Veer Sundar Sai alias Veer Surendra Sai was born on 23 January 1809 in a Village called Bargaon (on the Dhama Road) in Khinda about 30 km (19 mi) to the north of a town called Sambalpur in the Kosal region, an Indian freedom fighter who sacrificed his life fighting against the British and died in obscurity. His father was Dharma Singh and he was one of seven children. Surendra Sai was a direct descendant from Madhukar Sai, the fourth Chauhan king of Sambalpur and therefore was eligible as a candidate to be crowned as king of Sambalpur after demise of King Maharaja Sai in 1827.
Surendra Sai has a demi-god status in Western Orissa alias Kosal region. Surendar Sai and his associates Madho Singh, Kunjal Singh, Airi Singh, Bairi Sing, Uddant Sai, Ujjal Sai, Khageswar Dao, Salegram Bariha, Govind Singh, Pahar Singh, Rajee Ghasia, Kamal Singh, Hati Singh, Salik Ram Bariha, Loknath Panda/Gadtia, Mrutunjaya Panigrahi, Jagabandu Hota, Padmanave Guru, Trilochan Panigrahi and many others resisted the Britishers and successfully protected most parts of Kosal region for some time from the British rule.
Most of them died unnoticed fighting for freedom from the Britishers. Many of them were hanged by the Britishers; a few died in the Cellular Jail in the Andamans. Surendar Sai himself died in Asirgarh Jail on 28 February 1884.
King Maharaja Sai died without an heir. The British Government allowed his widow Rani Mohan Kumari to succeed him, as a result of which disturbance broke out and conflict increased between the recognised ruler and other claimants for the throne of Sambalpur. The most prominent claimant among them was Surendra Sai. In time Rani Mohan Kumari became unpopular. Her land revenue policy did not satisfy the Gondi people and Binjhal tribal zamindars and subjects.
The British authorities removed Rani Mohan Kumari from power and put Narayan Singh, a descendant of royal family but born of a low caste, as the king of Sambalpur. The British Government ignored the claim of Surendra Sai for succession. Rebellion broke out in the regime of Narayan Singh. Surendra Sai and his close associates, the Gond zamindars, created many disturbances. In an encounter with the British troops Surendra Sai, his brother Udyanta Sai and his uncle Balaram Singh were captured and sent to the Hazaribagh Jail where Balaram Singh died. King Narayan Singh died in 1849. By virtue of the Doctrine of Lapse, Lord Dalhousie annexed Sambalpur in 1849, as Narayan Singh had no male successor to succeed him. During the uprising of 1857 the sepoys set Surendra Sai and his brother Udyant Sai free. The resistance to British continued in Sambalpur under the leadership of Surendar Sai. He was supported by his brothers, sons, relatives and some Zamindars.
Surendar Sai espoused the cause of the downtrodden tribal people in Sambalpur by promoting their language and culture in response to the higher caste Indians and the British trying to exploit them to establishment their political power in Western Orissa. Surendra Sai began protesting the British at age 18 in 1827, moved operations to the hilly tracts of Western Orissa in 1857 and continued until he surrendered in 1862 and went to Hazaribagh Jail. Before his surrender he spent 17 years in prison and after his final arrest served a term of 20 years including his detention of 19 years in the remote Asirgarh hill fort until he died.
The Indian Revolution collapsed by the end of 1858 and law and order was restored by the British throughout India, but he continued his revolution. The military resources of the British were pulled up against him and the brilliant Generals like Major Forster, Capt. L. Smith and others earned credit in suppressing the rebellion elsewhere in India were brought to Sambalpur to stamp out his revolution. But all attempts failed and Surendar Sai succeeded in foiling strategy of the British for a long time. Major Forster, the reputed general who was vested with full military and civil power and the authorities of a Commissioner to suppress Surendar Sai and his followers, was removed by the British authority in 1861 after three years in Sambalpur. His successor Major Impey could not defeat Veer Surendar Sai.
The British seized the entire food-stock of the rebels but also stopped all resources of the supply of food and other necessaries of life for them. Major Impey abandoned the idea of violent war and cautiously followed the policy of peace and good-will with the approval of the Government of India. Surendar Sai, one of the greatest revolutionaries in history, and a warrior who knew no defeat in his life surrendered with full faith in the honesty and integrity of the British Government. However, after the death of Impey, situations took a sudden change and the British administrators revived their hostility towards the great hero.
Sambalpur was brought under the jurisdiction of the newly created Central Provinces on 30 April 1862; Surendar Sai decided to surrender soon after that. However, he was said to have been disillusioned and the new setup indulged in reversal of the old liberal policy. The administrators found that the surrender of Surendar Sai did not bring the revolution to an end. They stepped down to organise a conspiracy and made sudden arrest of Surendar Sai and all his relations, friends and followers. Veer Surendar Sai and six of his followers were subsequently detained in the Asirgarh hill fort. Veer spent the last part of his life in captivity. In 1884 on 23 May, Surendar Sai died in the Asirgarh fort, away from his native land.
Sambalpur was one of the last patch of land to be occupied by the British Empire in India, not counting the Princely States. This was largely due to the effort of Surendra Sai. He was a very good swordsman. People of the region affectionately called him as Veer Surendra Sai. “Veer” in sambalpuri language means fearless. Later “Veer” became a part of his name and he has been referred as so in history books, not unlike.