Bengal District Gazetteers - Balasore

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Introductory notes

The Bengal District Gazetteers were published in the first two decades of the 20th century. The bulk of the series was published under the supervision of Lewis Sydney Stewart O'Malley. L.S.S. O'Malley who entered Indian Civil Service in 1898, joined as Assistant Magistrate and Collector in Bengal. O'Malley was later promoted to the post of Under Secretary to Government and General and Revenue Department when he took upon his work on the Bengal District Gazetteers. The Gazetteer volume on Balasore was prepared with the assistance of the Mr D.H. KIngsford's Report on the Settlement of Balasore. The volume was published by The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot in 1907.

Balasore was originally part of the Kalinga kingdom. In 1568 the region became part of the Mughal empire. It remained the protection of Bengal Nawab till 1751. In 1751, owing to raids by the Maratha army in demand for "Chouth" or one-fourth of the revenue, Alivardi Khan had to cede Orissa to the Marathas. The British East India Company earned possession of the region through the Treaty of Deogaon concluded in 1803. A separate district was created in 1828. The following excerpts from Gazetteer have been selected from the chapters on History, Agriculture, Natural Calamities and Land Revenue Administration. The selections highlight how the region suffered from the Maratha raiders and how the presence of Maratha troops intensified the effects of the 1770 famine. The country suffered from the 1792-93 famine and the scarcity of 1803 as the region sunk into desolation.

Selection details

Balasore was originally part of the Kalinga kingdom. In 1568 the region became part of the Mughal empire. It remained the protection of Bengal Nawab till 1751. In 1751, owing to raids by the Maratha army in demand for "Chouth" or one-fourth of the revenue, Alivardi Khan had to cede Orissa to the Marathas. The British East India Company earned possession of the region through the Treaty of Deogaon concluded in 1803. A separate district was created in 1828. The following excerpts from Gazetteer have been selected from the chapters on History, Agriculture, Natural Calamities and Land Revenue Administration. The selections highlight how the region suffered from the Maratha raiders and how the presence of Maratha troops intensified the effects of the 1770 famine. The country suffered from the 1792-93 famine and the scarcity of 1803 as the region sunk into desolation.


[Page 17]


[Page 31]

1Wretched as the state of Orissa had been under the Mughals, a half-century of deeper misery remained for it under the Marathas. The Maratha prince had his capital or standing camp at Nagpur in Central India, and waged incessant war upon his neighbours. His deputies, who were constantly changed, and imprisoned on their recall, struggled to wring out of Orissa the only peaceful Province of his kingdom-a sufficiency to supply the military necessities of their master. All the offices connected with raising the revenue were sold to the highest bidder at the Maratha court at Nagpur. Every deputy who came to Orissa had ruined himself in order to buy his appointment, and he well knew that the time allowed him for rebuilding his fortunes would be but short. From the hereditary Orissa Prince he managed to wring about £130,000 year; the smaller proprietors he ousted without mercy from their lands; and he laid heavy burdens upon the pilgrims of Jagannath. By degrees these atrocities began to work their own cure. The peasant militia of Orissa, strong in the network of rivers, defied the Marathi troops; and the collection of the revenue in the hilly frontier simply reduced itself to an annual campaign, 'in which,' says Mr. Stirling, 'to say nothing of the expenditure of blood and treasure, the Marathas were nearly as often worsted. as successful.'

There appears to be no trace of anything like a settled administration. The Maratha cavalry harried the country at stated. periods each year, and departed with the spoil; and the internal organization of the village communes formed the only sort of civil government. Each village had its semi-hereditary, semi-elective head, who ruled the hamlet and represented it to the Marathi receiver. When the extortions of the latter passed all bounds, the village temporized till it could get its headman out of his clutches, and then the whole community decamped with their cattle into the jungle. But though the swamps and forests yielded an asylum from the Maratha spearmen, the peasantry could not fly from the consequences of their own flight. The land lay untilled, and any failure of the rice crops produced a famine. Within seven years two terrible scarcities afflicted Orissa. The famine of 1770 was intensified by a mutiny of foreign troops. While the people were dying by hundreds of thousands on every road side, the [Page 32] Maratha soldiery threw up the last vestige of control, and for many months ranged like wild beasts across the country. Seven years afterwards, 1777, another great famine ensued; and as the Marathi power at Nagpur decayed, each party into which it split separately harried and plundered the Province.

From this terrible oppression the people were delivered by the conquest of the country by the English in 1803. The English were, however, no strangers in the land, for they, had settled at Balasore some 150 years before.

[Page 76]


AN account has been given in Chapter I of the three tracts into which the district is naturally divided, viz., the littoral, forming the sea-face of the Bay of Bengal, the submontane, under the western hills, and between them a zone of highly fertile land intersected by a network of rivers. To the east is a low-lying tract, a great part of which is impregnated with salt and unfit for cultivation, while much of the rest is exposed to damage from storm-waves. To the west is a jungly and uncultivable region of high undulating land covered with bamboos and scrub jungle. Between these two tracts lie the alluvial plains forming the greater part of the district, which present a gradual and steady slope from the high lands of the west to the sea, and a composition varying according to the relative proportion of the sand and silt of which they are formed.

These three main divisions may, however, be subdivided for general purposes into smaller divisions. In the area lying between the Coast Canal and the sea, we find extending upwards from the river Gamai to the Burabalang, a great plain of grass lands, the grazing ground of herds of cattle and buffalo, with occasional sparse patches of cultivation and low scrub jungle upon the sand ridges and near the tidal streams. South of the Gamai between the protective embankment and the sea, the aspect of the country is the same. Between the Burabalang and Haskura there is a little cultivation immediately on the east of the canal, and beyond this is a network of tidal creeks fringed with heavy jungle. From the Haskura to the Subarnarekha cultivation is met with inside the wooded sand hills which run in parallel ridges along the coast. At the mouth of the latter river and along the tidal creeks spreads an impenetrable jungle; and upon the north side the coast line is marked with sand ridges which protect the cultivated lands extending to the canal.

On the west of the district, where the boundary approaches the hills and the lands are higher, there is a reddish rocky soil, which is partially broken up to yield a scanty crop, and contains patches of jungle, including a little sal, which rarely attains any [Page 77] size. In other places, however, where the hills run precipitously down to the arable lands, the land is often of considerable fertility as it is enriched by the vegetable matter washed down from the higher ridges.

The remainder of the district is a plain of arable lands, varying in level from the pats or low lands, such as the Talhati in Bayang, the Ankura pat and Babaria jhil in Kamardachaur, to the stretch of higher lands in the centre running from pargana Balikhand upwards, and widening towards the town of Balasore. Balasore is a land of abundant rainfall. Since 1860 the average registered fall for the year has been over 60 inches; it has occasionally been as great as 80 or 90 inches and once (in 1862) was over 111 inches; and it has only twice been less than 50 inches. On the other hand, the rainfall is precarious, and an untimely or unequal distribution is liable to cause the partial or complete destruction of the crops, even if the actual fall does not fall short of the quantity required. A heavy shower in February or March is necessary to enable the land to be ploughed, but the most critical months are May, September and October. If the May showers, which are the precursors of the monsoon rains, do not fall, sowing may be prejudicially delayed; but deficiency in the rainfall in September and October is even more dangerous, as it affects the maturing of the staple rice crop. The most terrible famine the district has ever known was caused by the failure of the September and October rains in 1865. On the whole, it may be said that a well-distributed rainfall of 40 inches is sufficient to secure the crop, provided that not less than 4 inches fall in October; but in order to obtain a bumper crop at least 50 inches are required, of which 8 inches must fall in September and 6 inches in October. In the last 40 years, however, there have been 12 occasions, on which the fall of October has been less than 4 inches; and, generally speaking, the cultivators have to face the prospect of having once in every three or four years a rainfall less than the maximum compatible with the ripening of the crop, and of suffering a loss of at least a portion of the rice in the unirrigated lands.

Besides this, the district is liable to inundation from the rivers overflowing their banks when swollen by heavy rainfall in the hills. It is only, however when they are of an extraordinary height and of long duration, or when they occur so late as to render resowing impossible, that very serious and widespread damage is done by such floods. Provided that they are not too high or of long continuance, and that they come early in the season, they are productive of almost as much good as harm, as [Page 78] the fertilizing silt they leave behind renews the productive powers of the soil and assures excellent harvests.

Owing to the ample supply of rainfall in ordinary years, irrigation is far less essential than in less favoured parts of the Province, and, except for the canals, it is comparatively little used. The area irrigated by the canals is practically all under rice; and water is taken from April to December, the demand for it being greatest in May and June, when it is required for ploughing the land, in July and August for loosening the soil at the roots of the young plants, and in October for the final ripening of the crop.

The rainfall is, however, generally so steady that it is only in exceptional years that there is any urgent need for canal water. The lower lands are very flat, and retain most of the rain-water; and there are only a few places where, in most years, artificial irrigation is absolutely essential for rice cultivation. Irrigation is carried on to a certain extent from the rivers, the river water being utilized for the crops near their banks, but tanks are seldom used for the purpose. In such cases, irrigation is generally confined to the more valuable crops, such as sugarcane, tobacco and cotton. Well water is not used for ordinary cultivation, but only for garden crops.

[Page 79]

The arable land in the plains consists of alluvium in which sand and clay are intermixed in varying proportions; but the cultivators recognize a large number of different classes of soil, the names of which vary according to their situation, elevation and composition. In an ordinary village, the lands fall primarily under three main divisions according to their situation, viz . (1) The low lands retaining rain water, and hence called jala or wet lands, on which winter rice is grown. These lands predominate in the district and comprise the greater part of the whole cultivated area. (2) The high lands round the village homesteads, which being enriched by manure and household refuse, have a blackish colour and are therefore called kala; they are devoted to vegetables, cotton, jute, and other valuable crops. The homestead land is also known by the generic name of gharbari; and the land lying between this and the fields is called gantah. (3) The riverside lands (pala), which being periodically fertilized by deposits of silt are suitable for growing tobacco, cotton, mustard and other rabi crops.

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[Page 98]

Previous to the inception of the Orissa canal system, droughts and famines were of frequent occurrence. Historical records show that terrible famines occurred in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries; and during the rule of the Marathas the district suffered grievously from repeated famines. In the memorable famine of 1770 the land lay untilled, rice was not to be had at two seers per rupee, and while the people were dying by hundreds of thousands, the Maratha soldiery plundered and devastated the country. In 1780 the whole country had sunk into such absolute desolation that there was not a single place except Puri and Cuttack which could furnish even one battalion with provisions. In 1792-93 the miserable peasants again experienced the horrors of famine; scarcity followed in 1803; and when the country passed into the possession of the British its condition was wretched. A large portion of the land had been thrown into waste; many of the people had fled to the jungle; and the population was insufficient to till the fields. Under British administration an era of prosperity has ensued; with an improvement in their material resources, the people have displayed far more staying power in bad years; cultivation has extended, and though there have been frequent droughts, they have only culminated in famine.

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[Page 152]

When the Mughals took the country, a regular settlement of the Mughalbandi, as the Crown lands were now called, was begun in 1582 by Todar Mal and was concluded in 1591 by Man Singh, another Hindu viceroy of the Emperor Akbar. The lands held as military fiefs, which were known as the Rajwara, were for the most part left untouched, but in the Mughalbandi the revenue system was reorganized, the khands or bisis became parganas, and the revenue villages became mauzas; thekhandpati or superior police officer received the title of chaudhri, the bhoi-mul or chief accountant that of wilayati kanungo, and the pradhan that of mukaddam. Where a pargana, on account of its size, was divided into two or more portions, each having a separate set of pargana officials, these subdivisions were called taluks, and the officials talukdars, a name subsequently applied to all the pargana officials. The system of collection remained radically the same except that sadr or principal kanungos, with a gumashta or deputy in each pargana, were appointed as a controlling agency to check the ordinary rent-collecting establishments. The parganas again were grouped under the three main divisions or sarkars of Cuttack, Balasore and Jaleswar, each of which was in charge of an amil or chief executive officer.

In 1751 Orissa became a Maratha Province under the control of a subahdar. Balasore was divided into three chaklas or circles, viz., Bhadrakh, Soro and Balasore. These again were subdivided into parganas, each of which included a varying number of taluks. An officer called amil was responsible for the revenue of each chakla and was assisted by a sadr kanungo, under whom again was a gumashta (also known as wilayati kanungo) who collected the revenue from the different villages. It was not long before the Marathas commenced to oust the talukdars on the ground of unpunctuality in payment of the revenue; and towards the close of their rule it also became a common practice to take engagements direct from the village headmen or mukaddams; who had previously paid through the talukdars. About one-eighth of the total revenue-paying area. was so held by mukaddams; and though it had previously been the custom to make a detailed [Page 153] yearly computation of the rentals on which the latter were allowed a percentage for the expenses of collection, towards the close of the 18th century the amils found it convenient to take engagements from them for a lump sum. This custom was also followed to some extent with those talukdars who were fortunate enough to be left in possession of their estates. It was Raja Ram Pandit, described by Stirling as the most enlightened of the Maratha subahdars, who first commenced to dispense with the talukdars as collecting agents in 1773, and subsequently most of them were dispossessed, the wilayati kanungos making the collections direct from the ryots and paying them over to the amils through the sadar kanungos. During the same period also the Marathas introduced another practice, which resulted in the disappearance of a large number of these hereditary officials. The sadr kanungo, who generally stood security for the payment of revenue by the talukdars, was allowed, in cases of default, to take over the taluk on payment by him of the arrears, and the result was that at the British accession, both sadr and wilayati kanungos were found in possession of a large number of estates acquired in this manner.

This is a selection from the original text


agriculture, amil, famine, gomastha, inundation, irrigation, rainfall, talukdar, uncultivable

Source text

Title: Bengal District Gazetteers - Balasore

Editor(s): L.S.S. O'Malley

Publisher: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot

Publication date: 1914

Edition: 1st Edition

Place of publication: Calcutta

Provenance/location: This text was transcribed from images available at the Digital Library of India:

Digital edition

Original editor(s): L.S.S. O'Malley

Language: English

Selection used:

  • 1 ) pages 31 to 32
  • 2 ) pages 76 to 79
  • 3 ) page 98
  • 4 ) pages 151 to 153


Texts collected by: Ayesha Mukherjee, Amlan Das Gupta, Azarmi Dukht Safavi

Texts transcribed by: Muhammad Irshad Alam, Bonisha Bhattacharya, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Muhammad Ehteshamuddin, Kahkashan Khalil, Sarbajit Mitra

Texts encoded by: Bonisha Bhattacharya, Shreya Bose, Lucy Corley, Kinshuk Das, Bedbyas Datta, Arshdeep Singh Brar, Sarbajit Mitra, Josh Monk, Reesoom Pal

Encoding checking by: Hannah Petrie, Gary Stringer, Charlotte Tupman

Genre: India > gazetteers > district

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