“Delhi was the principal center of the 1857 Uprising. The British had to keep Delhi or lose their empire forever““The Last Mughal”, W. Dalrymple
“It was one of the most cruel and vindictive wars the world has ever seen. Dead bodies lay thick in the streets of Delhi“.‘A Narrative of the Siege of Delhi’, Charles Griffiths
It was an odd sort of war, where a Muslim emperor was pushed into rebellion against his Christian oppressors by an army of overwhelmingly Hindu sepoys, who came to him of their free will..to ask for the Barakat/blessing..“The Last Mughal”, W. Darlymple
In a stunning finding, the author recently discovered unseen stone inscriptions from the 1857 Uprising in Delhi, close to Kashmiri Gate. They have some incredible inscriptions, which state: “..9 Pounders. Command Ground near Mori Bastion” and “Samee House Battery. Major ..gton”. Needless to say, their historic importance is staggering.
They point, among other things to the grisly history and war crimes that the Dil of Hindustan underwent at the hand of the British Empire. At a time when the ideals of communal harmony are being besieged in the Subcontinent, these stones ring through as testaments to the blood of Indians of all religions that flowed on the soil of Delhi. For the ideal of secular, democratic freedom. An ideal which was sadly sabotaged in 1857, primarily due to collaborators and internal dissension. But it was an ideal which inspired the Indian freedom struggle and eventually lead to Azadi, exactly 90 years after the ‘fall’ of Delhi. Sadly, there’s not a single memorial or even plaque for this in the entire city – for an event which is often called the ‘Stalingrad of the British Raj’, beyond a recent, small 1857 Azadi museum in the Red Fort (inaugurated by late President Pranab Mukherjee but not merely dedicated to Delhi’s Siege).
I was shocked to see these stones were lying around in a non-descript corner of Kashmiri Gate, alongside construction materials for what seemed like a restoration-renovation exercise. Why and how these stones got there and how they survived for 150 years, is a mystery. Why would the British put their plans on these stone slabs with such precise detail? Was there a plan to build a memorial or engraving for a memorial that never got built? Or were they some form of signposts/temporary signs of where the battles were fought? The case gets curioser and curioser.
They loomed out while I was exploring nooks and crannies of the Kashmiri Gate barracks – still intact, with massive cannon marks on their fortified walls, testifying to the formidable building skills of the Mughals and citizens of Hindustan. The stones almost led me to themselves, as they were ‘smoother’, lighter and typical of colonial buildings and memorials in the Northern Subcontinent, from the Frontier to Lucknow and Calcutta. On further investigation, the carved writing with the old Victorian-era spellings stood out clearly visible..to my incredulous eyes (‘Moree’ instead of Mori, and ‘Samee’, instead of Sammy).
The historic importance of these stones is staggering. For it is through this very Kashmiri Gate, that the British entered and ‘conquered’ Delhi & subsequently Hindustan – with mass slaughter of lakhs, and the British Empire was established. Hence, it may be fair to say that this is one of the most important historical spots in history. Considering it was the key to the rise and fall of the most powerful empires, the Mughal and the British, paving way for Colonialism.
Had this Kashmiri Gate not fallen – as these stones testify to what could have been – would Hindustan have become the nascent secular republic, or a Constitutional Monarchy a la the original French revolution and Turkey ? It certainly seemed to be headed that way based on many Mutiny papers and documents in Indian and British archives…. but that is another story for another article.
The drama and mystery continued its gripping ride, as I read into these loaded words on the slabs. It was in this very area that Prince Mirza Mughal, the feisty son of Emperor Zafar (the reluctant King, chosen as the Uprising’s leader by primarily Hindus Sepoys) ordered the population of Delhi to ‘resist the Firangi assault with every weapon they could find’ (1). Moreover, the remarkable Hindu-Muslim unity also shines through,
‘It would be hard to imagine a time when Hindu sepoys would rally to the Red Fort and the standard of a Muslim emperor joining with their Muslim brothers to revive the Mughal empire”. (1)
My next stunning find was to read about the ‘9 Pounder’ cannons on these stones. The aforementioned cannons were originally developed by the British against Napoleon for the Napoleonic wars during the 1800-1812 era. It boggles the mind that these Napoleonic cannons were used to assault Delhi’s Kashmiri Gate, which despite 3 months of brutal shelling, refused to fall and its ‘defenders ceaselessly kept firing from it walls’ (1).
As the British officer Edward Vibart wrote in his letters, ‘The mutineers (of Delhi) fight with an obstinacy not to be conceived. They will never be driven from the walls’ (3.) This is remarkable since Vibart was one of the most vociferous Indo-phobic officials (1, Vibart papers, OIOC). Sadly, the eventual ‘fall of Dehli’ was due to sabotage, agent provocateurs who revealed crucial war information about ammunition and attack plans to the Brits, along with disunity among the rebels.
Hence, the picture portrayed by these inscriptions becomes even more tragic and relevant since Delhi’s Siege entailed some of the largest civilian killings worse than Jallianwala Bagh by a scale of hundreds (estimates put between 1 lakh to a few lakhs, in the aftermath and fallout of the ‘Siege, Ref.1, 2). For instance, the British officer Col. Edward Ommanney writes, ‘in the city of 150,000 all have nearly died or left. The whole city (of Dehli) is depopulated’ (2).
In separate incidents after the city fell in September 1857, the hangings, cannonading and shootings continued for months. Another British officer writes that, “6000 people were hanged in Chandni Chowk area within a week” (2). Even Nadir Shah’s notorious massacre and loot in 1739 had lasted only a few hours. In the case of British it went on for months. During this time, massacres like the Kucha Chelan – the intellectual hub of Delhi at the time – were perpetrated where almost 1400 men were shot in cold blood (by both British and Indian accounts) and the women and children jumped into wells which were filled with bodies for months (1,3,4).
The inscriptions also confirm that fierce do-or-die battles moved from Mori Gate, a stone’s throw from Kashmir Gate. So formidable was the Indian resistance that it took the well-armed British forces, by all accounts – an entire week to cover the half-mile from Kashmiri Gate to the Lal Qila! Hence, it is no wonder the plaque states “Command Ground near Mori Bastion”. And the place which is mentioned on the second inscription, namely, ‘Samee House Battery’ does not even exist anymore! It was blown up during the Siege, being one of the batteries by Delhi’s infamous Ridge, the British bastion for these four months. Beyond a few rare letters of British officers, not much reference to the Sammy House Battery even exists today. Hence, it is indeed incredible, that the stones not only mention the Battery and the half-erased name of its Commanding officer.
To my surprise there was indeed a ‘Major Remington’ who led the assault at Sammy House Battery (referenced in Amarpal Singh’s recent acclaimed book, ‘The Siege of Delhi’, 3).
Hence, these hidden stones are pointers to the story of this city and the defiant spirit of its Hindus and Muslims, who took on Napoleonic guns of the mighty British Empire but did not yield. It is this Dehli that needs to be preserved and pulled out from beneath the rubble of falsification of history. Perhaps it is too convenient to ‘forget’ this truth. For it defies and turns the ‘Two nation theory’ on its head. And these stones question the very raison d’etre of the current divided subcontinent. They are an Inconvenient Truth conveniently ‘hidden’ amongst the rubble of history, in the heart of Delhi.
- ‘The Last Mughal, Fall of a Dynasty’. William Darlymple, 2006
- ‘A Narrative of the Siege of Delhi’. Charles Griffith, 1910
- ‘The Siege of Delhi’. Amarpal Singh, 2021
- Dastaan-e Ghadar. Zahir Dehlvi, 1914
- ‘The Indian Mutiny of 1857’. G.B Malleson, 1890
Lehar is an Epidemiologist and freelance journalist, with MS and MPH graduate degrees, educated and based in the USA and India. She has written for the Indian Express, Columbia University's 'Story South Asia', Stanford Arts Review, the Guardian, the Hindustan Times among others. She was the finalist for the Jaipur Literature Festival writing competition 2020, for her articles on global geopolitics and the relevance of 'Akbar and Dara Shikoh’. Her interests include syncretic culture, human rights, Hindustani literature and the environment. She is the founder of the heritage cultural group "Sanjhi VIrasat".
Congratulations on this well researched, well written, and informative article.
More such articles are needed to lessen the prevalent ignorance in these areas.