• 05-Jun-2023

MANIRAM DEWAN AND PIYALI BARUA Torchbearers of Assam’s 1857 Sepoy Mutiny

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Jorhat in Assam was the last capital of the Ahom kingdom resurrected by the British in 1824 after a series of invasions by the Burmese from 1817 onwards. The Treaty of Yandabo signed in 1826 between the British regime and the Burmese was challenged by the tough resistance put up by the Assam revolutionaries. As it is with any uprising, the torchbearers of an ideology are the ones who turn a spark into a flame and in this case, it was Maniram Dewan who urged the young people of Assam to join the resistance against the British. In 1857, he formed a group of revolutionaries who would work with him. Piyali Barua (also known as Mahesh Chandra Gabharumelia) was one such youth who readily joined the network and turned his ire towards the British into action.

Maniram and Piyali were stark contrasts. While Maniram Dewan was a powerful and wealthy aristocrat favoured by the British for his charisma and knowledge, Piyali Barua was known to be a simple man who disapproved of any Western influence. Despite his westernized outlook, Maniram was determined to restore an Assamese King to power, and he petitioned the British for the same. The outright rejection of his appeal by the British prompted him to gather a group of like-minded individuals to stage a revolt against the imperialist authorities. It is said that Maniram Dewan and Piyali Barua were the masterminds behind the execution of the anti-British plot during the 1857 First War of Independence. While Maniram directed the revolt from Calcutta, it was Piyali who executed all the plans as the Chief Lieutenant in Assam.

The 1857 First War of Independence launched by the Indian sepoys was gaining momentum across the country. Maniram saw this as an opportunity to restore the Ahom rule in the state. From Calcutta, Maniram sent coded letters to Piyali Barua, who was serving as the Chief Advisor to Kandarpeswar in his absence. In those letters, he urged the heir apparent Prince Kandarpeswar to launch a rebellion against the British, with the help of sepoys at Golaghat and Dibrugarh. As per the plan, on the day of Durga Puja, they would march to Jorhat, where Kandarpeswar would be installed as King. However, just before one of their secret meetings, Harnath Barua, the unpopular, pro-British Daroga (inspector) of Sibsagar, intercepted some letters sent by Maniram Dewan. Their plot was exposed even before it could be executed.