This rebellion began in the 1760s and continued for four decades. It was led by Sannyasis and Fakirs in Bengal against East India rule. The Sannyasi rebellion took place around Murshidab and Baikunthpur forests of Jalpaiguri of Bengal. There was a religious framework to the Sannyasi rebellion, although political and economic factors also played a role. You will learn about the Sannyasi Revolt in this article, which will help you prepare for the UPSC and other competitive exams.
Causes of the Sannyasi Rebellion
The East India Company’s regulations seriously disturbed the way of life of Muslim fakirs and Hindu sannyasis, which prompted them to make common cause and resort to armed resistance.
During their religious travels, both groups of mendicants collected alms and contributions from zamindars and followers. In their ignorance of the religious institutions in the country, the Company rulers used their alms collection drives to impose unauthorised impositions on the village people. Therefore, the government issued decrees prohibiting the collection of alms by organised groups like fakirs and sannyasis.
They responded by forming a resistance movement against the Company rulers. Because of their religious attachment to the mendicants and the new land revenue policy of the Company government, the resistance movement gained considerable support from the peasantry.
Hindu ascetics, the Dasnami Naga Sannyasis, participated in the movements as well, visiting Bengal for pilgrimages and moneylending. Those ascetics were viewed by the British as looters who should not be allowed to collect the company’s money or even enter the province. They felt that a large group of people on the move was a potential threat.
Leaders of the Sannyasi Rebellion
In the eighteenth century, Pandit Bhawani Sharan Pathak led the Sannyasi Rebellion against British control and exploitation of Bengal.
During the mid-eighteenth century, Majnu Shah, a sufi saint of the Maria sect, led the Fakir-Sanyasi rebellion. He succeeded Shah Sultan Hasan Suriya Burhana as head of the Maria sufi order based in Bihar. His lieutenants were sufis like Musa Shah, Cherag Ali Shah, Paragal Shah, Sobhan Shah, and Karim Shah.
Among Hindus, the Sannysis belong to the Sabi sect. A Bhojpuri Brahmin, Bhabani Pathak, who conversed with Majnu Shah and also communicated with a petty zamindar named Devi Chaudhurani, led the Sannyasi rebellion. They were not well organized throughout the country. However, they could inspire the oppressed peasantry with an idea of fighting for their independence, culture, and religion throughout Bengal and Bihar.
Events of the Sannyasi Rebellion
Majnushah, the leader of a band of fakirs and Bhawani Pathak, the leader of a band of sanyasis, unfurled the first flag of rebellion (1763) against the ruthless British. Their main targets were the Company kuthi, revenue kacharis of zamindars loyal to the Company rulers, and the houses of their officials. They lasted until 1800. There were swords, spears, lances, guns, hawai, and even revolving cannons used by the rebels.
In most cases, they attacked the Company personnel and their establishments by surprise. Five to six thousand fakir-sannyasis would assemble during regular operations and in specific battles.
There were over fifty thousand fakirs and sannyasis in the 1770s. The rebels placed their intelligence agents in the persons of the villagers who previously revealed to them the movement of the Company troops. In 1771, 150 saints were put to death, apparently without cause. This caused distress leading to violence, especially in Natore in Rangpur, now in modern Bangladesh.
An English army under Captain De Mackenzee was sent to Rangpur in 1767 to check the activities of the rebels in North Bengal. By 1767 the rebels had intensified their attacks in Rangpur, Rajshahi, Kuch Bihar, Jalpaiguri and Comilla.
In the meantime, the rebels overpowered the English contingent led by Barwel, the Resident of Maldah, under the command of Myrtle, who was killed by them. At the approach of Captain De Mackenze’s army, the rebels fled towards Nepal. In the period 1768-70, fakir-sannyasi raids mainly took place in Saran (Bihar), Benares, Purnia, Rangpur, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Comilla, and Chittagong.
In 1776, raids by fakir-sannyasi intensified in the districts of Bogra, Rajshahi, Dinajpur, and Chittagong. During the period between 1777 and 1781, fakir-sannyasi raids were mainly conducted in Bogra, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Chittagong, Sylhet, and Mymensingh. In 1782, rebel activities took a serious turn in Alapsingh pargana of Mymensingh.
Suppression of the Sanyasi Rebellion
A battle between Majnu Shah and the Company army under Lieutenant Brenan occurred in the Kaleswar area on 8 December 1786, which resulted in many of his followers dying. Some of the wounded followers were taken to Mewat. Majnu Shah was not seen in any expeditions after 1786. It appears that he died on 26 January 1788 after being wounded in the Kaleswar battle.
Until the end of 1800 and even until 1812, Majnu Shah’s able lieutenants, such as Musa Shah, Cherag Ali Shah, Paragal Shah, Sobhan Shah, Mar Baksh, Jari Shah, Karim Shah, Kripanath, Rowshan Shah, Anup Narayan and Sri Nibash, continued the revolt. However, as time went on, the movement lost its direction and dynamics.