Palashi, India (1757 AD)
The Battle of Plassey was one of the defining engagements of the Colonial era in Asia. An extension of the Seven Years War that was then raging in Europe and the Americas, it pitted the forces of the British East India Company against both indigenous rulers as well as their French rivals. In some ways it marked the end of the early stages which had begun in the mid-16th century with the Portuguese and Dutch, as well as the beginning of the age of complete British dominance on the Sub-Continent. Because of this, Plassey was considered the most pivotal battle to take place in India since the battles of Panipat which established the dominance of the last foreign power, the Mughals.
During the 16th century, European explorers rounded Africa and arrived in India, the prime target of trade in Asia. The first bases and forts were established by the Portuguese, and over the next hundred years these were joined by the Dutch, British and French. This set the stage for the colonial power struggle between the European empires that eventually engulfed the entire Sub-Continent.
By the mid-18th century, the British territories in India, under the direction of the British East India Company, had begun to drive out their rivals and consolidate larger territories, primarily by playing off the local rulers against each other. After the Portuguese and Dutch left for greener pastures, their only real rivals were the French. When the Seven Years War broke out in Europe, it naturally spread to India. Hostilities broke out in 1756, when a local Bengal ruler launched a successful campaign against British possessisions in and around Calcutta.
In 1757, the British forces in India began a campaign to conquer Bengal and drive the French out northeastern India. With a force of about three thousand men and several state-of-the-art artillery pieces, they set about conquering the province. However, Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal, assembled an army twenty times that size to stop the British. These were backed by a small force of professional French soldiers also armed with several powerful artillery pieces.
The two forces met at the town of Palashi. The British marched out, but immediately outnumber, fell back to a defensive position. The battle was postponed due to a sudden rain, which ruined the Bengali supplies of gunpowder (the British had taken precautions). When the battle resumed, the British had the complete advantage of their artillery and made short work of the Indian cavalry. After this, the Bengalis were forced to withdraw from the field. A truce was called shortly thereafter, during which time the Bengali Nawab was assassinated and replaced with a leader more friendly to the British. The French left the area shortly thereafter. The victory began Britain’s long string of conquests that ultimately led to the complete subdual of India.
Although the Battle of Plassey was a dark moment for India, it was nevertheless an important point in both Asian and British history. The field where the battle was fought was commemorated by monuments and an obelisk. Although the Indian flag now flies over the site, the monument was allowed to stand after independence. New monuments also commemorate the Nawab and those warriors of Bengal who fell at the battle.
The Plassey Battlefield is partially built over by the modern city of Palashi, though parts of it are still open. The monuments are located outside of the city center of Palashi, approximately 90 miles north of Kolkata. It is an open site. There is no charge for admission. Web: www.westbengaltourism.gov.in (official tourism website of West Bengal).