The "City of Discontent":
Patna in the Age of "Revolution"
The city of Patna: what better way to begin this bazaar narrative than
with the central place of the region, and what better way to recount its initial colonial
career beginning in the eighteenth-century age of "revolution" than to turn to a
map drawn by Sayyid Ghulam Husain Khan Tabatabai (1727-28 to 1797-98), who lived in that
era as both observer and participant. His magnificent, multivolume chronicle familiar to
subsequent generations as TheSeirMutaqherin , orViewofModernTimes has much
to say about the inqilab , or revolution, of the eighteenth century, which led to
the decline of the Mughal Empire, the rise and fall of the successor state of the nawabs
of Bengal, and the triumph of the East India Company in north India.
Many other contemporary voices, Indian and British, also represent the tumultuous events
of the times as a revolution or an upheaval, not in the sense of a social revolution but
as "a change in rulers, a change of dynasties, a reversal
of luck or fate" resulting in "a destruction of the old
economic order, a distortion of the old social order."
To add context to these voices and to fill in their silences, I have
also drawn on colonial records. As the historian of ModernTimes was aware the
"English" themselves referred to him as "the historian" (an
appellation intended to distinguish him from his namesake who was the landholder of
Sherghati) his "English" followed "some
practices" that were novel for his countrymen, such as their "custom" of
gathering information: "counting the inhabitants of every town and city, and
examining how much they may have earned, and how much spent; how many are dead, and how
many are their children and how many their old men." Such
data collection about the Other, a critical imperative in the development of the colonial
state, centered on a series of "investigative modalities" relating to "the
observational, the historiographic and the museological" as well as the
"survey," "enumerative," "surveillance," and
"sanitary" modalities. Each of these was vital to the collection "of a body
of information, needed in a governing project."
By locating contemporary local voices in the socioeconomic setting that
can be sketched from the colonial documentation project, this chapter intends to look both
at the poetics and politics of the revolution as articulated in contemporary written texts
and at its effects on the human and physical landscape as represented in the lived text
that was the city of Patna. The initial focus here is on the
experiences of the elite inhabitants of Patna, whose downfall was lamented and proclaimed
by many voices. Indeed, to follow the leads furnished by Ghulam Husain and his
contemporaries is to converge on three major developments defining the "modern
times" of the city: the diminution in power and influence of its elite, the rise in
power of zamindars, or land-
holders, and the economic decline of the city and the region as a
result of changes termed deindustrialization by some scholars that had dire consequences
for the livelihood of large numbers of ordinary men and women as well. A scrutiny of these
developments highlights the current historiographical debate about the kind of rupture
colonial rule generated in the fabric of South Asian society, culture, and economy.
To what extent these developments can be discerned by tracing the career
of the city of Patna as the central place of the region forms another focus of this
chapter. In part this requires surveying its changing relationship with its hinterland, as
the region and subcontinent became incorporated into an expanding world system, and in
part it entails focusing on the city itself its built environment. To locate this
historically, I will contextualize Ghulam Husain's view of his "modern times" by
extending his history backward and forward in time, to the precolonial era as well as to
the colonial period that he did not live to witness.
The ostensible purpose of Ghulam Husain's Modern Times was to
provide "an insight into the phenomena of the Almighty Artist's full powers, and a
glimpse into the most glorious part of the Creator's performance"; it also aimed at
offering the "public at some distant time hereafter, an idea of the preceding reigns;
and to prevent his being stopped short, as by a chasm, on discovering that links are
wanting from the chain of past events."
Revelation and genealogy in other words, history were the underlying
principles of this work. Apprenticed to the same master narrative, both principles served
to outline an identical political plot, tracing the fall of the old order of the
historian's countrymen and coreligionists and the rise of the lineage of the Company, or
British Raj. And as a historian who preferred to retell events that he had personally
witnessed or heard about, Ghulam Husain constructed his "chain of past events"
along a narrow "idea of preceding reigns." His history opens with high drama:
the death in 1707 of the last great Mughal emperor, Aurangzeb, which engendered a war of
succession over the throne in Delhi, and the emergence of a host of regional contenders in
Lacking a longuedurÃ©e perspective, Ghulam Husain's ModernTimes
ignores earlier "revolutions," thus leaving in the dark the many up-
heavals that the region had experienced during "preceding
reigns," as well as the long career of Patna.
Nevertheless, its past as the ancient capital, Pataliputra, formed part of the historical
consciousness of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: a site of remembrance
although not as yet a site of archaeology. Buried under layers of history, the Pataliputra
of ancient greatness had to await the archaeologist's spade in the late nineteenth and
early twentieth centuries. Only with the coming of the "museological modality"
could it surface as a physical site; and even then it was excavated at the outskirts of
the "modern" city, an appropriately distant, ghostly reminder of an almost
Like eighteenth-century Patna, Pataliputra was a riverine city. However,
unlike Ghulam Husain's Patna, it was situated not only on the Ganges and the Son, but near
the confluence of the Gogra and Gandak as well. Its centrality was also sustained by a
hinterland that had long enjoyed agricultural prosperity and a high population density.
From the sixth century B.C.E. until the beginning of the Christian era, the kingdom of
Magadh (roughly Patna and Gaya districts) constituted the major center of power in north
India: five successive dynasties based in this area formed in these centuries
supraregional or pan-Indian empires. A more productive resource base enabled the Gangetic
plain generally and the Magadh area specifically to exercise hegemony over the rest of the
subcontinent in the ancient period.
From the very outset the rise of Patna as a central place was tied to a
political act: the establishment by a Magadh ruler of a fort in the village of Patali in
the fifth century B.C.E. Pataliputra emerged from this site to become the capital of the
Mauryan dynasty in the fourth century B.C.E. and the core of the first centralized empire
under King Ashoka, who transformed the dynasty into an all-India empire.
at the heart of an empire under the Guptas (ca. 320-647 C.E.), it
diminished in importance during this era because the center of gravity of north Indian
power shifted westward toward Banaras. The breakup of the empire into many kingdoms, each
with its own strategic central place, added to this growing peripheralization of Magadh.
Pataliputra's star, tied as it was to the careers of its political masters, faded after
almost a millennium of brilliance. The locus of power continued to migrate westward,
eventually coming to rest in the Delhi-Agra region, where it has remained for almost the
last five centuries, except for much of the colonial period discussed here, during which
Calcutta was the capital of the empire.
Ghulam Husain's history is also silent on the fate of Pataliputra from
the time of the Guptas to the initial Muslim presence in the region, a historical
"chasm" that has remained largely unfilled because of a paucity of information.
Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji's successful conquest of the region at the end of the twelfth
century extended Turkish rule into the area, but the new rulers shifted their base from
the town of Bihar (also known as Biharsharif) to Lakhnauti (Malda district) in Bengal. In
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries the region was a contested frontier area, the
object of political and military jockeying between the sultans of Delhi and the
independent kings of Lakhnauti. The rise of the kingdom of Jaunpur (North-Western
Provinces) in the fifteenth century added another player to the conflict. Throughout much
of this period (1206-1526) Patna was a secondary settlement, subordinated to the town of
Bihar, whose primacy was acknowledged by the fact that the entire province was named after
Nor does the historian of Modern Times identify the "preceding
reigns" that led to the rebirth of Pataliputra as Patna, an omission that is all the
more glaring because the monuments of his age were conspicuous relics of the remembered
and quotidian landscape of the eighteenth century. Although the rise of the Mughals in the
early sixteenth century led to the formation of a subcontinent-wide empire centered in
north India, Bihar was initially only nominally under their
government. Different groups of Afghans carved out regional kingdoms in eastern India that
effectively resisted the direct control of Delhi. By 1540 the most notable of these
kingdoms, under the leadership of Sher Shah, had managed to wrest control of much of north
India from the Delhi rulers. During his short-lived Sur dynasty, Pataliputra emerged as
"Pattana" meaning a place of commercial importance, a mart and gained ascendancy
over the town of Bihar. Sher Shah built a fort to encompass the city; its extant eastern
and western gates stand a mile and half apart. Mughal victories over his heirs eventually
led to the imposition of direct Mughal rule over Bihar by the 1570s: this new political
reality was reflected in the organization of the region as one of the provinces (subahs)
of the empire in 1580.
With Delhi wearing the crown during the Mughal period, Patna became the
seat of the region. Abdul Latif compared it favorably in 1608 with his prosperous hometown
of Ahmedabad in western India. Noting that it had supplanted the town of Bihar and become
the capital and residence of the Mughal governor, he termed it the "best [city] of
the province. . . . All kinds of articles needed . . . for food and clothing are twice or
thrice as cheap and abundant here as in other places. In truth, it is a place fit to live
in; hence many traders and comfort-loving men have chosen it for their homes. In no other
city of India can be seen so many men of Iraq and Khurasan, as have taken up their
In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries Persians, Central Asians,
and Armenian traders were active in the city, as were members of several business
communities, including Khatris from the north and Jains from the west. The well-known
eighteenth-century banking house of Jagat Seth had its beginnings in Patna in the
seventeenth century. Banarsidas, the early-seventeenth-century Jaunpur merchant, made both
Patna and Banaras major stops on his business circuit.
Missing from Ghulam Husain's "chain of past events" is also a
"link" about his so-called English who appear suddenly in the
phase of his history and who are already powerful enough to intrude
dramatically onto the Bengal stage to play a critical role in the overthrow of its nawab,
Siraj-ud-daula. Yet long before this Plassey Revolution made possible by the British
victory over the nawab at the famous Battle of Plassey in 1757 established the British as
a major political force in the region, Europeans had been making inroads into the regional
economy. In fact, a considerable portion of the Bengal economy was in European hands in
the early eighteenth century. Rather than view this development as indicating the
beginning of deindustrialization, some scholars have proposed that direct European
intervention and involvement in textile production "was part of a process, later
transferred to agriculture, which led to the incorporation of South Asia within the world
economy and the establishment of British colonialism."
Europeans had been knocking on Patna's commercial doors as early as the
late sixteenth century. By 1620 the English East India Company had set up a factory to
purchase calicoes and to process raw silk obtained from Bengal. Although the factory was
closed within a year, the Company returned in 1632, when Peter Mundy, accompanied by an
Indian broker, sought a market for quicksilver and vermilion in Patna, with the goal of
investing the returns in the purchase of articles of trade. Notwithstanding this second
failed attempt, the Company organized a branch factory at Patna in 1657, which became its
outlet for local trade. Increasingly, the Company's main focus was saltpeter, an essential
ingredient in the manufacture of gunpowder, which was collected in Patna from the entire
region and which was of interest to several European powers; it also sold broadcloth,
lead, and quicksilver.
Patna also enjoyed a reputation in the seventeenth century as a center
of trade in cotton and silk goods; the hinterland within a fifty-mile radius of the city
was engaged in cotton production. It was particularly well-known for two types of cotton
cloth: "emmerties" and "calicoes." Manucci found many merchants in
Patna's "bazaars" in 1683 trading in fine white cloth and other products. Silk
was produced locally at
Baikunthpur, as well as imported from Bengal. Two other valuable
products were rice and opium.
Ghulam Husain's Patna had therefore been a rising political and economic
center for almost a century and a half before the revolution. Furthermore although not the
focus of his history either the city had received a considerable fillip in the beginning
of the eighteenth century, when Prince Azim-us-Shah, the grandson of Emperor Aurangzeb and
the governor of Bengal (including Bihar) in 1703-7, decided to settle in Patna. While his
plans to transform it into another Delhi never got off the ground, Patna, now renamed
Azimabad after him, prospered, as his courtiers and nobles flocked to the city to live in
the presence of their prince. Azimabad, moreover, persisted as the name of the city until
the turn of the nineteenth century; it was the name used by Ghulam Husain.
Nor did the declining power of the Mughals put an immediate brake on
this pace. On the contrary, with Delhi's hold over the region weakening, Bihar, although
subordinated to and "not as wealthy an area" as Bengal, attracted in-migration.
Lehmann explains that "a regular flow of nobles, poets, soldiers, Sufi saints, and
other people came in from Delhi and other parts. . . . The result was that the city of
Patna blossomed forth as a major center of Mughal culture in the eighteenth century.
Patna became home to one of the so-called regional "bazaar
schools" of painting that developed as art patronage in Delhi faded with the decline
of the Mughal Empire. According to the family tradition of the Patna kalam (school
of painters), their roots in the city date to about 1760. They apparently settled in Patna
not because it was in the throes of a revolution but because it was a prosperous city
offering them the patronage they needed in order to survive as painters. Their paintings,
featured in this study, focus particularly on bazaar scenes and festivals, vivid
historical vistas that can be only partly evoked from textual
sources. Supported by both Indian and colonial patrons, this school
continued to thrive well into the late nineteenth century
further evidence of the economic vibrancy that characterized the city long after
the age of revolution.
Thus the perspective of ModernTimes , with its focus on the
decline of the city, was a backward look at a century that began with Patna reaching new
heights of prosperity and prominence as Azimabad, and one that closed with a city
seemingly reeling from the shock of the revolution. The retrospective gaze of this
historian was therefore circumscribed (as it is for any historian), in part by his
"genealogy" as a historian representing a specific moment in time, and in part
by his specific personal outlook. As an elite member of "Hindostan" the north
Indian heartland and as a Muslim, his concept of revelation and genealogy was shaped by
the extraordinary events that had led to the demise of an Indo-Islamic empire and a
regional kingdom and the birth of a new power. This turn of events necessarily
foregrounded the contradictions stemming from Ghulam Husain's own faith as a Muslim
sometimes specifically as a Shiite Muslim and from the other religions of the historical
actors of his ModernTimes . To this set of
contradictions were added the further complications of his multiple personal and family
attachments to, at one time or another, the Mughal Empire, the successor state of Bengal,
and, for him personally, the East India Company. Critical of the old order, particularly
that of the nawabs of Bengal with whom he had had the most direct contact, he nevertheless
lamented its passing because it led to the triumph of the "nation of
Hat-wearers." To him, the British were "alien to this country," in his
words, "both in customs and manners; and quite strangers to the methods of raising
tribute as well as to the maxims of estimating the revenues, or of comprehending the ways
Ghulam Husain was not alone in ruing the social structural ruptures
caused by the upheavals of the eighteenth century. Consider the Shahr-i-Ashob , or
"a poem on a ruined city" or the "city of discontent" written in the
1750s or 1760s by Shah Ayatullah Jauhari (1714?-96) in the style of a narrative poem (mathnavi)
. Its most striking note concerns the fact that "the times are changing, everything
is contrary, bearing the impression of changing fortune." "Worthy men, good
fortune, prosperity" in the new epoch, he intones, "all are gone from this
world. Friendship and love have dwindled, and beastly avarice has increased."
A similar lament was penned by Ghulam Ali Rasikh (c. 1749-1823) in his
narrative poem entitled "Description of the Times of Upheaval [Inqilab] and
Lamentation to Heaven, and a Summary Statement of the Circumstances of the Inhabitants of
the Town of Azimabad." His evocation of a "ruined city" describes a time
when "the inhabitants . . . have become men of bad conduct." So rampant was
corruption that the "city [had] been visited with [the] cholera epidemic."
Azimabad, in Rasikh's metaphor, formerly a "rose-bed," had
been transformed into "a garden of thorns," "a garden . . . [with] a
shockingly different color" where "spring" had "turned into
autumn." The poet laments,
Now this garden is leafless, a place of warning; nothing remains of those wonderful days.
There is no opulent man in this garden, no man of wealth to perfume it like a flower.
Everyone is crushed by poverty; everyone is imprisoned in that condition.
Oh, where is the life of luxury and where the strolls in the garden?
Who can think of such pleasures now, and who has the leisure?
All hope for silver and gold is gone; but now the people have yellowish faces and silvery tears.
The formerly wealthy are now all searching for the evening meal; gentlemen of means have become beggars.
Emperor and Ministers have now become paupers; those who were once wealthy do not even get alms today.
Now it is the dust of the road on the foreheads of people who were once covered with jewels from head to toe.
Fine ermine carpets were once theirs to have and hold, who now cannot afford even a palm-leaf mat for a bed.
Those who once were gentlemen, with a hundred slave-girls and slave-boys, are now selling themselves for life.
Those who enjoyed good fortunes in palaces and mansions now have cobwebs for their home.
A "different color" also characterized the condition of
agriculture and commerce. To turn once again to Rasikh's words:
The profession of agriculture also is without lustre, its goals are now unattainable.
When does this profession enrich anyone?
It is impossible to flourish in it.
There is the constant danger of drought in it, and where there is flooding, it is a destructive typhoon.
Where is there any commercial capital?
There is nothing remaining, except the ready money of life itself.
Now there is a good business only in poverty, and this business proceeds only with sighs of despair.
The platform for a commercial shop is gone, for there are neither sellers nor buyers.
But was the sense of "ruin" and "discontent"
overdetermined by the fact that the historian and poets had their fingers on the pulse of
the aristocracy but not on that of the rest of their society? And being all Muslims, were
their voices attuned only to the Muslim segment of the elite? Not that these
"facts" necessarily vitiate the "facticity" of their observations, but
surely they heightened the tone of urgency and despair. For the pall that set in toward
the close of the eighteenth century was largely cast over their predominantly Indo-Islamic
"garden" of Azimabad.
Small wonder that Jauhari and Rasikh equated the passing of the
aristocracy with a moral and religious breakdown in society. For Jauhari especially,
"ruin" and "discontent" stemmed from the declining position of Islam
in the city as a political power but also as a religious faith. And along with
displacement came replacement, Islam giving way to a resurgent Hinduism. As Rasikh saw it,
God's house is dark. . . .
Look where you will, and in every temple the gongs are sounding;
Few hear the call to prayer and go to the mosque.
The Brahmans, wearing their sect-marks, are respected in these times.
The use of the (Hindu) rosary is common, instead of recitation of the name
The cavalry of Lalahs and Babus goes with such a tumult,
That the Subahdar is a Hindu, and a Hindu holds the Diwani.
In Jauhari's estimation, Hindus occupied the center stage and the
British were poised in the wings. "Christians are their protectors," he
believed, "and they are the protectors of the Christians; The life of Musulmans has
fallen into the hands of their two great enemies."
The disparate religious hues in the pictures of "ruin" and
"discontent" painted by Jauhari and Rasikh may in part reflect their different
moments in time. As the reference to a Hindu subahdar (governor) and a Hindu diwan
(chief officer) suggests, the former's perspective dated back to the mid-eighteenth
century, when Janaki Ram and Ram Narayan held high offices in Bihar, the centralized
Mughal Empire and its successor state in Bengal appeared to be on the wane, and British
power was on the rise. However, by the time of Rasikh's composition probably sometime
between 1818 and his death in 1823 the British were the supreme political power in the
subcontinent. Nevertheless, Rasikh, although ever the "opportunist" he was known
to have dedicated some of his verses to the new regime, at one point describing himself as
"a great well-wisher of the Company" is clearly
implicitly if not explicitly indicting the existing regime for having transformed his city
and his society into a "garden" of "a shockingly different color."
Although both poets took exception to what they perceived as a
displacement of the aristocracy, Jauhari's Shahr-i-Ashob was decidedly more
religious in its lament. Lehmann attributes this distinction to their different personal
experiences and background. "Both . . . had their origins in Sufism but Jauhari
remained in a Sufi religious establishment in the small town of Phulwari Sharif, while
Rasikh joined in the social and literary circles in the big cities."
The "shockingly different color" apparently affected
everyone and everything in the "garden" because of the multiple roles the
aristocracy of Azimabad played in the local and regional society and economy by virtue of
their power, prestige, and patronage. The decline in aristocratic fortunes cut a wide
swath: "Everyone is unemployed . . .Masters of learning and skill are
wandering from door to door with begging bowls. People with skills are heart-sick, there
is no business to help them now." Rasikh's catalog of "everyone" included
"saints . . . fearfully enduring misfortune," calligraphers "constantly
shedding tears upon the writing of their own fate," teachers "fed up with
life," poets "cowardly, greedy. . . shameless," advocates no
longer "in a flourishing state," physicians "fatigued," and soldiers
without even "a toy clay horse" to command; peasants and traders, too, suffered.
Poets were especially affected because their livelihood, as Rasikh avers, depended on the
patronage of such elites who "controlled government and patronized the arts and
trades of the professional and middle classes."
The poetic language of despair thus issued from a specific
"discontent": the passing of an ancien rÃ©gime that supported a natural
hierarchy (naturally) headed by an aristocracy. For when "kings" were turned
into "beggars," according to Rasikh, the garden was turned "upside down.
But not all "kings" turned into "beggars." Because
the imagined revolution of Ghulam Husain and of Jauhari and Rasikh was fundamentally about
the passing of a system of rule, specifically an Indo-Islamic order, the change it
produced was by no means a social revolution. Rather, its major consequence was a turnover
in personnel; a change that targeted in particular a generation of elites many of whom
were Muslims whose lives spanned the transitional decades of the late eighteenth and early
nineteenth centuries. As Kumkum Chatterjee's recent work shows, the
"aristocracy" of the region, comprising the highest level of bureaucrats,
merchants, and banking magnates, was adversely affected by the upheavals of the eighteenth
century. In Azimabad this "aristocracy" consisted of the elite, with its shared
status, wealth, respect, and lifestyle, which set it apart from the rest of society.
Contrast this downward trend of the Patna elite with the rise of a
"new" aristocracy that Ghulam Husain bore testimony to, both as a historian and
as a historical actor caught up in the latter process. His account of this "new"
aristocracy also serves as a contrast to Rasikh's dire pronouncement on the decline of the
"profession of agriculture":
Under the English Government the principal Zemindars being now their
own masters, and the hinges of all business in their own lands; and having been so lucky
as to carry [sic] some favour with their masters; and all this in contrariety to
former institutes, which held it as an invariable maxim, to keep them low; these people do
now just as they please, and in what manner they please; nor do they make any thing of
fighting amongst themselves, and killing and slaughtering their subjects; whilst the
Fojdar [head police officer] dares not to quarrel with them, and is even afraid to give
them an order, or to revenge the oppressed ones upon those tyrants, or even to reclaim
from their hands the property of those travellers whom they have despoiled.
The "overgrowing power of the Zemindars, and . . . their being
trusted too much" was a source of great vexation to Ghulam Husain he considered them
an "incorrigible" and "malevolent race" who were "to a man, a
refractory, short-sighted, faithless set of people, that mind nothing but present
interest, and require always a strict hand." Notwithstanding "rules of old
standing . . . [and] the most approved opinions held equally by eminent merchants, as well
as by knowing Princes," "English rulers," he believed, treated them
indulgently, even equating them with "Zemindars and land-holders of their own."
Personal experience involving the family's holding in pargana
Japla, no doubt, exacerbated this negative outlook. (Japla, an earlier designation for
Hussainabad, was developed by his father (Hedayat Ali Khan), served as the family's place
of residence, and was held as an altamgha , or rent-free grant.) But by the early
1790s this claim was disputed by the government as were many other revenue-free grants and
estates. The family's grant was eventually revoked because the deed entitling them to the
grant was considered a forgery. Their stake in the south-
western Gaya parganas of Siris and Kutumba, which, according to
Ghulam Husain, "had been leased out to our family from a great number of years," also slipped out of their hands and devolved entirely into the
possession of the area's long-standing zamindar, Narain Singh. A brief stint in 1774 as sazawal
(land steward) for the latter's lands set him back financially because the zamindar's
"bad conduct" prevented him from managing the estate profitably. Narain Singh,
moreover, continued to enjoy his estate (zamindari) even though he repeatedly took
up arms against the British (for example, by joining the Banaras rebellion of Raja Chait
Singh in 1781) and was remiss and recalcitrant in meeting his revenue payments. Jailed by
the authorities, he was restored to his "forfeited" zamindari upon his
release in 1790. As for Ghulam Husain, he was left with only a small portion of the lands
that he had formerly leased, worth Rs. 30,381, compensation for a debt owed him by Narain
Singh. Small wonder that Ghulam Husain compared the English
unfavorably with earlier rulers who granted rent-free lands to "Noblemen, whether
Musulmen or Hindoos, and indeed upon any others indifferently, according to their stations
and merits, with the hope of further preferment, in proportion to their abilities and
exertions in the service."
Ghulam Husain's ModernTimes ends its history in 1782 but presaged
later developments. It foresaw what has now become a familiar theme in South Asian
historiography, a story often related as unfolding around the notion of
"land-is-to-rule," the idea that ownership or holding of land enabled its owner
or titleholder to control land and the people occupying and working on the land.
Holding of land, in other words, increasingly defined an economic and political as well as
a social and cultural relationship. And in its insistent observations on the
"overgrowing power of the Zemindars," the Patna historian anticipated the
long-term consequences of the Permanent Settlement of 1793
that fixed the revenue demand of the state in perpetuity and defined
the "legal and administrative framework within which agrarian relations were
determined . . . until the zamindari abolition acts of the 1950s."
Legally, this settlement established ownership rights in land,
proprietary rights that its framers mistakenly expected would provide the impetus to
transform zamindars into "improving" English landlords. Politically and
administratively, it led to a policy of "control and collaboration" that
generated "a close and mutually beneficial relationship" in which the "new
regime held the reins of power and authority . . . but also . . . serve[d] as protector of
As allies, landholders gained the "overgrowing power" that
Ghulam Husain anticipated they would if left unchecked to exercise their
"mischiefs." Not that the colonial state was weak. On
the contrary, over the course of the nineteenth century, it monopolized coercive power
through its military and police forces; it also disarmed its subjects, thereby sharply
curtailing local "fighting . . . and killing." But its control was strongest in
the cities and towns where its institutions and personnel were aggregated; it became more
attenuated with increasing distance from its urban centers.
Endowed with political standing in their localities by virtue of their
positions as local allies of the colonial state, landholders thus enhanced their roles as
local controllers. They also profited under this new system of control and collaboration
because their legal rights were developed and protected by the rule of law. In addition,
they benefited from having their revenue payments set in perpetuity while their lands
continued to increase in value because of the changing land market. Land gained in value
and agricultural prices rose, in part the result of growing numbers of people occupying
land that reached its limits in terms of cultivation in the late nineteenth century.
The primary beneficiaries of these new arrangements were the so-called
great zamindars and not the overwhelming majority of zamindars occupying a few acres or
shares scattered across villages and of varying status and historical standing with whom
the Permanent Settlement was concluded. Although exceptions but significant exceptions
they were these few "principal Zemindars" were significant "hinges of all
business in their own lands." Recognized as rajas and maharajas and treated as the
state's most significant and influential local connections, these "great"
zamindars possessed estates that extended over vast areas and accounted for revenue
payments that represented a sizable portion of the local revenue. Their age-of-revolution
story familiar to Ghulam Husain from his own experiences often involved an initial phase
of resistance or even outright rebellion when faced with the revenue demands of the new
regime and with its attempts to curb their growing local autonomy. Most eventually came to
terms with the new government, which elected to collaborate with these "old landed
proprietors" despite their initial opposition and, in some cases, even vigorous
rebellion. The most powerful of these local magnates were Darbhanga in Darbhanga, Bettiah
in Champaran, Hathwa in Saran, Dumraon in Shahabad, and Tikari in Gaya. Their stories,
which can be pieced together from their estate histories and official records, tell of
family upheavals of epic proportions but also speak of the riches and power they acquired
over the course of colonial rule. A few numbers will suffice to illustrate the case.
Darbhanga, the largest of the great zamindars, possessed an estate ranging more than
twenty-four hundred square miles and an annual income of approximately 4 million rupees, a
scale on a par with many a princely state. Bettiah's eighteen hundred square miles
yielding a rental of almost z million rupees made it the second largest zamindari;
Hathwa's property, although small, nevertheless encompassed 1,365 villages, was inhabited
by more than 391,000 people, and produced an annual rental of almost a million rupees.
Notwithstanding the ups and downs in the fortunes of some families,
zamindars overall enhanced their roles as both local controllers and political connections
of the colonial state over the course of the nineteenth century. Their rising profile in
the local configuration of government control paralleled the decline of the
"aristocracy" of the region, whose
elite positions in Azimabad were undermined by the upheavals of the
eighteenth century. The relatively stronger government presence in Patna, as well as in
the district headquarters towns, also contributed to this diminution in power and
influence of the urban-based elite.
But the emergence of the new landed "aristocracy" in the wake
of the revolution did not completely eclipse the city's bankers and merchants, certainly
not their economic prosperity and well-being. Patna continued to enjoy its reputation as a
place of "enormous wealth" well into the nineteenth century. "Many of the
great men of the city are exceedingly rich," states an early-nineteenth-century
source, citing as proof a durbar (audience, court) held by Lord Amherst at which
"one of them offered, and it is said gave, a lac of rupees to have his name inserted
at the head of the list of native gentlemen who paid their respects to the
Although many more "Lalahs and Babus" joined the roster of the
new aristocracy, Muslims remained prominent among the ranks of the city's aristocratic
families. Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Guzri, or Nawab
Bahadur, family stood out as perhaps the richest family in all of Patna. Like many of the
"city's" wealthy, the Nawab Bahadur's fortunes were tied to banking and trade.
The Guzri family also branched out into the land market, investing heavily in land through
purchases and mortgages to become the largest zamindar among city residents. As bankers,
they acted as the underwriters of many a great zamindari family, for example, the
Bettiah raj. However, as was the case with most urban-based
nouveaux riches, this Patna family was not counted among the "old landed
proprietors" and therefore was not singled out by government to serve as its local
connection, at least not in the areas where the family held land. Nor were such absentee
landholders generally the salient men of the locality in which they had acquired rights in
land. On the contrary, actual possession of the land itself often continued to be
contested long after property titles had officially changed hands. As Pouchepadass notes,
"[T]he man who purchased land at a public sale after its 'legitimate' owner had been
forced to part with it was not unnaturally
viewed as an intruder and an usurper, unless he managed to compel
recognition by force."
Like many other prominent Patna notables of the colonial era, the rise
of the Nawab Bahadur family to the ranks of the local aristocracy is a postrevolution
story. The Indian episode of these late-eighteenth-century immigrants begins with Persian
ancestors who arrived in the northwest in the train of Nadir Shah's invasion (1730s) and
subsequently settled in Awadh. Their Bihar chapter opens with Syed Abdullah, who
established himself in Patna at the turn of the nineteenth century. Well-off when he first
set foot in Bihar, his riches-to-richer story turns on his success at building up his
fortune by engaging in money "transactions," in conducting "trades of
different sorts," and by assuming the farms of government estates.
Acknowledged as the "principal banker" of the city by local
authorities, he served as the spokesman for Patna's elites. When government sought to
resume revenue-free lands, he represented the lakhirajdars (revenue- or rent-free
holders) of Bihar many of whom were said to be among "the most influential class of
persons in the city," personally lobbying the governor-general in Calcutta and taking
the lead in submitting petitions against resumption legislation. Although the lakhirajdars
were unsuccessful in their efforts as Ghulam Husain had been four decades earlier to hold
on to the titles that government believed many bankers and moneylenders had obtained from
the original owners, this campaign rallied crowds of four to five thousand people at the
Patna collector's office and generated all kinds of rumors about the religious motives
underlying government intentions and actions.
By the time of Syed Abdullah's death, there was in Patna, in his
grandson's words, "no one equal to him in wealth."
His annual income was described by one source as nearly amounting to two hundred thousand
rupees. His four sons, Mehdi Ali Khan (1793-1850), Mohammad Ali Khan (1797-1826), Kasim
Ali Khan (1806-62), and Lutf
Ali Khan (1812-90), continued to prosper, as did Mehdi Ali Khan's son,
Wilayet Ali Khan (1818-99). In the early 1850s the family business was divided up (batwara)
, each of the four branches receiving Rs. 1,840,500. In the wake of the division, separate
kothis (banking houses) were established by Kasim Ali, Lutf Ali, and Wilayet Ali in
partnership with Mohammad Bakur Khan (son of Mohammad Ali). And the family fortunes
continued to soar: when Lutf Ali died in 1890, he left Rs. 3.2 million in cash and an
annual zamindari income of five hundred thousand to be apportioned among his three
sons and two daughters. Wilayet Ali also seems to have done
well; his inherited properties in Bihar yielded an annual income of fifty-five thousand
rupees in addition to the "profits from money transactions." In the 1860s he
branched out into the grain business, in partnership with a former commissioner of Patna,
William Tayler. According to Nawab Waris Ismail, a descendant of the Wilayet Ali branch,
the Nawab Bahadur families had "golden times" in the 1880s and 1890s. With the
main kothis in Patna and branches elsewhere, and with zamindari income
bringing in almost a million a year, they did not suffer any reverses until the early
twentieth century. In 1915, however, their banking business came to a halt, and in
banking, as in other matters, internecine squabbles led the way to the family slipping
into "deteriorating conditions."
The most prominent "Lalahs and Babus" were also involved in
banking and trading. As in other north Indian cities, in Patna as well, Marwaris and
Aggarwals, originally from Rajputana, were especially conspicuous in these activities.
Some Marwari families dated back to the Mughal period, others were part of an
eighteenth-century migration, and still others constituted part of the now-familiar
migration down the Ganges in the nineteenth century. The attraction of Patna was, as a
present-day descendant of the banking Ramji Ram family put it, the
"scope of the business."
The Rohatgi family affords another example of recent immigrants who
established themselves in Patna business. In the nineteenth century their Dhawalpura
Kothi, or the firm of Kallu Babu Lallu Babu, comprised one of the major banking house:
their business included credit note (hundi) transactions and some moneylending.
They were also involved in the "cloth printing business." By these means they
accumulated enough wealth in the nineteenth century to challenge the Nawab Bahadur family,
a competition, according to one account, to see which family could literally line more of
the city streets with gold coins. The winners, the Babus, are said to have bested their
rivals by producing a bullock cart filled with three hundred thousand rupees' worth of
"Edward coins." Another version of the tale states that the competition was to
see how far each of the families would get from the "city" to Bankipur by
placing their gold coins alongside one another.
But if the histories of these prominent banking and trading families
illustrate the rise of a new generation of aristocrats and the persistence and development
of the city as a center of wholesale trade and banking, the chronology of their declining
fortunes in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries also mirrors the shifts in
the city's primacy as a central place. The collective fate of bankers and petty traders in
the colonial period further underscores this slump. Their declining condition is an
especially revealing index of regional trends because they were instrumental in
underwriting the wholesale trade of the area.
At the outset of the nineteenth century the city supported 24
substantial bankers (kothiwals) with capital ranging from five thousand to five
hundred thousand rupees, 168 moneylenders with capital of one thousand to one hundred
thousand rupees, and 30 usurers with small amounts of money. In addition, 321 money
changers (shroff), some with as much capital as ten thousand to fifty thousand rupees, and
money changers with a side business in cotton cloth and cotton and
wood also plied their trade in the city. Although the number of bankers totaled 827 by the
1870s, this estimation conceals the fact that the number of large banking houses (kothis)
had fallen to only ten. The rest were mostly petty moneylenders, except for 43 persons
described as principally dealing in the hundi trade. By the 1880s, the "few
big mahajuns . . . who at one time, by the help of their large capital, ruled over the
commercial destinies of the district" were said to be a thing "of the
past." Fifty years later the systematic
1929â30 inquiry of banking in the region was hard-pressed to find any large
banking houses still operating. According to its report, the few survivors "have . .
. ceased to be shroffs . . . as they have lost their deposit business. They have been
transformed into zamindars and money-lenders."
Data on arhatiyas commission agents involved in purchasing and
selling goods tell a similar story. In the early nineteenth century when Patna's role as
an emporium of trade was still secure, it counted 124 arathiyas , some with
capitals of up to twenty-five thousand rupees. By the late nineteenth century, however,
only 14 were left.
The changing fortunes of Patna bankers and traders as well as the rise
of landholders were related to another major development perceived to be a characteristic
of the "modern times" of the city and its hinterland: their changing
manufacturing and commercial fortunes. This shift, furthermore, affected not only the
"aristocracy" many of whom were involved in the trade of
"manufactured" goods or the products of artisanal industries (as the Rohatgi
family were) but also large numbers of ordinary men and women who formed the backbone of
this sector of the economy.
Ghulam Husain anticipated this effect of colonial rule when he hinted
that the growth of Company trade, backed by special privileges, was overwhelming
indigenous competition. As recounted by Amiya Bagchi, this trend resulted in
deindustrialization in the nineteenth century, a process of decline in the
"industrial" or nonagricultural sector of the economy. His
argument, based largely on data for Patna, Gaya, Bhagalpur, Purnia,
and Shahabad, discerns "a decline in the proportion of the working population engaged
in secondary industry to total working population, or a decline in the proportion of the
population dependent on secondary industry to total population."
By his reckoning, the proportion of people whose livelihood depended on
"industry" declined from 18.6 percent in the first decade of the nineteenth
century to about 8.5 percent by the end of that century. Patna and Gaya, administered
jointly at the outset of the century, added up to 19.5 percent, but only 11.1 and 9.1
percent individually later in that century when the two areas were counted as separate
districts. Particularly hard hit was the hand-loom industry, which constituted the largest
segment of this secondary industry. As Bagchi's figures show, the population involved in
cotton weaving and spinning declined from 62.3 percent to 15.1 percent; Patna and Gaya
tallied 58 percent in 1809-13 but only 12.4 and 22.4 percent for Patna and Gaya,
respectively, in 1901 In other words, the proportion of the population involved in this
artisanal industry dropped by almost four-fifths in the case of Patna over the course of
the nineteenth century!
Although the question of deindustrialization remains a hotly contested
subject in Indian history, there is growing agreement that although the data is not
reliable enough to allow precise quantification of changes and although not all handicraft
industries suffered under colonial rule the hand-loom industry faded in the face of
foreign competition. Indeed, whatever the shortcomings are of accepting Buchanan's figures
at face value, as Bagchi does to advance his argument, there is a considerable body of
evidence supporting the claim that deindustrialization occurred, although later in the
nineteenth century than earlier; that is, toward the latter half of the century.
Of the 11,000 shops identified in the city by a 1790 report, 153
belonged to Dhunias who prepared cotton for quilts and 50 to people involved in the
stamping of cloth; in addition, there were 7 sellers of cotton, 124 sellers of cloth (bazzaz)
, and 71 makers of carpets (kalin) . Twenty years later, when Buchanan conducted
his "survey" and "enumerative" project in the area, he found abundant
signs of a vibrant textile industry and as yet no evidence of cloth imported from his own
country. His report indicates that Patna district had 175 weaver villages, and weaver
quarters (muhallas) in virtually every higher-order market. Within a decade,
however, "British cloths which pay no duty" were "selling in [the] Patna
Beginning in the 1830s the volume of foreign cloth dumped on India
reached significant proportions, so much so that by the 1860s, Patna's inhabitants were
said to have become accustomed to "British goods." By then, "the value of
English goods disposed off in Patna district" was, in one estimation, "at least
four times the value of cloth of native manufacture." Yet another blow to the
handicraft industry was delivered by the mills of Kanpur and Bombay, whose products
penetrated the local market by the 1870s, also the period in which cheap machine-made
thread came into widespread usage.
Increasingly, the only "native manufacture" that survived the
invasion of "foreign" products was coarse cloth, known locally as motia
or gazi . Durable and affordable, it persisted as the cloth of choice of the
"poorer classes." (It outlasted imported cloth by four or five months, and it
was half as expensive.) Yet even the motia cloth bore the mark of the new market
conditions as it was increasingly woven by combining indigenous thread with machine-made
That imported products sharply curtailed local production is also
evidenced by the declining condition of the weavers of Barh subdivision who, based in the
market towns of Bakhtiyarpur, Fatwa, and Nawada, once specialized in the making of cotton
towels, sheets, and tablecloths as well as coarse country cloth to sell at Danapur and to
export to Kanpur. By 1875, machine-made cloth pieces added up to as much as Rs. 3 million
of Patna's trade, making machine-made piece goods a more valuable commodity than any other
food or nonfood import. "Death by Manchester," as one official report put it
The decline of the textile industry affected a large sector of the local
population involved in different phases of cloth production: Dhunias (cotton carders) who
specialized in the cleaning of cotton; spinners, often "women of small means and
almost every class [who] used to spin thread out of indigenous cotton"; and weavers,
mostly Muslim Jolahas and Hindu Tantwas, who wove the thread into cloth. Buchanan's
figures for Patna 278 Dhunias, 23,400 cotton spinners, and 2,010 houses of cotton weavers
who together had 2,692 looms provide one indication of the numbers whose livelihoods were
altered by Manchester and later by the development of Indian mills.
Cheap machine-made thread sharply curtailed the role of women in the
making of thread out of indigenous cotton. Also hard hit were the weavers, a group much
highlighted in the deindustrialization literature because they were generally men of small
means whose subsistence depended largely on their earnings from this artisanal industry.
Their plight was widely noticed in the 1860s when they were said to be abandoning their
traditional occupation in droves. "If all the members of the Jolaha caste had to
depend on the produce of their looms, they
would have disappeared long ago," noted one source. "At
present some of them are virtually agriculturists, and ply their trade less for gain than
to keep up old traditions. This class has also taken largely to service and trade. Only
the poorest of them weave cloth for wages."
Many weavers moved east, migrating to Bengal in search of menial jobs.
"Jolahas from south Gangetic Bihar" were especially conspicuous in the stream of
seasonal migrants seeking "employment in the jute factories of Hooghly and Howrah,
and as coolies and domestics in Calcutta."
Products of a number of other artisanal industries, ranging from
carpets, brocades, embroidery, paper, pottery, brass work, toys, fireworks, lac ornaments,
gold and silver wire and leaf, glassware, boots and shoes, and cabinets in Patna to linen,
furniture, and cabinet ware in the nearby town of Danapur, were also the casualties of
deindustrialization. Carpet-making in the city, for instance, which was once centered in
the thanas (a subdistrict unit of administration) of Sultanganj and Alamganj, was
in greatly reduced circumstances by the turn of the twentieth century. So was papermaking,
especially in the town of Bihar, which was once the occupation of thirty families. By 1890
this number had been reduced to twenty-five, and the industry was said to be "fast
dying out." A similar fate was shared by the area's
"most important industry," opium, which increasingly counted for less and less
acreage from 26,314 acres in 1881 to 7,710 in 1911 and was finally abandoned in the early
Much the same narrative about prosperity and decline, even down to the
chronological framework of relative prosperity in the eighteenth and early nineteenth
centuries followed by decline in the second half of the nineteenth century, characterized
the city's overall commercial condition. Its changing condition also reflects its growing
subordination to Calcutta and to the larger national and international markets.
Patna persisted as the central place of the region in the initial
century of colonial rule, Rasikh's pronouncements regarding the absence of
"commercial capital" and the advent of "poverty" notwithstanding.
Writing in 1790, a group of thirty-three merchants, bankers, and dealers described the
trade of the city as consisting of spices, copper, lead, tin, broadcloth, and cotton, and
silk goods from the east, mainly from Calcutta and Murshidabad, and such goods as calicoes
and cotton from the west. Three-fourths of the trade involved the east, the remaining
one-fourth was directed at the North-Western Provinces. At its
height, Patna was the "largest of the mercantile centres of Bengal," "an
emporium of trade . . . for reconsignment and reshipment . . . [for] through traffic,
which is merely sent to Patna on account of the facilities that the city affords for
despatching the consignments to their final destination."
In other words, it served as the principal entrepÃ´t for the trade flowing between
Bengal and the North-Western Provinces, a collection point for the products of its
hinterland that were then redistributed locally and regionally, and an important center
for the trade with Nepal to the north.
Buchanan's detailed figures from 1811-12 provide one estimate of the
extraordinary level of its trading activity, even if his numbers are not precise tallies.
According to his "conjecture," exports totaled Rs. 3,259,558, imports almost
double that figure at Rs. 6,510,546. Food and nonfood crops constituted almost two-thirds
of the value of the exports, with rice and wheat accounting for Rs. 198,100 and 183,200,
respectively. Salt, estimated at Rs. 799,200, and sugar, at Rs. 219,100, weighed in as two
other significant items. Other major export items were: cotton cloth (Rs. 200,000) and
chintz (Rs. 121,500), and metals of one sort or another (copper, zinc, tin, lead, and
iron), whose total was reckoned at Rs. 160,750, and shoes (Rs. 100,000). Food and nonfood
crops accounted for an even larger share of the imports, constituting almost 82 percent of
the overall total. Notable among these were rice (Rs. 521,300), wheat (Rs. 470,000),
oilseeds (Rs. 487,900), salt (Rs. 1,778,250), sugar (Rs. 235,850), and betel nuts (Rs.
100,250). Other major import goods were items known as pasari (Rs. 163,000), a
designation applied to a range of spices and other goods, metals (Rs.
280,650), and cotton wool (Rs. 130,000).
Well into the late nineteenth century Patna remained one of the premier
entrepÃ´ts of north India. Registered "internal trade" figures, which
generally underestimated interdistrict trade, such as that between Gaya and Patna, in fact
reveal that Patna had the largest trade of any district in Bengal. In 1876-77, registered
exports were valued at Rs. 36,222,400, or 11.1 times the value of goods sent out in the
1810s; total imports were estimated at Rs. 44,651,000, or 6.8 times the 1810s value. This trend accords perfectly with the now well-established pattern
of increasing trade in the late nineteenth century, particularly of certain kinds of
medium- and low-value agricultural goods.
From nearby districts flowed grains of all sorts, appearing as both
exports and imports because they were transferred in and out of the city. Rice came from
Purnia, Muzaffarpur, Darbhanga, and Saran; high-quality Patna rice, "celebrated
throughout Bengal for its fineness," was sent out to Murshidabad and Calcutta as well
as to Banaras. Bhagalpur was a major supplier of Patna's wheat and barley stocks; other
grains, such as kodo , marua , and kauni , were drawn particularly
from Saran, Muzaffarpur, and Darbhanga. Oilseeds, mostly shipped in from north Bihar and
recorded in Buchanan's register as "imports," were then ex-
ported to Calcutta. Sugar and salt appeared on both sides of the
trading balance sheet because they were brought in from Bengal and the North-Western
Provinces. Metals likewise went both ways: copper, zinc, tin, and lead were relayed from
Calcutta to Patna and then north and west, whereas iron came from south Bihar and was sent
east. Cotton cloth, a major item of trade, involved as many as twenty-two "native
merchants" who maintained factories in and around the city for the "purchase of
plain cotton cloth." In addition, coarse cotton was imported from nearby areas.
Cotton wool entered the city largely from the west, from Mirzapur, which was also the
source of the city's chintz, as was Lucknow, which was also where the city's shoes were
sent. From Patna the chintz was moved out to Calcutta; the shoes were exported to Bengal.
Spices and other goods (pasari) were brought in from nearby districts.
Late-nineteenth-century sources provide more precise identifications of
the nodes that were tied into the city's trading networks and of the extent of their
trade. Oilseeds, brought in mostly by river, were imported to Patna from throughout Bihar,
the largest amounts coming from Revelganj (193,875 maunds), Bettiah (94,502 maunds), and
Gaya (96,733 maunds). Lesser amounts trickled in from other markets in Saran, Champaran,
and Gaya, as well as from Patna, Shahabad, and Darbhanga. The North-Western Provinces
comprised the other major source: Nawabganj in Faizabad district supplied as much as
178,612 maunds, and four markets in Gorakhpur together tallied 103,677 maunds. Oilseeds
increasingly constituted the most valuable article of trade, representing as much as
four-fifths of the total exports of the city. Much of it 1,140,460 out of 1,146,852 maunds
was sent to Calcutta by rail. Its trade was controlled by a handful of merchants; two
European agencies, Messrs. Ralli Brothers and N. I. Valetta and Company, alone accounting
for more than half of the exports to Calcutta.
Food grains, another major item of trade, added up to more than a
million and a half maunds of imports into Patna in 1876â77; and almost an
equivalent amount was exported. Wheat and rice each accounted for more than a quarter of
the total imports; wheat also represented more than a quarter of the total exports, rice
only a fifth. Much of the imports went for local consumption; much of the exports,
particularly wheat, pulses, gram, and rice, for the Calcutta market.
Rice was supplied primarily from within Bihar. Some of it came in from
the North-Western Provinces; very little of it originated in the rice-producing districts
of Eastern Bengal. Wheat was another import from up-country, the markets of Gorakhpur
being a major source; a sizable amount came from Revelganj, Chapra, Arrah, Danapur, Fatwa,
and Hilsa. As with so many other exports, its destination was Calcutta. Pulses and gram
similarly drew on Bihar markets, much of the city's supply stemming from the district
itself and, as in the case of wheat, these food grains too were sent east, to Calcutta and
Dacca. Cotton piece goods flowed in almost entirely from Calcutta and went out as exports
to supply markets within the region. From the railway station in Patna, carts carried away
a large allotment for Gaya; another sizable amount was exported to Muzaffarpur and other
north Bihar areas. A small portion of the salt came from as far away as Punjab, but the
bulk of it, as much as 220,616 of the 232,605 maunds imported into Patna, originated in
Calcutta. From Patna the salt was redistributed throughout the region, particularly to
Gaya and Champaran; the largest amount, 48,500 out of 105,329 maunds, was sent on to
Burhej in Gorakhpur. The role of the city as entrepÃ´t can also be seen in its
"through" trade of hides and skins, timber, bamboo, sugar, tobacco, and
Calcutta was the principal place of origin of Patna's imports: it
accounted for 364,395 maunds, of which 220,616 was taken up by salt. Lalganj with 241,786
maunds weighed in second more than half of this was firewood and Revelganj with 231,671
maunds was third. Nawabganj came next (178,612), followed by Muzaffarpur (143,920),
Bettiah (139,236), Chapra (131,814), Gaya (130,292), and Golagopalpur in Gorakhpur
(125,093). In tenth place stood Hilsa and Attaserai (Islampur) with 122,937 maunds; Burhej
occupied eleventh place with 115,838 maunds, and the town of Bihar was in twelfth place
with 100,057 maunds. Other than Calcutta and three markets in the North-Western Provinces,
eight of the twelve principal points of origin for Patna's imports lay within Patna
Division. Calcutta was also the primary exporting partner of Patna, accounting for as much
as 1,244,423 of the total 1,525,827 maunds counted as exports in 1875-76. Appreciably
smaller amounts were sent to Burhej (48,500 maunds), Dacca (46,986), Bettiah (28,366),
Gaya (18,738), Bhagalpur (17,363), Lalganj (12,970), Khagaria (12,637), and Chapra
In the late nineteenth century, however, Patna's commanding role as
regional entrepÃ´t declined. What curtailed its salience and consequently boosted the
stock of other towns and localities in the region was the loss of its enormous
trading edge as a strategic location on the major river highways: this significant
geographical advantage was eroded by the development of railways, beginning in the 1860s.
Rail lines within the region terminated its role as the "forwarding station" for
the neighboring districts, and the opening up of the Ajmere and Bombay line, which enabled
goods from the North-Western Provinces to be sent directly to Bombay instead of via Patna,
reduced its role as "a great central godown."
Railways diminished the centrality of Patna in two respects. First, the
traffic, particularly that conveyed by country boats, which converged on Patna en route to
its hinterland or to other areas, no longer needed this intermediate stop. The new railway
lines in the north enabled small traders especially to remit their goods directly to
Calcutta instead of sending them on to Patna. With freight charges lower for goods
transferred directly between place of origin and Calcutta without stopovers, many traders
opted for the better rates and bypassed Patna. As a result, as one administration report
noted, "Behar districts no longer receive from Patna their supplies of articles
produced or purchasable at other places and Patna does not import or export now much over
what is necessary for local consumption, or what is the surplus produce of the
Trade statistics, more reliable for goods carried by railway than for
those conveyed by boats, carts, and pack bullocks (for which figures were either not kept
at all or kept only sporadically), document the shifts in transportation patterns. By the
late 1870s exports sent out of the city by rail added up to 64 percent of the total (Rs.
23,287,000 of the total registered exports of Rs. 36,333,400); the rest was carried by
rivers (31 percent) and roads (5 percent). Railways accounted for far less of the imports
total, only 40 percent (or Rs. 18,052,100 of the total imports estimated at Rs.
44,651,000); whereas 56 and 4 percent flowed
into the city by river and by road, respectively.
By the early 1880s the city's merchants and traders were "complaining of want of
business. Many of the larger godowns are lying vacant, and in consequence many business
men are resorting to other places of trade."
By the turn of the twentieth century, except for some food grains little
was transported by river. Even the market in boats virtually disappeared; the "wood
and timber" trade also declined appreciably. To some extent, the fate of Patna was
shared by the rest of Bihar, which also became, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, "a 'by-passed' region of north India."
A similar story can be pieced together by examining the changing profile
of the city in relation to its immediate hinterland. In an earlier era, as a 1790s police
tax imposed on "houses of trade" (that is, on traders, merchants, and
shopkeepers) reveals, the city dominated regional and local trade. Its assessment of Sicca
(a type of rupee) Rs. 28,287 exceeded by far the total of Rs. 20,571 levied on the rest of
the district, which then included much of what later became Patna and Gaya districts.
Buchanan's account suggests a similar disparity when it reports that the city monopolized
70.8 percent of the trade in exports of the old district of Bihar and 91.1 percent of the
imports. Contrast this picture with a profile from the
postrailways era that reveals a dramatic drop in Patna's share and an appreciable increase
in Gaya's portion of the trade of
south Bihar. By the beginning of the twentieth century, Patna district
only accounted for 63.5 percent of the trade of Patna, Gaya, and Shahabad, a percentage
that continued to fall, dropping to 53.4 percent by 1905-10. And within Patna Division,
the district only accounted for about a third by the close of the nineteenth century.
The changing relationship between the city of Patna and its hinterland
can also be gauged in another way. When it was the primary commodity bulking center, the
city imported goods that were either relayed to other localities or redistributed to the
lesser intermediate and standard markets within its own locality. But as the center of
marketing gravity shifted away, marketing functions and markets became more evenly
distributed across the district. In part the change was ushered in by an intensification
of commercial functions at the level of intermediate markets, in part it resulted from the
extensive growth of periodic markets across the locality.
As the central place of both the locality and the region, the city stood
well above all the other marketing nodes. To use Skinner's formulation, it was a
"central market": "a strategic site in the transportation network. . . .
Its facilities are designed, on the one hand, to receive imported items and distribute
them within its dependent area and, on the other, to collect local products and export
them to other central markets or higher-level urban centers."
By contrast, the next rung in the marketing hierarchy was the
intermediate market, which replicated to a lesser degree the functions performed by the
city by virtue of its "intermediate position in the vertical flow of goods and
services both ways." This rung in the marketing hierarchy
was filled by the qasba (town or large market village), of which there were nine in
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: Barh, Bihar, Danapur, Fatwa, Hilsa,
Islampur, Naubatpur, Phulwari Sharif, and Sherpur.
A comparison of Patna and Bihar highlights the difference between
these two levels. Once a small town subordinated to Bihar when it was a provincial
capital, Patna had attracted a population ten times that of the latter at the turn of the
nineteenth century. Furthermore, whereas it supported bankers, moneylenders, usurers, and
money changers, along with merchants and wholesalers who dealt in virtually every kind of
commodity, from cloth to grain to household goods, Bihar was a market specializing more in
retail than in wholesale trade. An intermediate market, it was the gathering place of
sixty dealers in grain who kept cattle, and forty money changers. Similarly, the
intermediate markets of Barh and Fatwa were thronged largely by retailers; wholesale
dealers were more the exception than the rule.
Standard markets, numbering twenty-five in all, occupied the level below
intermediate markets. They were markets that "met all the normal trade needs of the
peasant household: what the household produced but did not consume was normally sold
there, and what it consumed but did not produce was normally bought there. The standard
market provided for the exchange of goods produced within the market's dependent area, but
more importantly it was the starting point for the upward flow of agricultural products
and craft items into higher reaches of the marketing system, and also the termination of
the downward flow of imported items destined for peasant consumption." In other words, standard markets were the most significant markets
in localities that did not have easy access to intermediate markets or to the city of
Patna. They were "centers of . . . both horizontal and vertical [trade]. It was at
this level that most of the agricultural surplus from the countryside was marketed with
agents (areths) who maintained permanent storage facilities. This economic function of
wholesale and storage activities as part of the role of absorbing the bulk of the
agricultural surplus distinguished the standard market place from the periodic haat
Standard markets, in contrast to the two highest levels of the marketing
system, typically provided few if any wholesale services. Almost all
transactions were in retail trade. The sizable standard market of
Maner, which met daily, for instance, had four money changers who were also dealers in
cotton cloth, but the rest of its roster consisted of retailers two in cotton cloth,
twenty-two in provisions, seven in betel leaf, one in sweetmeats, and ten in oil. In
addition, the market was made up of two dyers, two coppersmiths, seven goldsmiths, four
blacksmiths, two makers of glass ornaments, one maker of fireworks, two makers of soap,
two butchers of large cattle, three butchers of small cattle, two silk string makers, and
one liquor shop. The standard markets of Bara Nawada and Tilhara had much the same
assortment of retailers.
Below the standard markets were sixty-seven periodic markets, known as haats
in the vernacular. The lowest rung of the system, these markets comprised the overwhelming
number of marketing settlements in any locality. Like their counterparts in other agrarian
societies, they were "minor" markets in which transactions were predominantly
horizontal, that is, locally produced agricultural and craft items exchanged hands within
the locality. In some, a modest amount of vertical trade was transacted, as goods produced
externally were brought in from higher-level markets or those produced locally were traded
to larger markets. The haats had the least to offer, typically they featured a few
retailers selling a handful of agricultural products or a few household commodities. The haat
of Jethauli in the vicinity of Fatwa, for instance, had four retailers of provisions,
three retailers of parched grain, one retailer of betel leaf, two oil makers, and one shop
for retailing palm wine. One local resident described haats as meeting "two
days in the week. . . in the village, or in some neighbouring one, at which
articles of food of the commonest and coarsest kind, necessary for bare subsistence, can
be had, and where the people from the surrounding localities come to buy and sell
It was at the level of periodic markets that the most dramatic change
occurred. Their number more than tripled over the course of the nineteenth century and
then almost doubled during the first half of the twentieth century from 66 in 1811-12 to
209 in 1911, to 393 in 1951. This surge meant that markets became relatively accessible
across the district. Few settlements lay outside a two-mile radius of this lowest order of
marketplaces. Furthermore, haats began to assume
some of the marketing and storage functions of the higher-order
markets, especially the standard markets. The latter lost some of their salience as a
Far less conspicuous but equally significant was the change at the level
of intermediate markets. Although their number remained relatively constant over the
course of the colonial period from nine in 1811 to ten a century later and eleven in 1951,
they greatly expanded their range of marketing activities in the late nineteenth century.
This growth further underscores the downward turn in the fortunes of Patna because it
resulted from the extension of rail lines to intermediate towns, which thereafter received
their supplies directly instead of via the declining entrepÃ´t of Patna.
More important than the change in number of intermediate markets are the
alterations in the roster of these markets because they once again show the changes
wrought by the development of railways. Three of the nine qasbas identified in
1811, Islampur, Naubatpur, and Sherpur, were no longer intermediate markets a century
later. In their place were four new markets, Mokamah, Khagaul, Masaurhi-Tarenga
(Mausarah), and Paliganj. Two of these, Mokamah and Khagaul, had been so inconspicuous
earlier in the century that Buchanan did not even notice them. By the late nineteenth
century, however, they had emerged as a result of changes in transportation and in the
role of Patna. Mokamah was described in the 1870s as registering "a considerable
trade in country produce. Much of the Tirhut trade, which is borne down the river Baya,
finds its way to this place; and it is also a railway station." The same writer
referred to Khagaul as "another instance of a modern town which may be said to have
been created by railway."
The town of Bihar, used as an example for the earlier period, serves
once again as an apposite illustration of the changing relationship between Patna and
intermediate markets. Throughout much of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,
its story is one of decline. In the
early nineteenth century it was characterized as reduced to "a
probable population of 20,000 inhabitants, and . . . now fast verging upon ruins; its
massive stone fort is no longer tenable, its tombs and mosques are in a sad state of
decay, and its whole appearance has the air of a city deserted by all its influential and
rich members." By the late nineteenth century, however,
its condition had improved because it had grown into an important node on the trading line
connecting Patna, Gaya, Monghyr, and Hazaribagh and because it continued as a place of
production for muslin, silk, and cotton cloth. Certainly as an intermediate market town
its wholesale and retail facilities had expanded considerably since the beginning of the
nineteenth century. An estimate of the 1870s indicates that as many as one-fourth of the
8,346 houses belonged to cloth merchants and grain dealers; of the cloth merchants
twenty-eight families were singled out as being particularly prosperous. In addition, it
supported a range of retail shops: sweetmeats, 40; spices, 18; cotton goods, 11; tobacco,
6; shoes, 16; gold and silver, 3; brass and iron, 5; sugar, 8; hides, 6; dal and other
goods, 70; baskets, 14; costermongers (paikaris) , 33; and itinerant cloth dealers,
Contrast this expansion with the decline in the role of Patna as a
center and outlet for the products of artisanal industries, as well as a "platform
for a commercial shop" and a site of "sellers" and buyers." In
Rasikh's lifetime, as Buchanan's figures for 1810-11 reveal for the cloth and grain trade
two commodities that constituted a significant proportion of Patna's imports and exports
the city supported as many as 160 cloth dealers and 711 grain dealers. By 1920-21,
however, the numbers had dropped to 97 and 131, respectively; the 131 can be further
divided into 96 "grocers" and 35 "grain sellers."
A similar pattern can be traced for other commodities by considering
1810-11 as a baseline. As Buchanan's detailed and extensive list for that period shows, in
the chauk (city center) area of the "city" alone, he encountered a daily
crowd of approximately zoo "manufacturers, carpenters, taylors [sic] ,
weavers, coppersmiths, shoemakers and those who make tubes for smoking tobacco and
ganjs (small regulated markets), mostly situated in the
"city," abounded in other goods and services, too. Cloth of every variety could
be purchased from 160 dealers in cloth or 5 Kashmiri merchants specializing in woolen
clothes; grain was available from 100 grain dealers or from 55 grain dealers who combined
their business with salt, iron, and metals (gullah and kiranamahajan) or 556
(presumably) retail grain dealers who also dabbled in selling pulses; salt was procurable
from 40 retailers or 20 wholesalers, or from the 55 above-mentioned grain dealers who also
sold salt. "Prepared butter" was the specialty of 9 retailers, and also of 4
wholesale and 31 retail dealers whose stocks included sugar as well. Among the shops
carrying foodstuffs were 160 specializing in spices and drugs (pasaris) , 1,350 in
general provisions (khichrifarosh) , 300 in vegetables, 330 in betel leaf, 225 in
grain, 40 in seasonings and fruit, 50 in poultry, and 80 in fish. And among those selling
household goods were 32 specializing in cotton wool, 32 in sackcloth, iron, and
millstones, 12 in stoneware, 12 in platters made of leaves, 80 in earthen pots, 20 in
turbans, 20 in wooden vessels, 18 in brass and bell-metal vessels, 55 petty and 6 large
dealers in shoes, 21 in wooden combs, and 11 in wooden cups and boxes. And if this range
and assortment of shops was not sufficient to meet the needs of a customer, Patna's
markets offered still more variety, including 9 retailers of European goods, 5 dealers in
iron and ironmongery, 7 retailers of hemp buds, 3 sellers of lime, 25 dealers in sugarcane
extracts, 5 in soda and purging salts, 8 in tobacco leaves, 13 retailers of brass
implements for smoking tobacco, 50 petty dealers in house furniture and other knickknacks,
2 horse dealers, 10 sellers of tin ornaments; 6 perfume retailers, 10 paper retailers, 4
sellers of musical instruments, 10 sellers of palmyra leaf fans, 5 coconut sellers, 6
parakeet hawkers, as well as others peddling everything from beads to old clothes to
swords. Because of Patna's involvement in the wood and timber trade, the city had 200
retailers of bamboos, firewood, and so forth, and 32 dealers in sal timbers, beams,
planks, and posts. And because of its role in the river trade it was also a place where
boats could be purchased, from those of "superior description" to ordinary boats
and canoes, and from ferry boats of considerable size to "small" boats.
Although an extraordinary range of wholesale and retail dealers and of
petty shopkeepers and manufacturers remained an essential feature
of Patna, Patna's scale, especially in the "city," had
diminished noticeably. The decline of the city as an entrepÃ´t and as a manufacturing
center meant that many transactions in the early twentieth century were handled through
"petty shops . . . [that] are little more than the adjunct of the workshops of small
artisans, mechanics, and manufacturers. The makers of certain classes of ornaments, of
white caps, of country (biri) cigarettes, of hookahs, of tin boxes, of basket-ware,
of sweetmeats, of perfumes, are petty manufacturers and workmen first and shopkeepers
No longer present in any significant numbers were the large wholesale
dealers, so noticeable in the early nineteenth century. Thus, the 1920-21 economic census
of the "Patna Bazaar" turned up mostly small-scale dealers or retailers, of
cloth, groceries, ornaments, cigarettes, stationery, and fancy goods their business
conducted from tiny shop fronts attached to their residences.100
And what of the "garden" of Azimabad itself? How did its built
environment stand up to the tremors of the eighteenth-century "revolution"? Did
the city register the decline that Ghulam Husain chronicled for his "modern
times"? And how did it fare in the aftermath of the "revolution," when
deindustrialization and the age of railways signaled its growing incorporation into a
larger colonial system and a world economy?
The "English" practice of "counting the inhabitants of
every town and city" offers ample evidence that Patna's growth and expansion
continued well beyond the "modern times" and until the late nine-
teenth century. Thereafter population growth leveled off, and may even
have declined, although not quite as appreciably as some scholars have claimed in
identifying deurbanization as part of the process of deindustrialization.
Until the late nineteenth century Azimabad grew, expanding westward in
the direction of Bankipur. This growth was largely confined to a narrow stretch of
riverbank along the Ganges because the river constituted a natural boundary to the north;
to the south the Punpun, with its tendency to flood, acted as another barrier. Only in the
twentieth century, to accommodate increasing numbers of people, has the city extended in
other directions, for instance, eastward. Patna thus became a city of "length without
Measurements of its linearity and elongation taken at different times
are handy markers of its chronology of growth. Thus, Ralph Fitch in 1586 had found a
"very long and great Towne" of Patna, measuring a mile and a half from the
eastern to the western gate and three quarters of a mile from north to south, whereas
Tavernier's appraisal less than a century later shows a settlement "not less than two
coss [four miles] in length." By the latter's estimation Patna was the "largest
town in Bengal" and "one of the largest towns in India." In the opening
decade of the nineteenth century, it included an area extending from Jaffar Khan's gardens
to Bankipur almost nine miles and a width averaging two miles, for a total area of almost
twenty square miles. By the mid-twentieth century the "very long Towne" measured
twelve miles from east to west; in breadth, however, it still hugged the course of the
Ganges, in some areas extending no farther than a half mile from the river.
As the chronology of the elongation of Patna suggests, and as the longuedurÃ©e
view confirms, the city and its population had been growing ever since the late sixteenth
century. No doubt, the pace quickened in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries,
beginning with the attempts by Prince Azim-us-Shah to elevate Azimabad to new heights and
continuing under the British, who designated it as the locus of their
power and authority in Bihar. In-migration from the west in the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries added to Patna's numbers.
So did the influx of people from other settlements in the region, such as the town of
Bihar in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and Gaya, particularly after the
headquarters of the old district of Patna and Gaya was shifted from Gaya to Patna. To hear
the principal residents of Gaya tell of the effects in 1797, so many of their fellow
inhabitants moved to Patna in step with the relocation of the treasury and district
offices there that there were a "great many empty houses and . . . [a] constant fear
of robbers and murderers."
Its growth can also be documented from internal evidence. Buchanan
alluded to the rising pressure of numbers on the land when he observed that "the city
is said to have greatly increased, and the value of the ground in it, within these 15
years, is said to have doubled, owing to the difficulty of procuring a spot for building a
house." "That Patna is in a flourishing state is
evident by the number of new dwellings which are always building," states one 1818
report. "In the City there is little room left for more houses; but good habitations
are built on the sites of old or inferior ones, and in the suburbs, particularly to the
westward, the number of houses is increasing."
In the twenty square miles he identified as Patna, Buchanan estimated a
population of 312,000. By this reckoning, Patna was the largest city in India at that
time. Compare this number with the enumerations returned by the decennial censuses of the
late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: 170,654 in 1881, 165,192 in 1891, 134,785
in 1901, 136,153 in 1911, and 119,976 in 1921. Not until the 1961 census did Patna again
top 300,000 inhabitants with 364,667 to be exact.
In light of these later census tallies, Buchanan's figure may seem to
be grossly exaggerated, but it is probably less inaccurate than it appears initially. Nor is the sizable population of the city in the early nineteenth
century inconsistent with the demographic trends a century later.
A substantial corrective is necessary, however, because the enormous drop registered by
the censuses to a little over 170,000 in 1881 and the subsequent pattern of continuous
decrease over the next few decades, with a bottoming out at a little less than 120,000 in
1921, grossly overstate the actual numerical decline. While not inaccurate in indicating
the patternofdecline in this period, the figures do not take into account the
entire city of Patna but only a limited area of nine square miles comprising the
"city" and part of the suburbs. By contrast, early-nineteenth-century estimates
by Buchanan and others cast their statistical net over an area of twenty square miles. There was, nevertheless, a general leveling off and decrease in
population in the region, affecting Patna in particular because it was fading as a trading
and commercial center. And within the "city," hardest hit were Khwaja Kalan,
Chauk Kalan, and Malsalami, localities whose prosperity was tied to
the fortunes of trade. In short, the declining population was a symptom of Patna's fading
economic health, a deterioration that would have been all the more pronounced had Patna
not received a tremendous political boost in the twentieth century, when it became a
In the age of revolution the city was not only the site of political,
economic, and social activity but it was also the place of residence for its notables,
particularly its merchants and bankers. As its leading traders and bankers stated in the
early nineteenth century, they maintained "puckah [solid, meaning brick] houses and
godowns [there], and the purchasing and selling of goods all within the city of Patna. . .
. All the bankers are residents within the City and near the bazaar of the great chouk
Perhaps the most striking aspect of the city's appearance in the initial
colonial period was the extent to which its quotidian landscape was a legacy of both
Ghulam Husain's "modern times" and the preceding eras. Let us begin with the
spatial grid of Azimabad, an important template that had been deeply marked by the coming
of Prince Azim-usShah, who is widely credited with having organized its muhallas ,
or quarters. When he relocated in the city, "many of the nobles of Delhi came out to
live within its walls. The City was divided into a number of wards. All classes of people
had separate quarters assigned to them. Dewan Mohalla was so named, because it was
assigned to the clerks of the Government offices; the quarters assigned to the Lodis
(Afghans) came to be known as Lodikatra Mohalla; those allotted to the Moghuls, as
Moghulpara; and the princes and chiefs had their residence assigned to them in Mohalla
Khowah Sekho, or, as it is otherwise called, Khowah Khoh. The poor and destitute were not
forgotten; and several serais and alms-houses were built for their reception."
In establishing muhallas that organized people into elite
quarters and set up ethnic and occupational groups in their own quarters, this Mughal
prince followed a long-standing precedent. Such deeply rooted patterns
explain why these residentially organized quarters gave rise to a sense of place and
identity. In the sovereign Mughal city of Shahjahanabad, as a recent study shows, caste,
craft, and elite muhallas existed with caste or craft quarters headed by chiefs of
caste councils (panchayats): "Chiefs settled intramahallah quarrels, judged
disputes over land and other property, and decided questions of ritual status. They
negotiated taxes with city authorities, arranged security against both internal and
external disturbances, and consulted with other chaudhuris on matters of common interest.
Mahallahs were surrounded by high walls and contained houses, shops and stalls where food,
clothing, and other supplies were sold, wells and tanks for water, and resthouses for
travellers. People gathered in mosques and temples to hear political announcements,
celebrate marriages, and exchange gossip."
Some localities were named after their pioneering or notable residents.
Chaudhuritola commemorated the presence of its resident Chaudhuri family, also the leading
family of the muhalla . According to its official history, the family first came to
Bihar in the early eighteenth century as part of the Mughal army. Because of meritorious
service, one member of the family, who took up residence in Patna, received the title of chaudhuri
, or chief. In the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries the family continued to
prosper, its members branching out from landholding to moneylending, and becoming, in
their own words, "leaders. . . . Reis of the old type."
Throughout India muhallas were named after an area's "pre-dominant caste or
occupational group . . . the founder's name or that of the original rural village on the
site, or a market, a public building, or an old city gate. The population of a mohalla
may be several thousands or tens of thousands."
Thus were muhallas a fundamental template of the city of Patna,
constituting, as they did in other north Indian cities, a "basic unit of urban social
organization and . . . associational activity." In this
dominated by trade and commerce, traders, merchants, and artisans
particularly were organized along residential lines by muhallas as well as by
occupation. When government imposed a new duty in 1790, not only were there protests from
"merchants, bankers and dealers" representing Azimabad, but protests were also
forthcoming from other groups organized along residential (muhalla) and
occupational lines. For instance, the beoparis of Mehdiganj, who were kirana
dealers, spoke up in unison. Others who raised their voices collectively were organized by
their profession, such as confectioner and cloth seller. At the bidding of the latter all
the cloth shops in the city were shut down and "cloth was not procurable even for the
burial of the dead."
By the twentieth century some of these organizations had dissolved, in
part because handicraft industries and local manufacturing had declined and in part
because some of the artisanal activities were no longer monopolized by a single caste.
Thus, there were caste panchayats (councils) among the tabaq beaters (makers
of tabaq , a kind of washing vessel), the copper- and brass-smiths, the lace
makers, the turners, and the comb makers, but not among makers of tikuli (glass
ornaments), whose ranks included "many . . . wage-earning classes . . . scattered
over the whole town . . . [and not] inhabiting a particular Mahalla."
The colonial government as the Mughals before them sought to capitalize
on the existing organization of muhallas by penetrating urban society through them:
muhallas were grouped into thanas (police circles) and thus integrated into
a police system. At the beginning of the nineteenth century Patna was organized into
sixteen thanas; later in the century the number was increased to seventeen. The
sixteen thanas together comprised 222 muhallas . Chauk Kallan thana , for
instance, extended over 29 muhallas; Mehdiganj, on the other end of the scale,
extended over only 3.
Muhallas also figured in the subsidiary police system of night
watchmen (chaukidars) instituted in the early nineteenth century. The leading
notables of each ward, generally "merchants," were singled out as muhalladars
, local men of power and influence, charged with collecting information in their wards for
purposes of levying the unpopular chaukidari tax and for collecting the tax. Such
men were the urban counterparts of the major landholders that government recruited as its
intermediaries in rural localities in the wake of the Permanent Settlement of 1793. They
were vital links for the colonial state, as their consent and cooperation legitimized and
enhanced the authority of the Raj. Their integration into the local structures of formal
and informal administration also enabled the British to keep a rein on these powerful
local controllers. Not surprisingly, the position of muhalladar became a coveted
office. Thus, an influential Patna resident who had been stripped of this position for his
"considerable" absence from the city actively and successfully campaigned
"in the most object [sic] and submissive manner, to have it restored to him,
declaring that by the deprivation he felt himself lowered in the estimation of the people
in his neighbourhood."
In contrast to muhallas that extended over all of the city, ganjs
, or small regulated markets, were found in specific areas, typically those areas that
served as "emporium[s] for grain and other necessaries of life." Major ganjs
handled the trade of the region; lesser ganjs served the needs of their localities
or their neighborhoods. Some ganjs were coterminous with muhallas , others were
part of muhallas . Their prominence in the economic life and the spatial
organization of the city was acknowledged by the colonial authorities who often designated
ganjs as the hubs of their police system of thanas .
Established and patronized by prominent local men who were distinguished
members of the region's aristocracy, most of Patna's ganjs originated and were
developed in the eighteenth century. And their per-
sistence well into the nineteenth century as the main business
quarters of the city reinforces the trade profile sketched earlier.
Increasingly, the most important commercial ganj in the city was
Russut or Marufganj, located at the eastern extremity of the "city," under the
shadow of the eastern walls. Established in 1764 by Nawab
Ikram-daula and patronized by the East India Company in the late eighteenth century, in
its rise it eclipsed Nawabganj and Mandiganj, both of which dated back to the early
eighteenth century. Marufganj and nearby ganjs received most of the boats bringing
in goods in the late eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Its residents characterized
it as "the commercial mart of Patna city."
Marufganj's control of the valuable oilseed trade almost two-thirds (or
728,237 maunds) of the city's total supply passed through it reflects its primacy. Sugar,
salt, and food grains were other major items available at this ganj . Mansurganj,
an inland mart south of Marufganj, ranked second in volume, its trade centered mainly on
oilseeds (104,968 maunds); it also imported salt (56,873 maunds), sugar (8,000 maunds),
and food grains from Patna and neighboring southern districts. The riverside mart of
Colonelganj, the most western of the big ganjs of Patna, was another important
"regulated market," best known for its import of oilseeds (137,370 maunds) and
for food grains from north Bihar and from Bengal. Other ganjs , smaller in size
than Marufganj, Mansurganj, and Colonelganj, that played an active role in the trade of
Patna were Sadikpur and Maharajganj. They spe-
cialized in oilseeds and cereals; Alabakspur, an inland mart, chiefly
imported oilseeds, as was also the case with neighboring Arafabad; and Gulzarbagh dealt in
oilseeds, unrefined sugar, shoes, and rattans.
In the heart of the "city" lay the Chauk, Mirchaiganj
adjoining it, and east of the latter, the Qila (fort) that was known as "the cotton
mart." These marts were the center of the cloth import trade largely in the hands of
Marwaris; other imports included various metals, iron, copper and brass, spices, silk, and
"'miscellaneous English goods' . . . umbrellas, knives, scissors, walking sticks,
crockeryware, glassware, hardware, &c." Whereas the big riverfront ganjs ,
particularly Marufganj, Gulzarbagh, and Colonelganj, received most of their goods from
throughout the wider region, the inland markets of Mansurganj, the Chauk with Mirchaiganj,
Maharajganj, Sadikpur, and Alabakspur, were supplied primarily from their immediate
hinterland Patna district itself and Gaya and Shahabad and their supplies, principally
oilseeds and food grains, were transported there by carts and pack bullocks.
The mosques were another conspicuous feature of the city. Well into the
nineteenth century, British visitors to Patna considered it a Muslimdominated place
because of its religious architecture. As one British observer noted on viewing Azimabad
from the Ganges: "[T]hough it does not contain any single building of great celebrity
or peculiar beauty, [it] is rich in the remains of Moosulman splendour. . . . [A]nd when
the river is full and brimming to its banks, turret, spire, and dome . . . reflected in
its broad mirror, the coupd'oeil is exceedingly imposing."
Moreover, the denizens of Patna continued to regard the city as an
Islamicized place in the nineteenth century, an identity also associated with "other
mughalizing urban centers in north India." It was an
identity that had evolved in Patna while it was a regional Mughal headquarters town, an
experience imprinted on the lifestyle of its people and the built environment of the city.
There was, as well, a disproportionate number of Muslims among its inhabitants. Although
Hindus constituted almost 88 percent of the population of the district in the late
nineteenth century and Muslims a little more than 11 percent, in the city the latter
numbered more than 12 percent, and in the "city" it-
self almost 24 percent. They were especially well represented in
Pirbahor, a thana where large numbers of Muslims working for the British resided,
and in Khwaja Kalan, "essentially the Muhammadan quarter where the chief mosque
The city's "imposing" remains, so evocative of its earlier
prominence, must have further heightened the sense of loss felt by the aristocratic
generation during the revolution. The remembered past of the historian and poets must have
seemed all the more grand in contrast to the changes of their own times. Mosques, the
major landmarks, were surely striking indeed for the British visitors, who viewed the city
as little more than a "collection of mud huts, separated by narrow and often very
dirty lanes [and without] any public buildings of interest or importance." In addition to mosques, the city's sacred geography for Muslim
devotees was also notable as the site of four pirs (Muslim saints)Mansur, Maruf,
Jafar, and Mahdi and of the shrine of Shah Arzani.
Ritual occasions further dramatized the Muslim appearance of the
"city" because they seemed to attract Muslims and Hindus equally, well into the
nineteenth century. Contemporary accounts describe a local society in which Muslims
coexisted harmoniously with Hindus, each group participating in the other's festivals. At
the festival of Mohurrum, one of the biggest religious event of the year (as many as a
hundred thousand were said to have attended in the late nineteenth century), "the
whole population of Patna, Moslem, Christian, and Hindoo, assemble[d] to witness the
Patna was also the site of Hindu places of worship, as well as an
intermediate stop on the way to Gaya for those pilgrims traveling on the Ganges or by the
old Mughal highway. Only with the development of
railways and roads in the late nineteenth century and the resultant
new routes did this pattern change. For Sikhs, Patna was important as the site of the
birthplace of their tenth guru (Govind Singh), an event later commemorated by a temple
called Har Mandir. And as ancient Patna had been the heartland of earlier religions, it
was also graced by a number of Buddhist and Jain relics.
Beyond this "garden" of muhallas and ganjs and
mosques and temples lay another Patna, a city in which the "English" presence
was increasingly more visible and an area that was just beginning to develop in the age of
revolution. A visitor to the city at the end of the nineteenth century would have found
the map in Ghulam Husain's ModernTimes inadequate because the city had grown so. In
part, the new configuration was an outgrowth of the policies of the "alien"
regime. As the Patna historian's account indicates, the "English" deliberately
set themselves apart from local society, openly exhibiting an "aversion . . . for the
company of the natives, and such the disdain . . . that no love, and no coalition . . .
can take root between conquerors and the conquered."
Buchanan personally articulated this "disdain" in declaring that the Indian
Patna was "a disgusting place. There is one street tolerably wide that runs from the
eastern to the western gate. Every other passage is narrow. Paving, cleaning and lighting,
considered so essential in every European town in such circumstances are totally out of
[the] question. In the heats of spring the dust is beyond credibility, and in the rains
every place is covered with mud. . . . In the rainy season there is in the town a
considerable pond or lake, which, as it dries up, becomes exceedingly dirty, and in spring
Such a perspective hardened into the official view. "European
visitors," noted an early-nineteenth-century account, rarely ever entered the
"city . . . except upon duty. When there is no particular object of celebrity to
attract attention, Anglo-Indians, either from contempt or
apathy, rarely enter the native towns in their neighbourhood." Much the same tone is evident in George Graham's description of
his journey through the bazaars of Patna in the late nineteenth century: "Anything
but pleasant; the dust was choking, and the stench of oil and rancid ghee was
overpowering. It being the cold weather too, a great number of wood fires were lighted,
the wood being by preference damp, and emitting the most pungent smoke, hostile indeed to
mosquitoes, but very trying to the eyes and sense of smell."
Nor did the British perception of Patna "city" as an
impenetrable, even a hostile, place help to bridge the divide between Bankipur and the
"city." Patna's negative reputation dated back to
1763, when Nawab Mir Qasim killed his English prisoners an event remembered in British
accounts as the Patna Massacre. According to one contemporary source, the very decision to
settle in Bankipur and not in the "city" was prompted by this "treacherous
attack." Periodically in the nineteenth century, the city was rife with rumors of the
impending massacres of Europeans by hostile "natives." Were these perhaps the
expressions of "subaltern consciousness" regarding the alien "English"
that in the postrevolutionary era were uttered in the vocabulary of re-
sistance rather than the poetic lament of "ruin" and
"despair." William Tayler, the commissioner of Patna during the tumultuous
period of the Mutiny/Rebellion of 1857 considered the city to be "a very sink of
disaffection and intrigue."
The British association of Patna with "disaffection and
intrigue" was also related to the perception of it as a Muslim city. One
early-nineteenth-century observer characterized it as a "stronghold of Mohammedanism,
and the disciples of the prophet, who dwell within its walls, are described as being far
more fanatic and intolerant than their brethren of Bengal."
Local administrators kept a wary eye on the Wahabis because of their numerous conspiracies
against the British in the nineteenth century.
The missionary experience reinforced this negative image. One missionary
ranked Patna alongside Murshidabad as the two cities in the region with the most
"hostile feeling to Europeans." For only in Patna were there instances-said to
be rare in India-of missionaries encountering "virulent opposition, and even personal
violence. . . chiefly from the Muhammadans." And as far as the police
were concerned, there was not only the "somewhat turbulent population," with
suspect political outlooks to contend with, but also "'badmashes' [miscreants]."
Furthermore, British attitudes toward "disgusting" Patna-or
the "city" that was exclusively inhabited by Indians-were reinforced by the
"scientific" discourse that emerged about cleanliness in "native"
towns in the late nineteenth century. Sanitation became a paramount concern because
British troops had suffered higher casualties from disease-related deaths than from combat
during the Mutiny/Rebellion of 1857-58. And since contemporary theory linked dirt and
disease, and sanitary conditions of "native" towns with the occurrence of
epidemics in the wider population, including even the "distant" European
quarter, the latter-day improvement (municipal) committees once again focused
their attention on the "disgusting" places. As a result, in
Patna as in Lucknow municipal committees under the direction of local British
administrators combined "genuine concern for the lack of adequate drainage and
rubbish disposal, some good common sense about clean drinking water and more and better
public toilets, some prejudice about 'native habits,' and a spirit of bold
experimentation. . . to clean up the city."
But, as in their previous close encounter with the "native" city, their efforts
were consistently hampered by financial constraints. Lack of funding in Patna meant that
no "large schemes" were introduced "which would completely remedy the
insanitary conditions produced by many centuries of neglect."
These perceptions deepened the "aversion" between Azimabad,
increasingly called the "city," and the Patna of the alien rulers that clustered
around the area known as Bankipur. In other words, the new regime deliberately established
its own private and public spaces at a far remove from those of its subjects. Only five
miles separated the western wall of the "city" and the British-built Golghar
(granary) in Bankipur, but in the colonial imagination the "city" grew
increasingly remote. By the late nineteenth century not a single European resided in
Azimabad, and similarly, well into that century, Bankipur remained a European enclave
inhabited by "very few natives."
But the shift toward Bankipur was not an entirely novel development:
expansion in that direction was well under way before the advent of colonial rule. From
the beginning of the eighteenth century, according to Ghulam Husain, his fellow residents
were constructing "numerous houses and ha[b]itations" beyond the confines of the
city walls. This westward expansion was pioneered by wealthy residents building garden
houses along the riverbank leading up to Bankipur. They were joined and increasingly
supplanted by the new masters of the city, the British, who staked out many of the prime
locations beyond the western gate of the
"city," particularly the "suburb" of Bankipur, in
the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Patna experienced another phase of
growth and development in the early twentieth century, when it became the capital of the
newly constituted province of Bihar and Orissa.
To the British, Bankipur, the "European portion of the
station," stood in stark contrast to the Muslim-dominated "city," that
crowded, "disgusting" hive of commercial activity. "The narrow road of the
native portion of the town here widens out into a spacious plain of a circular shape,
which formed the race course.. . . Around this are situated the residences
of the Europeans, the Church, and some of the Law Courts; and the open green space, with
its fine trees, is very refreshing to the eye after the long, dusty, narrow bazaar."
This landscape had been shaped by "colonization," whereby a
new zone was created and stamped with a distinctively colonial social geography. The
initial British foray into Patna was linked to trading interests. Consider first their
beginnings in Patna beginnings completely ignored by the historian Ghulam Husain. They
were confined at that time to a house in the western suburb of Alamganj, which had been
assigned to their short lived factory of 1620â21 by the Mughal governor. As
yet a minor political player, the British were relegated to the outer reaches of the city.
In the mid-seventeenth century, the first "permanent" English factory was set
up, almost adjacent to the western wall of the old city close to the city but yet still
outside it. At this site, the building known today as the original Patna Factory was
erected in the eighteenth century. It was the setting for many of the key political and
military events that led up to British ascendancy in the region in the latter half of that
century. Its location beyond the walls of the city may have been preferred by both sides,
Indian rulers and English traders: it was contiguous yet outside. The vulnerable occupants
were offered some protection because the factory was fortified and it possessed a safe
passageway to an outer well from which water could be obtained. The factory occupants as
yet represented only one of the several contestants for regional power.
But as the British gained in power, their presence was registered on the
urbanscape of Patna. Even before 1757 the Company had acquired
a piece of garden land along the Ganges in Bankipur: it came to be
known as the Company Bagh (garden). Although the initial grant was for only a small area
just large enough to accommodate the house and compound of the Company's factory chief by
1778 the Company Bagh had secured a new grant that enlarged the lands to 87 bighas
(about 54 acres). And by the end of the eighteenth century the Bagh covered 130 bighas
. Reclaimed in part from wasteland, the area became the hub of the emerging empire. Eyre
Coote and Robert Clive had camped there in 1757 and 1758, respectively, in the course of
their military campaigns; in 1763 the campground served as the headquarters of the
military commander in chief. When the military was shifted to Monghyr in 1765, the staff
quarters became the headquarters of the factory, which retained possession of it until the
abolition of the Commercial Residency in 1829. (It then became the court of the district
The expansion of the Company Bagh and the stationing of the Third
Brigade at Bankipur at a place later known as Barkerganj (after Sir Robert Barker, who
commanded the brigade in the 1760s) not only chronicles the rise of the Company from a
trading to a political power but also epitomizes the ever-expanding British presence in
Bankipur. So does the fact that buildings formerly housing the commercial and military
representatives of the Company came to house administrators responsible for carrying out
the dictates of the rising colonial state and the construction of new edifices to house
the offices of its growing bureaucracy. A changing of the guard reflecting the new
realities of power and authority was also evident in the British acquisition of lands,
particularly the takeover of much of Bankipur in the last decades of the eighteenth
century, as the Company emerged as the supreme political power in the region. The process
continued in the first half of the nineteenth century, as the Company completed its
mastery over the subcontinent.
By the early nineteenth century, much of the property along the
riverfront had already changed hands. The few "local" residents who remained on
these lands were major allies of the Raj, prominent landholders who formed part of the
local "aristocracy" and whose conspic-
uous "palaces and mansions" highlight their
"overgrowing power" in the colonial system. At one extremity of Bankipur, the
westernmost "suburb" of Patna, lay the Golghar, a gola , or granary,
ninety-six feet high, built in 1786 to store grain in case of famine. Nearby to the north
and northwest, in part of the area formerly known as the big (bara) and small (choti)
Nepali kothi , the engineer of Golghar built a house. East of Golghar, close to the
river, in the area of the old cantonments of the Third Brigade, arose bungalows and houses
that served either as the residences of government officials, such as those of the opium
agents (later to become the residence of the civil surgeon), or as the offices of local
administrators, such as the building adjacent to the civil surgeon's house, which became
the collectorate. East of this was the Bankipur Club with its commanding view of the
river. Beyond this lay the historic Company Bagh, containing the house of the district
judge, the headquarters of the commercial resident that became the court of the district
judge in 1829, an old house that became the quarters of the munsifs' (Indian civil
judges') courts, and in Muradbagh, the former residence of the chief of the revenue
council in the 1770s. Southeast of the residence of the Patna Revenue Council chief lay
the tomb of Mirza Murad from which came the name Muradbagh (Murad garden). Next in size
was the palatial house of the maharaja of Darbhanga, Bihar's largest landholder. The
maharaja's neighbor, now housing Patna College, was the house of the opium agent of Bihar
in the 1810s. Nearby lay Afzalpur, the site of the tomb and garden of Mir Afzal, and east
of it, Golak Sadih's dargah , which explains the origin of the name of the muhalla
of Golakpur. To the north, at the river, was Rani Ghat, a popular bathing area. Formerly,
near the ghat was the house of Mir Ashraf, the late-eighteenth-century gomastha
(agent) of the English factory; his neighbors were, in one house, the Tikari zamindar, and
in another, the Bettiah zamindar. From there to the old English factory, the riverfront
was carved up by the house of Nawab Baker Ali Khan, Colonelganj, and the garden of Shaista
Khan. Adjoining this factory were the western walls of the "city."
Well into the late nineteenth century, local administrators toiled hard
to keep Indians and ordinary Europeans at arm's length and away from the heart of Bankipur
that had been "[b]efore the disturbances of
1857/58 the little plains in our station [that] was used almost
exclusively for the Residents and was free from intrusion of soldiers or police or of
public influence." In voicing his concern in 1863, the commissioner of Patna chafed
at what he termed the "needless occupation and intrusion by buildings and
departments," a presence that meant the stationing of "soldiers or police"
drawn from ordinary men, both Indian and European.[l51]
In addition to acquisitions through purchases from local landholders,
land in Bankipur generally devolved into British hands in two ways. The first, occurring
in such areas as that formerly occupied by the Provincial Battalion, were acquired by
"government, partly from Nizamat lands [lands paying revenue to the Nazim, that is,
to the former Mughal governor], for which a remission was granted, and partly from
rent-free lands for which no compensation was ever made to the minhaedar [minhaidar
, holder of land exempted from revenue payment] . . . [nor] any rent
has ever been paid or demanded for the compounds which are taken out of rent free
lands." Thus, the British "civil station" of
Bankipur had been carved out of lands for which no grants could be located. In other
words, these lands were rent-free and the property of government, or they were on estates
that paid revenue to government and whose proprietors were paid a nominal rent for the use
of the buildings on the grounds.
The British "occupation" of Bankipur followed the familiar
pattern of colonial settlements emerging alongside existing "native" cities and
towns. Rather than engaging in extensive urban removal, which would have been costly,
colonial rulers followed the more expeditious policy of fashioning their own
"suburbs" away from the heart of the old city. In the case of Patna this
commenced with the initial British relocation to Bankipur and concluded with building of
the new capital in the twentieth century in the new areas west of Bankipur, that is, even
farther removed from the earlier settlement. That Bankipur and the "suburbs"
that were created later officially appropriated the name of Patna, while the old town came
to be known as Patna "city," is its own commentary on the realities of power and
authority during the colonial period. In this sense, the colonial record of Patna stands
in sharp contrast
to those of Calcutta, Bombay, and Madras, the great presidency cities.
For these three cities formed the hubs of the empire. Their rise followed the pattern of
early Western bases elsewhere in Asia, which were "either wholly nonurban or little
developed.. . . Many of these early Western bases were entirely new; not
only did they occupy previously unused sites but they represented a new kind of city
exclusively centered on trade." In another sense all of
Patna became increasingly marginalized in the late nineteenth and early twentieth
centuries, as it became merely an inland port city serving the great metropolises
represented by the presidency cities, also the primary colonial port cities.
As a result of the development of Bankipur, Patna became a city of two
distinct zones in the nineteenth century: the "city" that Ghulam Husain knew so
well and the Bankipur of the British. A third zone came later as the westernmost area was
built up to accommodate the emergence of Patna as the provincial capital. The city in
other words developed unevenly, as it underwent the transitions from Pataliputra to Patna
to Azimabad to Patna. While the revolution of the eighteenth century and the new economic
climate of the nineteenth century weakened the foundations of the "city,"
dependent as it was on political prominence and status as a regional central place, these
changes had less impact on the rest of Patna because Bankipur and the western zone
continued to benefit from Patna's role as the colonial administrative and political hub of
the region. Furthermore, because the development of the three zones followed different
economic and political calendars, setbacks in one area were mitigated by advances in
another. Thus, the changing economic conditions that threatened the "city" and
its prosperity as a center of retail and wholesale trade and banking a situation that
endangered the health of the entire city were partly offset by the development of Bankipur
as the civil station for the district and the region. Insurance against the economic slump
was also provided by the emergence of the westernmost zone in the twentieth century.
By the mid-twentieth century the city of Patna consisted of three
distinctive zones. At the eastern extremity lay the "city," an area still
housing the wholesale trade, although no longer the flourishing economic and commercial
center it had been in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The middle zone
encompassing the area extend-
ing from the western gate of the "city" to the Patna-Gaya
road (now renamed Buddha marg), that is, essentially the Bankipur of British creation,
constituted the "business and commercial core of the city" and the site of the
"bulk of the institutional, cultural and district administration buildings" of
Patna. In addition to housing most of the district administration offices, this middle
area became the site of Patna University, which was established in 1917. Other than
housing the monumental buildings typical of a state capital, as late as the 1960s the
third and westernmost zone had few "community facilities such as schools, shopping
To sum up, because Patna remained an administrative and political hub,
worsening economic conditions did not transform it into a "ruined city"; nor was
its position as the central place of the region entirely eroded, notwithstanding such
evocations in the plaintive prose and poetry penned by the aristocratic generation of the
late eighteenth century. Consider the eyewitness account of Enugula Veeraswamy, a pilgrim
from south India who visited Patna at the close of 1830. The next chapter retraces his
journey across the region to the scene of melas, or fairs.