Birsa Munda (also known to his followers as Birsa Bhagwan) was born on November 15, 1875, in Bamba, a suburb of Ranchi (Jharkhand). By professing Christianity, he followed in his brother’s footsteps. Later, he got inducted into Vaishnavism at Bandgaon. Like a traditional Vaishnavite, he abstained from meat, venerated the tulsi plant, and donned the holy thread and a turmeric-dyed dhoti. He eventually returned to his forefathers’ religion, founding the ‘Birsait’ cult, which emphasized prayers, confidence in God, adherence to a code of behavior, abstention from beverages and sacrifices, etc. Birsa attended a German Mission School in Burjee for his elementary education. He became involved with the Sardar Movement until he reached the upper primary stage.
Birsa was a religious reformer and an activist for the raiyats’ forest and other rights until 1895, but he finally sought the area’s political independence. As a result, he enlisted the help of volunteers to battle the British government. His was not an all-India movement, but it got shared with the national liberation movement called the “anti-British Credo,” or a dislike for European officials and Christian missionaries. Even though the first phase of his campaign was not particularly significant, he got imprisoned for two years at the Hazaribagh Prison.
Following his liberation, he convened a series of meetings, saying that the Mundas must stop the demon dominion (the British). After extensive planning, the Birsaites launched a desperate attempt to overthrow the British raj, burning and murdering European officials and missionaries in Singhbhum and Ranchi. Birsa rose to prominence as the Mundas’ supreme commander during the Revolt of 1899-1900. He was apprehended in February 1901 after repeated run-ins with the cops, but he died of cholera during his trial.
Bhagwan Birsa Munda – Early Childhood
Birsa, born in 1875 on a Thursday, was named after the day of his birth according to Munda tradition. Folk ballads mention Ulihatu and Chalkad as his birthplaces, reflecting standard uncertainty. Birsa’s father, Sugana Munda, is a Ulihatu native. Birsa’s father, mother, and younger brother, Pasna Munda, left Ulihatu searching for work as laborers, crop-sharers (sajhadar), or ryots in Kurumbda, near Birbanki.
Birsa’s older brother, Komta, and sister, Daskir, were born in Kurmbda. The family then relocated to Bamba, where Birsa’s older sister Champa and he were born.
Birsa was born in a bamboo-strip house with no mud plaster or even a secure roof; a crop-sharer or ryot could not have asked for more. Folk ballads about his birth try to weave Biblical analogies into the story: a comet or a flag star traveled through the sky from Chalkad to Ulihatu, and a flag fluttered on a mountain top. When a teacher saw Birsa’s palm at school, he noticed the cross mark and predicted that he would one day reclaim the kingdom.
Birsa’s family departed Bamba soon after he was born. The immediate cause for traveling to Chalkad, Sugana’s mother’s village, was a dispute between the Mundas and their ryots, to which his father was a witness. They were provided asylum by Bir Singh, the Munda of the village. At Chalkad, Birsa’s birth ceremony got held. Bara Kan Paulus, Sugana Munda’s older brother, had converted to Christianity in Ulihatu long before Birsa was born. Sugana and his younger brother became Christians in Bambna, and Sugana advanced through the German mission to become a pracharak (catechist). After his conversion, he took the Christian names Masihdad and Birsa of Daud Munda, also known as Daud Birsa. Birsa and his family remained in Chalked till the rebellion (ulgulan).
His upbringing could not have been much different from that of a typical Munda kid. According to legend, he grazed sheep in the woodland of Bohonda, rolled and played in sand and dust with his buddies, and grew up strong and attractive. When he was older, he developed an interest in playing the flute and excelled. He walked about with the tuila, a one-stringed pumpkin instrument, in one hand and the flute slung over his waist.
Birsa Munda’s Movement
The British colonial system accelerated the development of the tribal agricultural economy into a feudal state. The leaders of Chotanagpur welcomed non-tribal people to live on and farm the land since the tribals could not create a surplus with their rudimentary technology. It resulted in the tribals’ lands getting alienated. The new Thikadars were a more greedy kind, keen to make the most of their wealth.
The Jagirdars were around 600 in 1856, and they controlled anything from a piece of a village to 150 villages. By 1874, farmers nearly entirely replaced the traditional Munda or Oraon leaders’ power. Aborigines had lost their property rights in several communities and had gotten relegated to the status of agricultural laborers.
Under his leadership, Birsa and the Munda responded to the dual problems of agricultural collapse and cultural change with a succession of revolts and uprisings. The movement establishes Mundas as the actual owners of the land and the expulsion of intermediaries and Britishers.
He was apprehended on 3 February 1900 and died at Ranchi Jail on 9 June 1900 under unexplained circumstances.
Tactics used by Birsa Munda to combat the British
Under his leadership, Birsa and the Munda responded to the dual difficulties of agricultural collapse and cultural change by staging a series of revolts and uprisings. He told the tenant farmers they did not have to pay rent.
Bhagwan Birsa Munda’s legacy
Birsa Munda Airport, Ranchi, Birsa Institute of Technology Sindri, Birsa Munda Vanvasi Chattravas, Kanpur, Sidho Kanho Birsha University, Purulia, and Birsa Agricultural University are among the organizations, entities, and constructions named after him. Birsa Munda Ki Jai is the war cry of the Bihar Regiment.
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