The Bardhaman Raj (also known as Burdwan Raj) was a zamindari estate that flourished from about 1657 to 1956, first under the Mughals and then under the British in the province of Bengal in India. At the peak of its prosperity in the eighteenth century, the estate extended to around 5,000 square miles (13,000 km2) of territory and even up to the early twentieth century paid an annual revenue to the government in excess of 33 lakh (US$52,000).
The estate was established and owned continuously by the Kapoor family, which had its origins in the Punjab. Its earliest known ancestor, Sangam Rai, is said to have migrated to Bengal and settled at Bardhaman in the sixteenth century. Bardhaman was never an independent territory since the chiefs of the family held it basically as the revenue collectors or zamindars of the Mughal governors of Bengal. Later, in British times after Lord Cornwallis's Permanent Settlement of 1793, the zamindars changed their status from revenue collectors to owners of the land they collected revenue from. Although its owners were both rich and powerful, with the chiefs of the family holding the title of Maharaja, the Bardhaman estate was not defined as a "Princely State," with freedom to decide its future course of action at the time of Indian independence in 1947. (Cooch Behar was the only princely state in Bengal and Tripura was another on its border. There were several princely states in neighbouring Orissa, especially Mayurbhanj that had a presence in Kolkata.)
In spite of its official status in the context of national history, it had a local importance and was respected as one of the forward looking feudal houses, who endeavoured to bring about an improvement in the conditions of its subjects. They patronised many poets, who had contributed substantially to the literature of the day. They were also great patrons of music. It had an army of its own and when the declining Mughals ceded their territory to the British, they even fought with the British. Later, when they made up with the British, they were entitled to their own coat of arms. After independence, they donated their palace, with a huge library of valuable books, for the formation of the University of Burdwan.
Their territory was centered on the Bardhaman district, but extended beyond to eighteen more, to parts, for example, of what is now Bankura, Medinipur, Howrah, Hughli and Murshidabad districts. They hailed from as far away as Lahore but identified themselves with the people of the lands they held and are considered to be benefactors of Bengali literature and culture. While the Raj ended with the abolition of zemindaries in 1955, it passed into history. The eminent historians will keep their focus spread over the wide national scenario of a large country, Bardhaman Raj will evoke interest among numerous persons linked with this region and many others who would continue to be inquisitive about what happened in different regions of this country.
The highlights of each person of the Raj family are given below in chronological order. Normally, the son succeeded the father and when it was otherwise, it is specifically mentioned.
- 1 History
- 2 Legacy
- 3 In literature
- 4 Early years
- 5 Mughal period
- 6 British period
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
- 9 External links
The erstwhile Maharajas of Burdwan in Bengal belong to the Kapoor clan of the Khatri community, and hailed originally from the Punjab. Maharaja Bhadur Tedj Chand Ray adopted Chunilal Kapur who later assumed the Zamindari of Burdwan. Sangram Ray is said to have travelled eastwards on pilgrimage to the temple-town of Puri in Orissa. Thereafter, he travelled further northeast and settled permanently at Baikunthpur near the town of Burdwan, where he and his son, Banku Bihari, prospered vastly as tradesmen and bankers.
In 1657, during the rule of the mughal emperor Jahangir, Banku Bihari's son Abu Ray was appointed the officer in charge of revenue collection and of the maintenance of public order in two precincts (Rekabi Bazar and Mughultuli) of Burdwan district. He owed this appointment to his ability to supply the army passing through Burdwan with adequate provisions at short notice. The family continued to flourish in trade, and Abu Ray's son Babu Ray added further to the prestige of the family by acquiring large estates. He purchased Burdwan and three other estates from Ram Ray, an important Zamindar of the area. His grandson Krishnaram Ray, son of Ghanashyam Ray, obtained letters patent from Aurangzeb in 1689 A.D., recognizing him as Zamindar of these estates and extending to Burdwan and some other areas the offices already held by the family in Rekabi Bazar and Mughultuli. The family thus entered the ranks of the nobility. Krishnaram Ray was ordered to not realize any new taxes from the peasantry but to encourage cultivation and maintain law and order. The nazarana for the land was set at Rs. 200,000/-. Zamindars are not to be confused with Indian royalty. The "Mahrajas" of Burdwan were basically large rent collectors for the British having bought this privilege at auction during the Permanent Settlement of Bengal; they were never members of the Chamber of Princes and had no treaties with the British Government. The lands that they collected rents from were directly administered by Indian Civil Service officers who themselves were part of the Bengal Presidency and later the State of Bengal. Thus Raja and Maharaja were titles that in many cases such as here had no reference to sovereignty. Nor were the "Maharajas of Burdwan" aristocrats in any sense of the word. They, however were extremely wealthy businessmen.
Late Mughal era
The family was however hard put to maintain their newly acquired estates. Lawlessness was rampant and grew worse during the governorship of Ibrahim Khan, an incompetent administrator who was appointed to that office by the mughal emperor in 1689, the same year in which letters patent were granted to Krishnaram Ray. In 1695, Shova Singh, the landlord of Chetua-Barda in what is today East Midnapore district, seized Krishnaram Ray's estates by force. He did this in alliance with Rahim Khan, an Afghan strongman and mercenary of Orissa. Krishnaram Ray was slain in 1696 and all the other members of his family were held captive by Shova Singh. A number of ladies of the family committed suicide by taking poison. Krishnaram's daughter Satyabati is said to have herself killed Shova Singh with a dagger when he tried to molest her. She then killed herself. Krishnaram's son Jagatram Ray managed to escape as he had gone to Dhaka to seek the help of the governor, Ibrahim Khan. With the help of a mughal force garrisoned at Hooghly, and of the Dutchmen stationed at Chinsura, Jagatram Ray regained control of Burdwan.
Following this turmoil, the emperor Aurangzeb dismissed Ibrahim Khan and appointed his own grandson Azim-ush-shan governor. However, the general lawlessness which was the hallmark of the last years of Aurangzeb's life, and which presaged the demise of the Mughal empire, was already rife over the land. Jagatram Ray was murdered in 1702. He left two sons, Kirtichand Ray and Mitrasen Ray. As the elder son, Kirtichand Ray inherited the estates, while Mitrasen Ray was granted a fixed annuity from the estate's exchequer. Kirtichand Ray made the best of the then prevalent lawless situation: he fought with the Rajas of Chandrakona, Barda and Bishnupur and added the parganas of Chitua, Bhursut, Barda and Manoharshahi to his fief. In 1736, he received a firman from the powerless, figurehead Mughal emperor Muhammed Shah, confirming him in his new acquisitions and recognizing him as Zamindar of Chandrakona. He died in 1740 and was succeeded by Chitrasen Ray, who was conferred the title of "Raja" by the emperor in 1740. Chitrasen Ray died childless in 1744 and was succeeded by his cousin's son Tilakchand Ray, who also received the title of Raja. At this time, some other estates were added to his fief.
The East India Company
It was during the era of Tilakchand Ray that the British East India Company acquired Bengal. After the battle of Plassey (1757), the revenue of the district was mortgaged to them; later, in September 1760, the entire district was ceded to the HEIC by Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal. This cession was confirmed by the mughal emperor Shah Alam II by the treaty of Allahabad, 1765.
In the initial years, the HEIC and its officers was notoriously rapacious, both in exacting revenue for the company and "gifts" and trade concessions for the officers personally. The amount of revenue demanded by the company was set arbitrarily at an unreasonable figure and could not be paid regularly. When Tilakchand proved irregular in the payment of revenue, the HEIC threatened to deprive him of his fief. In alliance with the Zamindar of Birbhum, Tilakchand faced a British force at a ford on the river Banka near Sangotgola and was defeated. This was on 29 December 1760.
Tilakchand died aged 37, leaving a minor son, Tejchand. His widow, Rani Vishnukumari, managed the affairs of the estate between 1776 and 1779, before handing over charge to her 14-year-old son Tejchand. Under the terms of the Permanent Settlement of Bengal Act (1793), Raja Tejchand entered into an agreement with the HEIC to pay them an annual revenue of Rs.4,015,109/- and also a "bridge-building charge" of Rs. 193,721/-. These terms also proved impossible to meet, and payments soon fell into arrears. Soon enough, in 1797, the Board of Revenue ordered the sale of portions of the fief for realization of arrears of revenue. The Permanent Settlement effected by the British, with its unreasonable revenue demands, drained the province of its very sustanance. The pressure on the landlords to meet these unreasonable demands resulted in the gradual but inexorable immiseration of the peasantry.
British government rule
The family continued as Zamindars of Burdwan." Their financial situation improved as certain revenue reforms were carried out by the HEIC. By 1911, their rent-roll was upwards of £300,000. The estate attained great prosperity due to the excellent management of Maharaja Mahtab Chand (born 1820, ruled 1832-1879), who held the estate when the British Crown assumed the government of India in 1858. Mehtab Chand's loyalty to the British, especially during the "Hul" (Santhal rebellion) of 1855-56 and the Indian rebellion of 1857, was rewarded with the grant of a coat of arms in 1868 . In 1864, Mehtab Chand was appointed as an additional member of the governor-general's Legislative Council. He was the first Bengali to receive that honour. One of his successors, Bijai Chand, (b. 1881, ruled 1887-1941), earned great distinction by the courage with which he risked his life to save that of Sir Andrew Fraser, lieutenant-governor of Bengal, when an attempt to assassinate him was made by malcontents on 7 November 1908.
During the three centuries that they held the estate of Burdwan, the Kapoor family contributed richly to the development of Burdwan as a cultural center. In particular, Mehtab Chand Ray and Bijay Chand Ray are credited with having extended patronage to scholars and artists, including:
- Paramhansa Yogananda, teacher of meditation and yoga
- Sadhak Kamalakanta, Bengali poet and singer
- Gopeswar Banerjee, noted musician of Vishnupur
- Dasharathi Roy, poet and composer of Panchali
- Padmalochan, a disciple of Sri Ramakrishna
In 1882, the Burdwan Raj College was started in Burdwan, which was supported entirely by the revenues of the estate.
The family also constructed several tanks and temples. Ghanashyam Rai, son of the founder Abu Ray, constructed a large tank, the Shyam Sagar. His son Krishanaram Ray constructed the Krishna Sagar tank. His grandson Kirtichand Ray, who founded the town of Kanchannagar, constructed the excavated the Yadeswardih tank. The Ranisagar tank was excavated by order of Kirtichand's mother Brajakishori, who also erected the Baikunthanath Siva temple at Kalna. Kirtichand's son Chitrasen Ray built the famous Siddheswari Temple in Kalna. During the rule of Chitrasen's son Tilakchand, several temples were built. His mother Lakshmikumari erected the Sri Krishna temple at Kalna, while his wife Chhangakumari erected the Jagannath temple at Kalna. Other legacies include the Sarbamangala temple, the Baikunthanath Siva temple, the Bijoy Toran and the Rajbadi (palace).
Antpur in the district of Hooghly in West Bengal has a number of terracotta temples that have won applause from lovers of antpur.
All the monuments in Antpur are located in land owned by the Mitra family, an erstwhile Zaminder of the area. To Krishnaram Mitra, a dewan of Maharaja Kirtichandara of Burdwan Raj, goes the credit of erecting the most richly decorated terracotta temple of Radha-Govinda.
This temple, founded in 1786, is of well-known Bengali hut atchata-type with a do-chala ante-chamber in the front. On three sides, east, south and west, is found opulence of carved terracotta figurines depicting legends from the Ramayana, Mahabharata and the Puranas. Battle scenes of Rama-Ravana confrontation are depicted on the central frieze of the south facade of the temple. The western facade depicts Kali killing demons in a fierce battle. There are also many secular scenes like hunting, soldiers marching, the local Zaminder or Raja being carried in a palanquin.
Outside the compound of the Radha-Govinda temple there are a few brick temples belonging to the second half of the eighteenth century.
In his "The Hungry Stones And Other Stories," Rabindranath Tagore writes: "the Choctaw Lord had been heard to say that in all Bengal, the only really respectable families were those of the Maharajah of Burden's and the Babs of Naysayer."
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Historians generally accredit Sangam Rai to be the founding father of the Bardhaman Raj family. He hailed from Kotalla in Lahore and settled in the region. Those were the fading years of the sixteenth century. Emperor Akbar was extending the boundaries of his empire but the Afghans still had pockets of power in eastern India, and were giving the great Mughal trouble from time to time. The Afghans were a spent force and the Mughals were on the rise. For fortune seekers, it was important to understand what was taking place.
At that time, according to the historian Ramesh Chandra Majumdar: "Bengal was perhaps the most flourishing province in the whole of India… Almost every year a large number of Persians, Abyssinians, Arabs, Chinese, Turks, Moors, Jews, Georgians, Armenians, and merchants from some of the parts of Asia poured in Bengal". Bardhaman, then better known as Chakla or Chakla Bardhaman, was a particularly rich agricultural area.
Sangam Rai had set out on a pilgrimage and had reached Puri when the Afgan general Qutlu Khan Lehani, immortalised by Bankim Chandra Chaterjee in his novel Durgeshnandini, made his foray from Orissa into Bengal. He advanced up to Bardhaman but on his defeat there surrendered to the Mughals in 1584. Inspired by all the possibilities of wealth, Sangam Rai, made his way to Bardhaman and settled down at nearby Baikunthapur as a trader and moneylender. Baikunthapur is not there on the map of Bardhaman at present, but historians think that it was located 10 miles (16 km) north of Bardhaman.
Banku Behari Rai
He continued with his father’s business activities. There was an interesting episode at Bardhaman during the period. Meherunissa was the wife of Sher Afgan, fauzdar of Bardhaman. Emperor Jahangir had cast his eyes on her and sent Qutubuddin Koka to fight against Sher Afgan. Both were killed and lie buried at Pir Baharam in Bardhaman and Meherunissa was taken to the Mughal harem. She later emerged as Nur Jahan, the powerful empress.
Islam Khan, who succeeded Qutubuddin Koka as subdar shifted the Mughal capital of Sube Bangla from Rajmahal to Dhaka in 1612. It meant that the centre of power was shifted further away from Bardhaman.
Emperor Shah Jahan followed Jahangir on the Mughal throne. Prince Suja was then subedar of Bengal. Ram Roy was zamindar of Chakla Bardhaman. The Mughal emperor despatched troops to quell a rebellion that had erupted in east Bengal. However, when the troops were around Bardhaman, it fell short of food supplies. Abu Rai, on receipt of information about shortage of food in the troop camp, voluntarily sent supplies. Ram Roy was stripped of his zamindari.
In 1657, the emperor, issued a firman, on the recommendation of Prince Suja, whereby in lieu of 532 sikkas, the responsibility for rent collection of three parganas of Rekabi Bazar, Mughaltuli and Ibrahimpur, as well as the Kotwali of Chakla Bardhaman, all under the Fouzdar of Sarifabad, was assigned to Abu Rai (1657–1665?). He was amply rewarded for his support to the Mughal emperor.
Babu Rai (1665?-1670?) shifted from Baikunthapur to Bardhaman, and extended his estates to three other parganas, including Bardhaman, on the strength of a firman from the Emperor Aurangzeb.
Ghanshyam Rai (1670?-1675) is credited with having developed the Shyamsayer on 10 acres (40,000 m2) of land.
This place is now considered to be one of the most romantic place in Burdwan.
Krishnaram Rai (1675–1696) acquired the title of Chowdhury from the Mughal Emperor in 1694. He also acquired authority to raise an infantry, as well as a cavalry force. He extended his estates to such an extent that the other big zamindari in the area started envying him and had doubts that some day he could also gobble up their zemindaries. When Shova Singh, the zamindar of Cheto Barda in Medinipur, started plundering the neighbouring areas, the zamindars in the area extended support to him. Cracks had started appearing in the Mughal empire and small rebellions had started erupting. In 1695, Shova Singh declared rebellion against the Mughal emperor. He garnered support of disgruntled Afghan elements and advanced against Bardhaman. At the battle of Chandrakona in 1696, Shova Singh defeated and killed Krishnaram Rai.
His son Jagatram Rai managed to escape but the victor moved forward to capture Bardhaman. Shova Singh had the ill-reputation of being a debauch and so, before he entered Bardhaman thirteen women of the Raj family committed suicide by taking poison, but the young and beautiful daughter of Krishnaram Rai, Satyabati, remained alive. When Shova Singh entered the palace and tried to take her in his embrace, she stabbed him to death and thereafter committed suicide.
For three years, chaos prevailed in the region till the Mughals re-established themselves in the area and put Jagatram Rai back in the seat of power. During the period, an Afghan rebel, Rahim Khan, had some control over the region. Later on, Prince Azim-ush-Shan, then dewan of Sube Bangla, extended his control over the area. He stayed back in Bardhaman for some time before returning to his capital at Dhaka.
During his reign, Bardhaman was hit by a serious drought. It was during this drought that Krishnaram Rai developed the Krishnasayer over a 30-acre (120,000 m2) land.
One interesting fall out of the period was that the purchase of the three villages of Kalikata, Gobindapur and Sutanuti by the East India Company from the Sabarna Roy Choudhury, the zemindar of Barisha. The subedar of Sube Bangla is believed to have given his assent for the sale from Bardhaman, where he was engaged in suppressing the rebellious Afghans.
Jagatram Rai (1699–1702) won back his father’s estates because of his loyalty to the Mughals in their efforts to quell the rebellion of the Afghans. He was also bestowed with the title of Chowdhury and three more parganas were added by a royal firman in 1699. However, an unknown assailant assassinated him, while he was bathing in the Krishnasayer. His widow, Brajakishori, lived for a long time and patronised Pranballav Ghosh of Ambika Kalna, who composed the long poem Jahnabimangal.
Kirtichand Rai (1702–1740) was the first person in Raj family to acquire hereditary right to the zemindari and the title Chowdhury on the basis of a firman issued by Emperor Aurangzeb in 1706. Till then, each person became a zemindar on a basis of a firman specially issued for the purpose. Even Kirtichand Rai was initially appointed a zemindar on the basis of such a firman. At that time, he could collect revenue from 39 parganas.
It was during his reign that Emperor Aurangzeb died in 1707, and the tussle for the throne took a bad turn. Murshid Quli Khan virtually assumed independence as the Nawab of Bengal and for the first time, the title of the Nawab also became hereditary. Prior to that, subedars of Sube Bangla were appointed on an individual basis by the Mughal emperor.
Kirtichand Rai extended his estates far and wide. At its height, it extended to around 5,000 square miles (13,000 km2) and included many parts of what is now Bardhaman, Bankura, Medinipur, Howrah, Hughli and Murshidabad districts. After his victory against the king of Vishnupur, he constructed a victory gate, Baraduari (the outer gate), at Kanchannagar. It was a period when Vishnupur and Birbhum were virtually treated as independent kingdoms.
During his long reign, Kirtichand Rai constructed many temples and patronised many poets, who have written highly about him. His mother, Brajakishori, had a benign influence on him and he predeceased her.
In 1740, on the basis of a firman issued by the Mughal emperor Mohammad Shah, Chitrasen Rai (1740–1744), not only acquired the vast estates of his father but was also conferred the title of 'Rajadhiraj'. The most notable feature of the short rule of Chitrasen Rai was the devastation brought about by the ravages of the Marathas. Around 20,000-strong cavalry under the leadership of Bhaskar Pandit, attacked Bardhaman and other areas of Bengal and resorted to extensive looting. For sometime Chitrasen was forced out of his capital and even the Nawab, Aliverdy Khan, was unable to resist their onslaught. The fury of the Maratha attacks lessened, but did not cease, after Bhaskar Pandit was killed at Mankar in 1744.
As Chitrasen was childless, his cousin Trilokchand Rai (1744–1770) succeeded him. In 1746, the Mughal emperor Muhammad Shah conferred the title of 'Raja Bahadur' on Trilokchand Rai, and in 1753, he acquired the title of 'Maharajadhiraj' on the strength of a firman or notification of the Mughal emperor Ahmed Shah. Subsequently, his descendants acquired the title through similar notifications.
In 1745, the Marathas once again attacked Bengal and Bihar, under the leadership of Raghuji Bhonsle of Nagpur. Although he was defeated at Katwa and thereafter returned to Nagpur, the Marathas continued with their hit-and-run attacks and looting, year after year, until they reached a settlement.
- All territory beyond the Subarnarekaha river would be under Maratha occupation and they would not cross it.
- Mir Habib would be naib nazim of Orissa, nominally under Aliverdy but paying revenue also to Maratha Raghuji Bhonsle.
- The Nawab of Bengal would give chauth every year to Raghuji Bhosnle as tribute.
Peace returned to the countryside which had been badly ravaged by the Marathas, but the Maratha attacks proved to be the forerunner of British rule in India. They dealt the last blow to the tottering Mughal empire.
In 1760, Mir Kassem, then Nawab of Sube Bangala ceded Bardhaman along with Medinipur and Chittagong to East India Company. This was three years after the Battle of Plassey. Initially, the Maharajadhiraj of Bardhaman was inimical towards the British. With the attacks of the Marathas and other reasons, famine conditions prevailed in Bardhaman. The Maharajadhiraj was finding it difficult to collect rent from the cultivators. There were incidents of small skirmishes.
After the Battle of Buxar in 1764, the great Mughals became pensioners of the East India Company. In 1765, the English acquired the diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa from the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II. This led to formal peace with the British but sporadic troubles continued.
Summary:Bardhaman Raj during the Mughal period
|Bardhaman Raj||Mughal Empire||Sube Bangla|
|Sangam Rai||Akbar (1556–1605)||Khan-I-Jehan (1575–78)|
|Muzaffar Khan (1578–80)|
|Khan Azam (1582-84?)|
|Shahbaz Khan (1584?-1593)|
|Raja Man Singh (1593–1606)|
|Banku Behari Rai||Jahangir (1605–1627)||Qutbuddin Koka (1606–1608)|
|Islam Khan (1608–1614)|
|Qasim Khan (1614–1617)|
|Ibrahim Khan I (1617–1639)|
|Shah Jahan (1628–1658)||Prince Shuja (1639–1659)|
|Mir Jumla (1660–1663)|
|Abu Rai (1657–1665)||Shayesta Khan (1664–1688)|
|Babu Rai (1665?-1670?)||Aurangzeb (1658–1707)|
|Ghanshyam Rai (1670? – 1675)|
|Krishnaram Rai (1675–1696)||Khani-i-Jahan (1688–1689)|
|Ibrahim Khan II (1689–1697)|
|Prince Azim-ush-Shan (1697–1712)|
|Jagatram Rai (1699–1702)|
|Kirtichand Rai (1702–1740)||Bahadur Shah I (1707–1712)|
|Jahandar Shah (1712–13)||Murshid Quli Khan (1717–1727)|
|Mohammad Shah (1719–1748)||Shuja-ud-Din (1727–1739)|
|Sarfraj Khan (1737–1740)|
|Chitrasen Rai (1740–1744)||Aliverdy Khan (1740–1756)|
|Trilokchand Rai (1744–1770)||Ahmad Shah (1748–1754)|
|Alamgir II (1754–1759)|
|Shah Jahan III (1759)||Mir Jafar (1757–1760)|
|Shah Alam II (1761–1805)|
|Mir Kassem (1760–1764)|
In the initial years, he was a minor and his mother, Bishankumari, was in effective charge. He faced many problems during his lifetime. From his first four wives Tejendra (1770–1832) had only one son, Pratapchandra by Nankikumari. One of his wives gave birth to three sons but all of them died. At the time of the birth of the fourth child, both the mother and child died. Pratapchandra was ordained Maharaja even when Tejendra was alive.
When Kashinath Kapoor of Lahore was on his way to Puri for a pilgrimage, Kamalkumari, his young daughter, charmed the Maharajadhiraj. She became his fifth wife. From then on, Kamalkumari’s brother, Paranchand Kapoor, played a key role in the affairs of Bardhaman Raj. Unfortunately, she did not bear any children. She and Paranchand plotted to remove Pratapchandra and ultimately succeeded. Tejendra adopted Chunilal Kapoor, the younger son of Paranchand. In the meantime, he had married for the seventh time and then married Basantakumari the 11-year-old daughter of Paranchand. Five years later, in 1832, Tejendra died. The case of Jal (forged) Pratapchandra had kept Bardhaman anxious and enlivened for some time.
However, in spite of all his moral failings, which were common with the aristocracy in those days, Tejendra was a forward-looking person. He had set up the Bardhaman Raj School in his own compound around 1810. It formally moved to its own building in 1817. He appointed Englishmen for teaching English and as principals. For the Hindu College at Kolkata, he had donated a one-time sum. He also supported many Persian and Arabic Schools and Sanskrit toles. In other fields, also his contributions were many. As per family traditions, he also excavated large ponds. His mother, Bishankumari, constructed the 109 Shiva temples at Kalna and Nawab Hat during his reign.
When Tejendra died in 1832, Chunilal Kapoor, then a minor took over as Mahtabchand Bahadur (1832–1879). During the initial years, Paranchand and Kamalkumari effectively looked after the affairs of the state. In 1844, when he attained the age of 24, he took charge of the Bardhaman estate from the Court of Wards. There was a double change of scenario. First, the rule of the Rai family came to an end and the rule of the Mahtab family started. Second, the loyalty of the Bardhaman Raj shifted to the British in full measure. Till then, the Raj family had retained the mindset of support to the Mughal emperor and could not heartily accept British supremacy but from the time of Mahtabchand Bahadur, they heartily switched over loyalty to the British.
When the Santhals organised the Hul rebellion in 1855, and during the Sepoy Mutiny of 1857, the Raj extended all support to the British and in return, they received support of the British. In 1862, the Maharaja secured formal permission to keep arms. In 1877, he was invited to attend the ceremony held in Delhi to announce the taking over of Queen Victoria as the Empress of India. At that time, he was allowed to keep 13 cannons and use the title 'His Highness' before his name.
By the time Mahtabchand Bahadur assumed power, coal had been found in the district (see Asansol for details). The leasing out of land for coalmining brought in substantial revenues for the Raj.
He spent some of the resources for the benefit of his tenants. He upgraded the Anglo vernacular school earlier established by Tejendra to a high English school, set up a girls' school, and donated liberally to the Hindu school at Kalna. He spent liberally on development of education and welfare of pundits, maulavis and teachers, and in general could be termed a patron of western education in his estate. He set up a branch of the Brahmo Samaj within the palace compound and was a great composer of devotional songs. One of the songs composed by him still finds a place in the Brahmasangeet of Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. He had great love for music and patronised it extensively.
In 1854, a Bengali translation of the Adikanda of the Ramayana in poetry form was published by the Raj. Bipradas Tarkabagish and Uma Kanta Bhattacharya translated it. Subsequently, other parts of Ramayana were translated and published in stages. It was during his period that a Bengali translation of Mahabharata was initiated. A collection of songs of the poet-devotee Kamalakanta Bhattacharya was published. He patronized many poets and scholars.
A strong supporter of Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar’s campaign for remarriage of widows, he published books on the subject. He established a charitable dispensary and sowed the seed for the establishment of a medical college. He was somewhat whimsical by nature and sometimes carried out his odd desires. Bardhaman municipality was initiated in 1865. According to the Municipality Deed on the basis of which Kanchannagar D. N. Das school was set up by the 'D.N. Das Charitable Trust' shows that the school was started in 25th June1906, though the school was originally setup in 25 June 1887 during Mahtabchand period. KanchannagarD.N.Das School is running from the year 1887 under the supervision of the great patriot & philanthropist Revd. Dinnonath Das. For smooth sailing, he formed a 'D.N.Das Charitable Trust' by donating Rs. 50000 and his houses and land to achieve his goal “ Free Education & Health for All". He started construction of the palace in the fashion of western architecture.
Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar had called him the 'First Man of Bengal'. In his book Twelve men of Bengal, F.D.Bradley had termed him 'one of the great men of the 19th century.
In 1851, Ramtanu Lahiri, posted to Bardhaman as headmaster of a school, created a sensation in the small town by discarding his sacred thread. That was possibly the first such incident. Although a follower of Brahmo ideals, he had retained his sacred thread till then. People accused him of hypocrisy and so he removed it. The incident shocked the orthodox society and a campaign was launched to socially boycott him. Within a short period, he was transferred out of Bardhaman.
Rashbehari Kapoor, another son of Paranchand Kapoor, adopted Jahurilal, son of Gopallal Seth, and named him Banbehari Kapoor. He was a very efficient person and soon came close to the Mahtabchand. He became Dewan-i-Raj and contributed substantially towards development of Bardhaman Raj.
In 1844, he married Narayanikumari, daughter of Kedarnath Nanda, but she did not bear him a child. He adopted Brahmaprasad Nanda, son of Bangsagopal Nanda, his brother-in-law and named him his successor.
Brahmapasad Nanda adopted the name of Aftabchand Mahtab (1879–1885) and took over after the death of Mahtabchand Bahadur. He was then only 19-years old. Therefore, Banbehari Kapoor was in effective charge of affairs. He continued Mahtabchand Bahadur’s policies. He established an FA College, with provision for free tuitions, a public library and spent substantial amounts for water supply arrangements. He continued the patronage of poets and scholars. Translations of several parts of the Ramayana was completed and published. Some Bengali translations of Urdu literature was also done.
Aftabchand Mahtab died at the young age of 25 years and did not leave behind a successor. At the time of his death, he authorized his wife, Binodeyi Devi, to adopt a son. Family disputes delayed that. In 1887, she formally adopted Bijonbehari Kapoor, son of the estate manager, Banbehari Kapoor, and named him Vijaychand Mahatab. However, as the adoption took two years, Court of Wards took over the administration of the estates.
His rule started in 1887 and lasted till 1941. It was the longest in the Bardhaman Raj. In 1887, he was only six years old. Therefore, the Court of Wards along with the Diwani-i-Raj, Banbehari Kapoor, ruled up to 1902. During the later part of the rule, there were allegations of financial corruption. Coupled with mismanagement, the affairs of the Raj were in shambles. In 1893, the title of 'Raja' was bestowed on Banbehari Kapoor. The government permitted the raj in 1897 to maintain an armed force of 600 people and 41 cannons. In 1899, Vijay Chand Mahtab passed the entrance examination of Calcutta University, and was the first in the Raj family to obtain a formal educational qualification.
In 1903, the title of 'Rajadhiraj' was bestowed on Vijaychand Mahtab at the Delhi Durbar. A pompous coronation was organized in the palace at Bardhaman, where Lieutenant Governor Bordillian was present to bestow the honour. In 1908, as per a proclamation of Lord Minto, the title of 'Maharajadhiraj' was bestowed on a hereditary basis.
The national movement had started picking up. Three branches of Bharat Sabha set up by Surendranath Banerjee were established at Bardhaman. Jatindranath Bandopadhyay of Channa within the area of the Raj, secured army training in Baroda and joined the Anushilan group. Rashbehari Bose of Khandaghosh in the Raj had already become a revolutionary leader. In such an environment, Vijaychand Mahtab invited the Governor General Lord Curzon to the Bardhaman palace and constructed the Curzon gate in Gothic style at the junction of Vijaychand Road and Grand Trunk Road. In 1903, he saved the life of the Lieutenant Governor, Sir Andrew Fraser. In return for his loyalty to the British, he was honoured with the title of KCIE (Knight Commander of the Indian Empire) and Indian Order of Merit (class III). In 1906, he toured Europe.
It must be added that in spite of his loyalty towards the British, he provided warm hospitality to Mahatma Gandhi, when he visited Bardhaman in 1925 and welcomed cordially Subhas Chandra Bose when he visited Bardhaman in 1928 to campaign in the municipal elections.
He was a member of the Bengal Legislative Council from 1907 to 1918, and of the Imperial Legislative Council from 1909 to 1912. He was associated with the state administration in subsequent years. In 1938, he was a member of the Francis Floud Commission to suggest changes in the Permanent Settlement of 1793. The commission recommended the replacement of the zemindari system by a ryotwari (tenancy) system in which the ownership of land would vest with the ryot (tenant) and the land revenue payable by him could be revised periodically. The recommendations could not be implemented because of differences in the Fazlul Huq ministry. However, it was evident that the days of zemindars were coming to an end. It was this realisation that led Vijaychand Mahtab to extend indirect support to the Congress.
Vijaychand Mahtab was deeply involved with Bengali literature. He was president of the reception committee in the 8th session of the Bangiya Sahitya Sammelan held at Bardhaman in 1914. From amongst the twenty books he wrote, mention may be made of Impression, The Indian Horizon, Meditation, Studies, Vijaygitika (collection of songs composed by him), Troyodashi (poem), Ranjit (play), and Manaslila (science-play).
He left behind two sons and two daughters, thereby ending the long succession of adoptions.
Udaychand Mahtab (1941–1955) was the last representative of the Bardhaman Raj. He was the first graduate in the family and in 1937, he won the election to the Legislative Council defeating Bijoy Chandra Bhattacharya of Congress. He took over in a quiet coronation ceremony.
His accession to power was followed by the great famine of 1943. Historians feel that the Raj family did not do anything to alleviate the suffering of the poor, as it had done earlier. However, it must go to the credit of the Raj family that no communal disturbances took place in Bardhaman, even after the great Calcutta killings on 1946 and communal riots in many places across Bengal. The minority committee was well protected from disturbances.
In the first election after independence in 1952, Udaychand Mahtab lost to a freedom fighter and communist, Benoy Choudhury, who later became the Land Reforms Minister of Bengal, in spite of a campaign in his favour by Jawaharlal Nehru. The election defeat was followed by legislation for abolition of the zemindari system in 1954. An embittered Udaychand Mahtab shifted from Bardhaman to the Vijay Manzil in Alipur, Calcutta. He became a director of IISCO, set up in a part of his Raj, and several other leading mercantile firms of the day, such as Dunlop, Metal Box and Brooke Bond. He was also a Steward of the Royal Calcutta Turf Club.
He acceded to the request of the chief minister, Dr. Bidhan Chandra Roy and handed over his palace, Mahtab Manzil and Golap Bagh to the University of Burdwan, with Shri Sukumar Sen as its first vice chancellor. He gave a piece of land in Bardhaman to the numerous employees of the Raj so that they could build a house there. With the end of the Raj, he immersed himself in his commercial and business interests.
He died on 10 October 1984, leaving behind three sons – Sadaychand, Malaychand and Pranaychand - and three daughters – Baruna Devi, Jyotsna Devi and Karuna Devi.
Sadaychand Mehtab and Pronoychand Mehtab
The present representative of the Burdwan Raj is Sadaychand Mahtab, who was educated at The Doon School, Dehra Dun and Cambridge University. He too is involved in business ventures. His younger brother Dr. Pronoychand Mahtab holds a PhD in history completed at the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. He is presently a member of the Board of Trustees of the Victoria Memorial Hall, Calcutta and President of the Bengal Home Industries, a charitable organisation.
- Bardhaman Jelar Itihas O Lok Sanskriti (History and Folklore of Bardhaman District) in Bengali by Akkari Chattopadhyay.
- History of the Bengali-speaking People by Nitish Sengupta.}
- "Burdwan Raj" in Imperial Gazeteer of India, New Edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1908–1931), Vol. 9.
- This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.
- The District Gazetter, Burdwan.
- Encyclopædia Britannica entry on Burdwan
- Genealogy of Maharajas of Burdwan
- History of Burdwan estate
- Burdwan estate in the pre-British and British eras
- Next weekend you can be at ... Burdwan
- Vijay Manzil, the estate of the maharaja of Burdwan
- "Burdwan" genealogy of ruling dynasty, by Henry Soszynski.