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The Sannyasi rebellion or Sannyasi Revolt (1760-1800) (Bengali: সন্ন্যাসী বিদ্রোহ, The monks' rebellion) were the activities of sannyasiss (Hindu) in Bengal against the East India Company administration in the late 18th century. It is also known as the Sannyasi rebellion (সন্ন্যাসী বিদ্রোহ) which took place around Murshidabad and Baikunthupur forests of Jalpaiguri. Historians have not only debated what events constitute the rebellion, but have also varied on the significance of the rebellion in Indian history. While some refer to it as an early war for India's independence from foreign rule, since the right to collect tax had been given to the East India Company after the Battle of Buxar in 1764, others categorize it as acts of violent banditry following the depopulation of the province in the Bengal famine of 1770. Among the Hindus Sannyasis the akharaa of Dashanami Sampradaya were major participants.
At least three separate events are called the Sannyasi Rebellion. One refers to a large body of Hindu sannyasis who travelled from North India to different parts of Bengal to visit shrines. En route to the shrines, it was customary for many of these ascetics to exact a religious tax from the headmen and zamindars or regional landlords. In times of prosperity, the headmen and zamindars generally obliged. However, since the East India Company had received the Diwani or right to collect the tax, many of the tax demands increased and the local landlords and headmen were unable to pay both the ascetics and the English. Crop failures, and famine, which killed ten million people or an estimated one-third of the population of Bengal compounded the problems since much of the arable land lay fallow.
Majnu Shah, the leader of a large group of fakirs who were traveling through Bengal, claimed in 1772 that 150 of them had been killed without cause in the previous year. Such repression was one of the reasons that caused distress leading to violence, especially in Natore in Rangpur, now in modern Bangladesh. However, some modern historians argue that the movement never gained popular support. But according to other historians, the organization of the rebellion was mostly led unitedly by the Muslim Fakirs and Hindu Sannyasis, prominent among them being Majnu Shah, Bhavani Pathak, Musa Shah, Ganesh Giri, Cherag Ali and Devi Chaudhurani. Bhavani Pathak, an inhabitant of Rangpur, had been on very friendly terms with Majnu Shah and operated between Mymensingh and Bogra districts. Pathak, along with his peasant followers, often carried out insurrections from inside the deep forests and used to plunder the boats of English merchants. He was also in league with Devi Chaudhurani, the famous female leader, who specialized in riverine confrontations and had a large force under her command. This structure of joint leadership, provided by rebels like Majnu Shah and Bhavani Pathak, raises the question whether such closeness between the two religious communities percolated through different strata of the whole organization of Fakir and Sannyasi rebellion.
The other two movements involved a sect of Hindu ascetics, the Dasnami naga sannyasis(Giri samparday) who likewise visited Bengal on pilgrimage mixed with moneylending opportunities. To the East India Company, these ascetics were looters and had to be stopped from collecting money that belonged to the company and possibly from even entering the province. It was felt that a large body of people on the move was a possible threat.
Clashes between the Company and asceticsEdit
When the company's forces tried to prevent the sannyasis and fakirs from entering the province or from collecting their money in the last three decades of the 18th century, fierce clashes often ensued, with the company's forces not always victorious. Most of the clashes were recorded in the years following the famine but they continued, albeit with a lesser frequency, up until 1802. The reason that even with superior training and forces, the company was not able to suppress sporadic clashes with migrating ascetics was that the control of the company's forces in the far-removed hilly and jungle covered districts like Birbhum and Midnapore on local events was weak.
The Sannyasi rebellion was the first of a series of revolts and rebellions in the Western districts of the province including (but not restricted to) the Chuar rebellion of 1799 and the Santhal Revolt of 1855–56. What effect the Sannyasi Rebellion had on rebellions that followed is debatable. Perhaps, the best reminder of the Rebellion is in literature, in the Bengali novel Anandamath, written by India's first modern novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. The song, Vande Mataram, which was written in 1876, was used in the book Anandamath in 1882 (pronounced Anondomôţh in Bengali) and the 1952 movie based on the book. Vande Mataram was later declared to be India's National Song (not to be confused with the Indian National Anthem).
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- Lorenzen, David N. (2006). Who Invented Hinduism: Essays on Religion in History. Yoda Press. p. 61. ISBN 9788190227261.
- Ghosh, Jamini Mohan (1930). Sannyasi and fakir raiders in Bengal. Bengal Secretariat Book Depot. p. 47. OCLC 500497978.
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