William Wilson Hunter.

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The Imperial Gazetteer of India.














Corrigendum to Article BOMBAY PRESIDENCY.

P. 67, line 7 — For 'directly managed by Government officers,'
read 'generally managed by a Court of Regency, or by a joint
Administration composed of a Government officer and a repre-
presentative of the Native State.'

The author regrets that owing to the death of a gentleman
in whose hands he had placed the manuscript materials for
Western India, the revision of several articles, particularly
those for Ahmadabad, and Bombay City and Presidency, has
not been so complete as he would have desired.

W. W. H.




I-repared forPT-W.VT.llmitert






Birbhum (Beerbhoom). — District of the Bardwan Division, in the
Lieutenant-Governorship of Bengal, lying between 23 34' and 24 35'
n. lat, and between 87 7' 30" and 88° 4' 15" e. long. ; area, 1756 square
miles; population, according to the Census of 1881, 794,428 souls. It
is bounded on the north-west by the Santal Parganas ; on the east by
the Districts of Murshidabad and Bardwan; and on the south by
Bardwan District, the Ajai river forming the boundary line for the
whole distance. The District takes its name, according to the Sanskrit
etymologists, from Vir-Bhiwii^ ' hero-land ; ' but the Santali word F/>,
meaning jungle, has also been suggested as its derivation. The ad-
ministrative head-quarters of the District are at Suri town.

Physical Aspects. — The eastern portion of the District is an alluvial
plain, presenting the ordinary features of the Bengal lowlands ; towards
the west the ground rises, the surface consisting of undulating beds of
laterite, which rest on a basis of rock. Granitic veins traverse the
District in parts, occasionally appearing on the surface. About 15
miles south-west of the Civil Station of Surf, there is a curious mass of
granite, rising to a height of 30 or 40 feet, split up into numerous
irregular fragments by the action of sun and rain. No navigable river
flows through Birbhum ; the largest stream is the Ajai, which forms
the southern boundary line of the District. The other streams de-
serving notice are the Mor or Maureksha,'the Bakeswar, the Hingla,
and the Dwarka. The Mor, which flows in a wide sandy bed, is
navigable during the rains, but by descending bo its only. Small canoes
are built on the banks, and floated down during the freshets ; they
carry charcoal to Katwa, where they are sold with their cargoes, as
they cannot be taken up stream again. There are no lakes or canals
in the District.



On the bank of the Bakeswar nd/d, about a mile south of the village of
Tantipara, occurs a group of sulphur springs, named the Bhum Bakes-
war, and numerous hot jets also burst forth in the bed of the stream
itself. This spot is a noted place of pilgrimage, and the right bank of
the stream is covered with temples erected by pilgrims in honour of
Mahadeo or Siva. Another warm spring breaks out near the village
of Sakarakunda. Iron and limestone are the only minerals of any
importance found in the District. Iron-ores have long been worked
under the rough native mode of smelting ; and within recent years an
attempt has been made to ascertain whether more extended operations
might not profitably be carried out according to the European process
of manufacture. The larger kinds of wild beasts, which formerly
infested Birbhum, have now almost disappeared, with the exception of
an occasional tiger or bear which wanders into the cultivated tracts
from the jungles of the Santal Parganas on the west. Small game, such
as hares, partridges, wild duck, quail, and snipe, are common.

History. — The area of the District is at present much more limited
than in former times. When it first came under British administration,
the Birbhum zaminddri occupied an area of 3858 square miles ; and
the District included in addition the zaminddri of Bishnupur, which
was in the beginning of the present century separated and formed into
the independent Collectorate of Bankura. Some years later, reduc-
tions were made in the remaining portion of Birbhum District, by the
separation from it of considerable tracts on the west, which now form
part of the Santal Parganas. Finally, within the last few years, in
order to make the different jurisdictions conterminous, further transfers
of small tracts have been made to and from the District, the present
(1883) area of the District being 1756 square miles.

In the beginning of the 18th century, the zaminddri of Birbhum was
conferred by Jafar Khan on one Asad-ulla Pathdn, whose family had
settled in the country a century earlier, after the fall of the Pathan
dynasty of Bengal. The estate remained in the family until the British
obtained, in 1765, the financial administration of Bengal. It was not
till 1787, however, that the Company assumed the direct government
of Birbhum. Before that year,, the local authority was suffered to
remain in the hands of the Raja. Meanwhile, bands of marauders
from the western highlands, after making frequent predatory incursions,
had established themselves in the District. The Raja could do nothing
against these invaders, who formed large permanent camps in strong
positions, intercepted the revenues on the way to the treasury, brought
the commercial operations of the Company to a stand-still, and caused
many of the factories to be abandoned. It became absolutely necessary
for the English Government to interfere; and the first step in that
direction was taken in 1787, when the two border principalities of


Birbhum and Bankura were united into one District, a considerable
armed force being maintained to repress the bands of plunderers on
the western frontier. On one occasion, in 1788, the Collector had to
call out the troops against a band of marauders five hundred strong,
who had made a descent on a market town within two hours' ride of
the English station, and murdered or frightened away the inhabitants
of between thirty and forty villages.

In the beginning of the following year (17S9), the inroads assumed
even more serious proportions, the plunderers going about sacking
villages ' in parties of three or four hundred men, well, found in arms.'
The population was panic - stricken, the large villages and trading
depots were abandoned, and the Collector was compelled hastily to
recall the outposts stationed at the frontier passes, to levy a militia
supplementing the regular troops, and obtain reinforcements of soldiery
from the neighbouring Districts. The marauders could, not holdout
against the forces thus brought against them, and were driven back
into the mountains. Order was soon established, and the country re-
covered with amazing rapidity from the disastrous effects of the ravages
to which it had been exposed. The neglected fields were cultivated
once more ; the inhabitants returned to the deserted villages ; and
the people, reassured by the success of the measures taken by the
Government, eagerly joined them against the marauders. In the be-
ginning of the present century, the District was reported to be
remarkably free from robbery ; and so completely have the troublous
times through which it passed faded from local memory, that, a few
years ago, the District was described in a public document as still en-
joying ' its old immunity from crime.' The District is now as peaceful
as any in Bengal, and the administrative statistics, which will be found
below, furnish an eloquent commentary on the results of British rule in

Population. — The population of the District in 18.72, as returned by
the Census of that year, but allowing for all transfers to and from the
District since then, was 853,785. The Census of 1881 returned a
total population of 794,42s, being a decrease of 59,357, or 6-95 per
cent, on the area of the District as at present constituted, namely,
1756 square miles. This decrease is- due to the ravages of the
' Bardwan fever,' which has been, devastating the Division since 1861.
Average density of population (1881) 452*40 per square mile;
number of towns or villages, 3273; number of occupied houses,
181,068; unoccupied houses, 18,932; number of villages per square
mile, i'86; number of houses per square, mile, 113-90; number of
persons per occupied house, 4-3.9. Divided according to sex, the males
numbered 381,563, and the females 412,865; proportion of males,
48-0 per cent. This disproportion of the sexes, which is noticeable


in every District of the Bardwan Division, is owing to its proximity to
Calcutta ; many men go there in search of employment, leaving their
wives and families behind. Classified according to religion, the Hindus
predominate largely, numbering 617,310, or 7770 per cent, of the
population; the Muhammadans were returned at 162,621, or 20*47
per cent. ; Christians, 48 ; and ' others,' consisting mainly of aboriginal
tribes who still retain their primitive forms of faith, 14,449, or I '% 2
per cent. Of the highest and respectable castes of Hindus, Brahmans
numbered 39,724; Rajputs, 8344; Kayasths, 8902; and Baniyas,
18,103. Of the Siidra castes, the most important are the Sadgops,
the chief cultivating class, numbering 79,621. The other most
numerous castes are the following: — Kalu, 20,783; Bagdi, 40,032;
Chamar, 30,975: Dom, 35,316; Bauri, 27,258; and Han, 23,286, who
form the lowest classes of the Hindu social organization. The Muham-
madans are divided according to sect into — Sunnis, 157,316; Shias,
3565 ; and unspecified, 1740. Of the 48 Christians, 29 were native con-
verts. The population of Birbhum is entirely rural, the only towns with
upwards of 5000 inhabitants being Suri, the administrative head-
quarters, with a population of 7848 ; and Margram, with 6008. The
3273 villages or towns in 1881 were classified as follows: — Containing
less than two hundred inhabitants, 1979 ; from two to five hundred,
945 ; from five hundred to a thousand, 264 ; from one to two thousand,
74 ; from two to three thousand, 5 ; from three to five thousand, 4 ;
and from five to ten thousand, 2. The Census Report of 188 1 classified
the male population as regards occupation under the following six main
headings : — (1) Professional class, including civil and military officers, all
Government officials, and the learned professions, 11,089 > ( 2 ) domestic
servants, inn and lodging-house keepers, etc., 8351 ; (3) commercial
class, including bankers, merchants, traders, carriers, etc., 7046 ;

(4) agricultural and pastoral class, including gardeners, 146,308 ;

(5) industrial class, including all manufacturers and artisans, 29.844 ;

(6) indefinite and non-productive (including 22,583 general labourers,
and 156,155 male children, and unspecified), 178,925.

Material Condition of the People. — The general style of living in
Birbhum District is poor. The ordinary dress of the men consists of a
waistcloth (d/iuti), the quality of which differs according to the circum-
stances of the wearer. The houses are usually mud-walled, but one
or two substantial brick houses are found in almost every village. Rice,
pulse (daf), vegetables, and fish form the ordinary food of the people.
The estimated cost of living for an average-sized household of a
well-to-do shopkeeper is about £1, 10s. per month, and for that of
an ordinary cultivator, from 8s. to 10s. a month. A peasant's holding
exceeding 17 acres in extent would be considered a large-sized farm;
less than 5 acres is looked upon as a very small holding. The usual


quantity of ground cultivated by a single pair of oxen is about 5 acres ;
but a peasant holding a small farm of this size would not be so well
off as an ordinary retail shopkeeper, nor would he be able to live so com-
fortably as a man with a pay of 16s. a month. As a class, the peasantry
are said not to be generally in debt.

The most interesting place in the District is Rdjnagar or Nagar, the
ancient Hindu capital of Birbhum. The town has now fallen into
decay, and the old palace is fast crumbling to ruins, but considerable
portions of the famous wall or entrenchment built to protect the city
from the Marathas still remain. This wall was from 12 to 18 feet high ;
it was surrounded by a ditch, and extended in an irregular and broken
line round Nagar for a distance of more than 30 miles, its average dis-
tance from the town being about 4 miles. Many parts of it have now
been washed level with the ground by the annual rains. Among other
places of interest in Birbhum are — Ganutia on the north bank of the
Mor, the centre of the important silk industry of the District ; I lam-
bazar and Dubrajpur, considerable trading villages ; Surul, now a
village of no importance, but once a large and flourishing town where
the greater part of the Company's District trade was centred; Kenduli,
the birthplace of the poet Jayadeva, in whose house 50,000 persons
assemble at the annual fair in February; and Tantipara, near which
are the hot springs already mentioned. Bolpur, Ahmadpur, Synthia,
Mallarpur, Rampurhat, Nalhati, Murarai, and Rajgaon are rapidly
rising in importance as stations on the East Indian Railway,
and attracting much of the trade which formerly went by water.
Nawada is a station of the State Railway from Nalhati to Azimganj
in Murshidabad, which intersects the north of the District from east to

Agriculture.— The principal crop in Birbhum, as throughout the rest
of Bengal, is rice. During the last quarter of a century the area under
this staple has greatly extended, by the reclamation of large tracts of
jungle land. It has been roughly estimated that at present fifteen-
sixteenths of the tilled land in the District is under this crop. The
dus or autumn crop is reaped in August and September, the ordinary
dman or winter crop in November and December; an earlier variety
of dman in the beginning of November. Speaking roughly, ordinary
rice land, which pays a rental of 9s. an acre, yields from 13 to 17J
cwts. of paddy or husked rice per acre, valued at £i t 10s. to £2,
2s. Sd. ; land paying 18s. an acre, gives an out-turn in paddy and
wheat, valued at £3, 16s. to £4, 10s. an acre. Among the other crops
cultivated in Birbhum, are sugar-cane, mulberry, pan, gram, peas, and
oil-seeds. Manure is in general use throughout the District; the
quantity of cow-dung required for rice land being about 45 cwts. per
acre, valued at 6s. ; while sugar-cane land requires five times that


quantity. Irrigation is effected from tanks, which are very numerous
in the District. A large proportion of the cultivators hold their lands
with rights of occupancy, and, as a rule, they are not in debt. There
is no class of small proprietors in the District who own, occupy, and
cultivate their hereditary lands without either a superior landlord above,
or a sub-tenant or labourer of any kind under them. The prices of
food-grain have greatly increased of late years. In 1788, ordinary rice
was selling at 2s. iod. a cwt. ; in 1872, the price was 3s. 5|d. per
cwt. It is noticeable, however, that the price of rice of the finest
quality, of which there is little consumption, has not altered, being
both in 1788 and 1872, 4s. 3d. per cwt. The current rate of wages
for coolies or ordinary day-labourers is 8s. a month ; for carpenters,
1 6s. ; for bricklayers, 16s. to £1 ; and for blacksmiths, 16s. to jQi, 4s.
a month.

Natu?-al Calamities. — The District is not liable to droughts, floods,
or other natural calamities, although it has occasionally suffered from
scanty rainfall. During the famine of 1866, the highest price of
common rice in Birbhiim was 15s. Sd. per cwt, and of paddy, 6s. iod.
per cwt. The means of communication and transit throughout the
District are amply sufficient to allow of easy importation in case of
scarcity, and to prevent the danger of any tract being isolated. The
roads are good and sufficiently numerous, being 594 miles in length in
1 88 1 ; the East Indian Railway runs through the District from north to
south for a distance of 68 miles, and the Nalhati and Azimganj State
Railway, east and west for 1 1 miles.

Commerce and Trade. — The chief export of the District is rice, which is
despatched by railway both up and down the line. The other exports,
such as indigo, lac, raw silk, and oil-seeds, find their way mostly to
the Calcutta market The principal imports are salt, cotton, cotton
cloth, pulses, tobacco, wheat, and metal ware. The principal trading
villages and seats of commerce are Dubrajpur, Ilambazar, Bolpur,
Synthia, Purandarpur, Krinnahar, and Muhammad Bazar Surf. The
head-quarters town of the District is unimportant from a commercial
point of view. The crops of the District suffice to meet all
the local wants ; and in the case of rice and oil-seeds, large exports
are made to other parts of the country. The exports far exceed the
imports in value, and a considerable accumulation of money is said to
be going on.

Manufactures : Silk. — The principal manufacture of Birbhiim is
silk, which is produced in the eastern part of the District ; the village
of Ganutia, on the north bank of the Mor, being the head-quarters of
the industry. Here is the factory which, established nearly a century
ago by Mr. Frushard, under a contract for the supply of silk to the
East India Company, is now owned by an English firm in Calcutta,


and gives employment to a large number of people. The story of the
annoyances to which this pioneer of silk cultivation was exposed at the
hands of the Company's officers, and the manner in which he was
defrauded by the Rajri, will be found at length in my Annals of Rural
Bengal. It can only be briefly stated here that, being charged for the
land he bought more than four times its market value, he soon fell
into arrears with the Rdja, who made his non-payment an excuse for
being himself behind with his land-tax. The Collector could not
distrain the factory lands, as such a step would have interfered with
the regular supply of the silk investment, and Mr. Frushard secured
himself from arrest by living beyond his jurisdiction. The case was
at length brought before the Court of Directors ; and eventually, Lord
Cornwallis, in 1791, ordered that all his past arrears should be for-
given, that his rent should for the future be reduced by nearly one-
half, and that the Collector should deduct whatever this sum amounted
to from the land-tax payable by the Raja. Since that time things have
gone smoothly, and Mr. Frushard's factory, several times renewed,
is now one of the most important buildings in the District. The
annual outlay averages ,£72,000, and the value of the general silk
manufactures exceeds £160,000. The silk is usually sold in a raw
state, and finds its way to the Calcutta and European markets. The
factory at Ganutia is surrounded by numbers of smaller filatures, the
silk reeled in these being either consumed in the local manufacture of
piece-goods, or sent to Murshidabad, and the silk-consuming towns of
the North-West Provinces and the Punjab.

Four varieties of domesticated or regularly bred silkworms are
known in Birbhiim, the best silk being obtained from the bara palu,
an annual worm. The breeding of the worm is conducted in the fol-
lowing manner. The cocoons are formed in March, the earliest
formed being reserved for breeding purposes. The moths begin to
emerge on the eighth day after the formation of the cocoon, and con-
tinue to emerge till the eleventh day. As the moths make their way
cut of the cocoons, they are put into other baskets, and the males and
females for the most part pair spontaneously and at once. About the
middle of the day, the males and females are separated, the males
being thrown away, and the females placed on a cloth in a large basket.
An hour afterwards, they begin to lay eggs, and continue laying during
the night and till the afternoon of the following day. The eggs are
then wrapped in three or four folds of cloth and put in an earthen
pot, which is covered over with a plastering of earth and cow-dung.
In the following January or February the pots are opened, and the
eggs begin to hatch, those hatched each day being kept separate. The
hatching extends over a period varying from 15 to 25 days according
to the temperature. The worms are fed as soon as hatched, — during


the first stage on the tenderest leaves chopped fine, then on whole
leaves, and in the last stage the twigs are thrown in whole. Food is
given three times a day. The worms are kept in baskets which are
placed in a wooden stand, one above the other ; as the worms grow,
they are placed in larger baskets with fewer worms to each. The full-
grown larva is about an inch long and three-quarters of an inch in
girth, generally of a white colour with the usual black markings, but
the white is tinged with varying shades of yellow and red in different
worms. From about twelve to eight days after the last moult, accord-
ing to the temperature, the worms begin to form their cocoons. They
are then placed in a tray which is partitioned off into spinning holes
by slips of bamboo, and placed with its back to the sun, the warmth
promoting the formation of the cocoon. After formation, the chrysalides
which are not wanted for propagation are killed by exposure to the
sun, and the cocoons are then ready for the market. Of this kind of
silkworm, twelve kalians (1280 x 12 = 15,360) of cocoons will yield
one local ser or ij lbs. avoirdupois of spun silk. Another variety of
silkworm, the nistri worm, is smaller than the above, and five breed-
ings or crops (bands) are obtained in the course of the year, of which
those obtained in January and July are the best. Two crops out of
the five seem to be altogether neglected, and are called chhord or
refuse bands in consequence. The cocoon of the nistri is of a golden
colour, but the yield is less than that of the bara palu — sixteen kalians
(1280 x 16 = 20,480) of cocoons only produce one local ser or ij
lbs. of silk. The eggs hatch in nine or ten days. In the cold weather,
the cycle of the worm is about sixty days, reduced in the hot weather
to forty. The desi or chhottd palu also yields some five or six crops
during the year. In most respects it is very like the nistri, and its
yield of silk is about the same.

No estimate exists showing the total out-turn of cocoons, but it is
considerably less now than formerly, owing partly to the depressed
state of the silk trade, and partly to the prevalence of disease among
the worms. The insect suffers from three maladies in Birbhum Dis-
trict, known as (1) chit rog, (2) narmja rog, and (3) katase rog. The
first-named disease seizes the worm in its final stage. Those attacked
turn quite hard and die ; and it is said that even the crows, who
greedily devour the worms whenever they get a chance, will not eat
those which have died of this disorder. The second attacks the worm
when about to spin. Little white spots or pustules break out on the
body, and the worm becomes torpid, and in two or three days melts
away in corruption. The third disease may come at any stage of
growth. The worms seized turn a greyish colour, water runs from the
mouth, and they ultimately rot away. All three diseases are believed
to be eminently contagious. The description of the disease does not


seem to correspond with that of either peprine or gattine, the maladies
most dreaded in Europe. No remedies are adopted, and it is said
that none have ever been tried.

From the silkworm traders the cocoons pass to the filatures. Some-

Online LibraryWilliam Wilson HunterThe imperial gazetteer of India (Volume 3) → online text (page 1 of 56)