History of Dinajpur Raj
The great zamindar family of Dinajpur, who ruled the district for two centuries, could be traced back to the reign of Akbar. In 1600 AD, for administrative reasons, Akbar divided his empire into 15 subas and appointed his son prince Selim as Subadar of Bengal. The Suba was further subdivided into 19 sarkars and parts of four of those sarkars namely sarkar Ghoraghat, sarkar Tejpur, sarkar Panjara, and sarkar Barbakabad fell within the limits of Dinajpur District.According to Calcutta Review vol. 55. 1872, “About the time of Akbar’s settlement there was at Dinagepoor, at the place from which Gonesh, less than two centuries before, derived his title, a man, possibly of the blood of Gonesh, in possession of a considerable part of what are now the districts of Dinagepoor and Maldah. Buchanan calls him Kashi, but whether he is correct or not, the name is now utterly forgotten. His grave is shown at the door of the mondeer in the Rajbari.” and clothes, curd, rice, etc. are still given as offerings on his grave. He is identified by the local people as a holy man and he is spoken of as a Shannayashi, Brahmachariand Mohanta or Gosain. There is a local tale which denotes that he built a temple on his estate where he installed Kali or Kalika image and later, in addition to this image, he also installed another image called Kaliyamardana, which is one of the forms of Krishna avatara(incarnation). He endowed the whole Sarkar or Havele of Panjara for the maintenance of the temple. The Dinajpur estate was repeatedly mentioned in the old records as Havele of Panjara.He (Kashi) then left his estate to one of his disciple named Sremanta Datta Chowdhury(1608-1642)), who belonged to Kayastha caste and migrated in this area from the east. He had two children, a son and a daughter. The son died without having any issue but the daughter had a son named Sukdhev Roy.
Raja Sukdhev Roy(1642 A.D.-1677 A.D.)
District Magistrate E.V. Wesmacott (1872) has given an account of Sukhdev’s estate, which suggests that during his period, he included and extended his estate upto present Dinajpur and Thakurgoan districts, a considerable area consisting of greater West Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogura and Maldah districts. In addition to that, at the time of Sukhdev or of his father, the zamindar family of Khetal came to an end and the property was divided up. Seven out of sixteen parts went to Sukhdev Roy, whose father and grand father may have inherited the office of Dewan from their ancestor and the remaining nine parts out of sixteen went to another officer, who founded the zamindar at Bardhan kuti, or Idrakpur. In this way, Sukhdev expanded his assests to Ghoraghat and Nawabganj thanas of Dinajpur districts, Adamdighi and Shibganj thanas of Bogura District, Khetlal and Panchbibi thanas of Jaypurhat districts and Badalgachi thana of Naogaon districts. Regarding the distribution of Khetlal zamindari there is a different opinion: that Khatta area of Badalgachi that was conquered and divided by the Rajas of Nator and Dinajpur in Ramnath’s time and Khangor area of Panchbibi thana was a joint accquistion with the Jahangirpur family during the period of Ramnath (Hamilton 1833). However, the zamindars of Dinajpur and Idrakpur divided their estate in such a way that each retained a share in every village, which was inconvenient and generated conflict between the two families in later times. Sukhdev Roy obtained the title ‘Raja’ from the Mughal emperor because he possessed a large territory in the north Bengal region. He died in 1677 and very little is known regarding his personal character and achievements to write his history. The ‘Sukh Sagar’ or the Sea of Pleasure’ is the only mere remnant, which he had excavated for the benefit of his subjects and is a testament of his benevolent policy. Sukhvev had three sons. i.e. Ramdev, Joydev and Prannath.
Maharaja Prannath(1682 A.D.-1722 A.D.)
Raja Sukdhev had two wives. Ramdev and Joydev were born by his first wife and the second wife delivered Prannath. Raja Sukdhev’s eldest son Ramdev died very young, the second Joydev reigned for five years from 1677 A.D. to 1682 A.D. and was succeeded by the youngest, Prannath. During the reign of Mughal Emperor Alamgir, Azim-ud-din Mahmud had granted a Sanad, dated 1679, in which the succession of someone to Sukhvev’s property is recorded. Unfortunately the name of the successor is wiped out. F.W.Strong (Dinajpur Gazetteer 1912: P.23) has given an account on Mughal policy towards Dinajpur Raj which is as follows: “The ousting of the Afghans from Bengal appears to have brought that province little closer to the throne of Delhi than it was under its former governers. The rule of the Mughals viceroys was a repetition of that of their predecessors, so far as their relations with the Emperor were concerned. The constant bickering that went on with the central power distracted their attention from their Hindu subjects, and the Raja of Dinajpur was permitted to rule undisturbed over some three-quarters of a million of people, on condition of paying a certain portion of his revenues to the Subadar of Bengal.”
Prannath ruled in Dinajpur for 40 years, from 1682-1722. He was a very powerful zamindar in his time.He not only maintained his ancestral property but also added some more areas to his estate by using force. Local traditions acknowledge that he acquired Maligoan Pargana by force of arms, which comprise the eastern half of the present Banshihari Thana, a considerable parts of present Maldah district of west Bengal, India. Beside these, he absorbed some 12 more small estates, which were surrounded by the Raj property. Prannath had commemorated his name in different parts of his estate. He dug a tank named Pransagar or the ‘Sea of life’ or the ‘Sea of Prannath’ 18 kilometers south of Dinajpur town. The tank is still in a perfect state of preservation. He also initiated the erection of a magnificent religious edifice named Kantanagar temple, situated on the bank of Dhepa, 18 kilometers north of Dinajpur town. The temple is a fine specimen of the art of the time, decorated as it is all over with terracotta relief. His favorite place is said to be have been at Prannagar, on the road between Birganj and Thakurgaon, but the original buildings have almost been wholly destroyed.
Maharaja Ramnath(1722 A.D.-1763 A.D.)
Having no son or daughter, Prannath adopted a young relative named Ramanath, who took over the responsibility of the estate after him and paid a succession fee of 4,21,450 taka to the Subadar of Bengal. Ramanath was very powerful and honest. F.W.Strong (Dinajpur Gazetteer 1912:P.24) stated that- “he seems further to have been a persona grata with the Subahdar of Bengal who granted him three sanads, conferring on him additional estates in thanas Patiram, Patnitala and Gangarampur. Ramanath conquered and dispossessed the Zamindar of Gobindanagar, near the present village of Thakurgaon, employing a Brahmin to steal his protecting deity or family idol Gobinda, and thus causing his own downfall, the conqueror subsequently constructed a canal connecting Gobindnagar on the Tangan with Prannagar near the Punarbhaba for the purpose of taking the idol backwards and forwards between the two places. This canal is still in existence and is called the Ramdara.”
There is legend that Saiyid Muhammad Khan Or Saiyid Ahmed, the Nazim of Rangpur, stormed and plundered the Rajbadi of Dinajpur in the reign of Ramanath. But whether Ramanath drove him out or came to terms with him is not known. Quoting from Stewart’s History of Bengal (1813) F.W.Strong(1912:24) described the incident that-
“About this period Sayid Ahmed, the second son of Haji Ahmed , who upon the succession of Shujaa Adeen Khan had been appointed Foujadar of Rangpur, and who is accused of having ruled that district with great oppression, having procured from Moorshudabad(Murshidabad) a considerable army, invaded Dinagepore and Couch Beygar (Bihar), and after compelling the Rajas to take refuge in the woods and mountains, got possession of those countries, together with the immense treasures which the Rajas and their ancestors had amassed.”
Mr. Strong also expressed his reservations whether this catastrophe was as serious as stewart makes out, as the Dinajpur Raj is generally supposed to home attained its greatest splendor under Ramanath and he reigned over the estate for a long time after the incident. How ever, after the disaster, Ramanath had given attention to rebuilding the estate. He constructed the Rajbadi immediately. Ramanath was a great administrator, statesman and brave warrior, who commanded a large army. There is a story that Nawab Murshid Kuli Khan presented him with numerous muskets and many pieces of cannon. His armorial bearings such as shirts, shields, muskets, spears, etc. are still preserved with great care. Raja Ramanath dug the famous Ramsagar tank six kilometers south of Dinajpur town. The tank is still well preserved with high embankments. It is said that Sir John Anderson, the Governor of Bengal, was pleased to visit this artificial lake during his tours in the beginning of 1936, and the lake charmed him with its exquisite scenery. It is now recognized as a tourist center of the district. He also built a temple at Rajarampur where Goddess Kali image was installed. How ever he gave more attention towards completing the unfinished work of Kantajee temple, which was neglected by Prannath. This immense work in fact made him most memorable to the populace of the district. Raja Ramanath died in 1760 and was succedded by his son Baidyanath.
Raja Baidyanath(1763 A.D.-1778 A.D.)
Raja Baidyanath was third among Ramnath’s four sons namely: Krishnanath, Roopnath, Baidyanath and Kantanath. A manuscript signed by Muhammad Jafir Khan, Subadar of Bengal, in which Baidyanath declared the rightful heir of his father. The character of Baidyanath was modest, gentle and weak-minded. He had given a lot of privilege to the Brahmins and due to that they became more powerful during his reign.
The political scenario of India changed immediately after Baidyanath took responsibility of the estate. The British obtained the Diwani of Bengal in 1765, with the right of colleting the revenues, and in 1772 or thereabouts an English collector or chief of the revenue was appointed to the zamindar of Dinajpur. F.W. Strong (1912:25) has given a description of the policy and account of the new regime-
“It is probable that the strictness, with which the collection of the revenue was henceforth made, under the new regime, is accountable for the decline in prosperity of the family, which began about this time. The collectorate records do not begin till A.D. 1786, and the first Collector, Mr.Marriot, appears to have only been a Collector in the more limited sense of being responsible for the payment of the Government revenue. Mr.Redfern and Mr. Vansittart, who were appointed subsequently for short periods, were probably in the same position. Mr.Hatch, who was appointed Managing Collector of the Dinajpur Raj in 1786, and was vested with judicial powers and jurisdiction over the greater part of the area covered by the present districts of Dinajpur, Malda and Bogra, was the first District Officer in the modern sense of the term. From this time on we have a regular record of the administration of the district. Raja Baidyanath died in 1780 without an heir. ”
Raja Radhanath(1778 A.D.-1800 A.D.), Raja Devi Singh, the Rani Saraswati
Raja Baidyanath died in 1780 without an heir. His widow Rani Saraswati adopted a young boy named Radhanath. Radhanath obtained a sanad from the British declaring him successor to Baidayanath, on payment of a succession fee of 730 mohars, Warren Hastings signed the sanad where lands of the estate were given. Since Raja Radhanath was minor, the management of the estate was looked after first by Raja Devi Singh of Dilwarpur, Murshidabad and later by one Janaki Ram Singh, brother of the Rani Sawaswati, Janaki Ram Singh was not efficient in running the estate. He failed to understand the strictness of the British revenue system and had arrears on his payment. Therefore, the Board of Revenue removed him from the post of manager, Ram Kanta Ray, a relative of the Raj family, was appointed as a new manager in 1787. he was doing his duty well. But young Radhanath and Rani Sarawati did not like him and British because of the removal of Janaki Ram Singh for his simple fault of arrears in Payments.
It is said that Rani Saraswati became very annoyed with the British due to their interference in her estate. F.W.Strong (1912:26) has given a citation from Westmacott regarding the attitude of the Rani towards British rule:
The Ranee’s feelings of hostility against the British rule are pardonable. Her husband for 20 years had reigned almost as an independent prince, and after his death her brother Janokee Ram had maintained an equal state. Suddenly her brother was called upon to pay his revenue with a punctually never known before, and on default was sent in custody to Calcutta, and she never saw him again. The collections of the estate were taken entirely out of the hands of the family, and even the expenses of repairs of the Rajbaree and the monthly wages of the servants, were defrayed by Government orders without reference to her wishes. The herd of buffaloes belonging to the Rajbaree was sent to the uncultivated part of the district as a public nuisance, and many of the consecrated cattle were sold. The Ranee was not even allowed to take care of her adopted son, 9 0r 10 years old, but he was made over for education to the manager, Ram Kanto Roy, for whom she had a strong personal aversion. At the same time the income of the Zamindaree was beign decreased by the abolition of all the illegal taxes and ceases which the Rajas had collected as long as she could remember and by the determination of Government that the family charities were to be paid out of the privy purse and not out of the imperial revenue as heretofore. She was naturally in no temper to look on Mr. Hatch’s reforms as beneficial or to acquiesce in the action of Government.
Mr. Hatch could realize the sentiment of the Rani. In 1792, he negotiated the matter by placing Raja Radhanath incharge of her estate. Radhanath managed the estate smoothly for a year. After that he faced problems due to two reasons: a) in 1793, Mr. Hatch was promoted to the Board of Revenue and Mr. Eliot succeeded him. Raja did not have good relation with the latter. b) due to the influence of Rani Saraswati, Radhanath appointed Janaki Ram Singh as his adviser. Janaki Ram Singh put the estate again into some troubles. His mismanagement was carried so far that in 1794 his seal was seized and locked up in the collector’s treasury and Ram Kanta Ray was again appointed as manager. Radhanath regained his power in the estate again in 1796 but he again made the same mistake once again. In 1797, arrears of revenue part of the estate was sold. Further sales were continue to meet up the revenue arrears, which affected much of the estate and the situation went from bad to worse. Radhanath tried his best to save the estate by raising money on mortgages. He even borrowed money from Ram Kanta Ray. His wife Rani Tripuri Sundari and previous Rani Saraswati also purchased lands to a considerable extent. However, all his efforts were fruitless and by the close of 1800 almost the whole estate had been lost. The Raja was virtually a prisoner in his own house as his creditors were threatening him to seize his person and have him imprisoned. Radhanath died in 1801 at the early age of 24. f.w. strong (1912:27) has given an account regarding the British policy ant its impact on Dinajpur Raj during the period of Radhanath. He stated that-
“Opinion may differ as to the expediency of breaking up this large and ancient estate, there can be no question that the policy of Government, however legal, was unduly harsh. The district of Dinajpur was remote from such great centres as Calcutta, Murshidabad, Patna, and Dacca, and this, combined with the fact that it had an evil reputation for unhealthiness, precluded wealthy purchasers from building for the estate land. As a consequence, the lots into which the property had been divided fetched much less than their real value, some of them scarcely bringing in so much as the amount of their annual revenue. The rule of selling to the highest bidder was strictly complied with, and the prinicipal purchasers were the estate servants, the amlas of Government, and local zamindars and merchants. It might be urged in defence of the policy pursued that such a large possession as that of the Raja of Dinajpur was a standing menace to Government, and that the breaking of it up was essential to the peaceful administration of the district, but there is nothing to show that such was actually the feeling of the British authorities.”. Raja Radhanath died without an heir. in 1801.
Rani Tripuri Sundari, Raja Govindanath(1800 A.D.-1841 A.D.), Raja Tarakanath(1841 A.D.-1865 A.D.), Rani Shyam Mohini
After Raja Radhanath’s early death in 1801, there was disintegration in Dinajpur Raj for a long period. His widow Rani Tripuri Sundari adopted a child named Govindanath, who looked after the remains of the family estate in 1817. Govindanath was a capable man, who brought back a congenial atmosphere in the Raj family and regained some of its lost possessions. He died in 1841 and before his death he run the estate satisfactorily. After him the responsibility of the estate went first to his eldest son and later to the youngest one named Tarakanath. This Raja ruled the estate for quite a long period and died childless in 1865. Leaving the property to his widow Rani Shyam Mohini. She adopted a son name Girijanath. Rani Shyam Mohini was very kind and dynamic. There was a great famine in the whole of Bengal including Dinajpur in 1874. She promoted by charitable feelings during the famine, carried out relief works for the starving people on a scale worthy of the great estate of Dinajpur. Rani earned the gratitude of the government by her generous contributions towards the relief of the distressed and received the title of Maharani in recognition to her services.
Maharaja Girijanath Roy Bahadur(1882 A.D.-1919 A.D.)
Rani Shyam Mohini adopted Maharaja Girijanath, who was born into a middle class Zamindar family at Dashur in Chrirbandar Police Station. He studied at famous Queen’s College of Benares from 1871 to 1877 A.D. He ran the estate more effectively than any of his immediate predecessors. He followed the footsteps of his mother and was ever ready to help all who were in need. He was a wise and good man. He honored with the title of Maharaja Bahadur in 1907. In 1913 he built famous Maharaja Girijanath Roy High school at Balubari and gave the school committee an amount of 20000 rupees to design it architecturally quite similar with Carmichael College of Rangpur. on his death the estate lost a good counselor and his tenants lost a wise and kindhearted landlord (Bose 1936:vi). About him N. ahmed (1990:9) stated that-
“This enlightened prince appears to have been a generous patron of public works, art and culture. His munificence is reflected in a series of liberal acts of patronage for such works as the financing of restoration work of the Kantaji Temple, severely damaged by the earthquake of 1897; a contribution of Rs. 75,000/- for the excavation of a canal in Dinajpur and the donation of Rs.25000/= for the construction of the famous Victoria Memorial Hall in Calcutta. For his Liberality and public spirit the title of ‘Maharaja’ was conferred to him in 1888 by the British Government.”
The British Government also awarded Maharaja Girijanath another title of ‘Bahadur’ in 1906, immediate after the partition of Bengal. The further title was bestowed upon him for his loyal support of the Government during a trying crisis. The Privilege of maintaining a force of 100 armed retainers was also granted at the same time. As compared with those of his ancestors though the estate of Maharaja Girijanath Bahadur was small, it was still the largest in the beginning of the past century. He used to pay to the British Government an annual revenue of about 1,75,000 rupees on a gross rental of about 3,50,000 rupees. By 1919, his health deteriorated and he died at 8 a.m. in Kolkata on December 21. On his death Indian Daily News had broadcast a message of condolence:” We regret to announce the death of Maharaja Bahadur Sri Girijanath Ray of Dinajpur which melancholy event took place yesterday morning. Dinajpur one of the ancient houses in Bengal and the Maharaja who represented it with credit was type of a fine old Bengali…. and was always anxious to do his fellow beings…. he associated with many organization and was patron of sangit samaj, the premier Bengali club in calcutta which remained closed yesterday as a mark of respect. The Maharaja was an excellent gentleman…. ” (Indian Daily News, 23rd December, 1919).
Maharaja Jagadish Nath Roy Bahadur(1919 A.D.-1951 A.D.)
The last Maharaja of Dinajpur estate, was Shri Jagadish nath Roy Bahadur was born on December 28, 1894 at Nulaibari Village, north-east of Dinajpur Rajbari. He started his education at Hindu school and got B.A degree from Presidency College, Calcutta. In 1916 he got married Shrimati Snehalata Devi, first daughter of Shri Nolini Ranjan Singh, Grand daughter of Roy Purnenda Narayan Singh Bahadur, the Jaminder of Bakipur. He received the title of ‘Maharaja’ on 3rd June 1920 at the Government House in Calcutta . At that occasion his Execellency Lord Ronaldshay (Marquis of Zetland) and then the Governor of Bengal highly praised him his family and stated that this family has been closely connected with the history of the people of North Bengal for many generations.
He also had military training. In the beginning for a few years he was attached to the 11/19th Hyderabad regiment as an honorary lieutenant and later as a Captain.
Maharaja Jagadishnath Roy was chairman of the District Board and Municipality of Dinajpur. As chairman he repaired and constructed several roads and bridges for better communications, trade and commerce. He made available good drinking water for the rural people. For this reason he set up large numbers of concrete wells and tube-wells all over his estate. There was again a great catastrophe in Dinajpur district in 1927-1929. He gave enough relief to save the population. He developed and renovated Dinajpur Hospital and Dinajpur Girl’s School. He donated the land and money for construction the building of Dinajpur Mahila Shamiti which is still now exists at Ganeshtala for the memory of his wife Shrimati Snehalata Devi.
He donated lots of money for various purposes. Such as 2000 rupees for the construction of a clinical laboratory in the district, 3000 rupees to the municipality for the purchase of a road-watering motor lorry, 3000 rupees to the silver jubilee Celebration Fund of 1935 and 2000 rupees to King George’s Memorial. He made and annual contribution of 600 rupees for the education of poor Kaystha boys. It was said that two charitable dispensaries and some schools in the district were maintained at his cost. Besides these, he donated rupees in the name of Deva seva and cultural progress of Bengal. He was a devotee of Vaishnava of observed all the customs and practices of the family.
In his long political and administrative career he became president of the Dinajpur Landholders, honorary secretary of the Bengal landholders, member and vice-president (for a few years) of the British Indian Association, prominent member of the Bangiya Sahitya Parishad, the Calcutta Literary Society, the Asiatic Society of Bengal and the Bombay Natural History Society. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts in 1934. He set up a library at the Rajbadi. He was elected a member of the Bengal legislative Council in 1930. Maharaja Jagadishnath Roy had one son and five daughter. His only son Raj kumar Jaladhi Nath Roy lived only for 16 years. He died in Calcutta on 4th March 1941 after severely affected by Cholera and Typhoid. He was a student of Saint Mark’s School in Calcutta for a while. His teacher Ms.A.Stefan could remember him as like ” as a pupil the Kumar was good, kind, modest, courteous and considerate. He was really and truly the perfect child. It was such a pleasure to do anything for him. Be assured that his pure and innocent soul is now with God.”