here and there with a sense of disbelieve and awe.
Then all of them witnessed the most dramatic moment of their lives. A tall, tan-skinned, well-built, bare-chest man with an armlet with religious significance in his right fore-arm descended from a grey coloured horse.
After getting down, he offered a mudiaa [traditional way of bowing to anyone as a mark of deep respect and gratitude]by touching his forehead to the soil with his two hands enjoined above his head.
People were watching with gasping breath yet not able to see his face clearly as lustrous hair covered his face.
But a gasp of fresh air from Mahanadi flowing nearby lifted the hair from his face and reddish light of Sun made visible his tanned face with a long moustache.
There was huge uproar with people screamed Surendra …Surendra …..In response to the rousing sound from the assembled people, the tall man raised his Khandaa ( sword) and said with a baritone voice…Jai Maa Samlei… Juhaar…Mui Surendra Sai..
It was roar of the lion.
Once again people screamed Jai Maa Samlei…Surendra Sai ki jai. It was Veer Surendra Sai, the valiant fighter who raised his voice and put up a valiant armed fight against the British and claimed his right over the throne of Sambalpur.
He was captured and put behind bar in Hazaribagh jail in 1840.
In a miraculous turn of event in 1857 Surendra and his followers were set free by the mutineers of 1857 and Sai retuned to Sambalpur with his brother Uddanta Sai after being incarcerated for 17 years in Hazaribagh jail.
Once he reached Sabalpur , his clarion call for Ulgullan [struggle for self-rule] made him a savior of the common people.
Valour in veins
Born in 1809 in Khindaa village near Sambalpur, Surendra Sai revolted against the British at the tender age of eighteen in 1827.
He led the armed struggle against the British as they anointed Mohan Kumari as the ruler of Sambalpur.
He fought for the dignity of his native land, her people and against the tyrannical British rule.
His heroic struggle was certainly unique and praiseworthy as it was one of the earliest armed struggles towards the freedom of the country.
Almost 3 decades before the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, he comes across as the torch bearer of the freedom struggle in the valley of Mahanadi in Eastern India as he organized the armed uprising against the Britsih in 1827.
He had received the wholehearted support of many Zamindaar [Landlords and rulers], Gountiaas [village headman] and may tribal community like the Binjhaal and others.
The most notable contributions have been by the Zamindaar of Ghess village.
The Debar settlement which empowered the British to collect tax five times more helped him in obtaining the support from the oppressed common residents of Sambalpur.
The armed attack with guerilla warfare technique had made him almost invincible for the British.
Sai had literally cut off the connectivity to Raipur, Ranchi and Katak by reigning in the control of Singhoda pass, Jharghati and Birghati etc.
The way he ambushed the British convoy at Jujumora near Sambalpur and killed Dr Moore who was on his way to Sambalpur to treat the wounded British soldiers highlights his strategic precision in armed attack.
Subsequently, the killing of Capt Wood who attacked Veer Suendra Sai in Kudopali near Sambalpur also shows his acumen in warfare with primitive arms and ammunitions in comparison to the British.
Fought British empire as a lone lion till 1862:
The unique significance of Surendra Sai’s valiant fight was his indomitable courage to carry out the armed struggle till 1862 where as the struggle started with the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 got extinguished within a short span.
It is pertinent to quote a letter written on 23 January 1865 by the Secretary to Chief Commissioner to Secretary, Foreign Departments, Government of India which underlines the significance of Veer Surendra Sai’s indomitable struggle.
The letter says, ‘ the Sambalpur district was perhaps the last district in India in which the embers of the disturbances of 1857 were finally stamped out.
Veer Surendra Sai not only led a relentless armed struggle against the British but sacrificed almost four decades of his life in jail which paved the way for the freedom of the country and restoration of her glory.
The indomitable courage, relentless struggle and dedication to safeguard the honour of motherland and dignity of her residents have been enduring legacy of Veer Surendra Sai.
The author is a public policy expert and can be reached at email@example.com