Kunwar Singh, also known as Babu Kunwar Singh, was a leader and military commander during the Indian Rebellion of 1857. He led a selected crew of armed soldiers against the troops under the command of the British East India Company. He was the chief organizer of the fight against the British in Bihar.
Early life of Babu Kunwar Singh
Kunwar Singh was born on 13 November 1777 to Shahabzada Singh and Panchratan Devi, in Jagdispur of the Shahabad (now Bhojpur) District, in the state of Bihar. He belonged to the Ujjainiya Rajput clan.
A British judicial officer described Kunwar Singh as “a tall man, about six feet in height”. He went on to describe him as having a broad face with an aquiline nose. In terms of his hobbies, British officials describe him as being a keen huntsman who also enjoyed horse riding.
After his father died in 1826, Kunwar Singh became the taluqdar of Jagdispur. His brothers inherited some villages however a dispute arose as to their exact allocation. This dispute was finally settled and the brothers returned to having friendly relations.
He married the daughter of Raja Fateh Naraiyan Singh, a wealthy zamindar of the Deo Raj estate in the Gaya district who belonged to the Sisodia clan of Rajputs.
Role in the 1857 rebellion
Singh led the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in Bihar. He was almost eighty and in falling health when he was called upon to take up arms. He was helped by both his brother, Babu Amar Singh, and his commander-in-chief, Hare Krishna Singh.
Some argue that the latter was the real reason behind Kunwar Singh’s initial military success. He was a tough opponent and harried British forces for nearly a year. He was an expert in the art of guerilla warfare. His tactics sometimes left the British puzzled.
Singh took command of the soldiers who had rebelled at Danapur on 25 July. Two days later he occupied Arrah, the district headquarters. Major Vincent Eyre relieved the town on 3 August, defeated Singh’s force, and destroyed Jagdishpur.
Cutting of His Hand
During the rebellion, his army had to cross the Ganges river. The army of Brigadier Douglas started to shoot at their boat. One of the bullets shattered Singh’s left wrist. Singh felt that his hand had become useless and that there was an additional risk of infection due to the bullet shot. He drew his sword and cut off his left hand near the elbow and offered it to the Ganges.
Singh left his ancestral village and reached Lucknow in December 1857 where he met with other rebel leaders. In March 1858 he occupied Azamgarh and managed to repulse the initial British attempts to take the area.
However, he had to leave the place soon. Followed by Douglas, he withdrew towards his home in Ara, Bihar. On 23 April, Singh had a victory near Jagdispur over the force led by Captain le Grand (le gard in Hindi). On 26 April 1858, he died in his village. The mantle of the old chief now fell on his brother Amar Singh II who continued the struggle for a considerable time, running a parallel government in the district of Shahabad. In October 1859, Amar Singh II joined the rebel leaders in the Nepal Terai.
Death of Babu Kunwar Singh
In his last battle, fought on 23 April 1858, near Jagdispur, the troops under the control of the British East India Company were routed. On 22 and 23 April, being injured he fought against the British Army and with the help of his army, achieved victory, the battle ends when he brought down the Union Jack from Jagdispur Fort and hoisted his flag. He returned to his palace on 23 April 1858 and soon died on 26 April 1858.
Legacy of Babu Kunwar Singh
To honor his contribution to India’s freedom movement, the Republic of India issued a commemorative stamp on 23 April 1966. The Government of Bihar established the Veer Kunwar Singh University, Arrah, in 1992.
In 2017, the Veer Kunwar Singh Setu, also known as the Arrah–Chhapra Bridge, was inaugurated to connect north and south Bihar. In 2018, to celebrate the 160th anniversary of Kunwar Singh’s death, the government of Bihar migrated a statue of him to Hardinge Park. The park was also officially renamed ‘Veer Kunwar Singh Azadi Park’.
In the 1970s, a private landlord militia known as the ‘Kuer Sena/Kunwar Sena‘ (Kunwar’s Army) was created by Rajput youth in Bihar to combat Naxalite insurgents. It was named after Kunwar Singh.