Mangal Pandey joined the army of the British East India Company in 1849 as a young man of 22 years. Some accounts suggest that his recruitment was a random event—he was recruited by a brigade that was marching past him while he was on a visit to Akbarpur.
He was made a soldier (sepoy) in the 6th Company of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry. Initially he was very excited about his military career which he considered to be a stepping stone for further professional success in future. There were also several other Brahmin young men in his regiment.
He, however, began to grow disenchanted with military life as the years passed. An incident that happened when he was posted at the garrison in Barrackpore in the mid-1850s would change the course of his life and significantly impact the Indian independence movement.
A new Enfield rifle was introduced into India and the cartridge was rumored to be greased with animal fat, primarily from pigs and cows. To use the rifle, the soldiers would have to bite off the ends of greased cartridges in order to load the weapon.
Since the cow is a holy animal to the Hindus, and the pig is abhorrent to Muslims, the use of fats from these animals was considered controversial by the Indian soldiers. The Indian troops thought that it was a deliberate act of the British in an attempt to defile their religions.
Mangal Pandey, a staunch Hindu Brahmin, was enraged by the alleged use of lard in the cartridges. He decided to take violent action against the British to show them his disapproval.
On 29 March 1857, Mangal Pandey, armed with a loaded musket, paced in front of the regiment's guard room by the parade ground, inciting the other Indian soldiers to revolt against the British. Several other men were with him. The Indian soldier planned to kill the first European he set his eyes on.
Lieutenant Baugh, Adjutant of the 34th Bengal Native Infantry (BNI), learned of the revolt and galloped on his horse to disperse the rebellious men. On seeing him approach, Pandey took position, aimed at Baugh and fired. The bullet missed the British officer but hit his horse, bringing them down.
Acting quickly Baugh sized a pistol and fired at Pandey. He missed. Pandey then attacked him with a talwar—a heavy Indian sword—and injured the European officer badly and brought him to the ground. At this crucial juncture, another Indian sepoy, Shaikh Paltu, intervened and tried to restrain Pandey.
Continue Reading Below
By this time word reached the other British officers and Sergeant-Major Hewson arrived at the ground. He ordered Jemadar Ishwari Prasad, the Indian officer in command of the quarter-guard, to arrest Mangal Pandey, but Prasad refused to oblige.
Hewson then went to Baugh’s aid, and was knocked to the ground from behind by a blow from Pandey's musket. Meanwhile Shaikh Paltu also tried to defend the two Englishmen. Many other sepoys stood watching the fight as mute spectators while a few advanced and hit the English officers.
More English officers arrived on the scene. Sensing that his arrest was inevitable, Mangal Pandey tried to kill himself. He shot himself in the chest and collapsed bleeding but was not fatally wounded. He was arrested and brought to trial.
Persona Life & Legacy
After being arrested he was tried and sentenced to death. Some reports suggest that Mangal Pandey was under the influence of drugs—possibly cannabis or opium—at the time of the revolt and was not fully conscious of his actions.
His execution was set for 18 April 1857. The British authorities, however, feared the outbreak of a bigger revolt if they waited this long and executed him by hanging on 8 April 1857.
Mangal Pandey’s actions against the British triggered off a series of revolts all over India which ultimately culminated in the outbreak of the Indian rebellion of 1857.
He is considered to be a freedom fighter in India and the Indian government issued a postage stamp to commemorate him in 1984.
Several movies and stage plays have been based on his life, including the Hindi film ‘Mangal Pandey: The Rising’ and the stage play titled ‘The Roti Rebellion’ in 2005.