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 raiyats 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
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
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,