When Bhagwan Birsa Munda started his movement of revitalization of the Mundas in abid to shake off the foreign yoke of servitude, Chotanagpur presented a complex picture.
There were the Mundas with their age-old customs and culture, polity and socio-economic moorings. There were the Jagirdars, Zamindars, Thicadars, Katkindars out to exploit the Mundas till they were turned into hewers of wood and drawers of water. There were the British courts with cumbrous codes and practices, advantageous to the interlopers. There were the Christian Missionaries with their schools, churches, monetary and legal assistance to help those who embraced the cross. There were the intelligent Munda leaders who discovered the futility of the local British courts and enactments and missionary assistance. There were, however, some stormy petrels among these leaders who forced even Birsa Bhagwan for a final show down and promulgated the slogan of “Whitemen quit Chotanagpur”.
Though there was a peace after suppression of agrarian disturbance of 1888-90, but as a matter of fact that calm was illusory. Beneath the facet of that illusory calm was the storm of seething discontent. The atmosphere was highly charged and one spark was needed to get the whole Munda country ablaze. The lull was broken by Birsa Munda of Chalkad, a lad of about twenty, when he came to lead his people who had been chafing under the iron heels of Jagirdars, Zamindars, alien governmental machinery and the missionaries. In him the Mundas found the embodiment of their aspirations and Birsa fulfilled their expectation by giving them leadership, a religion and a code of life, and held before them a prospect of Munda Raj.
Birsa’s phenomenal rise to the position of the sole leadership of his people is not curious, but Birsa was a product of his age. His people had pinned all their hopes and faith in young Birsa who had acquired such a power and reverence that people started calling him Dharti Aba, Father of the Earth.
Birsa’s movement had two aspects.One, when Birsa in 1895 started a Nativist or Revivalist movement religious in character. He prophesied the rain of fire and deluge and declared that the only safe place would be chalked and therefore, large number of tribals reached Chalked after abandoning their farming activities. Mr.Mears, District Superintendent of Police, with the assistance of Father Lusty of Murhu and Zamindar of Bandgaon reached Chalked in cover of the night and gagged Birsa and whisked him away to Ranchi.He was tried and put in jail until he was released in 1897.