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History of Bardhaman

Bardhaman has a rich historical legacy that traces its beginnings to the Mesolithic Age also known as the Late Stone Age and which can be said to have been originated from 5000 BC. It has a diversified and multicultural history that spans around a thousand years. Bardhaman is abundant with beautiful places that are enriched with cultural, historical and religious importance. Religion, history and mythology intertwine together to form an exquisite heirloom that reverberates throughout the place as well as gives a rich sense of culture and belonging.

History of Bardhaman
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Archaeological evidences have pointed out various beautiful artefacts dating from the Stone Age that have been excavated from the district. These antique heirlooms include a large number of images and statues of the various Tirthankars made up of stones which trace the history of Bardhaman and provide clues to its being a major part of Radh Bengal that can be dated back to 4000-2000 BC. Bardhaman has an important part in the historical chronology of India as it had been considered to be an important centre during the reigns of the Gupta and the Sena kings. The city has been serving as the headquarters of the district since the rule of the Mughal, the Pathan and the Maratha dynasties. Bardhaman had also served as the district headquarters of British India during the British rule in India.

Bardhaman in West Bengal has stood testimony to several attacks from a variety of dynasties all throughout history and has witnessed, experienced and survived countless violent conflicts. With every invasion, Barddhaman has been the recipient of a rich cultural diversification. Starting from the Aryans and moving on to the Rajputs, the Pathans, the Mughals, the Marathas and finally to the British, Burdwan has always been an important part of history that has shaped the legacy of the city. Due to its history, the city of Bardhaman is a rich amalgamation of the traditions of Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist cultures.

Origin of the Name of the City of Bardhaman

Vardhamana MahaviraThe name Bardhaman is historically rich and has great importance to the social fabric of the city. There are many theories and myths behind the naming of the city which have been circulated over the years. According to the Jain legends and the Jain scripture of Kalpasutra, the origin of the name of the place dates back to 600 BC and is traced back to the twenty fourth Jain Tirthankar, Vardhamana Mahavira (599-527 BC), who is believed to have spent some time in in the village of Astikagrama during the course of his speeches and sermons.

The place was thus later renamed as Bardhaman in the honour of Vardhamana Mahavira. The name Burdwan is an anglicized form of the Sanskrit word ‘Vardhamana’ and the corresponding ‘Bordhoman’ in Bengali.

According to another theory, the literal meaning of the word ‘Bardhaman’ means a prosperous growth centre. Due to the progress of the Aryans through the upper Gangetic River Valley, it is believed that this region signified as their frontier colony representing prosperity and growth. However, as the Aryans failed to proceed any further than this river valley, the name of this place was retained as Bardhaman which literally means ‘ever augmenting’ given the prosperity of the region. The first epigraphic reference to the name of this place occurs in a copper plate found in the Mallasarul village under the Galsi Police Station in the district which dates back to the 6th century AD.

Bardhaman Down the Ages

Sarbamangala Temple in BardhamanThe earliest references to Bardhaman can be traced back to the mythological legend of Goddess Sati. According to stories and tales circulated down the ages, the naval of Goddess Sati was said to have fallen in Bardhaman and the site where it had fallen has become the location of the famous Sarbamangala Temple. This temple is one of the most popular places in the city of Bardhaman and attracts a large number of Hindu followers and devotees from all over the country.

Traditional lore also talks about the myth of the ‘Satir Math’(the field of Sati), a place which is said to have witnessed numerous women immolating themselves and committing Sati which is an ancient Indian practice where women voluntarily jumped into the funeral pyre of their husbands. Satir Math presently exists as a huge mango garden in the city of Bardhaman.

Bardhaman is also renowned for the celebrated love story of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir and his wife Noor Jahan. Upon ascending upon his reign, Jahangir was highly besotted by Noor Jahan, who was then the wife of Sher Afghan and was known as Mehrunissa which means ‘sun among women’ in Persian. The seventeen year old Mehrunissa caught the fancy of Jahangir who wanted her as his queen in the Mughal harem. Sher Afghan was a ‘Jagirdar’ in Burdwan in the late Mughal period who had married Mehrunissa in the year 1594.

Emperor Jahangir and his wife Noor Jahan

Moreover, Sher Afghan had also rebelled against Jahangir and some other Mughal rulers, as a result of which he gained the ire of Jahangir. Thus, Jahangir sent Kutubuddin, his milk-brother who was also the Subedar of Bengal to fight against Sher Afghan so as to control the affairs of the state in the year 1607.

However, both Sher Afghan and Kutubuddin were killed in a deadly encounter in the year 1610 somewhere near the current railway station in Bardhaman.The tombs of both Sher Afghan and Kutubuddin are located besides each other near the burial ground at Pir Baharam. After this deadly battle, Mehrunissa married Jahangir in the year 1611, changed her name to Noor Jahan and went on to become an influential Mughal Empress, ruling India for a long time. 

Pir BaharamBardhaman was also home to the enlightened and mystical divine Pir Baharam who had to find shelter in the city after being driven out of Emperor Akbar’s court in New Delhi due to the conspiracies of Abul Fazal and Faizi. Jaipal, a Hindu mystic met Pir Baharam in Bardhaman and both enjoyed a mutual spiritual companionship which is revered and regarded by Hindus and Muslims of the city till this day.

Moreover, the city of Bardhaman was the place where the British East India Company and the Mughal rulers signed the handover treaty whereby the three villages of Sutanuti, Gobindapur and Kolikata were surrendered to the Company by the Mughals. These villages were merged later to form the modern day city of Calcutta or Kolkata as we know it today.

Bardhaman was termed as ‘Badh-e-dewan’ meaning the district capital under the reign of Jahangir. It is also one of the prime places of historical and cultural importance because it was the headquarters of the Maharajas of Burdwan for than two hundred years. Having a total income of over Rs 3, 00,000 generated from rent from tenants, the Maharajas of Burdwan were the pre-eminent nobleman and landlords of the district who ruled Bardhaman and significantly shaped its historical legacy. 

The zamindari estate of Burdwan Raj was established by Abu Rai in the year 1657 and it prospered till the year 1956 under a host of rulers ranging from the Mughals to the British. Belonging to a Hindu Khatri family of Kotli in Lahore, Punjab, Sangam Rai has been said to be the earliest known ancestor of Abu Rai who had immigrated to Bengal and settled in Bardhaman during the 16th century. Bardhaman was never a sovereign territory; instead it operated on the basis of the feudal system of governance whereby the Maharajas of Burdwan acted as landlords and collected rent and revenue from the tenants. However, this feudal system followed by the resident rulers was also under the direct control of the Mughals and the British Raj.

The Maratha army invaded Bardhaman and other areas of Bengal in the year 1740 under the leadership of Bhaskar Pandit and caused heavy death and destruction all over the district. Katwa became the base of operations of the Maratha Army from June 1742 onwards, as a result of which the region under the western part of the Bhagirathi River was passed under the control of the Marathas temporarily. The Marathas were violent people who committed gory acts of brutality and horror whereby they killed the descendants of the zamindars of Bardhaman as well as the innocent population living in the district.

The Maratha Invasion of Bengal

However, the problems caused by the Maratha invasion were not solved until the year 1751 whereby a peace treaty was signed between Raghuji Bhonsle, the King of Nagpur and Nawab Alivardi Khan, the Governor of Bengal. Through this treaty, Khan acceded to pay Rs 12 lakh a year to Bhonsle in the form of the chauth of Bengal. Subsequently, the Marathas went back to their region and the district of Bardhaman along with other areas of Bengal was able to get rid of the Maratha attacks and atrocities.

The district of Bardhaman evolved and prospered under the management of its premier rulers. During the years under the British rule, Maharaja Mahtab Chand Bahadur and Maharaja Bijoychand Mahatab put their best efforts to make the district of Bardhaman economically and culturally stable. As a result of this, the Burdwan Raj College was set up which was primarily financed and run by the royal coffers. The kings of Burdwan were also great patrons of literature and arts which can be exemplified by Sadhak Kamalakanta, who was a composer of devotional songs, Kashiram Das, who was a poet and also the translator of the great epic Mahabharata and Kazi Nazrul Islam, the great rebel poet. In addition to all this, Bardhaman was also one of the primary cities propagating the culture of north Indian classical music.

Maharaja Mahtab Chand Bahadur

The excellent administrative skills of Maharaja Mahtab Chand Bahadur were much lauded by the British Raj during the Santhal Rebellion of 1855-56 and the Indian Mutiny of 1857 due to which the district of Bardhaman prospered immensely. Maharaja Mahatab Chand Bahadur’s loyalty to the British crown was rewarded with the grant of a coat of arms in 1868 and a personal acknowledgment of 13 guns salute in the year 1877. Maharaja Bijoychand Mahatab was also a great favourite of the British Raj as he was a British loyalist who earned respect and a great distinction because of his unwavering courage with which he risked his own life to save that of Sir Andrew Fraser, the then lieutenant-governor of Bengal when some freedom fighters of Bengal attempted to assassinate him on 7 November 1908.

Bardhaman was also an integral part of the freedom struggle of India against the rule of the British. Belonging to Channa, a small village in the district of Bardhaman, Jatin Banerjee, an inhabitant of the Channa village in the Galsi police station region in Bardhaman was one of the first persons to advocate the use of arms and other revolutionary methods in order to fight against the British. The district witnessed political agitation in various forms whereby people rebelled against foreign rule by participating in the Khilafat and the Quit India Movement as well as revolted against the partition of Bengal in 1905.

Even students of the Bardhaman Raj College actively participated in the political demonstrations and were consequently expelled from the college for shouting patriotic slogans like Vande Mataram. Numerous political leaders like Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose visited Bardhaman and addressed rallies in the district, thereby rousing the nationalistic fervour of the people to claim absolute freedom from foreign dominion.

Hence, we can see that Bardhaman has a multi-cultural history that spans a number of decades and that has shaped the culture and the social fabric of the city as we can see it today in its modern day archetype.

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