The Battle of Koregaon: An Unending Journey is a 49-minute documentary by Somnath Waghamare that slowly spells out the significance of the annual gathering of Dalits at the historic spot of Bhima Koregaon, located about 40 kms away from Pune city. Every year, lakhs of Dalits arrive at Bhima Koregaon on 1st January, where a 60 foot column erected by the British to honour the martyrs of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon stands tall.
“The gathering is to commemorate our history in Bhima Koregaon, a history where 500 Mahar soldiers fought and won against 25,000 Peshwa soldiers. They took up arms to fight for our dignity, this is our history,” says Suvarna Salave, an Ambderkarite activist at the start of the film.
Besides recounting the story of the Battle of Koregaon, which took place on 1 January 1818, the film delves into the history of the Mahar regiment under the British. The Bombay Native Infantry was the first to include the Mahar community in their battalion. before even the Sikh, Rajput, Gorkha, Maratha regiments were formed, we are told.
“For many people out there, coming to commemorate the battle of Koregaon is in a way affirming their own history, their own sense of pride in making them who they are,” analyses journalist Mridula Chari who goes on to explain how this tradition of annual celebrations at Koregaon has been largely ignored by the media.
The documentary The Battle of Koregaon: An Unending Journey, also brings to the viewer some interesting trivia from the history of the Mahar regiment. For instance, we learn that the recruitment of Mahars into the army was stopped at some point of time and several Mahar leaders fought for their reintroduction in the British Army. One of the leaders was Subedar Major Ramoji Maloji Sakpal, father of Dr Bhim Rao Ambedkar.
Ambedkar himself visited Bhima Koregaon on 1st January 1927, where he is reported to have said, “We were not always slaves, we belonged to a martial race and were were a community of warriors.”
According to Somnath’s documentary, which is dedicated to Rohith Vemula, this statement by Ambedkar at the site of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon inspired confidence and a fighting spirit to the demoralised community. The pillar at Bhima Koregaon has since been seen as an inspiration to fight Brahminism.
The annual gathering at Bhima Koregaon on 1 January, is a celebration, almost mela-like - you have street plays, poetry reading, book exhibitions and other activities - all of which combine to relive the history, bravery and glory of the Mahars.
Somnath Waghamare’s film which is without a voice-over, just observes the gathering in 2017 and is interspersed with talking heads who inform us about the history and significance of all that we are witnessing. The Battle of Koregaon: An Unending Journey, captures the atmosphere and mood of Bhima Koregaon in a detached yet immersive manner.
You can watch the documentary here: