Unsung Heroes

Mangal Pandey : Spearheading the First War of Independence in 1857 On his Martrydom Day – 8th April 2020

Mangal Pandey was a young soldier in the 34th battalion of Bengal Native Infantry (BNI). He was a member of the revolutionary party. It was decided by the British officers that the 19th battalion was to have a trial run of the newly acquired cartridges, that had a coating of cows’ / pigs’ fat, at Barakpur near Calcutta. Before inserting the cartridges in the guns, the casing had to be removed with the teeth and thus fat would come in contact with the soldier’s mouth. Therefore, the soldiers not only refused to use these cartridges but they revolted against this experiment.

The British officers did not react as they were outnumbered but they decided to call in for reinforcements and have British soldiers from Burma (Mynamar) come in and disarm the soldiers of this battalion, humiliate them and throw them out. This plan was to be put into effect in Barakpur. Mangal Pandey was enraged at the idea of the humiliation of his brethren. He revered his Dharma more than his own life. He was virtuous and his bearing and appearance was radiant. An electrifying desire for freedom was within him and it surged through his veins. His very sword seemed to become impatient to be released from its sheath. How can the sword of Kshatraveers (Warriors) remain in its sheath when faced with gross injustice ?

The leap into the parade ground

A plan was made by Shrimant Nanasaheb Peshwa to start a revolutionary war against the British regime at various places on 31st May. But Mangal Pandey could not bear the idea of the utter humiliation that his own people from the 19th battalion would be put through. He thought that on that very day, his battalion should revolt and he loaded his gun. The day was 29th March 1857. He lept into the parade ground and started inspiring the Indian soldiers to fight against the injustice. He appealed to them to wake up and attack. He said to the soldiers, “Now do not back off O’ brothers, attack ! Remember your pledge to Dharma. Come on, let us destroy the enemy for our freedom !”

Sergeant Major Hewson ordered his capture, but not a single soldier moved. In fact, Hudson was hit with a bullet fired by Mangal Pandey. On seeing this, Lieutenant Baugh came towards Mangal Pandey riding on his horse but the bullet coming out of Mangal Pandey’s gun went through the horse and it collapsed along with Baugh. Before Mangal Pandey could re-load his gun, Baugh took out his gun but Mangal Pandey was not afraid. He took out his sword. Baugh fired at him but Mangal Pandey dodged and overpowered Baugh with his sword. Both, Hewson and Baugh ran away.

Traitor Shaikh Paltu

In the meantime, a soldier named Shaikh Paltu went towards Mangal Pandey, who thought that he must be coming to help since he belonged to the same battalion; instead, he caught hold of Mangal Pandey from behind. Mangal Pandey managed to shake him off when the Indian soldiers started pelting stones and throwing boots at Shaikh, who also ran away fearing for his life.

In a short while, Colonel Wheeler reached there and he ordered the soldiers to capture Pandey. The soldiers however, firmly told Wheeler that they would not touch the virtuous Brahman. Watchful of the stance taken by the soldiers and seeing the blood of the British officers, the Colonel too ran towards his bungalow. Later, Hearsey came with many European soldiers; but by that time, it was noon and Mangal Pandey was tired. As he realised that he would now be caught by the British, he turned the gun towards his chest and fired. He collapsed on the ground and lost consciousness, only after which the British could capture him. Injured, Pandey was taken to the military hospital.

Within a week, he was tried in the Military Court. This radiant young Kshatraveer, who revered his Dharma more than his life, was asked to give the names of others who were a part of his plan; but Mangal Pandey did not disclose a single name. He was sentenced to death. This harbinger of revolution who sacrificed his life to prevent the insult of his brethren, created so much of admiration among the people that it became difficult to get a hangman for his execution in the whole of Barakpur. Finally 4 people from Calcutta were brought in for the dirty job.

The leader of the contingent of which Mangal Pandey was a soldier, was killed by the British. The battalions 19 and 34 were disarmed and withdrawn. This, however, had a reverse effect on the soldiers; instead of getting scared, hundreds of soldiers tore their uniforms that were a sign of bondage and they took a dip in the Holy Ganges for cleansing them off their sin of carrying the chains of bondage.

Offering of blood to the Sun of Freedom !

On 8th April, Mangal Pandey was taken to the gallows with soldiers keeping a vigil on him. He climbed the gallows fearlessly and once again declared that he would not disclose any name when the scaffolding was removed from under his feet to hang him. Thus, Mangal Pandey became the first revolutionary to offer his blood at the feet of his Motherland in the War of 1857. The impact of his name was so great that the British started calling all soldiers in this Independence War by the name of ‘Pandey’.

Many patriots were inspired by his sacrifice for the country and Dharma to sacrifice their own lives for the freedom of their countrymen.