Bengal District Gazetteers - Patna

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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 Patna was published by The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot in 1907.

The East India Company procured the revenue rights of Patna along with rest of Bihar with the Grant of Diwani in 1765. The District presently part of the state of Bihar, was created in 1825. The following excerpts from the Gazetteer have been selected from the chapters on Agriculture and Natural Calamities. The gazetteer highlights how the district suffered severely from the 1770 famine, it also points out to relief measures taken by Maharaja Shitab Rai, the governor of Bihar.

Selection details

The East India Company procured the revenue rights of Patna along with rest of Bihar with the Grant of Diwani in 1765. The District presently part of the state of Bihar, was created in 1825. The following excerpts from the Gazetteer have been selected from the chapters on Agriculture and Natural Calamities. The gazetteer highlights how the district suffered severely from the 1770 famine, it also points out to relief measures taken by Maharaja Shitab Rai, the governor of Bihar.


[Page 89]


The district may be divided into 4 broadly marked trends, of which the first three are comprised within the Bankipore, Barh and Dinapore subdivisions, while the fourth consists of the Bihar subdivision. These areas are, (1) the diara lands along the Ganges; (2) a long narrow strip of high land along the Ganges; (3) a broad belt of low-lying country south of the upland strip just mentioned; and (4) the Bihar subdivision. In each of these tracts agricultural conditions vary considerably, and a brief account will therefore be given of each. The diara lands, which are found in the bed of the Ganges, stretch along the whole of the north of the district. The creation of these diaras or chars as they are also called, is an interesting example of soil formation. Some backwater or curve of the river bed set up an eddy in the current, which thereupon becomes sufficiently stationary to deposit a portion of the sand, which it holds in solution. The level of the char which is so far nothing but a heap of sand, then gradually rises as the water lying stagnant. spreads a thin layer of clay and silt over the sand; and this deposit of silt deepens at every high flood, until at last the char rises above flood-level. The soil of such a char is extremely fertile, and grows magnificent crops; but if its growth is arrested by the river altering its course, so that the flood-water does not cover it during the second stage of its formation, it remains sandy and barren. These diara lands are the most fertile in the district; they grow bhadoi crops before the river rises and rabi crops in the cold weather, both yielding magnificent harvests.

The second tract is situated between the permanent bank of the. Ganges and the low-lying tract to the south, and comprises all the land lying north of the East Indian Railway line throughout the breadth of the district, with the exception of the small area in the extreme north-west which is liable to inundation in the rains, In this tract bhadoi and rabi crops are chiefly grown, though rice is also cultivated in some places, especially in the neighbourhood of the Patna-Gaya Canal between Khagaul and Dinapore.

The third tract comprises the remainder of the Dinapore Bankipore and Barh subdivisions and may be further subdivided [Page 90] into 3 separate areas. The western portion receives artificial irrigation from the canal running for about 40 miles near the western border (If the district, which supplies the whole of the Bikram thana and parts of the Maner, Dinapore, Phulwari, and Masaurhi thanas. Further to the west the country is intersected by the Punpun and its affluents the Morhar and Dardha. These rivers are largely used for irrigation, but when the Ganges rises, their waters are forced back and the land is flooded. The third area consists of nearly the whole of the Barh subdivision and extends from the extreme east of the district to the south of Patna city. The lands comprised in this belt of country, which are known as tal lands, are subject to annual inundation from the Punpun and other rivers, which meander from west to east on their way to the Ganges. To the east,, however, part of the Mokameh thana is served by irrigation works of the same kind as those constructed in the Bihar subdivision. The whole of this tract produces a comparatively small crop of bhadoi and rice, but usually yields a good rabi harvest.

[Page 91]

Generally speaking, 4 classes of soils arc recognized, viz., (1) kewal, which contains about 70 per cent of clay; (2) doras, which is half clay and half sand ; (3) balsundri, in which sand preponderates over clay; and (4) diara land, which may be either doras or balsundri (usually the latter), but which is enriched every year by a deposit of silt. Besides these, there is in some places a white soil rehra, which is rendered more or less sterile by being impregnated with carbonate of soda (reh); when the impregnation is so great as to render it unculturable waste, it is known as usar.

For the bhadoi and late rice harvests the distribution most favourable to agriculture-the husbandman's ideal year-is when premonitory shower, falling in May or early in June, facilitate that spade husbandry which, to secure a really good crop, must precede ploughing operations. The rain in the end of June and in July should be heavy: the should come an interval of comparatively fair weather, in which weeding operations may be successfully prosecuted. The September rains must he heavy, shading off into fine weather with October showers. On the sufficiency of the September rains, more than of any other month, depends the character of the winter rice crop. Finally, periodic showers from December to February inclusive are essential to a good rabi harvest. *

[Page 92]

The subject of irrigation will be dealt with more fully in the next chapter; and it will suffice here to say that the whole district depends largely on irrigation for its crops. In the headquarters and Dinapore subdivisions the Patna-Gaya Canal, a branch of the Son canal system, supplies a considerable area, In the Bihar subdivision the landlords and cultivators maintain a large number of private irrigation works fed partly by natural drainage and partly by the rivers flowing northwards from the Gaya district. The Barh subdivision relies almost entirely upon the floods from the Ganges and other rivers to fertilize the soil for the rabi crops and to supply moisture for its. growth; and rice is very little grown there. Well irrigation is universal in the neighbourhood of villages, where poppy and vegetables are grown.

[Page 112]


"GENERALLY, the Soubah of Behar," wrote Mr. James Grant in 1787, "derives its superiority over most of the other provinces of the Mogul Empire from the great natural advantages of a temperate climate; high and fertile soil, well watered, productive of the drier grains, and all the luxuries required by the more active, warlike inhabitants of the north; with a centrical situation, having easy communication internally, and serving as an emporium, or by means of the river Ganges, a thoroughfare to facilitate the commercial intercourse between Bengal, as well as foreign maritime countries, and the more interior provinces of Hindostan. Agriculture, manufactures and commerce have always highly flourished in this favoured province.*" Of all the districts in Bihar, these remarks applied, and still apply, with the greatest force, to the Patna district, a fertile tract of alluvial soil intersected by numerous rivers, which has been developed by some of the most industrious, adroit and capable husbandmen in India. It is unusually well supplied with communications, as the East Indian Railway traverses it from east to west, while the Patna-Gaya Railway and the Bakhtiyarpur-Bihar Light Railway run through it from north to south. The Ganges, with its large traffic in boats and steamers, flows along its whole northern length, and the Son forms its western boundary, while the city of Patna. itself is one of the largest grain marts in the whole Province. The interior is well provided with means of communications and is fertilized by numerous streams and rivers. Add to this the fact that the people are not dependent on any single crop or the crops of any single season, as the area under cultivation is fairly equally divided among aghani (48 per cent.), rabi (40) and bhadoi (21) crops; and the result is that the district is practically immune from any general famine. Even if the local rainfall fails, the cultivators are able to obtain a store of water for their [Page 113] crops from the rivers flowing from the south and from the canal system in the west : while grain can be imported by rail, road, canal and river, and distributed by carts or pack-bullocks to all parts of the interior. No district in the Patna Division offers so many facilities for private trade or is so well protected against exhaustion of its food supply. Since the great famine of 1770 it has never suffered from any widespread scarcity, and even in 1897, when other districts suffered from one of the greatest famines on record, it was very slightly affected.

The famine of 1770 was severely felt in Patna. which was one of the most cruelly stricken districts in the Province. In January 1770 we find Mr. Alexander, the Supervisor of Bihar, reporting: "To judge from the city of Patna, the interior of the country must be in a deplorable condition. From fifty to sixty people have died of absolute hunger on the streets every day for these ten days past." In April matters were far worse. The depopulation in the interior part of the country was, we learn, more rapid than would be imagined by any person who had not been witness to it; and such was the disposition of the people, that they rather inclined to submit to death than extricate themselves from misery and hunger by industry and labour. "The misery of the poor at this place increase in such a manner, that no less than 150 have died in a day in Patna."

In May the Supervisor urged that it was "absolutely necessary to remove the brigade from Bankipore beyond the Curamnasa, to save the lives of many poor people who might be subsisted from what the brigade consumed." It was, he said, the last necessity that induced him to make this proposal, but "the consumption of the army presses on the inhabitants." It was at last decided to remove two battalions and the cavalry from the cantonments to the Fort of Buxar; but at the same time, the Central Committee reminded Mr. Alexander that " Your neighbours, enjoying the blessing of almost a plentiful season, whilst you are suffering the evils death and famine, exhibits but an unpleasant contrast, and rather wounds the credit of English policy. We have no doubt of your vigilance and capacity; but the Government of this country has provided so very imperfectly for the security of the poor, that, unless very extraordinary efforts are made to prevent it, these calamities never fail to occasion the grossest abuse.*'' These remarks sufficiently show the change in famine policy which a century of British rule was to effect.

[Page 114]

Relief was given, it is true, but it was left to private charity to feed the starving. "Maharaja Shitab Rai," says the Sair-ul-Mutakharin, " melted by the sufferings of the people, provided in a handsome manner for the necessities of the poor, of the decrepit, the old, and the distressed. In that dreadful year, when famine and mortality, going hand in hand, stalked everywhere, mowing down mankind by thousands; Shitab Rai, who heard that grain was a little cheaper, and in greater plenty, at Benares, set apart a sum of Rs. 30,000, and directed that the boats and rowers belonging to his household should bring regularly to Azimabad (Patna), three times a month, the grain provided with that sum at Benares. This grain being landed at Azimabad, was sold at the Benares price, whilst the boats were despatched for another trip; by which management there were always boats landing and boats loading. In this manner, during the whole time which the famine lasted, his numerous boats, divided in three squadrons, were constantly employed in bringing corn, which his people sold at the original price, without loading it with the charges, losses, and transport; and it was purchased by the necessitous, who flocked to his granaries from all parts. But as there were still vast numbers that could not afford to purchase grain so dear,' he ordered them to be divided into four classes, which were lodged in three or four gardens, or seats, surrounded by walls, where they were watched, as prisoners, by guards, but daily attended as patients by a number of clerks, who kept an account of them, and were assisted by a number of servants, who at stated times used to come loaded with victuals ready dressed for the Mussulmen, and with a variety of grain and pulse and a sufficiency of earthen vessels, and of firewood, for the Gentoos; at the same time, several ass-loads of small money, besides a quantity of opium, bang, tobacco, and a variety of other such articles, were distributed severally to each person, according to the kind he was accustomed to use; and this happened every day, and without fail. On the report of such generosity, the English and Dutch took the hint, and on his example, lodged the poor in several enclosures, where they were regularly fed, tended, and lodged. In this manner an immense multitude came to be rescued from the jaws of imminent death.

This is a selection from the original text


agriculture, grain, poor, rabi

Source text

Title: Bengal District Gazetteers - Patna

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

Publisher: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot

Publication date: 1907

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 89 to 92
  • 2 ) pages 112 to 114


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

For more information about the project, contact Dr Ayesha Mukherjee at the University of Exeter.