Birsa Munda Movement : Causes, Impacts and Importance

Friday, September 18, 2020

Birsa Munda Movement
was the peak of the all tribal movements in India. Initially it was started as a religious purification movement and subsequently turned into a Revolt against the British Establishment. This movement can be compared with the contemporary Bauxer Revolt of China in 1890.
Also Read: Santhal Uprising/Rebellion: Causes, Consequences and Impact


Much before this movement, Munda Sardars of Chhotanagpur region were revolted against the British rule in 1820s and 1830s, mainly to protest against the breach into the socio-economic and political sphere of Munda Tribal Community by the British Administration, Police and Sahukars & Mahajans (Moneylenders). The main cause of concern for Munda tribe was Khuntkatti System (a kind of Common Land Holding System).


1. Economic Causes 

The prime concern for Munda tribe, Khuntkatti System was a system of common land holding, in which every members of the Munda tribe had shared/common rights over all the land area of the Tribe. The British government with the view of increasing the revenue collection, changed this common holding system to individual holding. Due to this change, the tribal community found themselves trapped into a vicious cycle of loan, default and annexation over their lands by moneylenders and the British Administration.

Besides this the tribal community was also facing the issue of unemployment and forced labour.

2. Religious Causes 

The Charter Act of 1813 allowed Christian Missionaries to propagate their agenda in India. The Christian Missionaries were primarily targeted the tribal groups including Munda tribe, and tried to change the traditional faiths and beliefs. This issue created unhappiness among leaders of the community and started raising against the Missionaries.

3. Political Causes

The traditional system of taking group decisions(like Panchayat) on both civil and criminal matters of the  community as well as policing powers of the tribal community were taken over by the British Government.

  • Besides above internal problems such as blind-faiths, alcoholism, the tradition of animal sacrifices etc. within the community instigated Birsa Munda to the Purification Movement which ultimately turned into a revolt against the British administration.

Inception, Expansion and Decline of the Movement

Birsa Munda Movement can be divided into three phases.

1. Phase - I (1890-1894) 

Birsa Munda was born in 1875 in Chalkand village, under Tamar Police Station in Ranchi district(now in Jharkhand).

In the early period of his life he was under the influence of Christian Missionaries. But after coming into the contact of Anand Pandey (religious teacher), he turned into a Vaishnav.

In the first phase he focused on broadly three things:- 

  1. Purification of the members of the Munda Community and to free them from fanaticism, alcoholism and the practise of animal sacrifices. 
  2. Inner Purification of the members of the community by inculcating ethical, integral and spiritual purity. 
  3. Focus on oneness of god. For this purpose, he propagated that there is only one god for Mundas i.e. Singh Bonga. And Birsa Munda declared himself as the ambassador of Singh Bonga. He further preached that only he could free the community from the shackles of the outsiders and establish Munda Raj
From above points it is clear that in this phase, he only focused on religious and social purification of the Community, and united them with the monotonous thought process.

2. Phase - II (1895-97)

In this phase Birsa Munda gathered and united a group of 6000 members of the community in 1895. The three important aims for this group were:-

  1. End of British Influence. 
  2. Independence from outsiders. 
  3. Establishment of Munda Raj.

To achieve the prescribed aims he called the members of the community to not pay the land revenue and neglect the authority of the Britishers over the Munda Tribe.

For these activities, he was arrested by the police on 24th August, 1895. But he was released from the jail in 1898 on the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

 3. Phase - III (1898-1900)

This was the most violent and volatile phase of the movement, due to which this phase is known as a revolt and more popular.

After the release of Birsa Munda in 1898, he again became actively involved in the activities against the government and outsiders. The members of the tribe attacked on British officials, Police Stations, Mahajans and Sahukars (Moneylenders), Christian Missionaries.

Munda Revolt was mainly spread in the Khunti, Gumla and Ranchi regions. To contain the Revolt, British government started and administrative lockdown in the region. And suppression of the movement was carried on by the Deputy Commissioner, Street Field and within months the Revolt declined.

For his active involvement in the movement he was again arrested on 3rd February, 1900 and after that on 30th June, 1900, he died from Dysentery in jail.


Birsa Munda Revolt remained most impactful than all other tribal movements, as it produced many fruitful results for the Munda community.

  1. 1903 - The Khuntkatti System was reinstated.
  2. 1905 - For administrative easiness, Khunti and Gumla were declared Sub-divisions.
  3. 1908 - The Chhotanagpur Tenancy Act was enacted to secure tribal lands from Land Reform Acts. 
  4. On economic perspective, the exploitative, forced labour was restricted in the region.


Birsa Munda Revolt had set many goals engulfing Social, Political, Religious and Economic aspects of the tribe. The Revolt was earlier started as a movement for socio-religious purity but it turned into a revolt against British Establishment. This revolt also paved the way for Swaraj from British rule for which national leaders were quite hesitant, because of unknown character of the British Raj.

In terms of leadership, Birsa Munda done a phenomenal job by Uniting the community on various fronts by stressing on brotherhood and religious unity among the members of the tribal community.

Birsa Munda formed a group of 6000 tribe members and directed them very well towards the goals set by him. Without unity such kind of impact was not possible from the Revolt.

Due to clear goals, well crafted association and revolutionary leadership, the movement got extraordinary support from the members of the Munda Community.

This movement made one thing very clear  to everyone that solutions for socio-religious problems can be possible only when there is political freedom available.