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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Chakhi Khuntia- A Warrior Priest who helped Rani Lakshmi Bai & shaped the revolt of 1857

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Indians have a bad habit, we are quite casual about our history and historical figures. Our history has been fudged as well, since independence, we have been spoonfed with wrong facts due to malicious intent, which has also created this situation of misinformation and confusion.

Most of the Indians are not aware of the contribution of tribal people to the Indian freedom struggle that broke out against the British Administration. Tribals were prohibited from cutting trees for firewood, their traditional Podu cultivation was banned, and they were often exploited by contractors who used them as labor for building roads in those areas.

Today we will talk about a Hero, who did something unimaginable for the masses, he sacrificed his everything to ensure we get freedom, but alas, nobody even remembers him now.

Yes, we are talking about Chakhi Khuntia, who was a famous ‘Panda’ of the Jagannath Temple priest, and due to the demand of the turbulent time, he became a freedom fighter. Not many people are aware, that he played a crucial role in Rani Laxmibai’s fight against the British after her husband’s death.

Chakhi Khuntia was born in the Hajuri family of Puri Harachandi Sahi on 20th January 1827. His father, Raghunath Khuntia was a famous priest of Jagannath Puri, whereas his mother Kamalabati was a homemaker. It is said that Chakhi was born while his father was dressing the Bhagwan Jagannath with sandal paste and that’s why he was named “Chandan Hajuri” but he is better known as Chakhi Khuntia. 

He was a great student, he got the knowledge about Ved and other Hindu scriptures from his father. He was taught the Oriya language and literature in a Chatasali. He also learned Hindi to be able to communicate with the Hindu pilgrims who used to come to Puri to worship Bhagwan Jagannath. He was very much interested in reading the tales of several Indian heroes and change-makers. He understood the importance of physical fitness and wellbeing, that’s why he learned wrestling and indigenous military skills and feats.

At the age of 12, he was married to Sundaramani. Later he traveled across most parts of North India along with his father and gradually he became famous among the Royal families and Elite class. He became the Panda of Meropanth, who was the father of Manubai, the warrior girl who later became Rani Laxmibai after her marriage to Gangadhar Rao, the King of Jhansi.

Chakhi kept in touch with Raja Gangadhar Rao and Laxmibai and used to visit them on regular basis. Gangadhar Rao, the King of Jhansi died an untimely death due to a long going ailment, and they lost their only son just before that. The British Empire smelled this opportunity and prohibited her from adopting a son to inherit the throne of Jhansi. She was wrested of her powers by the British empire.

However, Rani Lakshmi Ba decided to rose against the injustice and evil policy of the British empire and sought the help of Chakhi Khuntia to keep the rigor on against the British. He was instrumental in fomenting a grave resentment among the Indian “Sepoys” and he was the one, who organized a mutiny, which subsequently took a violent shape, and ultimately turned into the 1857 revolt.

The Military sepoys used to call him Panda of the Sepoys or Hajuri Panda, and he fulfilled his responsibility to provide the much-needed religious and tactical guidance to the sepoys who orchestrated the famous mutiny. He used to spy and gather crucial information for the freedom fighters and used to provide the strategically important information, which proved really helpful in the initial days of mutiny and there is no doubt that the success of the revolt must be credited to him along with other fighters.

The British government arrested and imprisoned Chakhi multiple times on account of his involvement in the 1857 revolt. Later the British government was forced to release him due to a lack of credible evidence.

He spent his last days in Puri and devoted himself to religious rites and literary pursuits relating to Bhagwan Jagannath. He composed a lot of religious poems, most of which are devotional songs. He expressed a lot of displeasure and indignation about the inhumane and suppressive policies of the British Government in his poems. Unfortunately, many of his poems and other writing works are still unknown and might probably have been damaged or lost. 

One of his palm-leaf manuscripts is said to be entitled “Manubai” the original name of Laxmibai, Queen of Jhansi. He breathed his last in 1870 in Puri and we lost a gem of a person and a warrior who was instrumental in the first war of Indian independence.

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