‘First’ Freedom Fighter Raja Narayan Singh Who Fought Against The British Before Mangal Pandey

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Raja Narayan Singh
'First' Freedom Fighter Raja Narayan Singh

From today, go back 277 years to the Bharatvarsha of 1770. Somewhere around Varanasi, PM Narendra Modi’s constituency, you might chance upon the “first enemy of the British”: – Raja Narayan Singh of the Pawai Dynasty.

The internet, like historians, has nothing to tell about the Raja. A Google search disappoints. But for some research papers, the name of Raja Narayan Singh of Aurangabad (Bihar) seems to have been dusted off the pages of history.

The Raja preceded freedom fighter Mangal Pandey by more than 90 years. His forefathers were descendants of the indefatigable Prithvi Raj Chauhan.

Though his birth year could not be verified, he is estimated to be born in 1746.

Raja Narayan Singh revolted against the British in 1770. He kept up the banner of revolt till 1782. In 1764, the East India Co. army had defeated the combined armies of Shah Alam of Delhi, Nawab Mir Kasim of Bihar-Bengal and Nawab Sajaudallah of Awadh.

At that time Raja Narayan Singh was a powerful zamindar. Historian K K Dutt says his uncle Raja Vishnu Singh was also a patriot who helped Nawab Sirajudallah in the 1757 Battle of Plassey.

Advocate Nripendra Singh, the Raja’s eighth generation descendant, says, “Raja Narayan Singh’s name comes first in the list of India’s freedom fighters.” He wants Raja Narayan Singh named the “First Enemy of the British.” Historian Professor Tarkeshwar Prasad Singh believes history has not done justice with the Raja.

It was very clear the Raja would never kowtow to the British. He could have stayed loyal to the British like other zamindars and enjoyed the spoils of station but he chose to refuse to pay the Malgujari tax. With the Malguzari tax the company had given zamindars a free hand to exploit farmers and the other common folk.

The Raja had in 1764 when his uncle Vishnu Singh was Raja ousted British sympathizer Nayab Mehndi Hussain from Durg Katchery in Aurangabad. Impressed, Raja Vishnu Singh abdicated and declared Narayan Singh Raja! But in 1765, Raja Narayan Singh parted with a Malgujari tax of Rs 1.75 lakh to the British.

Come 1770, though, he refused to pay the tax when the region was gripped by famine. He distributed his own wealth to help people tide over the drought.

The British retaliated by destroying his Pawai Durg Palace in 1778. Raja Narayan Singh started living in a kaccha house. Thinking that he was down and out, the English sent tax collector Shahmal to the Raja. Wrong move. Shahmal was severely beaten up by the Raja himself and sent packing.

Shahbad’s then collector Reginald Hand in his 1781 book ‘Early English Administration’ referred to the Raja as the “first enemy of British” on page 84 of the book in the chapter ‘Powerful Jamidars’.

Raja Narayan Singh worsted the British “hand in hand” from 1770 to 1781; defeated them at Pachvan and stopped them from entering Varanasi on March 5, 1778. In 1781, he offered support to Raja Chait Singh of Ramnagar (Varanasi) against East India Co.

The Raja’s rebellion came out in the open in 1781 when company Major James Crawfurd marched in August that year from Chitra to meet with forces led by Major Moses at Buxar.

On arrival at Sherghaty, Major Crawfurd was directed by the Governor General to take position in the vicinity of Bidjigurh to intercept Chait Singh’s troops.

Raja Narayan Singh was ordered to provide boats to Major Crawfurd to cross the Sone. But the Raja refused. Some recordssay there was a pitched battle on the banks of the Sone.

Major Crawfurd was then forced to change route and travel to Rohtas, where Raja Narayan Singh had collected a large body of “matchlock men” to resist the invader.

But Raja Narayan Singh again disrupted British plans by joining Bechu Singh and Chait Singh’s Fouzdar at Marban with an army of 15,000 men.

Raja Narayan Singh
‘First’ Freedom Fighter Raja Narayan Singh

Major Crawfurd then took the Kowreah pass. By then Raja Narayan Singh had travelled to Patna to give himself up.

He was arrested and tried, recording his many instances of “rebellion”. A British official “Mr. Ross” on October 10, 1781 summed up the case against him thus: “Raja Narain Singh, who betrayed and showed every mark of disaffection to Major Crawfurd…fled repeatedly before him, with a party of some hundred men, and showed not the least inclination to join in the support of the Company’s interest.”

Sealing the Raja’s stature as the first enemy of the British, a “Mr. Chart

Raja Narayan Singh
‘First’ Freedom Fighter Raja Narayan Singh

ers” wrote to the Governor-General and Council on May 27, 1782, reporting the “arrest of Narain Singh”.

Submitting proofs against Raja Narayan Singh, Charters wrote, “I apprehend they contain evidence of rebellion sufficient to disqualify him from again exercising the office of zamindar.”

With that charge proved, Raja Narayan Singh was sentenced and sent to Dhaka as a state prisoner on March 5, 1786. He returned to Pawai Durg on being released but died within days of his return. Sourceindiatimes

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