The Indian Revolt of 1857 was a major uprising in India in 1857–58 against the rule of the British East India Company, which functioned as a sovereign power on behalf of the British Crown.

  • In 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, the British took the first step towards acquiring power in northern India. In 1857, the dominant ‘Revolt’ took place, which was a result of the policies and character of colonial rule after 1757. Because of these, significant changes took place in the British strategy for controlling India. The overall impact of British expansionist policies, economic exploitation, and administrative innovations over the years had adversely affected the positions of all – zamindars, rulers of Indian states, artisans, sepoys, traders, peasants, pundits, etc. The underlying discontent erupted in the form of a violent series of events in 1857 which shook the British Empire in India to its very foundations.
  • However, the period between 1757 and 1857 was not peaceful at all; it saw a series of famous outbursts in the form of religious and political violence, tribal movements, agrarian riots, and peasant uprisings.
  • Right from the very early days of the East India Company’s rule, rebellions and uprisings occurred for various reasons in different regions.
  • Major revolts took place in the east, west, northeastern regions, and south which were suppressed with brutality by the East India Company.
Indian Revolt of 1857
ECONOMIC:– Destruction of the traditional Indian Economy
– land revenue policy: peasants were highly suffered, resulting in the decline of agriculture
– Industrial policy: affected Indian traders and merchants (the charter act of 1813 and 1833)
– Ruin of agriculture by draconian land reforms
– Annexation of princely states: no patronage for artisans –> destruction of Indian handicrafts
– Loss of status for Zamindars: ashamed to work –> anger against British
POLITICAL:– Interference in the socio-religious affairs of the Indian public.
– The British policy of expansion through the Doctrine of Lapse, Subsidiary alliance, and direct annexation.
– The introduction of unfair policies like the policy of Trade and Commerce, the policy of indirect subordination, the policy of war and annexation, the policy of direct subordination, and the policy of misgovernance.
– Absentee sovereignty character of British.Denial of certain rights to Mughal rulers.
ADMINISTRATIVE:– Rampant corruption and exploitation especially at lower levels  of administration (police, local courts, etc.)
SOCIO-RELIGIOUS:– Racial discrimination towards native Indians (Theory of White Man’s Burden)
– Religious propagation by the Christian Missionaries
– Reforms like the Abolition of Sati, the Widow-Remarriage Act, and – – Women’s Education were seen as interference in the traditional Indian Society
– Taxation on musques, temples, etc.
INFLUENCE OF OUTSIDE EVENTS:– Crimean Wars 1854-56Punjab Wars 1845-49
– First Afghan War 1838-42
– The British suffered serious losses in these wars = a psychological boost for Indians
DISCONTENT AMONG SEPOYS:– Restriction on wearing caste-specific clothing and items, E.g., Turban
– Forced to travel overseas, which was forbidden in Hindu tradition
– Unequal pay for Indian sepoys + racial discrimination and subordination
– Newly introduced Enfield rifles had beef fat coatings (trigger point)

Features of revolt of 1857

Influence of Outside Events:

Outside events like the first Afghan War (1838-42), Punjab Wars (1845-49), and the Crimean Wars (1854-56) coincided with the Revolt of 1857. Due to which the British suffered severe losses because of all these concurrent events.

Main Event of The Revolt of 1857

Soon there was a rebellion in the Meerut Cantonment. The Meerut Mutiny (May 9, 1857) marked the beginning of the Revolt of 1857. The Indian sepoys in Meerut murdered their British officers and broke open the jail. On May 10, they marched to Delhi.

  • The Revolt began in Meerut, and it soon embraced a vast area from Punjab in the north and Narmada in the south to Bihar in the east and Rajputana in the west.
  • The 19th Native Infantry at Berhampur which refused the newly Enfield rifle and broke out in Feb. 1857; was disbanded in March 1857.
  • Also, from the 34th Native Infantry, Mangal Pandey went a step further and fired at the Sergeant Major of his unit at Barrackpore. The 7th Awadh regiment also met with a similar fate.
  • The biggest explosion came from Meerut on April 24, when 90 men of the 3rd Native Cavalry refused to accept greased cartridges. This sparked general mutiny among Indian soldiers at Meerut.

Discontent among Sepoys

  • The mixing of bone dust in flour and Enfield rifle introduction enhanced sepoys’ disaffection with the British government.
  • Also, the greased wrapping paper cartridge of a new rifle was made up of beef and pig fat which had to be bitten off before loading by Indian sepoys. (pig was a taboo for Muslims and the cow was sacred to Hindus).
  • The sepoys felt their religiousness in grave danger by all these actions made by the British government.
  • Religious beliefs and prejudices of the sepoys came into conflict with the conditions of service in the company’s army and cantonments.
  • The company put restrictions on wearing caste and sectarian marks and secret rumors of the activities of the chaplains (often maintained at the company’s expense which meant at Indian cost). They saw these activities of the company as interference in their religious affairs.
  • In 1856, Lord Canning’s government came with the General Service Enlistment Act; it caused resentment as because of this act, Bengal Army recruits had to serve anywhere as required by the British government.
  • The Indian sepoys were also unhappy with the emoluments they got as compared with their counterparts, British soldiers. Also, Indian sepoys got dissatisfied with foreign service allowance (Bhatta), when serving in Sindh or in Punjab. The annexation of Awadh inflamed their feelings further.
  • Indian sepoys were made to feel subordinate at every step; they were discriminated against racially in promotions and privileges matters.
  • This resulted in a long history of revolts in the British Indian Army – Bengal (1764), Vellore (1806), Barrackpore (1825), and during the Afghans Wars (1838-42).

Bahadur Shah selected as ay Smbolic Head:

  • Simon Fraser, the political agent, and lieutenant Willoughby, the officer-in-charge of the arsenal at Delhi were killed by their own European officers. The old and powerless Bahadur Shah Zafar was proclaimed the Emperor of India.
  • Delhi soon became a center of the Great Revolt and Bahadur shah, its symbol. This shows that the long reign of the Mughals had become the traditional symbol of India’s political unity.
  • The sepoys and all the Indian Chiefs hurried to show their loyalty to the Mughal emperor, indicating that the rebel soldiers were also inspired by politics, despite that it could be said that they were carrying on a common goal (relief from the British) for which the appeal of religion was also a major factor.
  • The entire Bengal Army quickly rose in Revolt which spread quickly. Awadh, Rohilkhand, Bundelkhand, the Doab, central India, large parts of Bihar, and east Punjab shook off British authority.

Capture of Delhi

In Delhi, the mutineers were joined by the Delhi sepoys and the city came under their control. The next day, on 11th May, the sepoys proclaimed the aging Bahadur Shah Zafar the Emperor of Hindustan. But Bahadur Shah was old and he could not give able leadership to the sepoys. The occupation of Delhi was short-lived.

Fall of Delhi

The British finally attacked Delhi in September. For six days there was desperate fighting. But by September 1857, the British reoccupied Delhi. Thousands of innocent people were massacred and hundreds were hanged. The old king was captured and later deported to Rangoon where he died in 1862. His sons were shot dead. This ended the imperial dynasty of the Mughals.

Centers of the 1857 Revolt

The revolt spread over the entire area from the neighborhood of Patna to the borders of Rajasthan. There were six main centers of revolt in these regions namely Kanpur, Lucknow, Bareilly, Jhansi, Gwalior, and Arrah in Bihar.

Lucknow:Lucknow was the capital of Awadh.
There the mutinous sepoys were joined by the disbanded soldiers from the old Awadh army.
Leadership- Begum Hazrat Mahal, one of the begums of the ex-king of Awadh, took up the leadership of the revolt. Finally, the British forces captured Lucknow. The queen escaped to Nepal.
      Kanpur:Led byNana Saheb, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II. He joined the revolt primarily because he was deprived of his pension by the British. He captured Kanpur and proclaimed himself the Peshwa. The victory was short-lived.
Kanpur was recaptured by the British after fresh reinforcements arrived. The revolt was suppressed with terrible vengeance. The rebels were either hanged or blown to pieces by canons. Nana Saheb escaped. But his brilliant commander Tantya Tope continued the struggle and was finally defeated, arrested, and hanged.
      Jhansi:Led ByRani Lakshmi Bai, when the British refused to accept the claim of her adopted son to the throne of Jhansi. She fought gallantly against the British forces. But she was ultimately defeated by the English.
Rani Lakshmi Bai escaped. Later on, the Rani was joined by Tantia Tope and together they marched to Gwalior and captured it. Sindhia, a loyal ally of the British, was driven out. Fierce fighting followed. The Rani of Jhansi fought like a tigress.
She died, fighting to the very end. Gwalior was recaptured by the British.
Bihar:In Bihar, the revolt was led by- Kunwar Singh, 80 years old jamadar of Aarah.

Other Centers of the 1857 Revolt

DelhiBahadur Shah II, General Bakht KhanJohn Nicholson
LucknowBegum Hazrat Mahal, Birjis Qadir, AhmadullahHenry Lawrence
KanpurNana Sahib, Rao Sahib, Tantia Tope, Azimullah KhanSir Colin Campbell
Jhansi & GwaliorRani Laxmi bai ,Tantya TopeGeneral Hugh Rose
FaizabadMaulvi Ahmadullah 
FarrukhabadTufzal Hasan Khan 
BarrackporeMangal Pandey 
BareillyKhan Bahadur KhanSir Colin Campbell
Allahabad And BanarasMaulvi Liyakat AliColonel Oncell
Baghpat (UP)Shah Mahal 
RajasthanJaidayal Singh and Hardayal Singh 
AssamKandapareshwar Singh, Maniram Dutta Baruah 
OrissaSurendra Shahi, Ujjwal Shahi 
Bihar (Jagdishpur)Kunwar Singh, Amar SinghWilliam Taylor and Eye
KulluRaja Pratap Singh 

British Official Associated With Revolts

General John NicholsonCaptured Delhi on 20th September 1857 (Nicholson died soon due to a mortal wound received during the fighting).
Major HudsonKilled Bahadur Shah’s sons and grandsons in Delhi.
Sir Hugh WheelerDefense against Nana Sahib’s forces till 26th June 1857. British forces surrendered on the 27th on the promise of safe conduct to Allahabad.
General NeilRecaptured Banaras and Allahabad in June 1857. At Kanpur, he killed Indians as revenge for the killing of the English by Nana Sahib’s forces. Died in Lucknow while fighting against the rebels.
Sir Colin CampbellFinal recovery of Kanpur on 6th December 1857. Final reoccupation of Lucknow on 21st March 1858. Recapture of Bareilly on 5th May 1858.
Henry LawrenceChief Commissioner of Awadh. Who died during the seizure of British residency by rebels at Lucknow on 2nd July 1857!
Major General HavelockDefeated the rebels (Nana Sahib’s force) on 17th July 1857. Died in Lucknow in December 1857.
William Taylor and EyeSuppressed the revolt at Arrah in August 1857.
Hugh RoseSuppressed the revolt at Jhansi and recaptured Gwalior on 20th June 1858. The whole of Central India and Bundelkhand was brought under British control by him.
Colonel OncellCaptured Banaras.
revolt of 1857 map

Leaders of the 1857 Revolt

  • Mangal Pandey
    • Mangal Pandey was born in a high-caste Hindu family in Uttar Pradesh (Ballia).
    • He joined the 34th Bengal native infantry as a sepoy at a young age.
    • He was enraged, knowing that the cartridge used in the New Enfield rifles were made up of animal fat, mainly from cows and pigs.
    • The sepoys felt their religion was in grave danger, and this is considered one of the major sparking points of the 1857 Revolt.
    • Then, he fired upon Lt. Baugh the Adjutant of the 34th Bengal native Infantry at Barrackpore on 29th March 1857. To read more about the Revolt of Mangal Pandey – [March 29, 1857], check the linked article.
    • He encouraged his fellow sepoys to join him.
    • He was later arrested in injured condition and was sentenced to death.
    • He was hanged on 8th April 1857, ten days before the fixed date of execution.
    • The daring and dashing act of Mangal Pandey triggered off a series of revolts all over the country.
    • The Indian government issued a stamp to commemorate him in 1984.
  • General Bakht Khan
    • In Delhi, Bahadur Shah was the leader. 
    • But the real power lay with the soldiers. Bakht Khan, who had led the revolt of the soldiers at Bareilly, arrived in Delhi on 3rd July 1857. 
    • From that date, he exercised real authority in Delhi.  
    • He formed a Court of soldiers composed of both Hindu and Muslim rebels.
  • Nana Saheb
    • At Kanpur, the revolt was led by Nana Saheb, the adopted son of Peshwa Baji Rao II.
    • The rebellious sepoys also supported Nana Saheb and under his leadership, both the military and civilian elements were united. They expelled the British from Kanpur and Nana Saheb was declared the Peshwa.
    • His troops were commanded by Tantya Tope and Azimullah.
  • Begum Hazrat Mahal
    • At Lucknow, the Begum of Awadh provided leadership and proclaimed her son, Birjis Qadr, as the Nawab of Awadh. 
    • But here again, the more popular leader was Maulavi Ahmadullah of Faizabad, who organized rebellions and fought the British. 
    • Therefore, in Lucknow, Begum Hazrat Mahal was assisted by Maulvi Ahmadullah.
  • Rani Laxmibai
    • Rani Lakshmi Bai/Rani Laxmibai of Jhansi was another great popular leader. 
    • She believed that she had been robbed of her ruling rights in defiance of recognized Hindu law.
    • Though she showed some hesitation at the initial stage, she fought valiantly once she joined the ranks of the rebels. 
    • To read more about Rani Lakshmi Bai and her contribution to the freedom struggle, check the linked article.
  • Kunwar Singh
    • He was a local zamindar in Arrah in Bihar.
    • Under his leadership, the military and civil rebellion was so completely fused that the British dreaded him the most.
  • Khan Bahadur
    • The order of the rebellion in Bareilly rested with Khan Bahadur Khan, a progeny of the former ruler of Rohilkhand. He resented the British and was not interested in the pension offered to him by the latter.
    • When the rebellion failed, Bareilly, too, was retrieved by the British. He fled to Nepal where the Nepalese seized him and then turned him over to the British. Khan Bahadur Khan was hanged in 1860.
  • The Unsung Heroes
    • Apart from those known leaders who are remembered for their courage and patriotism, there were plenty of unacknowledged and unrecognized but no less brave leaders among the peasants, sepoys, and petty zamindars.
    • They also battled the British with outstanding courage. Sepoys and peasants laid down their lives for the sake of their country, ignoring their religious and caste differences and rising above their own narrow individual interests.

Causes of Failure of the Revolt

  1. Limited Uprising: Although the revolt was fairly widespread, a large part of the country remained unaffected by it. The revolt was mainly confined to the Doab region. Sind, Rajputana, Kashmir, and most parts of Punjab. The southern provinces did not take part in it. It failed to have the character of an all-India struggle. Important rulers like Sindhia, Holkar, Rana of Jodhpur, and others did not support the rebels.
  2. No Effective Leaders: lacked an effective leader. Nana Saheb, Tatya Tope, and Rani Lakshmi Bai were brave leaders, no doubt, but they could not offer effective leadership to the movement as a whole.
  3. Limited Resources: lacked resources in terms of men and money. The English, on the other hand, received a steady supply of men, money, and arms in India.
  4. No Participation of the Middle Class: The English-educated middle class, the rich merchants, traders, and zamindars of Bengal helped the British to suppress the revolt.

Result of the Revolt of 1857

  • The government of India Act, of 1858 (Good governance Act 1858) was passed to end the rule of the company and transferred it to the British crown which was the outcome of the 1857 revolt.
  • The British Governor-General of India was given the title of a viceroy who became the representative of the monarch. It ended the system of double government by abolishing the Board of Control and Court of Directors.
  • It created a new office, the Secretary of State for India, vested with complete authority and control over the Indian administration. The secretary of state was a member of the British cabinet and was responsible ultimately to the British Parliament.
  • The 1857 revolt marked the end of the East India Company’s rule in India. India now came under the direct rule of the British Crown. This was announced by Lord Canning at a Durbar in Allahabad in a proclamation issued on 1 November 1858 in the name of the Queen. Thus, the Indian administration was taken over by Queen Victoria, which, in effect, meant the British Parliament. The Governor General’s office was replaced by that of the Viceroy.
  • The Doctrine of Lapse was abolished. The right to adopt sons as legal heirs were accepted.

The signification of the Revolt of 1857

  • The significance of the Revolt of 1857 lies in the fact that it voiced, violently, the grievances of various classes of people.
  • The British were made to realize that all was not under control in British India.
  • Modern Nationalism was unknown in India, yet the revolt of 1857 played an important role in bringing the Indian people together and imparting to them the consciousness of belonging to one country. It had seeds of nationalism and anti-imperialism, but the concept of common nationality and nationhood was not inherent to the revolt of 1857. One may say that the revolt of 1857 was the first great struggle of Indians to throw off British Rule. It established traditions of local resistance to British rule which were to pave the way for the modern national movement.
  • Hindu Muslim Unity Factor- During the entire revolt, there was complete cooperation between Hindus and Muslims at all levels- people, soldiers, and leaders. All rebels acknowledged Bahadur Shah Zafar, a Muslim, as the emperor and the first impulse of the Hindu sepoys at Meerut was to march to Delhi, the Mughal imperial Capital. Rebels and sepoys, both Hindu and Muslim, respected each other’s sentiments. Immediate banning of cow slaughter was ordered once the revolt was successful in a particular area. Both Hindus and Muslims were well represented in leadership, for instance, Nana Saheb had Azimullah, a Muslim and an expert in political propaganda, as an aide, while Laxmibai had the solid support of Afghan Soldiers. Thus, the events of 1857 demonstrated that the people and politics of India were not basically communal before 1858.

Nature of the Revolt

from different people’s perspectives, i.e. how they saw the Revolt

  • R.C. Majumdar – “Neither first nor a national war of independence”.
  • V.D. Savarkar – “War of independence”.
  • Eric Stokes – “Elitist in character”.
  • Lawrence and Seeley – “Mere sepoy mutiny”.
  • Percival Spear – “ Three phases of the Revolt”.
  • T.R. Holmes – “A conflict between civilization and barbarism”.

Hindus and Muslims fought united, but modern nationalism was absent.

Effects of the Revolt of 1857

  • Government of India Act, 1858: Company rule abolished; Crown took over.
  • Queen’s proclamation altered the administration.
  • Army reorganized (Proportion of Indian soldiers changed): Martial races recognized (Sikhs, Gurkhas, Pathans, etc.) by the British.
  • Racial hatred deepened.
Changes in Administration:– By the Act of Parliament of 1858 (Also called as Good Governance act of 1858), the power to govern India was transferred from the East India Company to the British Crown.
– The authority over India, wielded by the Directors of the Company and the Board of Control, was now to be exercised by a Secretary of State for India aided by a Council.
Provincial Administration:– The British had divided India for administrative convenience into provinces, three of which – Bengal Bombay, and Madras – were known as Presidencies.
– The Presidencies were administered by a Governor and his Executive Council of three, who were appointed by the Crown.
– The other provinces were administered by Lieutenant Governors and Chief Commissioners appointed by the Governor-General.
Local Bodies:– Financial difficulties led the Government to further decentralize administration by promoting local government through municipalities and district boards.
– Local bodies like education, health, sanitation, and water supply were transferred to local bodies that would finance them through local taxes.
Changes in the army:The Indian army was carefully re-organized after 1858, most of all to prevent the recurrence of another revolt.
Firstly, the domination of the army by its European branch was carefully guaranteed. The proportion of Europeans to Indians in the army was raised. The European troops were kept in key geographical and military positions. The crucial branches of artillery, tanks, and armored corps were put exclusively in European hands. The Indians were strictly excluded from the higher posts. Till 1814, no Indian could rise higher than the rank of a subedar.
Secondly, the organization of the Indian section of the army was based on the policy of ‘divide and rule’ so as to prevent its chance of uniting again in an anti-British uprising. A new section of the army like Punjabis, Gurkhas, and Pathans was recruited in large numbers.


Read More Articles on History or Art & Culture

Follow on Youtube Channel Score Better

Join Us on Telegram For More Update