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Bhagwan Birsa Munda, the " Dharthi Aba " ( father of the earth), as known amongst tribal , waged a massive war against the British rule in mid 1890's . After the suppression of the first rising , in 1895 the Birsa gave a clarion call to the munda's ( his followers ) of a decisive war against the British. After a series of concerted attacks for nearly two years on the places loyal to the British, the Munda warriors started congregating on " Dombari Hill " at village "Sail Rakab " (Nearly 20 Km far from the Ranchi-Jamshedpur Highway ), on the call of Birsa. Documents revel that the munda's , adopting Guerilla war fare, attack the British in Ranchi and Khunti. Several persons, mostly police men were killed and nearly 100 Buildings were set on fire . In raised over this " Ulgulan " (revolt), the then commissioner Mr. A fobes and Deputy Commissioner Mr. H.C. Streattfield, rushed to Kunti with two company of army to crush the mass struggle ( Ulgulan) of " Abua Disun " ( Self rule ).
The revolt had rocked the British administration to the extent that the commissioner declared a reward of Rs 500 for the arrest of Birsa. Subsequently British forces attacked heavily on Munda warriors congregated at " Dumbari Hill " and made indiscriminate firing like that of "Jaliyan Wala Bagh " and killed several hundred people. The whole hill was littered with dead human corpses. After Brutal slaughter the dead bodies were thrown into the deep gorges and ravines of the hill . Many of the wounded were buried alive . According to editorial published on march 25, 1900, the statesman , put the toll at 400. However , the then administration suppressed the fact and claimed that only eleven persons were killed and nine insured in two firings on January 7 and january 9, 1900. Fear and panic show spread over the area that "Dombari " was named by munda's as " Topped Buru " - mound of dead.
Birsa Munda was nabbed while he was fast asleep at "Jamkopai " forest in Chakradharpur on March 3, 1900. Deputy commissioner Ranchi, vide letter no CR-1397 dated 12 nov 1900 reveals that 460 tribals were made accused in 15 different criminal cases, out of which 63 were convicted. One was awarded Capital Punishment , 39 were sentenced to transportation for life and 23 were imprisioned for terms upto 14 years. the six death , including that of tribal hero Birsa Munda in the prison during trials in less than 10 months, speaks of the probable tortures inflicted on the prisinors of Munda Ulgulan . Birsa Munda died in the jail on 9th June 1900. Dead body of Birsa Munda is reported to have been criminated near the distillery bridge Kokar ( Ranchi ). People say, actually Birsa was buried under the bridge ( In 1900 there was no bridge).
Though there is still no unanimous opinion of Birth and Death regarding date and Place of Birsa Munda yet Govt. has accepted that Birsa was born on 15 Nov 1875 in Ulihatu and died on 9 June 1900 in ranchi central jail. Birsa Munda was son of Sugna Munda. Sugna Munda has three sons namely- Kowa Munda , Birsa Munda and Bhanu Munda . Sugna Munda, father of Birsa Munda, had two more brothers namely- Bhanu Munda and Pasna Munda.
Important and valuable information regarding Birsa Munda
I am happy to associate myself with the unveiling of the statue of Shri Birsa Munda, a legendary figure in the history of our struggle for freedom. He is well known as an early advocate and exponent of tribal rights and as an indomitable fighter against foreign rule and oppression. One of the lesser-known aspects of our fight against British rule is that tribal uprisings constituted an important part of the defiance of the colonial regime. Birsa Munda is an outstanding representative of one such movement in late 19th century in Chotanagpur region, who initiated a unique phase of our freedom struggle … K.R. Narayanan, President of India
The birth of Jharkhand state, its limitations and compromises notwithstanding, is in a way a beginning of fulfillment of dream that the legendary Birsa Munda had dreamt more than 200 years ago. Long before, V I Lenin formulated the concept of Right of Nations to Self-Determination, Birsa Munda, had set out a theme for self-determination of one of the largest sub-nationalities , Jharkhand ,the land of the Adivasis or Jharkhandis. " It was the first Long March, decades before the one led by Mao Ze Dong", told Khudiram Pahan, a former Congress MLA and a trade union leader among tea estate workers in Dooars. Maybe, the saga of struggle waged by Munda had failed. But the candle he had lit never extinguishes.
There is an historical background too : the planned destruction of forest-based tribal society by the British colonialism whose main aim was to plunder and profit. There was an obvious retaliation by the Santhals who took up their last-ditch battle.The British Government reached the Santhal stronghold in the Chota Nagpur Plateau region. The simultaneous immigration of Hindu ‘diku’- the outsider, Christian missionaries, and British tax-revenue systems into the nineteenth-century District of Ranchi became a great burden for its provincial masses. The santhal inhabitants were taken up by surprise when the British imposed their regulations on these independent peace-loving tribals. This in due time led to friction between the tribals and British administration. The region soon flourished given its agricultural productivity. Merchants from Calcutta started trading along the river Bhagirathi. The British officials procured these output at very low prices, often bartering with just salt, tobacco and clothes. Gradually the artless Santhals started to get into a debt-trap. Eventually this led to loosing their land to the merchants and moneylenders. Thus with the setting-in of civilization along with the conquerors, the santhals started losing their only property - land.
Birsa Munda (1875-1900) or Birsa Bhagwan as he is known among his followers was a revolutionary who led his men to rise against the imperial government and its policies. He and his army would attacks the British regiments and landlords, armed with bows and arrows and reclaim what was taken away from them. For his bravery and wide support I the entire region, Birsa was a cause of distress for the British government. The British army led several expeditions against him, when ultimately he was captured in 1900, by the deceit of his own men. Birsa died the same year in captivity, some say of cholera while others say in prison torment. At an age of 25, he claimed unmatched respect and reverence in his tribe.
Birsa used the myths and symbols of his society and culture and became a rallying point for people to rise against foreign rule, oppression and injustice. His movement was also infused with the spirit of religious reform, social justice and cultural regeneration. Birsa Munda became Christian while schooling in a Christian mission school at Burj. He was renamed as Daud. Instead of improving his life, Birsa Munda realised that his culture was destroyed and his life style came down. Because thousands of Mundas were converted, the great martyr Birsa Munda was aggrieved and rebelled against Christianity. He denounced Christianity and become Munda again. The colonialist connection of Christianity was a powerful tool of selling Christianity as the religion of the downtrodden. Any connection between the rulers and the missionaries was however indirect. "It is not only our duty," declared Lord Palmerston, the Prime Minister, "but in our own interest to promote the diffusion of Christianity as far as possible throughout the length and breadth of India." His fight against conversion was yet another reason the British were hunting for his head.
The districts around Ranchi is still the stronghold of santhals. The tribals still continue to be exploited even 50 years after Raj. ‘Diku’ in the local parlance means the outsider who exploited the inhabitants. Infact this particular region is fertile and at the same time one of the most mineral rich regions in the country. The santals are very peace loving and unpretentious tribals. However modern day civilization has looted them of everything they possessed, felled their trees, took away their lands, minerals and made a mockery of their age-old rituals and customs. Modern India distinguishes the entire territory as one of its industrialized regions with berth of heavy engineering and mining, and inspite of all the riches, the region continues to be one of the poorest and economically underdeveloped regions. Thus the fight of Birsa Munda is yet to be over, none the less his contributions are immense to his tribe and the nation.
A century back, the Munda tribes of Bihar’s Chota Nagpur region — Ranchi, Singhbum, Chakradharpur — had spread their armed struggle to an area covering roughly 550 sq. miles. The Ulgulan movement created panic in the hearts of the moneylenders, landlords, dacoits, contractors, missionaries and the British imperialists, as never before. It gave the adivasis a self-respect, taught them to fight fearlessly, and gave them a new meaning to their lives. This great movement, which inspired lakhs of adivasis, was led by the youthful Birsa Munda.
Birsa Munda was born into a share-croppers family in 1874. In order to gain education Birsa, like many other tribal youth, became a Christian. But, in order to gain self-respect, he soon left that education. Faced with daily hunger, Birsa fled to the forests.
Before the British came to India, the forests were like mother to the tribals. The British came with their forest, land and other laws and stripped the tribals of their natural rights. They introduced moneylenders, landlords, traders, mahajans, into the region, through which to loot the adivasis. They usurped the tribal lands, and reduced them to a slave-like existence. Against this oppression the Munda tribes fought continuously, for over three decades. And it was to this on-going struggle that Birsa Munda gave a new turn and a new meaning.
In 1894 Birsa declared himself a god, and began to awaken the masses and arouse them against the landlord-British combine. Combining religion and politics he went from village to village giving discourses and building a politico-military organisation. He declared an end to Victorian rule and the establishment of Munda Rule. He organised the people to stop paying debts/interest to moneylenders and taxes to the British. He broke all links with the missionaries and took the path of revolt. The British retaliated and brought in the armed police. One night, while in his sleep, Birsa was arrested. He spent two years in jail.
When he left jail in November 1897, he once again began organising the tribals. He now went underground. He sowed the seeds of revolt against the landlords and British. He raised the self-confidence of the tribals, who increased their attacks on the landlords. He formed two military units — one for military training and armed struggle, the other for propaganda. He declared December 24, 1899, as the day for the launching of the armed struggle.
On Christmas eve the attacks began. In the first phase police stations were attacked at Khunti, Jamar, Basia, Ranchi, etc. Eight policemen were killed, while 32 fled; 89 houses of landlords were burnt down; churches and British property were reduced to ashes. The flames of the struggle spread to 550 sq. miles in the Chota Nagpur region. The struggle was so intense that on the fourth day itself, Ranchi’s deputy commissioner called in the Army. Many British fled the region. The first phase of the struggle ended on January 5, 1990.
On January 6, 1900, the second phase of the Ulgulan movement began. Not only were attacks launched on the moneylender-landlord-mahajan-contractor combine, but directly against the British. Using poisoned arrows many police and Britishers were killed; many traders’ houses were burnt; the flames of armed struggle spread far and wide. But, the British army entered with their guns, brutally massacring the tribals. The bow and arrow were no match to British fire-power. Entire Ranchi and Singhbum town were handed over to the army. Finally, on February 3, 1900 Birsa was caught. Severe cases were put on him, and 482 others. While the cases were on, he began vomiting blood in jail. On June 9, 1900, Birsa Munda became a martyr. Though he had no symptoms of cholera, the British declared he died of cholera. Cowardly murdered in British jails, Birsa Munda became a legend to the tribals of Chota Nagpur, and a symbol of the anti-feudal, anti-colonial struggle of that time.
Today, in this centenary year of Birsa Munda, the people of India hail the great revolutionary traditions, of this heroic martyr, and pledge to continue that anti-feudal, anti-imperialist struggle, for the cause that was left incomplete. Today, it is the armed struggle of Bihar, AP and Dandakaranya, led by the CPI(ML)[People’s War] which continues the revolutionary traditions set by Birsa Munda. Lacking a clear-cut anti-feudal, anti-imperialist ideology, and an inadequate military strategy, that struggle failed; but today, fired with Marxism-Leninism-Mao Tsetung Thought and a definite military line, the armed struggle advances. This, is the best tribute one can pay to Birsa Munda on the centenary year of his martyrdom.
BIRSA MUNDA (1875-1901)
Birsa Munda (also known to his followers as .Birsa Bhagwan) was born at Bamba in a suburb of Ranchi (Bihar) on 15 November 1875. He followed the footsteps of his brother by professing Christianity. Later at Bandgaon he was initiated into Vaishnavism. He gave up meat, worshipped tulsi plant, wore the sacred thread and a dhoti dyed in turmeric like a typical Vaishnavite. Eventually he reverted to the religion of his ancestors, starting a new tribal revivalihstic religious cult known as the 'Birsait' cult which laid stress on prayers, faith in God and His Messenger on earth, observance of a code of conduct, abstention from drinks and sacrifices and so on.
Birsa had his lower primary schooling at a German Mission School at Burjee. No sooner had he completed the upper primary stage than he got associated with the Sardar Movement.
Till 1895 Birsa was a religious reformer and an agitator for the raiyats’ forest and other rights, but eventually he aimed at the political emancipation of the Munda area as well. That is why he recruited volunteers to fight the British Government. His was not an all-India movement, but it shared with the national freedom struggle 'its anti-British Credo', a hatred towards European officials and Christian missionaries. Even though the first phase of his movement was not very serious, he suffered rigorous imprisonment for two years in the Hazaribagh jail.
On his release he organised several meetings, declaring that the Mundas should put an end to the kingdom of demons (the British). After intensive preparations the Birsaites made a desperate bid to overthrow the British raj, burning and killing European officials and missionaries in Singhbhum and Ranchi. During the Revolt of 1899-1900 Birsa emerged as the supreme leader of the Mundas. After several encounters .with the police, however, he was captured in February 1901, but in course of his trial he died of cholera.
Birsa thought that the Mundas were the real proprietors of the soil and as such they could not tolerate any middlemen. He impressed upon his followers that he was a messenger of God, and his followers identified him with the Sun God, a healer and a miracle-worker. As a socio-religious preacher, he attacked the bongas, the priesthood, the sokhas and others, and aimed at reviving the golden age of the Mundas.
Birsa occupies a distinguished position as a great protagonist of tribal rights, a great patriot, and a martyr in the long succession of heroes of the Chota Nagpur plateau like Buddhu Bhagat of the Kol Insurrection of 1831-32 and Ganga Narain of the Bhumij Revolt of l832-33. His followers formed themselves into a sect, worshipping him as a symbol of the aspirations of the people. Undoubtedly he contributed a good deal to the growing consciousness among the tribesmen of Chota Nagpur; many later socio-religious movements of this area bore a close resemblance to his movement in items like the observance of Thursday as a day of rest and purification, ceremonious faith in prayers, attack on magic, spirits, etc.
Birsa was born in year 1875, Thursday was the day of his birth, and he was named after the day of his birth according to the Munda custom. The folk songs reflect popular confusion and refer to both Ulihatu and Chalkad as his birth-place. Ulihatu was the birth-place of Sugana Munda, father of Birsa. The claim of Ulihatu rests on Birsa’s elder brother Komta Munda living in the village and on his house which still exist in a dilapidated condition.
Birsa’s father, mother and younger brother, Pasna Munda, left Ulihatu and proceeded to Kurumbda near Birbanki in search of employment as labourers or crop-sharers (sajhadar) or ryots. At Kurmbda Birsa’s elder brother, Komta, and his sister, Daskir, were born . From there the family moved to Bamba where Birsa’s elder sister Champa was born followed by himself.
Birsa was born in a house built of bamboo strips without a mud plaster or even a secure roof; a crop-sharer or ryot could not boast of a better house. Folk songs relating to his birth seek to embroider the event with the Biblical parallels : a comet or a flag-star moved across the sky from Chalkad to Ulihatu; a flag flew on a mountain top. At school when a teacher once saw Birsa’s palm, he observed on it the mark of the cross and predicated that he would recover the kingdom one day.
Soon after Birsa’s birth, his family left Bamba. A quarrel between the Mundas and their ryots in which his father was involved as a witness was the immediate reason for proceeding to Chalkad, Sugana’s mother’s village, where they were granted refuge by Bir Singh , the Munda of the village. Birsa’s birth ceremony was performed at Chalkad.
Sugana Munda’s elder brother, Bara Kan Paulus, had been converted to Christianity at Ulihatu long before Birsa was born. Sugana and his younger brother became Christians at Bambna; Sugana rose to be a pracharak (catechist) of the German mission. On conversion he adopted the Christian name of Masihdad and Birsa of Daud Munda, also called Daud Birsa. Birsa’s family stayed at Chalked till the uprising (ulgulan).
Birsa’s early years were spent with his parents at Chalkad. His early life could not have been very different from that of an average Munda child. Folklore refers to his rolling and playing in sand and dust with his friends, and his growing up strong and handsome in looks; he grazed sheep in the forest of Bohonda. When the grew up, he shared an interest in playing the flute, in which he became adept, and so movingly did he play that all living beings came out to listen to him. He went round with the tuila, the one-stringed instrument made from the pumpkin, in the hand and the flute strung to his waist. Exciting moments of his childhood were spent on the akhara ( the village dancing ground). One of his contemporaries who went out with him, however, heard him speak of strange things.
Driven by poverty Birsa was taken to Ayubhatu, his maternal uncle’s village. Komta Munda, his eldest brother, who was ten years of age, went to Kundi Bartoli, entered the service of a Munda, married and lived there for eight years, and then joined his father and younger brother at Chalkad. At Ayubhatu Birsa lived for two years. He went to school at Salga, run by one Jaipal Nag. He accompanied his mother’s younger sister, Joni, who was fond of him, when she was married, to Khatanga, her new home. He came in contact with a pracharak who visited a few families in the village which had been converted to Christianity and attacked the old Munda order.
He remained so preoccupied with himself or his studies that he left the sheep and goat in his charge to graze in the fields covered with crops to the dismay of their owners. He was found no good for the job and was beaten by the owner of field. He left the village and went to his brother at Kundi Bartoli, and stayed with him for some time. From there he probably went to the German mission at Burju where he passed the lower primary examination.
The Formative Period (1886-1894)
Birsa’s long stay at Chaibasa from 1886 to 1890 constituted a formative period of his life. The influence of Christianity shaped his own religion. This period was marked by the German and Roman Catholic Christain agitation. Chiabasa was not far for the centre of the Sardars’ activities. Birsa was amidst them’ Eliazer of Kasmar, Gidun of Piring. Yohanna of Chapari, Mika of Dabgama, Tenga of Katingkel and Bhutka of Rugri were his own men. One day while delivering a sermon in the Chaibasa mission attended by Birsa, Dr Nottrott expatiated on the theme of the Kingdom of Heaven, and assured them that if they remained Christians and followed his instructions, he could get back all lands they had lost. Birsa took it to heart. But he received a rude shock when the brak with the missionaries came in 1886-7 and the latter started calling the Sardars cheats. He criticized Dr Nottrott and the missionaries in trenchant terms. They refused to have him in their school any longer, and he was expelled. This was a turning point in his life; he exclaimed saheb, saheb ek topi hai (all whites, the British and the missionaries, wear the same cap) it was also likely that the Sardars might have influenced Sugana Munda in withdrawing his son from the school. The sardar agitation in which Birsa was thus caught up put the stamp of its anti-missionary and anti-Government character on his mind.
Soon after leaving Chaibasa in 1890 Birsa and his family gave up their membership of the German mission in line with the Sardar’s movement against it. He apostatized to the Roman Catholics and remained with them for a little while before lapsing into hearthenism. This also followed the pattern of the Sardar agitation which turned to the Roman Catholic mission, seeking support for their claims, and the, disappointed, returned to the old faith. For a year he also served in the house of Munda at Kander, where his eldest sister Daskir lived.
It was probably in 1890 that he went to Bandgaon and came in contact with Anand Panre. Anand Panre, a munshi to Jagmohan Singh. The zamindar of Bandgaon, was a Swansi. He was well versed into rudimentary form of Vaishnavism that prevailed in the area and with the Hindu epic-lores, and enjoyed some reputation and influence. Birsa occasionally accompanied him Gorbera and Patpur, but spent most of his time at Bandgaon with him or his brother Sukhnath Panre. He stayed with the Panres for three years. He also met a Vaishnav monk who visited the baraik at Bamani and preached there for two months. He adopted the sacred thread, worshipped the tulsi plants. Wore the sandal mark , familiarized himself with the Hindu concept of epochs and prohibited cowslaughter. At Patpur, his disciples claim, he had the vision (darsan) of Mahaprabhu Vishnu Bhagwan. Which marked the consummation of the Vaishnav influence on their master.
He left Corbera in the wake of the mounting Sardar agitation. During these years he did not keep himself only to the Panres. He participated in the agitation stemming form popular disaffection at the restrictions imposed upon the traditional rights of the Mundas in the protected forest, under the leadership of Gidiun of Piring in the Porhat area. During 1893-4 all waste lands in villages, the ownership of which was vested in the Government, were constituted into protected forests under the Indian Forest Act VII of 1882. In Singhbhum as in Palamau and Manbhum the forest settlement operations were launched and measures were taken to determine the rights of the forest-dwelling communities. Villages in forests were marked off in blocks of convenient size consisting not only of village sites but also cultivable and waste lands sufficient of the needs of villages.
Outside the blocks lay the protected forest areas in which rights were regulated, even curtailed. These orders were sometimes not understood by local officers who acted as if all right of forest-swelling communities had been curtailed. Petitions were submitted by Jeta Maniki of Gudri, Rasha Maniki, Moni Maniki of Durkarpir claiming the resumption of what they called were their old ancestral right to free fuel. grazing etc. Birsa led a number of ryots of Sirgida to Chaibasa with a petition for the remission of forest dues. Men form six other villages had preceded him. Nothing came of it. The Chotanagpur Protected Forests Rules framed under the Indian Forest Act came into force in July 1894. Viewing Birsa’s involvement in the Sardar agitation with concern, Anand Panre advised him not to let him emotion overpowers him; but he would not turn a deaf ear to the inner voice. His three years’ apprenticeship under the Panres came to an end in 1893-4.
In 1894, Birsa had grown up into a strong and handsome young man, shrewd and intelligent. He was tall for a Munda, 5 feet 4 inches, and could perform the feat of repairing the Dombari tank at Gorbera damaged by rains. His real appearance was extraordinary pleasant : his features were regular, his eyes bright and full of intelligence and his complexion much lighter than most of his people.
During the period he had a spell of experience typical of a young man of his age and looks. While on a sojourn in the neighbourhood of village Sankara in Singhbhum, he found suitable companion, presented her parents with jewels and explained to her his idea of marriage. Later, on his return form jail he did not find her faithful to him and left her. Another woman who served him at Chalkad was the sister of Mathias Munda. On his release form prison, the daughter of Mathura Muda of Koensar who was kept by Kali Munda, and the wife of Jaga Munda of Jiuri insisted on becoming wives of Birsa. He rebuked them and referred the wife of Jaga Munda to her husband. Another rather well-known woman who stayed with Birsa was Sali of Burudih.
Birsa stressed monogamy at a later stage in his life. Birsa rose form the lowest ranks of the peasants, the ryots, who unlike their namesakes elsewhere enjoyed far fewer rights in the Mundari khuntkatti system, while all privileges were monopolized by the members of the founding lineage the ryots were no better than crop-sharers. Birsa’s own experience as a young boy, driven form place to place in search of employment, given him an insight into the agrarian question and forest matters; he was no passive spectator but an active participant in the movement going on in the neighbourhood.
The Making of a Prophet
Birsa’s claim to be a messenger of God and the founder of a new religion sounded preposterous to the mission. There were also within his sect converts form Christianity, mostly Sardars. His simple system of offering was directed against the church which levied a tax. And the concept of on God appealed to his people who found his religion and economical religion saving them the expense of sacrifices. A strict code of conduct was laid down : theft, lying and murder were anathema ; begging was prohibited.
Slowly, the messenger of God began to be identified with God himself. The people approached him as tier Singbonga or the Sun God, the good spirit who watches over them and can do no ill. He was looked upon as an incarnation of Khasra Kora who had destroyed the Asurs. They said the Sun (which they worship) was above the Birsa was below ; later on , it was given out that the he was Bhagwan himself. Later Birsaites formed themselves into a sect worshipping him as such.
The stories of Birsa as a healer, a miracle-worker, and a preacher spread, out of all proportion to the facts. The Mundas, Oraons, and Kharias flocked to Chalkad to see the new prophet and to be cured of there ills. Both the Oraon and Munda population up to Barwari and Chechari in Palamau became convinced Birsaities. Contemporary and later folk songs commemorate the tremendous impact of Birsa on his people, their jay and expectations at his advent. The name of Dharti Aba was on everybody’s lips. A folk songs in Sadani showed that the first impact cut across the lines of caste Hindus and Muslims also flocked to the new Sun of religion. All roads led to Chalked.
Birsa Munda and his Movement
The British colonial system intensified the transformation of the tribal agrarian system into feudal state. As the tribals with their primitive technology could not generate a surplus, non-tribal peasantry were invited by the chiefs in Chotanagpur to settle on and cultivate the land. This led to the alienation of the lands held by the tribals. The new class of Thikadars were of a more rapacious kind and eager to make most of their possessions.
In 1856 the number of the Jagirdars stood at about 600, and they held from a portion of village to 150 villages. By 1874, the authority of the old Munda or Oraon chiefs had been almost entirely effaced by that of the farmers, introduced by the superior landlord. In some villages the aborigines had completely lost their proprietary rights, and had been reduced to the position of farm labourers.
To the twin challenges of agrarian breakdown and culture change Birsa along with the Munda responded through a series of revolts and uprising under his leadership. The movement seek to assert rights of the Mundas as the real proprietors of the soil, and the expulsion of middlemen and the Britishers. He was treacherously caught on 3 February 1900 and died in mysterious conditions on 9 June 1900 in Ranchi Jail.