Birsa Munda was a great tribal leader and a folk hero, belonging to the Munda Adivasi who was behind the Millenarian movement that rose in the tribal belt of Jharkhand during the British Raj, in the late 19th century making him an important figure in the history of the Indian independence movement. Birsa grew up in tribal areas, where he shared an interest in playing the flute, in which he became adept. He went round with the tuila, the one-stringed instrument made from the pumpkin, in the hand and the flute strung to his waist. He studied at Chaibasa in a school run by German missionaries. It was here where he was transformed into a fighter for tribals.
Birsa’s devotion to his people was such that he was almost revered as God by his followers. By the time he was in his 20s, his activities in the tribal areas had already begun to worry the British establishment to a considerable extent. Birsa’s own experience as a young boy, driven form place to place in search of employment, given him an insight into the agrarian question and forest matters. To the challenges of agrarian breakdown and culture change, Birsa along with the Mundas responded through a series of revolts and uprisings under his leadership. The movement sought to assert rights of the Mundas as the real proprietors of the soil, and the expulsion of middlemen and the British. He was finally caught by the British on 3 February 1900 when he was only 25 years old. He died soon afterwards in mysterious circumstances on 9 June 1900 in Ranchi Jail.
Birsa’s portrait hangs in the Central Hall of Indian Parliament, the only tribal leader to have been so honored. His birth anniversary which falls on November 15 is the foundation day of Jharkhand State. Today, there are a number of organizations, bodies and structures named after him, notably Birsa Munda Airport Ranchi, Birsa Institute of Technology Sindri, Birsa Munda Vanvasi Chattravas, Kanpur and Birsa Agricultural University. The war cry of Bihar Regiment is ‘Birsa Munda Ki Jai’.