Narmada has for long been the lifeline of Central India. The holy river has inspired poets, sages, writers and revolutionaries alike. Its motherly presence has been the key to survival of both life and culture here. The river has not just blessed this area with some of the most fertile lands in the country, but has also gifted it with a dense forest cover, rare to be matched in its wildlife, habitat and heritage. To the south of the Narmada in the state of Madhya Pradesh lies the Satpuras, the tallest mountain range in the region. Its forests not only posses abundant natural wealth, but have also silently preserved historical evidences of our gallant past in the form of rock paintings, forts and destroyed temples, awaiting to unfold the stories of the bravery and sacrifice of martyrs still unknown, of heros still unsung.
Pachmarhi is a hill station located in the Satpura mountains and is also the winter capital of Madhya Pradesh. This little paradise is the only plateau surrounded by high peaks covered with dense forest covers. It is for this reason that human settlements found their way on this plateau from time immemorial. Cave shelters and rock paintings on the plateau are estimated to be more than 8,000 years old, most of them yet awaiting their first exposure to a camera lens. On the west of the Pachmarhi plateau is the Bori Sanctuary, home to many more cave shelters, rock paintings, destroyed temples and above all, an elaborate well built fort. The British cleverly credited themselves for declaring Bori as the first reserve forest in the country in the year 1862. It takes some study and effort to understand the real intentions behind this sudden British enthusiasm for nature conservation.
Ever since Mangal Pande sounded the gunshots in Meerut, the British were being pushed to the corner in almost every part of the country. The element of surprise in the war, backed up by almost perfect networking and coordination shocked the British. One such unexpected revolt was from the tribal kings. It began with Raja Shankar Shah and his son Kunwar Raghuvir Shah challenging the Crown in Jabalpur. When the British could not defeat them directly, they broke through the kings trusted aides, capturing both father and son who were then blown up by cannons, where the High court of Madhya Pradesh stands today. The news of this sacrifices spread like wild fire. What the British thought would scare Indians actually enraged them. The tribals of Satpura united under the tribal kings of Sohagpur and Fatehpur, being led by the Jagirdar of Harrakot Raja Bhabhut Singh and his chief aide Holi Bhai. Fierce battle ensued on the banks of the river Denwa, which became a nightmare for the British because of the gorilla warfare adopted by the tribals. The British had earlier tasted mud in 1818 when the Gonds of Chhindwara and Betul had forced them to a treaty with their leader Appa Saheb. (Winrock international and Cambridge report, 2005). They did not want to repeat it. So out came the weapon of British treachery. Their seed of divide and rule bore fruit when a local Zamindar fell prey to temptations of the Crown and finally, Raja Bhabhut Singh, Shri Holi Bhai along with the kings of Sohagpur and Fatehpur were captured and executed.
The British were quick to learn from the mistakes of 1818. Bori Sanctuary was declared a reserve forest and the forts, temples and every proof of tribal civilisation was left in isolation. The forest was closed for archaeologists, and researchers so that the heritage of the martyrs could be buried in the dunes of time. Captain James Forsyth was sent to ?discover? Pachmarhi which he later converted into an army cantonment in the year 1869. However, the tribals continued to drew inspiration from Raja Bhabhut Singh and his brave men and continued to fight to oust the foreigners from their forests. In 1876, there was a rebellion that was spearheaded by Rajmuria and Bhatra tribes. There was another tribal struggle in Bastar against the colonial government during 1880s. Then came Tantiya Bhil who started a fight against the oppression of the British in Jhabua-Nimar region and became a legend. The Korku tribals residing in Chiraptla and Betul districts supported him with heart and soul. This struggle went on for around 10 years until 1890.
In 1910, the tribals of Bastar again revolted against the forest policy of the British (Behar 2002). Shocked by revolt after revolt, the British tried to bring outsiders into forests to reduce tribal control, but failed. (Winrock international and Cambridge report, 2005). In 1920, the tribals joined Mahatma Gandhi'snon cooperation movement and forcefully collected forest products, lighted forest fires, felled trees and broke every possible forest law. On August 1, 1930, Deepchand Gothi led 3,000 tribals in the Chikhlar forest. He was arrested and put behind bars for one year. On August 22, 1930, Ganjan Singh led thousands of tribals for satyagrah at Banjaridhal-Sataldehi. Their struggle with police cost a policeman his life while 23 tribals were arrested. Ganjan Singh was given life imprisonment. On August 21, 1942, the timber and bamboo depots at Ghoradongri were burnt. On August 22, Dharakhoh, Shahpur and Barbatpur railway stations and Ranipur police stations were burnt. The fire lighted by Raja Bhabhut Singh and his men was raging far and wide.
The road to Pachmarhi was never easy for the British, but was covered with sacrifices by patriots, blood, war and deception. Captain Forsyth still remains the hero who discovered Pachmarhi in the books of history. To commemorate the bravery of Raja Bhabhat Singh and his men not a single monument has been built in the entire Satpura forest. Those deep within the forest, in the shape of deserted temples, broken statues and vacated forts still stand testimony to their bravery and patriotism waiting to narrate their stories to the first visitor who dares to go that way.
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