Died At Age: 73
Born in: Gehlaur
Famous as: Mountain Man
Spouse/Ex-: Falguni Devi (m. ?–1959)
children: Bhagirath Manjhi
Died on: August 17, 2007
place of death: New Delhi
Dashrath Manjhi was a poor Indian laborer who earned the epithet, ‘Mountain Man’ for sculpting a track via a hillock with just a mallet and chisel. His carving out a trail through the ‘Gehlaur’ mound which took him 22 long years is a burning example of the extraordinary feat(s) an ordinary man is capable of achieving when the odds are stacked against him. Manjhi used to be a simple villager earning his livelihood by cutting trees in the jungle and selling the wood in the market. Dire poverty compelled him to flee his home and take up a job as a miner in one of the coalmines of Dhanbad, a city in Jharkhand known as the ‘Coal Capital of India’. After toiling in the coalmines for several years, he came to his native village and set up a home with his wife Falguni Devi. Falguni had to climb up and down the hillock everyday to carry lunch for her husband who’d be engaged either in cutting trees or working in the fields. While carrying lunch for Dashrath one day, a pregnant Falguni suffered a fall, injuring herself fatally, and subsequently dying. Extremely grief-stricken by the unfortunate event, Manjhi made up his mind to cut through the knoll to create a passageway so that nobody in future suffered the same fate his wife did.
Childhood & Early Life
Dashrath Manjhi was born in 1934 in the village of Gehlour in Bihar to laborer parents who were very destitute and needy. India was still under British Rule then. Gehlour is situated in Muhra Tehsil in the district of Gaya, and the Gaya Town was situated several kilometers away.
Not much is known about his childhood and early life except that he started working as a woodcutter while still in his teens in order to make ends meet. Dashrath got married in his childhood, keeping with the traditional and cultural norms of his caste.
Continue Reading Below
You May Like
About the Hamlet Dashrath Hailed From
Gehlour, the village Dashrath was born in, still happens to be backward and the villagers continue to follow the orthodox caste system that by its very nature is disruptive. Villagers belonging to the lowermost hierarchies of the caste system are treated as outcasts and their womenfolk, regarded as mere chattels.
The majority of villagers residing in Gehlour are Dalits who tend to eke out a livelihood by serving others and working as scavengers. Before Dashrath hammered his way through the hillock straddling Wazirgunj and Atri subdivisions in Gaya, villagers had to trudge via a narrow and precipitous path going over the mound to hail a transport.
Dashrath Weds Falguni Devi: Unfolding of a Saga of Lifelong Devotion
Manjhi left his village and traveled all the way to Dhanbad, the 2nd largest city of Jharkhand, situated in Damodar Valley—called ‘Ruhr of India’—as the region accounts for 60% of India’s coal deposits. He toiled in one of the collieries of Dhanbad for close to seven years before returning to his village.
Upon his return, Dashrath was smitten by a village belle by the name of Falguni. Later on he discovered that the young woman he fell for was the same girl he had been married off to during his childhood. However, Falguni’s father dissuaded Dashrath from taking her along with him owing to his unemployment.
Manjhi’s steely resolve to reunite with Falguni saw him eloping with his childhood bride. Subsequently, they started living together under one roof as man and wife. Very soon, they became the proud parents of a baby boy and Falguni became pregnant again with their 2nd child in 1960.
How a Tragedy Transformed the Life of Dashrath
One fateful day, Falguni, who was in an advanced stage of pregnancy, was bringing lunch for Dashrath working in the fields when she suddenly tripped while climbing the hillock. Dashrath, who was anxiously waiting in the blistering heat for his wife to show up, was unaware of the sudden development and unexpected mishap.
After tripping, Falguni Devi rolled downwards from the Gehlour mound and lay in an unconscious state. Dashrath was alerted by a villager about the catastrophe that had befallen his wife. Panic-stricken, he rushed to the spot only to find her in a blood-splattered state and took her to a hospital, 70 km away.
The physician who examined Falguni Devi after Dashrath had rushed her to the hospital announced that she was lifeless. He was beset with overwhelming grief as he found it very difficult to come to terms with the fact that his wife had passed away. Falguni Devi had given birth to a baby girl before breathing her last.
Thoroughly disconsolate and inconsolable, Manjhi started imprecating the knoll that had snatched away his beloved. Afterwards when he took his grief in his stride, he took an oath to shatter the ego of the mound—he made up his mind to keep chipping away at the hillock until a wide passage was created.
Continue Reading Below
When his father and other villagers came to know about Dashrath’s plan, they tried their level best to dissuade him by reiterating to him that he was about to embark on an impossible mission. However, it was his enduring love for his wife that further strengthened his resolve to accomplish a task that indeed was inconceivable.
The Making of the Mountain Man
Dashrath simply did not explore the option of requesting the local, state or central government for assistance, financial or otherwise, as he was certain of being turned away. So, he took it upon himself to cut through the hillock and create a path single-handedly.
He bought a hammer and chisel by selling a few goats he owned and set upon the task in 1960. He would start hammering away at the Gehlour mound at 4 a.m. and would continue till 8 p.m., taking a few hours’ break in the afternoon to work in the fields.
His dedication and missionary zeal earned him the epithet, “Mountain Man”. Oftentimes, he would be without food and water for hours on end and at other times subsist just on leaves. A few years later, there was an exodus of villagers from Gehlaur owing to a severe drought but he stayed put.
Gradually, Dashrath’s perseverance and his devotion towards his mission attracted the attention of the media and he even received help from fellow villagers and neighbors who had once openly criticized him. At last, in 1982, his long cherished wish of burrowing his way through the knoll was fulfilled.
After 22 years of relentless hammering and chipping, he had achieved the impossible—he had constructed a path, 360 feet long, 30 feet wide, and 25 feet high. The tunneling through the hillock had created a passageway that decreased the distance of 55 km between Atri and Wazirgunj by 40 km.
Manjhi accomplished another challenging task soon after—he journeyed to New Delhi, travelling on foot for three months to plead with the administration for assistance. Eventually, the government lent a helping hand by completing the Herculean task of carving the hummock to create a traversable passage and also helped establish a dispensary.
The Tragic Demise
Dashrath Manjhi breathed his last on 17 August 2007. He was suffering from gall bladder cancer. He was accorded a public funeral by state government.
The Legacy of the Mountain Man
The Bihar state government sent a proposal to the central government, recommending Dashrath’s name for ‘Padma Shree’—an award given to civilians for exemplary social service—in 2006.
A documentary titled, ‘The Man Who Moved the Mountain,’ revolving around Dashrath’s life, was released in 2011. A Bollywood movie named, ‘Manjhi-The Mountain Man’ was released for commercial screening in August 2015. Two Kannada movies were also made that were based on Dashrath Manjhi.
In 2011, the government of Bihar named the road going through the Gehlour mound as ‘Dashrath Manjhi Path’.