Koch Bihar

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Koch Bihar
district
Koch Bihar is located in West Bengal
Koch Bihar
Koch Bihar
Location in West Bengal, India
Coordinates: 26°12′N 89°00′E / 26.2°N 89°E / 26.2; 89Coordinates: 26°12′N 89°00′E / 26.2°N 89°E / 26.2; 89
Country  India
State West Bengal
Headquarters Cooch Behar
Languages
 • Official Bengali, English
Time zone IST (UTC+5:30)
For the present-day district of West Bengal: Cooch Behar District

Koch Bihar (1586—1949), now in West Bengal, India, was a small kingdom located south of the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan. It was formed when the Kamata Kingdom under the Koch dynasty split following the death of Nara Narayan in 1586. The eastern portion, Koch Hajo, was soon absorbed by Ahom. The western portion, Koch Bihar, although nominally independent became a vassal state in turn of the Mughal Empire, of Bhutan, the British East India Company, and of the British Raj. It acceded to and merged with India in 1949 and became a part of West Bengal. The district, Cooch Behar District, is named after this erstwhile kingdom.

Early history: Mughal dominance (1587-1680)[edit]

Drapeau Cooch Behar.png
Seal of Koch Bihar.png

The Kamata kingdom split at a time when the Mughals under Akbar were aggressively expanding their empire. The state soon became a dependency of the Mughal empire, and steadily lost territory to the empire.[1]

Lakshmi Narayan (1587-1621 C.E.), Nara Narayan's son, was the first ruler of the Koch Bihar portion of the Kamata kingdom. He was an ineffectual ruler. After losing much territory to the Mughal commander Ali Kuli Khan, he accepted Mughal sovereignty and assistance in defending against his neighbors. The next Mughal emperor, Jahangir, again attacked Bihar and captured territory including Tripura and Manipur. Lakshmi Narayan went to Delhi and won guarantees for the much-reduced state. On his return, he established his capital at the Atharokotha village.

Lakshmi Narayan was a patron of scholars and the arts. He partially restored the Shiva Temple of Jalpesh, but did not complete construction of the temple during his lifetime. Influenced by Madhavdeva, a famous preacher, he made Ekasarana dharma the imperial/state religion.

Bir Narayan (1621-1626 C.E.), Lakshmi Narayan's son and successor, was a pleasure-loving ruler who failed to exert his authority to levy taxes on the king of Bhutan. In his peaceful reign, he sponsored schools for the aristocracy and supported intellectuals. His successor Pran Narayan (1626-1665 C.E.) ruled in peace until 1657, when a struggle for succession in the Mughal empire began between Aurangzeb and his brothers. Pran Narayan invaded Bengal, seizing Ghoraghat, the center of Mughal power in 1658, and in 1661 capturing Dhaka, the capital. However, by this time Aurangzeb had consolidated his power, and sent his armies to invade Bihar and Assam. Pran Narayan retreated to the mountains and waged a guerrilla war for three years, finally making a pact with the Mughal Nawab Shaista Khan in 1664. During his rule, the Behar kingdom expanded to Tajhat Baharband Pargana in the south, Basakpur near Khutaghat of Goalapara district in the east and Bhatgaon within Morang in the west.

Maharaja Pran Narayan rebuilt the temples of Baneswar, Shandeswar and the Kamteswari temple of Gosanimari. He sent for architects from Delhi to complete the Jalpesh temple, but the work was not completed in his lifetime. He constructed broad highways and bridges, and many beautiful buildings in his capital. He was a patron of the arts.

Madan Narayan or Mod Narayan (1665-1680 C.E.) succeeded Pran Narayan after a short struggle with his brothers. For some time, the power behind the throne was Mahi Narayan, who had been Nazir (summoner) for his father. After a fierce struggle, Madan Narayan gained control and Mahi Narayan fled to Bhutan. Madan Narayan began a survey of his lands and a register of landholdings. He completed the construction of the Jalpesh Shiva temple, providing lands for the temple's maintenance. He assisted the Mughals in a war with the Ahom kingdom in 1666.

Bhutanese domination (1680-1772)[edit]

Koch Bihar and vicinity from 1931 Imperial Gazetteer

The growing power of Bhutan saw the turmoil in Behar and the waning authority of the Mughals as an opportunity to extend their influence. They provided support to competitors for the throne of Koch Bihar, and later attempted outright annexation.[2]

On the death of Madan Narayan with no immediate successor, the sons of the Nazir Mahi Narayan attacked Behar, assisted by the Bhutan army. The Raikats of Baikunthapur, distant relatives of the royal family based in the Jalpaiguri area, sent troops and helped force the Bhutia army to retreat. The Raikats crowned Basudev Narayan (1680-1682 C.E.), Madan Narayan's brother, as Maharajah and helped establish peace before returning to their home. Two years later, Yajna Narayan & Jagat Narayan (sons of Nazir Mahi) attacked Behar again with Bhutanese troops, captured the palace and massacred the royal family, including Basudev Narayan. The Raikats Yogyadev and Bhujdev intervened again, defeating Yajna Narayan in a fierce battle on the banks of the Mansai river. The Raikats then crowned Mahendra Narayan (1682-1693 C.E.), a five year old grandson of Pran Narayan, as the next Maharajah.

During the minority rule of Mahendra Narayan, the state was unsettled. The lords of places such as Tepa, Manthana Kakina and Karjirhat rejected Bihari rule in place of direct tribute to the Mughal rulers as zamindars (landlords) of their territories. They accepted the authority of - and paid taxes to - Ibrahim Khan the Mughal Faujdar of Ghoraghat and Dhaka. Even the Raikat princes of Baikunthapur and Pangar transferred loyalty to these powers. The Mughals chose this time to attack Behar. With no other choice, Mahendra made a pact with Yajna Narayan and appointed him as Nazir. Aided by the Bhutanese, Yajna Narayan fought the Mughals at Patgram but was defeated. The Mughals took Boda, Patgram and eastern Pargana in the year 1711.

Mahendra Narayan died at the age of 16. With the main royal line extinct, Rup Narayan (1693-1714 C.E.), a grandson of Nazir Mahi Narayan, became the next Maharajah. Rup Narayan was a strong and popular ruler, but made the mistake of attacking the Mughal Faujdar of Rangpur. Defeated, he lost Karjihat, Kakina and Fatehpur Chakla, retaining only Boda, Patgram and eastern Chakla. Soon after, he lost these territories too, and was reduced to holding the three Chaklas under lease to the Mughals in the name of his Najir. He moved his capital from Atharokotha to a new site, Guriahati on the east bank of the Torsa River, where he built a beautiful temple of Sri Madan Mohan Thakur.

Upendra Narayan (1714-1763 C.E.), the next ruler, had no son of his own. He adopted Deena Narayan, the son of dewan Satya Narayan, and gave him considerable powers, but did not formally grant him the succession to the throne. Deena Narayan met the Mughal Faujdar Md. Ali Khan at Rangpur and agreed to accept Mughal supremacy in return for Md. Ali Khan's support in gaining the throne. Md. Ali Khan invaded, but was forced back by a combined army from Behar and Bhutan, and had to flee Rangpur. The Bhutanese took advantage of the situation to occupy some of the northern regions of Behar. Late in life, Upendra Narayan's second queen gave birth to a male child, Debendra Narayan (1763-1765 C.E.), who ascended the throne at the age of four. His short reign was chaotic. The Bhutias annexed further land in the north of Behar, and their ambassador in the capital of Behar became the de facto ruler of the state. The young maharaja was assassinated in a palace plot at the age of six by a Brahmin (Hindu priest), who was in turn killed.

On 12 August 1765, the British East India Company took over control of Bengal. The Maharaja of Bihar now had to pay rent to the East India company for Boda, Patgram, Panga and other chaklas in Bengal.

After Debendra Narayan's assassination, Debraj, king of Bhutan, sent troops to arrest Rajguru Ramananda Goswami, the leader of the assassination plot. The Behar court agreed to crown Dhairjendra Narayan (1765-1770 C.E.), a cousin of Debendra Narayan, as Maharaja. However, he was a puppet of Bhutan: the Bhutanese ambassador Pensuthma was the effective ruler. Bhutan seized direct control of Behar territories including Jalpeswar, Mandas, Jalash, Lakshmipur, Santarabari, Maraghat and Bholka. During this time there was large scale famine. The court degenerated into intrigues and conspiracies. Eventually, Debraj of Bhutan arrested Dhairjendra Narayan and took him to the Bhutanese capital Punakh, crowning Rajendra Narayan (1770-1772 C.E.) in his place as nominal ruler. After a short "reign", Rajendra Narayan died of a fever in 1772 C.E.

Maharaja Rajendra Narayan left no heir. The Bhutias attempted to take over direct control, seizing the royal regalia, but the court rebelled and enthroned Dharendra Narayan (1772-1775 C.E.). Pensuthma fled back to Bhutan, whose King sent troops to invade Behar. After some fighting, the Bhutanese regained control and established a new puppet ruler, a child whom they installed in Chekakhata in Bhutan. On his early death, the Bhutias finally took direct control, garrisoning forts in strategic positions. Only Rupan Singh of Rahimganj Pargana maintained independence.

British East India Company acquires control[edit]

Warren Hastings, first Governor General of Bengal

Maharaja Dharendra Narayan appealed to the British, rulers of Bengal, for assistance in regaining his kingdom in exchange for a large payment. However, the Governor General Warren Hastings rejected the terms and insisted on an agreement by which the Maharaja would pay an annual tribute to the Company in exchange for protection - in effect an agreement to accept the supremacy of the British. The British then sent a regiment commanded by Mr. Paling from Kalikata (Calcutta/Kolkata) who marched through Rangpur towards Mughalhat, joined on their route by Behar forces. After a series of sharp encounters with the Bhutanese forces, the British captured the capital (1772) and moved forward into southern Bhutan.

Unwilling to go further into the difficult hill country, the British negotiated a peace agreement (25 April 1774) with Bhutan in exchange for surrender of Bihar royal captives, Bhutan agreeing to return to its pre-1730 boundaries, and a symbolic tribute of five horses. The British left a small garrison in Behar, and withdrew the main army to Rangpur. When Dhairjendra Narayan realized that he had exchanged one master for another, and had permanently lost independence of his ancestral land, he abdicated in favor of Dharendra Narayan, who reigned until his death in 1775, when Dhairjendra Narayan resumed the throne (1775-1783 C.E.)

From now on, until the transfer of control to the State of India in 1949, Koch Behar was a princely state subject to overall British Suzerainty. In 1949, it was merged with the Union of India and later became a part of West Bengal state. .[3]

Subsequent princely rulers under the British East India company were Harendra Narayan (1783 - 1839 C.E.), followed by Shivendra Narayan (1839 - 1847 C.E.) and then by Narendra Narayan (1847 - 1863 C.E.). At first the rulers had a measure of independent authority, but increasingly the British Commissioners became the effective rulers, stamping out abuses such as slavery and Dacoity, and gradually improving infrastructure and general prosperity and the rule of law.

Later princes and notables[edit]

Shri Sir Nripendra Narayan, Maharaja of Cooch Behar (1862-1911); seen here in the dismounted review order uniform of a British officer of the 6th (Prince of Wales's) Bengal Cavalry
Suniti Devi, Maharani of Cooch Behar

Following the Indian Mutiny, the British East India company was dissolved, replaced by direct rule from the British government - the British Raj. Although the princely state of Cooch Behar was very small, it enjoyed a certain prominence since it was one of the very few states to lie within relatively easy distance of Calcutta, the hub of the British Raj. Due to this proximity, the Royal Family embraced westernization and this resulted in the family enjoying an ascendancy in British official circles, as well as in London society. The colonial government granted it 13 Gun Salutes and included it in the Salute States.

Col. HH Maharaja Sir Nripendra Narayan (ruled from 1863 - 1911), was born on 4 October 1862. He died on 18 September 1911. and was educated privately and later in England. He was admitted to Presidency College, Calcutta to study Law till 1881. He was married in 1878 to HH Maharani Suniti Devi Sen, who was born in 1864 and was the daughter of Maharishi Keshub Chandra Sen. He was conferred the title of Imperial Order of Crown on the occasion of Queen Victoria's Jubilee celebrations. He died in 1932. They had four sons and three daughters.

HH Maharaja Rajarajendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur (ruled from 1911 - 1913), was born on 11 April 1882 in Calcutta, and died unmarried 1 September 1913 in London. He was buried in Cooch Behar. He was educated at Mayo College, Ajmer in 1893, and then was sent to England in 1894 for further studies, where he gained entry into an Oxford College in 1900.

HH Maharaja Jitendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur (ruled from 1913 - 1922), was born on 20 December 1886 at Cooch Behar Palace. He died on 20 December 1922. He was educated privately under a British home tutor, and then admitted to Itan School in 1900. Later, he was admitted to Edinburgh University. He was married on 25 August 1913 in London to HH Maharani Indira Devi, who was born in 1892, and who in died 1968. She was the daughter of HH Maharaja Gaekwad Sir Sayajiro III Khanderao Gaekwad, Sena Khas Khel Shamsher Bahadur Farzand-i-Khas-i-Daulat-i-Inglishia of Baroda, and his second wife, HH Maharani Gajra Bai.

Maharaj Kumari Sukriti Devi ("Princess Girlie") was born in 1884. She died 1958. She was married in 1899 (sep'd.) to Jyotsnanath Ghosal, C.I.E., I.C.S. [cr.1918], the Zamindar of Belgaum, and had issue.

Lt.Col. (Hon) HH Maharaja Sir Jagaddipendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur (ruled from 1922 - 1970), was born on 15 December 1915 at Cooch Behar Palace, and died on 11 April 1970 in Calcutta. He was educated at Harrow from 1927 - 1929 and Trinity Hall, Cambridge from 1929 - 1934. He was awarded the K.C.I.E. [cr.1945] and was made the 7th Light Cavalry in the Indian Army. He served in World War II, and was granted full ruling powers on 6 April 1936. He married firstly about 1950 (div.), Nancy Valentine who was born on St. Albans, Long Island, and who was a Hollywood actress. He married secondly Gina Egan.

HH Maharani Gayatri Devi was born on 23 May 1919 in London. She was educated at Shantiniketan, Lausanne, Switzerland, London School of Secretaries, Brilliantmont and Monkey Club London. She was married on 9 May 1940 to HH Saramad-i-Rajahai Hindustan Raj Rajendra Shri Maharajadhiraj Sir Sawai Man Singh II Bahadur of Jaipur, and they had issue. She was the President of the All India Badminton Association, the Vice-President of the All India Lawn Tennis Association, the All India Swatantra Party, and the Rajasthan State Swatantra Party. She was the Director of the Rambagh Palace Hotel, Jaipur, and Gee Stud Farm Pvt Ltd., Chairman of the Governing Council of Maharani Gayatri Devi Girls Public School, Jaipur, Chairman of the Board of Trustee of Maharaja Sawai Jai Singh Benevolent Trust, Jaipur, the Maharani Gayatri Soldier's Welfare Fund, Jaipur; the Sawai Ram Singh Shilp Kala Mandir, Jaipur; M/s Jaipur Durries Pvt Ltd, Jalpur and Rajasthan State Tourist Development Corporation, Jaipur; Member of the 3rd, 4th and 5th Lok Sabha, author of: "A Princess Remembers" and "A Government's Gateway", interests include photography, Fine Arts and Museums.

HH Maharaja Virajendra Narayan Bhup Bahadur (ruled from 1970 - 1992). He was born in 1944. He died in 1992. He was married firstly to Reena, secondly to Anna, and thirdly to Surekha Guring.

As the Maharani of Cooch Behar Indira Raje, ruled as regent after her husband's early death at the age of 36, and later became popular in the salons of Europe, earning the sobriquet "the ranee of cooch partout". One of their daughters, Gayatri Devi, married the Maharaja of Jaipur, Sawai Raja Man Singh and became an international celebrity, and was at one time in the middle of the twentieth century considered to be one of the most beautiful ladies in the world. Another daughter, Menaka Devi, married the Maharaja of Dewas (Jr.). Ila Devi, their eldest daughter, married into the Royal Family of Tripura. Her great-granddaughters are Ria and Raima, daughters of Moon Moon Sen.

While Jitendra Narayan's elder son and heir married an American actress and then an Englishwoman, their younger son married a daughter of the Maharaja of Pithapuram. The only son of the latter couple was the last dynast of the ruling family of Cooch Behar in the senior line. After he died childless in 1992, the headship of the family remains legally unclear. Gayatri Devi remained in charge of the family's affairs and was in touch with the administration of Coochbehar and the Government of West Bengal up until her death in 2009.

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