“Assi varsh ki umar mein bhi, jaga josh purana tha,
Sab kehte hain Veer Kunwar Singh, Bada veer Mardana Tha”
[Even in eighty years, the old exuberance had awakened, All said of brave Kunwar Singh, courageous braveheart was he]
As aptly quoted by R.C. Prasad Singh, Kunwar Singh lived true to the notion of ‘Old Is Gold’. He was close to eighty, and yet, no imperialist could capture him. He had a few days to live, and yet, he pummeled the forces of British imperialism in a way only he knew best. Ever a devoted student of Shivaji, who knew that an old jagirdar from the eastern region of our country would have such an aura, that none could ever vanquish him, neither the British imperialists of the British East India Company, nor their Indian stooges.
Born in November 1782, to parents Raja Sahibzada Singh and Rani Panchratan Devi, Veer Kunwar Singh belonged to the illustrious clan of Ujjainiya Rajputs, who are a sect of the clan of Parmars, known for giving birth to the famous king of Malwa, Raja Bhoj. He was born at Jagdishpur province of the Shahabad [now Bhojpur] district. He had inherited the impulsive behavior and raw courage from his own father, who used to be at loggerheads with the East India Company. Before Sahibzada Singh ascended the throne of Jagdishpur, Kunwar Singh and Dayal Singh had taken birth in his household. Since his ascension, the two brothers, along with the following clan of Rajpati Singh and Amar Singh, were hailed and regarded by the entire clan as lucky charms.
Not much is known of Kunwar Singh’s early life, except for the fact that he had suffered in early education due to the long absence of his father from Jagdishpur. However, he was spiritually inclined and extremely adventurous. He had built a beautiful bungalow in the middle of the forests of Jitaura, which displayed the levels of his architectural inclination.
Kunwar Singh was a dedicated environmentalist too. No sooner had he ascended the throne of Jagdishpur, than he started beautifying his province, which included intensive afforestation, much to the delight of his fellow compatriots and nationalists, and to the deep chagrin of the British East India Company, who considered this move as a significant barrier in their expansion of British Empire in India.
However, the one thing which established Kunwar Singh as a known menace to the Britishers was his tactics of guerilla warfare. A devoted student of the methods of the Maratha braveheart Chattrapati Shivaji Bhonsle, Kunwar Singh, along with his loyal brother Amar Singh extensively practiced the techniques of guerrilla warfare, which not only checked the advance of the British, but also irritated them like anything else.
To quote K.K. Datta, who wrote ‘Biography of Veer Kunwar Singh and Amar Singh’
“…….Throughout the struggles of 1857-59, this very jungle of Jagdishpur, developed with so much care by Kunwar Singh, proved a haven of refuge to his compatriots, and an insurmountable barrier to the English forces. Time and again the English generals wrote to the Government of the difficulties provided by the jungles to the pursuing English forces. There were secret, but well laid out paths throughout the jungles, known only to a small band of Kunwar Singh’s followers, through which they silently passed from one corner to another, baffling their pursuers and sometimes overwhelming them by sudden attacks from hidden resorts……”
However, the real test of Veer Kunwar Singh came up when India was plunged into the Great Revolt of 1857, or as what noted Indian revolutionary Shri Vinayak Damodar Savarkar has rightly termed it as the ‘First War of Indian Independence’.
Veer Kunwar Singh, who had already lost his parents, as well as his second brother Rajpati, who had turned insane. The only brother who actually assisted Veer Kunwar Singh in his battles was his youngest brother Amar Singh, who was both physically and spiritually devoted to the cause of his motherland.
When called upon to take arms, Kunwar Singh was above seventy three and in failing health. Yet, when duty beckoned him, he set himself up. His tactics of guerilla warfare became a nightmare for the Britishers. Kunwar Singh, who had assumed the command of the rebellious soldiers at Danapur, led a surprise attack and liberated Arrah by 27th of July. However, the victory was short lived, as Major Vincent Eyre recaptured it by 3rd of August 1857. During the ongoing fight, one of the bullets hit Kunwar’s left wrist. Having no other alternative, and knowing the consequences of keeping it intact, Kunwar Singh cut his left arm off and offered it to Maa Ganga [Mother Ganges].
Even though Kunwar Singh had liberated Azamgarh, he had to leave the place again, owing to the ruthless pursuit of Brigadier Douglas and Captain Le Grand. However, on 22nd April 1858, he fought the ultimate battle of his life. Despite being injured, Kunwar Singh not only fought back with elan, but also pummeled the British Army brutally, so much that they had to retreat. Kunwar Singh had won his homeland back. Jagdishpur was free once again. However, he did not live to see the independent lands for long. He died, contented and as a free man, in his fort at Jagdishpur on 26 April 1858.
159 years later, it is really saddening to see that Kunwar Singh, the invincible revolutionary, has been relegated to the back pages of Indian history. His life is a huge inspiration to millions of us Indians, as we face another wave of imperialism, this time the Islamic one. As quoted by Abraham Lincoln, “ I like to see a man proud of the place in which he lives. I like to see a man live so that the place will be proud of him.”
- Veer Kunwar Singh’s biography, by K K Datta
- India’s war of Independence, by Vinayak Damodar Savarkar