The lesser-known Vellore Mutiny being a small scale mutiny could not earn itself the fame of Sepoy Mutiny. Yet it was the first Indian military rebellion against the British East India Force. Not known to many, this mutiny occurred long before the well known Sepoy Mutiny of 1857 in Vellore Fort. I learnt about this important part of Indian history while on my visit to this important monument in the city of Vellore in Tamil Nadu. Stay with me to explore the remains of the fort and know the story of the first Indian Sepoy mutiny.
With no knowledge of the Vellore Mutiny and the importance of the Vellore Fort in Indian history, I was in the city of Vellore for some personal engagement. We were left with the evening time with nothing in hand to do, so we googled the nearby destinations to visit and found the Vellore fort in the vicinity and at once we started for the fort located within the heart of the city.
Vellore is the city headquarters of the district with the same name and is located at a distance of 140 km from Chennai and 153 km from Puducherry. So I took this opportunity and later visited Puducherry from here. (Read about my experience in Puducherry.) The city is mostly famous for its Christian Medical College of international repute, founded by American medical missionary Dr. Ida S. Scudder in 1930 and the Vellore Institute of Technology.
Vellore Fort plays an important part in the history of the city and the district. Located at the centre of the city, the remains of this ancient fort has a long story to narrate. Without proper documentation, the exact period of construction of the fort is not known. It is believed that the fort was built by Chinna Bommi Nayaka, a subordinate of Sadasiva Raya of Vijayanagara dynasty in the 16th century CE.
The rectangular fort covers a circumference of 3 km and is built of granite cut rocks. The straight walls of the rampart are frequented by semi circular bastions with gun holes. The massive rampart is surrounded by a wide moat which was believed to be the home for many crocodiles in turn acting as the first line of defence. The fort passed on hands of different rulers from different dynasties to finally be maintained by the Archaeological Survey of India after Indian independence.
The outer fortification remains preserved while many parts of the fort within are in ruins. The fort presently houses the Jalakanteshwara temple, St. John’s Church, a mosque, a museum with the display of some ancient artefacts and arms used during various periods within the fort, a police station, post office and a few other government offices.
Coming back to the history of the fort, the fort was the residence of the Rayas during the 17th century. The battle of Toppur took place in the fort between two sides of the Raya family each side supported by their acquaintances – the Nayaks of Tanjore, the Gingee and the Madurai. In the 1650s a battle broke out between the Rayas and the Bijapur Sultanate. Finally the fort was ceded to the Bijapur dynasty. This defeat marked the end of the Vijayanagara dynasty.
In the year 1678, followed by a prolonged fourteen month military blockage by the Marathas under Shivaji, the fort was captured from the Bijapur sultan. In 1707 after the death of Aurangzeb, the Mughals under Daud Khan defeated the Marathas and captured the Vellore Fort. The subsequent struggle for the Delhi throne led to the parting of the Deccan Muslims from the Mughals and the Nawab of Arcot established his independent rule with Vellore Fort under its reign. Dost Ali, the successor of the Nawab gifted the Vellore fort to his son in law in 1733.
Later there was a conflict between the Nawab and his son in law. The Nawab had the support of the British East India Company while his rivals had the support of the French colonisers. The Carnatic war broke out resulting in the victory of the British thus, establishing its dominance among the European trading companies within India while the French were pushed to a corner in Pondicherry. (Read my post on Pondicherry.)
The British forces took over the Vellore Fort and used it as a military garrison. In 1780 Hyder Ali besieged the fort for over two years during the second Anglo-Mysore War with no ultimate success and had to withdraw. The fort remained with the British. In 1806 the Vellore military garrison consisted of two infantry regiments of the Madras Army and four of the English regiment. The British commander-in-chief of the Madras Army introduced new discipline within the Army. He ordered for new round hats replacing the traditional turbans, removal of caste marking, jewellery and beards.
The new rule was not accepted openly rather it was considered offensive interfering with their religious beliefs and cultural tradition. Added to this was the fact that the new round hat had a rosette made of cowhide. This led to a huge unrest and on the dawn of 10th July 1806, the Indian sepoy attacked the British barrack and by late morning killed 15 officers and 100 soldiers and raided their quarters.
A large cavalry cantonment was called from Arcot to control the situation. Within nine hours the unrest was bought under control and the 800 odd mutineers were left scattered and heavily wounded while many killed. The mutiny was controlled within a day but this gave a major blow to the British army. A court of inquiry was formed by the British and later it was decided to shift the family of Tipu Sultan who were held captive within the fort to Calcutta.
This was the first known mutiny against the British East India company. This might have been a one day affair or a violent struggle of a day yet this was the first Sepoy Mutiny by the Indians against the mighty English force, better known as the Vellore Mutiny. And this fort is the site of the first known struggle for independence. Unknowingly we visited the place and surprisingly got enlightened and enriched with such an important piece of Indian history.