Sunday, December 23, 2012


                                               RAJA DESING’S VALOR

                                                     Dr K Prabhakar Rao

                  Perhaps the most popular legend in Tamil culture was that of the tragic tale of Raja Tej Singh of Gingee fort in Tamilnadu who lived in 18 century, popularly known in Tamil as Thesingu Raasan. He is also called Raja Desingu or Raja Desing. His name indicates that he was not a Tamilian by birth. He was the son of Swarup Singh a Chieftain of Mughal emperor Aurangzeb hailing from Rajasthan or Bundelkhand. The true life story of Tej Singh and his general, Mehboob Khan (aka Maavuthukaran), who were friends, has inspired many poems, street plays, and countless other stories.

                      Gingee Fort also known as Chenji or Jinji or Senchi in Tamil Nadu, India is one of the few surviving forts in Tamil Nadu, India. It lies in Villupuram District,160 kilometres (99 mi) from the state capital, Chennai, and is close to the Union Territory of Pondicherry. So well fortified was this place that Chatrapathi Shivaji Maharaj ranked it as the "most impregnable fortress in India" and it was called the "Troy of the East" by the British.The nearest town with a railway station is Tindivanam and the nearest airport is Chennai (Madras)-150 kilometres (93 miles). Gingee fort has a very long history. Originally the site of a small fort built by the Chola dynasty in 9th century AD, it was later modified by Kurumbar while fighting the Chola and again by the Vijayanagar empire in the 13th century to elevate it to the status of an unbreachable and impregnable citadel to protect the small town of Gingee. The fort was built as a strategic place of fending off any invading armies. It encircles hills named Krishnagiri, Chakkilidrug and Rajgiri. The fort was further strengthened by the Marathas under the leadership of Shivaji in 1677 AD, who recaptured it from the Bijapur sultans who had originally taken control of the fort from the Marathas. During Aurangzeb's campaign in the Deccan, Shivaji's second son who had assumed the throne, Chhatrapati Rajaram, escaped to Ginjee in the distant South and continued the fight with Moghuls from Ginjee. The Moghuls could not capture the fort for seven long years in spite of laying siege. The fort was finally captured in 1698, but not before Chhatrapati Rajaram escaped. It is learnt that Chatrapathi Raja Rams escape from the fort of Jinjee was abetted by Maratha General Ganoji Shirke who was in the service of army of Aurangzeb and present in the Mughal army at Jinjee. A senior Maratha diplomat of Raja Ram negotiated with him and issued a farman handing over the Jagir of Shirke that was seized by Chatrapati Sambhaji Maharaj earlier. General Shirke in fact was the person who betrayed Sambhaji Maharaj to Mughal commander at sangameswar earlier and subsequently Sambhaji Maharaj was tortured and was killed by Mughals at the orders of Emperor Aurangzeb. The Fort of course fell to Mughals after escape of Chatrapathi Raja Ram. It was later passed on to the Carnatic Nawabs who lost it to the French in 1750 before the British finally took control in 1761 despite losing it to Hyder Ali for a brief period.

                     After the ouster of the Marathas, Aurangazeb seems to have vested with a Rajput cheiftan from Bundela, named Swaroop singh, the rank of a Mansab, a jaghir and the killedari of Gingee as reward for his loyal services. Thus a Rajput came to assume charge of the historic fort of Gingee. With Aurangazeb’s farman in hand he arrived in Gingee and reported to Aurangazeb’s general Zulfiqar Khan to take over the fort in 1700. When Aurangazeb died in 1707, taking advantage of the confusion in Delhi and the hassled status of aged new Emperor Bahadur Shah I ( Eldest son of Aurangzeb), Swaroop singh failed to remit his dues. By now, it was running to Rs 70 lakhs or so and Sadathullah Khan as Nawab of Carnatic and representative of the Mughal throne threatened action against Swaroop singh. Sorrow stricken and with debts unpaid, Swaroop singh died around the end of 1713. He was succeeded by his son Tej singh who arrived from Bundelkhnad with his newly married wife and a great famous horse , according to Narayana Pillai’s chronicle. Narayana Pillai is believed to have lived near Gingee at the time of Swaroop singh’s death. But according to another historian CS Srinivasachari ,Tej Singh might have arrived from Bednur ( near Mangalore) where he was aiding it’s troubled Raja in his campaigns. The legendary horse of Raja Desingh may have been a gift from the Raja of Bednur.
                           Upon reaching Gingee, Desingh performed the obsequies of his father and took up the Governance of Gingee. With his father’s debt still unsettled, Nawab Sadathullah Khan of Arcot and representative of Mughal authority was not pleased and insisted that a new farman was needed from the reigning emperor for Desingh to be in possession of Gingee. Desingh categorically dismissed such suggestions and claimed that the farman of Alamgir ( Aurangazeb) gave all the legitimacy needed. Thus the stage was set for the confrontation from the start of his brief 10 month rule. Raja Desing gave scant respect to the orders of Carnatic Nawab to clear the dues and the Nawab decided to punish the Raja. He invaded with a large army of 85000 cavalry and 10000 infantry. Ginjee had a very small army of 500 soldiers and 350 cavalry. Yet the 22 year old Raja Desing decided to face the enemy bravely. He rushed into the hopeless battle on his steed and fought bitterly and very bravely and was killed along with his steed and his much loved friend Mehboob khan. His bravery and death moved friend and foe alike. His wife committed Sati at his funeral pyre. The Carnatic Nawab was much moved at the turn of events and built a city and named it Ranipet in the memory of the late queen.

                         The bravery of Raja Desing has inspired many and it has become a legend and the ballads have many interesting events and incidents included in the life of the Raja. His life story has been the theme for South Indian movies made in Tamil where famous actors such as MG Rama Chandran portrayed the role of Raja Desing. Top heroines played the roles of queens and other characters. Although the battle was purely onesided Raja Desing has gone down the history as a brave and valiant king who never bowed to be a slave and preferred to die in battle than to surrender in shame.


Dr K Prabhakar Rao said...

Ballad version of the legend of Raja Desing has already been posted on this site by me. Kindly read it and linkup.

Unknown said...

Thank you for posting this...very informative and well written...much appreciated,

s l y said...

Thank U,Dr.Well narrated in brief.