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Lakhnesar

Many proofs have come to light of the existence, in the distant past, of the republican form of Government in India, and the fact is now so well established that it is not in the least necessary to enumerate them here. There were many republics in India about the beginning of the Buddhistic period- particularly in several of those tribal areas which surrounded the birth place of that great man Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha (the Enlightened One). But to most of the readers of this article it will come as an agreeable discovery to learn that a republic existed in India till less than 150 years ago. This, however, has really been the case. It was the little republic of Lakhnesar and was founded in the thirteen century of the Christian era by a heroic little band of Sengar Rajputs who had fled from the irresistible onslaught of the Mohamedans. It lasted for about 500 years. This land now forms a pergana of the Ballia district of the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh, but the bulk of it – 83 percent, accounting to the 1907 Gazetter of the district- is still owned and held by the Sengar’s in the bhaiyachara (literally brotherhood) form of tenure.

Let us here reproduce a few lines from the “Gazetteer” of the district.

“Historical interest centers mainly in the Rajputs, who secured for themselves a preponderate position, never to be lost throughout the days of Musalman sovereignty. These Rajputs appear to have come from the west, at any rate in most case. Their migration was spread over a considerable period, the dates of their advent given by the different clans ranging from thirteenth to the seventeenth century. ********* Amongst the earliest Rajput immigrants were Sengars” [1]  “Their history is remarkable, for at all times they were renouned for their strength and courage, but on no occasion do they seem to have had a common Raja, the republican nature of their institutions being illustrated by the facts that the 537 mahals into which the pargana (Lakhnesar) is divided are all held in bhaiyachara tenure. Nevertheless their union was so complete that the Sengars were the only clan who preserved their property rights intact.” [2]“The democratic sprite was not so strong in the case of the clans in other parganas.” [3]

Before proceeding further we shall show how and why our republics differed in one important respect from those ot other countries.

The caste system of us Hindus is older than the age of the great Buddha. I only meant the classification of the population of the country into four interdependent divisions (varnas) according to “qualities and action”.

Each division was a no detachable component part of one compact and entire whole with its duties clearly defined for the common good of he nation. The governance and protection of the country fell to the Kshatriya. In their own sphere of life they were the permanent representatives of the remaining three varnas as they (the other varnas) were in theirs.

Separate clans of Kshattriyas formed separate Governments in their respective spheres of influence which. Needless to say, changed with times. In doing so the clansmen either elected one of themselves as their king or carried on the government conjointly in the name of brotherhood. These latter were our republics. The same was doubtless the model of the tribal republics of 2500 years ago that we read of in Buddhist literature. Such clan republics were recognized form of government also in the times of the Maurya King Chandragupta (322-398 BC), whose minister Chanakya alias Kautilya or Vishnugupta, in his now famous “Arthashastra” says “sovereignty may be the property of a clan.” It is mistaken to call them oligarchies or give them any other name, for the simple reason given above, viz., the Kshattriyas were the representatives of the nation as a whole charged with the governance of the country.

At the time of the fall of the Kingdom of Kanauj at hands of Shihabuddin Muhammad Ghori, in 1194, the Sengar Rajputs ruled over that part of the country on either bank of Jumna which now forms the bulk of the Jalaun and Etawah district of the Agra Provence and is locally known after them by the name of Singarat (Sringa-Rashtra) or Singar-Ghar. It had by then been their stronghold for about 250 years. The town of Karnavate (Kanar) situated on the south bank of the Jumna river near were Jagamanpur, the capital of Raja Lokendra Shah Bahadur, the present head and premier prince of the clan, now stands, was their metropolis and the mighty Prince Vishoka Deva, who was the son-in-law of the great Raja Jayachandra Rathor (Gahadwal) of Kanauj, and had added much of his possessions either by conquest or by grants from Kanauj or by both, was their Raja. By reasons of the relationship mentioned he paid no tribute to Kannuj, which was then the Suzerain power of the Eastern Rajputs- the “Prasii” or “Prachyas” of the historians of Alexander the Great and the “Purabia” or “Hindustani” Rajputs of the present day writers.

The more the Mohamedan power increased the less powerful did this kingdom of the Sengars became. The Mohamedans made several of its cadet branches (now represented by the Rajas of Bhareh, Rura and Hardoi; the Diwan of Sarwan; the Raos of Kakhaotu; Bhikra and Riniyan; the Rawats of Kursi; and others) one by one independent of the House of Kanar which the Raja of Jagamanpur now represents and levied tribute from them.

Some liberty loving Sengar Rajputs, mostly from Phaphund, which was also one of the cadet chieftainships, would not stand the humiliation, and, bidding adieu to their kith and kin as well as their own hearths and homes , set out in search of “a place in the Sun” were their own children could live like free men. Two elderly brothers, Hari Sah alias Sur Sah and Bir Sah, headed and led this little adventurous band of great souls.

“Where there is a will there is a way.” They traveled far to the east and in course of time reached the country between the Ghagra and the Ganges. Its rugged and secluded nature ant its thick primeval forests at once appealed to the military instinct of the Rajputs. In this veritable fastness of nature the planted their colonies here and there and the land stood them in good stead throughout the Mahomedan period.

Sur Sah and his people were more fortunate than the rest of the party. They struck upon the decaying Bhar Principality of Lakhnesar on the sarju in the very heart of the forest, conquered it, and founded, in its stead, the little Republic of Lakhnesar which is the subject of this article. here one thing deserves special notice. The Gautam Kshatriyas, of whom the great Buddha was one, claim, down to the present day, to be a younger branch of the Sengar clan. The foundation of a republic by that great man’s kinsfolk so near his birth place and near were republics had also existed in the past is remarkable and may have had some special significance about it. it is possible that a yearning for the old house of their forefathers or an invitation from their Gautama brethren of the Gorakhpur country on the other side of the Ghaghra was also at the back of the adventurous undertaking which was so successful.

at any rate Lakhnesar was not the first republic of the Sengars, who now represent the ‘Singhoe’ mentioned by the Greek author and ambassador Megasthenes as being one of the people “which are free, have no Kings and occupy mountain heights where they have built cities.” These ‘Singhoe’ cannot but have been the Sengars of Bandhu (Rewah) and Kalinjar, which, according to the traditions of the clan, were among its strongholds in the remote past.

Sengar’s code of government was very simple. They taxed the agriculture and mercantile communities for the use of their land. Priest, village workmen and menials rendered services in lieu of land held by them. the Sengars in return took upon themselves all responsibilities for the government and defense of the country. Justice was cheap, instantaneous and easy to obtain and was in most cases administered by village or caste punchayats, the Sengar elder only interfering in big or complicated cases.

Ordinarily all the routine work of government was attended by the elderly Sengars but in time of war each and every male member of the brotherhood capable of bearing arms deemed it his duty to render military services in the defense of the country. There was no age limit. None but Sengars were liable to a call to arms. They always kept themselves militarily prepared and every third year in the month of Baisakh (Vaisakha) all able bodied Sengars, duly armed and accoutered, met in thousands for a general inspection by the elders of the clan of the combined armed strength of the brotherhood. the meeting place was generally the town of Rasra, to which they had removed the capital, country. [4] While there, they indulged in diverse sorts of manly sports and soldierly performances. Spectators from the neighboring tribal areas also flocked to Rasra in large numbers to witness this triennial military Vrihat-Sammelana of the Sengars and returned to their homes vividly impressed with the unity and strength of the clan.

When they went to Rasra for the Sammelana they had not to report themselves at the door of any particular person there, because they were all brothers and therefore equal, but encamped themselves round the shrine of Shri Nath Ji, a deified hero of the Sengar clan, whose original name was Amar Singh and who is still worshiped by the Sengars of Lakhnesar.

“He is represented as a guardian deity, interfering in various ways, and with constant success, on behalf of his votaries. Their successful resistance to the Rajas of Benares, and the restoration of the pergana to them by the English Government, are regarded as instances of the power and influence of Nath Baba. ******** His shrine is supported, among other offerings, by the voluntary contribution of one pie in the rupee on the Government revenue of pergana Lakhnesar. The Zamindars, indeed, were willing to have this recorded and made a legal claim upon them, but the Government declined to have anything to do with its collection or legal recognition, and it continues to be a voluntary offering.”[5]

In spite of having on more than one occasion had to pay tribute to its contemporary Mohamedan Kings, the Republic enjoyed complete internal independence throughout the Musalam period, with the end of which the days of its misfortune began. But, as we shall see, the Sengars were a hard nut to crack and only yield after they had shed and drawn much blood, and sacrificed and taken lives, in which their heroines also participated.

Akbar’s time Lakhnesar paid a light annual tribute of about Rs 3165, but unlike other tribal areas of the country, furnished no military contingent; vide “Ain-i-Akbari.”[6]

“ The administrative arrangement of Akbar’s time appear to have remained unchanged till 1722, and for the intervening period the history of the district is a complete blank………..As in former times the Rajputs of this district appear to have been left to themselves.”[7]

In 1722 Saadat Ali Khan became the Governor of Oudh. He was the first Nawab Vazir of Oudh. He and his successors did much to destroy the power of the Rajputs of this part of the country, but with varying success. The later were never completely subjugated and Muhammad Ali Khan, the last representative but one of the Oudh Government, about 1754, had to be recalled because of his “inability to deal with the Rajput population”

From 1761 to 1781 Raja Balwant Singh of Benares held this part of the country as a feudatory, first of Oudh and then of the East India Company. He also adopted the policy of destroying the power of Rajputs. On several occasions they offered resistance to Balwant Singh, but in only one case were their efforts successful. This exception to the general rule provided by the Sengar republicans of Lakhnesar, who not only treated his demands with contempt but adopted an attitude of open hostility and attacked and pillaged his treasuries.

The Raja, incensed at the sprit they displayed, conducted a large force into the heart of their fastness,” and attacked their capital, Rasra. In vain did they ask him to reconsider his decision and save them the great sin of staining their hands with Brahman blood. He was determined and ordered attack after attack.

In spite of the inequality of the fight, the Sengars fought like lions and smashed all the attacks. They knew their very existence as free men was at stake and were therefore very desperate. Their ladies also stood heroically by them and many of them burnt themselves alive with their fallen husbands. Hundreds of sati monuments sacred to the memory of these heroines surround the large tank near the shrine of Shri Amar Nath (Nath Baba) at Rasra down to the present day.

The bloody conflict lasted for full two days. It can easily be imagined what a tremendous loss of life that duration of a pitch battle against over whelming odds in those days of hand fight with cold steel meant. The Sengars, however, stood firm, and when bravery failed Balwant Singh, he had recourse to treachery and had the cowardice to have the town set on fire so that many helpless and innocent lives were lost and Sengars had to withdraw; but they wavered not in the least vow to fight to the last man, because it was, after all, an unconquerable will to remain free and not the walls that counted and fought.

“The issue of this famous fight was gratified to the brave clan, and has been the subject of exultation among the descendants down to the present time. The Raja was obliged to agree to a compromise and permitted the Sengars to retain their estates on the payment of small revenue. The fruit of their conspicuously seen now that the country is under the British, for the amount of  land revenue annually paid by the Sengars, settled in accordance with the original arrangement made by them with Raja Balwant Singh, is now only nine annas or thirteen pence half penny per acre, the lowest sum paid in the whole of the Benares province excepting the hill people in Mirzapore district.”[8]

The annual payment fixed was Rs 20501, and the Sengars were guaranteed the right “to manage it in their own fashion. They had their own revenue collector, and the distribution of the demand was affected by themselves without any interference on the part of the Government.”[9] The amount then fixed has remained unchanged till independence of India which worked out to “a rate which does not now exceed eight annas per bigha of cultivation.”[10]

The Sengars maintained the internal independence of Lakhnesar almost unimpaired down to the early years of British rule which began in 1781 and “When Me. Duncan (appointed Resident in 1787) assumed control of Benaras, the Sengars were considered the most independent and troublesome of all the subjects of the Company.”[11] Dr. Wilton Oldham in his ‘Statistical Memoirs of Ghazipur District’ puts it thus: “Before the establishment of the British authority the Sengars of Lakhnesar had managed to establish for themselves an unrivalled reputation for their courage, independence and insubordination. This reputation they preserved unimpaired during the first year of administration.”[12]

In 1788 the British Government abolished certain market and other dues which the Sengars used to realize in their chief town Rasra and they were prepared “to resist the order by force till a compromise was suggested by the merchants **** whereby the ground rents (which had not been interfered with by the Government and are still realized) were raised by one-half.”[13] That the merchant came to their rescue at such a critical juncture proves beyond doubt that the rule of the Sengars had been popular and that the inhabitations in general were, on the whole, sympathetic with and well inclined to the brave clan under whose protection they had for centuries lived in peace and plenty and had known practically no outside interference with their internal affairs.

In 1793 Mr. Duncan made a tour of Lakhnesar. The Sengars were not much used to such tours and saw in it the thin end of the wedge. They, therefore, attacked his body guards. He was however, a master breaker of men to harness and knew how to deal with the, the offence was condoned and the fiscal arrangement entered into with Balwant Singh was permitted to continue, the entire pergana being settled with their Chaudhris or headmen “as the undivided estate of the whole clan.” And undivided it had always been in spite of the governing clan numbering thousands, because it was founded as a State and not as an Estate.[14]

Somehow or other, in 1796, Lakhnesar fell into arrears, and in 1798 the Collector of Benares had to proceed against the Sengars with military force. In 1801 the first detailed settlement of Lakhnesar was made at Rupees 40738/- The enhanced revenue was, however never paid, with the result that the pergana was sold to the Raja of Benares. He made several attempt to gain possession by means of “a semi-military force” and to accomplish what his famous grandsire had failed in, but with no better result. In 1802 the sale had to be cancelled and old Lakhnesar was once again restored to Sengars. A settlement was carried out again and the original demand of Rs 20501/- was maintained with the deduction of Rupees 1653/- on account of nankar and the salary of a separate revenue establishment.

In 1841 Lakhnesar’s privileges of maintaining its own Tahsildar and Sarishtadar as distinct from the Government revenue establishment of the district was withdrawn, the duties being performed by the Government Tahsildar and Qanungo  of Rasra. This destroyed the very foundation of the Republic and the 500 years of rule came to an end making the Sengars just a zamindar’s. The only difference was they were yet known as Lakhnesar Raj due to the understanding between the brotherhoods. Where every Sengar considered himself to be a republic worker and all income was shared among them self. It was very difficult to understand the ownership at limes of sale, mortgage or auction. “For nearly a century no attempt was made to define the limits of the interests held by the innumerable co-sharers,”[15]  further references that we get about the land sharing are “The properties of the different shareholders are intermixed in a most intricate manner. No decree of the civil court giving possession to any purchaser by auction or by private sale, has ever been executed, owing to the impossibility of identifying the property of any one of the proprietors.”[16]

In this way the Sengar Rajputs, who had founded the little republic of Lakhnesar and administered and protected it for centuries, became ordinary Zamindars. They yet held about 83 percent of the pergana of Lakhnesar.

Lakhnesar’s struggle for existence was tragic and protracted, but the Sengars of Lakhnesar have nothing to be ashamed of in the way in which their ancestors themselves. They acted their part well, and, as Pope had said, “Honour and shame from no condition rise; Act well your part, there all the honour lies.” So all honour to those really great souls.

 

 


[1] Gazetteer United Province of Agra and Oudh 1907 Page 140

[2] Gazetteer United Province of Agra and Oudh 1907 Page 228

[3] Gazetteer United Province of Agra and Oudh 1907 Page87

[4] Vide Imperial Gazetter

[5] N.W.P. & Oudh Census Report, 1891, Part 1, Page 240

[6] Vide Ain-i-Akbari

[7] Gazetteer

[8] Sherring’s “Hindu Castes and Tribes,” 1872 Edition.

[9] Gazetteer of Ballia District, 1907

[10] Ibid

[11] Ibid

[12] Statistical Memoirs of Ghazipur District

[13] Gazetteer of Balia District, 1907

[14] The Zamindari of the brothers of Shri Kunwar Veer Shah Ju Deo’s descendents spread in the District of Ballia, Jahanabadh pergana and nearby Sikanderpur pergana. They are known as “Birhiya”. In 1881 B.C. the strength of Sengars in Ballia was 17139 and Birhiya 7314. In the year 1891 it was 21189 and 6502 respectably. In 1901 the strength reduced to 10349 because of the wars and degradation of land they held from time immemorial. It is true to say “ The Rajputs and their valor cannot live without their land”

[15]  District Ballia Gazetteer, year 1907, page 113

[16] “Hindu Caste and Tribe”, year 1872, page 184-89

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