Who was Birsa Munda?

June 11, 2024

The Jharkhand Governor and Chief Minister recently paid tribute to tribal icon Birsa Munda on his death anniversary.

About Birsa Munda:

  • He was a folk hero and a tribal freedom fighter who played a pivotal role in the Indian independence movement, particularly in the tribal regions of British India.
  • He belonged to the Munda tribe in the Chota Nagpur Plateau area
  • He spearheaded an Indian tribal mass movement that arose in the Bihar and Jharkhand belts in the early 19th century under British colonisation.
  • Munda rallied the tribals to fight against the forceful land grabbing carried out by the British government, which would turn the tribals into bonded labourers and force them to abject poverty.
  • He influenced his people to realise the importance of owning their land and asserting their rights over it.
  • Birsa encouraged the tribe to stick to their traditions and get back to their tribal roots.
  • One of Birsa's notable contributions was the formation of the Munda Rebellion, also known as the Ulgulan, or the Tamar Revolt, in the late 19th century.
    • The rebellion was a response to the oppressive policies of the British administration, including the introduction of the forest laws, that restricted tribal access to their traditional lands, and the imposition of exorbitant taxes.
    • Birsa united various tribal communities under the banner of the Munda Raj and led a series of guerrilla warfare campaigns against the British forces.
    • Birsa Munda's leadership during the Munda Rebellion earned him the title of "Bhagwan" or "Birsa Bhagwan" among his followers.
  • He often took inspiration from Munda traditions, Christianity and Hinduism to guide his followers in rituals and prayers. 
  • His struggle against exploitation and discrimination against tribals led to a big hit against the British government in the form of the Chotanagpur Tenancy Act being passed in 1908.
    • The act restricted the passing on of land from the tribal people to non-tribals.
  • Birsa also played a crucial religious role among the Munda people.
    • He founded the faith of Birsait, a blend of animism and indigenous beliefs, which emphasized the worship of a single god.
    • He became their leader and was given the nickname, ‘Dharti Aba’ or the father of the earth.
  • He died on June 9, 1900, at age 25. 
  • In recognition of his impact on the national movement, the state of Jharkhand was created on his birth anniversary in 2000.
    • November 15, the birth anniversary of Birsa Munda, was declared ‘Janjatiya Gaurav Divas by the Central Government in 2021.