The Purbiya soldiers of Bihar and UP

Discussion in 'Military History' started by RajputPride, Aug 26, 2016.

  1. RajputPride

    RajputPride Regular Member

    Nov 16, 2013
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    “Purab” in Hindi means “east” hence, Purbias are residents of the eastern provinces of India . However these eastern provinces do not include Bengal, Orissa, Assam or the hilly North-Eastern states—the Purbia term applies only to Allahabad, Avadh, and Bihar—all to the immediate east of Delhi and Agra. Although most Purbias were Rajputs, there was a sprinkling of Brahmans among them, especially in the British period. These Brahmans were of the non-priestly land owning class. Other castes like Yadavs followed their caste occupation of cattle-herding and stayed away from soldiering but even they could take to plundering when the opportunity presented itself.

    Figure 1 : Purbia lands

    This Purbia country is a flat alluvial plain crisscrossed by numerous rivers and streams. An ancient network of roads connects the various cities, towns, and villages of this thickly populated region—not surprisingly this land has been a centr of Indian civilization for millennia. This region, along with Bengal , provided a steady stream of revenue to the Mughal Empire. The local rebels were treated with ferocious cruelty whenever they rose up against their overlords []. However far from instilling fear such brutality had an entirely opposite effect on these soldier-farmers.

    Armed with matchlocks, spears, and sticks the Purbias would not pay land revenue to their overlords without fighting. A powerful Rajput clan would go further and make aggressive attacks on those who claimed to be their rulers—sometimes two or more clans would make common cause and profit from the battles fought between outside powers in their neighborhood. They would take prisoners or rob the soldiers of defeated armies and plunder their wealth, women, and equipment. For hundreds of years such had been the fate of the broken armies of Afghan rebels and of Mughal princes like Khusro and Sulaiman Shikoh—this aggressive nature of the peasants was also noted by the later British rulers [[ii]].

    In 1659, barely two years into Aurangzeb’s reign, large numbers of Rajputs of the Bais clan rebelled and plundered the highways and villages of Baiswara—other hardy clans were the Bhadaurias and the Panchkotis. Such risings were common occurrences throughout the Purbia country for the entire period of the Mughal Empire—whether for plunder or in reaction to Mughal tyranny. Just like the large states in Rajputana there were numerous Rajput statelets in this vast region, each with its mud forts and rustic armies. But their influence on the course of Purbia history will be related in the conclusion of this article.

    In Mughal Service

    The unjustly high land revenue extracted by the Mughals meant that these peasants could not lead a life of contentment on their farms. From the numerous sons in a Rajput family, a few would join the local Raja or landlord’s army while most others would travel to the Mughal power centers and join the imperial forces. These men were exclusively infantrymen—the Purbia country has no breed of indigenous horses and the foreign horses were too expensive for these peasants.

    By the sixteenth century the matchlock had become a universal weapon for foot soldiers and the Purbias also adopted this firearm. Foot soldiers in the Mughal army were made to stand along the cannon and shoot down the charging enemy cavalry or to protect the camp in the rear. The Mughals did not provide any formal training to these infantrymen—they were considered to be part of the department of artillery (mir-e-atish)! However in local village disputes and in hunting expeditions these Purbias learnt to excel in the use of firearms and became steady, disciplined marksmen.

    In the Mughal records the Purbias are named after some towns and districts of these eastern provinces. Thus Aurangzeb demanded the recruitment of more and more Kanojias (from Kannauj in eastern Uttar Pradesh) in his army but they were described most frequently as Baksarias (from the coal district of Buxar in Bihar ). The Marathas used the curious term Hindustani (North Indian) for these men—probably to distinguish them from the Telegu infantry in their ranks. The British [[iii]] referred to them as “Avadh and Buxar men”.

    Apart from their role as infantrymen these Purbias also garrisoned the Mughal forts and acted as guards of the Mughal palaces and harem. Unlike the Rajput soldiers from Rajputana, Bundelkhand, or the northern hill-states the Purbias of the Mughal army were not organized into compact clans—they did not enter the field led by their Raja or Thakur. Instead different clans were just lumped together in the numerous armies of the Mughal mansabdars. But this did not rob them of their spirit or ability to take concerted action—usually provoked by Mughal bigotry or tyranny.

    In Defense of Faith

    Aurangzeb’s bigoted orders with regard to non-Muslims, and their implementation, roused the Jats, Sikhs, and Satnamis to rebellion. The Rajputs of Rajputana, Malwa, Bundelkhand, and the hill-states [[iv]] fought in defence of the seats of their religion. The Purbia Rajputs in Delhi were also affected by the Mughal Emperor’s bigoted orders—although there may have been many instances of them rebelling or rising in mutiny only a scattered few are mentioned in the Mughal records.

    Thus in 1669 the wandering Hindu saint, Uddhav Bairagi, was imprisoned, “as a punishment for his seduction of men to falsehood.” Two of his Rajput (i.e. Purbia) disciples in Delhi took revenge by stabbing to death Qazi Abul Mukaram.

    In 1694 Sri Krishna Bairagi was arrested by the Mughal censor at Delhi and fifteen idols were confiscated. Then the Rajputs (i.e. Purbias) assembled and attacked the Censor’s mansion—whereupon the Bairagi was released.

    The Wazir’s grandson, Mirza Tafakkhur, used to sally out of his mansion in Delhi to plunder the shopkeepers and abduct women. Once he laid his hand on a Hindu artilleryman’s (i.e. Purbia’s) wife, whereupon that man’s comrades broke out in mutiny. They were pacified when the randy youth was put under house arrest.

    From Bengal to Punjab

    When the Marathas divided up the Mughal Empire among their numerous generals the province of Bengal fell to the share of the Bhonsles of Nagpur. Their cavalry, armed with swords, spears, and some matchlocks, stormed into Bengal and faced the army of the Bengal Nawab in 1742.

    The latter’s army was composed of Afghans, Sayyids, and numerous Baksari infantry (i.e. Purbias). With this army the Nawab could only fight defensive battles and was unable to prevent the plunder of his province. Worse, the Afghan cavalry soon rebelled against the Shia Nawab and decided to create their own kingdom—now only fellow Shia Sayyids and the doughty Purbias were left. This army was successful in defeating the Afghan rebels but after a bloody and draining ten year conflict the Nawab had to cede Orissa and promise an annual tribute from Bengal to make peace with the Maratha Raja of Nagpur [[v]] in 1752.

    Further north the Shia Nawab of Avadh also came to rely increasingly on the Purbia infantry for his defence. As discussed in RMA-II the Nawab’s Sunni soldiers (Mughals) had deserted him out of bigotry and his other cavalry troops proved disloyal and unreliable. Later on this Purbia army was trained and led by the English who came to dominate the Avadh kingdom after 1764.

    In 1756 the Purbia infantry in Delhi (under Rao Man and Harjiu Singh) mutinied at not getting their pay. They blocked the Red Fort gates and prevented people from traveling from the city to the Yamuna River until their demands were met.

    A year earlier in Lahore the Mughal soldiers rebelled against the local governor and tried to take over the administration. Then the Purbia artillerymen, in a body of 7000, attacked these rebels and protected the governor.

    Thus throughout the Indian sub-continent these Purbias had made their name as disciplined soldiers, who were excellent marksmen. Only some training and leadership was needed to transform these infantrymen into an irresistible force. That training came from a foreign source.

    The New Armies

    In the mid-eighteenth century France was in great political and military ferment—the new ideas that would raise humanity to the next level of civilization were gathering steam. Military developments in artillery, musketry [[vi]], and the handling of infantry were also sprouting up with regularity. Thus it was no accident that French military adventurers made the greatest impact on the development of the science of war in India .

    These Frenchmen organized the regular battalions of Telegus and Berads for the kingdoms of Hyderabad and Mysore respectively. By this time the British East India Company had acquired Bengal and raised armies at its Bombay and Madras settlements. The soldiers recruited in both Bombay and Bengal were Purbias while Telegus filled the army at Madras .

    What the English sorely lacked was good cavalry—in Madras this was provided by the Nawab of Arcot while in Bengal a Persian adventurer, Mirza Najaf Khan, brigaded his cavalry with the Company forces after the Battle of Buxar in 1764[[vii]]. This Mirza Najaf Khan accompanied the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam back to Delhi supported by the Marathas and the British. Najaf Khan rose to be the Wazir of the Delhi Empire and raised a new army modeled on the European style. It was composed primarily of Purbia soldiers who had received English training but had broken away under their own leaders (Gangaram and Bhawani Singh commandants) to make their fortune in the messy political landscape of North India .

    Mirza Najaf was also joined by French adventurers leading similar Purbia battalions—Rene Madec, Lesteneau, Le Vassoult, and Walter Reinhardt of Sombre [[viii]]. With this military force the Mirza overpowered the Ruhelas to the east of Delhi and the Jats in the south but failed in his invasion of Jaipur [[ix]]. After that he sadly gave himself up to senseless debauchery and the Delhi Empire now passed into the capable hands of Mahadji Scindia—the Maratha chief [[x]] who had been supporting Mirza Najaf’s administration and at that time was building up his estate around Gwalior. Scindia took the Mughal Emperor under his protection and was then joined by all these forces of the Delhi Empire, added to his own Maratha cavalry and Telegu battalions (under Ramru the Telegu commandant), and now by a new adventurer—Le borgne de Boigne.

    Mahadji Scindia, Dictator of Delhi

    The Mughal Empire had shrunk to a thin sliver of land along the Yamuna River covering the cities of Delhi , Aligarh and Agra by the middle of the 18th Century—hence historians prefer to use the term “Delhi Empire” to describe the possessions of the descendant of Akbar and Aurangzeb. However as described in RMA-II, after the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761, even this small area was divided between the Jats and Ruhelas while the Mughal heir Shah Alam had escaped to the shelter of Awadh. He and the Awadh Nawab then fought the disastrous Battle of Buxar described above and came under the power of the British while the Maratha chief Mahadji Scindia built up his estate in the region of Malwa and Gwalior with sustained but expensive efforts.

    Scindia had thus added a bankrupt Delhi Empire to his already bloated military expenses. He now looked around for money to satisfy this vast military force under him—and found it in the neighboring Kingdom of Jaipur [[xi]]. Scindia poured his army into the Jaipur lands in the summer of 1787 but the Rajputs [[xii]] entrenched with their old-style cavalry and artillery. Within a few weeks the Maratha’s money supply ran out, the Mughal cavalry deserted to the Rajputs, followed soon by the Purbia and Telegu battalions—only the few battalions of the Europeans remained loyal. When Scindia was driven across the Chambal River only De Boigne remained by his side.

    This Frenchman raised two new Purbia battalions for Scindia while his master collected money from his estate in Madhya Pradesh. The Delhi-Agra region passed into the unworthy hands of the Mughal cavalry under Ismail Baig Hamadani [[xiii]] joined by the deserted Purbia and Telegu battalions. Another player now came on the scene. Ghulam Qadir Ruhela found the field clear to take revenge on the Delhi Emperor, who had destroyed the power of his family. This Ruhela had also hired several Purbia battalions under the commandant Maniyar Singh.

    Ismail Baig’s money supply soon ran out and the Telegu battalions under Ramru deserted him. Both Ismail and Ghulam Qadir were chased to Delhi where after committing atrocious abuse [[xiv]] on the Mughal royal family, the Ruhela was caught and put to death by Scindia.

    The Battle of Merta, 1790

    While withdrawing from Jaipur, Mahadji Scindia had taken a public pledge that, “If I ever return, I shall reduce Jainagar and Jodhpur to ashes.” After hunting out Ghulam Qadir, Scindia turned to settle accounts with these Rajput states. Jaipur was knocked out at the Battle of Patan and within two months Scindia’s army entered Jodhpur and faced off with the Rathor cavalry gathered at Merta.

    De Boigne’s force consisted now of fifty pieces of artillery and twelve battalions of Purbias—6500 bayonets. The Maratha cavalry numbered 30000. Jodhpur had raised a national levy of 26000 horsemen—although only half this number was present at Merta—supported by twenty-five antique guns and 10,000 Naga Sannyasis as infantrymen. From the safety of their desert home the Jodhpur Rajputs had been seeing the deadly effects of the new system of war for several years—now they wisely hired Ismail Baig to collect some wandering Purbia and Ruhela infantry and get something matching De Boigne’s force.

    Before this new force could join the advance guard at Merta, De Boigne and the Marathas stormed out of Ajmer and by a relentless night march reached Merta on the 9th of September. The next morning they attacked the surprised Rajputs.

    De Boigne’s invincible battalions led the attack—the Maratha cavalry was almost a mile behind them. They attacked at a tangent, targeting the just awakened Naga infantry on the far left with showers of grapeshot and flintlock fire. All the Rajput guns had been placed in the Naga lines and these were now captured by the exultant Purbias, while the naked ash-covered monks broke and ran pell-mell towards the town of Merta . Captain Rohan at the head of three battalions rushed forward to loot the Naga camp.

    The Rajputs, after a night of opium drinking, awoke along with the Naga sadhus and watched open-mouthed as the Purbia infantry bore down on their left wing. The supreme commander of the Rajput force was Bakshi Bhimraj Sanghvi—a Jodhpur minister—who considered the battle lost and rode away with 4000 horsemen.

    But a race of brave men cannot perish in utter inaction even through the folly of its leaders[xv]. Individual Thakurs and Rawats collected their family contingents and prepared to defend their motherland. One such group saw Captain Rohan’s battalions breaking away from the main Purbia force—profiting from this tactical mistake this Rajput contingent quickly bore down on the doomed battalions and rode them down, cutting up half their number.

    The other cavalry contingents pointed their swords at De Boigne’s main force. That Frenchman was aghast at the destruction of Rohan’s battalions and saw a huge, towering wave of horsemen preparing to race towards him. He quickly abandoned his guns and formed his Purbias into a massive square—on each face were a line of Purbias on their knees with bayonets extended; behind them were standing more lines of Purbias firing repeated, murderously accurate rounds from their flintlocks; and De Boigne himself in the center riding from point to point and encouraging his men.

    The Rajputs stormed through the line of the guns and sabered the gunners. Several of their comrades began falling from the musketry of the Purbias but quite undaunted these cavaliers enveloped the infantrymen from all sides, looking for an opening to get through and cut them up. But on all sides a wall of iron, with razor-sharp bayonets angling out, held them off while the withering fire of the flintlocks dropped down dozens of their saddles. Then through the noise and the dust these Rajputs turned their horses towards the Maratha cavaliers in the rear.

    Scindia’s horsemen had expected De Boigne’s brigade to defeat and scatter the Rajput army while all they had to do was pick off the rag-tag survivors and loot their enemy’s rich camp. Now when they saw the same enemy, unbroken and in compact formation, thundering towards them; these Marathas turned rein and fled to the rear. Another mile in the rear were the few thousand horsemen of Holkar who gathered the scattered Scindia cavalry and faced off with the incoming Rajputs.

    By this time the momentum of the Rajputs was gone; their horses had been exhausted and their men were spent from their relentless exertion in the heat and dust. Hence they turned away from a conflict with the Marathas and cantered back to their own lines—on the way back several of their saddles were brought down by De Boigne who had now recovered his guns.

    So the Rajput army was defeated—but the Rajput spirit was still unbeaten. A picked body of 3000 horsemen decided to make one last do or die attack on the battalions—these men now put on their saffron robes [[xvi]]. De Boigne lined up his fifty guns and dressed his Purbias in two long rows behind them—in the distance a sea of reddish-orange gathered pace and came rolling towards them. While the ground shook beneath them, De Boigne ordered his gunners to fire—gaping holes appeared in the enemy force but trampling over their comrades, the Rajputs surged across the guns and attacked the infantrymen.

    The Purbias opened a withering fire and more of the enemy dropped down without touching their opponents. Even then smaller bodies of horsemen continued their attacks—one group even attacking De Boigne on foot before they were cut up by the Purbia bayonets. And at last the attacks died out of their own steam. The furious Purbias who had been forced to fight, what they had thought to be a won battle, for two hours, now advanced and bayoneted the numerous wounded Rajputs writhing on the ground [[xvii]].

    This slaughter was stopped by De Boigne who also accepted the surrender of 2000 other Rajputs who had taken shelter in the town of Merta.

    General De Boigne’s Corps

    After the victory at Merta, De Boigne was allowed to add another brigade to his force, thus receiving promotion in rank to General from Scindia. A third brigade was added in 1793 and two more by his successor, General Perron, in 1801 and 1802.

    A brigade had ten battalions of just over 700 bayonets each—divided further into companies. The company commander had the rank of Lieutenant, the battalions were led by Majors, and the brigades were commanded by Colonels. Each brigade had fifty guns attached to it, in addition to a separate park of artillery controlled directly by De Boigne!

    Irregular forces were attached to every brigade—200 horsemen and a 1000 Ruhelas armed with inferior matchlocks—for skirmishing, storming hill-features, attacking from the rear etc. An excellent supply system provided water, food, and powder to all the brigades. In addition a separate regiment of cavalry, with over 400 mounts, acted as the General’s personal bodyguard—no European was employed in any of the cavalry units.

    Unlike the East India Company forces, there was no organization into regiments, and there were no European regiments to bolster the Purbias. However De Boigne’s corps attracted the second largest number of Purbia recruits, after the Bengal army—sometimes men of the same village and even family were present in both formations.

    A short note on the defeat of the Sikh cavalry needs to be added here. The numerous Sikh misls, after expelling the Afghan invaders, had been launching raids on the rich towns and villages around Delhi and Saharanpur [[xviii]]. Some of their leaders had developed into Rajas ruling over small kingdoms (esp. south of the Sutlej River), while others were still members of wandering armies.

    Neither the Ruhela foot-musketeers of Najib Khan, nor the semi-trained Purbias [[xix]] of Mirza Najaf had been able to thwart their annual raids. But now Louis Bourquien at the head of one of De Boigne’s brigades repeatedly defeated numerous Sikh bands and collected tribute from Patiala, Jind, and Kaithal (in 1801).

    Even a solitary adventurer like George Thomas [[xx]], at the head of two Purbia battalions (Buniad Singh and Bakhtawar Singh commandants) defeated Gurdat Singh of Ladwa, raided Patiala, and scared away Sikh raiders from across the Sutlej. So just like the Rajputs at Merta, the Sikh cavalry had met an enemy formation, which it could not defeat.

    Purbia Rajput States

    De Boigne’s corps ceased to exist as a result of the third Anglo-Maratha war—the sickening details of that conflict are beyond the scope of this article. The English proclamations [[xxi]] at the outset broke the resolve of the Europeans in the corps—they deserted to the English side after war broke out. The battalions then chose their own leaders (Baji Rai Bhadauria and Sarwar Khan) and defended forts like Aligarh and Agra or fought pitched battles at Patparganj and Laswari.

    Success eluded the Purbias of De Boigne in this war fought in 1803 (just as it would elude their brethren of the EIC[xxii] later in the 1857 revolt) because they had no staff officers to plan campaigns or even coordinate the movements of their battalions. But they fought well at the tactical level and excited the admiration of their English enemy—General Lake in North India and General Wellesley in the south.

    The Purbias had become attuned to infantry warfare over centuries—why they could not form a large power center in their own homeland, on the basis of this proficiency, is an important question. True, small states like Sasni, Bhojpur, Jagadishpur and the numerous Rajput Taluqdars of Avadh had always existed. They continued with their age-old practice of withholding revenue, profiting from the internal disputes of their overlords, and waylaying and plundering soldiers and camp-followers of defeated armies.

    Thus Raja Prithipat of Pratabgarh joined the Ruhela invaders when they poured into Safdar Jang’s lands of western Avadh in 1752. Similarly Udwant Singh of Jagadishpur joined the Afghan rebels against the Bengal Nawab in 1746; the Rajas of Tekari and Bhojpur helped the same Nawab against the Maratha invaders; Balwant Singh of Sasni withheld tribute from the Avadh Nawab and was only tamed when a British force destroyed his mud fort and scattered his followers.

    The soldiers of these Rajas, even though of the same blood as those in the Bengal Army or in De Boigne’s Corps, were unable to hold their own in pitched battles on open ground. The most obvious reason was the poverty of these small states. It was not enough to just buy muskets, shot, and powder, hand these over to the Purbias and expect them to make disciplined marches or engage in concerted firing—these tasks required extended training under experienced officers. Such training used up even more money.

    The second reason was the lack of a manufacturing capacity in these rural territories. Swords and spears were easily (and cheaply) fashioned by the village blacksmith—the manufacture of muskets was a more complicated, exacting task. Moreover manufacturing gunpowder required saltpeter, sulphur, and other materials, which had to be imported from different regions—such imports only made it to the major towns and cities along trading routes. Hence the armies of these Purbia states had to be equipped by weapons and supplies bought from towns under Mughal, Maratha or British rule.

    The third reason was the psyche of the Rajas ruling in these areas. For centuries they had seen the domination of cavalry in open battles—thus just like the Berads (RMA – I) in South India, or the Jats and Ruhelas (RMA – II) in the north, the first priority of an ambitious Raja was to buy horses and build a force of cavalry. As late as in the 1857 revolt, Kunwar Singh of Jagadishpur preferred to direct the rebel battalions mounted on horseback along with his close followers—instead of raising infantry units of his own.

    All these disabilities ensured that the rustic levies of these states would break and run at the first pressure of enemy formations in open battles. However their proficiency in musketry was still an important factor—in accuracy of fire they still had no match from among other North Indian races. Thus in defending fortified positions and fighting from well-protected trenches these local Purbias were more than a handful for their enemies.

    There were over 2000 (!) mud forts in this vast region—each defended by the Purbia musketeers. From the strength of these forts the Rajas defied invaders like the Afghans and Marathas, and withheld revenue from their local overlords. It took the British to finally destroy these mud forts, defeat the rustic followers of the Rajas, and settle their territories—these operations took decades. Beginning with the takeover of the Avadh administration in the 1800s and extending beyond the 1857 revolt.

    It would be a harsh judgment on our part if we condemn our ancestors for failing to adapt to the new methods of warfare—because these new methods became apparent in a very small time frame of fifty years (1750-1800). On the other hand Europe had developed these same methods, by trial and error, and a long experience of over three hundred years (1300-1600)!

    References and Footnotes

    Fall of the Mughal Empire – Volumes I, II, III, and IV by Sir Jadunath Sarkar.

    History of Aurangzeb by Sir Jadunath Sarkar.

    The Fall of the Moghul Empire of Hindustan - PART III

    The Fall of the Moghul Empire of Hindustan - Chapter V

    Rearraigning The Sepoys

    The men being butchered and their families taken as slaves.

    [ii] Arthur Wellesley in 1804: “…the village people attack the defeated enemy in their rear and in the flanks, cut off stragglers, and will not allow a man to enter their village.”

    [iii] It is wrong to assume that the British had a recruitment policy favoring these high-caste Hindus (implying a distrust of Muslims). The fact was that these Purbias had always dominated the infantry portion of medieval armies—whether they were led by Mughals or Marathas. The British merely inherited these armies from the former rulers.

    [iv] The Raja of Chamba (Himachal Pradesh) received an order from Aurangzeb to destroy all temples in his dominions—the Raja in defiance had them covered with gold plating instead!

    [v] This tribute was the chauth or a quarter of the standard revenue of the province. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757 and the Battle of Buxar in 1764 the British East India Company gained control of Bengal but they continued to pay chauth to the Bhonsles for some time.

    [vi] The bayonet being one such important innovation.

    [vii] The British defeated the Nawab of Avadh and the refugee Mughal Emperor Shah Alam in this battle. These two had been attempting to fill the power vacuum in North India after the Third Battle of Panipat had removed the Marathas and Afghans from the scene.

    [viii] Sombre was pronounced Samru in the Indian language. Hence Walter’s wife, the Kashmiri dancing girl, became known to history as Begam Samru.

    [ix] Jaipur was ruled by a boy-King and all its nobles were in revolt, but the walled city of Jaipur (built by Sawai Jai Singh at great cost) held out under its well-armed garrison of 17,000 men.

    [x] After the Third Battle of Panipat in 1761 Maratha interests in North India were represented by individual chiefs like Holkar and Scindia

    [xi] Perhaps expecting the mythical crores [in RMA-II] hoarded by the Rajput Rajas!

    [xii] The Raja of Jodhpur sent 5000 horsemen to his neighbor’s aid.

    [xiii] This figure has been studied extensively in my first novel, Last of the Mughals, downloadable from

    [xiv] Several Shahzadas were killed, Shah Alam was blinded, and many Shahzadis were raped. Ghulam Qadir’s taunting words, “I shall order my Ruhelas to drag away the Mughal princesses without wedlock, so that from their seed a manlier race may spring!”Two of these Mughal virgins were rescued in the nick of time by the gallant Purbia Maniyar Singh.

    [xv] Quoted from Jadunath Sarkar’s Fall of the Mughal Empire Volume 4.
    [xvi] Thus called kesaria in Rajasthani and Hindi; and zard-kaprawala (red-robed) in Urdu.

    [xvii] This battle has been described for two reasons. First it shows the superiority of the battalions—the attack was made by infantry unsupported by cavalry. Second it shows that the Rajput cavalry charge—which had swept away every enemy formation for centuries—failed completely against the Purbia infantry formed into a square.

    [xviii] One such raid was led by Sahib Singh of Patiala at the head of 14,000 Sikh cavalry. They reached Hardwar on 10 April 1796, the last day of the Kumbh Mela—and began looting and massacring the pilgrims! Around 500 innocent monks and merchants were put to the sword (!) and many others drowned while escaping across the river. A Purbia battalion from Avadh, led by Captain Murray, happened to be there—these men stopped the Sikh advance and forced the raiders to turn away.

    [xix] The battalions under Gangaram and Bhawani Singh led a Mughal force against a large body of Sikh cavalry. The Sikhs attacked first but the Purbia firing blunted their advance and these raiders withdrew—the Purbias advanced several miles in chase. The Sikhs then made a wide detour and attacked the main Mughal force far in the rear and destroyed it. Finding themselves all alone the Purbias marched away in formation and took shelter in a nearby fort—from which place they negotiated their unmolested return to Delhi.

    [xx] George Thomas was an Irishman who joined Sombre’s force and became Begam Samru’s lover. Later he cooperated with Scindia’s brigades against the Sikhs and finally set himself up as a Raja in Haryana. His force increased to seven battalions and he was joined by a few European officers. George Thomas was finally defeated by Major Bourquien in 1801 and died the very next year.

    [xxi] First a threat to any British subject in Maratha service that they would be tried for treason. Second a promise to European mercenaries that their pay and allowances would be continued after the war. Third all natives of Avadh or British India (i.e. the Purbias) in Maratha service were promised employment in the Company forces or suitable monetary compensation.

    [xxii] East India Company

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