Sanyasi and Fakir Rebellion

From 1763 onwards, the Sanyasi Revolt or uprising had engulfed the area of Bengal {including modern Bangladesh}, Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Anandamath, written by India’s first modern novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is the best reminder of the Sanyasi / Fakir Rebellion. Vande Mataram, India’s National Song has been taken from this novel.

Who were Sanyasis?

Literally, Sanyasi refers to one who has renounced the world for the sake of spiritual life. The Sanyasis of the revolt certainly did not come under this definition because they were very much worldly people. In the British documents, they have been identified as “gypsies of Hindustan“, “trading pilgrims“, “disorderly tribe of lawless mendicants“, “religious vagrants” etc.

These Sanyasis were Sadhus of the Dasanami sect, which originated in 9th century. In 16th century, a section of Dasnamis was organized by Madhusudana Saraswati as Naga {the one who go nude in public} tradition sadhus to protect the Hindus from tyranny of Mughal rulers. They were also called Gosain or Goswami in popular parlance.

Who were Fakirs?

The Fakirs connected to this rebellion belonged to Madariya group of the Sufi Silsila. This group finds its origin from Syed Badiuddin Qutb-ul-Madar. The fakir uprising against the British was actually a revolt of the Madariya Fakirs.

Reasons of the Revolt

One hundreds of years, the Fakirs and Sanyasis used to travel to North Bengal to visit various shrines and pilgrim sites. As a tradition, they used to collect a sizeable amount of alms from local Zamindars. Before battle of Plassey, the Zamindars had no problem in making these alms and this collection of this money was an amicable transaction. The British control over Bengal after battles of Plassey and Buxar led to increase in land tax and exploitation of the peasants. Further, the Bengal Famine of 1770 led to drop in production and many Zamindars could not pay the taxes. As per permanent settlement terms, lands of many of the old Zamindars were confiscated and given to new purchasers. Numerous restrictions were placed on Sanyasis and Fakirs also because British considered them looters and thugs.

The peasants, displaced landlords and these Sadhus / Fakirs came together in a rebellion which started in later part of 18th century and continued for around half century. They raided government treasuries, killed British officers and caused acute chaos and misery. The rebellion continued for around half a century and later got weakened.

In 1771, 150 Fakirs were killed for no good reason. This triggered rebellion which reached its climax in late 1770s. The Fakirs and Sanyasis came together in number close to fifty thousand to defeat the common enemy British.

Leaders and Groups involved

Apart from Sanyasis and Fakirs, the revolt saw active participation of displaced Zamindars, peasants, artisans and disbanded armies of Nawabs. The Ex-army people provided leadership, peasants provided social base for the rebellion while the Sanyasi and Fakirs provided a religious fervour to the struggle. They were able to capture Company’s Dacca centre and kept it under its control for some time. They also launched similar attacks in Patna, Hooghly, Cooch Bihar, Saran etc.

For Fakirs, Majanun Shah was main leader. He travelled from places to places to inspire to continue struggle. He was killed and after his death, his brother Musa Shah took the leadership and continued rebel for some time. Later, Chirag Shah led the Fakirs to launch attack on British establishments. However, later internal dissensions became reason for weakening of the revolt. The revolt was also led by two women leaders viz. Bhavini Pathak and Devi Chaudhrani.

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