Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja (Jam Sahab) – Indian Schindler

German’s combined armed forces of Heer (Army), Luftwaffe (Air Force) and Kriegsmarine (Navy) during World War II, was termed as Wehrmacht, which meant “Defence Power” in German.

Wehrmacht committed systematic war crimes included massacres, mass rape, looting, forced labour, murder of three million Soviet Prisoners of War and extermination of about 6 million Jews.

Wehrmacht attacked Poland on September 1, 1939.

A group of about 600 Polish children and 40 women were rescued and put onboard small ships, which travelled from port to port – in Scotland, Ireland, Africa, but were barred from entering. Finally, they arrived in Bombay.

Maharaja Digvijaysinhji Ranjitsinhji Jadeja, King of Navanagar in Gujarat, was an Indian representative on the Imperial War cabinet in London, chaired by Winston Churchill.

Hearing of the children’s plight from the Polish Prime Minister-in-exile – General Wladyslaw Sikorski, he flew immediately to Bombay. He first went to the ships, saw the dreadful condition of the kids, spoke to the captains and went to meet the Governor. British Governor also refused entry, saying he did not have permission from the home office in London, and that they came from enemy territory.

Maharaja went back to the ships and asked the captains to move to Navanagar’s Rosi Port. He took them all off and put them in tented accommodation.

Viceregal Office in Delhi objected to him taking in foreigners. Maharaja said they were part of his family, and even produced an adoption certificate.

Later a camp was set up in Balachadi, about 15 miles away from the Capital City of Jamnagar. The camp existed till early 1946; subsequently, the children were transferred to Valivade camp in Kolhapur. To educate the children, a school was also set up.

While the Red Cross, the Polish Army in exile and the colonial administration jointly helped set up the camps, it was the Maharaja who played the crucial role in the children’s welfare.

Maharaja told the children, “You may not have your parents, but I am your father now.” The children, in turn, called him “our Bapu” (“father”).

United Nations-assisted repatriation began in 1946.

Poland has shown its gratitude to the Maharaja in various forms. Warsaw has a “Good Maharaja Square” named after the Maharaja. Poland also named a school after the Maharaja, who was passionate about children’s education. The Maharajah was awarded the President’s Medal, Poland’s highest honour.

Rani Abbakka Chowta – The Fearless Warrior Queen of Tulu Nadu

“She could ride a horse, fight with a sword and was a seasoned diplomat. She also had bloody battles with the Portuguese and was the last person to use agnivanas or arrows tipped with fire”

Chowtas were the Jain Kings who had migrated from Gujarat in 12th Century to Tulu Nadu, a province consisting of present-day Dakshina Kannada district of Karnataka, portions of Udupi and Kasaragod district in Kerala. Ullal was the capital of the Chowta king Thirumala Raya III.

As the Chowtas were a matrilineal dynasty, the king’s heir was his young niece, Abbakka. The fiercely independent princess had been trained in sword fighting, archery, cavalry, military strategy, diplomacy and all other subjects of statecraft from a very young age.

Before his death, Thirumala Raya III had arranged a strategic marriage alliance for Abbakka with Lakshmappa Bangaraja, the ruler of Mangalore. As the ruler of Ullal, Rani Abbakka continued to live in her own home even after marriage and the couple’s three children stayed with her. However, the marriage broke down when Bangaraja compromised with the Portuguese.

Since the 7th century, maritime trade (in spices, textiles, war horses, etc.) had flourished between the communities of India’s western coast and the Arabian Peninsula. With an eye on this lucrative trade, several European powers had been trying to discover the sea route to India. The Portuguese finally became the first Europeans to find a sea route to India when Vasco Da Gama reached Calicut in 1498 after a long voyage.

Five years later, the Portuguese built their first fort at Cochin. This was followed by the establishment of a ring of forts in the Indian Ocean region – in India, Muscat, Mozambique, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, even as far as Macau in China. This, along with its superior naval technology, put the control of all the spice routes to India into the hands of the Portuguese within twenty years of Da Gama’s historic voyage. For the whole of the 16th century, Portuguese dominance in the region remains unchallenged by any other European power (the Dutch, the French and the British reached India only at the start of the 17th century).

Trading in the Indian Ocean, which had hitherto been a free trade zone for Indian, Arab, Persian and African ships, now required a paid permit from the Portuguese. The naval superiority of the Portuguese meant that they invariably won against local rulers who rebelled.

In 1526, the Portuguese captured the Mangalore port. Their next target was Ullal, a thriving port town that lay nestled between the verdant peaks of the Western Ghats and the cerulean blue waters of the Arabian Sea.

With an eye on Ullal’s trade (that had flourished under the Queen’s able leadership), the Portuguese had been trying to exact tributes and taxes from Rani Abbakka. Incensed and exasperated at the unfair demands, she refused to accede to the Portuguese demands. Her ships continued to trade with the Arabs despite attacks by the Portuguese. From Mogaveeras and Billava archers to Mappilah oars men, people of all castes and religions found a place in her army and navy.

Infuriated by her effrontery, the Portuguese began attacking Ullal repeatedly. The first battle took place in the year 1556, with the Portuguese fleet being commanded by Admiral Don Alvaro de Silveira, and ended in an uneasy truce.

Two years later, the Portuguese attacked with a larger force and were able to ransack the settlement at Ullal to some extent. However, Rani Abbakka’s masterful battle tactics and diplomatic strategy (she collaborated with Arab Moors and Zamorin of Kozhikode) pushed them back once again.

During the next battle, the Portuguese army under General Joao Peixoto attacked Ullal and managed to capture the royal palace. However, Rani Abbakka escaped before they could capture her.

Along with 200 loyal soldiers, she raided the Portuguese in the dead of night and killed the general along with 70 of his soldiers. Frightened by the ferocity of the attack, the remaining Portuguese troops fled to their ships

By this time, the Portuguese had become alarmed about Rani Abbakka’s growing reputation inspiring other rulers. When repeated frontal attacks didn’t work, they resorted to treachery. A series of edicts were passed to make any alliance with the defiant queen illegal. Her husband, Bangaraja of Mangalore, was also warned against sending any aid to Ullal under the threat of burning his capital.

Yet, Rani Abbakka continued to dismiss these rulings with contempt and scorn. The stunned Portuguese now decided to send Anthony D’ Noronha (the Portuguese Viceroy of Goa) to attack Ullal. In 1581, 3,000 Portuguese troops supported by an armada of battleships attacked Ullal in a surprise pre-dawn attack.

Rani Abbakka was returning from a visit to her family temple and was caught off guard but she immediately mounted her horse and rode into the battle, leading her troops in a fierce counter-offensive.

Her piercing battle cry – “Save the motherland. Fight them on land and the sea. Fight them on the streets and the beaches. Push them back to the waters”, echoed through winds as she and her soldiers fired flaming arrows at the Portuguese ships.

While many of the ships in the Portuguese armada burnt that night, Rani Abbakka was wounded in the crossfire and was captured by the enemy with the help of a few bribed chieftains. Rebellious till the very end, the fearless queen breathed her last in captivity. However, her legacy lived on through her equally fierce and brave daughters who continued to defend Tulu Nadu from the Portuguese.

She was an immensely popular queen and even today she is a part of folklore. Her story has been retold generation to generation through folk songs, folk theatres and local ritual dances.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa – Fiercest Warrior in Sikh History

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa - Fiercest Warrior in Sikh History

Hari Singh Nalwa was born into the Uppal family to Sardar Gurdial Singh and Dharam Kaur in Gujranwala, Punjab’s Majha District. His father, Sardar Gurdial Singh, followed the profession of his father and took part in various campaigns of Sukarchakia Sardars – Charat Singh and Mahan Singh – in the capacity of Deradar. He expired in 1798 when Hari Singh was only seven years old. He was thus looked after by his maternal uncle.

Hari Singh joined Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s Khalsa army at the tender age of 13 and at the age of 18, led the first victory. He subsequently became the right hand of Maharaja Ranjit Singh.

An incident took place in Hari Sing’s early days of service in the Khalsa army. During a hunting expedition, Hari Singh was attacked by a tiger. The attack was so subtle and unexpected that he did not have enough time to pull out his sword. Young Hari Singh faced the crucial situation with such boldness that he managed to catch hold of the jaw of the beast with his hands, forcefully pushing it away before killing it with his sword. Noted historian Baron Charles Hugel says, he was called Nalwa for ‘having cloven the head of a tiger who had already seized him as its pray’.

Hari Singh fought 22 battles in his carrier, without losing one. He was the longest serving Great Commander in Chief of Maharaja Ranjit Singh’s army.

Between 1804 and 1837, Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa fought many battles against the Afghans, quickly earning himself the reputation of the only man who struck terror in their hearts.

Legend has it that Afghan mothers used to quieten their children by taking Nalwa’s name and for young Afghans, his name was a terror spoken in hush hush. Even American Generals used to tell Nalwa’s story to motivate their troops when US-Afghan war was in its thick.

Hari Singh Nalwa is almost entirely credited for the Sikh empire’s expansion beyond the Indus Valley and up to the Khyber Pass.

Sardar Hari Singh Nalwa is considered to be one of the few men to have ever totally dominated the Khyber Pass, starting with the battle of Kasur in 1807 and ending with the capture of Jamrud in 1836. Despite the fact that the odds were stacked against him in each fight, it was his wit and superior knowledge of fighting tactics that won him his victories.

Hari Singh Nalwa’s first significant military campaign was that of Kasur in 1807. Along with his fellow commanders, Hari Singh Nalwa marched on to Kasur to subjugate its Afghani owner Kutab-ud-din Khan. Sikhs laid siege for three months after which Kutab-ud-din Khan surrendered. Hari Singh Nalwa was the first to march inside the city gate of Kasur with his division.

Battle of Mankera in 1822, battle of Nowshera in 1823, battle of Sirikot in 1824, battle of Saidu in 1827 and the seizure of Peshawar in 1834 are major battles fought and won by Nalwa.

In 1836, soon after Dussehra, Hari Singh Nalwa conquered Jamrud, a fort at the mouth of the Khyber Pass. This victory meant that the Sikhs could launch offensive against Kabul anytime. Dost Mohammed Khan of Kabul was alarmed with this victory. But the marriage of Nau Nihal Singh, the Maharaja’s grandson in 1837, changed the equation and troops were withdrawn from all over Punjab to put up a show of strength for the British Commander-in-chief who was invited to the wedding.

Dost Mohammed Khan was also invited to the great celebration, but he did not go. Instead, he chose to take this opportunity to seize Jamrud. Hari Singh Nalwa anticipated this and did not go to Amritsar, stationing himself in Peshawar.

Dost Mohammed ordered his army to march towards Jamrud together with his five sons and his chief advisors, with orders not to engage with the Sikhs. Instead, it was more of a show of strength to try and wrest the forts of Shabqadar, Jamrud and Peshawar. Hari Singh was also told not to engage with the Afghans till reinforcements arrived from Lahore.

Hari Singh’s lieutenant, Mahan Singh, was in the fortress of Jamrud with 600 men and limited supplies. Hari Singh, who was in Peshawar, moved to rescue his men who were surrounded from every side by the Afghan forces, without water in the small fortress. Though the Sikhs were totally outnumbered, the sudden arrival of Hari Singh Nalwa put the Afghans in total panic. In the melee, Hari Singh Nalwa was accidentally grievously wounded.

Before he died, he told his lieutenant not to let the news of his death out till the arrival of reinforcements, which is what he did. While the Afghans knew that Hari Singh had been wounded, they waited for over a week doing nothing, till the news of his death was confirmed. By this time, the Lahore troops had arrived and merely witnessed the Afghans fleeing back to Kabul.

Hari Singh Nalwa had not only defended Jamrud and Peshawar, but had prevented the Afghans from ravaging the entire north-west frontier.