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History of Chhattisgarh

According to a Brahmanical theory and mythological legend, Ram, during his Vanvas stayed in Dakshin Kosala. Which is modern day Chhattisgarh. The unbroken history of Chhattisgarh or of South Kosala can be traced back to fourth century AD and its mythological history goes back as far back as the Mahabarata where Nagas were original inhabitants of India and the Ramayana, having no evidance.
The word Chhattisgarh was popularized during the Maratha period and was first used in an official document in 1795. According to a British Chronicler, J.B. Beglar "the real name is Chhattisghar and not Chhattisgarh. There is a tradition saying that ages ago about the time of Jarasandha, thirty six families of dalits (leather workers) emigrated southwards from Jarasandha's kingdom and established
themselves in country, which after them is called Chhattisgarh". Another common explanation regarding the origins of the name Chhattisgarh is that it denotes the number of forts in the region, which are supposed to be thirty six in number. The name Chhattisgarh is not ancient and has come into popular usage in the last few centuries. In ancient times the region was called Dakshin Kosala. All inscription, literary works and the accounts of foreign travelers, call this region Kosala of Dakshin Kosala. During the reign of the Mughals, it was called Ratanpur territory and not Chhattisgarh.
About the history of the region the famous historian C.W.Wills writes, 'in the 10th century AD a powerful Kalar family (also known as Kalchuri dynasty) ruled at Tripuri near Jabalpur, Issuing from this kingdom of Chedi a scion of the royal house by the name Kalingraja, settled about the year 1000AD, at Tuman, a site at present marked only by a few ruins in the north east of the erstwhile Laphazamidari of The Bilaspur district. His grandson Ratanraja founded Ratanpur Which continued as the capital of a large part of the country now known as Chhattisgarh. This Kalar family called themselves the Haihaya dyanasty.
This dynasty continued ruling Chhattisgarh for six centuries about the 14th century it split into parts, the elder branch continued at Ratanpur, while the younger settled in semi-independent state at Raipur. At the end of 16th century it acknowledged the suzerainty of the Mughals, In Bastar, in the middle ages, Chalukya dynasty established its rule. The first Chalukya ruler was Annmdev, who established the dynasty in Bastar in 1320 . The Marathas attacked Chhattisgarh in 1741 and destroyed the Haihaya power. In 1745 AD after conquering the region, they deposed Raghunathsinghji, the last surviving member of the Ratanpur house.
In 1758, the Maraths finally annexed Chhattisgarh, it came directly under Maratha rule and Bimbaji Bhonsle, was appointed the rule. After death of Bimbaji Bhonsle, the Marathas adopted the Suba system. The Maratha rule was a period of unrest and misrule. There was large-scale loot and plunder by the Maratha army. The Maratha officials were openly surrendering the interests of the region to the British. As a result of this, the region became extremely poor and the people began resenting the Maratha rule. Only the Gonds and Satnami continued to resist and challenge the advances of the Marathas and this led to several conflicts and much animosity between Satnami and the Marathas. The Pindaris also attacked and plundered the region in the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. Under the Marathas, the region suffered greatly - it was plundered of its natural resources, there was little administration and plenty of exploitation. There were constant skirmishes between the Marathas and the Gonds and Satnamis who resisted the influx of the Marathas. Soon the British stepped in and Chattisgarh came under their control in 1818.
Guru Balakdas youngest son of Guru Ghasidas played important role in social transformation in the region and most of the Chhattisgarhi communities followed Satnam Panth leaving their original caste. Guru Balakdas was declared as King Guru of Chhattisgarh during British regime. From 1854 onwards the British administered the region as a deputy commissionership with its headquarters at Raipur.
The British style of administration and particularly their revenue model soon led to discontentment and deep rooted resentment that sparked off the five year long Halba Rebellion (1774-1779) in Bastar. Chattisgarh was amongst the first places to fire off salvoes against the British during the First War of Independence in 1857, spearheaded by Vir Narayan Singh, a local zamindar. Condemned to the gallows by the British, Vir Singh went on to acquire cult status as martyr, hero and symbol of regional aspiration.

The first Chalukya ruler was Annmdev,who established the dynasty in Bastar in 1320. The Marathas attacked Chhattisgarh in 1741 and destroyed the Haihaya power. In 1745 AD after conquering the region, they deposed Raghunathsinghji, the last surviving member of the Ratanpur house. In 1758, the Maraths finally annexed Chhattisgarh, it came directly under Maratha rule and Bimbaji Bhonsle, was appointed the rule. After death of Bimbaji Bhonsle, the Marathas adopted the Suba system. The Maratha rule was a period of unrest and misrule. There was large-scale loot and plunder by the Maratha army. The Maratha officials were openly surrendering the interests of the region to the British. As a result of this, the region became extremely poor and the people began resenting the Maratha misrule. Only the Satnami and Gonds continued to resist and challenge the advances of the Marathas and this led to several conflicts and much animosity between the Gonds and the Marathas (Captain Blunt, 1975). The Pindaris also attacked and plundered the region in the beginning of the Nineteenth Century.


Seed of Protest and Change - Guru Ghasidas and the Satnam Panth

Chhattisgarh primarily due to its large tribal population has historically not been a part of the mainstream and has therefore remained underdeveloped. Critical indicators for education and health have remained low. However, as stated above, the region was influenced by mainstream traditional Hindu culture as the overaching organising principle despite the presence of a large percentage of Scheduled Castes and Tribes. This oppressive, hierarchical social and religious order was not accepted, and from the 17th century onwards, the social history of Chhattisgarh is marked by the process of questioning and protests in the form of a number of socio-religious reform movements. Most important social transfomation movement was lead by Guru Ghasidas known as SATNAM PANTH besides Kabirpanthis.
These movements established a tradition of protest and have played a critical role in creation of the identity of Chhattisgarh, initiated by sects like the Satnam Panth, and the kabirpanthis spread over all over Chhattisgarh, they carried the message of equality and rebelled against orthodox Brahmanical Hindu culture besides Maratha misrul. Often the spread of these movement was within the boundaries of Chhattisgarh and therefore these movements contributed indirectly towards creating a regional consciousness.

An illustrative case would be the Satnam Panth, which emerged as casteless society a sectarian formation, primarily reconstituting a small number of dalit, backward caste and tribles groups by incorporating them as Satnamis, The Satnam Panths was an attempt to negotiate and cope with the cultural and economic processes in Chhattisgarh in the nineteenth century. It was a new sect, formed primarily amongst the poors of Chhattisgarh in the second decade of the nineteenth century and was led by Ghasidas, a humble farm worker. This community constituted a significant proportion, a little less then one fifth, of the total population of Chhattisgarh. They either owned land or were sharecroppers and farm workers. The new sect was given the name of Satnam panth and its followers were expected to believe only in the formless - Satnam or the true name. After 1927 gradually, the followers of this sect were given the name satnamis and purposefully pushed backward in Hindu society. Where as the main fight of Satnampanth was with Brahmanical based caste headed society.
It is well known that Satnamis abstain from meat, liquor, tobacco, certain vegetables and red pulses. Satnam Panth rejected the deities and idols of the Hindu pantheon. The panth preaches a casteless order. Guru Ghasidas initiated a Guru parampara in the sect, which became hereditary. The main religious centres of the sect in Chhattisgarh are Bhandarpuri and Girodpuri.

In the nineteenth century a new system of property rights and revenue collection known as the malgujari settlement was intorduced in Chhattisgarh. The new system was implemented with the sole purpose of expropriation and exploitation of marginal farmers, sharcropers and farm servants by the Upper Caste Malgujars. Satnam Panth and its followers responded to this exploitative system through various strategies. In several cases the Satnamis deserted villages or continued with the process of Lakhabatta or the periodic redistribution of land, despite the implementation of the new system. Their united challenge to the upper caste Malgujars over the issues of rent and loss of land in the last decade of the nineteenth century was a reflection of the solidarity of Satnamis . This form of protest and response to the new system or property rights and malgujari settlements was widespread among the Satnamis of Chhattisgarh. About 360 Satnami family aquired land and came in to the list of Malgujars.

The primary concern of the Anglo Maratha politics in the Nineteenth century was of expropriation and consolidation of power. Guru Ghasidas the founder of the Satmani sect realised this. He believed that the politics of the Anglo-Marathas was deprived of morality. He worked towards uniting all downtrodden persons to morally oppose the immoral politics of the British The people of Chhattisgarh realised the potential threat of the British and were terror struck by the exploitative nature of their policies. Despite this, they were unable to unite under one flag to oppose the British. It was at this juncture that Ghasidas made efforts to unite the people of Chhattisgarh through the ideology of equality and non-violence.

Kabir Panth

Other sects emerged in response to the hierarchical social order and linked Chhattisgarh to other social reform movements in the country. However the regional specificities of these sects remained unaltered. Kabir Panthis for example, are largely recruited from dalits and have a substantial presence in Chhattisgarh. The followers of this sect adhere to the teachings and principles of Kabir, the revolutionary social reformer saint poet of the sixteenth century. The centres of Kabir Panth activities are monasteries which are placed in the charge of Mahants. In Chhattisgarh, Kabir Panthi monasteries are in Kudurmal, Kharsia, Champa, Hardi, Bangoli, Banni, Dhamdha, Panda Tarai and Ratanpur. The Kabir Panth does not believe in caste hierarchies but they maintained caste system, due to close contact of Hindu Caste Culture. However in contemporary times the Panth has been divided along caste lines.They could not resist the Caste system and hence could not gathered much importannce as Satnampanth. Where as Satnampanth initaited by Guru Ghasidas totally abolished the Caste System. The only time that Kabirpanthis do not adhere to caste hierarchies is in the presence of the Chief Guru on the birth anniversary of Kabir. All who desire to become members of the Panth are required to renounce polytheism and to acknowledge their belief in only one god. The Kabir Panth of Chhattisgarh are descendents of Dharmadasa, one of the disciples of Kabir who established the Panth in Chhattisgarh. There fore the branch of the Kabir Panth in Chhattisgarh is also known as Dharmadasa or Bhai branch.


RAMNAMI and SURYAVANSHI
The Ramnami and Suryavanshi Panth is small sect in Chhattisgarh with a membership primarily from the dalit community. This Ramnam Panth was created just to counter the Satnam movement at Chhattisgarh. They took help of Parshuram from Charpara Village and Shiv Prasad from Orkaakan(near Sarangarh). This sect propagates the cult of Rama among the dalits and does not believe in Brahmins as a medium for worshipping god. Ramnamis are found chiefly on the southern side of the Mahanadi in Chhattisgarh. This sect is easily distinguishable as they carry a flute and put peacock feathers around their caps. Ramnamis as the name suggests chant the name of Ram. They of ten get their bodies tattooed with the name of Ram.

The social religious reformer Ramananda had a committed dalit follower from Chhattisgarh. His name was Ravidas or Raidas. Gradually, the followers of Rae Das formed a separate sect and started calling themselves Rae Das Panthis or simply Raedasis. A striking similarity between all these sects is that the followers are drawn mostly from the Dalit communities. Secondly all these sects spread the message of equality.

In 1818 Chhattisgarh came under some sort of British control for the first time. In 1854, when the province of Nagpur lapsed to the British government, Chhattisgarh was formed into a deputy commissionership with its headquarters at Raipur. Historian C.W. Wills, writing about Chhattisgarh says, Chhattisgarh presents the remarkable picture of a Hindu government continuing till modern times outside the sphere of direct Mohammedan control. The British made certain changes in the administrative and revenue systems of Chhattisgarh, which adversely affected the people of Chhattisgarh. The intrusion of the British was resisted strongly in Bastar by the tribals and the Halba rebellion which lasted nearly five year (1774-1779) was the first documented rebellion against the British and Marathas in Bastar.

The First war of independence in 1857 was spearheaded in Chhattisgarh by Vir Narain Singh who was a benevolent jamindar of Sonakhan. The British arrested him in 1856 for looting a trader's grain stocks and distributing it amongst the poor in a severe famine year. In 1857 with the help of the solders of the British Army at Raipur, Vir Narain Singh escaped form prison. He reached Sonakhan and formed an army of 500 men. Under the leadership of Smith, a powerful British army was dispatched to crush the Sonakhan army. The British succeeded after a prolonged battle and Vir Narain Singh was arrested and later hanged on the 10th December, 1857. He became the first martyr from Chhattisgarh in the War of Independence. Vir Narain Singh's martyrdom has been resurrected in the 1980's and he has become a potent symbol of Chhattisgarhi pride.