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Birsa Munda

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 the 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 revivalistic 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 raiyat’s 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 year 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 Singhbum 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 1832-33. He followers formed themselves into a sect, worshiping him as a symbol of the aspiration of the people. Undoubtedly he contributed a good deed to the growing consciousness among the tribmen of Chota Nagpur; many later socio-religious movements of this area bore a close resemblance to his movement in items like the observance. Thursday as a day of rest and purification, ceremonious faith in prayers, attack on magic, spirit etc.


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