Bengal: A history, by British Raj writers

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Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value.


Ancient times

The province of Bihar is known to us from very early times. The ancient kingdom of Magadha comprised the country now included in the Districts of Patna, Gaya, and Shahabad. Its capital was at Raja- griha (Rajgir), some 30 miles north-east of Gaya. North of the Ganges was Videha or Mithila, which was very early a great seat of Sanskrit learning, and included the modern Districts of Darbhanga, Champaran, and North Muzaffarpur ; the south of the latter District constituted the small kingdom of VaisalI. To the east lay Anga, including Monghyr, Bhagalpur, and Purnea, as far as the Mahananda river. There are constant references to these countries in the Maha- bharata. Magadha is even mentioned under the name of Kikota in the Rig Veda, and Mithila in the Satyapatha Brdhmana. It was in Magadha that Buddha developed his religion, and that Mahavira founded the cognate creed of the Jains. Soon after Buddha's death,

There are traces of an anlliance with the Mon-speaking races in the social organization of the Munda-speaking tribes and in the monoliths which some of them still erect. a Sadia, named Nanda, wrested tlie throne from the Kshattriyas and founded a new dynasty. He made liis capital at the confluence of the Son and the Ganges near the modern Patna. Chandragupta, a contemporary of Alexander the Great, on the death of that monarch, organized a powerful force with which he expelled the Macedonians.

He then turned his arms against Dhema Nanda, king of Magadha, and having defeated and slain him, seated himself on the vacant throne of Pataliputra and gradually extended his rule over the greater part of Northern India. He successfully resisted Seleucus, who had succeeded to the eastern portion of Alexander's empire. When peace was made, all the Indian provinces of alexander, and probably also the Kabul valley, were ceded to Chandragupta, and a matrimonial alliance was effected between the two royal houses. Megasthenes was deputed by Seleucus as his ambassador at Pataliputra, and it was here that he compiled his work on India. The government of the Indian monarch is described as strong and well organized, and as established in a magnificent fortified city. The standing army numbered 60,000 infantry, 30,000 cavalry, 8,000 elephants, and a multitude of chariots. On active service the army is said to have attained the huge total of 600,000 men. In 272 b.c. Chandragupta's grandson, Asoka, ascended the throne, and nine years later he added Kalinga to his empire. His experiences during this campaign impressed him so deeply with the horrors of warfare that he thenceforth turned his thoughts to religion and became the great champion of Buddhism. He sent his missionaries to every known country and himself took the vows of a Buddhist monk.

Fourth century AD: the Gupta dynasty

In the fourth century a. d. the Gupta dynasty rose to power. Their capital was also at Patna, and their supremacy was acknowledged by the kings of the different countries now included in Bengal. They were Hindus by religion. In Hiuen Tsiang's time (seventh century) North Bihar was divided into Vriji to the north and Vaisali to the south, both countries stretching eastwards to the Mahananda. South of the Ganges were Hiranya Parvana (Monghyr) and Champa (south Bhagalpur, the Santal Parganas, and Birbhum). The rulers of both these kingdoms were probably Khetauris of Mai origin. In the ninth century the Buddhist dynasty founded by Gopal included Bihar in its dominions. The last of this line was defeated in 1197 by Muhammad- i-Bakhtyar Khilji, whose soldiers destroyed the capital at Odantapuri and massacred the Buddhist monks assembled there.

Pal dynasty

Very little is kriown of Bengal proper until the rise of the Pal dynasty. At the time of the Mahabharata, North and East Bengal formed, with Assam, the powerful kingdom of Pragjyotisha, or Kamarupa as it was subsequently called, and its ruler, Bhagadatta, was one of the great chiefs who fought in the battle of Kurukshettra. This kingdom stretched westwards as far as the Karatoya river. It was ruled by a succession of princes of Mongoloid stock, and was still flourishing when visited by Hiuen Tsiang in the seventh century. South-west of Pragjyotisha, between the Karatoya and the Mahananda, lay PuNDRA or Paundravardhana, the country of the Pods, which, according to Cunningham, has given its name to the modern Pabna* ; its capital may have been at Mahasthan* on the right bank of the old Karatoya river, or at Pandua*, near Malda*. This kingdom was in existence in the third century B.C., and Asoka's brother found shelter there in the guise of a Buddhist monk. It was still flourishing when Hiuen Tsiang travelled in India ; and it is mentioned as a power- ful kingdom in the eighth century a. d., and as a place of pilgrimage in the eleventh century.

East of the Bhaglrathi and south of Pundra lay Banga or Samatata. Its people are described in the Raghubatisa as possessing many boats, and they are clearly the ancestors of the Chandals, who at the present day inhabit this part of the country. On the west of the Bhaglrathi lay Karna Suvarna (Burdwan, Bankura, Murshidabad, and Hooghly), whose king, Sasanka or Narendra, the last of the Guptas, was a fanatical worshipper of Siva, and invaded Magadha and cut down the sacred bodhi tree early in the seventh century. The capital was pro- bably near R.\ngamati, in Murshidabad District. Lastly, there was the kingdom of Tamralipta, or Suhma, comprising what now con- stitutes the Districts of Midnapore and Howrah. The rulers of this country seem to have been Kaibarttas.

During the ninth century, the Pal dynasty rose to power in the country formerly known as Anga, and gradually extended their sway over the whole of Bihir and North Bengal. Traces of their rule are very common in the south of Dinajpur*, where the memory of Mahipal, in particular, is preserved both in the traditions of the people and in numerous names of places. Like the kings of Pundra, they were Buddhists, but they were tolerant towards Hinduism. They were driven from Bengal proper, about the middle of the eleventh century, by a king named Vijaya Sen of the Sen family, but they continued to rule for some time longer in Bihar. The Sens rose to power in East and deltaic Bengal towards the end of the tenth century, and eventually included within their dominions the whole of Bengal proper from the Mahananda and the Bhaglrathi on the west to the Karatoya and the old Brahmaputra on the east. The Sens were Hindus, and during their rule Buddhism was actively discouraged. The best remembered king of this dynasty is Ballal Sen, who reorganized the caste system and introduced Kulinism among the Brahmans, Baidyas, and Kayasths.

To him is attributed the division of Bengal into four parts : namely, Karh, west of the BhagTrathi, corresponding roughly to Karna Suvarna; BARKNDRA, between the Mahananda and tlie Karatoya, corresponding to Pundra ; Bagri (Bagdi) or South Bengal ; and Banga or East Bengal. He conquered and annexed Mithila, where the era inaugu- rated at the accession of his son, Lakshman Sen, is still current. The latter was still holding his court at Nabadwip at the time of Muhammad- i-Bakhtyar's invasion at the end of the twelfth century. He himself fled to Orissa ; but his descendants exercised a precarious sovereignty in East Bengal, with their capital at Bikrampur* in Dacca District, for a further 12o years.


At the dawn of history Orissa formed part of the powerful kingdom of Kalinga, which stretched from the mouths of the Ganges to those of the Godavari. It was conquered by Asoka, but by 150 B.C. it had again passed to the Kalinga kings. Jainism was then beginning to spread in the land; but about the second century a.d. it was suc- ceeded, according to Buddhist tradition, by the latter creed, which was still flourishing in 640. Subsequently the power of the Kalinga dynasty declined, and Orissa seems to have become independent. In 610, however, an inscription of Sasanka, king of Magadha, claims it as a part of the dominions of that monarch, and in 640 it was conquered by Harshavardhana of Kanauj. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Orissa is said to have been under the rule of the Kesari kings, to whose rule are ascribed the Saiva temples at Bhubanesvvar and most of the ruins in the Alti hills ; but the existence of such a dynasty is uncertain'. Then followed the dynasty founded by Chora Ganga of Kalinganagar. These kings were of the Vaishnava faith ; they built the famous temple of Jagannath at PuRi and the Black Pagoda of Konarak.

Muslim rulers from outside

There were frequent wars with the Muhammadans, and about 1361 the emperor Firoz Shah conducted an inroad into. Orissa in person. In 1434 Kapileswar Deva, of the Solar line, usurped the throne. He extended his dominions to the south, where Muhammadan inroads had sub- verted the old order of things, as far as the Penner river ; but his successors were gradually shorn of these additions by the Musalman rulers of Golconda. In the north also the onset of the Muhammadans became more and more insistent ; and at last in 1568, after a period of civil war, the last Hindu king, a usurper of the name of Mukund Deo, W'as overthrown by Kala Pahar, the general of Sulaiman Kararani.

Muhammad-i-Bakhtyar Khilji, a Turki free-lance, who acknowledged the suzerainty of Muhammad Ghori, conquered Bihar about 1197. Two years later he advanced with a small troop of horsemen into Bengal, and took possession of Gaur* and Nabadwip without a

' The account of these kings given in the Mddala Panjikd, or palm-leaf records of the Temple of Jagannath, has been shown to be wholly unreliable, but several inscriptions have recently come to light which are thought by some to provw that the dynasty really txisti d.struggle. He unsuccessfully invaded Tibet, and in his retreat lost the greater part of his army at the hands of the Mechs east of the Karatoya. The greater part of Bengal gradually came under the control of the Muhammadan governors, who ruled at Gaur or LakhnautT, in loose subjection to the Delhi emperors.

Mughis-ud-dIn Tughril, the sixteenth governor, who had originally been a favourite slave of the emperor Balban, seeing that Balban was preoccupied with the advance of the Mongols from the west, rebelled and defeated in turn the imperial armies that were sent against him. Balban himself then took the field (in 1282), and having surprised and slain Tughril and put a great number of his followers to the sword, installed his son, Nasir-ud-din Bughra, as governor. In 1338 Fakhr-ud- din Mubarak revolted against Muhammad bin Tughlak, and declared himself independent.

Eight years before this date South Bihar had been separated from Bengal and annexed to Delhi. North Bihar apparently belonged to Bengal for some time longer, as the Bengal king, Hajl Shams-ud-din Ilyas, is reputed to have been the founder of HajTpur. In 1397 the whole of Bihar became part of the kingdom of Jaunpur ; but a century later it was again taken possession of by the emperors of Delhi, who continued to hold it, except for a short time when the Bengal king, Ala-ud-din Husain, and his son, Nasir-ud-dln Nusrat, obtained tem- porary possession of the country north of the Ganges. Under the Mughals the capital of the country was the town of Bihar in the south of the Patna District, and from this town the whole province took its name. A considerable part of North Bihar was under the rule of a line of Brahman kings, who were generally tributary to the Pathans, from the middle of the fourteenth to the middle of the sixteenth century. Another Hindu dynasty, possibly connected with them, ruled during the fifteenth century in Champaran and Gorakhpur.

Sher Shah, and then the Mughals

From 1338 till 1539, when it fell into the hands of Sher Shah, Bengal was ruled by various lines of independent kings, mostly of Pathan or TurkI origin. Some, however, were Abyssinian eunuchs, and one. Raja Kans or Ganesh of Dinajpur*, was a Hindu ; the latter's son, who succeeded him, became a convert to Islam. The exact area of their dominions varied. Sometimes they were contracted by the encroachments of the kings of Kamatapur, Arakan, and Tippera*, while at others they were extended, notably by Ala-ud-dln Husain, who in 1498 conquered the kingdom of Kamatapur in the north-east and overran Orissa and Bihar.

After Babar had overthrown the Afghan dynasty at Delhi, he turned his arms against the Afghan rulers of Bihar. These were twice defeated in 1528 and 1529, and sought refuge with their compatriots in Bengal, who in their turn were worsted in a battle on the banks of the Clogra. After Babar's death tlie Bihar Afghans ralHed under a brother of the late Lodi Sultan of Delhi, but were decisively vanquished by Humayun in 1531 in an engagement near Lucknow. Meanwhile Sher Shah, a descendant of the royal house of Suri kings of Ghor, who rose from a humble executive office to the rank of prime minister of the Afghan governors, or kings of Bihar, as they called themselves in Babar's time, had established himself at Chunar. Humayun did not trouble to reduce him, but contented himself with a verbal submission ; and the result was that during the next six years, while the emperor was engaged elsewhere, Sher Shah became supreme on the borders of Bengal. In 1537 Humayun marched against him, and after a siege of six months reduced his fortress of Chunar. At the same time Sher Shah was himself engaged in the conquest of Bengal. He effected this ; but when Humayun, after taking Chunar, marched into Bengal, Sher Shah shut himself up in Rohtasgarh, which he had captured by a stratagem, and made no effort to oppose his advance. Humayun spent six months in dissipation in Bengal ; but then, finding that Sher Shah had cut off his communications and that his brother at Delhi would not come to his assistance, he retraced his steps and was met and defeated near Buxar. Sher Shah then ousted the Mughal governor who had been left at Gaur, and proclaimed himself king of Bengal and Bihar.

A year later he again defeated Humayun at Kanauj and became emperor of Delhi. He proved a strong and capable ruler; during his reign the country enjoyed peace and prosperity, and the people were secure from oppression and bribery. He died in 1545. Ten years later Humayun recovered the throne of Delhi from his nephew, but the Afghan governors of Bengal remained unconquered. Raju, better known as Kala Pahar, the general of Sulaiman KararanI, who acknow- ledged the supremacy of Akbar, but was practically independent, conquered Orissa in 1568. Sulaiman's son Daud at first made his submission to Akbar. He subsequently rebelled, but was defeated ; and Bengal was definitely annexed to the Mughal empire, to which it continued to belong practically till the disintegration of the empire after the death of Aurangzeb, and nominally until it passed into the possession of the East India Company,

During the earlier years of Mughal rule, the governors were called upon to meet repeated risings of the previously predominant Afghans, who, when defeated, took refuge in Orissa. Raja Man Singh inflicted a crushing defeat on them, but they were not finally subdued until 161 1 in the viceroyalty of Islam Khan. At this time the incursions of Maghs from Arakan, and Portuguese pirates from the islands at the mouth of the Meghna, had become so persistent that special steps had to be taken to resist them. With this object Islam Khan removed the capital, which had usually been at Gaur or the neighbouring towns of Pandua and Rajmahal, to Dacca*, where it remained, except for a short interval, until Murshid Kuli Khan made Murshidabad his head-quarters a hundred years later. When Shah Jahan rebelled against his father, the emperor Jahangir, in 162 1, and after being defeated, fled to the Deccan, where he again suffered defeat, he determined to seize upon Bengal. He took Orissa by surprise, and subsequently, with the aid of the Afghans, overthrew the governor and took possession of the whole Province. He held it for two years, but was then defeated and made his submission.

On the death of Jahangir he became emperor, and in 1639 appointed his son Sultan Shuja to be governor of Bengal. The latter subsequently fought against his brother Aurangzeb, but was defeated by Mir Jumla and fled to Arakan, where he died a miserable death. Mir Jumla was rewarded with the post of governor, which he filled with conspicuous ability. The most important event of his rule was his invasion of Cooch Behar and Assam in 1661 and 1662. He overran both countries ; but the rigours of a rainy season in Upper Assam spread death and disease among his troops, and he was compelled to return, only to die of dysentery contracted during the campaign, shortly after his arrival at Dacca*.

When Aurangzeb died, the governor of Bengal was Murshid Kuli Khan, a Brahman convert to Islam. He possessed great administrative ability ; and, profiting by the dissensions at Delhi, he succeeded in making himself practically independent. From that time forward the supremacy of the Mughal emperors was little more than nominal.

Mongoloid tribes

In North Bengal various Mongoloid tribes rose in turn to power. when Ala-ud-din Husain overran the country at the end of the fifteenth century, the ruling monarch was Nllambar, the third of a line of Khen chieftains. Shortly afterwards Biswa Singh, the progenitor of the Koch kings, founded a new dynasty, whose rule extended from the Karatoya to Central Assam ; and it was not until 1661 that the country as far as Goalpara was permanently acquired by Mir Jumla. Previous to the seventeenth century the Chittagong Division* was usually in the hands of the Tipperas or of the Maghs, and it was only after the transfer of the capital to Dacca* that this tract was gradually annexed.

Orissa (including Midnapore), which had been wrested from the Hindu kings by Kala Pahar, remained in the possession of the Afghans until 1592, when Man Singh annexed it. It was placed under separate governors, but Midnapore and Balasore were subsequently transferred to Bengal. In 1751 All Vardi Khan ceded the province to the Bhonslas of Nagpur, in whose possession it remained until its conquest by the British in 1803. The Marathas made no attempt to establish any civil administration, and their rule was confined to a periodic harrying of the country by their cavalry, who extorted whatever they could from the people.

Chota Nagpur, including the Tributary States of Chota Nagpur and Orissa, is called Jharkand in the Akbarndvia. The country was ruled by chiefs of various aboriginal tribes, the Cheros being predominant in Palamau, the Mundas in RanchI, and the Bhuiyas and Gonds in the Orissa States. The south of Chota Nagpur proper was annexed by Akbar, and Palamau by Shah Jahan. The remoter chiefs appear to have remained independent until their subjugation by the Marathas towards the end of the eighteenth century.

During Muhammadan rule the authority of the central government varied with the character of the king or governor for the time being. If he was energetic and masterful, the whole country accepted his authority ; but if he was weak and indolent, the local rulers became practically independent. At all times their internal administration was but little interfered with, so long as they paid a regular tribute and furnished troops or supplies for troops when required to do so.

Some of these local potentates were Hindu Rajas and others were Muhammadan free-lances, who carved out kingdoms for themselves, and some, again, were agents of the central authority, who gradually secured a large measure of independence. The founder of the Burdwan Raj family was a Punjabi Khattri, who had received an ap- pointment under the Faujdar of Burdwan, and whose descendants acquired property and power by degrees, until, in 1753, one of them received from the emperor Ahmad Shah a farindn recognizing his right to the Burdwan Raj. The Rajas of Bishnupur or Mallabhum were pseudo-Rajputs of aboriginal origin, who were sometimes the enemies, sometimes the allies, and sometimes the tributaries of the governors, but were never completely subjugated. About the middle of the fifteenth century a Muhammadan adventurer, named Khan Jahan, or Khanja All, obtained a Jdgir from the king of Gaur, and made extensive clearances in the Sundarbans, where he appears to have exercised all the rights of sovereignty until his death in 1459.

Daud, the last king of Bengal

A hundred years later, when Daud, the last king of Bengal, rebelled against the emperor, one of his Hindu counsellors obtained a Raj in the Sundarbans, the capital of which, near the Kaliganj police station in Khulna, has given its name to the modern District of Jessore. His son, Pratapaditya, was one of the twelve chiefs or Bhuiyas who held the south and east of Bengal nominally as vassals of the emperor, but who were practically independent, and were frequently at war with each other. He rebelled against the emperor, and, after some minor successes, was defeated and taken prisoner by Raja Man Singh, the leader of Akbar's armies in Bengal from 1589 to 1606. Amongst the other Bhuiyas who were ruling at the time of Ralph Fitch's travels (towards the end of the sixteenth century), may be mentioned Paramananda Rai, who ruled over a small kingdom at ChandradwTp in the south-east of the modern District of Backergunge*, and Isa Khan, of Sonargaon* in Dacca*, who was 'chief of all the other kings ' and powerful enough to make war on the Koch kings of Kamarupa.

Chronological table of the Muhammadan rulers

The following is a chronological table of the Muhammadan rulers of Bengal : —

Early Muhammadan Governors of Bengal


Under the British

The history of Bengal under the British is part of the general history of India. The earliest European traders in Bengal were the Portuguese, who began to visit Chittagong* and Satgaon near Hooghly about the year 1530. They were well estabUshed at Hooghly when Ralph Fitch travelled through the country in 1586. Factors of the East India Company, coming from Surat by way of Agra, first visited Patna in 1620. About 1625 the Dutch .settled at Chinsura and at Pipli in the north of Orissa, and about 1642 the first factory of the East India Company in this Province was established near Balasore. In 1650 a factory was started at Hooghly, where trade was greatly facilitated by 3.farnidn obtained in the following year from the emperor Shah Jahan by a surgeon of the Company named Boughton, who had succeeded in curing a lady of the royal family. Shortly after this factories were started at Cossimbazar and Patna, and a few years later a fifth was opened at Dacca*.

These settlements in Bengal were at first worked in subordination to Fort St. George at Madras, but in 1681 they were constituted an independent charge. The sole object of the Company at this time was trade, the articles most in demand being saltpetre, silks, and muslins. Their dealings were hampered by constant disputes with the Nawab and his local officials, who tried to exact what they could ; and on more than one occasion hostilities broke out, in which, on the whole, the Company's servants held their own. Sutanuti, the northern part of modern Calcutta, was occupied as his head-quarters by Job Charnock, temporarily in 1686, and permanently in 1690, and by 1 710 the old Fort William had been constructed. In 1698 the Company was permitted to purchase, for Rs. 1,300, the three villages of Calcutta, Sfitanuti, and Gobindpur, subject to a revenue of Rs. 1,195; and in 1717 the purchase was sanctioned of thirty-eight more villages, paying a revenue of Rs. 8,121.

In June, 1756, Siraj-ud-daula, the Nawab of Bengal, finding that the English, in fear of an attack by the French, who had established them- selves at Chandernagore in t688, were strengthening the fortifications of Calcutta without his permission, marched against the place and took it. It was then that occurred the massacre of the Black Hole. The European prisoners, 146 in number, were confined in a small room, only 18 feet by 14 feet, and next morning all but 23 were found to have died of suffocation. A force was immediately dispatched from Madras under Clive, who advanced in 1757 towards Murshidabad.

The Nawab, with a large army, met him at Plassey, but was utterly defeated ; Mir Jafar was appointed Nawab, but was soon afterwards ousted in favour of his son-in-law, Mir Kasim. The latter, exasperated by the exactions of the servants of the Company and their interference with the transit duties, engaged in hostilities, but was twice defeated. He fled to Oudh, after causing a number of English prisoners at Patna to be put to death. The Nawab of Oudh espoused his cause ; but the combined armies were defeated by Major Munro at Buxar in 1764, and the Dlwani or civil authority over Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa was conferred in perpetuity on the East India Company by the emperor Shah Alam \ The result was that the centre of British power was transferred from Madras to Calcutta, and that from 1774 to 1854 the Governorship of Bengal was merged in the Governor-Generalship of the Company's territories in India. The French Settlement at Chander- nagore was captured at the same time, but was subsequently restored, and the place is still a French possession administered in subordination to the French governor of Pondicherry.

In 1765 was inaugurated Clive's celebrated 'dual system,' by which it was thought that the Company would get all the benefit from its new possessions, without the trouble and responsibility involved in their actual administration. Mir Jafar was reinstated as Nawab ; but he was required to execute an agreement by which the Company received the revenues and undertook the military defence of the country, while he carried on the civil administration in return for a fixed stipend. The revenue was collected by Naibs or Deputy-Nawabs. This dual government was found most unsatisfactory ; the people were subjected to great oppression, while the collections rapidly declined. In 1769-70 there was a terrible famine in which a third of the population is said to have perished, and which is believed to have l)een aggravated by the misgovernment of the agents of the Nawab and the ignorance of local

' Orissa was at tlie time in the possession of the Marathas, and it was not until 1803 that it was conquered and annexed by Lord Wellesley. conditions on the part of British officials. After several abortive experiments an entirely new system was introduced by \\'arren Hastings. European Collectors were appointed in each of the fourteen Districts into which Bengal was then divided, and the collection of the revenue was placed in their hands. They were also placed over the Dlwani Adalat or civil courts, where they were assisted by the advice of experienced native officials. The Faujdari Adalat or criminal courts were still presided over by Muhammadan officials, but the Collector was required to see that all witnesses were duly examined and that the decisions were fair and impartial. Appeals from the local civil and criminal courts were allowed to two superior courts in Calcutta. Subsequently the European Collectors were replaced by native dmils, and the superintendence of the collection of the revenue was vested in six Provincial Councils, at Calcutta, Burdwan, Dacca*, Murshidabad, Dinajpur*, and Patna. The dmils administered civil justice, while the criminal courts were presided over by native ofificers called faujdars. Further changes were made ; but when Lord Cornwallis became Governor-General in 1786, the original system of Warren Hastings was reverted to, with this difference that the Collector was himself Civil Judge and Magistrate. For some years longer serious criminal cases were required to be referred for trial to the Deputy of the Nawab, but in 1793 four courts of circuit, superintended by covenanted servants of the Company, were established to try cases not cognizable by the magistrates. Separate judges were next appointed in each District, with native subordinates to deal with petty civil cases.

Various further improvements and alterations were from time to time effected, notably in 1829, when Commissioners of Revenue and Circuit were appointed, but it is unnecessary to discuss them in detail. The system of administration at the present day is the direct outcome by a gradual process of evolution of the arrangements made by Lord Cornwallis.

In 1836 the now overgrown Bengal Presidency' was divided into two parts — Fort William in Bengal, and Agra — and a separate Lieutenant- Governor, subordinate to the Governor-General, was appointed for the latter. The former, which included the whole of what now constitutes the Province of Bengal and the territories comprised in the Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam ^, remained under the direct control of the Governor-General, who was authorized, when absent from the Province, to nominate a Deputy-Governor from among the ordinary Members of his Council, to carry on the government. This arrangement continued

' The varying meaning of the term lias already been explained on p. 195.

^ Sylhet, Goalpara, and the Caro Hills formed part of Bengal from the beginning of British rule ; the Assam Valley proper was acquired from I'.iirma in 1S26, and the other tracts on different dates which need not here be detailed. until 1854, when the Governor-General was relieved of the direct administration of Bengal by the appointment of a permanent Lieu- tenant-Governor. The change was much needed, as the Governor- General being frequently absent, and his Deputy-Governor, who was usually the senior ordinary Member of Council for the time being, constantly changing, the element of personal continuity at the head of the Administration was sadly lacking.

Lieutenant-Governors of Bengal

The names of the successive Lieutenant-Governors of Bengal are noted below ^ : —

Sir Frederick Halliday . . 1854

Sir John Peter Grant . . 1859

Sir Cecil Beadon . . .1862

Sir William Grey . 1867

Sir George Campbell . . 1871

Sir Richard Temple . . 1874

Sir Ashley Eden . . . 1S77

Sir Rivers Thompson . . 1S82

Sir Steuart Bayley . . 1887

Sir Charles Elliot . . 1890

Sir Alexander Mackenzie . 1895

Sir John Woodburn . . 189S

Sir James Bourdillon . . 1902

Sir Andrew Eraser . . 1903

  • Short officiating appointments have been omitted.

The oldest remains of ascertained date are a series of inscriptions of Asoka, partly on rocks, as at Dhauli in Purl District and in a small cave high on the Chandan Pir hill at Sasaram, and partly on pillars, four in number, marking the route taken by the great king through Muzaffarpur and Champaran, on his visit to the sacred sites of Buddhism in what is now the Nepal tarai ; of the latter the pillar near Lauriya Nandangarh is still almost perfect. Next, in point of time, come the caves on the Khandgiri and Udavagiri hills, in the District of Purl, which were long believed to be Buddhist but are now thought to be mostly of Jain origin. Their period is fixed by an inscription of Kharavela in 165 B.C. With the exception of the Sonbhandar cave at Rajgir, dating from the third century a.d., these are the only Jain remains with any claim to antiquity. Buddhist relics, though frequently reduced to mere heaps of bricks, are far more plentiful, especially in South Bihar — ^the ancient Magadha, the birthplace of Jainism as well as of Buddhism — where the latter religion continued to flourish more or less until finally swept away by the Muhammadans. At BuDDH Gaya are still to be seen portions of an ancient stone railing, with interesting carvings in relief, dating from about the time of Asoka, which originally surrounded the holy /J/aZ-tree there. The present temple of Buddh Gaya was probably erected about a.d. 450, but it underwent many additions and repairs before it fell into ruins ; its restoration was effected about twenty years ago under the auspices of Government, but the method in which the work was carried out has been much criticized. Interesting remains of the ancient city of Pataliputra have recently been discovered at Patna by Major Waddell. Numerous mounds at Baragaon, 7 miles south of Bihar town, bury the remains of Nalanda, a famous seat of Buddhist learning in the days of the Pal kings. The innumerable Buddhist images still to be seen in every village in South Bihar date from the same period.

The events of the Sepoy Revolt took place chiefly in Upper India, and the rising in Bengal was comparatively unimportant. But the story of the greased cartridges had its origin at Barrackpore, and both there and at Berhampore, Dinapore, and Dacca*, the sepoys mutinied. They were, however, quickly suppressed ; and it was only in Bihar that events for a time took a serious turn, especially in Shahabad, where the defence of the billiard-room at Arrah, by a handful of Civilians and Sikhs, against the onslaught of the sepoy mutineers from Dinapore and the levies of a local Rajput zamtnddr, forms one of the most splendid pieces of gallantry in the history of the British arms.

Raids by the Bhutanese

In 1864 repeated raids by the Bhutanese, and the barbarous outrages committed on the British Envoy sent to negotiate with the Bhutan government, led to a campaign in which the Bhutanese were worsted and the British troops took possession of the Duars, i.e. the passes into the hills and the adjoining lowlands; and in 1865 a treaty was concluded by which those territories were ceded to the British Government in return for a fixed annual payment. In 1874 the Districts constituting the Province of Assam were separated from Bengal and placed under a Chief Commissioner. In 1888 the Tibetans having advanced into Sikkim, an expedition was sent against them. They were defeated with ease, the campaign ending with their complete expulsion from Sikkim, and that State was brought into closer relations with the British Government by the appointment of a resident Political officer. This was followed by the execution of a convention which provided for the improvement of the trade relation with Tibet ; but the results in this respect were disappointing, and in 1904 a British Mission was sent into Tibet and penetrated as far as Lhasa, where a new convention was executed by the Tibetan authorities.

Jagannath, Puri

The temple of Jagannath at Puri and the Saiva temples at Bhubaneswar have already been mentioned. The latter have recently been repaired, and efforts are now being made to remedy the inroads made by time and mischief in the temple of the Sun God at Konarak, which was built by Nara Sinha Deva about a.d. 1275. Among other Hindu remains, which are far from numerous, may be mentioned the temples on the Mundeswari Hill in Shahabad and at Afsar near Gaya, both dating from the sixth or seventh century ; a number of stone temples at Barakar and elsewhere in the old tract of Jharkand, some of which are upwards of 500 years old ; and some Bengali brick temples, from 200 to 400 years old, of which those at Bishnupur in Bankura and at Kantanagar in Dinajpur* are typical examples.

Pathan architecture

Under the rule of the independent Muhammadan kings, Bengal proper developed a peculiar style of Pathan architecture, the most striking feature of which is the curved battlement, imitating the pecuHar shape of a Bengal hut. Gaur and Pandua, in the District of Malda*, the ancient capitals of those dynasties, still contain the best specimens of this type, such as the Baraduari of Ramkel, the Dakhil Darwaza, the Tantipara, Sona, and Lotan mosques, the Kadam Rasul, and the Firoz Minar. The Adina mosque, at Pandua, was built by Sultan Sikandar Shah in 1368. It is constructed almost entirely from the spoils of Hindu temples, which must have abounded in this neighbourhood '. Many of these are now being repaired. Among other buildings of this period may be mentioned the curious Shat Gumbaz, a mosque with seventy-seven domes, near Bagherhat in the District of Khulna, built by Khan Jahan, whose tomb is close to the mosque. At a second Pandua, in Hooghly District, there is a large mosque and niitidr of about the year 1300, and close to it, at Tribeni, is the dargdh of Zafar Khan Ghazi and a mosque of the same period.

The short reign of Sher Shah is still borne witness to by one of the finest specimens of Muhammadan sepulchral architecture, his own tomb at Sasaram, which place he originally held as his jdglr. His father's tomb in the same town, and the tomb of Bakhtyar Khan, near Chainpur, in the Bhabua subdivision of Shahabad District, are similar but less imposing. The small hill fort of Shergarh, 26 miles south- west of Sasaram, dates from Sher Shah's time, but at Rohtasgarh itself little remains of his period ; the palace at this place is attributed to Man Singh, Akbar's famous general. The dargdh of Shah Daulat at Maner, near Dinapore, completed in 1616, is a fine specimen of architecture of the Mughal period ; it is covered with most exquisite sandstone carvings. There are numerous other tombs and mosques of the same period at Patna, Bihar, Rajmahal, Murshidabad, Monghyr, Dacca*, &c.; but they are of little interest compared with similar buildings in other parts of India.

See also

For a large number of articles about Bengal, extracted from the Gazetteer of 1908 (as well as other articles on Bengal) please either click the 'India' link (below, left) and go to Bengal (under B) or enter 'Bengal' in the 'Search' box (top, right).

Bengal, 1908

Bengal: A history, by British Raj writers

Bengal: Agriculture in A.D. 1900

Bengal: Arts and manufactures, 1908

Bengal: Commerce and trade, c. A.D. 1900

Bengal: Famines, 1769-1899

Bengal: Forests, c. A.D. 1900

Bengal: Mines and minerals, c. A.D. 1900

Bengal: Physical aspects, c. A.D. 1900

Bengal: Population, A.D. 1901

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