Entrance to the Sitabuldi fort
|Built by||Mudhoji II Bhonsle|
|In use||1817 to present|
|26 January, 1 May (Maharashtra Day), and 15 August|
|Controlled by||Kingdom of Nagpur, East India Company, Indian Army|
|Garrison||Indian Army's 118th infantry battalion|
|Commanders||Mudhoji II Bhonsle|
|Occupants||Mahatma Gandhi, King George V and Queen Mary|
|Battles/wars||Battle of Sitabuldi|
Sitabuldi Fort, site of the Battle of Sitabuldi in 1817, is located atop a hillock in central Nagpur, Maharashtra, India. The fort was built by Mudhoji II Bhonsle, also known as Appa Sahib Bhosle, of the Kingdom of Nagpur, just before he fought against the British East India Company during the Third Anglo-Maratha War. The area surrounding the hillock, now known as Sitabuldi, is an important commercial hub for Nagpur. To the south is Nagpur Railway Station and behind it is Tekdi Ganapati, a temple of Ganesha. The fort is now home to the Indian Army's 118th infantry battalion.
Battle of Sitabuldi
Sitabuldi Fort, a major tourist attractions in Nagpur, is situated on two hillocks: "Badi Tekri", literally meaning "big hill", and "Choti Tekri", meaning "small hill" in Hindi. The Sitabuldi hills, though then barren and rocky, were not entirely unoccupied. Tradition holds that Sitabuldi got its name from two Yaduvanshi brothers – Shitlaprasad and Badriprasad Gawali, who ruled the area in the 17th century. The place came to be known as "Shitlabadri", which during British rule became "Seetabuldee", and later assumed its current form, "Sitabardi" or "Sitabuldi". The Battle of Sitabuldi was fought in November 1817 on these hillocks between the forces of Appa Saheb Bhonsle of Nagpur and the British.
After the death of Shivaji on 3 April 1680, the Maratha Empire broke up into segments ruled by five families: the Peshwas of Satara, the Gaekwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore, the Scindias of Gwalior, and the Bhonsles of Nagpur. The Maratha confederacy, as the five families were known, was still a formidable force.
During the 18th and 19th centuries, the Marathas tried to overcome the gradual supremacy of the East India Company, while the British prepared to suppress the Marathas. At the beginning of the 19th century, during the Second Anglo-Maratha War, the victorious British annexed territories of the Marathas.
Mudhoji II Bhonsle, also known as Appa Sahib, ascended the throne of Nagpur in 1816. On 23 November 1817, he told the British resident that he intended to receive a Khilat sent to him by the Peshwa which would make him Senapati of the Marathas. He requested that the resident should honour the occasion by his presence and that a salute should be fired in the British Cantonment. The British resident at Nagpur declined the request, and commented that as the British were then at war with the Peshwa, the request was highly offensive to the British government.
On 24 November 1817, Appa Sahib publicly received the Khilat and accepted the commission appointing him Senapati of the Maratha armies. He then mounted his elephant and addressed his principal Sardars. Surrounded by his troops, he proceeded to the camp at Sukhardara. The royal standard was displayed, the army drawn up, salutes fired from artillery stations, and nothing was omitted which could add to the pomp of the ceremony.
On the morning of 25 November 1817, communication between the residency and the city was prohibited. The resident Harakars were refused permission to carry a letter to the darbar and the markets were closed to English troops. The resident decided to delay taking any decisive measures. Towards noon of 25 November, a group of 2,000 Bhosla cavalry left their camp at Bokur, five miles north-east of the city, and approached the residency. The alarm had now spread to the market frequented by the people of the residency, which soon became almost deserted. All classes, both rich and poor, removed their families and property from the vicinity of Sitabuldi.
The resident now knew that an attack on the residency was imminent. He sent orders to Lieutenant Colonel Scott at about 2:00 pm to march immediately from his cantonment at Telankheri. The force arrived near the residency and occupied the twin hills of Sitabuldi. This movement was executed only just in time, as a large group of Arabs, hired as mercenaries by the Maratha army, were awaiting final orders to secure this position. A message was also sent to General Doveton to come immediately with the Second Division of the Army from Berar.
The high ground of Sitabuldi is rocky and devoid of trees, so it was not possible to dig any entrenchments on the two hills in the available time. Choti Tekri, the northernmost of the two hilocks, is lower in height, but was within musket range of Badi Tekri, so securing that ground was considered essential. The suburbs of the city came close to Choti Tekri.
- British forces
- A brigade of two Battalions of 20 and 24 Madras Native Infantry
- Two companies of Native Infantry
- Three troops of Bengal Native Cavalry
- Four six-pounder guns marines by Europeans of the Madras Artillery
- Resident Escorts (British Imperial Army)
- Disposition of British troops, 26 November 1817
- Chotti Tekri: 24 Battalion Madras Native Infantry with one 6-pounder gun
- Badi Tekri: 20 Battalion Madras Native Infantry with two 6-pounder guns
- Residency: Resident escorts, three troops of Bangal Native Cavalry, two infantry companies, and one 6 pounder gun
- Marathas forces
- Infantry: About 18,000 troops
- Cavalry: 2000 Maratha Cavalry
- Artillery: 26 or 36 guns
Badi Tekri was occupied by about 800 men under Lieutenant Colonel Scott. About 300 men of the 24th Regiment under Captain Saddle were posted on Choti Tekri with one 6-pounder gun. On the other side of the hill, the suburbs gave cover to the Maratha troops, especially the Arabs, who throughout the day on 26 November were gathering in large numbers. The Arabs began the battle in the evening by opening fire on Choti Tekri. The engagement lasted until the early hours of the morning, when it slackened somewhat. Several times during the night the Arabs tried to capture the hill. Although they were repulsed, they inflicted heavy casualties. Captain Saddle shot and killed. As the ranks of 24th Regiment were thinned, reinforcements were sent down from the 20th Regiment, who were occupying the upper hill. At dawn on 27 November, the British troops were still holding on in an isolated position. At 5:00 am, the few remaining men of the 24th Regiment, being utterly exhausted, were withdrawn. Their place was taken by the Residents Escorts, with orders to confine their defence to the summit of the lower hill. The fight continued until 9:00 the next morning, when the Arabs charged and captured the hill. They turned the captured gun against the higher hill position.
The Maratha Cavalry and Infantry closed in from all sides and prepared for a general assault. The Arabs broke into the huts of the English troops and ransacked them. Some Maratha cavalry entered the residency compound. Captain Fitzgerald, in command of three troops of Bengal Cavalry and some horsemen of the resident escorts, had been requesting permission to charge, but his request was repeatedly turned down. Seeing the impending destruction, he made a last request. "Tell him to charge at his peril", Colonel Scott replied. "At my peril be it", said Captain Fitzgerald. He and his troops then charged some of the enemy cavalry, killed some of their supporting infantry, and captured their two guns. When the infantry posted on the hill witnessed this exploit, they became freshly animated. Just then an explosion of ammunition took place amongst the Arabs on the lower hill. The British troops rushed forward and pursued the Arabs down the hill, took two of their guns, and returned to their position. The Arabs rallied with the intention of attempting to recover the lost ground. As they were getting ready to come up, a troop of cavalry under Colonel Smith charged around the base of the hill, attacked the Arabs in the flank, and dispersed them. The British troops now advanced from the hill, drove the infantry from the adjoining hills, and by noon the conflict was over. The British lost 367 killed and wounded, including 16 officers.
During the British Raj
British soldiers who died in the battle of Sitabuldi were buried in graves in the fort. After their defeat in the Indian Rebellion of 1857, Tipu Sultan's grandson, Nawab Kadar Ali, and eight of his associates were hanged on the ramparts of Sitabuldi fort. A mosque is maintained in the fort to mark the location of the hangings. The graves and mosque are maintained by the Indian Army as a mark of respect for the gallantry of all who died. A separate memorial has also been constructed to the soldiers who fell during the colonial period.
Mahatma Gandhi was imprisoned in the fort from 10 April to 15 May 1923. King George V and Queen Mary of the United Kingdom gave audience to the people of Nagpur from the fort during their visit to British India. A pillar to commemorate the event stands in the fort. The royals were greeted by a huge crowd gathered at the area towards the present Nagpur Railway Station.
The fort is now home to the Indian Army's 118th infantry battalion (Territorial Army) Grenadiers. The fort is opened for public on three days of the year: 26 January, 1 May (Maharashtra Day), and 15 August.
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