Umaji Naik is a freedom fighter who took on the British

  • This is the story of freedom-fighter Umaji Naik who, in the 19th century, took on the British in Pune region.

In the sacred yagya of India’s freedom struggle, many patriots sacrificed their life, some of them are remembered whilst many are forgotten. Umaji Naik is one such unknown hero.  


In early 19th century the British began to rule India. Many people praised British rule because they believed such rule was a boon for them. However, some with guts and valour disagreed with this premise and began an armed struggle against the British, Umaji Naik being the most prominent of them in Maharashtra. He fought to establish a kingdom, even if for a short period, on the ideals of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.


Umaji Naik belonged to the Ramoshi tribe. Ramoshis lived in dark forests and have a history which dates back to Ramayana. During the 17th century, Ramoshis were part of the intelligence department in the Maratha army. Bahirji Naik, a Ramoshi was chief of intelligence department of Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj.


In the last attempt to save the Maratha Empire Ramoshis supported Bajirao II. At that time the population of Ramoshis was about 18,000 of which 2,000 was the population in regions of Pune and Satara.


With the fall of the Marathas after the Third Anglo-Maratha War the British took over all territories and removed all employees of the Maratha Empire. Like others Ramoshis lost their jobs too. Thus, they became dependent on forest resources. However, the British imposed restrictions on the Ramoshis. This angered them so they started movements to throw the British out of India.


Initially, Chittur Singh from Satara became their leader. Under his leadership Ramoshis won some forts. After him, the leadership fell upon Umaji Naik of Purandar.


Umaji and his ally Sattu Naik were famous for their courage and valour. Both looted treasures of landlords and got arrested. After he was released from jail Umaji became more active. He killed the Kotwal which scared the police department. Because of that incident employees of British government became furious. In February 1824 he looted a government treasure inspite of it being under strict security. In many parts of Pune (South eastern part) government employees stopped visiting due to havoc created by Umaji. The British government was unable to stop regular loots by the Ramoshis. In October 1826 Umaji attacked a police station in Jejuri, killed police officers and looted all arms and ammunition.


The Collector of Pune district, Mr. Robertson, wrote a report to the British government stating -

“Common mass is waiting for big political changes. These Ramoshis are creating hatred against Europeans and want to throw them out, and common public is very supportive to Ramoshis. Citizens are gossiping that Europeans will be defeated by Ramoshis on battlefield and that rebel Umaji will reinstall Maratha Empire like Chhatrapati Shivaji.” Source (P.D. 1827 Vol 15/270 pp.55-59)


And this statement became real. Soon Ramoshis, under Umaji, established a small kingdom. The British now wanted to arrest Umaji and put a bounty of Rs 5,000 on him. (P.D. 1827 Vol 15/270, pp 91-93). (P.D means Reference from Daftarkhana of Maharashtra).


In November 1827 Ramoshis tried to reinstall as kings all those who were deposed by the British. The king of Kolhapur supported their mission. But the British got to know about this plan so the Ramoshis dropped this mission. Umaji wanted to send his lawyers to Scindia and Holkars to create alliance against the British.  Before he could do so, the British got information about this move, so it was dropped.


On establishing his own kingdom Umaji started a daily durbar. Ramoshis gave tough punishment to those who supported the British. They never misbehaved with women. Their employees were from lower castes. They always supported the common people and even donated their own money to the poor.


Common people supported Ramoshis in a big way. They gave information about army movements and also gave shelter to Ramoshis. In order to isolate Ramoshis from the common people, the British warned them of dire consequences if they supported the Ramoshis and even gave relaxation, in taxes, to farmers to win them over.


The British was not going to accept a challenge to their power so they took strong measures against the Ramoshis. They deployed the army under Captain Spiller to help Captain Davis. Captain Davis was appointed by British government to help Captain Spiller to catch Umaji Naik. They sent an army regiment from Kolhapur to Jejuri and encouraged people to go against the Ramoshis. However, people continued to support the Ramoshis.


The Ramoshi movement spread all over in Pune, Satara and Bhor presidency. They kept looting the government treasury and took government revenue. The Ramoshis told the British government to ask for peace / a treaty. Umaji wrote a letter to British stating -


“Come to us treaty, if you don’t, then this mutiny will be spread all over the country. From Satpuda to Parashuram, thousands of such movements will be spread and you will become helpless.”


Due to failure of the treaty proposal the Ramoshis started rampage against Britishers all over namely Pune, Satara, Wai and Bhor presidency. Kolhapur and Konkan became hotspots. Captains Davis and Spiller tried hard to capture Umaji, but failed. Ramoshis even defeated Captain Elphinstein. (According to British record P.D. 1830-31, Vol 38/419 Pg 61-62, Captain Elphinstein was unable to capture Umaji Naik and in some skirmishes, Umaji was victorious). (P.D means Reference from Daftarkhana of Maharashtra).


To terrorise the British he beheaded four policemen and sent their heads to the British. This created a huge impact and earned praise from the common man. Umaji even defeated Malcolm, who was the ablest officer of the British government. (According to the above volume Captain Malcolm failed to capture Umaji Naik in many skirmishes).


In 1829 Umaji signed a treaty with the British.  According to the terms of treaty the British gave him 120 Bigha land in Sakurdi and gave jobs to other Ramoshis. Post treaty Umaji became a government servant. But after one year Umaji again gathered his army and started war against the British. This time the British were determined to finish Umaji.


On 16 February 1831 Umaji released his manifesto which read -  


“Kill all Europeans. Those who kill them, they will be honoured with jagirs and gifts by new government under my leadership. Those who got deposed by the British, they have great chance to reclaim their positions. Locals who are in European army must come with us against them. Those who disobey this, they will be punished by this new government. Loot treasury of foreigners, kill them, and do not give taxes to Europeans. Hindus and Muslims must be united against this European government.”

After this Ramoshis started an armed struggle against the British with even more energy. Skirmishes between British and Ramoshis spread to Konkan and even to boundary areas of Nizam.


But due to a traitor, Nana Raghu Chavan, Umajii was captured by the British on 16 December and finally executed in public on February 3. He was hanged in Mamledar Kacheri, Pune. His body was hanged for three days so as terrorise the common people.


Although Ramoshis had personal reasons for their actions they wanted to throw out the British from India. They never harassed common and poor people. Actually always helped them. They gave dakshinas to Brahmins and patronised temples.


Captain Mackintosh writes about Umaji Naik – 


Many influential people said to me that Umaji was not ordinary person. He always had vision and ideal of Chhatrapati Shivaji. He want to be like Chhatrapati Shivaji and wanted to establish Empire like him. Umaji was loved by all. Because of his cleverness and valour, common people treated him as a god and saviour.”


Umaji Naik was successful in establishing a small kingdom even if for a short time. The courage and valour shown by Ramoshis, under Umaji Naik, damaged the British government and instilled a feeling of nationalism in the common people. Although the Ramohis were unsuccessful in throwing the Europeans out of India they tried to unite all the kings and presidencies against the British.


Umaji Naik a patriot who had Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj as his ideal, is now forgotten. Except Maharashtra, few know about him and the fact that he defeated the British and established a small kingdom. This article is a tribute to him and the Ramoshis.



1. Freedom Struggle in Maharashtra by V G Khobarekar.

2. Riyasatkaar Saradesai.

3. Peshwai chi Akherachi Bakhar.


To read all articles by author

Also read 

1. The Triveni Sangam of the Independence Movement in Tamil Nadu  

2. Veer Surendra Rai, the Oriya Freedom Fighter  

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