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Sanyasi Rebellion: A forgotten chapter from the fight against British Rule gets much-needed attention as the motion poster of the film 1770 releases

The sadhus and sanyasis became the vanguard for the poor, oppressed, and brutalised Hindu majority's eventual rebellion.

The motion poster of the film ‘1770’ was recently released. The film is based on the Bangla novel ‘Anand Math’ penned by Bankim Chandra Chatterjee. The story of the novel and the film revolves around the armed struggle by the Hindu Sadhus against the British East India Company in the second half of the eighteenth century – particularly in the year 1770.

The second half of the eighteenth century is marked by unparalleled anarchy in the history of India. With the Marathas holding on to the power in the North and West even after the battle of Panipat and the Mughal dynasty being ineffective outside certain parts of Delhi, it was regional Islamic rulers and the British East India Company who were in the middle of a power tussle in the various parts of the country.

The battle of Plassey marked the rise of British power in Bengal in 1757. Image Source: India Today

At this juncture, common Hindus were persecuted by both regional Islamic rulers and the British East India Company on a religious and financial basis. When various kingdoms in the country were disintegrating and kings were abdicating their thrones out of fear of consequences, it was the tenacious armed revolution headed by the Sanyasis that fought the invader for as long as they could. No wonder this Sanyasi Rebellion caught the attention of one of India’s most revered screenplay writers V Vijayendra Prasad, who went on to write the film ‘1770’ which is being directed by Ashwin Gangaraju who is known for assisting SS Rajamouli on Baahubali.

The film 1770 will depict the story of the Sanyasi Rebellion. Image Source: Cinestaan.com

The turbulent times before the Sanyasi Rebellion

Although the East India Company entered and settled in Calcutta in 1688, the year 1765 marked a turning point for both India and the East India Company. The East India Company opened its first Diwani in Bengal in 1765. As a result, they were put in charge of controlling and collecting taxes for Bengal. In those days, Bengal comprised of today’s West Bengal, Bangladesh, Assam, and parts of Odisha, Bihar, and Jharkhand. The first year they were in power, the British doubled the Diwani amount; the next year, they raised it by 10%. A lot of their policies had a bad impact on the economy, one of which was the 1770 famine.

The treaty of Allahabad followed by the battle of Buxar gave Diwani rights of Bengal to the East India Company in 1764. Image Source: IAScurrent.com

Hindu Sanyasis travelled to various places of pilgrimage at the time, a practice they still continue. Followers of the Adwaita doctrine of Adi Shankaracharya were divided into ten groups based on their schools of thought and functional responsibilities in the Sanatan Dharma. These ten sects are collectively called ‘Dasnami’ sects. They are Giri, Puri, Bharati, Ban, Aranya, Parbat, Sagar, Tirtha, Ashrama, Saraswati. Unlike popular opinions, these Sadhus would also get involved in trade and would keep a decent amount of money for meeting operating costs, travel expenses and for procuring weapons as they would fight for Dharma. These sages were also funded by local landlords in whichever area they would go for pilgrimage.

However, the landlords in Bengal were unable to pay the Sadhus after the new taxation system was enforced as the East India Company took over the reigns. Common people were also not in a position to survive the brutal tax regime. Britishers forced them to pay taxes in cash and sell all their crop produce to the East India Company. This policy broke the domestic economic structure of villages pushing farmers and peasants into a situation where they had neither cash nor kinds to barter with. It was then that the common people in Bengal, mostly Hindus, were led by the Sanyasis who fought against the British Rule and registered significant victories in certain areas of Bengal from 1763 to 1802.

The Sanyasi Rebellion

The sadhus and sanyasis became the vanguard for the poor, oppressed, and brutalised Hindu majority’s eventual rebellion. The Hindus of Bengal were too damaged to fight back since they had been emotionally destroyed, financially devastated, and subjected to religious persecution, first by the muslim conquerors and then by British authorities. The roving groups of sadhus, particularly those from the Naga, Giri, and Puri sects, offered reassurance and encouragement. These sects’ sanyasis were the ones who started fighting back against the Muslim and British overlords. They gave the persecuted Hindus direction and inspired them to rebel against injustice.

The major battles in this revolt took place in the years 1763 (Capture of Dhaka Factory), 1766 (Battle of Malda and killing of two officers of the company), 1770-1771 (Battle of Ghodaghat and winning a fort in Purnia), 1784 (Recapturing Dhaka Factory), and 1791 (Battle of Gobindganj). In each of these battles, the troops of untrained peasants led by Hindu Sanyasis forced British military to step back and went on to capture important forts like Purnia, Malda, Dhaka, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Murshidabad, Kuchbihar. For a few months after every victory, the locals ensured a short-lived self-rule which would be eventually over once the East India Company struck back after the Sadhus left the forts.

Hindu Monk Bhabani Charan Pathak is credited for organizing these revolts against the East India Company. He led the Hindus from the front in all these battles and he made the supreme sacrifice in the battle of Gobindganj in 1791. However, under the leadership of Devi Chaudhurani, the rebellion continued for 11 more years till 1802.

The Fighting Techniques used by Sanyasis

Though in most of the battles, Sanyasis and their army of common peasants and farmers relied on traditional weapons like swords, daggers, bow and arrows, etc., they also used cannons against the British forces which they had seized from the enemies after victories. The troops were highly unorganized providing them with all the advantages of guerilla warfare and in the deep forests along Ganga and Brahmaputra. The Sanyasis, on two occasions, also led the fights from boats in rivers as the factories of the East India Company were established on the banks of rivers. Besides, in the battles of 1770-1771 and 1784, the Sanyasis – otherwise characterized as the epitome of honesty and truth – skillfully deceived the enemy to secure the wins and minimize the losses.

A portrait of Pandit Bhabani Charan Pathak who led the Sanyasi Rebellion. Image Source: Rattibha.com

Coordination between the common people and revolutionary monks

The sanyasis were incredibly quick and had the ability to vanish at any time. They were very skilled at hiding themselves. Their key survival strategy against the British army, a military behemoth, was their dexterity. The British forces were unaware of the timing or location of the strikes. Sanyasi groups would usually target the fortress of the East India Company, their factory, and the residences of the landlords loyal to the Company. The peasants and farmers acted as their intelligence agents and kept them informed of the Company’s movements and whereabouts. The vast majority of the collected cash was set aside for arming themselves to the teeth, training camps for young hires, and supplying food and water to famine-stricken rural residents.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee and ‘Anand Math’

19th century Bangla author and poet Bankim Chandra Chatterjee is one of the most influential writers in Bangla. He is credited for adapting the stories of the Sanyasi rebellion into his novels. The most popular among his novels are ‘Anand Math’ and ‘Devi Choudhurani’. Both of them are based on the battles fought under the leadership of the sanyasis.

Bankim Chandra Chatterjee wrote Bengali novels based on the Sanyasi Rebellion. Image Source: Free Press Journal

‘Anand Math’ was written in 1872. In ‘Anand Math’ novel the rebels bow to the motherland singing the song ‘Vande Mataram’. These words went on to become the most revered slogan of the freedom struggle against British Rule. After independence, this song was declared as the National song of India. This song had shaken the roots of the British Empire.

Adaptations of ‘Anand Math’

The novel ‘Anand Math’ was adapted into a movie in 1952. It was directed by Hemen Gupta. Actors like Prithviraj Kapoor, Ajit, Bharat Bhushan, Pradeep Kumar, and Geeta Bali played significant roles in this film. Hemat Kumar composed the music for this film. ‘Vande Mataram’ sung in this film by Lata Mangeshkar went on to become a rousing success. Now, in 2022, writer V Vijayendra Prasad is adapting this novel into a film which will be directed by Ashwin Gangaraju.

Anand Math was adapted into a film in 1952 by Hemen Gupta. Image Source: Radio Times

Motion poster of 1770 released

Shailendra K Kumar, Sujay Kutty, Krishan Kumar B, and Suraj Sharma came together to produce a grand film based on Bankim Chandra Chatterjee’s novel Anand Math. The film is titled 1770. The motion poster of the film ‘1770’ was recently launched on social media. The film will be released simultaneously in six languages – Hindi, Telugu, Tamil, Kannada, Malayalam, and Bangla. The film is being produced under the banner ‘SS1’ Entertainment and PK Entertainment.

Director of the film ‘1770’, Ashwin Gangaraju said, “This subject was very challenging for me. But, with legendary V Vijayendra Prasad writing adapted stories and screenplays, I am sure that the way we have this written, is going to be a blockbuster cinematic experience.”

He further said, “As a filmmaker, I am more attracted to stories that have a background that shows a particular period, where emotions matter more, and where there is scope for larger-than-life action. I was initially a little skeptical about this. However, when I spoke to Ram Kamal Mukherjee and got to know his approach towards it, I gained confidence.”

He added, “Not long after that, I met producers Shailendra Ji, Sujay Kutty sir, Krishan Kumar sir, and Suraj Sharma in Mumbai. We had a long discussion about the film and how they wanted to take the film project ahead. Their attitude toward working together, and the compatibility of their minds made me connect with them immediately.”

This year marks the 150th anniversary of the national song ‘Vande Mataram’ and the novel ‘Anand Math’. V Vijayendra Prasad – the Screenwriter of the film ‘1770’ – said, “I think, ‘Vande Mataram’ was a magical slogan. It was a mantra given by Maharshi Bankim Chandra to the nation to fight against oppression and injustice. In ‘1770’, we are dealing with the story of many unknown warriors who ignited the fire of the freedom movement. The cast of the film will be announced by Diwali.”

Ayodhra Ram Mandir special coverage by OpIndia

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