Monday 11 March 2013

Temples to a dacoit and his sidekick

He was one of the most dreaded dacoits of India. For close to two decades, he eluded the police of several states and he was finally shot dead only after the then Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru took the initiative and sent a Gurkha regiment that the dacoit could be killed.
This dacoit became a legend not only among the people but also among fellow dacoits. He was India’s answer to England’s Robin Hood. Even after his death he continues to draw awe and inspiration so much so that even Indian cinema’s superstar Amite Bacchant has confessed that the dacoit was his hero when he was a young.
Today, both the dacoit and his side kick, a Brahmin turned dacoit, have temples dedicated to them and they are still worshipped not only by their descendents but also people of the area.
The dacoit is Man Singh and his sidekick is Rope. Both of them were dreaded dacoits of the Chamber and both have temples dedicate to them in the Galion region. These must be among the few dacoits in the world to have temples built after them,  
Man Singh was the archetypal dacoit of the Chambal ravines. He ruled the Chambal Valley between 1940s and 50s.His close aide,  Roopa, a Brahmin-turned-dacoit, who took over the dacoit gang after Man Singh was shot dead, too has a temple in his name.
Interestingly, both the temples are not far away and the temples are similar in design and architecture to any other North Indian temple. They have a  rising shikhara, portico and the inner sanctum sanctorum. The deity in the sanctum is Man Singh in one and Roopa also known as Roopa Singh in the other.
Even to this day, villagers in the valley trudge long distances to pray before the marble busts of these two, perform prayers and seek their blessings.
The priest ate the two temples conduct regular worships and also perform arti. Prasad is also given.
Man Singh and Roopa for the people then and even today are Baghis or rebels and not dacoits. The then State Governments had registered over 100 cases against Man Singh accusing him of everything from murder to dacoity, kidnapping to possessing illegal arms. Police records of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh and Rajasthan say that Man Singh was involved in 1112 dacoities, 185 murders, 90 encounters with the police and killing 32 policemen. A Kshatriya, Man Singh took to dacoity after he killed five Brahmins of his village in 1928.
When India became independent in 1947, a general pardon was announced, and for a brief spell, Man Singh  returned to his village. He was feted by his village and given the title Raja Man Singh. But, he soon tired of the regular life and went back to the ravines. His right-hand man, Roopa, and other members escaped but Man Singh and his son Subedar Singh were killed in Bhind, Madhya Pradesh in 1955.
Roopa then took over the reigns of the gang. His real name was Roop Narain Sharma. He joined the gang of Man Singh when he was still young.
He ruled over the Chambal for five years after Man Singh’s death. He was more merciless than his mentor and he is credited with 200 murders. He was killed in an encounter in 1959
The temples to both Man Singh and Roopa were constructed in 1980s and are located in Khera Rathore in Chambal. Both Man Singh and Roopa were born in this village. 
What is astonishing is that while the names of Man Singh and Roopa are well known even today, the man who pumped bullets into Man Singh is forgotten. Of Course, it goes without saying that there is no temple to him.
The Gurkha who killed Man Singh was Babbar Singh Thapa of the Gurkha Regiment.  He had put together a team of 17 Gurkhas to hunt down Man Singh.  They tracked the dacoit to a village called  Lavan in Bhir, Madhya Pradesh.
Man Singh and his son Surendra Singh were killed in the encounter. Babbar Singh was awarded, the prestigious President’s Police Medal for gallantry, by the then President Dr Rajendra Prasad. The Madhya Pradesh Government awarded him Rs 1000.
Babbar Singh died on February 20, 1993.

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