To live for 100 years you don’t need to be 100 years old … do something in one day … so that the world remembers you for 100 years
During the freedom struggle, many such heroes were born in the land of India who got their names written in history with golden letters. It does not take long for a small voice to become a slogan, just the person who raises that voice should have the courage and Birsa Munda was a living example of this. Birsa Munda played an important role in the development of Bihar and Jharkhand and the freedom movement of India. Due to his actions and agitation, people in Bihar and Jharkhand worship Birsa Munda like a god. In recognition of his impact on the national movement, the state of Jharkhand was created on his birth anniversary in 2000.
Birsa Munda was born on 15 November 1875, at the village of Ulihatu in the Lohardaga district of Bengal Presidency — now in Khunti district of Jharkhand — on a Thursday (Some sources claim he was born on 18 July 1872, and not in 1875) and hence named after that day, according to the then prevalent Munda custom. 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.
Birsa Munda to Birsa David
Driven by poverty Birsa was taken to Ayubhatu, his maternal uncle’s village. At Ayubhatu Birsa lived for two years. He went to school at Salga, run by one Jaipal Nag. As he was sharp in studies, Jaipal Nag recommended him to join German Mission School and Birsa converted to Christianity and was renamed Birsa David, which later became Birsa Daud.
Sardar Agiation and Change in Mindset
After studying for a few years, Birsa left German Mission School. During the period, 1886 to 1890, Birsa Munda spent a large amount of time in Chaibasa which was close to the centre of the Sardars agitation. The activities of the Sardars had a strong impact on the mind of the young Birsa, who soon became a part of the anti-missionary and anti-government program. By the time he left Chaibasa in 1890, Birsa was strongly entrenched in the movement against the British oppression of the tribal communities.
Back to Roots
Birsa’s long stay at Chaibasa from 1886 to 1890 constituted a formative period of his life. This period was marked by the German and Roman Catholic Christian agitation. In light of the freedom struggle, Sugana Munda withdrew his son from the school. Soon after leaving Chaibasa in 1890 Birsa and his family gave up their membership of the German mission and ceased to be Christian and reverted to his original traditional tribal religious system.
Having gained awareness of the British colonial ruler and the efforts of the missionaries to convert tribals to Christianity, Birsa started the faith of ‘Birsait’. Soon members of the Munda and Oraon community started joining the Birsait sect and it turned into a challenge to British conversion activities.
Reviving the Tribals
Birsa is credited for reviving the traditional tribal culture which was most negatively affected by Christian missionary works. Many tribals under his sect had already converted to Christianity. He opposed and criticised the Church and its practices such as levying of taxes and religious conversions. He became a preacher and a representative of their traditional tribal religion, and soon, he built up a reputation of a healer, a miracle worker, and a preacher. The Mundas, Oraons, and Kharias flocked to Chalkad to see him and to be cured of their ailments. Both the Oraon and Munda population up to Barwari and Chechari became convinced of Birsaities. Contemporary and later folk songs commemorate the tremendous impact of Birsa on his people, their joy, and expectations at his advent. The name of Dharti Aaba was on everybody’s lips.
Birsa Munda’s slogan threatening the British Raj—Abua raj ete jana, maharani raj tundu jana (“Let the kingdom of the queen be ended and our kingdom is established”)—is still remembered in areas of Jharkhand, Odisha, Bihar, West Bengal, and Madhya Pradesh. To the twin challenges of agrarian breakdown and culture change, Birsa along with the Munda responded through a series of revolts and uprisings under his leadership. In 1895, in the Chalkad village of Tamar, Birsa Munda renounced Christianity, asked his fellow tribesmen to worship only one God and give up the worship of bongas.
He declared himself a prophet who had come to recover the lost kingdom of his people. He said that the reign of Queen Victoria was over and the Munda Raj had begun. He gave orders to the raiyats (tenant farmers) to pay no rents. The Mundas called him Dharati Aaba, the father of earth.
Death of a Man and Birth of a Legend
On March 3, 1900, Birsa Munda was arrested by the British police while he was sleeping with his tribal guerilla army at Jamkopai forest in Chakradharpur. He died in Ranchi jail on June 9, 1900, at the young age of 25. Though he lived a short span of life and the fact that the movement died out soon after his death, Birsa Munda is known to have mobilised the tribal community against the British and had also forced the colonial officials to introduce laws protecting the land rights of the tribals.
His birth anniversary, which falls on 15 November, is still celebrated by tribal people as far away as Mysore and Kodagu districts in Karnataka. The official celebration takes place at his samadhi sthal (mausoleum) in the Kokar neighbourhood of Ranchi, the capital of Jharkhand.
Today, there are several organizations, bodies, and structures named after him, notably Birsa Munda Airport Ranchi, Birsa Institute of Technology Sindri, Birsa Munda Vanvasi Chattravas, Kanpur, Sidho Kanho Birsha University, Purulia, and Birsa Agricultural University. The war cry of the Bihar Regiment is Birsa Munda Ki Jai (Victory to Birsa Munda).