Interactive Archive Project

Legends, Ballads and Folk Tales
about the 1857 Revolt from Around the World

1.The Baba of Shahabpur - India

About 25 kilometers from Allahabad on the Lucknow highway, there is a village called Shahabpur. Hindus, Muslims, Lower Castes and Middle Castes live in this village in sizeable numbers. The village has a good number of mango orchards filled with mango trees that have large sweeping branches and are laden with unripe mangoes. These trees provide shade to tired passers by who like to refresh themselves under them. In one of these orchards under one of the trees there is a big mound of clay which is referred to by the people as Sangram Singh's place ( Sangram Singh ka sthan ). One can find many sticks of incense sticking to the mound, some burnt out and some still burning. On the tree can be seen hanging a few red loin clothes ( langot ). This mound is considered to be highly auspicious by the villagers and all new ventures are launched with a prayer to Sangram Singh. These may be planting of new crops, scattering of fish eggs in ponds for breeding fish, or just before buying or leasing a mango orchard. In this case a mango branch is placed on Sangram Singh's mound as an offering so that the trees bear lots of mangoes. The villagers of Shahabpur and the adjoining villages believe that by worshipping Sangram Singh and soliciting his blessings all hurdles will be removed from their path and their venture will be a successful one. Many men and women can be seen genuflecting before the mound and offering prayers with deep devotion.

  Who was Sangram Singh and why is he so important for the villagers of Shahabpur? Sangram Singh's story was narrated by them in the following manner.

It was a dark night in the year 1857. The British army had taken control of Allahabad and its surrounding regions. The sound of their canons and guns had filled terror in the hearts of not just the humans but also the animals. Crickets had stopped whistling and even the birds cowered in their nests in fright. On that dark night some Indians including both Hindus and Muslims had looted the treasury of the British thinking that if the treasury did not remain with the British the ground would be swept from under their feet. They would not be able to pay salary to the soldiers, who would then revolt against the British officers. This would automatically lead to the defeat of the British. Thinking thus, the Indians started running towards Lucknow carrying the treasury chest.

As soon as the British army got wind of it, they gave them a hot chase, surrounding them from all four sides to cut off all their escape routes. In panic, the Indians, who had reached village Shahabpur by then, ran to the bungalow of the feudal landlord of the village, Sangram Singh, who was known as the King (Raja) of the village. Sangram Singh gave shelter to the Indians and offered to keep the money in the chest in his custody. He even gave them a receipt for the money deposited with him. When Captain Chapman, a British army officer who had been given the responsibility of suppressing the revolt in that region, heard of this occurrence, he ordered his soldiers to surround Sangram Singh's bungalow. The Pasis (a highly militant untouchable caste whose original caste based profession was to serve as watchmen and stick wielders of feudal landlords), who lived around the boundary of Sangram Singh's bungalow and worked as his security guards, retaliated against the British soldiers with knives, sticks and spears. But although they were no match for the British soldiers who were armed with sophisticated weapons, they held the fort for two days. At the end of two days the British soldiers managed to reach the bungalow but Sangram Singh's guards started burning red chilli powder inside the bungalow, which sent the British soldiers running helter skelter in distress.

In the meantime Sangram Singh, who was himself a brave and valiant warrior, decided to enter the battle against the British. He was joined by a large number of villagers, who all decided to go to the nearby forest of Panchdevra to mount the fight from there. In the forest was a famous temple of Goddess Kali , which Sangram Singh had himself got constructed. The temple became the base of Sangram Singh's army. Like in the Mahabharata, the battle between the British army and Sangram Singh's army also lasted for eighteen days. However Sangram Singh's army gradually ran out of steam and the battle ended on the eighteenth day when Captain Chapman chopped off Sangram Singh's head.

According to the villagers, Sangram Singh was a massive man with a huge head. When Captain Chapman presented the head to the British judge who had been appointed by the government to pass instant judgement against the Indian rebels, the judge rebuked him, saying that such a brave man should have been caught alive and not killed so mercilessly. Sangram Singh's head was later handed over to the villagers of Shahabpur who buried it under a mango tree in a mango orchard and built a mound over it to mark the spot. Once Sangram Singh appeared in the dreams of some of the villagers and assured them that he was protecting the village from all evils. Since then Sangram Singh has become a deity of the village and the mound has become a sacred place.

As a reward for killing Sangram Singh and controlling the revolt, Captain Chapman was conferred the entire village and was also given Sangram Singh's bungalow to live in. He demolished the bungalow and built a new one, which exists in the village even today. Since the new bungalow was built on the debris of the earlier one, it is on a very high elevation. Captain Chapman lived in the bungalow for many years with his wife, but the first thing he did was to banish the Pasis comprising Sangram Singh's security guards, to the outskirts of the village, where they live even today. The villagers narrate that he was scared that they might attack him and his wife under the influence of country liquour which the Pasis are very fond of drinking. The captain later sold the bungalow to the king of Pratapgarh whose present descendants now own it.

Source: This story is based on a brief description of the history of the village documented by Shaligram Srivastava in his book ‘Prayag Pradeep' (1937) and reconstructed from the oral history of the villagers of Shahabpur (Shivmurti Srivastava, Dudhnath Pasi, Jhuria, and so on), as a part of the project ‘Imagining Past: Myth, Memory and Development, A Study of Village Shahabpur, UP', conducted by Badri Narayan, and funded by G.B.Pant Social Science Institute, Allahabad.


2. The Ballad of ‘The Late Indian War' - Ireland

Come gather round you Irishmen, till I relate this tale;

‘Twill your hearts fill with grief and make your cheeks grow pale.

Till I mourn the death of those boys, that brave and gallant band,

Whose bones lie bleached upon India 's distant land

For many a sigh and bitter tear will now break forth in vain,

And many a bright and tender girl mourn for her love that's slain---

And many a mothers grieved to think the sons that they have borne

That they are left for food for beasts on India 's salty shore,

Ten thousand of those Irish lads their hearts from terror free,

To serve the country and their Queen they ploughed the raging sea;

Their hearts were strong, their cause was good, their hopes of victory high.

But now their bones unburied rot beneath an Indian sky,

Proud England now might hide her head with grief and bitter shame.

SOURCE: Bodleian Library, Oxford , as collected by Projit B Mukharji


3. The Ballad of ‘The Poor Discharged Soldier - Scotland

Gather round me, one an'all. great and small, short and tall,
Till you hear the sad down fall of the poor soldier boy.
That has fought by land and sea, night and day far away,
For thirteenpence a day, says the poor soldier boy.             ]

But after all I've done and the battles I have won.
In place of march I got the run, which does me sore annoy.
With my old red coat all tore. and my bones both bruised & sore,
I'm left starving on the shore, says the poor soldier boy.

SOURCE: The National Library of Scotland , as collected by Projit B Mukharji


4. An Indentured Migrant Remembers the Mutiny – Mauritius

Thousands of those people fled for dear life, cruelly chased for participating in the mutiny, and many headed for Mauritius . Thus it was that on Christmas day, 25 December 1858, at least one couple from the village of Kowarah in Bihar, were huddled up among 400 souls on a three-masted sail ship in the Port of Calcutta . The ship was setting sail for Mauritius . Years later the husband would relate to his Mauritian born son of the acrid sulphur fumes the British pumped into the huts of Kowarah village.

SOURCE: T.S. Ramyead, ‘ The Indian Sepoy Mutinies', Mauritius Times 1 Dec 2006

5. An Encounter between a Missionary and a Group of Rebel Sepoy Migrants – Trinidad

Edward Bean Underhill visited the West Indies around the time of the mutiny for the Baptist Missionary Society. While in Trinidad , he describes a visit to Arouca, and a meeting with some Indian immigrants there:

In conversation, I discovered among them some rebel sepoys from India ; one had been a follower of Ummer Singh of Jugdespore. They were ready enough to talk; said that ‘this' was ‘good land', that they were well off and were saving money. But finding that I knew those parts of India from which they came, they quickly walked off, apparently fearing that the discovery of their connection with the mutiny might in some way compromise them.

SOURCE: E. B. Underhill , The West Indies, their social and religious condition, London : Jackson, Walford & Hodder, 1862.