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The Sanyasi Rebellion: A Historical Overview

The Sanyasi Rebellion was a revolt by the Sanyashis and Sadhus in Bengal, India in the late eighteenth century which happened in the forests of murshidabad and Baikunthapur of Jalpaigari district. The leader was Bhabani Charan Pathak. Some say it as first war of independence others see it as banditry.

Large body of Hindu Sanyashis from north India travelled to different parts of Bengal to visit shrines. On the way it was customary for many ascetics to exact a religious tax from the headmen and zamindars. In times of Prosperity it was being obliged. But in the year 1770 a severe famine visited Bengal. So the religious tax could not obliged by headmen and Zamidars. Moreover after the battle of Buxar East India company had legal right to collect tax. So the farmers had to give twice – first to the company and then to the Sanyasis. So they (farmers)) were over burdened. So conflict arose between company and the sanyasis Bhawani Charan Pathak was the main hero of the Sanyasi rebellion against the British. Sanyasi rebellion was the first anti British independence struggle. In 1771, 150 Saints were put to death. This led to violence.

From hundreds of years monks had been visiting from North India to Bengal. They were used to take … from Zamindars. But after British inposed taxes, it became hard for Zamindars it give tax to two parties. The British hated Sanyasis on the ground that Sanyasis had no right to collect tax. The British thought that the Sanyasis were plunderers…. and thugs. Clashes started between British and Sanyasis and continued til 1502. Even with superior training and forces, the company was not able to suppress sporadic clashes as the battle grounds were hilly and jungle areas in the districts of Birbhum and midnapore.

Sanyasi rebellion was the first of the series of revolts. Other revolts were chuar revolt of 1799 Santhal revolt of 1856. What was the legcy of Sanyasi rebellion?

The best reminder of Sanyasi rebellion is the novel – Anand Math by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee (1882) and Devi Chaudhurani (1884) Banda Malarani Song was used the Novel Ananda Math. The film Ananda Math was made in 1952.

In 2022 Telugu film producer V. Vijay Prasad announced his up coming project-1770 – Ek Sangram based on Ananda Matha and the Sanyasi rebellion. The film will be made in Bengali, Hindi, Tamil and Telugu.

Although Historian do not agree that Sanyasi rebellion had not great impact. But it can not be denied…. that Sanyasis could not be suppressed by Warren Hastings’ military action. The British were not infallible. They were not invincible. They had also their limitations. On many occasions British were defeated by Marathas, Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan. Similarly Sanyasi rebellion also showed that British could be defeated. The British were beatable many times in India.

(The views expressed are the writer’s own.)

Radhakanta Seth is an Former-Income tax officer in Sambalpur.  He is a Freelance writer and his articles have been published in some Oriya dailies like Sambad, Samaj, Dharitri and English dailies like The Telegraph and in a sociological journal ‘Folklore’ published from Kolka

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