Vande Mataram : Its Roots

In 1771, 14 years after the Battle of Plassey, about 150 Hindu Sannyasi renunciates were put to death by the British Company troops, for no apparent reason. Was it because looked so different ? Was it because they cared little of these bloated colonial occupiers of the land ? We will never know. But the incident led to a violent retaliation, especially in Natore in Rangpur, now in present-day Bangladesh. Some historians argue that the particular reaction never gained popular support and hence could not be considered a major cause behind the very suggestive phrasing of it as “Sannyasi rebellion.”

The other two movements involved a sect of Hindu ascetics, the Dasnami Naga sannyasis. It was alleged that they engaged in lending out money on interest while passing through the region and collected it on their way back. The British looked upon this as an encroachment on their domain and declared the Dasnamis as brigands, liable for criminal offense.

Dasnami Naga sannyasis as brigands, criminals !? Imagine the furore such appelations would cause among lay population who held them in high regard and actually looked forward to their occasional coming and going, as welcome happenings in their otherwise bland calender. But the British Company establishment not only arranged for prevention of such money gathering, which right they felt belonged to them, but also fortify setups to entirely stop their entry into the province. The whole propaganda may have been a cover, since a large body of people on the move, with appeal and loyalty among locals everywhere, would always be a challenge to a suspecting newly installed “government” and seem a possible threat to law and order administrators anywhere.

Most such clashes are recorded during the years following the great famine; but they continued sporadically up until 1802. The rebellion actually spread all over the province during those last three decades of 18th Century. Attempts by Company’s forces to prevent the sannyasis and fakirs from entering the province, or from collecting their money, met with resistance and fierce clashes often ensued. In these instances, the regime’s troops were not always victorious, inviting cheers from the oppressed population of the day. The Company’s hold was poor over territories in far-flung and forested areas of Birbhum and Midnapore districts, as a result of which it often faced reverses in their clash with Naga ascetics and suffered humbling losses.

The Sannyasi rebellion was the first of a series of revolts that the British faced in western districts of Bengal province, which included practically the whole of present-day eastern states of Bihar, Odisha and Paschim Banga. The Chuar Rebellion of Midnapore and Bankura took place 1798 – 99; Laik Rebellion in Midnapore extended through 1806 – 16; and the Santhal Revolt posed a severe task in 1855 – 56. Then the armed Indian struggle against the British occured, in 1857.

The inspiration the Sannyasi Rebellion gave to these uprisings is without doubt. The popular feeling it raised among people was later instituted in vernacular literature by India’s first modern novelist, Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. His novel, Ananda Math (Monastery Of Bliss), inspired many a rebel in early 20thCentury and its song, Vande Mataram, is since regarded as the National Song of India.

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