Rise and fall of some places in Kanthi (Contai) Sub-division.
[Continued from page 4]
Hijli –From the Sea to the Sea.
Stability in the past and at present.
Changes,rise and fall, are but natural. In the past, whether to speak of historical facts or geographical, stability was at a premium. Constancy was never a usual feature of a territory,a kingdom or a state, especially if its land was fertile, it had a strategic position from the military point of view or it had commeraial prospects. Land –surface or contours too often changed, especially if it was the coastal area. But now stability is fairly usual. Political change, brought about more by peaceful means than by violence, is regular. Similarly, the coastal area also has become stabler. The sea-level that rose ten mili-meters every year in the past is now rising only 0.20 to 0.30 mm yearly.The land–formation process in the coastal area has become almost complete. Though the land-surface is sinking one to four milimetres every year as a result of consolidation of the underground slit-layer, it is almost neutralized by the new silt-deposit of the rivers.
Problem to trace the history of Hijli.
While the whole Kanthi-Hijli region underwent remarkable vicissitudes, the changes that Hijli and Kheju—went through were almost kaleidoscopic. The historical and geographical accounts of Hijli are as much interesting as they are confusing and controversial. Much of this controversy and confusion owes to the frequent changes of the shape,boundary and character of the terrain and the same name being applied to the village, Pargana and the kingdom. Without going into controversies, efforts are taken to trace the broad points of historical and geographical facts about the rise and fall of Hijli.
Hijlikhanda or Hijli kingdom in the early period.
In the earliest period of its history, up to 1568, Hijli, included in Maljhita-mahal, to the boundary of Kanthi P.S. and covering about 1,098 square miles, was an appendage to Orissa. Nominally tributary to Orissa, the semi-independent kings of the Das dynasty ruled over the Hijli khanda from Bahiri, a busy business centre at the time near the sea,for the place where the village hijli is now located was not yet fit for habitation of decent people. After 1568 when Orissa yielded of Afgan invasion, the political dominance over Hijli-Khanda was bound to change hands. During this period, a pathan Youth, with the help of the local people trained by him, established a state with hijli as its capital. The Pathan youth gradually gathered strength, assumed the name ‘Ikhtiar Khan’ and, with the help of a neighbouring landlord, conquered the whole of the old Hijlikhand.
Map of Hijli and Battle Field
This Pathan dynasty, through very short-lived surviving only about three decades, produced a king, Taj Khan, Masnad-I-Ala, who gave a longer lease of life to the dynasty in people’s memory than a hundred kings. Taj Khan, a man of ascetic nature, reigned only for two years, from 1649 to 1651, and then, handing over the rein of the kingdom to his son Bahadur khan, lived the life of austerity as a saint. Taj khan, while he ruled, made no distinction between the Hindus and the Muslims and by his behaviour inspired reverence in all.
A King hold in high esteem.
Taj’s brother, Sikander Khan Pahalwan, was no less remarkable, though in another way. He possessed a fabulous strength and remained a bachelor all through his life. People still tell different tales of his Herculean strength and the tell-tale stick he used, too heavy for a man to lift above ground, is enough evidence of his extraordinary physical power. People, believing that the stick must have some divine power in it, are eager to touch it.
Maugs & Portuguese.
The Mughal rule, to which the Pathans were subordinate, lasted from the 16th to the first half of the 18th century. Theadministration was naturally weakest in this remote area and depended entirely on the ability of the local rular or administrator. Taking advantage of this situation, the Portuguese and the Maugs, in order to gratify their gold-lust, carried on the heinous activities like robberies, piracy and slave-trading in this area. Here they were objects of terror as much as the ‘Burgees’ were in the upper region. Bengali coined a phrase ‘Mauger Muluk’ meaning ‘a place of no-law’ and the Kaukhali river was called the Rogues’ river.
Appearance of the English.
The Portuguese had an agency at the Hijli island from where they were ousted by the Mughals in 1636. About the same time, the Dutch began their trade here, and the English appeared as rivals in the latter half of the century. The appearance of the English was dramatic. Job Charnock sent a fleet that conquered the island easily. The Mughal contingent in charge of protecting the island fled at the sight of the enemy leaving the fort and batteries. Charnock himself arrived on 27th February,1687. Then, after taking up the king-maker’s role, the East India Company got the authority over Medinipur by a treaty signed by Meer Kashim on 27th September,1760. The English territory was divided into three divisions one of which,the Fouzdary of hoogly at first comprised the whole of Maljhita Sarkar including Hijli.
Emergence of Hijli Island.
Regarding the island of Hijli, sometime in the 16th century it raised its head from the depth of the sea, near Rasulpur and Bhagirathi or Hoogly estuaries, nourished by the silt brought down by the rivers. Another island, Khejuri, that made its appearance to the north-east about the same time, was separated from it by the Kaukhali river. The two islands remained separate till towards the close of the century when the bay filled up and they joined the mainland. The narrow stream, Kunjapur Khal, running between Hijli and Khejuri still bears the faint memory of the once navigable’Rogue river’.
By 1587, Hijli had become a trade centre. From the account of Ralph Fitch we come to know that then Hijli was a great haven where every year many ships from Negapattam, Sumatra and Malacca loaded rice, cotton-cloth, wool, sugar, pepper-corn and other victuals. The position of the island and the rich hinterland helped the trade to flourish fast and by the end of the century it had become a great emporium. The English entering the scene late, their larger vessels began to load and unload cargoes at this harbour in the second half of the 17th century.
Then the days of glory gradually come to an end. Cyclones lashed the island every few years, if not every year. The dykes and embankments often broke letting in flood and sea-water. The vitiate vapour rising from the salt-producing fields made the atmosphere unhealthy. The business was being shifted to safer places. The principal part of the capital lying south to the present Kasba Hijli was swallowed up by the sea. Hijli is no longer a kingdom, not a haven, nor even a town ; it is a village Kasba hijli, a big village at most.
Hijli Mosque & Hijli Fair.
But all is not lost. The mosque built by the Afgan rular in 1661 is still there. It is fifty feet long and twenty five feet wide and capped by three round –shaped towers. Taj Khan, with his brother, wife and sons are lying buried in the vicinity.The east-facing mosque with three front doors, that can be seen from the deck of a ship sailing to or from Kolkata crossing the Bay of Bengal and that has stood the wear and tear, particularly in a salty weather, for about three centuries and a half, is a fine specimen of architectural skill of the old age and excites a sense of veneration in man. Every year, during the Uras festival of the Muhammedans, people in thousands, both Muslim and Hindus, come from distant places to the Hijli fair that takes place on this occasion, usually in spring time. An aura of holiness seems to be lingering around the mosque and the tombs and the stick.
Controversy about an Encounter between Pratapaditya of Jessore and Isa Khan of Hijli.
Kingdoms of Jessore & Hijli :
Pratapaditya of Jessore is a famous historical figure. He was one of the most outstanding Barobhuians’ (twelve landlords) of Bengal who off and on tried to break away from the shackles of Mughal-subordination. Pratapaditya and one Isa khan Matchlandi of hijli, as the story goes, were neighbours, whose kingdoms were separated by the flow of the Hoogly or bhagirathi. Both of them were called the landlords of ‘Bhati’ because a large part of their kingdoms raised its head above water only in time of ‘ Bhata ‘ or bhati’ (ebb-tide) .
Pratapaditya commits a massacre :
Pratapaditya’s father who later assumed the name, Bikramaditya, and his uncle, Basanta Roy, jointly established their kingdom in 1576. before death, Bikramaditya divided the kingdom between his son and his brother. However, on becoming king, Pratapaditya somehow became suspicious of his uncle’s supposed conspiracy and killed him with all his sons but one. Raghab Roy, the only surviving cousin of Pratapaditya, was said to have escaped Pratap’s wrath by hiding himself in the clumps of ‘Katchu’ ( a small shrub-like plant the root of which is edible), thereby earning a nick-name Katchu Roy. Later he was arrested and confined. Rupram Basu, a relative of the Roy family, secretly sent a massage to Isa khan with an appeal to rescue Raghab.
‘Pagri-badal’ friends :
Isa khan and Pratapaditya who swore friendship by exchanging their ‘Pagris’ or head-gears and were, therefore, called ‘Pagri-badal’ ( ‘badal’ means exchange) friends. After receiving the message, Isa khan held a conference with his ministers and military officers. A plan was taken to rescue the confined prince without going into a direct confrontation between the two kingdoms. A person named Balabanta Singha or, according to some, Balabanta Khoja was entrusted with the charge of the operation. Pratapaditya was known to be a man of his word. Once he made a promise, he kept it at all costs. The plan was to exploit this distinguishing quality of Pratap. Bhimsen Mahapatra, a minister of king, had an important role in the matter.
The execution of the plan :
According to the plan, with a few men Balabanta went to Jessore, where he was welcomed, as usual. Balabanta asked for a private appointment with Pratapaditya to deliver a secret message and there was no reason to deny it. When they were alone in a room, Balabanta suddenly sprang upon the Jessore King with a knife, overpowered him and told him that he would kill him unless he promised to release Raghab. Being entrapped, Pratapaditya made the promise. So Raghab was freed and Balabanta brought him to Hijli where he was given asylum.
Pratap’s revenge :
Pratap felt insulted and resolved to take revenge upon Isa Khan. With a large fleet, he attacked Hijli and had a fierce battle with the Hijli force for eighteen days at Darua. Eventually, Isa Khan was killed and Bhimsen Mahapatra, who lived at bahari, a few miles from the battlefield, threw himself with his family into bhimsagar, a big tank dug by him, in apprehension of ignominious treatment at the hand of vindictive Pratap.
The background of the story :
This is the story. The story seems to be very plausible. Hijli and Jessore were close neighbours. It seems natural for them to have a friendly or hostile or even an ambivalent relation between them. To get involved in the family fend of a neighbour and consequently run into a conflict appear nothing unnatural. The story is mentioned by many writers like yogesh Chandra Basu, Anandamoy Roy, Nikhilnath Roy and others.
Loopholes of the story :
However, some discrepancies of accounts and some historical facts not going with the story everywhere make one skeptical about it. The anomalies are listed below :
i) Hijli Island came up from the depth of the sea in the 16th century and until the next century it was not fit for habitation of decent people. During the reign of Pratapaditya, the island was almost a no-man’s land. [ ‘Hijlir Masanad-i-Ala by Mahendra Nath Karan]
ii) According to the historical records, so far known, there was only one king of Hijli, holding the honourable title ‘Masnad-i-Ala’, his name was Taj khan, not Isa Khan, and he became king only in 1628, seventeen years after Pratap’s death.
iii) As it is referred to in Crommelin’s letter, Bhimsen Mahapatra, who was said to have commotted suicide by throwing himself into water, in fact, died of typhoid fever at an advanced age.
Loopholes not decisive :
The points of disagreement, stated above, however, cannot tell the last word. When they are considered minutely, it may be found that they do not nullify the episode altogether.
i) Long before the emergence of the Hijli island, the Hijli kingdom had been in existence. In fact, when the island came up it was called hijli island because it belonged to the Hijli kingdom.
ii) The title Masnad-i-Ala [ some say Masnad-i-Ali and people pronounce it Matchhandali] suggests a person taking a lofty seat. It was a title of honour. Many rulers are found to have used the title and and it is difficult to ascertain whether they all were conferred by the genuine authorityor some of them were just peacock’s feathers. Whatever it may be, the title is not a strong evidence to go by.
iii) The Bhimsen episode too is not any strong evidence. To escape retribution, he might have fled with his family leaving some faithful persons to spread the rumour that he had committed suicide. It might be a case as happened to Netaji. Bhimsen might have returned after the death of Pratapaditya and died later of typhoid.
After the fall of the Orissa kingdom in 1568, the fate of its tributary kings was precarious. They switched over their allegiance to the Mughals or to the Afgans according to the demand of the situation and kingdoms too often changed hands.
People forget deates and years, confuse names, but events are hardly forgotten. Sometimes stories are cooked up to serve some purpose. But in this case, the story adds a new feather to nobody’s cap-neither to Isa khan’s, nor to bhim Sen’s, nor even to Pratapaditya’s, therefore, serves no special purpose. It needs more research work before giving a final verdict on the matter.
Where the Ganga ends up her more than a 2,500 km long journey, embraces Sagar Dwip with two outspread arms and then plungs into the sea, Khejuri stands on the western bank of the western arm of Ganga, alias Bhagirathi, alies Hoogly. In fact, the twin sisters, Khejuri and Hijli, were born of Bhagirathi-silt and suffered or enjoyed the same kind of fate or fortune.
From the beginning of the 16th century,a sandy tract of land started raising its flat surface above the sea level,by the middle of the 17th century it had assumed the form of an island, and towards the end of the century, there were two islands, Khejuri and Hijli. The name Khejuri, perhaps, owes its origin to the date palm trees growing abundantly at the time because in the Port Trust Survey Report the place was referred to as ‘a date – palm place’.
During the Pathan regime of Hijli,some sort of civilized people lived at Khejuri. When around 1687 Job Charnock, driven by Sayesta Khan from Hoogly, came to Hijli for shelter and was encountered by the imperial force, hemarked Khejuri as a full-fledged island. Broken images of gods unearthed in Khejuri also lend credence to the assumption.
But after the fall of the Taj Khan –dynasty, the weakness of the Mughal rule at the border areas came to the fore, and the Maugs and the Portuguese went on plundering, pillaging and, above all, trafficking in human beings. People in large number deserted the place, and Khejuri became mostly a habitat of wild animals. In his account of the East Indies, Alexander Hamilton wrote in 1723 that in Khejuri island lived the fishermen and the hogs were so cheap there that he bought twenty one hogs, each weighing 50 to 80 pounds, only for seventeen rupees.
In 1765, Khejuri came under the administration of the East India Company which naturally took measures to make the island fit for the habitation of man. Another change of situation added to the prosperity of Khejuri. The Kaukhali river separating Khejuri from Hijli was found deep enough for ships to cast anchor. Towards the end of the 18th century Khejuri began to serve as an Anchorage. In Rennel’s map, drawn in 1780, a naval path passing by the Khejuri island is shown. As it was neither easy nor safe for big cargo or passenger ships to sail to Kolkata, they would lie at anchor at Khejuri, and the cargoes and passengers were taken to Kolkata in small ships called sloops. At the mouth of the Bhagirathi, the guard-boat system was introduced to maintain safety of the voyage.
The business of the East India Company flourished and with it the importance of Khejuri increased. Quarters for agents,Port office, waiting rooms for passengers – a lot of construction work was done, there was enough job opportunity. Khejuri developed rapidly.
At first Kolkata newspapers would send speed-boats to collect fresh information from the eropean ships just sailing in and riding at anchor at Khejuri. In 1851, Dr. W.B.O’ Shaughnessy, the Professor of Chemistry of Kolkata Medical College (Calcutta Medical College), got contract of Laying telegraph line for the 82 mile-long (about 132 km) distance from Kolkata to Khejuri, via Diamond Harbour, Bishnupur, Mayapur and Kunkrahati. Thus Khejuri got a position in the map of India by virtue of having the first Telegraph office installed here. A highly paid English Officer was in charge of the Post Office.At his disposal, there were two post-boats to ply between Khejuri and Kolkata carrying letters and parcels.
But Khejuri’s eminence did not last long. Cyclones in company with flood struck the land repeatedely. The cyclones of 1807,1823,1831 and 1844 were remarkable. The Kaukhali river was losing depth. Khejuri ceased to be a safe haven. By 1822, the plying of the post-ships between Khejuri and Kolkata had become dangerous. A New Anchorage near Sagar Dwip was to be set up. The Europeans started leaving the island. The 1864 storm and flood drove the last nail on the coffin of Khejuri’s prosperity. Khejuri port was abandoned.
The Post Office building is still standing but it no longer functions, the office has been shifted elsewhere. The signs of ruins lie scattered here and there. In front of the P.O. building, there are a cannon and a cnnon-carrier. Khejuri market, which must have been the hub of the town, is now wrapped in silence. Sahebnagar, where the Europeans had their Quarters, is now cornfield. The Kaukhali (Cowcolly) Light house built in 1820 to show guiding light to the ships in the sea now stand wrapped in darkness. From 1925 January, the Light House has stopped showing light. Some of the naval or civil officers and workers who came here from the other end of the world, braving the storm-ruffled sea lie buried here. The sight of their graves may remind one of the warning given by Thomas Gray :
“The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave,Awaits alike the inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave”.
But there is no such thing as complete end. A so called end only suggests the beginning of a new phase. Like the mythical bird phoenix, Khejuri has risen again from the debris of the old. In the freedom movement the people of Khejuri played a glorious part. It has been the abode of highly educated persons, great teachers, eminent lawyers, authors of distinction and men and women showing brilliance in different direction. It can take pride in its educational institutions, libraries, literacy and theatrical organizations, presses and many more things.
Bahiri wrapped in mystery :
A cluster of villages, ‘Bahiri’ by name, comprising three smaller villages – Paikbarh, Deulbarh and Dihi bahiri- stands about eight kilo meters north of the Kanthi town. That it is not one of the thousands of Bengal’s villages surrounded by cornfields to sustain them, that it saw better days in some remote past, that it has many untold stories to tell is writ large everywhere about the cluster. The mysteries lying hidden in the gaping low-land, in the wilderness lying scattered here and there, under the big mounds raising their heads incongruously, under the water of the big tanks are still awaiting curious archaeologists or research-scholars to unveil them.
Relics found :
Relics discovered so far are less than the tip of an ice-berg. While digging ponds, remnants of wells, the rims of which were paved with brick measuring 13" x 7" x 2 " and semi-circular in shape, have been found at the depth of 7 to 8 feet. Very old blocks of brick, the kind of which is no longer in use, are often found under the earth or on the ground stone images, through mutilated, one of which is supposed to be of lord Buddha in meditation, have been found by men engaged in some digging-work.
Bahiri Jagannath Temple
Tanks & a tree :
Three big tanks Bhimsagar, Lohit-sagar and Hem-sagar are sure to make a visitor wonder which king or landlord got them dug up in order to solve the drinking – water – problem of people. A very old tamarind tree, standing at the edge of a high ground and bearing the tell-tale marks of chain or rope around its bulky trunk, might make one see with one’s mind’s eye the days when Bahiri was said to be an important river-port load or unload their cargoes.
Four big mounds – Pal-tikri, Salt-tikri, Dhan-tikri and Godhan-tikri, as they are called –of which two are now left, might have been, some say, Buddhist Stupas or topes round which monks used to walk offering their worship toLord Buddha. They might also have been, some others contend, the ruins of old palaces or some sort of constructions.Local people try to trace their history to the epic age of the Mahabharata. Nothing so far has been established, however.
At Deulbarh (significantly, ‘Deul’ means temple and ‘Barh’ means circle or area), There is a temple of Lord Jagannatha, which commands admiration of the viewers. The temple is of two parts – Sikhar Deul (main temple) and the Jagmohon ( the frontal part) –both of which face the east. Above the entrance to the Jagmohon, there are a few sculptured lotuses and an inscription in Oriya. The inscription tells us that the temple was built in 1506 Sakabda, i.e.,1584 of the Christian era, on a Wednesday, the 17th day of the Bengali month of Baisakha. According to inscription, the temple was entrusted for its maintenance to the preceptor Gadadhar and the village Deulbarh was given to him to meet the expenses. Another stone-script between Jagmohon and the main temple informs that Bibhisan Das, son of Padmanabha Das, who were descendants of Kashi Das, built the temple and installed the images of Jagannath, Balaram and Subhadra in it, though at present no idol is found there. The main temple is 40 ft. high, while the Jagmohon is 35 ft. high.
An Outline of its history :
Although Bahiri is yet to find a chronicler to write its history, the indirect references made about it in Madlapanji (Script on palm leaves preserved in the Jagannath temple of Orissa), baisnav verses on Sri Chaitanya and elsewhere are gleaned by local scholars like Mahendranath Karan, Premananda Pradhan and Prasanta Pramanik and the historian Jogesh Chandra basu in order to construct an outline of its history. Much before Hijli harbour came into existence, in about the 8th or the 9th century Bahiri had risen from the sea in form of an island near the estuary of the Rasulpur River. By riverways and the sea-route, it was connected with Tikasi, Birbandar, Patna (in Medinipur), Kamarda, Baharganja, Serkhanchauk, Chunpara, and, of course, Tamralipta, and also the outer world. Numerous place-names ending with ‘-dah’ or ‘-daha’ [ meaning Lagoons,whirlpools or deep water] like Laudah, Kumirdah, Jhapardah, Amardah or Marisdah give ample evidence of the place once having many big or small lagoon-like water-bodies created by the affluents flowing through the area. This advantageous position made Bahiri the administrative centre of the Maljhita-mahal, the feudal estate of Sujamutha, hijli-khanda ar Hijlimandal in different periods of history.
Two royal dynasties :
In ‘Chaitanya Charitamrita’ it is mentioned that Gopinath who got the title ‘Pattanayak’ from the Orissa-king was the tributary rular of the Maljhita Dfandapat under the Orissa-king, Pratap Rudradev, who reigned from 1497 to 1540. It is presumed that Gopinath Pattanayak rulled over his kingdom that included Hijlikhanda from Bahiri. From the references in ‘Aryaprabha’, ‘Mahiswa-tattwa-baridhi’, and ‘Gouder Itihas, by Rajanikanta Chakrabarty, it may be inferred that before the Pattanayak dynasty there had been another Hindu dynasty, founded by some Mukunda Das, tributary to Orissa, for about three centuries, having bahiri or Bahirimutha as its administrative centre. Haricharan Das, the 21st king of the dynasty, is referred to by Ralph Fitch as the king of Hijlikhanda and as ‘a good friend to strangers’.
A capital reduced to a humble cluster of villages :
As in course of time the sea withdrew itself south-ward, the rivers changed courses or dried up and, above all, Hijli island came up as a flourishing sea-port, Bahiri or Bahirimutha gradually faded into the background. Lastly the cyclone and flood of 1864 dealt a mortal blow to the place. To quote O’Malley, “In Bahirimutha, terrible destruction spread over an area of 56 Square miles, the destruction being greater here than elsewhere, as the villages were larger, more numerous, and more thickly populated”. To fill up the cup of misery, famine and pestilence raided the area at the heels of the cyclonic flood. Thus the place was reduced to its present state.
As to the name of the cluster of villages Bahirimutha or in short bahiri, there is a lot of controversy. Villages or towns are christened in two ways. Men of knowledge and culture give names to their lodgings and habitations in keeping with their ideals or in commemoration of their favourite leaders or idols. Some place-names come up through the efforts of common people while trying to locate them by using some identifications marks. The name given in this way is often changed and hewed to make it sound more homely, more handy, more accustomed to the local tongue. This often accounts for the difficulty faced while trying to trace it to the root.
‘Bihar’ to ‘Bahiri’!
Apparently, the name Bahiri has been evolved through the utterance of common people. The place, being out of Dandabhukti (an adjacent kingdom), being the gateway to the outerworld, seruing as an outlet of the rain-water by the numerous streams passing through, might have been called Bahiri for the Bengali word may be, in some way semantically related to ‘outside’. However, a more logical conclusion would be to think that the presence of the ‘Bihars’ or Buddhist monasteries caused the name of evolve out of them. After the annexation of Kalinga to Asoke’s empire and after his conversion to Buddhism, the whole Orissa came under the influence of the religion. While visiting Taralipta in the 7th century, Hiuen Tsian noticed ten Bihars there where, as he says, more than a thousand monks lived Bahiri, being so near to Tamralipta, being so well-connected with it by waterways, must have been influenced by Buddhism, and the mounds-Pal-tikri, Dhan-tikri, Godhan-tikri – were Buddhist Bihars, as they are thought to be. Aand the name ‘Bahiri’ may have been derived from them.
Jalamutha Estate [ Basudebpur Zeminderi].
Foundation of the estate.
With the fall of the Masnad-I-Ala dynasty, the Hijli kingdom was divided mainly into two large estates – Majnamutha and Jalamutha – and they were placed under the charge of two erstwhile officials of Bahadur Khan, the last king of the Pathan dynasty, namely Dwarakanath Chowdhury and Dibakar Chowdhury who were said to have been the respective founders of these two estates.
In fact, the history of the Jalamutha Estate traces to an earlier time. For, Mr. Bayley in his Report on the Jalamutha Estate says, “The property in the parganah appears from genealogical table in the collectorate to have descended from Kishen (Krishna) Panda to Beru (Biru) Chowdhuree, then to Gopal Chowdhuree, than to Dibakar Chowdhuree” and so on. From the private records kept in Basudebpur palace, it is learnt that Krishna Panda had been in charge of the estate from 1584 to 1608, and after his death his eldest son, Harinarayan Chowdhury (whose pet name was, perhaps, Beru or Biru) was in power from 1608 to 1645, and thereafter Krishna’s youngest son, Gopal Narayan had a tenure from 1645 to 1685. After the death of Gopal Narayan, Harinarayan’s eldest son, Dibakar Chowdhury became the landlord of the estate. It may be that Krishna Panda was merely an official, under the Hijli king, in charge of collecting revenue and therefore the customary title of a landlord, ‘Chowdhury’, was not appended to his name, and after his death his two sons, Harinarayan and Gopal Narayan successively stepped into his shoes.
Whatever may be, Dibakar Chowdhury was the first full-fledged landlord enjoying the power and liberty of a tributary king. His estate, with an area of 168 miles, comprised Parganas- jalamutha, bahirimutha, Paharpur,Gaonmesh, Nayachauk (Bayenda Bazar) Bhaintgarh, Kalindi, Balisai, Birkul, Agrachour, Mirgoda and Bhograi.
Dibakar’s successors & Maratha invasion.
Dibakar Chowdhury had two sons Ramchandra and Bikramkisore. After his father’s death, Ramchandra, by virtue of being the elder of the two brothers, became the lord and therefore assumed the title ‘Chowdhury’, while his younger brother, Bikramkishore retained the title ‘Roy’ the symbol of an elite-class. Ramchandra was in power from 1694 to 1734. At his death, as he had no son, his nephew (Brother’s son), Lakshmi Narayan became the lord. But during his reign, the infamous Maratha invasion began and he was dispossessed of his kingdom.
Restoration of the Estate.
In 1770, the English, who in the meantime had become the proprietor of Midnapur along with Burdwan and Chitagong, restored most of the Maratha-occupied regions of Bengal including Jalamutha estate and installed Lakshmi-Narayan’s son, Bir-narayan, in his father’s position. The king Bir-narayan died in 1787 (according to O’ Malley and Mr. Bayley the year was 1781) and then his son, Nara-narayan Chowdhury, become king and remained in power till his death in 1839 (according to the records kept in the custody of Basudevpur palace) or 1833 (according to the records in Medinipur Collectorate). After his death there was a dispute among the sons of Nara-narayan over the right to throne, and it was decided by the Company authority in favour of Rudra-narayan, the eldest son of Nara-narayan’s first wife.
Rudranarayan & his mystery death :
However, Rudra-narayan’s tenure lasted for only eight months and nine days, for then he died. His death is shrouded in mystery. It was alleged that his step-mother, having failed to enthrone her own son by fair means, poisoned him to death. However, the joint Magistrate of Medinipur, after investigation,declared the charge of murder insubstantial. What happened thereafter or was said to have happened was a parallel to the widely publicized Vowal-prince case that happened in the early part of the 20th century ( the story has been dramatized in Bengali cinema starred by Uttam Kumar). The Basudebpur case also made a lot of sensation at the time. The historian, Yogesh Chandra Basu, quotes some news –paper reports in his book, ‘Medinipurer Itihas’.
Fact or story ?
According to those reports, as the men of funeral party brought the dead body of Rudra-narayan to a riverside for cremation, they were caught in a violent storm and they fled for shelter leaving the dead-body. Two monks, passing by that way, spotted the dead-body, marked signs of life in it, brought it to their make-shift cottage,and with the help of herbal medicine brought him back to life. Regaining consciousness, Rudra-narayan declined to go back to the palace and followed the monks to different places. Two years later, he felt the urge to visit his native place and came back to Medinipur where many people identified him.With the help of the then Jessore-king Baradakanta, he appealed to the sadar-Amin-Ala for redress, but ultimately his case was dismissed and he went away never to return.
Division of the Estate:
The estate was divided between the two half-brothers of Rudra-narayan – Krishnendra and Kumarendra, but until they came to age their mother, Krisnapriya, managed the affairs for them. When Krishnendra died, his son, Gajendra Narayan was a minor, so a Court of Wards was appointed to look after both the boy and his property. The boy grew up, had formal education but got no character. He led a luxurious and lascivious life and ran into debt. In 1876, he died leaving his immature adopted son, Bhupendra Narayan, his widow, Anandamoyee Devi and a lot of debt. Having been brought up by a Court of Wards that repaid the debt incurred by his deceased father, Bhupendra –narayan received the charge of estate in 1897, but, treading the path trodden by his adopting father, he was soon head over heels in debt. His estate was brought by Haripriya Devi, the widow of Kumarendra Narayan who had died in 1871. Kumarendra Narayan also had no son, so he had adopted yogesh Narayan as his son. After the death of haripriya Devi, Yogesh Narayan became the lord and started living at Kanthi. The ‘Yogesh Nibas’ near the outdoor section of Kanthi Hospital was the palace where he lived.
End of Zemindari :
In 1880, during the resettlement of land and estates, Jalamutha estate declined to bid for an extension of its rule. Consequently, the estate was brought under the direct management of the East India Company and the proprietors were allowed a ‘Malikana, which was as good as a stipend or pension to be enjoyed successively by the descendants.
The capital of the Jalamutha estate, Garh basudebpur, where the landlords lived is now in Egra Sub-division and P.S. Basudebpur. Haripriya H.S. School, established in 1885, along with a good many temples and tanks within the territory bear witness to the days of affluence, glory and charity of the estate. Of them the Nabaratna Temple of Jukhia village (now in Bhagawanpur P.S.), the temple of Krishnanagar and the tank of Irdinchi village are worth-mentioning. Regarding Krishnanagar, which is now in Khejuri P.S., it is said that the founder of the Jalamutha dynasty, Krishna Panda, set up his administration centre here and named the place after his own. Later the centre was shifted to Basudebpur.
Besides the two major estates, Majnamutha and Jalamutha, there were a few smaller estates in the old Maljhita region extending from the Haldi river in the north to the Subarnarekha in the south-west. Of these one of the most remarkable was the Sujamutha estate, probably named after Shah Suja, the second son of Saha Jahan, who during his subahship reorganized the political divisions in the area. With an area of forty five square miles, the estate consisted of the Parganas- Sujamutha, Mahammadpur, Amarshi and Bhuniyamutha.
Foundation of Ranajhump Dynasty :
The predecessors of the dynasty came to Bengal from the hill-areas of Mayurbhanja. They belonged to a hunting race and were good archers. Coming to Bengal, they made their habitation near Kajlagarh which was then an uninhabited woodland. Under the leadership of one Gobardhan, these people constituted a formidable force and rendered a good service to the Hijli kings, earning the title ‘Ranajhump’ for their characteristic style of attacking the enemy. They plunged into the thick of a battle like a Suicide Squad [ ‘Rana’ means war and ‘Jhump’ means to plunge.] . After the fall of the Masnad-i-Ala dynasty of Hijli, the Ranajhump kingdom was founded around Kajlagarh with the sanction of the Mughals.
The Descendents :
The line of descent of the royal dynasty went as follows : Gobardhan → Madhab Chandra → Sridharnarayan → opalnarayan→ Gorachand→Narendranarayan→ Rajendra → Gajendra → Mahendra → Debendra → Gopalendra → olokendra ( all Narayanas). As it was the custom, after becoming kings, all of them assumed the title ‘Chowdhury’. The sixth king, Narendra Narayan, had three sons – Rajendra, Raghabendra and Upendra – all of whom were minors at the time of their father’s death. So their mother had to look after the kingly affairs until the eldest, Rajendra, came of age and relieved her.
Sources of income :
The kingdom might not be very large but the yearly turn over was by no means small. In those days one of the main sources of income of the landlords in the coastal salt-producing areas of Medinipur was the agency of salt, and the kings of Sujamutha were no exception.
A king to remember :
The tenth king, Debendra Narayan, accepted the ten-year settlement, offered by the East India Company, in 1793. This Debendra Narayan was a man of charity and a patron of culture. From time to time he arranged for seminars on Sanskrit Scriptures and invited scholars of repute to participate in them. He also invited men of endowments and gave them revenue-free land to settle on. From Bhatpara, a seat of learning in those days, in response to his invitation, came Ramkanai bachaspati, grandfather of Panchanan Tarkaratna [ on whom the Government conferred the title ‘Mahamahopadhyay’ and who repudiated it in protest against ‘Sarda’ law] and received land-gift from Debendra Narayan.
Another king of his father’s mould :
Gopalendra, son of Debendra Narayan, ascended the throne in 1807. To his credit, the famous Kajlagarh Dighi ( tank), the water-area of which was four acres and the banks of which covered no less than three acres of land, on the bank of which the distinguished dramatist and poet Dwijendralal Roy spent three years as a settlement officer and still stands the Bijoychand Memorial H.S. School, was dug up during his tenure.
A black sheep :
As Goplendra had no son, his wife, the queen Sulochana adopted Golokendra, the son of her brother-in-law. So long as Golokendra remained a minor, a court of Wards conducted the kingly business. It also made proper arrangements for the education and training of the king designate. But Golokendra was given to luxury and indolence, became a libertine and Prodigal. Coming of age, he became the owner of the estate, got married as usual, but his vices possessed him more and more firmly. He was addicted to wine, spent money on women. It is said that that he smoked by burning notes, flew kites with ropes made of twisted notes, showered charity over worthless flatterers. Quite naturally he went to the dogs.
Fate overtakes :
.Golekendra fell defaulter in paying the revenue to the British authority and forfeited the estate which was then bought by the king of Burdwan, Mahatab Chand, in the name of the queen, Narayankumari Debi, for only 5.25 lakh rupees in 1867. The kind queen granted the ex-king and queen a stipend to live on. However, the degenerated king made an attempt to break into the royal treasure with the help of some men. He was caught and sent to prison. By the time the prison-term ended, his wife had died. Coming out of jail, the ex-king married again and tried to live in peace. But the debased and reckless life he had led started having its effect. He suffered from diseases difficult to cure and ultimately died in 1881, at the age of only forty five.
The Epitaph :
In splendour and glamour, the Sujamutha kingdom did not fall much behind others. The palace and the temple surrounded by a moat covered ten acres of land. It had all the usual features like the guest-house, the horse-stable, the elephant-shed, the soldiers barrack, the armoury with different kinds of weapon – muskets, shields, swords etc. Many festivals were observed with pomp and splendour ; gods and goddesses like Durga, Basanti and Gopal Jiew were worshipped ; musical and jatra performances were held ; big barges used to sail over the smooth surface of the big tank. Now everything belongs to the dusty past.
Panchet / Panchakote:
Rajgarh-its foundation :
By the Bajkul Road if one advances five miles from Egra, one will come to a crossing called Panchet Crossing. And from there if one takes the road running northward and walks about a mile and a half, one will get to Rajgarh, the capital of the old Panchet or Panchakote kingdom. Some say that the name Panchet is a combination of two words – ‘Pancha’ meaning five and ‘int’ that means a block of brick. On the other hand, some others say that ‘Panchet’ is a derivation of ‘Panchakote’ which means a place comprising five parts or words. At the same time, another significance of the name cannot escape attention. It is said that the founder of the estate, Murari Mohon Dasmahapatra, who had come from Rathipur in the Puri district of Orissa, discovered a temple of Lord Shiva in the forest and founded his capital there. And, Lord Shiva is also called ‘Panchanan’,one having five faces.
Panchet kings :
None of the first four kings of the dynasty- Murari Mohon, Sridhar Charan, Kesabram and Mangaraj –used the kingly title ‘Chowdhury’ and bore the title ‘Mahapatra’ instead, strongly indicating that they were government officials under the Oriya kings, for ‘Mahapatra’ was a title usual with a Government executive of a chief minister’s rank. The fact also suggests that the Pathan or the Mughal rule had not yet extended to Orissa or Pataspur.However, the fifth king, Nityananda, used the title’ Chowdhury’, the title of a tributary king or landlord under the Mughals, implying that in the meantime the area had come under the Mughal rule. As nityananda had no son, after his death his cousin Jugalkisore, the son of Mangaraj’s another son, Udayram, ascended the throne and at his death his son Brajakishore succeeded to the estate.
Maratha horror :
However, by the time the dark days of Maratha vandalism had set in. After the death of Mursid Kuli Khan, till Alibardy consolited his position, the political situation in Bengal was unstable. Taking advantage of this precarious position,the Maratha ‘Bargees’ led by Bhaskar Pandit invaded Bengal time and again.Making Pataspur their headquarters, they pillaged and plundered the whole Medinipur district and unleashed a reign of terror in the south-western part of Bengal. In 1751, Alibardy made a treaty with the Marathas by granting them Pataspur, pargana as security for ‘Choutha’ ( one fourth of the production). Even in the early part of the Company –rule, the Marathas often made forays into the English territory, particularly in Medinipur and Burdwan. At last in 1803, when a treaty between the Marathas and the English was signed, the 62 year long Maratha occupation of Pataspur came to an end.
Company period :
By the time Brajakisore having been dead and his wife, Renuka Debi Chowdhurani, being the sole heir to estate, the English handed over the reign of Pataspur to her. The Queen had no son, so she adopted Gopendra-nandan as her son. Under the care of a court of wards, Gopendra-nandan had higher education in Sanskrit, Bengali and English. Gopendra –nandan Chowdhury had seven sons of whom Jadabendra Narayan passed the B.A. examination with distinction and also acquired excellence in music. His fame as a musician spread far and wide.
The Palace :
The palace of Panchet kings, built during the Mughal period, still exists. It consisted of seven ‘Mahals’ or parts and more than a hundred rooms. The palace with spacious roofs, secret chambers and large, heavy, iron studded gate inspires awe and admiration in viewers. The one mile long and thirty feet wide moot which surrounds the palace and has now been reduced to a shallow ditch of fifty water is said to have been the practice-ground of boat-rowing one day.
Fair and Festival :
As the names of the kings may suggests, they came under the influence of Sri Chaitanya. They introduced the Dole festivel. Formerly it was observed within the boundary of the palace among the members of the royal family, but now it is observed outside the moat by all the people. On this occasion, a fair, attended by a large number of people coming from far and near, takes place and runs for seven days.From the Bengali year 1362, that is, 1955 of the Christian era, the fair began to have its location outside the moat and it is organized and conducted by the people of the five yards of of the Panchet village.
Glorious past :
Under the Panchet kings the area had an all-round development. Cottage vandalism, but almost died out in the British period. Education was not ignored either. From the account of the state of education in Medinipur given by O’Malley in the Gazette it is learnt that in 1909, when in the whole district there were only 119 secondary schools, Panchetgarh had one unaided high School, though the number of students was not more than forty one. Quite remarkably, in that year there was Madrasha at Pataspur with 65 pupils. The favourite poet of the Panchet kings, Ramchandra, wrote a book in Sanskrit on Geography entitled Pandav Digbijoy.
A brief note on Maratha invasion in Bengal :
For more than sixty years in the 18th century, the marauding cavalry soldiers from Maratha called ‘Bargees’, invaded Bengal again and again and carried on mayhem all through the Bengal territory on the western bank of the Bhagirathi, particularly in the districts bordering on Orissa. They robbed people, raped women, set fire to houses, cut off the limbs of people, sparing not even children and elderly people. Thus they created a panic and initiated a reign of terror in the name of collecting taxes-‘Sardeshmukhi’ (one tenth of production) and ‘Choutha’ (one fourth of the production). In 1720, by a treaty with the Delhi emperor, Muhammad Shah, the the Peswa Balaji Biswanath ( the Maratha Prime Minister) managed to have the permission to exact those taxes from the Deccan provinces. But Orissa and Bengali did not fall by the bizarre. Maratha standard of those days, this butchering, pillaging and plundering is something difficult to justify and has left a slur on the reputation of the Marathas.