Tribal uprisings in the 18th and 19th centuries:Tana Bhagat

Tana Bhagats were formed by Oaron saints Jatra Bhagat and Turia Bhagat. Jatra Bhagat of Gumla, Ranchi proclaimed that he was divinely ordained to establish a new sect, the Tana sect, which was mark­edly different from the Oraon community. The Tanas sought to reorder the Oraon society by opposing the traditional leadership of the pahan (Oraon priest) and mahto (village representative in secular affairs), and by rejecting the practices of spirit worship and sacrifice. In its earlier phase it was called as Kurukh Dharma. Kurukh is original religion of the Oraons.

It was during 18 Th   century agrarian trouble that their faith in the old tribal system was completely shaken. The Oraon saw that their old Gods and spirits failed to bring any relief and to protect them against their manifold troubles . There was a strong desire for delivery from oppressive Zamindars and money lenders as well as the new land laws etc. Consequently, a new religious movements of the old Bhagat pattern was started by the Oraons who called its KURUKH DHARM or the religion of the Kurukhs . The leaders of the new faith gave assurance to their followers that through worship to DHARMESH, the only God, They would be able to raise their present degraded position to higher level as occupied by their fellow tribesmen who became Hindus or Christian converts and thus secured protection of missionaries which enabled them to improve their economic condition considerably. The religious movement was first started in april 1914 by a young man called Jatra Bhagat of the village Chipri Nawatoly of Bishunpur thana. Jatra Bhagat,when he started this movement was undergoing Matis (witchcraft) training. It is believed that one night while he was returning home after his lessons, Dharmes, the supreme God of Oraons appeared before him and told him to give up his Matiao(ghost finding and exoricison)and his belief in the blood thirsty sprits and other deities which called for animal sacrifices. God told him to stop all animal sacrifices and to give up animal food and liquor and to give up plough in their land which meant cruelty to cows and oxen, but failed to save the people from famine and poverty. They lost faith in the land on which they where entirely dependent for their livelihood. He told the people that God does not want them to work as coolies and labourers under the zamindars or to men belonging to other castes and nontribals. He proclaimed that he had been ordered by God to lead his people and to teach them to worship Dharmes and through worshiping Dharmes  they will achieve their desired goal. Thus Jatra Bhagat gave expression to the ideas which have long been fermenting in minds of the people and who where struggling to give shape to a definite tribal cult, This idea , however , was not new to the tribals of Jharkhand. The seed of freedom movement among tribals was germinated by Birsa Munda who is considered as founder of Tribal political cult, Jatra Bhagat and other prophets later gave a definite shape to this cult which exists till date.

Jatra Tana Bhagat spread like a fire in the jungle throughout the Oroan country. People refused to work for Zamindars and other nontribals. Jatra Tana Bhagat was put behind the bar but this movement went on many local leaders took leadership in different parts of the tribal land.

                   Tana Bhagats believed that they can commune with God if they lived a life of ceremonial purity. Tana Bhagat gave up all kind of drinks ,meat etc. They do not take food cooked by any one except those who belong to their own faith They do not dance in Akharas, do not participate in Jatras. They do not wear coloured cloth or any kind of jwellery nor decorate their bodies with tattoo marks. During Ramgarh congress of the Indian national congress party Gandhi Jee (Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhi )spent three days with Tana Bhagats. His three days with them has such a deep impact that even today they are following the Gandhian way of life and are practicing nonviolence in true spirit. They are living the life of Gandhi. They are living Gandhi of today.

They are the only tribal group who not only believe in Gandhian philosophy but are leading Gandhian way of life. The naxalism or the Maoism is not at all prevalent in the villages and the region in which they are living. They are ready to render their services for the development of Gandhian philosophy. They are of the opinion that if they are sent to other villages and regions where naxalism or Maoism is present they would be minimizing such  violent activities.

During noncooperation movement one of the freedom movement led by Mohan Das Karamchand Gandhijee Tana Bhagats stop payment of rents to their Zamindars and gave up ploughing in their field. Local police, Zamindars and money lenders reported it to the British officers. The authorities thus prohibited their gatherings and were sent to jail.

In 1921 when civil disobedience movement was stared by Mahatma Gandhi throughout the country, the Tana Bhagat first joined the freedom movement, under the leadership of Sidu Bhagat of Kuru thana Tana Bhagat believed that Jatra Bhagat was reincarnated in Gandhijee. Thus the Tana Bhagat movement which started as an economic and religious movement now took the shape of political movement by identifying itself with the Indian freedom movement.

In 1930 when the first no-rent campaign was started in Bardoli the Tana Bhagats were influenced by this and they stopped paying rent to the Government. There  was no Congress Organization among them nor any Congress worker had informed them to do so. When they saw that Sardar Patel has started no-rent campaign at the Bardoli, they immediately stopped paying rent. The result was that their land was auctioned and today there are many landless Tana Bhagats who live as share cropper or labourers. Inspite of these they are blind follower of Gandhijee. Today Tana Bhagats are not only Oraon but they comprise three tribes i.e. Oraon , Munda and Kharia , of these Oraon are in majority.

What constituted the initial strength of the new faith and contributed to its phenomenal success in the beginning was the combination of a strong desire for delivery from the bondage of capricious and blood-thirsty tribal spirits with perhaps a still stronger desire for delivery from the burden of what they regarded as an oppressive and inequitable land-system and land laws. Indeed what appeared to be most appealing to the people was the promise held out by the originators of the movements that through Bhakti to Bhagwan (God) they would be able to raise the present degraded social position of their community to the higher level occupied by the Hindus and Christian converts among their fellow and obtain relief from their long standing agrarian grievances and the present wretchedness of their economic position.

The leader of this movement maintained that the tribal spirits and deities whom they had been worshiping were not helping them to alleviate the social and economic ills to which they had fallen victims, and indeed affirmed that these deities were responsible for the present state of degradation. Proceeding according to the rationale that those gods were in reality not Oraon; but alien deities that had been imported from Munda religion, the originators of the Tana Bhagat movement embarked on a programme of proselytization and agitation for the exorcism of the foreign spirits. The cult emphasized a return to the original or real Oraon religion as in its early appellation of Kurukh Dharam.

One important feature of the Tana Bhagats was their active entanglement with the various Congress sessions, which they attended, and their close association with the important Congress leaders like Mahatma Gandhi and Babu Rajendra Prasad. It may also be mentioned that Tana Bhagat movement emphasized active rebellion of their members. They stopped payment of their landlords and ceased ploughing their lands. In addition, the new movement organized ghost-hunting drives at night in an attempt to get rid of evil spirits. It did not take long before the meetings of the Tana Bhagats were regarded with suspicion and exaggerated into disloyal and “illegal” gatherings.

In due course the Tana Bhagat movement broke up into a number of smaller units some of these, like that of Sibu Bhagat were extremists and very orthodox and refused to use cattle and have in general given up the cultivation of land while the other groups are less orthodox and have not given up the use of jewelry. 

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