Sonakhan Revolt in Chhattisgarh
The British Rule in India was so strong during the times of the indépendance struggle that their kingdom never saw the sun setting. Their immense strength and numbers snatched away every dream of Independence. During such difficult times, there was one region that fought the bravest, the Sonakhan region of Chhattisgarh On this patriotic land, a great freedom fighter named Veer Narayan Singh was born This great warrior etched the contribution of Sonakhan forever, in the golden history of Indian freedom struggle.
On the southern coast of the Jonk River, 150 km from Raipur, is the historically Important village of Sonakhan. A small piece of land during the British times, Sonakhan is embraced from all sides by beautiful mountain ranges. These mountains are covered by dense forests. Sonakhan was initially a part of Raipur and then relocated to Bilaspur. Today it is an important part of the Baloda Bazaar Taluka Sonakhan is 75km from Bilaspur and 25km from Shivrinarayan,
In the year 1818, Chhattisgarh was under the British rule. In 1855, Deputy Commissioner Eliot took Sonakhan into his regime. On 10th June 1855, a report published that there were 12 villages in Sonakhan and a total of 308 rupees 12 anas were collected as taxes. The report also had a mention of Shaheed Narayan Singh as a Binjhavar Rajput, and it states that his family had the rights from the last 366 years. No taxes have been applicable to this place.
During the Maratha Empire (Bimbaji Bhonsle’s rule) constructional wood and lac was transported from Sonakhan for Bimbaji Bhonsle. Later this practice was stopped because the landlord, Ram Sahay, believed that there was no such clause in the legislature. A Brahmin named Devanath Misra was murdered for a loan taken from him. He was also responsible for catching Surendra Sahay of Sambalpur and Shivraj Singh of Udaipur. After investigations in Nagpur, the landlord was disallowed all services offered by the system.
A land of gold, Sonakhan melted away with the atrocities of situations that the Zamindari faced. An inevitable catastrophe changed everything. In the year 1856, Chhattisgarh was hit by severe drought. People were begging for food. There was a food merchant called Makhan in the same village, who had a huge supply of food locked away in his storehouse. It became increasingly unbearable for Narayan Singh, that the Zamindar was not bothered about people starving but still thinking of his business. Narayan Singh requested Makhan to distribute the food grains among the hungry, but he arrogantly refused to do so. Veer Narayan Singh finally broke the lock of the storehouse and distributed the food among hungry farmers and labourers. Eventually, Makhan complained to the deputy commissioner Ellot and he issued a warrant against Veer Narayan Singh. The Zamindar of Sonaidian was at a Tirth Yatra during this time and a group of soldiers were sent on horsebacks to track him. After much difficulty, they found him in Sambalpur on 24th October 1856 and arrested him. The news was then given to Commissioner Plauden of Nagpur through a letter. In the letter, the Commissioner also mentioned that Veer Narayan Singh, the Zamindar of Sonakhan, never paid any taxes but instead he took 564 rupees 4 Aanas 7 Paisa every year from the East India Company. Veer Narayan Singh’s audacious act was a challenge to the British System.
On the other side, the villagers of Sonakhan were desperate for food and water as the famine had hit the village badly. People were leaving the village where death had spread its dark wings and all form of life was draining out quickly. Veer Narayan Singh dedicated himself to collecting food for the people, and stopping them from leaving the village. He soon called for a meeting and the villagers decided that the Mishra family of Kasdol be asked to give grains on loan, which will be returned with complete interest later. But they refused this offer in greed of more interest that they could get. Veer Narayan Singh did not give up, he kept meeting different people from the nearby villages. He inspired them by saying that come what may, we shall never tolerate injustice. His positivity and confidence motivated the people of Sonakhan Folks from nearby villages started coming to Sonakhan to extend their help towards the farmine struck. Kurarpat was his region and the Mukhiya, along with the villagers took an oath by drinking its water and pledging to not tolerate the atrocities of the Sahukar (Moneylender). Even the farmers who were faithful to these Sahukars had become agitated and ready to fight them.
Under the leadership of Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh, all the farmers became united and picked up their weapons to fight injustice. Marching towards Kasdol, they looted the storehouses of various Sahukars who had hidden all the food, and Veer Narayan Singh distributed it among the poor farmers. In the history of Chhattisgarh, this came to be known as the first war against the British.
Infuriated by his audacity, the British Government charged Veer Narayan Singh for destruction and theft. They imprisoned him with some of his other followers, thinking that this would end the agitation. They realised they were mistaken when Adivasi farmers from the 18 villages of Sonakhan started protesting against the injustice done to their leader. They approached the powerful patriot and leader of Sambalpur, Surendra Sahay for help. Together they sketched out a plan of escape. After living in Raipur jail for 10 months and four days, the Deputy Commissioner of Raipur ordered the Deputy Commissioner of Nagpur to free Veer Narayan Singh and 3 of his companions through a huge tunnel.
Revolt by Sonakhan
In 1857 when the flame of revolution was ignited in the country, it it sparks in the forest-region of Chhattisgarh and the people unanimously elected the imprisoned Narayan Singh as their leader. For the first time, he brought all the farmers together and pledged to attain the iron taken from our country back in Sonakhan. The entire village became a battalion of soldiers driven by the dream of their freedom. Sounds of guns firing and arrows piercing became prominent in the forests. Lieutenant Smith’s battalion was searching every nook and corner for Veer Narayan Singh. Meanwhile, he was busy traversing the unknown roads amidst ghats and uniting the villagers in smaller villages. The British were unaware of these routes and therefore, couldn’t find Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh and his gang. Smith requested the company for more soldiers and for assistance from the landlords of Bhatgaon and Bilaigarh and Katangi. These landlords joined hands with the East India Company and ordered for guns and bomb supplies from 26-29th November 1857. On 1st December 1857, the commissioner of Raipur sent 100 fully equipped soldiers. Unfortunately the Zamindars succumbed to the pressures of the British and told them about the secret passages and routes used by Veer Narayan Singh The Zamindars of Katangi, along with 40 others joined forces with Smith’s team and the forest became a battleground on 2nd December 1857. Veer Narayan Singh’s soldiers started dying and the Indian weapons were no match for the English arms. Veer Narayan Singh had planned an attack of cannons on the British, just 10km away from Sonakhan, but it did not materialize as Devri Zamindar Maharaj Sahay backed away at the final moment. His army was lost in the jungle and his strength started waning away. He realized that he was not in a position to fight the British army. On 2nd December 1857, Veer Narayan Singh surrendered himself to Smith without the possession of any weapons. The British army arrested him, as Veer Narayan Singh army fled. On the 5th of December he was surrendered to Raipur’s Dy. Commissioner Eliot.
Shaheed Veer Narayan Singh was publicly executed on 10th December, 1857 by hanging. He sacrificed his life willingly for the country. The army contingent stationed at Raipur and the public revolted at Raipur, on 18th January, 1858 under the leadership of Hanuman Singh. A British Officer was killed. People were inspired by the immortal sacrifice of Veer Narayan Singh. Veer Narayan Singh’s martyrdom, was a memorable event in the history of Chhattisgarh which gave momentum to the freedom movement. Unfortunately very few people outside the state of Chhattisgarh know about Veer Narayan Singh.
Today, the people of Sonakhan still revere him as the greatest patriot in the history of India. His memorial is a famous ‘Swatantra Tirth’ and the legends of his bravery continue to inspire the younger generation!
How to reach:
By Air: Raipur is the nearest airport (150 kms) well connected to Mumbai, Delhi, Nagpur, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Vishakhapatnam, Bengaluru and Chennai.
BY Rail: Raipur is the nearest railway station on the Bombay
Howrah main line while.
By Road: There are regular buses from Raipur. Taxis are available at Raipur
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