Cellular Jail – The story of a prison

India’s history is replete with stories of the struggle for independence from the British. Indians had to bring down a rule of over 200 years and countless lives were lost. From the Battle of Plassey to the revolt of 1857 and then India’s independence in 1947, many kings and freedom fighters sacrificed all that they had to get us what was our right. Freedom from the shackles of the British empire.

At the time when Indians were rebelling against the foreign rule, the British had to find a place to deport prisoners. A place where no one could easily reach and those who reach cannot escape. 

This deporting was known as being sent to ‘Kaala Pani’. The Hindi name has been derived from the word ‘Kaal’ that means time or time of death. What was Kaal Pani, colloquially came to be known as Kaala Pani. But that is just what it meant to be sent to Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The Cellular Jail was constructed in the city of Port Blair as a prison for these Indians.  

A punishment to this jail meant death. It meant that those who rebel and raise their voice will be sent to far off islands where they would be no connection to the world and no way to escape. Their voice would never be heard again. For the British, this was a way to scare and suppress the voices that had begun to ask for freedom. 

Some facts I learnt about the Cellular Jail:

  • The jail got its name from the architecture and the purpose it served. There were 693 cells for solitary confinement and were spread between seven wings. 
  • There was a central watch tower and connected to that were these wings. 
  • These connections were wooden planks and isolated the wings from the tower as needed. 
  • One side of the Cellular Jail faces the Andaman Sea.  So an escape was out of the question. 
  • The way the cells were made was that no two prisoners from adjacent wings could interact. Once wing faced the back of the other and so on. 
  • The cells had a unique locking system. Even if a prisoner was handed over the key, he would never be able to unlock. The latch was a foot by the side of the grill and cemented. 
  • Port Blair’s airport has been named after Veer Savarkar who played a key role in India’s struggle for Independence and was a prisoner at the Cellular Jail. 

My recommendations as you visit the jail:

  • Most of the flights from Indian cities reach Port Blair after the noon. On that day, you cannot step out of Port Blair so go grab a seat at the light and sound show at the jail. 
  • Pick a Hindi show over the English one if you understand Hindi. The voice, the pain and the story that you hear in Hindi will give you goosebumps. 
  • When at the show, try to find a seat in the front. People talk at the back and it gets annoying if you cannot listen to a show. 
  • Hire a guide when you visit the jail. You can read this blog, search on the internet but a guide will point things that no one can share online. To name a few – the place where freedom fighters spent their days and struggled to finish their allocated quota of work, the gallows, and the scary trap door.
  • Watch out how the cells were locked once the prisoners were inside. The architecture is incredible. 
  • Look out for the sea as you walk up the watchtower. It shows how an escape was not possible. 

Let’s look into the jail, the architecture and the cells.

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The Cellular Jail has been declared a National Memorial. The heroic struggles of the prisoners and the barbaric treatment by the British were all documented, however, when the Japanese seized the islands, we lost a lot of our paperwork. A small work shed right in the middle of the jail provides a glimpse into the life of the prisoner. It is scary but know that it is also the truth. 

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The beauty of Andamans is in its history. It may be known for its beautiful beaches, white sand and corals but the history it holds in its heart is painful. As an Indian, I feel immensely proud of the sacrifices many leaders made at that time so that the generation of today can live freely. 

If you get a chance to visit Port Blair, a walk in the lonely corridors of the Cellular Jail is an unforgettable experience. 

There is a lot more to Andamans than what meets the eye. Watch this space for more Andaman Adventures


48 Responses

  1. Kaala Pani…..have heard of it…..and given a chance, would like to visit the place too….it is a compelling part of the historical narrative of our country….

  2. Rajlakshmi says:

    The stories hidden in those cells would be haunting … so much sacrifice and blood spilled in those days. Thanks for the recommendations. I hope I get to visit this place atleast once.
    Rajlakshmi recently posted…Happiness Is …My Profile

  3. joe says:

    Well written.
    Had been here a few months ago (July to be precise) and I must say a must visit place for every Indian.
    joe recently posted…Kochi and Biennale Part 2My Profile

  4. joe says:

    Well written.
    Had been her a few months ago (July to be precise) and I must say a must visit place for every Indian.
    joe recently posted…Kochi and Biennale Part 2My Profile

  5. Deepa says:

    It is so much new information and never knew so much about the jails. Heard a lot about Andaman and its beauty..looking forward to other posts on it. Happy new year Parul. 🙂
    Deepa recently posted…Why I am Thankful as a BloggerMy Profile

  6. Carlie says:

    Wow, this is fascinating but also so scary. I cannot imagine being in solitary confinement with no hope for release. I don’t gather this prison is to rehabilitate but to punish. From the outside it does not look as ugly as the prisons in the United States.

  7. Ah! Have been here a couple of years back. Yes indeed, it does make you think about the sacrifices done. can not even imagine the state of those who were confined inside.

  8. Ujwal Kumar Varnasi says:

    It was nice description of the Cellular Jail and the activities inside the jail. We realize how much struggle our people had put in towards freedom struggle. Now it makes me feel much proud of been an INDIAN and we have such a beautiful history to teach the next generations. The photos you have added are just awesome adding up to the explanation. I am waiting for my upcoming visit to this place with complete curiosity.Thanks Parul

  9. Bellybytes says:

    I don’t think I’d really like to visit a prison least of all after flying so many miles………….Prisons don’t fascinate me. I often feel that keeping people incarcerated does nothing for their spirit or their rehabilitation. Of course the prisoners at the Cellular jail weren’t real convicts but political prisoners but this kind of punishment doesn’t make them repentant in the least. On the contrary I think it makes them more determined to succeed.

    • Parul Thakur says:

      History fascinates me and for that reason, a visit to this prison was memorable. Of course, I did not travel miles to see one prison but if I hadn’t seen this, I would have felt sad. 🙂
      You are right that such a prison ensured our freedom.

  10. Bun Karyudo says:

    It sounds like an interesting place to visit but a very sad one in some ways. I’ve been to other prisons, castle dungeons and the like in various countries as a tourist, and very often the conditions people suffered were terrible and the so-called offenses for which they were being punished were not what most people would now call offenses at all.
    Bun Karyudo recently posted…A Boring Walk to the StationMy Profile

  11. This is an amazing peek at the place of torture of our freedom fighters. Gratitude for people we never met and thankfulNess that they career enough to make us live free.Thanks for sharing such a beautiful post

  12. Vinitha says:

    There was a malayalam movie Kaala pani which was released some 15 – 20 years ago. I haven’t watched it yet fearing how gruesome it was from the descriptions of others. How grim it must have been for those who had to endure these tortures in reality. Thanks for sharing this post, Parul. I would have never read about it otherwise.
    Vinitha recently posted…Love #FiveSentenceFictionMy Profile

    • Parul Thakur says:

      I have watched that movie when we were kids. You are right – some 20 years ago. It was made in Hindi and the name was Saza-e-kaala-pani. It was gruesome. The movie was shot at this place and that is also how this place got its due share of name. Thank you Vinitha for reading.

  13. Vineeta says:

    I have read and heard about this cellular jail . In my childhood I was scared of name kaala pani
    Seeing it through your eyes I could imagine those tortures done to prisoners. I think everybody should visit to know the sacrifices done by our leaders .
    Your tips to visit it …is remarkable.

  14. Vineeta says:

    I have read and heard about this cellular jail . In my childhood I was scared of name kaala pani
    Seeing it through your eyes I could imagine those tortures done to prisoners. I think everybody should visit to know the sacrifices done by our leaders .
    Your tips to visit it …is remarkable.

  15. joshi daniel says:

    interesting to see now 🙂
    happy new year 🙂

  16. I’ve heard about this jail before but I love the simplicity and clarity with which you’ve talked about it. It really must be quite an experience visiting it and imagining what it must have been like for the brave but unfortunate people who were sent there. How hopeless they must have felt.

  17. Soumya says:

    Wow! Quite some history you have dug up. I had heard about this place a lot and it is nice to read so much about it. I’m looking forward to visit this place sometime soon.
    Soumya recently posted…Action Replay: 2016My Profile

  18. Vinodini says:

    Wow, I never knew that it was possible to visit this jail. The only info most of us have on it is what we see in movies. Thanks for sharing these interesting details. Will surely visit it if I go to Port Blair.

  19. Informative post. We, the main landers, do not think much about these far flung islands but they have been an important part of our independence struggle. I can imagine getting goosebumps reading and hearing about the sacrifices of the large number of freedom fighters and being proud of them. I will not call myself patriotic but a few years ago when I visited Trafalgar Square in London, I saw a statue of the British General who had thwarted India’s first war of Independence of 1857. In that moment I was filled with agony. I have never felt patriotic as much as I felt that day.

  20. Damyanti says:

    Haven’t been to Andaman, but I know it is calling to me. Thanks for writing this piece. Tweeted and Pinned 🙂

  21. Esha says:

    I’ve heard about this story from so many people and everyone comes back from this visit moved to the core. Andaman has always been on my wish list of places to visit for a long time. Reading your post only made the urge to visit stronger. Thanks for sharing the pics…the shocking tales of the prisoners who were sentenced to “Kala Pani’ sends shudders down our spines even today!

  22. Chicky says:

    We can never even begin to imagine what our ancestors must have gone through to give us this Independence that most of us take for granted. Glad you shared about this place.
    A very Happy New Year to you, Parul!
    Chicky recently posted…50 Days of #DemonetizationMy Profile

  23. Lata Sunil says:

    Parul, thanks for this walk in the Cellular jail. It does look so lonely and hopeless.

  24. Your post nudges me to go. So much history. So much pain and so much suffering for the country. Wonder if we could ever do that if need arises. Anyway, I digress as usual.
    Thanks for the tips. Will certainly refer to it when we make the trip.

  25. Rajiv Bakshi says:

    Parul Mam , I been to this place on one of my LTC tours a few years back . But a visit to the cellular jail looks that it’s a myth . But alas it’s true . It’s amazing . Proud to be an #Indian !

  1. January 15, 2017

    […] before the Cellular Jail was constructed, the British needed a place for penal punishment. That is how Viper Island came […]

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