A UNIQUE temple made of wood near the Patalpani railway station dedicated to Tantya Bheel — a tribal Robin Hood and freedom fighter — drew a large number of visitors on his 132nd martyrdom day on Monday.
Villagers, including tribals who consider him a divine figure, like every year started arriving to his temple from 6 am on Monday bringing garlands and sweets.
Tantya Bheel — an outlaw whose area of operations were the jungles of Mhow tehsil, Patalpani and Kalakund areas adjoining Nimar — looted wealthy zamindars that kowtowed to the British rulers. He also stealed the British goods that were transported through the Kalakund-Patalpani rail route and distributed the booty among the poor tribals.
Legend has it that Tantya Bheel performed many miracles and the tribals started believing him to be a divine figure.
Narrating the bandit’s tale, former district panchayat president Ramkaran Bhambhar told the Hindustan Times that Tantya Mama — as he was called by his fellow tribals — is similar to that of the ‘Alha-Oodal’ of Bundelkhand.
Tantya was born in 1842 at the Birha village near Choral village. His mother Janubai died after giving him birth and he lost his father Maroo at the age of twelve. Tantya used to assist his brother Bhau who was engaged in farming at the nearby village Pokhar.
The problems in his life started when his brother was not able to pay the revenue tax due to severe drought. Jamindar Shiva Patel, depriving them of the ownership of their land owing to non-payment of tax, initiated a civil case and sent the brothers to one-year imprisonment.
On release from jail they migrated to the Hirapur village but the villagers started torturing him on the behest of Shiva Patel and his brother Himan Patel. Fake cases were again registered against them and were jailed.
Tantya, now an angry youth and revolutionary, developed friendship with a dreaded criminal Bijaniya of Khajri village and formed a gang of ten tribal youths and escaped from jail and killed Shiva Patel and Himan Patel.
The outlaw started looting the Jamindars and big farmers who used to exploit the small and poor farmers and the British treasury transported by rail route.
The British administration deployed a company of special forces in the jungles to arrest Tantya but was not able to do so even after one year.
Ramchander Ninama, a descendent of Tantya, says that there is a belief in the region that ‘Tantya Mama’ had supernatural powers due to which the police could not see him even when he stood in front of them. The tribals up to Mandu accepted him as their king and followed all his orders.
Tantya had made a Rajput married woman Savitribai his sister and used to visit her on Rakshabandhan. The police made Savitribai to work for them and the ‘sister’ eventually told them about the time of Tantya’s arrival to her home near Dhar.
Police arrested him and a court sentenced him to death. He was hanged to death on December 10, 1874 at the age of 32. Though there are no official records, tribal leaders say that his death anniversary is celebrated as martyrdom day since 1875.
The followers have also made a wooden memorial (temple) near the Patalpani railway station situated on the rail track from Mhow to Khandwa and visit the place every year on December 4 to commemorate their bandit’s martyrdom day as it is believed that he was sentenced to death on December 4, 1874 at the Khandwa jail.
It is not just the poor tribal people who are his followers. Manpur Municipal Committee president Kanchan Singh Chouhan, former Chordiya sarpanch Subhash Mahodaya, Late Bherulal Patidar’s daughter Kavita Patidar and other prominent figures also
visited the temple to pay homage on Monday.
Chouhan said that the BJP Government has decided to celebrate the martyrdom day of Tantya Bheel every year on December 10 at the district panchayat office of every district.