Hi, I have found some good details about your question and hope that
gets you going in the right direction. Please know I want you to be
satisfied with the answer, and write for clarification before rating
In summary, there are two aspects to address. First, when you say
"rumors," by far the main trigger of the 1857-1858 Sepoy Mutiny (often
just called the Indian Mutiny) was the use of animal fat in the
cartridges of the newly introduced Enfield rifle by the British.
According to several sources cited in full below, including the
Encyclopedia Brittanica and an article by an Eastern Illinois graduate
student in History, the original cartridges, which had to be bitten to
be used, did indeed use a combination of cow and pig fat, which was an
insult to both Hindus and Muslims. The British soon realized their
error, and asked the Indians to provide an acceptable alternative. So
at least at first, it was not a rumor but a true problem. Once the
cartridges were made non-offensive, it can be understood that Indian
soldiers did not trust that no fat was in them, and in that way, it
persisted as a rumor.
Either way, it was too late to stop the rebellion. To address the
second aspect of your question, the mutiny spread widely mainly
because of years of unacceptable changes brought by the British and by
the introduction of Christians to Indian society. These all go beyond
our scope here, except in the general sense that the wide discontent
and misunderstanding brought by 19th Century British rule made the
mutiny a natural flashpoint.
Originally, a small group of Indian soldiers refused to use the
offending cartridges. The British punished them, often severely. Other
Indian soldiers rallied in support of those punished, and for over a
year the rebellion rose in several places, notably Delhi, until
contained by British force.
As a point of interest, there were other rumors which were
deliberately spread by anti-British forces. These are both mentioned
in the highly detailed and very helpful article by Peters, below.
One was a rumor that widows of the Crimean War were to be married to
Sepoy men, which would break caste. Another was that money was to be
issued on leather instead of paper, also breaking caste. Though
unfounded, these threats were part of the widespread threat of British
rule to the established Indian caste system. When the rifle cartridge
conflict triggered rebellion, these rumors and many others (some
perhaps even true) all were part of a generalized resistance to
changing to the new Western European ideas brought by the British.
So, rumors, true and untrue, were spread because much of the general
Indian population was resistant to change and resented British rule.
The rumors provided anti-British Indians with a specific, concrete
fulcrum to form a rebellion against the more general problems the
British represented. The cartride incident in particular was what
Patel, in the third reference below, calls the "last straw."
Sources and Links:
The Sepoy Mutiny, 1857: The Indian View, by Ron Peters. A Graduate
research paper originally for a course at Eastern Illinois, 1999.
India, The Mutiny and Great Revolt of 1857-1859, by T.G. Percival
Spear, for the Encyclopedia Brittanica, 15th ed. University of
These ideas are supported by another excellent student-researched
The Sepoy War of 1857: Mutiny or First Indian War of Independence? by
Nilesh Patel, at Emory University. (1998)
Sepoy Rebellion Rumors
reference to hard copy of Encyclopedia
This is interesting stuff. Good luck following through with it. I hope
I've been helpful. Again, let me know if you'd like clarification in
any way. It's been a pleasure.