Very few people know about the Paika Rebellion of 1817 probably because it isn’t mentioned in our history textbooks. In a nutshell, it was an uprising against the East India Company that got popular more so because of being the first-ever rebellion for Odisha’s (a part of India) independence. The most essential questions that come up are who were the Paikas, what are the causes that led to the Paikan rebellion, effects of the uprising etc. Also, some of you may have thoughts regarding “can the Paika rebellion be called the First War of Independence“? All such queries will be answered in this article.
So, without delaying any further let us start our reading journey!
Who were the Paikas?
The Paikas (pronounced “paiko” meaning foot soldiers) were traditional militia who committed military services for the Gajapati rulers of Odisha and also served as cultivators during moments of peace. They also ensured the maintenance of law and order within their administration through policing functions. The Paikas were mainly divided into three categories depending on the prestige, weapons and power they wielded in the residential territories. These three ranks were:
- Paharis: Paharis could be identified with their shields and khanda sword
- Banuas: Banuas participated in distant expeditions and carried matchlocks
- Dhenkiyas: Dhenkiyas performed various tasks within the Odisha militia.
The Paikas became popular because of their long-term rebellion against the East India Company troops, the latter however, emerged victorious and restored the dominance over the Odisha provinces.
What led to the Paika rebellion of 1817?
- The Paikas faced social, political and economical deprivation because of the East India Company trying to establish their dominion over the Paikas and whole of India. The British mostly adopted means of alienation to deprive the Paikas of any gains or benefits.
- The educated and wealthy Paikas possessed rent-free lands that were inherited by them from their ancestors. These lands were extorted under the extortionist land revenue policy of the East India Company after the conquest of Khurda. This extortionist agenda was a loss for both the zamindars and the peasants. Zamindars lost their lands previously owned by them and peasants couldn’t borrow lands from the zamindars. Moreover, they even lost their traditional position and respect in the society.
- During the 1800s, Odisha had four trading ports and there was a network of several traders who carried out trade and commerce in the region. The East India Company however, decided to put an end to the trading practices of the people of Odisha. They intended to gain monopoly over the trade and acquire the trading ports to serve their purposes. This was a big setback for the traders who earned profits from their selling of commodities. Moreover, purchasing salt became an issue as the prices went up due to high taxes being imposed by the East India Company.
- The people of Odisha used cowrie currency in their state but it was abolished under the British dominance. Prices along with taxes were paid in silver. This greatly impacted the economic system of the local population. They were highly discontented with the loss of autonomy and independence and also faced great hardships.
- Owing to so much troubles and the oppressive regime, the Raja of Khurda planned a joint rebellion with the Paikas against the British governance system under the East India Company.
Course of the Paika rebellion of 1817
- The Paika Rebellion was an armed uprising that took place in 1817 against the East India Company’s sovereignty. Let us look at the causes of the Paika Rebellion of 1817:
- Widespread discontent was brewing amidst the people of Odisha against the policies of the British East India Company. The Kandhas, which are an indigenous group reached Ghumsur by crossing Khurda to voice their opposition against the British governance. They were joined by the Paikas who attacked public buildings like post offices and set fire to police stations and police officers. The rebels proceeded to Khurda and sacked the administrative buildings and looted the treasury in protest. Even Indian officials of the East India Company were killed in the mayhem caused by another group of rebels.
- The magistrate at Cuttack, E. Impey sent forces led by two of his lieutenants Prideaure and Faris to Khurda and Pipli respectively. The Paikas repulsed the attack decisively and also killed Faris. Forces under Captain Wellington marched to Puri where they faced little opposition. On 9 April the British forces reached Khurda and occupied the territory.
- Meanwhile, the Paikas regained control of Puri and the Company forces were pushed back to Cuttack. The forces that were sent to Khurda under the command of Captain Le Revere reached Puri. Although the peasant militia had 1000 people in their group, they were defeated because of ill-equipped forces. Thus, Puri was taken over by the forces of the East India Company.
- Eventually, there were many uprisings against the Company but all of them were subdued under their leadership and dominance.
Leaders and Supporters of the Paika rebellion of 1817
- The king of Khurda formed an alliance with the Paikas to overthrow the East India Company.
- Thus, there were two leaders of the Paika Rebellion, Bakshi Jagabandhu Bidyadhar Mohapatra Bharamarbar Rai and Raja Mukunda Deva II of Khurda.
- Bakshi Jagabandhu was a former commander (Bakshi) of the forces of Raja Mukunda Deva. The Paikas received widespread support from the Odisha population in their fight against the East India Company. Be it feudal chiefs, landlords, zamindars, peasants, common people, all participated to oppose the British company and its servants.
- Zamindars from various parts of Odisha like Karipur, Golra, Balarampur, Mrichpur, Budnakera, Rupasa etc were in favor of the Paikas. The kings of Kanika, Ghumusur, Kujang, Nayagarh provided ample help to Bakshi Jagabandhu and his rebellion. The uprising also reached different parts of Odisha including Puri, Cuttack, Pipili from its initial areas of Banapur and Khurda.
Effects of the Paika Rebellion
- The East India Company appointed judges to Khurda to penalise rebels like Paikas by giving them sentences of execution, imprisonment and penal transportation. The Company troops undertook operations to hunt down rebels who escaped to the jungles. The Paikas carried out guerrilla warfare against the British troops.
- In 1825 the leader of the Paikas, Jagabandhu surrendered to the East India Company and remained confined as a prisoner in Cuttack untill his death in 1829. Similar to Jagabandhu, another leader of the rebellion Raja Mukunda Deva was also captured by the Company troops and was imprisoned in Cuttack where he died on November 1817.
- The East India Company appointed a commission to investigate into the causes that led to the rebellion. The newly appointed Commissioner of Cuttack made some amendments to the administration to ensure that future rebellion or mutinies doesn’t take place. Odisha was important to the Company in terms of serving as a link between the presidencies of Bengal and Madras.
Several other uprisings and rebellions against the East India Company took place over the years which are presented as follows:
- Ghumusar (1835-36)
- Angul (1846-47)
- Sabara rebellion (1856-57)
- Kandha uprisings under Dora Bisoi and Chakra Bisoi
- Kol rebellion
- Sambalpur revolt under Veer Surendra Sai and Gond Sardars
- Bhuyan revolt under Dharanidhar Naik
These minor uprisings eventually succumbed against the Company’s forces. Overall, the Paika Rebellion failed to bring any significant change regarding the economy and the tax system.
Was the Paika rebellion of 1817 the First War of Independence?
The Odisha government in October 2017 proposed to the Centre to recognise the Paika Rebellion of 1813 as the First War of Independence instead of the Indian rebellion that took place in 1857. The Union Culture Minister G Kishan Reddy in his response to the BJD MP Prashanta Nanda said that the Paika Rebellion cannot be deemed the “First War of Independence”. He mentions however, that it will find a place in class VIII history textbooks as a case study of the NCERT syllabus. It can rightfully be considered the first well-known uprising against the Britishers that lasted 8 years from 1817-1825.
Other important points to follow:
- The Indian government in 2018 released a coin and postage stamp in commemoration of the Paika Rebellion.
- The Paika Rebellion Memorial will be constructed over an area of 10 acres near Barunei Hills by the Union Ministry of Culture. It’s foundation stone was laid by the President of India, Ramnath Kovind on 7 December 2019.
Now, that you know NCERT books will have Paika Rebellion of 1817 in their curriculum, this will somewhat make up for the complaints about Paika Rebellion not being the First War of India’s Independence. The goal should be to have history buffs and casual readers know about one such popular uprising of India and its remarkable leaders that will not only be helpful for exams but also make them swell with pride.
Hopefully, this article has been able to provide you with adequate knowledge of the Paika Rebellion of 1817.