History of Contai or Kanthi
Some suggestions about the name
In the 15th century, during the visit of Fa-Hien, Contai was uninhabited and had no name for the outside world. In Valentine’s travelogue, a harbour, KENDUA by name, was mentioned. This harbour was on the bank of the river, a short distance from the Rasulpur estuary. Later the harbour was shifted to the present site of the Contai Town.However, it is said, the name of the abandoned port was retained for its new location, In foreigners tongue, Kendua is said to have changed first to Cauntee and finally to Contai, whereas in local tongue it has changed to Kanthi (kΛnө׀).
But linguists raise serious doubts about such change of pronunciation. They offer other suggestions.Mr.Yogesh Chandra Sarkar thinks that the name Kanthi owes its origin to outstretched sand-dune, about 27 miles from Rasulpur estuary to Peeplipattan, that from the sea looked like a long wall or Kanth (kΛnθ) as it is called by local people.
Some suggest that the name may originate from the custom of local people to build long walls or Kanths around their habitation in order to keep off wild beasts like buffaloes, tigers and rhinoceroses that were found in abundance then and these Kanths gave the place its name.
Yet, some people, conversant with the local history, give another explanation. They say on the sand dunes lived Saints and Fakirs or witch doctors to whom afflicted people often came for cure and who asked them affectionately in somewhat Hindi, “Kanha thee?” meaning to say ,’where are you from? Gradually the cure-seeking people coming from distant places came to identify this unnamed place by those two words “Kanha thee”, and in course of time the words merged into one to give the virgin or Ahalya land a name.
Old Contai Sub-Division
Some Fond Memories Connected with it and Reorganization.
In 1852 the then East India Company Government announced Contai as a Sub-Division consisting of six police stations-Contai, Khejuri, Ramnagar, Bhagwanpur, Egra and Potaspur. But the Government continued working from Negua which was the earlier name of todays Egra (“Agrapattan”). The Sub-Division that covered 912 sq. miles was the second largest in Bengal .
In 1863 when Nimak Mahal (the salt factory and business center) at Contai, in the teeth of a serious crisis, ceased functioning, the Sub-Divisional office was shifted from Negua to the abandoned Nimak Mahal building.
Bankim Chandra Chottopadhyay, the precursor of Bengali novel,worked as the Deputy Magistrate of Contai, though for a short period, from January 1860 to November of the year. From Negua, where his headquarte was then, he went to Dariapur, a village near the Rasulpur estuary in order to investigate a robbery case. He was bewitched by the beauty of the beach –sand dunes covered by woodland against the background of the wide river and the sea. He stored it in his memory and incorporated the scenery in his romantic novel Kapal Kundala.
Bankim’s father, Jadav Chandra Chattopadhayay,while serving as the Deputy Collecter of Midnapur District, has travelled to Majnamutha, Narduamutha and Seepur, all in Contai Asub-Division, on land-settlement business .He stayed here from 1838 to 1839 and rendered good service to a good number of people so as to earn the pet name Jadav –Deputy.
Dwijendralal Roy, the composer of patriotic dramas and songs, also came here as the settlement officer of of Burdwan. He stayed for three years,from 1890 to 1893. During his stay at Sujamutha, he protested against the unlawful increase of land-revenue and thereby incurred wrath of Lieutenant Charles Eliot and as a result got his increment frozen.
In 2002, Medinipur District was divided into two districts–Purba Medinipur and Paschim Medinipur for the sake of administrative efficiency and expediency. Purba Medinipur consists of four Sub-Divisions –Tamluk, Contai, Egra and Haldia. Eight blocks of Ramnagar, Digha, Kanthi (Contai) Khejuri and Bhupatinagar remained in Contai Sub-Division while the newly formed Sub-Division of Egra consisted of five Blocks of Bhagawanpur, Pataspur and Egra police stations.
People, Culture, Language
Some time between the third and the fourth century B.C., the Contai-Hijli region raised its head above the sea –level in the shape of a few islands separated from one another by some streams or their branches. By the vagaries of nature, some of these streams in course of time lost their courses linking the islands with strips of low- land and giving emergence to Maljhita Mahal.
In the early part of its history, from 1435 to 1470 A.D, this Mahal or region consisting of Digha, Ramnagar, Kanthi, Khejuri, Bhagawanpur and a part of Egra belonged the Orissa kingdom under the name of Maljhita Dandapat.Afterwards the region frequently changed hands and came under the rule of Hindu, Pathan, Mughal and British rulers lending diversity to the religion and culture of the people of this area.
The aborigines of the area with longish skull, blunt nose, dark complexion and medium height belonged the Austric races like Santal, Bhumij, Murmu etc.who can hardly be traced distinctly anywhere in the area today. Side by side with this class of people, the existence of Dravidian race of the Decaan in this area is also marked. Fair complexioned, large- faced, sharp-nosed, fairly tall people of Alpine or Indo-European origin were also found here in the later years. Not only that, that the people of the region came into some kind of relation with the people of Mediterranean lands is also evident from the relics like the image of the Sun-god of the 7th century discovered in the region. The idol is found wearing European dress and ornaments.
Thus the people of the area is a highly amalgamated race assimilating the features of many races, native and foreign, Indiand and non – Indian, regarding religion, the people came under the influence of Vedic, Jainism, Buddhism, Shaivaism, Vaisnabism and even Islam.
The language or dialect used by the local people bears ample witness to this amalgamation, for instance, the use of Aryan suffixes in naming the villages and titles of people gives evidence of mutually honorable co-existence of the Aryan and non Aryan trips for long.
Generally all the people may be said to fall in two broad categories – the Hindus and the non –Hindus, The term Hindu is almost all – embracing in India, leaving only perhaps the Muslims and the Christians out of its fold. And of the Hindus from Brahimins, who belong to the highest place of the hierarchy down to those, who belong to the lowest, every variety is found in the region. A Wide range of titles that people bear with their names suggests, directly or indirectly, their one-time profession or the field of activity in which they once excelled. But, as at present there is little relation between the title one bears and the profession one follows and casteism is on its last leg, the matter has become of little importance.
The non –Hindus who came to the region from outside were mainly the Muslims and the Christians. They came on different purposes. Some came as invaders chanting martial songs; some came as mercenary soldiers hired by the local lords in order to protect their kingdom or to train their native army; some of them came on commercial purposes; there were some others who were merely fortune seekers.However,most of the forefathers of the non Hindus of the area were in fact converts who courted Islamic or Christian religion after being outcaste for any reason or being tired of the rigorous rules of the Hindu society or being attracted by the apparent simplicity and classless fraternity in these religions or to find favour with the rulers.Whatever reason may prompt the foreigners to come here, they, like the Lotus-eaters of the Odyssey,could never leave the land and their successors were gradually absorbed by the great motley society.
Thus out of numerous races ,racial cultutes and attributes,came to be a people who developed some regionally distinative characteristics,who developed a fighting-sprit to survive in the teeth of monstrous adversities,sometimes in form of political turmoil,sometimes in form of natural calamities
Location – Digha –30 km.south – west of Kanthi (Contai) and 164 km.from Medinipur, and 185 km south-west from Kolkata.
A short history of Birkul
Birkul discovered by Warren Hastings accidentally. It’s 7 kms beach, dotted with casuarina groves, is said to be one of the widest beaches in the world. In the past, the place named Beercool or Birkul or Noricool was nearer to the sea than Digha. It belonged to Chakla Jaleswar in Orissa, but subsequently the place was attached to Hijli Division. By 1785, the place had earned the title “The Brighton of Calcutta”. A few bunglows were built and ,to the Europeans, tired of the unaccustomed hot weather of Calcutta,it become a good summer –resort.In a letter to his wife,Waren Hastings referred to Beercool,adjacent to Digha,in these words-“Beercool was the sanatorium-the Brighton of Calcutta”.
The advancing sea swallowed up the Birkul village in course of time .In 1823 there was found only one bunglow that had been built by Hastings.Then there came “The Livingstone of Digha”.Sometime in the 19th century ,a group of Englishman –Mr. Greenfield,Mr. J.Jinkings,Mr.J.F.Sneith,Mr.Reeve Beechcroft- and a reporter of “ The Englishman”came to the sea side in a car in search of Beercool.But they found neither Beercool nor the bunglows built in Hastings’s time.Insteed,they found Digha and only one brick-built building.It was the building of the Irrigation department which was to oversee the building of dykes along the coast and their maintenance.The building had perhaps been built in 1848.
The sea and her devotee
Mr. Sneith worked with the Hamilton Company of Kolkata.The confirmed bachelor fell in love with the sea.He first made a hut there and visited the place every year.Later he purchased twenty bighas of land and built a two storeyed building.Mr. Sneith passed the last days of his life here and was buried on the beach at a spot near the sea who has drawn her devotee into her lap.
Modern Digha : Modern Digha is the brain-child of Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy,the Chief Minister of Bengal.The process of modernization began in1947,remarkably the year of India’s independence.The Forest Department,West Bengal Health Resort Co-operative Society, Planning & Develo0pment Department-each of them played its part .Eleven hundred acres of land was requisitioned for the purpose.Tamarisk trees were planted to prevent the encroaching sea.Cafeteria and power –house were constructed,water –supply facility was arranged .In place of the Health Centre,a large Hospital was constructed (Aghorekamini State General Hospital ).In a word ,all the town amenities were ensured.At present,there are luxurious hotels and lodges,shopping malls and markets,everything a tourist may look for.
Attraction of Digha : The mud-free,rock-hard,long and wide strip of sea-beach of Digha, fit for driving a car along, is said to be the finest in the world.From here one can see the beautiful sun-rise in the morning and glorious sun-set in the evening.The whispering tamarisk trees,the caressing wind,the mellowed morning-and –afternoon-sunlight,the roaring sea and the sight of small boats dancing rhythmically at a distance are really too-much for one not to come here again and again.
Digha is now in the Railway Map of India.It is connected with Panskura on S.E.Railway.Therefore,journey to digha by train,bus or taxi,is easy and comfortable.
Further Attraction: An Acquarium,the largest in Asia,has been built here.ACoconut Research Centre has also been constructed. “Amarabati”with its beautiful gardens,artificial lakes and boating arrangement ,the Science Museum add to the charms of Digha.The three hundred year old temple of ‘Chandaneswar’,only five km. from here,may further be an attraction for the believers.
One may collect curious oyster-shells from the beach or buy from shops fancy-goods made of shells,beautiful ornaments,articles to furnish houses or beautiful mat to lie on or conch-shells.
The Forest Department and the sea are still struggling over the possession of the coast.At present,man seems to have got the upper hand,but there is little scope for relexation.