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THE BOMANCE

OP

AN EASTEEN CAPITAL




FrontUpii i ■ .



THE LALBAGH FORT AT DACCA.



, -i e ;>:'-' 278. I



THE ROMANCE



OF



AN EASTERN CAPITAL



BY

F. B. BRADLEY-BIRT

B.A., I.C.S.

LATE SCHOLAR OF BRASENOSE COLLEGE, OXFORD

FELLOW OF THE ROYAL GEOGEAPHICAL SOCIETY

CORRESPONDING FELLOW OF THE GEOGRAPHICAL SOCD3TY OF LISBON

AUTHOR OF

* CHOTA NAGPORE : A LITTLE-KNOWN PROVINCE OF THE EMPIRE '

AND ' THE STORY OF AN INDIAN UPLAND '



WITH THIRTY ILLUSTRATIONS
AND A MAP



LONDON
SMITH, ELDER, & CO., 15 WATERLOO PLACE

1906

[All rights reserved]



*3>
i3



PEEFACE



Eastern Bengal, lying outside the beaten track
of the tourist and making no insistent claim to



§5 notice, has long failed to attract the attention it

•h deserves. The much-discussed question of the

Partition of Bengal, however, has recently brought

= it prominently before the general public, both in

India and at home, and it is hoped that the story

of its Capital, which the following pages attempt

to relate in popular form, will be of special interest

at the present time. The task of setting forth

something of its history in a manner calculated

to appeal to the general reader has not been

without difficulty. Of the record of its earlier

years, during Buddhist and Hindu supremacy,

little that is authoritative has survived ; while so

fast did events move, and so rapid were the changes

that occurred in later days, that Mussulman

~°m annals are apt to degenerate into a confusing

a]

p*\ medley of unfamiliar names, or a bare recital of

3i



Vi THE ROMANCE OF AN EASTERN CAPITAL

the doings of Kings and Governors. Such
authorities as these, moreover, are often hard to
reconcile with one another, adding to the difficulty
of the writer who strives for accuracy. It would
have been out of place in a work of this kind to
enter at length into controversial points, but, while
much has been necessarily omitted, the aim
throughout has been to give a connected readable
account of the old Mussulman city in the heart
of Eastern Bengal, which now, after the lapse of
two hundred years, has once more attained the
dignity of a Capital.

To Moulvi Sayid Aulad Hasan, who has done
much to revive interest in old Dacca, my thanks
are due for kindly reading the proofs and for many
valuable suggestions. To him I owe the portraits
of the Viceroy Shaista Khan, of Guru Nanak,
and of the Emperor Farrukh Siyar and his
consort. A list of some of the more important
authorities consulted is given at the end of the
book.

Simla : June 25th, 1906.



CONTENTS



CHAPTER PAGE

I. A LAND OF RIVER AND PLAIN 1

II. THE KINGDOM OP VIKRAMPUR 23

HI. SONARGAON 48

IT. THE RISE OP DACCA 87

V. SHAISTA KHAN 125

VI. THE LAST DAYS OP DACCA AS CAPITAL OP BENGAL 174
VII. THE DECLINE OP THE MOGHUL POWER. . . .191

VIII. DACCA UNDER BRITISH RULE 219

IX. THE DACCA OF TO-DAY 260

X. THE EIGHTH DAY OP THE MOON IN CHAIT . . . 289
XI. A MEETING-PLACE OP EAST AND WEST . . . .305

XII. ON THE LAKHIYA 318

LIST OP AUTHORITIES 341

INDEX 343



ILLUSTRATIONS



THE LALBAGH FORT AT DACCA Frontispiece

IN THE KINGDOM OF VIKRAMPUR . . • • I

L '



ON THE BURIGANGA

THE DHAKESWARI TEMPLE OF TO-DAY ...

A FERRY-BOAT ON THE DULLASERY

AN EARTHENWARE VESSEL USED AS A BOAT
ON THE BRAHMAPUTRA

CROSSING THE MEGNA NEAR SONARGAON .

AT ANCHOR FOR THE NIGHT NEAR SONARGAON

A CARGO BOAT LADEN WITH JUTE LEAVING
SONARGAON

ON THE BRAHMAPUTRA NEAR THE TOMB OF
THE FIVE PIRS

SHAISTA KHAN, VICEROY OF BENGAL . . .

THE MAUSOLEUM OF PERI BIBI, DAUGHTER OF
SHAISTA KHAN



To face page



THE EMPEROR FARRUKH SIYAR

THE WIFE OF THE EMPEROR FARRUKH SIYAR .

DINNER-TIME IN THE DACCA JAIL ...

PRISONERS AT WORK IN THE DACCA JAIL .

THE LINE OF ELEPHANTS AT THE JAMASTAMI
FESTIVAL IN DACCA



30

50
62

82

126

172
194
196

246
262



X THE ROMANCE OF AN EASTERN CAPITAL

THE SATGUMBAZ MOSQUE )

- To face page 268
THE BARA KATRA J

GURU NANAK, THE POUNDER OP THE SIKH

RELIGION „ 272

THE WASHING AWAY OP SINS IN THE BRAHMA-
PUTRA DURING THE NANGALBANDH MELA . „ 292

ONE OP THE SACRED GHATS ON THE BRAHMA- \
PUTRA DURING THE NANGALBANDH MELA .



PILGRIMS BATHING IN THE SACRED RIVER j
DURING THE NANGALBANDH MELA . . . /



300



LANDING JUTE AT NARAINGUNJ

NARAINGUNJ

A FISHING-BOAT ON THE LAKHIYA

HOMEWARD-BOUND AT EVENING

ON THE LAKHrTA (3 VIEWS) „ 338



MAP OF EASTERN BENGAL AND ASSAM At end



THE ROMANCE

OF

AN EASTERN CAPITAL

CHAPTER I

A LAND OF RIVER AND PLAIN

Flat like a map, Eastern Bengal lies spread out
vast and limitless, a land of river and plain. The
plough of the gods, runs the legend, wielded in
swift anger, had in days gone by torn down this
way from the Himalayas to the sea, furrowing
hill and valley, mountain and plain, to one
immense dead level. From the foot of the rocky
tree-clad Rajmahal Hills on the west to the banks
of the mighty Brahmaputra on the east, from
the snow-clad ranges of Sikhim and Nepal on the
north to the shores of the Bay of Bengal on the
south, it is one great wide-sweeping plain, low-
lying and fertile, drained by some of the mightiest
rivers of the East as they forge their impetuous
way through many and ever-changing channels

B



2 THE EOMANCE OF AN EASTERN CAPITAL

to the sea. Watered abundantly by nature in
generous mood, the trim rice-fields stretch mile
on mile, locked close in the embrace of countless
streams and rivulets, luxuriant in every exquisite
shade of green, like emeralds set in a silver sheen.
In the very heart of this land of river and plain
the successive races that have dominated it have
built their capital. Time and again, as empires
rose and fell, its site has changed. At the whim
of kings and conquerors, eager to perpetuate their
fame, new cities have arisen with startling rapidity,
often but to be deserted in their turn well nigh
before the last stones have crowned the minarets
and pinnacles of their mosques and palaces. Yet,
variable as its site has been, the chief city of
Eastern Bengal for over two thousand years has
never been far removed from the junction of the
great rivers where Megna and Ganges, Brahma-
putra and Ishamutti meet at the head of the
delta, a hundred miles from the sea. Here, in
the days of legend and myth, Vikramadit founded
the first capital of which the fame remains.
Here to-day, scarce twenty miles away, still stands
the time-worn city of Dacca — the once imperial
capital of all Bengal, which, so long fallen from
its early greatness, now again assumes the proud
position of a capital — the capital of the newly
formed Province of Eastern Bengal and Assam.



A LAND OF LIVER AND PLAIN 3

In all India, with its varied interests and its
wonderful diversity of character, no province of
similar importance has met with less notice and
appreciation than Eastern Bengal. Though close
within reach of Calcutta, in which, early and late,
so much of the interest of the British Empire in
India has centred, it yet remains apart, unknown
and unappreciated, its vast expanse of river and
plain unexplored save by those whom duty takes
this way. Even the average official, caught by the
glamour of Behar, avoids the eastern districts, and
the makers of books have left it for the most part
severely alone. Until it sprang into prominence
recently in English politics, the very name of East-
ern Bengal conjured up in the average English-
man's mind nothing but vague visions of a land of
jungle and swamp, and the meeting-place of many
rivers. Dacca alone, with the fame of its muslins,
was familiar to English ears. The globe-trotter,
absorbed in the great spectacular panorama of the
beaten track, has passed it by. Treading with
unvarying monotony and a strange absence of
originality a certain set itinerary, he has gone
home, primed with scant knowledge of the real
India, to rhapsodise over the great wonders of
the East that have been described again and yet
again until one well nigh wearies on paper of the
beauties of the Taj, the magnificence of Delhi

B 2



4 THE ROMANCE OF AN EASTERN CAPITAL

and the memories of Lucknow. Scarce one has
turned aside to explore this new field so near at
hand. Calcutta seems to have fixed itself as the
eastern limit of the tourist's travels in Bengal, and
the great Province that lies beyond, making no
dramatic bid for the notice of the passer-by, still
remains but a name — its story untold and its
charm unknown.

Yet it is there, a charm unique among all the
wonders of the East. From the dry, sun-baked
land of the beaten track, one turns gratefully to
rest the eye upon the fair luxuriance of this well-
nourished land. Small wonder that ancient
chroniclers, revelling in picturesque description,
called it ' a land of emerald and silver,' ' a garden
fit for kings.' Even in official documents it is
styled ' Jannat-ul-bilad,' the Paradise of Countries.
Its perennial freshness knows but the lightest
touch of autumn. Its wealth of green, in every
wonderful shade, from the deepest of olives to
the tender green of the earliest rice, covers the
earth like a carpet lovingly spread by the gods.
Here nature in luxuriant mood has lavishly be-
stowed the boon most craved by the sun-scorched
plains of the East, watering it with the thou-
sand streams that twist and turn like the paths
of a maze through all its length and breadth.
Almost all the terrible calamities that time and



A LAND OF RIVER AND PLAIN 5

again have fallen upon the Indian people this
favoured province has been spared. Plague has
not yet forced its way across the network of rivers
that stand like a barrier to bar its path. Famine
is almost unknown within the memory of man.
Yearly the dense population of Eastern Bengal
imposes a heavy burden upon the land, but the
rich alluvial soil proves equal to the task. In the
trim, well-watered rice-fields, men labour with the
joy of certain harvest, knowing that bread cast
upon the waters, after no long tarrying, will faith-
fully render up its full return.

It is a scene full of life and interest, as one
passes up the great rivers on one of the many
steamers that run through the heart of Eastern
Bengal, linking the first city of India with the
furthermost limits of empire towards the East.
There is no easier mode of travelling in all India
than this. To the tourist jaded with the noise and
rush of the long rail journeys that India entails,
and sated with the stir and ceaseless activity of
cities, there comes a strange sense of peacefulness
and rest. Smoothly the huge steamer glides
onward, forging its even way ahead, gallant and
determined, buoyant with a sense of joyousness
and power. A soft cool breeze blows gratefully.
At ease in a long deck-chair, one watches the
fascinating life of the river unfolded in brief



6 THE ROMANCE OF AN EASTERN CAPITAL

flashes before one's view like a kaleidoscope, each
glimpse a picture in itself more illuminative of the
real India than many pages of description. The
morning sun comes slowty over the water's edge,
bathing the river in exquisite tints of pink and
silver and gold. All is still with the wonderful
stillness of dawn. Only the river moves cease-
lessly, now smooth like glass, mirroring every
passing glory of the sky, now murmuring on its
way in a thousand laughing ripples, now angry
and storm-tossed like a sea in miniature, ever
changing, yet fascinating in all its moods. Strange
craft glide swiftly by, sails set and bellying
proudly in the wind. Tiny fishing-boats curved
and narrow, swift goyna boats long and pointed
fore and aft, larger craft heavy and slow-moving,
houseboats snug and neat with mat walls and roof,
all pass by, busy, alive, intent, speeding onwards
each to its appointed goal. White sails, brown
sails, sails in yellow and blue, add exquisite
touches of colour as they fall and dip and strain
at the mast like things alive with joy in the
breeze and the light of the sun. The river throbs
with life, yet a life so smooth, so noiseless, that
passing it leaves unbroken the exquisite sense
of peace that the river has made its own.

Close within hail of the bank the sbeamer
passes, each moment disclosing some new glimpse



.L



1




IN THE KINGDOM OF VIKRAMPUR.




ON THE BURIGANGA.



A LAND OF RIVER AND PLAIN rf

of the daily round of Indian life. A group of
women, ornaments jingling on wrist and neck and
ankle, come gossiping to the water's edge, poising
their waterpots upon their heads with the grace that
only Eastern women know. A straggling village,
mat-walled, thatch-roofed, peeps out among the
trees, raised but a foot above the river level. Its
inhabitants, slow-moving and deliberate, pursue
the daily round seemingly unmindful of the
threatened inundation of their homes. A crowd
of tiny urchins, innocent of clothing, happy and
free in a string of beads, play lazily in the sun.
A youth, scarce bigger than they, but with an air,
lustily belabours a herd of buffalo, urging them far
out into the river until only their great black heads
appear as they wallow contentedly in the grateful
coolness of the stream. As the sun mounts high
in the sky, every bathing ghat along the banks is
crowded, picturesque groups of men, women, and
children punctiliously performing the daily ablution
that their faith enjoins. Then the heat of the day,
and life for a space seems lulled to slumber. One
by one the bathers quit the banks and every sign
of life creeps into the shade. Even the breeze is
still, and the sails of the countless craft on the
river all lie furled. Only the river itself moves on,
ceaseless and untiring. Then a glorious sunset,
such as one sees but seldom, save in Eastern Bengal



8 THE ROMANCE OF AN EASTERN CAPITAL

across the face of the waters, that reflect every
fleeting shade of brilliance, of amber and red and
purple and orange and gold. Then night and a
new world of the deep blue vault of the starry sky
above and dim shadows beneath, broken only by
dazzling flashes from the searchlight as it makes
clear the path ahead, throwing upon river and
land its ghostly mystic radiance, revealing in brief
flashes the secrets of the night as limelight throws
a picture on a screen.

In sharp contrast with the peacefulness and
quiet charm of Eastern Bengal are the streets
and story of its capital. Here there is a charm of
another kind, the fascination that a great historic
city never fails to cast upon him who treads its
streets with the seeing eye, with sympathy and
understanding. Mystery, that is as the breath of
Eastern cities, baffles one at every turn in Dacca.
The crumbling walls of its mosques and palaces rise
grim and time-worn, hiding within their ruined
turrets and dim walled chambers a thousand
unrecorded secrets that no man living knows.
Strange things have passed within their ken.
They have listened to the whispered mutterings
of intrigue, the plotting of foul crimes and dark
mysterious deeds, and the softer voices of the
fleeting loves and passions of a race swift in love
as in war. They have watched the tragic passing



A LAND OF RIVER AND PLAIN 9

of great Viceroys and Princes, and the triumphant
entry of those who followed in their wake, to enjoy
their brief spell of glory ere their own knell sounded.
In rapid flight they have witnessed splendour and
decay, triumph and exile, victory and defeat, a
very sermon on the vanity of human strivings and
desires. But silent, inscrutable, they make no sign,
holding fast to their own that no man may wrest it
from them. Even the winding alleys and tortuous
ways that lead into the heart of the great city seem
designed with jealous care to shroud a mystery
from the outside gaze. So little is known, so little
there is that can now be rescued from the limbo of
the past, that one turns aside baffled, foiled in the
attempt to wring from the great city the countless
mysteries that lie hidden deep within her heart.

Time and man have treated the once imperial
city with but scant respect. Many storms and the
great humidity of Eastern Bengal have wrought
havoc with brick and stone, wearing away at last
the wonderful workmanship of a race of great
architects and builders. Man, with incredible
vandalism, has even outdone Time, pulling down
the exquisite structures that he could never rival,
to build with the selfsame bricks some hideous
modern structure of his own base design. But
even in its decay the charm of the city remains.
Neither time nor the vandal hand of man can rob



10 THE ROMANCE OF AN EASTERN CAPITAL

it of the wonder and romance of its many vicissi-
tudes, and the great memories that for all time
remain its own.

Bound all that concerns the early days of
Eastern Bengal there is the same impenetrable
mystery that has fallen like a veil over so much of
the past throughout India. Of the time before the
Mussulman invasion well nigh all is legend and
myth. The Buddhists and Hindus who then
peopled the land were no chroniclers. The compi-
lation of pedigrees seems to have been almost the
limit of their literary skill. Of passing events and
the strange happenings that befell men in those
far-off days they made no note. Life was too
strenuous, the struggle for existence too keen, to
foster the development of an impersonal interest
in the history of the time. In the midst of a
life so precarious, of alarms so constant and in-
sistent, there was no time for the chronicling of
events. If such was done, the records must have
perished with their makers. A few inscriptions,
a mass of vague traditions, and brief glimpses of
them in the records of their conquerors, are all
that remain to tell what manner of men they were,
and how life fared with them in the Eastern
Bengal of the olden days.

Round Vikrampur, where Dhaleswari and
Megna meet, the first traditions cluster. Here



A LAND OF RIVER AND PLAIN 11

for centuries a Buddhist dynasty flourished, yet
finally passed away leaving but little trace of its
long dominion, and not a single descendant of its
faith in all Eastern Bengal. Opposite Vikrampur,
across the Ishamutti, in Sonargaon, a long line of
Hindu kings held sway, but all that remains to-day
in their one-time capital is a single building, once
the Eoyal Treasury. Almost without a struggle
the Hindu kingdom in Sonargaon fell before the
Mussulman invaders. Bukhtiyar Khiliji, at the
head of an Afghan army, speedily drove Lakshman
Sen, the last Hindu King of Bengal, from his
capital at Lakhnauti, and pressing eastwards, took
possession of Sonargaon, founding a great Mus-
sulman viceroyalty under the imperial authority at
Delhi.

In pre-Mussulman days there seems to have
been no general name for the land now known as
Bengal. The Mussulmans themselves first knew
their newly conquered province as Lakhnauti, the
name of Lakshman Sen's capital, since known as
Gaur. The word ' Bengal ' first appears in Indian
history as ' Banga,' possibly derived from Anga, the
East, as in Vangala-Agadha, the Eastern Ocean.
It was not till near the end of the thirteenth cen-
tury that the name apparently reached England.
Marco Polo, the famous traveller, is the first Euro-
pean to use it in the form of Bangala, and he gives



12 THE ROMANCE OF AN EASTERN CAPITAL

it as a general name to all the land at the head
of the Bay of Bengal — the Vangala-Agadha.

Under Mussulman rule Eastern Bengal suf-
fered many strange vicissitudes. On the furthest
frontier of the empire, it was a far cry from the
central power at Delhi, and none but the strong-
est arm could make its power felt as a reality
so far afield. The weakness of emperors was the
opportunity of ambitious viceroys, and little more
than a hundred years after the first Mussulman
conquest, Fakiruddin threw off his allegiance to
the Imperial Court and proclaimed himself in-
dependent king of Bengal.

Then for well nigh two hundred years the king-
dom went to the strongest. The mass of the
people, still almost entirely Hindu, cared little.
The Mussulmans, who had imposed themselves
upon Bengal as the ruling race by the sword and
by their genius for rule, were still but a small por-
tion of the population. The people, conquered and
apathetic, knowing that the oppressor must needs
be, stood by indifferent while kings and princes
fought out their feuds. It is a terrible record that
fills these two hundred years of rebellion and in-
trigue, of father fighting against son and brother
against brother. The strong man arose, sweeping
all before him,' and while he lived enforced his rule.
With his death came anarchy and a fierce struggle



A LAND OF RIVER AND PLAIN 13

for the throne, a reckless riot of plunder, murder,
and fratricide. Out of the contest one stronger
than the rest at last emerged, ruthlessly forging
his way to empire and giving a brief uncertain rest
to the exhausted land. With his death — and
death came suddenly in those days — anarchy once
more reigned. And so the monotonous round goes
on. It is a confusing chronicle. Euler succeeds
ruler, only with startling rapidity to meet the fate
of his predecessor, and another reigns in his stead,
until one grows weary of the oft-repeated tale of
treachery and intrigue.

The Afghans were a fighting race, and it was
not without a determined struggle that they gave
way before the all-conquering Moghul. Once again
under their magnificent leader, Sher Shah, they
wrested back from the conqueror not only Bengal
but the empire itself, and Sher Shah reigned in
Humayon's stead. But it was their final effort,
and thirty years later the great Akbar's forces
destroyed the last hope of the Afghans in Bengal.

These were the days of the greatest prosperity
of Sonargaon. The art of weaving, the gift of the
Mussulman conqueror, had here attained a perfec-
tion wellnigh unrivalled in the East. The fame of
the exquisite muslins that its artificers alone could
produce had already reached Europe and excited
the wonder and admiration even of the most skilled



14 THE KOMANCE OF AN EASTERN CAPITAL

workmen of Italy and France. Travellers dwell in
astonishment on the cheapness of provisions, and
Kalph Fitch, visiting the district in 1586, speaks
of it as ' abounding in rice, cotton, and silk goods.'
Not even the wars and alarms of the most tur-
bulent period of Mussulman rule could wholly rob
this much favoured land of its prosperity. Even
from the repeated attacks of the river pirates,
Mughs and Arracanese, aided and abetted by a
roving company of Portuguese adventurers, it
revived with wonderful vitality, nature rapidly
making good the ravages of man.

But with the final triumph of the Moghul in
Bengal, and the re-enforcement of imperial autho-
rity, the days of Sonargaon drew rapidly to an end.
A new ruler, eager to perpetuate his fame and
moved thereto by the exigencies of the time, de-
sired a new capital, and the ancient city was left
to crumble to decay or forced to yield its very
bricks and stones and monuments to grace its
rival's triumph. Twenty miles away, on the banks
of the Buriganga, rose the new city of Dacca, de-
signed by Islam Khan from its inception to be the
capital of all Bengal.

The hundred years that followed were mo-
mentous years in the history of the new capital.
It was the time of the great viceroys, and distin-
guished names crowd thick upon its roll of fame.



A LAND OF RIVER AND PLAIN 15

First the name of Islam Khan its founder, the
conqueror of the Afghan, and the trusted minister
of Jehangir ; then Ibrahim Khan, the victorious
in war and patron of the arts and commerce ; Shah
Jehan, the builder in after-days of the world-famed
Taj Mahal, a fitting shrine for the beauty of his
queen ; Sultan Shuja, foiled in his bid for empire,
an exile at its gates, hastening to his ignominious
death at the hands of the Arracanese ; Mir Jumla,
the invader of Assam, whose soaring ambition and
consummate ability made even the great Aurung-
zebe fear ; and, greatest of all, Shaista Khan, Lord
of the Nobles, brother of the famous Empress
Mumtaz Mahal, who has left his mark for all time
upon the city he so long ruled.

But this brilliant period in the history of the
city came to a sudden end. At the whim of a
viceroy it had risen. In like manner it fell.
Murshid Kuli Khan, at the beginning of the
eighteenth century, transferred his capital to Mur-
shidabad, and Dacca, deserted by the viceroy and
all the paraphernalia of courts, was shorn of half


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