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The revolt of 1857

Date: 12 May 2020 Tags: Historical Places


Large sections of Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs together challenged the greatest imperialist power, Britain, during India’s first war of independence which began on May 10, 1857. 



  • The rebellion began on 10 May 1857 in the form of a mutiny of sepoys of the Company's army in the garrison town of Meerut, 40 mi (64 km) northeast of Delhi.

  • It then erupted into other mutinies and civilian rebellions chiefly in the upper Gangetic plain and central India, though incidents of revolt also occurred farther north and east.

  • Its name is contested, and it is variously described as the Sepoy Mutiny, the Indian Mutiny, the Great Rebellion, the Revolt of 1857, the Indian Insurrection, and the First War of Independence.


Reasons for rebellion

  • One of the main reasons for the revolt was that the British East India Company also started meddling with India’s political and financial system

  • Underlying grievances over British taxation and recent land annexations by the British East Indian Company (BEIC) were ignited by the sepoy mutineers.

  • An uprising in several sepoy companies of the Bengal army was sparked by the issue of new gunpowder cartridges for the Enfield rifle February, 1857. The cartridges were rumoured to have been made from cow and sow fat.

  • Loading the Enfield required tearing open the greased cartridge with one's teeth. This would have insulted both Hindu and Muslim religious practices; cows were considered holy by Hindus, while pigs were considered unclean by Muslims.

  • The old aristocracy, both Muslim and Hindu, who were seeing their power steadily eroded by the BEIC, also rebelled against British rule.


Centres of rebellion

  • At Delhi, the nominal and symbolic; leadership belonged to the Emperor Bahadur Shah, but the real command lay with a Court of Soldiers headed by General Bakht Khan who had led the revolt of the Bareilly troops and brought them to Delhi.

  • At Kanpur, the Revolt was led by Nana Sahib, the adopted son of Baji Rao II, the last Peshwa. Nana Sahib expelled the English from Kanpur with the help of the sepoys and proclaimed himself the Peshwa. At the same time, he acknowledged Bahadur Shah as the Emperor of India and declared himself to be his Governor.

  • The revolt at Lucknow was led by the Begum of Avadh who had proclaimed her young son, Birjis Kadr, as the Nawab of Avadh.

  • The Rani of Jhansi joined the rebels when the British refused to acknowledge her right to adopt an heir to the Jhansi gaddi (throne) annexed her state, and threatened to treat her as an instigator of the rebellion of the sepoys at Jhansi.

  • Kunwar Singh, a ruined and discontented zamindar of Jagdishpur near Arrah, was the chief organizer of the Revolt in Bihar.


British suppression of revolt

  • The Revolt was suppressed. Sheer courage could not win against a powerful and determined enemy who planned its every step.

  • The rebels were dealt an early blow when the British captured Delhi on 20 September 1857 after prolonged and bitter fighting.

  • The aged Emperor Bahadur Shah was taken prisoner. The Royal Princes were captured and butchered on the spot. The Emperor was tried and exiled to Rangoon where he died in 1862.

  • The Rani Jhansi had died on the field of battle earlier on 17 June 1858. By 1859, Kunwar Singh, Bakht Khan, Khan Bahadur Khan of Bareilly, Rao Sahib brother of Nana Sahib, and Maulavi Ahmadullah were all dead, while the Begum of Avadh was compelled to hide in Nepal.

  • John Lawrence, Outram, Havelock, Neil, Campbell, and Hugh Rose were some of the British commanders who earned military fame in the course of the revolt.

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