Veer Surendra Sai— a name Odisha utters with immense pride and respect. Even though Surendra Sai had led a valiant struggle against the British, unfortunately, his heroism has remained unknown and unsung to most Indians.
On January 23, 1809, the ‘Veer’ was born in Khinda village, around 21 km from Sambalpur. He was a direct descendant of King Madhukar Sai, the fourth king of the Chauhan dynasty, but the British refused this right to him after the king’s demise. That is when began the ‘resistance’ movement in Odisha and Surendra Sai’s journey of becoming a hero for all of us.
Here’re some lesser-known facts about the life and contribution of the warrior:
- Between 1808 and 1817, Sambalpur was occupied by the Marathas. After the Third Anglo-Maratha War, the British restored Sambalpur to the Chauhan kings but as mere puppets.
- When Maharaja Sai died In 1827 without an heir, the British, as per their law ‘Doctrine of Lapse’, nominated his queen Rani Mohan Kumari on the throne, to which Surendra Sai protested. The 18-year-old Surendra Sai stood firm and strong for the rights he was entitled to. Surendra brought together tribals and the zamindars of Khinda, Barapali, Sonepur, Gauntias, and his brothers to revolt against the British imperialism and Queen Mohan Kumari.
- In 1833, the British removed Rani and placed an old Zamindar Narayan Singh on the Sambalpur throne that disappointed the people of the region. Reigns of both Rani and Narayan Singh were highly unpopular as the rents were made steep high and the people suffered vastly. In reality, the British were calling the shots in the state.
- Surendra Sai, his brother Udanta and uncle Balaram Singh were sent to the Hazaribagh jail in 1840 for killing the father and son of Durjaya Singh, the only Zamindar supporting Narayan Singh.
- All this created a situation that was ripe for rebellion. Surendra Sai, who was trained in guerrilla warfare and horsemanship, was looked upon by many as their leader. He was supported by the Zamindars as well as the tribal people.
- After the death of Narayan Singh in 1849, British took over Sambalpur but the uprising had already begun and the 1857 revolt shook the entire British empire. During their revolt, sepoys broke the Hazaribagh jail and the prisoners were set free. Among them were Surendra Sai and his brother, who then fled to Sambalpur. After reaching Sambalpur, he acquired a fighting force of about 1500 men. He fought against the British through guerrilla warfare from 1857 to 1862. Despite strong measures by the Government, he continued his struggle for freedom and pride.
- In 1864, Sai was finally caught by the British with the help of a spy who betrayed Sai and later sent to Asirgarh fort jail. He languished in jail for 20 years during which he lost his eyesight. He breathed his last in the Jail on February 28, 1884.
Even after his death, the impact his headstrong efforts had is invincible. He managed his life, his fight and his rights single-handedly, with villagers following him for his undying spirits even after being beaten by the British conspiracies. Man of such valour is remembered today and will be remembered for all years to come.