A brave warrior who laid the foundations of the Indian freedom struggle through the revolt of 1857.
The revolt against the British rule, issued by India’s freedom fighters in 1857, is a ground breaking event in the history of India’s independence struggle. The flint of 1857 was ignited by the dissatisfaction that spread like wild fire among the Indian soldiers in the British. On this background, Tatya Tope, a General with the Peshwas, became an icon for the State of Maharashtra. People from Maharashtra made a significant contribution in the struggle for independence, and Tatya Tope’s was a prominent role in that.
He was born in the year 1814 in Yeole in the district of Nashik. He was second among the eight siblings of Pandurang Tope aka Pant. His official name was Raghunath although he also went by the name of Ramchandra. His father was the resident treasurer with the Peshwa in Brahmavarta.
Peshwa Bajirao II of Poona was then the ruling chief of the Marathas. PandurangPant was a respected member of his court. Occasionally the boy Tatya used to accompany his father during his visits to the Peshwa. It was not long before the smart boy with expressive eyes attracted the attention of the Peshwa. Impressed by the brilliance of the boy, the Peshwa decorated him with a cap bright with jewels. Those near and dear to Raghunath used to call him Tatya (a term of affection in Marathi). Since the Peshwa presented the cap, it became his life-long companion. So he came to be called Tatya Tope and the name stuck to him to the end.
Thus, Raghunath alias Tatya was fortunate to have spent his childhood with Nanasaheb Peshwa and Queen Laxmibai. Later, for many years, Tatya was engaged in clerical work in the court of Nanasaheb. He progressed with the Gwalior contingent after the British reoccupation of Kanpur. In May 1857, when the political storm was gaining momentum, he won over the Indian troops of the East India Company, stationed at Kanpur (Cawnpore), established Nanasaheb's authority and became the Commander-in-Chief of his forces. His capabilities were tested to the core; Tatya steeled himself for the attack on Kanpur.
Tatya orchestrated the attacks on Delhi, Lucknow, Jagdishpur and Kanpur. His courageous character, awareness of devious strategies, faith in self-governance and allegiance to his superiors had sharpened his sword in a manner of speaking. His might was tested while attacking Kanpur, Lucknow and Jhansi. Due to a weak army and a lack of planning, artillery and other resources, he had to taste defeat in these battles. But he was exceptionally dedicated to his goal and refused to be discouraged.
During Nanasaheb’s exile and Rani Laxmibai’s defeat in Gwalior’s battle, there was but one Marathi warrior who faced the enemy. Coercing the enemy, escaping from the clutches of the British from time to time in an attempt to reach his next goal, he shook the mighty British to their foundations. The chronicles of Tatya’s achievements became world-renowned; some European historians of that period heaped praises of Tatya’s courage.
At some point, Tatya’s solitary struggle tired out, the hope of wining diminished. But his resolution of not condescending to the British remained strong. He took cover with a friend by the name of Mansingh while escaping from the British. The event that broke Tatya’s might occurred when the British tempted Mansingh into betraying Tatya. A small British troop stealthily entered Mansingh’s premises and captured Tatya while he was asleep.
On 7 April 1859, at the time when he was answering the charges against him, one could see no fear, guilt or sadness on Tatya’s face; all one noticed coming through was his patriotism and the satisfaction of an impending martyrdom. Tatya became a martyr in the freedom struggle of 1857. He was hanged to death at Shivpuri in Madhya Pradesh on 18th April 1859. His statue has been installed at this very place.
The event brought tears of sorrow and joy at the same time to the people of Maharashtra – sorrow at the loss of a great warrior and joy that such a warrior was born on their soil.