Died At Age: 45
Also Known As: Ramachandra Pandurang Tope, Ramachandra Panduranga Yawalkar
Born Country: India
Born in: Yeola, Nashik District, India
Famous as: Revolutionary
father: Pandurang Rao Tope
Died on: April 18, 1859
place of death: Shivpuri, British India (present-day Madhya Pradesh)
Cause of Death: Execution
Tantia Tope was one of the most significant leaders of the Indian Revolt of 1857. Even without any formal military training, he came out as one of the most capable generals of the rebel forces. He was the righthand man of Nana Saheb during the Cawnpore rebellion. He helped Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi, who was also his childhood friend, fight the British forces. The two later joined hands and captured the fortress city of Gwalior. After suffering defeat in Gwalior, in which Rani Lakshmi Bai attained martyrdom, he adopted guerrilla warfare and evaded direct fight with the British. For nearly a year, the British forces, led by their most capable generals, chased him incessantly; however, they could not capture him. Finally, a betrayal by a close aid led to his arrest. This was followed by a hurried military trial and his execution. His descendants; however, claim that he died while fighting a battle a few months before.
Childhood & Early Life
Tantia Tope was born as Ramchandra Panduranga Yawalkar in Yeola, Nashik, in 1814 to Pandurang Rao Tope and Rukhmabai.
He belonged to Maraṭha Vashista Brahman family. His father was a prominent noble at the court of exiled Peshwa Baji Rao II in Bithoor.
Tantia Tope became a close friend of Peshwa’s adopted son, Nana Dhondu Pant, also known as Nana Saheb. His other friends include Rao Saheb and Rani Lakshmi Bai.
‘Tatya’ was his nickname since childhood and it means ‘General’ and ‘Tope’ was a title which was given to him later. It means ‘commanding officer’.
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His Role in the Revolt of 1857
Tantia Tope turned against the British when the latter deprived Nana Saheb of his father’s pension because he was not a natural born heir of Peshwa Baji Rao II.
During the Cawnpore (now known as Kanpur) rebellion, Nana Saheb assumed the position of rebel leader and later after the surrender of the British forces, on 25 June 1857, became the Peshwa. Tatya Tope was his commander in chief.
General Havelock managed to defeat Nana Saheb and recapture Cawnpore in mid-July 1857.
By late November, Tantia Tope gathered an army, mostly from the Gwalior contingent, and took back Cawnpore from General Charles Ash Windham. However, in December the same year, he was defeated by Sir Colin Campbell and had to retreat to Kalpi.
In March 1858, he came to the aid of Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi who was under attack from the British forces led by Sir Hugh Rose. After being defeated by the latter, he helped Rani Lakshmi Bai to escape Jhansi and welcomed her in Kalpi.
When Kalpi was taken over by the British, Rani Lakshmibai, Tatya and Rao Saheb moved to Gwalior. Tatya Tope convinced the soldiers of Gwalior to join the movement and ruler of the city had to flee.
They took charge of the Gwalior Fort declaring Hindavi Swaraj (Free Kingdom). The rebels announced Nana Saheb as their Peshwa.
In the ensuing battle with the British under General Rose, Rani Lakshmi Bai became a martyr (June 17, 1858) while the rest escaped for the Rajputana.
After the defeat of Gwalior, Tantia Tope adopted the famous strategy of guerrilla warfare over an expansive region of Central India, Malwa, Bundelkhand, Rajputana and Khandesh. This caused the British a lot of trouble.
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He intended to cross the Narmada River, go down south and generate popular support from the rulers and people in the name of the Peshwa. The British never wanted this to happen.
The British forces, under the likes of Col Holmes, General Roberts and General Michel, pursued and attacked him at numerous places, but every time he got away successfully.
In many regions, he succeeded in convincing minor rulers to back the rebellion. At other places, he defeated and charged them fines. Due to this he was able to gather an army.
The British chased him for about 2800 miles across hills, valleys and forest but failed to capture him every single time.
Capture & Death
Tantia Tope was finally captured by the British in April 1859 after the Raja of Narwar, Man Singh, betrayed him. In exchange of protection for himself and his family, the latter handed over Tantia Tope to the British.
He was tried in a military court where he refused to accept any role in British civilian massacres. He also challenged the sedition charges declaring that his master was Nana Saheb and not the British. He was executed at Shivpuri, Madhya Pradesh on 18th April 1859 in front of thousands of people.
The descendants of Tantia Tope, however, claim that he was not hanged. In a book titled, ‘Tatya Tope's Operation Red Lotus’ written by Parag Tope, it is claimed that he died in January 1859 fighting against the British in a battle in Chhipa Barod and did not die because of hanging.
It further states that the person who was hanged was one of the freedom fighters who continued to fight till April by becoming Tatya Tope.
A park in Kanpur – Nana Rao Park - honours eminent personalities of India’s struggle for freedom. The park houses a statue of Tatya Tope, together with those of Nana Saheb and Rani Lakshmi Bai. Yet another statue stands at his hometown in Yeola in Nasik district, Maharashtra.
In 2016, the then Union Culture Minister, Mahesh Sharma, released a commemorative coin of Rs 200 denomination and a circulation coin of Rs 10, in Tantia Tope’s honour.