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Remembering the Gondwana Royals of MP Who Used Poetry to Fuel the 1857 Rebellion

By: Vivek Trivedi


Last Updated: August 14, 2021, 22:37 IST


King Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah were both good poets so they used their poetry to trigger a rebellion against the British in MP. (Special Arrangement)

King Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah were both good poets so they used their poetry to trigger a rebellion against the British in MP. (Special Arrangement)

The brave Gondwana king and his son remained fearless as the British blew them with cannons.

Lakhs of brave hearts had contributed to the fight for freedom of the country even by laying down their lives for a cause in an absolutely fearless and inspiring manner and a brave Gondwana king and his son from Jabalpur in Madhya Pradesh remained one of them.

As the nation was unshackled on August 15, 1947, it was an outcome of lakhs of citizens including also those in higher-ups who put up their lives on the line to keep the struggle for freedom going for hundreds of years.

The courageous martyr royals from Gondwana princely state were among them. The Garha-Mandla Gondwana dynasty that ruled the Mahakaushal region is still remembered for the valorous tales of its rulers.

Two members of this dynasty have a special place in the freedom struggle of the country.


Commander Clarke who was posted at 52nd regiment of the British in the year 1857 was a stonehearted officer. He used to be at his cruel best with the kings of smaller states, landlords and the public in general.

Unable to bear the injustice, the king of Gondwana, now known as Jabalpur decided to raise his voice.

King Shankar Shah and his son Raghunath Shah, both were good poets so they used their poetry to trigger a rebellion against the British in the state.

The king had expelled a corrupt employee Girdharilal Das from his court who met the British commander and started explaining to him the meaning of the poetry. The officer was quick to understand that the king was up to something big.

Both the king and his son were kept under the supervision of the British and were offered a pension. The two always had live contact with the public which considered Shankar Shah the real ruler of the princely state.

The hard-hitting poetry used by the two had struck a chord with the public and Indian soldiers in the British army as well.

He sent some spies to the fort who returned with the information that the king was about to attack the cantonment area in the next few days. After legendary freedom fighter Mangal Pandey sparked off the mutiny in the year 1857, King Shankar Shah had also planned to launch an attack on the local British cantonment with the help of local landlords.

Commander Clarke on September 14 attacked the fort, catching the king and his army unaware as they were not fully prepared. The British army took the king and his 32-year-old son Raghunath into captivity.

Since September 15, the loyal landlords and well-wishers of the king started moving towards Jabalpur with arms and ammunition and planned an attack on the cantonment on the night but the plan got leaked. The well-prepared soldiers of Madras infantry foiled the attack but the rebels torched several bungalows of the British officers and killed British soldiers in large numbers but could not free the captives.

Some historical accounts say that the Indian origin soldiers in the British army rebelled the same night, killed a senior officer and left for being part of the first war of Independence.

On September 18, 1857; the two (king and the prince) were tied to the cannons but the fearless father-son duo recited an inspirational poem even despite seeing their end in front of them.

The father started with …

Mlechhon ka mardan karo, Kalika Mai.

Moond Mukh dandin ko, chugli ko chabai khai.

Khoond dar dushtan ko, Shatru Sanharika,

The son concluded with the couplet—

Kalika Bhawani Maay araj hamari sun,

Daal Mudmaal Gare Khadag Kar Dhar le….

No sooner than the lines concluded, the public hailed their brave king and the prince in the loudest possible voice making the British commander panic. He quickly ordered his men to fire, loud sounds followed and the courageous royals attained martyrdom becoming an inspiration for the coming generations.

This poem was found from their palace as the British had arrested them and one of the informers of the British had translated it like this, “The king, Shankar Shah, meditating on the terrible image of the Goddess Chandi says, “ Shut the mouths of slanderers; trample the sinners! Shatru Samharike ! Killer of enemies !) Listen to the cry of Religion; support your slave. Ma Kalike ! Kill the British; exterminate them; Mata Chandi ! ”

Afterwards, queen Phoolkunwar had cremated the mortal remains of the king and the prince on the banks of river Narmada and set out to avenge the deaths posing as a man with the soldiers. She had attacked the fort of Ramgarh and killed several British soldiers in the process. As her men kept dying the fight, she also at one point fell from her horse and keeping her dignity, killed herself with her knife.

Historians claim that it was the first such instance in the Indian freedom struggle when members of the royal family were killed by the British in this manner (through cannons).

The valour and martyrdom are still proudly remembered in the Mahakaushal region on September 18.

Jabalpur had a crucial role in the 1912 attack on Lord Hardinge

Jabalpur city also has a crucial role to play in the 1912 bomb attack on then Viceroy Lord Hardinge who had escaped the attack that took place in Chandni Chowk in New Delhi with severe injuries. It was later known as the Delhi conspiracy case. Rash Bihari Bose, a legendary freedom fighter, who was seen as the mastermind of the attack had planned the murderous assault on Lord Hardinge while his meeting with Chidambaram Pillai in Jabalpur. Mock drill of the attack was carried out at local Madan Mahal hillocks in Jabalpur. Arms smuggled into the country through famous Komagata Maru, a Japanese steamship, were also hidden in the hillocks of Madan Mahal in Jabalpur. Some young men were also imparted training to operate these weapons.

(Inputs Pratik Mohan Awasthi)

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first published:August 14, 2021, 22:33 IST
last updated:August 14, 2021, 22:37 IST