Bengal District Gazetteers - Rajshahi

About this text

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 Rajshahi was published by The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot in 1908.

The present district of Rajshahi now located in Bangladesh, fell within the zamindari of the Natore Raj in the 18th Century. Following the Grant of Diwani in 1765 Rajshahi became one of the biggest administrative divisions of Bengal, though it corresponded with the zamindari of Rajshahi or Natore. Following the redistribution of districts in 1793, Rajshahi came to be recognized as a separate district. The following excerpts from the Gazetteer have been selected from the chapters on History, Agriculture, Natural Calamities and Rents, Prices and Wages. The selections highlight how the law and order of the region was affected following the famine of 1770. The inhabitants were subjected to loots by group of bandits lead by group of religious hermits, the Fakirs and the Sannyasis.

Selection details

The present district of Rajshahi now located in Bangladesh, fell within the zamindari of the Natore Raj in the 18th Century. Following the Grant of Diwani in 1765 Rajshahi became one of the biggest administrative divisions of Bengal, though it corresponded with the zamindari of Rajshahi or Natore. Following the redistribution of districts in 1793, Rajshahi came to be recognized as a separate district. The following excerpts from the Gazetteer have been selected from the chapters on History, Agriculture, Natural Calamities and Rents, Prices and Wages. The selections highlight how the law and order of the region was affected following the famine of 1770. The inhabitants were subjected to loots by group of bandits lead by group of religious hermits, the Fakirs and the Sannyasis.


[Page 23]


[Page 39]

From the old records of the Collectorates we find that in March 1783 Mr. John Evelyn was engaged in making a settlement of Rajshahi with head-quarters at Muradbagh, a suburb of Murshidabad. In August 1783 Mr. George Dallas was made Collector, and in the phraseology of that period was "appointed to the general superintendence of the business of the Rajshahi District." Mr. Dallas' allowances were Rs. 1,200 a month as Collector and Rs. 300 as house rent. He was also entitled to an allowance as a factor, but he reported that he did not know the amount as he had never yet drawn it. Mr. Dallas re-signed in January 1786 and was succeeded by Mr. Peter Spake, who next year was also made Judge and Magistrate. As Judge, Collector and District Magistrate he received pay of Rs. 1,500 a month and an allowance for house rent. He had two assistants. The first assistant, Mr. Michael Atkinson, hall a pay of Rs. 500 and the second assistant, Mr. Hawkins, Rs. 400 a month, neither having allowances of any kind. There was no Civil Surgeon, but in 1787 an arrangement was made for the Civil Surgeon at Cossimbazar to attend and do duty occasionally at Nator, then the headquarters : in consideration of this extra work the Civil Surgeon's pay was raised from Rs 300 to 400 a month.

[Page 40]

In addition to his pay, the Collector was given a commission on revenue collections, namely, Ra. 6,000 when they were under six lakhs, Rs. 7,000 when they were from seven to eight lakhs, and so on in a rising scale till the collections amounted to 9 lakhs but were below 10 lakhs. When the collections aggregated 10 lakhs, the Collector became entitled to a commission of Rs. 10,000. After that the commission was 1 per cent. for the first 10 lakhs and one and a half per cent. on the remainder. The amount drawn by way of commission must have been considerable, for the average realisations amounted to 21 lakhs, on which the annual commission would be Rs. 25,500. The collections of revenue, it may be added, had previously come to a much higher figure, viz., 27 lakhs from 1766 to 1770. The decrease in subsequent years was attributed in part "to the general calamity of the famine in 1769 and 1770."

Punctual submission of the tauzi accounts was insisted upon. In 1783 the Collector was warned that he would be liable to immediate dismissal if he failed to send the tauzi accounts for each month by the 15th of the next month; but three years later this drastic order was modified. It was then laid down that if the accounts were not received by the due date, the Collector would have to pay a fine not exceeding half a month's pay for the first offence and the whole month's pay for a second or later instance of unpunctuality. Mr. Peter Speke had the ill fortune to be fined on one occasion for such unpunctuality, the fine being Rs. 300, which was recovered from his next month's pay. Mr. Spake was succeeded in 1789 by Mr. Tilman Henckell, who is better known for his work in the Sundarbans when Collector of Jessore.

The records of these early times are full of two classes of complaints, the one referring to constant arrears of revenue, the other to the general disturbed condition of the country and armed disorders. Besides having to deal with these, the Collector had to look after the silk trade. In 1787. for instance, Mr. Speke was given Rs. 31,000 for investment in silk on account of the East India Company. As Commercial Resident at Boalia, he was also given an allotment of Rs. 75,000 (in the same year) as "advances for the raw silk investments," which was half the amount given to Cossimbazar. Next year a package of China white silkworm eggs was sent to Mr. Speke by the Board of Revenue with the request that "from his distinguished knowledge in this important branch he would use his best endeavours to attempt the rearing of the insects [Page 41] with a view of introducing the production of the China white silk within the Company's provinces."

It is impossible not to be struck by the lawlessness of the remoter parts of the great territory under the Collector's authority during the early days of British rule. This was partly a legacy from the dire famine of 1769-70 when the starving people in despair sought to appease their hunger by plunder. In April 1771 for instance the Supervisor of Rajshahi reported " the frequent firing of villages by the people, whose distress drive them to such acts of despair and villainy. Numbers of ryots, who have hither to borne the first of characters among their neighbours, pursue this last resource to procure themselves a subsistence." "A set of lawless banditti" wrote the Council in 1773, "known under the name of Sanyasis or Faquirs, -"have long infested these countries; and, under pretence of religious pilgrimage, have been accustomed to traverse the chief part of Bengal, begging, stealing, and plundering wherever they go, and as it best suits their convenience to practise."* In the years subsequent to the famine, their ranks were swollen by a crowd of starving peasants, who had neither seed nor implements to recommence cultivation with, and the cold weather of 1772 brought them down upon the harvest fields of Bengal, burning, plundering, ravaging, 'in bodies of fifty thousand men.'

The dacoits, as we should now call them, long lingered in parganas Bhitarband and Swaruppur, two outlying portions of the Nator or Rajshahi Zamindari, which were under the Collector of Rajshahi and were not transferred to Rangpur till after the Permanent Settlement. They lay on the road between Rangpur and Dinajpur and were an Alsatia for evil-doers. In 1784 we find that Swarappur was infested by a 'herd of dacoits' who had carried off 600 women and hanged a fakir who dared to complain against them. Ensign Duncanson was despatched against them and defeated them and rescued many of their captives. "The no-man’s land," writes Mr. Glazier," lying south of the stations of Dinajpur and Rungpore, and west of the present Bograh, towards the Ganges, far removed from any local authority, was a favourite haunt of the banditti. In 1787, Lieutenant Branan was employed against a noted dacoit [Page 42] leader, Bhawani Pattuck, in this quarter. He despatched a havildar with twenty-four sepoys in search of the robbers, and they surprised Pattuck with sixty of his followers in their boats. Pattuck's chief man, a Pathan, headed a desperate resistance, during which the pathan, Pattuck himself, and two other headmen were killed, and eight were wounded, besides forty-two taken prisoners Of the attacking party, two sepoys only were wounded. Seven boats, with arms, accoutrements, and ammunition, as the Lieutenant expresses it, were taken. Pattuck's force consisted wholly of up-countrymen he himself was a native of Budgepore, and he was in league with another noted dacoit, Manjoo Shaha, who made yearly raids from the southern side of the Ganges. We just catch a glimpse from the Lieutenant's report of a female dacoit, by name Devi Chaudhranee, also in league with Pattuck, who lived in boats, had a large force of burkundazes in her pay, and committed dacoities on her own account, besides getting a share of the booty obtained by Pattuck. Her title of Chaudhranee would imply that she was a zamindar, probably a petty one, else she need not have lived in boats for fear of capture.

"Brenan observes as follows on the complicity of the zamindars with these dacoits, and closes with some very pertinent remarks :-' I did not imagine that it was a matter of any importance to know that the principal zamindars in moot parts of these districts, and I believe, I may venture to add, in most parts of the country too, have always a banditti ready to let loose on such of their unfortunate neighbours as have any property worth seizing on, and in accomplishing which even the lives of the unhappy sufferers are seldom spared. The zamindars commit these outrages in the most perfect security, as there is no reward offered to detect them; and from the nature of independence of the dacoits on them it cannot be effected without bribery.'"*

A similar state of disorder prevailed in the country to the east in what is now the district of Bogra. Here a dacoit named Majnu Fakir terrorized the country. His favourite mode of proceeding was to set fire to a village in the middle of the day and then plunder it. His followers were armed with fire-arms, which they freely used. In 1777 a body of Nagas, a caste of up-country religions fanatics, to the number of two hundred, came and fell upon the dacoits. They are said to have been well mounted on large horses and to have been armed with [Page 43] long swords. 'they and the followers or Majnu Fakir met in battle at daybreak and fought till noon, when only the infant son of the leader of the robber gang survived on the side of the dacoits. The swords of the Nagas are described as lopping off the heads of the robbers with as much ease as if they were cutting the stalks of plantain-trees!

[Page 75]


FROM an agricultural point of view the district is divided into three parts with different characteristics. The first is the a slightly elevated tract with gentle undulations, comprising the whole of Godagari thana, the greater part of Tanor, Manda and Mahadebpur thanas, and the north of Singra thana. The soil is a stiff clay and grows only transplanted rice, the growth of which is dependent on the rainfall in normal years When the rainfall is deficient, the cultivators resort to artificial irrigation from tanks, which are numerous. Generally, however, such irrigation is possible only for the fields near the tanks, so that short rainfall is apt to cause partial failure of the crop. The higher ground in this tract is generally barren and little attempt is made to cultivate it, though with time and determination this may be done successfully. The low ground is excellent winter rice land, but it does not lend itself to the cultivation of any other crop.

On some portions of the Barind the slope is so small that it is almost a level plain. Elsewhere the slopes are laid out in embanked fields in order to retain water, which would otherwise flow away. There are, in fact, terraces of rice fields, but the slope is so gentle and the embankments are so small that the 'term terraces is almost a misnomer. Each field is a little above the other, and during heavy rains the water must be let out or the water overtops the embankment. In this way the bulk of the rain water with its burden of rich silt finds its way to the lowest levels of each depression, taking with it the silt which it has collected from all the higher fields over which it has passed. It follows, therefore, that the lower the field the more fertile it is. There is another consideration also in favour of the lowest fields, viz., that they need less embanking in order to retain the water, and therefore cost less to cultivate.

The riverain anti diara lands in the Gangetic thanas of Rampur Boalia, Chirghat and Lilpur form another well-defined area, having a grey, sandy soil on which a variety of crops are grown. The principal are aus and aman paddy, [Page 76] wheat and pulses, the growth of which depends on the rainfall and the flood water of the Padma. All along the Ganges the land is comparatively high, and there is little winter rice, but rabi crops are grown to a considerable extent.

The remaining thanas, viz., Naogion, Bagmara, Puthia, Panchupur, Nator, Singra and Baraigram, and some portions of the Gangetic thanas constitute the third area, whose characteristic features are marshes and swamps (bils), which in the rainy season often form large winding lakes. This tract may be subdivided into two, i.e., the portion where the bils are low and the portion where they are high and silted up. The low bils are to be found in the thanas of Naogaon, Panchupur, Nator, Baraigram, the eastern half of Manda, the southern portion of Singra, and the northern half of Bagmara. Into these bils the flood-water of the Pauma and the Atrai finds its way every year, more or less. The high bils are to be found in the thanas of Lilpur, Charghat, Puthia, Boalia, the western half of Nator, and the southern half of Bagmira. The channels conveying the inundation of the Padma into these bils have silted up, and it is only in years of extraordinary flood that the flood-water enters these swamps. The principal food crops in this area are aman rice, aus rice, boro rice, and some winter crops, such as wheat. The rivers have high banks fringed with villages, beyond which the land slopes away to cultivated paddy fields or perennial marsh.

There is one great depression in this area which is practically all bil country. Nearly the whole of the Panchupur thana remains under water for six or seven months in the year; this tract is known as the Bhar, i.e., the low-lands. The silt left by inundation fertilizes the soil, and jute and paddy grow abundantly. The belt of low land continues to the east of Panchupur across the Nator subdivision, stretching from the north of the Nator thana in a south-easterly direction until it passes into Pabna District to the east of the Baraigrim thana.

[Page 77]

There are two main classes of soils, namely, pali and khiyar. The former is a light ash-coloured sandy loam, which is very retentive of moisture and is capable of bearing two crops in the year. Common rotations are autumn rice followed by mustard, and jute followed by pulses. This sandy loam had its origin in the sand and silt deposited by the rivers when they overflowed their banks. Khiyar is a stiff clay which, as a rule, grows only one crop in the year, namely, winter rice.

[Page 80]

The character of the rice harvest depends, within certain wide limits, more on the seasonable distribution of the rainfall than on its absolute quantity. Although a well marked deficiency in the rainfall will certainly entail a deficient crop yield, yet the magnitude of the deficiency will depend on the distribution of the rain which falls in the month of Baisakh (April-May), when there should be light showers to facilitate the preparation of the land and to supply moisture for the sowing of the aus''. During the month of Jaistha(May-June)rain is not required, but in Ashar (June-July) there should be heavy falls to give plenty of moisture for the young aus crop, and to permit of the sowing of the aman seed in the nurseries. Heavy rain with intervals of fine weather for transplantation of the aman seedlings and for weeding, is required during the month of Sraban (July-August). During Bhadra (August-September) longer intervals of fine weather are required to facilitate the reaping and threshing of the aus crop. Showers at intervals of about a week are required in Aswin(September-October), and lighter and less frequent showers in Kartik (October-November). There should be no rain in Agrahayan (November-December), but showers in Magh (December-January) are of great value. A proverb which is fre1uently quoted runs Jadi barsha Magher shesh, dhanya raja punya des, i.e., if it rains at the end of Magh, praised will be the king and blessed the country. No rain is required in the last two months, viz., Phalgun and Chaitra.

[Page 87]


THE configuration of the district is such that the whole of it is very unlikely to suffer from famine at one and the same time. In the upland country comprised in the Barind, only one crop, aman rice, is grown in the year; this is almost entirely dependent on the local rainfall. Nearly the whole of the rest of the district, however, excluding the land near the banks of rivers, is low land, and a large portion, viz., the Bhar, is subject to inundation for at least five months in the year. It is rarely that full crops are obtained from both tracts in the same year, for this would imply good rainfall and also a moderate inundation. A simultaneous failure in both tracts is equally unlikely to occur, for in a year of short rainfall there would be fair crops in the Bhar, though those in the Barind might fall. The Bhar, moreover, is further protected from famine from the fact that the people get at least two harvests in the year, and there is such a variety of crops that it is next to impossible that all can fail simultaneously. Rice of three kinds (aman, aus and boro) is grown almost universally there are also various pulses, mustard and sugarcane; and jute is fairly abundant. While a general famine is not to be apprehended, different tracts are liable to suffer from failure of crops. The food supply depends mainly on the harvest of the aman or winter rice, and in order to understand how different parts are affected by unfavourable conditions of the seasons, it is necessary to bear in mind the extent to which this crop is grown in the three regions into which the district is divided for agricultural purposes, viz., the Barind, the Bil area, and the Gangetic tract. The aus crop is of minor importance, as it is sown on only a fourth of the area covered by winter rice, and the yield is but two-thirds per acre of that given by aman. It is, however, the only rice cultivated on the Ganges chars and on much of the high lands. In round numbers, the district contains a million .and a quarter acres under cultivation (reckoning twice that which [Page 88] bears two crops), of which three-quarters of a million are sown with rice, a quarter of a million with other food crops, a hundred thousand acres with jute, and seventy thousand with oil-seeds. The minor food crops are therefore of little use if there is a failure of the rice crops, and the other products are almost negligible from a famine point of view with the exception of the lucrative jute crop. This supplies the cultivators with a reserve of ready money, which they use to pay their rents. Unfortunately the surplus is only too often squandered in improvident expenditure.

In the Barind winter rice is the only crop, and this tract is liable to suffer from scarcity if there is a failure of the rains at critical periods, e.g., at the time of sowing or in September and October when the grain is coming into the ear. The country is however undulating, and the low lands, which receive the drainage of the slopes, may be regarded as fairly safe. It is a different matter with the higher lands on the slopes, in which the crop is liable to failure if the rains are deficient or badly distributed. In such a contingency the cultivators are forced to do what they can to save the crop by means of irrigation from tanks.

The Bil area is practically immune from famine, for there is always water in the low bils and the land is annually fertilized by the silt deposited in flood time. The bils yield a rich harvest of rice, if only the plants are not drowned by too early a flood or by a very deep inundation. In the third tract, i.e., the riverain and diura lands in thanas Lalpur, Charghat and Boalia, the growth of the crops depends on seasonable rainfall and the flood water of the Ganges. The main crop on the diaras is aus rice, and the people are not so dependent on aman rice as else where.

Rajshahi is known to have suffered from the great famine of 1769-70; for we find a statement in the Proceedings of the Provincial Council of Murshidabad, dated 28th April 1770, that" the districts that have more practically suffered from the unfavourableness of the season are Purnea, Rajmahal, Birbhum and a part of Rajshahi (spelt Rajeshahye); indeed, the only districts under this department from which complaints have not come of the want of rain are Dacca and those low countries that are situate to the eastward, where the river have overflown and fertilized the lands even this remarkable dry season."

There are no details available as to the extent of the [Page 89] suffering, but a few scattered reports by the Supervisor* of Rajshahi (spelt Rajshie) show that Rajshahi was more severely affected than the tracts to the north and south. In December 1770 he reported :"I cannot give a more striking proof of the deficiency of the August harvest, than by mentioning a circumstance probably never before known, that the consumption of grain in these parts is now supplied by importation from the northern districts and the precincts of Murshidabad; and that at Nator, situate in the heart of a rice country, grain sells at 18 seers per rupee, whilst at Murshidabad it is above 30 seers of the same species of weight." The price of rice, it may be said incidentally, seems extraordinarily cheap when compared with the modern rate. Distress obviously deepened next year, for in April 1771 the Supervisor reported :-" I receive advices from the parganas of the frequent firing of villages by people whose distress drives them to such acts of despair and villainy. Numbers of ryots, who have hitherto borne the best of characters amongst their neighbours, pursue this last desperate resource to procure themselves a subsistence."

Considering that part of Rajshahi was described as among the most severely affected tracts, it may fairly be inferred that the desolation was similar to that described by the Resident of the Durbar in June 1770-" The scene of misery that intervened, and still continues, shocks humanity too much to bear description. Certain it is, that in several parts the living have fed on the dead, and the number that has perished in those provinces that has most suffered is calculated to have been within these few months as six is to si1-teen of the whole inhabitants."

[Page 94]


[Page 99]

e. Prices generally have been levelled up and money is more plentiful, so that prices which would have been an indication of scarcity are so no longer. How greatly conditions have altered in this respect may be gathered from a report submitted by the Supervisor* of Rajshahi during the famine of 1770. Writing in December 1770 he said: "I cannot give a more striking proof of the deficiency of the August harvest than by mentioning circumstances probably never "before known that the consumption of rice in these parts is now supplied by importation from the northern districts and precincts of Murshidabad, and that at Nator, situate in the heart of [Page 100] a rice country, grain sells at 18 seers per rupee, whilst at Murshidabad it is above 30 seers of the same species of weight.'

This is a selection from the original text


begging, calamity, collector, crops, famine, food, grain, harvest, plunder, rain, rice, starvation, stealing, zamindar

Source text

Title: Bengal District Gazetteers - Rajshahi

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

Publisher: The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot

Publication date: 1908

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 39 to 43
  • 2 ) pageS 75 to 77
  • 3 ) page 80
  • 4 ) pageS 87 to 89
  • 5 ) pageS 99 to 100


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.