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A portrait of Titumir
Syed Mir Nisar Ali
27 January 1782
|Died||19 November 1831(aged 49)|
Syed Mir Nisar Ali Titumir (27 January 1782 – 19 November 1831) was a freedom fighter who led a campaign against the British-rule in India, during the 19th century. He eventually built a bamboo fort (Basher Kella in Bengali) in Narikelberia village, which passed into Bengali folk legend. After the storming of the fort by British soldiers, Titumir died of his wounds on 19 November 1831.
Titumir was born as Syed Mir Nisar Ali on 27 January 1782 (14 Magh 1182 in the Bengali calendar), in Chandpur village, in North 24 Parganas district (currently in West Bengal, India). His father was Syed Mir Hassan Ali and mother was Abida Ruqayya Khatun. His ancestor Saiyid Shahadat Ali came to Bengal from Arabia to preach Islam. Saiyid Abdullah, son of Shahadat Ali, was appointed the chief qazi of Jafarpur by the emperor of Delhi and was invested with the title of "Mir Insaaf." They claimed descent from Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam.
Titumir's education began in his village school, after which he moved to a local madrassa. By the time he was 18 years of age, he had become a hafiz of the Qur'an and a scholar of the hadith and Muslim traditions. He was also accomplished with the Bengali, Arabic, and Persian languages.
According to John Russell Colvin, a British civil servant in India, Titumir had a varied career progressing from a peasant, to possibly a leader of a robber gang, to a wrestler in Kolkota, to an enforcer of a zamindar which landed him in the jail of the East India Company. Upon his release, in 1822, he visited Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage, where he met Syed Ahmad Bareli a Sufi and returned as a Wahabi Islamic preacher with the Tariqah-i-Muhammadiya movement.
Religious and political activism
Upon his return from Mecca in 1827, Titumir started preaching among the Muslims of 24 Parganas and Nadia. He preached against practicing shirk traditions (such as lighting candles or worshiping dargah), and engaging in bidah (innovation). He also preached the wearing of beards with trimmed moustaches for men, and burqas for women. At that time, he commenced organizing the people of his native village against the landlords or zamindars.
Confrontations with the zamindars
Titumir opposed a number of discriminatory measures in force at that time which included taxes on mosques and the wearing of beards. Titumir filed a complaint to the East India Company against the oppression by the zamindars, but to no result. This brought him into conflict with the zamindars Krishnadeva Rai of Purha, Kaliprasanna Mukhopadhyay of Gobardanga, Rajnarayan of Taragonia, Gauri Prasad Chowdhury of Nagpur and Devanath Rai of Gobra-Govindpur.
Titumir had himself belonged to a "peyada" or martial family and himself had served under a zamindar as a 'lathial or 'lethel', a fighter with a quarterstaff or lathi, (which in Bengal is made of bamboo, not wood) and he trained his men in hand-to-hand combat and the use of the lathi. Titumir formed a "Mujahid" consisting of lathials. The increasing strength of Titumir alarmed the zamindars who attempted to involve the British in their fight against him. Being instigated by the Zamindar of Gobardanga, Davis, the English kuthial (factor) of Mollahati, advanced with his force against Titumir, but were routed.
He fought against the local zamindar, Krishna Dev Roy, who fearing his growing forces, took help of the British to attack Titumir's followers.
Confrontations with the British
The followers of Titumir, believed to have grown to 15,000 by that time, readied themselves for armed conflict, and built a fort of bamboo at Narikelbaria, near the town of Barasat. This was surrounded by a high double curtain wall of bamboo stakes filled in with mud cladding and sun-baked bricks.
Titumir declared independence from the British, and regions comprising the current districts of 24 Parganas, Nadia and Faridpur came under his control. The private armies of the zamindars and the forces of the British met with a series of defeats at the hands of his men as a result of his strike-and-retreat guerrilla tactics.
Finally, the British forces, led by Lieutenant Colonel Stewart consisting of 100 cavalry, 300 native infantry and artillery with two cannons, mounted a concerted attacks on 19 November 1831, on Titumir and his followers. Armed with nothing more than the bamboo quarterstaff and lathi and a few swords and spears, Titumir and his forces could not withstand the might of modern weapons, and were overwhelmed. The bamboo castle was destroyed, and Titumir was killed along with several of his followers. The commanding officer of the British forces noted his opponent's bravery in dispatches, and also commented on the strength and resilience of bamboo as a material for fortification, since he had had to pound it with artillery for a surprisingly long time before it gave way.
In 2004, listeners of the BBC's Bengali service voted Titumir 11 on a list of 20 "Greatest Bengalis." The survey produced well over 100 names, and the top 20 was compiled on points awarded according to listeners' order of preference.
In Dhaka, Jinnah College was renamed to Government Titumir College in 1971. Titu Mir Hall is also a dormitory of Dhaka's Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology.
On 19 November 1992, the Government of Bangladesh issued a commemorative stamp honouring Titumir on the 161st anniversary of his death.
In popular culture
Mahasweta Devi wrote a novella called Titumir. A play named Titu Mir-er Basher Kella has been made for TV in Bangladesh. It has also featured as a theme for Puja pandals which are often done up as historical tableaux.
- Tariqah-i-Muhammadiya, from Banglapedia.
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- "Listeners name 'greatest Bengali'". 14 April 2004. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
- "Mujib, Tagore, Bose among 'greatest Bengalis of all time'". The Hindu. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
- "Bangabandhu judged greatest Bangali of all time". The Daily Star. Retrieved 9 November 2018.
- Talukdar, Amartya (20 October 2017). "Titu Mir a freedom fighter or a Jihadist". India Facts. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
- Mazumdar, Jaideep (6 January 2019). "Why Exactly Should Bengal Honour A 19th Century Wahhabi Radical?". Swarajya. Retrieved 9 January 2019.
- "India's Struggle for Freedom". Department of Information & Cultural Affairs, Government of West Bengal. Archived from the original on 3 March 2014. Retrieved 3 March 2014.
- "Mir Nisar Ali (Titu Mir)". Muslim Ummah of North America. Archived from the original on 4 March 2014.
- "Listeners name 'greatest Bengali'". Retrieved 4 March 2014.
- "BNS TITUMIR". Bangladesh Navy. Archived from the original on 14 February 2012.
- "Meer Nisar Ali Titumeer". Bangladesh Stamps. Archived from the original on 19 July 2012.
- Titumirer Bansher Kella (Bamboo Fort of Titumir, 1981) by Rabeya Khatun
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