Bengal District Gazetteers - Khulna

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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 Khulna was published by The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot in 1912.

The district till 1882 was partly included in Jessore and was partly a part of the 24 Parganas. A, subdivision was set up in 1842, However Khulna got the recognition of a separate district in 1882. The region suffered heavily during the famine of 1769-70. In popular tradition the famine is still referred to as kata-manwantar.

Selection details

The district till 1882 was partly included in Jessore and was partly a part of the 24 Parganas. A, subdivision was set up in 1842, However Khulna got the recognition of a separate district in 1882. The region suffered heavily during the famine of 1769-70. In popular tradition the famine is still referred to as kata-manwantar.


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[Page 40]

Soon after his appointment Mr. Henckell turned his attention to the Sundarbans and there inaugurated a system of reclamation, which after many vicissitudes has converted large tracts of forest into immense rice fields. Two objects were aimed at to gain a revenue from lands then utterly unproductive, and to obtain a reserve of rice against seasons of famine, the crops in the Sundarbans being practically immune from drought, To ensure these objects, Mr. Henckell submitted in 1784 a proposal that grants of jungle land in the Sundarbans should be settled on favourable terms with people undertaking to cultivate them, his aim being to introduce a body of independent peasant proprietors holding directly under Government. Another part of his scheme was the establishment of a convict colony, by giving small grants of land to convicts with the exception of the most heinous offenders, who were to be shipped off to sea. Mr. Henckell went so far as to apply to the surrounding districts for drafts of long term prisoners who might form the nucleus of the colony, but nothing further appears to have been done, and this part of the scheme was never carried out.

[Page 89]


GENERALLY speaking, agriculture is carried on successfully in the settled tract to the north, but conditions are unfavourable to it in the south-western portion of this tract, viz., in parts of thana Paikgacha in the Khulna subdivision, and in thanas Asasuni, Kaliganj and the southern portion of thana Satkhira in the Satkhira subdivision. Elsewhere, the land is fertile and is renovated periodically by inundations of sweet water, which wash away salt and leave fresh silt deposits.

In the northern portion of the Satkhira subdivision, where the country is comparatively high, the crops are not exposed to salt water inundations; but in other parts of the cultivated area they are liable to fail, as the saltwater coming up from the sea through the channels in the Sundarbans is not always washed away by timely rainfall. In fact, in a year of abnormally short rainfall, the river water remains more or less salt, even during the monsoon season, with most prejudicial results to the winter rice, the staple crop of the district. Two things are essential for the successful cultivation of this crop-dams and embankments of adequate strength, and sufficient rainfall to sweeten the rivers at the end of June so that their water may be used for irrigation. Unfortunately, in some tracts, where embankments are most necessary, many of the zamindars are absentees and some are indifferent to the welfare of the tenants; the subordinate tenure holders are small men and impoverished ; and the cultivators themselves are improvident. Embankments have consequently been permitted to fall into disrepair, thus allowing salt water to percolate into the fields to the gradual deterioration of the soil.

For practical purposes, the lands of the district may be divided into four main classes :-(1) the high lands to the north lying along the banks of the rivers, (2) the northern low lands situated in the interior away from the banks of these rivers, (3) the lands adjoining the Sundarbans, which have been reclaimed within comparatively recent times, and (4) the unreclaimed Sundarbans,

[Page 90]

The riparian tract first mentioned contains old settled villages, gardens and pasture land. The main products are areca-nut, coconut, betel leaves, bamboos, mangoes, plantains, tamarind, turmeric, date juice and thatching straw; of these products the most valuable are areca-nut and coconut, from which the villagers derive a great part of their income. Vegetables are also grown in this tract, which is practically the only one in which market gardening is feasible.

The northern low lands situated in depressions between the rivers contain extensive areas of bil lands, large flat tracts on which hardly a single tree can be seen. These lands are mainly cultivated with rice and are also suitable for jute and oil-seeds. Those bils which are connected with the rivers by means of efficient channels contain the best land for many varieties of coarse paddy and jute, for the creeks bring down rich river silt and also drain away the water, but in many cases the surrounding rivers have had their banks raised by the deposit of silt, the khals have ceased to be proper drainage channels, and the bils have become useless swamps. Where there is no proper drainage, the cultivators are obliged to wait till the fields dry up, and, in a year when the rains are early and copious, such lands remain under water for a very long time and are unfit for dry cultivation. Another difficulty in the way of successful cultivation of aman rice in these tracts is that many of the rivers have become brackish, and in a year of heavy rainfall they overflow their banks, break through the dams across the khals or the embankments round the fields, and submerge and destroy the seedlings.

The third tract is intersected by innumerable rivers and khals, the water of which is salt for a great part of the year. Many of the khals are therefore dammed up during the summer months, and all communication with the larger rivers is cut off, in order to prevent the salt water getting to the fields, which have also to be protected by small embankments called bheris. The dams are opened out during the cold weather, when the crops are gathered in and the rise of the water is less. In this tract cultivation is spreading to the south, and land is being gradually reclaimed from the Sundarbans and also protected by bheris, The result is that at the time of flood tide, salt water from the sea, which used to inundate lands covered with jungle, now comes higher up, and mixes with the water of the rivers and khals, which but for such admixture might remain fresh for a great part of the year. Aman rice is the chief staple product of this area, aus and boro rice and jute being grown only on [Page 91] high lands, while other crops are cultivated in such small quantities as not to require any particular notice.

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KHULNA suffered in common with other parts of Bengal from the famine of 1769-70, traditions of which still linger among the people who refer to it as the kata manwantar, i.e., the famine of 10 seers, because paddy sold at the rate of a kata (10 seers) per rupee.

This is a selection from the original text


agriculture, crops, cultivation, famine, fertile, paddy, rice

Source text

Title: Bengal District Gazetteers - Khulna

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

Publisher: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot

Publication date: 1912

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 ) page 40
  • 2 ) pages 89 to 91
  • 3 ) page 102


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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