Sanyasi Revolt: The 18th Century Rebellion

By Shivank Goel|Updated : September 16th, 2022

The Sanyasi Revolt was a rebellion led by Pandit Bhabani Charan Pathak. Pathak was an ascetic who lived in Murshidabad for a decade before the revolt. The Sanyasi Revolt happened in the late-eighteenth-century rebellion in Bengal, India, in the Murshidabad and Baikunthpur forests of Jalpaiguri. It is also called the monk rebellion.

Since the British East India Company had been granted the authority to collect taxes following the Battle of Buxar in 1764, some historians refer to it as an early conflict for India's independence from foreign rule; however, other historians, with British support, classify it as violent banditry as a result of the Bengal famine of 1770's depopulation of the province.

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Sanyasi Revolt: Reason

In February 1770, in the Bengal province of British India, a famine hit the rural areas. In the famine year, people migrated from their villages to cities, searching for food and employment. According to Joseph Goldstucker, the historian of Bengal Famine: The First Great Crisis of Britain's Indian Empire, the famine resulted in mass migrations, thousands running overland to Dhaka and Calcutta.

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  • As a result of the severe famine of 1770 and the British government's stringent economic policies, a handful of sanyasis in Eastern India were compelled to rebel against the British yoke.
  • The sanyasis were first peasants, some of whom had been forced off their land, but soon a sizeable proportion of evicted minor zamindars dismissed troops, and the rural poor joined them.
  • There are at least three different events that make up the Sanyasi Rebellion. One is a sizable number of Hindu sannyasis who journeyed to various Bengali districts from North India to visit shrines.
  • On their journey to the shrines, many of these sadhus would demand a religious donation from the zamindars and leaders of the surrounding area.
  • The zamindars and headmen were more inclined to assist while the economy was booming. This had now become difficult as the zamindars were bound to diwani to the British government.
  • The Sanyasis were denied entry to holy places because the British thought they were looters.
  • In a revolution against the British, the Sanyasis rose up and pillaged English factories and government coffers.
  • The main figure in the 'Sanyasi Rebellion' (18th century) against British rule and exploitation in Bengal was Pandit Bhawani Sharan Pathak.
  • The Sanyasi Rebellion marked the beginning of the anti-British uprising in India.

Importance of Sanyasi Revolt

Every day, thousands of peasants were dying in the fields and forests. The British East India Company was blamed for the famine. The Company was seen as an intolerable oppressor who exploited the peasantry with their high taxes. The peasants took to arms against the Company and its collaborators to seek relief for their grievances.

In April 1770, a revolt broke out in Baikunthpur (1770 incident). It spread to Murshidabad, where more than thirty incidents (termed as 'Sanyasi Revolt') of Sanyasi Revolts during 1770-79 just in Bengal province alone.

Sanyasi Revolt: Objectives

The objective of the Sanyasi Revolts was to make a statement on their grievances and seek personal vengeance against the British. The revolt had two prime objectives:

  • The first was against the Company and its collaborators, who were accused of oppressing the peasantry.
  • The second objective was to be against British officers who were serving as district magistrates. The peasants wanted their magistrates.

The Santhal Revolt of 1855–56 and the Chuar Revolt of 1799 were two revolts that occurred in the western regions of the province after the Sanyasi uprising. Among the best literary memories of the Rebellion are the Bengali novels Anandamath (1882) and Devi Chaudhurani (1884), written by India's first modern novelist Bankim Chandra Chatterjee.

Sanyasi Revolt: Failure

One of the primary reasons for the failure of the Sanyasi Revolt was the caste discrimination in society which led to internal clashes. Pandit Bhabani Charan Pathak preached against the social evils that he perceived in his locality. He was tolerant of others. He also criticised the authority of the zamindars, whom he thought were corrupt.

Bhabani Charan Pathak's revolt roots in the caste system, where upper castes supported the status quo. In contrast, there were conflicts among lower castes based on religious identity and political power. The higher castes wanted to preserve their privileges and dominance over non-Hindus; therefore, they used violence against them when they spoke out against the exploitation or mistreatment of Dalits.

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FAQs on Sanyasi Revolt

  • The Sanyasi Revolt was a late-eighteenth-century rebellion in Bengal, India, in the Murshidabad and Baikunthpur forests of Jalpaiguri under Pandit Bhabani Charan Pathak.

  • The Sanyasi Revolt is said to have started in April of 1770 when the British prohibited the sadhus from visiting the holy shrines.

  • In a revolution against the British, the Sanyasis rose up and pillaged English factories and government coffers. Bengal's Murshidabad and Baikunthpur woods served as the focal point of the revolt. Over 50 years passed before the Sanyasi revolt was finally put down completely in the 1820s. The Fakir Rebellion, as the uprisings were sometimes called, was notable for the equal participation of Muslims and Hindus.

  • The British government's ban on pilgrims visiting sacred sites was the direct cause of the uprising. Then farmers, landlords, Sanyasis, and Fakirs rebelled against the British, disbanding troops and evicting landlords.

  • Pandit Bhabani Charan Pathak was a well-known sanyasi of the 300 Hindu ascetics known as the Baudh Dharma Sangha during the Sanyasi Revolt. He established the Baudh Dharma Sangha in Bengal in the 1760s, and it quickly gained popularity and power.

  • Bhabani Charan Pathak attacked their officers and tried to drive them out of Murshidabad during the Sanyasi Revolt.

  • The Sanyasi Revolt failed due to internal conflicts among the lower castes.

  • The Fakir uprising was started after the British annexation of Bengal by Fakirs or wandering Muslim mendicants. They were led by Majnu Shah.

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