Pagal Panthi Movement

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Pagal Panthi Movement (1825-1833) a peasant movement guided by religious medicants called Pagal Panthis. At the initial stage it was directed against the zamindars and later assumed the character of an anti-British movement.

Northern Mymensingh including Sherpur was different from Bengal proper in many ways. Its language, culture and ethnic traits were basically dominated by the hill tribes: the Garos, Hajangs, Dalus, Hudis and the Rajvangshies. Nature worship was their main faith. In course of time Hindu and Muslim elements were also added to their culture and the area began to be inhabited by some Hindus and Muslims as well. For decades the region provided a safe-haven for religious and political rebels. The Pagal Panthis belonged to this category.

Karim Shah was the founder of the Pagal Panthi sect. He is said to have been a disciple of Musa Shah, a companion of Fakir majnu shah. Probably a Pathan by origin, Karim Shah started living in a village named Letarkanda in the Sushang pargana of northern Mymensingh apparently from 1775 and interpreted Islam in a popular way keeping in mind the local customs and traditions. His teachings attracted people irrespective of race and religion and Muslims, Hindus and nature worshippers were among his disciples.

The teachings of Karim Shah were easy and simple. He taught that God created mankind. So they are all equal and brethren to each other. His followers, therefore, addressed each other as 'Bhai-Saheb'. Their behaviour and way of life seemed unusual and peculiar to the people living in the plains. Bhai-Sahebs thus came to be called 'Pagals' (mad-caps) by the people in the plains and the activities and propagations of Karim Shah and his followers came to be known as the 'Pagal Panthi Movement'. The ideas of the Pagal Panthis had been formed incorporating the non-violent elements of all religions and were consistent with the traditional faiths of the peasantry.

Karim Shah was believed to be endowed with spiritual power. According to his followers, he could foretell and cure diseases and bring success to them. The crowds gathered round him in flocks.

Karim Shah died in 1813. His son tipu shah alias Tipu Pagal succeeded him to the gadi (seat) of the Pagal Panthis. Under him the character of the movement greatly changed. It took the form of a peasant movement. The Pagals and their associates fought against the zamindars and the forces of the company to protect the peasants from the oppressions and undue claims of the zamindars. Tipu Shah and some of his insurgent followers were captured in 1833 and tried. The government mitigated many of the demands of the resisting peasants, including reduction of rent rate. Consequently, the movement subdivided and peace was restored in the area.

After Tipu Shah (d 1852) Janku Pathor and Dobraj Pathor took the leadership of the Pagals and organised another resistance movement against zamindari oppression. They gave stiff resistance to the authority. They entered Sherpur town, looted the zamindari and revenue offices and captured and burnt the arms in the police station. The rebels declared themselves rulers of the area. The zamindars, government officials and the police took shelter at Mymensingh. For a time it appeared that the company government had ceased to exist. But peace was eventually restored by giving concessions to them in rent rate. [M Delwar Hussain]