Updated: Feb 10, 2022
Our history books in school have always kept us away from Adivasi history, as we know about Mangal Pandey, but not about the Adivasi freedom fighters, who had started the first war for independence. Unlike other freedom fighters, Adivasis fought not just against the British Raj but also against the injustices of the Zamindari system and for their traditional system of self-rule. Veer Telanga Kharia is one such name from Chotanagpur, which the Britishers had a hard time laying hands on for decades. He is also known for preparing the brewing ground for Ulgulan of Birsa Munda.
Telanga was born in 1806, and was active in rebellion for around 40 years of his life. He was also known as ‘Budha Sher’ due to his immense strength even after 50 years of age. His name Telanga comes from the Kharia word ‘Teblega’ which means someone who has great oratory and leadership skills. He developed an interest in social and political issues as he used to visit the court of Nagvashi King of Ratu, with his father Thuiyan Kharia, who was a storekeeper there. He started activism in 1849 which eventually led to his arrest for 14 years in Lohardaga, later shifted to Kolkata. After being released from the jail, he made a group called ‘Jodi Panchet’, where he would train youth above 20 years of age to use teer, bhala, kuladhi, barchi and pharsa. Every village had Jodi Panchet, which would inform each other during the arrival of Britishers. Due to their sharp organizational skills, it was hard for Britishers to track them.
This Kharia freedom fighter was killed by a fellow Adivasi called Budhan Singh, who used to serve in the British army. During one of the Jodi Panchet training sessions in a village called Sisei, the assassin was waiting in ambush. Telanga was shot before this session when people had bowed their heads during the prayer ritual before starting their training. In order to avoid postmortem or any other manipulation by the administration, the youth carried his dead body and vanished in the forest. They buried him in a village called Sosotoli, in a ‘Tand’ (an elevated land) beside the Koel river. It is also called ‘Telanga Topa Tand’.
Today Telanga’s stories are sung in Akhras (open space for a community gathering) of Jharkhand when we remember him during his birth and death anniversary.
Source: Jharkhand Akhra
About the Author: Evanjelina Kullu is from Odisha, who is currently exploring her Kharia, Mundari, and Oraon roots. She is a graduate of NIFT Mumbai. Besides dealing with her identity crisis, she is working on her fashion label ‘Singi Turo’.