Cooch Behar Palace
|• Total||800 km2 (300 sq mi)|
|• Density||130/km2 (350/sq mi)|
|• Official||Bengali, English|
|Time zone||IST (UTC+5:30)|
|Lok Sabha constituency||Cooch Behar (SC)|
|Vidhan Sabha constituency||Cooch Behar Uttar (SC), Cooch Behar Dakshin, Natabari|
Cooch Behar (/ /; Bengali: কোচবিহার, Kochbihar ? [kotʃbihaɾ]) is the district headquarters of the Cooch Behar District in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is situated in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas and located at . Cooch Behar is the only planned town in North Bengal region with remnants of royal heritage. One of the main tourist destinations in West Bengal, it is the location of the Cooch Behar Palace and Madan Mohan Temple, and has been declared a heritage town. It is the maternal home of Maharani Gayatri Devi.
During the British Raj, the town of Cooch Behar was the seat of the princely state of Koch Bihar, ruled by the Koch dynasty. After 20 August 1949, Cooch Behar District was transformed from a princely state to its present status, with the town of Cooch Behar as its headquarters.
The princely state known during British rule as Cooch Behar had been part of the Kamarupa Kingdom from the 4th century to the 12th century. In the 12th century, the area became a part of the Kamata Kingdom, first ruled by the Khen dynasty from their capital at Kamatapur. The Khens were an indigenous tribe, and they ruled till about 1498 CE, when they fell to Alauddin Hussain Shah, the independent Pathan Sultan of Gour. The new invaders fought with the local Bhuyan chieftains and the Ahom king Suhungmung and lost control of the region. During this time, the Koch tribe became very powerful and proclaimed itself Kamateshwar (Lord of Kamata) and established the Koch dynasty.
The first important Koch ruler was Biswa Singha, who came to power in 1510 or 1530 CE. Under his son, Nara Narayan, the Kamata Kingdom reached its zenith. Nara Narayan's younger brother, Shukladhwaj (Chilarai), was a noted military general who undertook expeditions to expand the kingdom, and he became governor of its eastern portion. After Chilarai's death, his son Raghudev became governor of this eastern portion. Since Nara Narayan did not have a son, Raghudev was seen as the heir apparent. However, a late child of Nara Narayan removed Raghudev's claim to the throne. To placate him, Nara Narayan had to anoint Raghudev as a vassal chief of the portion of the kingdom east of the Sankosh river. This area came to be known as Koch Hajo. After the death of Nara Narayan in 1584, Raghudev declared independence, and the kingdom ruled by the son of Nara Narayan, Lakshmi Narayan, came to be known as Cooch Behar. The division of the Kamata Kingdom into Koch Behar and Koch Hajo was permanent. Koch Behar aligned itself with the Mughal Empire and finally joined the India as a part of the West Bengal, whereas remnants of the Koch Hajo rulers aligned themselves with the Ahom kingdom and the region became a part of Assam.
The early capital of Koch Kingdom (Cooch Behar) was not static and became stable only when shifted to Cooch Behar town. Maharaja Rup Narayan, on the advice of an unknown saint, transferred the capital from Attharokotha to Guriahati (now called Cooch Behar town) on the banks of the Torsa river between 1693 and 1714. After this, the capital was always in or near its present location.
In 1661 CE, Maharaja Pran Narayan planned to expand his kingdom. However, Mir Jumla, the subedar of Bengal under the Mughal emperor Aurangazeb, attacked Cooch Behar and conquered the territory, meeting almost no resistance. The town of Cooch Behar was subsequently named Alamgirnagar. However, Maharaja Pran Narayan regained his kingdom within a few days.
During 1772–1773, the king of Bhutan attacked and captured Cooch Behar. To expel the Bhutanese, the kingdom of Cooch Behar signed a treaty with the British East India Company on 5 April 1773, and the king of Cooch Behar became a feudal ruler under the British.
The Victor Jubilee Palace was based on Buckingham Palace and built in 1887, during the reign of Maharaja Nripendra Narayan. In 1878, the maharaja married the daughter of Brahmo preacher Keshab Chandra Sen, and this union led to a renaissance in Cooch Behar state. Maharaja Nripendra Narayan is known as the architect of modern Cooch Behar town.
Under an agreement between the kings of Cooch Behar and the Indian Government at the end of British rule, Maharaja Jagaddipendra Narayan transferred full authority, jurisdiction and power of the state to the Dominion Government of India, effective 12 September 1949. Cooch Behar District became part of the state of West Bengal on 19 January 1950, with Cooch Behar town as its headquarters.
Cooch Behar is situated in the foothills of Eastern Himalayas, located at in the north of West Bengal. It is the largest town and district headquarters of Cooch Behar District with an area of 8.29 km².
The Torsa river flows by the western side of town. Heavy rains in the area often cause strong river currents and flooding. The turbulent water carries huge amounts of sand, silt, and pebbles, which have an adverse effect on crop production as well as on the hydrology of the region. Alluvial deposits form the soil, which is acidic. Soil depth varies from 15 cm to 50 cm, superimposed on a bed of sand. The foundation materials are igneous and metamorphic rocks at a depth 1000 m to 1500 m. The soil has low levels of nitrogen with moderate levels of potassium and phosphorus. Deficiencies of boron, zinc, calcium, magnesium, and sulphur are high.
The town of Cooch Behar and its surrounding regions face deforestation due to increasing demand for fuel and timber, as well as air pollution from increasing vehicular traffic. The local flora include palms, bamboos, creepers, ferns, orchids, aquatic plants, fungi, timber, grass, vegetables, and fruit trees. Migratory birds, along with many local species, are found in the city, especially around the Sagardighi and other water bodies.
Five distinct seasons (summer, monsoons, autumn, winter and spring) can be observed in Cooch Behar, of which summer, monsoons and winter are more prominent. Cooch Behar has a moderate climate characterised by heavy rainfall during the monsoons and slight rainfall from October to mid-November. The district does not have high temperatures at any time of the year. The summer season is from April, the hottest month, to May. During the summer season, the mean daily maximum temperature is 36.5°C, and the mean daily minimum is 20.2 °C. The winter season lasts from the end of November to February; January is the coldest, when temperature ranges between 10.4 °C and 24.1 °C. The lowest and highest temperatures recorded have been 3.9 °C and 39.9 °C respectively. The atmosphere is highly humid throughout the year except from February to May, when relative humidity is around 50 to 70 percent. The rainy season lasts from June to September. Average annual rainfall in the district is 3,201 mm. However, the climate has undergone a drastic change in the past few years, with the mercury rising and the rainfall decreasing each year.
The central and state governments are the largest employers in Cooch Behar town. Cooch Behar is home to a number of district-level and divisional-level offices and has a large government-employee workforce. Business is mainly centred on retail goods; the main centres lie on B.S. Road, Rupnarayan Road, Keshab Road and at Bhawaniganj Bazar.
An industrial park has been built at Chakchaka, four kilometres from town, on the route to Tufanganj. A number of small companies such as Poddar Food Products Pvt., Ltd, and Deepa Casing Pvt., Ltd have set up industries there.
Farming is a major source of livelihood for the nearby rural populace, and it supplies the town with fruits and vegetables. Poorer sections of this semi-rural society are involved in transport, basic agriculture, small shops and manual labour in construction. As the town is near the international border, the Border Security Force (BSF) maintains a large presence in the vicinity of Cooch Behar. This gives rise to a large population of semi-permanent residents, who bring revenue to the local economy. The state government is trying to promote Cooch Behar as a tourist destination, though income from tourism is low.
Cooch Behar Municipality is responsible for the civic administration of the town. The municipality consists of a board of councillors, elected from each of the 20 wards of Cooch Behar town and a few members nominated by the state government. The board of councillors elects a chairman from among its elected members; the chairman is the executive head of the municipality. The chairman is Dipak Kumar Bhattacharya. The All India Trinamool Congress holds power in the municipality. The state government looks after education, health and tourism in the town.
The town is within the Cooch Behar constituency and elects one member to the Lok Sabha (the Lower House of the Indian Parliament). The town area is covered by one assembly constituency, Cooch Behar Dakshin that elects one member to the Vidhan Sabha, which is the West Bengal state legislative assembly. Cooch Behar town comes under the jurisdiction of the district police (which is a part of the state police); the Superintendent of Police oversees the town's security and matters pertaining to law and order. Cooch Behar is also home to the District Court.
Cooch Behar is a well-planned town, and the municipality is responsible for providing basic services, such as potable water and town sanitation. The water is supplied by the municipality using its groundwater resources, and almost all the houses in the municipal area are connected through the system. Solid waste is collected every day by the municipality van from individual houses. The surface drains, mostly uncemented, drain into the Torsa River. Electricity is supplied by the West Bengal State Electricity Board, and the West Bengal Fire Service provides emergency services like fire tenders. Most of the roads are metalled (macadam), and street lighting is available throughout the town. The Public Works Department is responsible for road maintenance in the town and on the roads connecting Cooch Behar with other towns in the region. Health services in Cooch Behar include a government-owned District Hospital, a Regional Cancer Centre, and private nursing homes.
Rickshaws are the most widely available public transport within Cooch Behar town. Most of Cooch Behar's residents stay within a few kilometres of the town centre and have their own vehicles, mostly motorcycles and bicycles.
The New Cooch Behar railway station is around five kilometres from town and is well connected to almost all major Indian cities including Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Chennai, Guwahati. The rail route is one of the important connecting North-East India with remaining parts of the country. All express and Superfast trains going towards North East have a stoppage here. Another station named Cooch Behar situated inside the town exists but only few pairs of local trains run on this route.
Cooch Behar is headquarters of the North Bengal State Transport Corporation, which runs regular bus service to places in West Bengal, Assam and Bihar. Private buses are also available. Most buses depart from the Central Bus Terminus near Cooch Behar Rajbari. Hired vehicles are also available from the taxi stand near Transport Chowpathi.
The Cooch Behar Airport has modern passenger facilities but no airlines operate in this airport. Steps are being taken to resume flights from this airport. Another nearest airport is Bagdogra Airport near Siliguri, about 160 kilometres from Cooch Behar. IndiGo, Jet Airways and Spice Jet are the major carriers that connect the area to Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, Mumbai, Chennai, Bangkok, Paro, Chandigarh.
In the 2011 census, Cooch Behar Urban Agglomeration had a population of 106,760, out of which 53,803 were males and 52,957 were females. The 0–6 years population was 7,910. Effective literacy rate for the over 7 population was 91.75 per cent.
As per the 2001 census, the Cooch Behar municipal area has a population of 76,812. The sex ratio is 972 females per 1,000 males. The decadal growth rate for population is 7.86%. Males constitute 50.6% of the population, and females constitute 49.4%. Cooch Behar has an average literacy rate of 82%, which is higher than the national average of 64.84%. The male literacy rate is 86%, while female literacy rate is 77%. In Cooch Behar, 9% of the population is under 6 years of age.
The major religions followed in Cooch Behar are Hinduism, followed by Islam; Christianity and Sikhism. The religious composition is closely linked with that of Bengal and Assam with 76.44% Hindus and 23.34% Muslims.
Communities that inhabit Cooch Behar include the Bengalis, Rajbangsi, Gorkha, Marwaris and Biharis. Commonly spoken languages include Bengali and Hindi. English and Assamese are understood by most of the people.
Popular festivals in Cooch Behar include, Durga Puja in October, along with Ras Purnima, when a big fair is organised in the town near the famous Madan Mohan Temple. Cooch Behar Ras mela is the oldest in the North Bengal region. Other major festivals celebrated in the region include Pohela Baishakh (Bengali New Year), Rathayatra, Dolyatra or Basanta-Utsab, Diwali, Poush parbon (festival of Poush), Christmas, Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha. During Rathayatra, a small fair is organised at Gunjabari area of the town.
Cooch Behar has a mixture of cultures, similar to those of West Bengal and Bangladesh. Rice and fish are traditional favorites, leading to a common saying that "fish and rice make a Bengali" (machhe bhate bangali). Meat consumption has increased with higher production in recent years. Bhuna Khicuhri (a dish made of rice and dal) and labra (a fully mixed-vegetable preparation) are quite popular and are served during any religious occasion. As in any part of West Bengal, people of Cooch Behar are known to prepare distinctive confections from milk products; popular ones are Rôshogolla, Chômchôm Kalakand Sandesh Misti Doi and Kalojam. Bengal's vast repertoire of fish-based dishes includes various hilsa, ilish preparations (a favorite among Bengalis). Fast foods, such as Paratha (fried bread), egg roll (flatbread roll with vegetable stuffings and egg), and phuchka (deep fried crêpe with tamarind and lentil sauce), are also widely popular. The momo is another popular snack made from vegetable or meat filling, which is steamed and served with a soup. Another popular snack is Ghatigaram, a variety of Jhalmuri (a mixture made out of flattened rice and other spices).
Bengali women commonly wear a sari (shaŗi) and the salwar kameez, which are distinctly designed as per local customs. However, Western-style attire is also quite popular, especially amongst youngsters. Men wear traditional costumes such as the kurta with dhoti or pyjama, often on religious occasions.
A characteristic feature of Cooch Behar is the para or neighbourhoods with a strong sense of community attachment. Typically, every para has its own community club with a clubroom and often a playground. People here habitually indulge in adda or leisurely chat, and these adda sessions are often a form of freestyle intellectual conversation. Residents of Cooch Behar are fond of music and generally listen to Rabindra Sangeet, Bangla Bands, Hindi Pop music and the local Bhawaiya Sangeet. The local Bengali dialect, is different from the one spoken in Kolkata. The local dialect is more closer to that of East Bengal and a mix of Assamese and Rajbangsi language.
The Cooch Behar Palace Museum has a variety of photographs and articles used by the maharajas of Cooch Behar and also information about the tribals of North Bengal. Another museum known as Railway Heritage Museum at Cooch Behar station has been opened which displays historical documents and objects from the Cooch Behar State Railway, Eastern Bengal Railway, Bengal Dooars Railway. The town boasts a well-archived North Bengal State Library. Rabindra Bhawan, an auditorium, is often chosen as the venue for cultural events such as dramas, concerts, poetry-recitals, and dance programs. Temples exist throughout region; the Madan Mohan Temple, Bara Debi Bari and Rajmata Temple are centres of religious and cultural importance.
Novelist Amiya Bhushan Majumdar, was born, brought up, and worked in Cooch Behar. Cooch Behar with its people, culture, and the river Torsha were a recurrent theme in his novels.
Cooch Behar's schools are either run by the state government or by private and religious organisations. The schools usually use English and Bengali as their medium of instruction, although the use of Hindi language is also stressed. The schools are affiliated with the Indian Certificate of Secondary Education (ICSE) or the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) or the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education. Some of the reputed schools in the town include Jenkins School, Sunity Academy, DIPS, Techno India school, Kendriya Vidyalaya, St. Mary’s H.S. School, B.D. Jain Modern School, Cooch Behar Rambhola High School, Maharaja Nipendra Narayan H.S. School, Cooch Behar, Maharani Indira Devi High School and Uchha Balika Vidhyalaya. There are five colleges and a polytechnic in the Cooch Behar town including A.B.N. Seal College, Cooch Behar College, University B.T. & Evening College, Thakur Panchanan Mahila Mahavidyalaya all of which are affiliated with the University of North Bengal, Siliguri. Cooch Behar Polytechnic, a Government Diploma level institute with 3 yrs.(10+) Civil, Electrical, Mechanical & Automobile Engineering and 2 yrs.(12+) Pharmacy course under West Bengal State Council of Technical Education, Kolkatta.
Cooch Behar Panchanan Barma University is the newly founded university in Cooch Behar. For the session 2013–2014 its classes already started. . There is also an agricultural university, Uttar Banga Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, situated just outside the main town at Pundibari. A medical college is proposed to be opened by the Government at Raja Jagatdipendranarayan TB Hospital.
An engineering college is under construction.
- Newspaper: Newspapers in Cooch Behar include English language dailies, The Statesman and The Telegraph, which are printed in Siliguri, and The Hindustan Times and the Times of India, which are printed in Kolkata and received after a day's delay. In addition, Hindi and Bengali publications, including Anandabazar Patrika, Bartaman, Ganashakti, Uttar Banga Sambad and Dainik Jagran, are available.
- Radio: The public radio station All India Radio is the only radio channel that can be received in Cooch Behar. However, recently a FM relay station has been set up in the outskirts of the city which is still under construction. After completion, all FM radio signals available in Siliguri will be relayed to Cooch Behar and neighboring towns.
- Television: Cooch Behar receives almost all the television channels available in the rest of the country. Apart from the state-owned terrestrial network Doordarshan, cable television serves most of the homes in the town, while satellite television is common in the outlying areas and in wealthier households. Besides mainstream Indian television channels, the town also receives Nepali television channels and Bangladeshi television channels.
- Akash Bangla, ABC News, MTV, 9XM, Star Gold, Star Jalsha, SET Max, ETV Bangla, Kolkata TV, News Time, NDTV 24x7, Zee Café, Zee Bangla, Zee Bangla Cinema etc.
- Internet: Internet cafés are available in the main market area and in local households connected through broadband provided by BSNL and Mobile 3G internet provided by BSNL, Reliance and Airtel.
- Cinema halls: Cooch Behar has three cinema halls, featuring Hindi, Bengali, and English films.
- Narendra Narayan Park, Cooch Behar – a botanical garden located in town, founded in 1892.
- The Tribune, Chandigarh, India – Nation
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