Birsa Munda: Life and his Ulgulan Movement  

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Birsa Munda

India’s struggle for independence is often associated with iconic figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru or Rani Laxmibai. However, numerous unsung heroes also had a significant role in the freedom movement, one such activist and leader was Birsa Munda. Moreover, his name evokes a sense of inspiration and pride amongst the Adivasi Community. In this blog, we will dive into the life and contribution of tribal leader, Birsa Munda.

Who was Birsa Munda?

He was born on the 15th of November 1875, in Ulihatu village, present-day Jharkhand. Birsa Munda was a fearless folk leader who dedicated his life to fighting for the rights of the tribal community. Additionally, he was a religious leader from one of the largest tribes of India, the Munda Tribe of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau area.  He was known as the “Dharthi Aba” (Father of the Earth) amongst tribals. 

Birsa Munda
Birsa Munda

What was the Early Life of Birsa Munda?

Birsa Munda belonged to a humble family. His father was Sugana Munda, a farmer and his mother was Karami Hatu, who was known for her exceptional weaving skills. Despite economic hardships, Birsa received primary education in a local missionary school. 

At the age of 15, he witnessed the atrocities faced by his community under British colonial rule and the oppression by moneylenders and landlords. Consequently, this fueled his determination to wage a fight for justice and equality.

Also Read: 20+ Greatest Indian Freedom Fighters and Their Sacrifices

Revolt against Landlords and Moneylenders

Birsa Munda organized a powerful movement against the exploitative practices of landlords and moneylenders. The Zamindari System replaced the Khuntkatti system and the Adivasis were treated as Bandhua Majdoori. Moreover, he encouraged his fellow adivasis to refrain from paying unjust taxes and demanded the return of their land. Through his charismatic and influential personality, he influenced the community and instilled a sense of unity among the Adivasis.

Birsa Munda’s Slogan was “Abua Raj Ete Jana, Maharani Raj Tundu Jana” which translates to ‘Let the queen’s kingdom end and our kingdom be established.’

The Munda Council Formation

In 1899, the Munda Council was established by Birsa Munda. The main objective of the council was to unite Jharkhand’s diverse tribes to resist against the British Rule. Furthermore, it also aimed to organise a self-governance system, which allowed the tribal communities to follow their traditions and customs independently. 

Also Read: Chandra Shekhar Azad: History, Family, Education, Death

What was the Ulgulan Movement?

Birsa Munda’s most significant contribution was the formation of the Ulgulan movement in 1895. It aimed at establishing a Munda Raj along with gaining independence from the British. Additionally, the movement sought to eradicate social inequalities and end the exploitative system prevalent in the region. The Ulgulan (also known as the Great Tumult) Movement shocked the British administration to such an extent that the then-commissioner announced a reward of Rs 500 for the arrest of Birsa. 

Furthermore, the British forces attacked the “Dumbari Hill” where Munda warriors were congregated and made indiscriminate and constant firing like that of Jallianwalla Bagh Massacre. Sadly, the firing killed several people and the entire hill was covered with corpses. 

According to an editorial published on the 25th of March 1900, in the newspaper, The Statesman, the death tolled around 400. Fear and panic spread over the area of “Dombari”. Moreover, the hill was later named “Topped Buru” (a mound of dead) by Mundas. Consequently, Birsa was nabbed when he was asleep with his tribal guerilla army at a forest named “Jamkopai” in Chakradharpur on the 3rd of March 1900. Thus, the movement became weak.

Also Read: Shaheed Sukhdev: Life, Death, and Freedom Struggle

The Death of Birsa Munda

Birsa was arrested on the charge of Sedition and was served life imprisonment in a jail in Ranchi. During his sentence, he suffered from cholera and passed away on the 9th of June 1900 at the age of 25.

Munda challenged the dominance of the Christian missionaries and Hindu landlords who imposed their religious beliefs on the Adivasi Community. In addition, he propagated a new religious movement called “Birsait”, which aimed at reviving the indigenous faith of the Adivasis and breaking free from the shackles of religious discrimination. 

Birsa Munda Captured and Conducted to Ranchi
Birsa Munda Captured and Conducted to Ranchi

What was the Legacy of Birsa Munda?

Additionally, Birsa’s legacy as a freedom fighter resulted in:

  1. Abolishment of compulsory Begar system.
  2. The passing of the Tenancy Act of 1903.
  3. Chotanagpur Tenancy Act in 1908 was passed. 

Moreover, his message of justice and equality for all regardless of their caste, creed or religion is still relevant.

Remembering Birsa Munda

Birsa Munda’s legacy is etched in history and embodies the resilience and fight for justice in our shared struggle for Independence.

  • In 2021, the Prime Minister unveiled a museum in Ranchi, situated at the Old Central Jail where Birsa Munda breathed his last.
    • Moreover, the museum houses the symbolic statue of Birsa Munda, representing the spirit of rebellion (‘ulgulan’) and remembrance.
    • It also honours other tribal freedom fighters such as Sidhu-Kanhu, Budhu Bhagat, Gaya Munda, Poto H, Jatra Bhagat, Nilambar-Pitambar, Diwa-Kisun, Bhagirath Manjhi, Ganga Narayan Singh, and Telanga Khadiya, who sacrificed their lives for Tribal independence.
  • Commemorating Birsa’s birth anniversary, the Prime Minister launched the ‘PM Janjati Adivasi Nyaya Maha Abhiyan (PM-JANMAN).’
    • It is a ₹24,000-crore initiative aimed at guaranteeing the effective implementation of welfare schemes for the most marginalised tribal groups.
    • Furthermore, this initiative seeks to empower Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs) by reaching the farthest corners of India.
  • Alongside this, the Prime Minister also kicked off the ‘Visksit Bharat Sankalp Yatra,’ a nationwide campaign to raise awareness and secure the widespread adoption of welfare schemes, culminating on the 26th of January 2024.

Each year, Birsa Munda Jayanti is celebrated on the 15th of November to honour the hero of Jharkhand. He is also referred to as Bhagwan Birsa Munda as he was a great freedom fighter. He symbolised the resistance of the tribals against the British. Thus, his achievements as a young tribal revolutionary have continued to be celebrated over the decades. 


Why Birsa Munda is called God?

Birsa Munda was a revered leader who led his fellow tribal peasants to prevent non-tribal farmers from taking over their land and turning them into bonded labourers. His people worshipped him as ‘Bhagwan’ Birsa Munda for his bravery and leadership in Jharkhand.

Who was the first teacher of Birsa Munda?

Birsa Munda was born on November 15, 1875, in Ulihatu village, located in Ranchi district. He received his early education from a local teacher named Jaipal Nag, who introduced him to Christianity and enrolled him in a German Mission School.

Why did Birsa Munda die?

Birsa Munda was captured by the British in 1900 from Jamkopai forest in Chakradharpur. Unfortunately, he passed away on June 9th, 1900 while he was being held at the Ranchi jail. He was only 25 years old. According to the authorities, he died of cholera. However, some people doubt this explanation.

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