||This article may require copy editing for grammar, style, cohesion, tone, or spelling. (December 2013)|
Narayan was the ruling Bhumihar family of Benares, who ruled from 1000 A.D. to 1948 A.D. as Rajas of Benares, were Maharajas of Benares from 1000 A.D. to 1910 and rulers of the princely state of Benares from 1910 until Indian independence in 1947. Ramnagar Fort and its museum are the repository of the history of the kings of Benares and since the 18th century has been the home of Kashi Naresh. Even today the Kashi Naresh is deeply revered by the people of Benares. He is the religious head and the people of Benares consider him the incarnation of Lord Shiva. He is also the chief cultural patron and an essential part of all religious celebrations.
Zamindars: beginnings to 1770
The family is of the Bhumihar caste; and their traditions go back to the year 1000, when a Bhumihar ascetic of Utaria, a village near Benares foretold the succession of his posterity (descendants) to the dominions then governed by a Hindu raja.
With the decline of Mughal Empire, in the area of south of Avadh, in the fertile rive-rain rice growing areas of Benares, Gorakhpur, Deoria, Ghazipur, Ballia and Bihar and on the fringes of Bengal, it was the 'military' or Bhumihar who strengthened their sway. What brought success to these Hindu prince lings was the strong clan organisation on which they rested. There were perhaps as many as 100,000 Bhumihar clansmen backing the power of the Benares rajas in what later became the districts of Benares, Gorakhpur and Azamgarh. This proved a decisive advantage when the dynasty faced its rival and a nominal suzerain, the Nawab of Awadh, in the 1750s and the 1760s. It was the capacity of the Benares ruler to mount an exhausting guerrilla war against the Avadh camp using his Bhumihar clan levies which forced the Nawab to withdraw his main force.
The Royal House of Benares is of an ancient Gautam clan of Bhumihar dating to the year 1000 that originated from Gangapur near Benares. In the late 17th century, one Raja Mansa Ram of this family entered the service of the Nazim of Benares, Rustam Ali Khan. He grew immensely wealthy and rose to become Zamindar of Kaswar in the service of the Nazim. Appointed as successor to Rustam Ali Khan by the Nawab of Awadh, Saadat Khan, one year before his death in 1739 he arranged a grant from Mohammed Shah for the revenues of the sarkars of Benares, Jaunpur, Ghazipur and Chunar to be held by his eldest son along with the title of Raja Bahadur of Kaswar .
His eldest son, Rafa'at wa Awal-i-Martabat Raja Sri Balwant Singh Sahib Bahadur, succeeded his father as Raja of Kaswar and Nazim of Benares in 1738,leading a much more martial life. He built a fort and established a capital at Gangapur, but later removed to Ramnagar. In 1751, he expelled the representative of the Nawab of Awadh in an attempt to carve out a principality at Benares, but was forced to flee when the Nawab invaded his domain in March 1752; however, he was not severely punished, but was instead restored to his titles by the Nawab. Emperor Alamgir II granted him a jagir in Bihar two years later. The first of his house to deal with the Honourable East India Company, he joined Shah Alam and Shuja ud-Daula in their 1763 invasion of Bengal. Following the Battle of Buxar in 1764, Emperor Shah Alam transferred Balwant Singh's zamindari to the Company, but the Company refused it along with the Treaty of Benares, signed by the Emperor the same year. Instead, the zamindari reverted once again to the Nawab of Awadh in 1765, five years before Balwant Singh's death in 1770.
Rajas of Benares: (1770–1939)
Balwant Singh's elder son, Rafa'at wa Awal-i-Martabat Raja Sri Chait Singh Sahib Bahadur, succeeded to the throne as the next Raja of Benares in 1770. Although the Nawab still wished to hold total suzerainty over the zamindari, the British authorities prevailed upon him to recognise Chait Singh as zamindar in 1773. Two years later, the Nawab, by now fed up with British interference, transferred the domain to the Company under the direct control of the Governor-General of India, Warren Hastings. Under the new British terms, Chait Singh was empowered to contribute cavalry and maintenance grants for the Company's sepoy battalions. This, however, the Raja refused to do, and he began to secretly correspond with enemies of the Company in hopes of forcibly breaking the arrangement. Discovered, Chait Singh was stripped of his position and placed under house arrest in September 1781 pending an interview with Hastings. Instead, he killed his unarmed guards, gathered his small forces and escaped, appealing for assistance from local rulers, who did nothing. In skirmishes with the Company forces, Chait Singh's troops were easily defeated, the rebellion crushed and the zamindari confiscated and given over to his nephew Rafa'at wa Awal-i-Martabat Raja Sri Mahip Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur on the 14 September 1781. Chait Singh himself fled to Awadh, then to Gwalior, where he was granted a jagir for a while until it was later confiscated. He died in Gwalior on 29 March 1810 in obscurity, leaving three sons. The incident greatly tarnished Hastings' image and capability, leading to a failed attempt to impeach him by the British parliament.
Chait Singh's nephew, Raja Sri Mahip Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur, succeeded his maternal uncle on 14 September 1781 under the terms of the Company, which were that he should serve to dispense justice within his domains and make an annual contribution of 40 lakhs. However, he proved incapable of governing, and on 27 October 1794, under a formal agreement the four sarkars, or revenue districts, held by the Raja were transferred to the direct rule of the Company administration, leaving only the family domains under the rule of the Raja; in return Mahip Narayan Singh received 1 lakh per year in compensation and any surplus revenue of the sarkars. Mahipat Narayan Singh died barely a year later, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Rafa'at wa Awal-i-Martabat Raja Sri Udit Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur.
The eldest surviving son of Mahip Narayan Singh, Udit Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur (1770-4 April 1835, r. 12 September 1795 – 4 April 1835) proved even more incapable as an administrator than his father had been. In 1828, he petitioned the Company to annul the 1794 agreement under which the family had lost the sarkars, and to press for their return to family control. However, the Company instead ordered a detailed enquiry into Udit Narayan Singh's personal affairs and his governance of the family domains. Finding them to be grossly mismanaged, the Company confiscated the last remaining lands of the Rajas and placed them under their own control. It would be over five decades before the domains would be restored to the family. Udit Narayan Singh died on 4 April 1835, aged 65, and was succeeded by his nephew, Raja Sri Ishwari Prasad Narayan SinghSahib Bahadur.
His Highness Maharaja Bahadur Sri Sir Ishwari Prasad Narayan Singh, GCSI (1822-13 June 1889) succeeded his uncle upon the latter's death in 1835, becoming the first of his line to be granted the title of Maharaja. Ascending the throne at the age of 13, during the First War of Independence, he remained loyal to the British Government throughout and assisted them in numerous ways. As a reward, he was promoted to the rank of Maharaja Bahadur in 1859. In 1867, he was granted a personal 13-gun salute; a decade later he was knighted with the GCSI, becoming Sir Ishwari. He eventually became a member of the Viceroy's Legislative Council and in the crowning achievement of his reign, restored all the family lands that had been lost to them for over a century. Given the title of His Highness in 1889,H H Maharaja Sir Ishwari Prasad Narayan Singh died several months later, aged 67 and was succeeded by his nephew, Prabhu Narayan Singh Sahib Bahadur.
Prabhu Narayan Singh would reign for 42 years as Maharaja; in 1891, he was knighted with the KCIE, later becoming an honorary Colonel in the Indian Army, and in 1911, became the first Maharaja of the newly created princely state of Benares, including the parganas of Bhadohi and Keramnagar, Chakia and Ramnagar, together with certain limited rights within the City of Benares. He was the one who donated 1,300 acres of land to establish famous Banaras Hindu University. Given Benares's close ties to Nepal, it was not surprising when Sir Prabhu Narayan married a daughter of Jang Bahadur, the first modern Nepali prime minister, as his first wife. He later married a distant relation of the family, a sister of Babu Jagdep Narayan Singh. Dying in 1931, aged 75,Maharaja Sir Prabhu Narayan was succeeded by his only son, Captain Sir Aditya Narayan Singh. Aditya Narayan Singh would reign for only seven and a half years before dying in 1939, aged 64. Having had no children,Maharaja Aditya Narayan had adopted a distant cousin,to succeed him.
Last Maharaja 1939-1947-1971-2000
Maharaja Vibhuti Narayan Singh, as he was to be known was born on 5 November 1927, the great-nephew of the second wife of Maharaja Sir Prabhu Narayan Singh. In 1934, when he was six years old, he was adopted by his distant cousin, Maharaja Sir Aditya Narayan Singh of Benares, becoming heir apparent and receiving a new name,Maharaj kumar Vibhuti Narayan Singh. Five years later, the old Maharaja died, and Maharaja Vibhuti Narayan Singh became Maharaja under a regency until he succeeded to the throne in his own right as Maharaja on 11 July 1947-a month before India's independence. On 15 August,Maharaja Vibuti Narayan signed the Instrument of Accession to India. On 15 October 1947, he merged Benares into the new Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. With that,Maharaja Vibhuti Narayan Singh's short reign officially came to an end, although he would maintain his titles for many more years.
A deeply religious and scholar of Vedas and Puranas, Maharaja Vibhuti Narayan Singh strictly adhered to orthodox Hindu customs. Despite the official decision of the Indira Gandhi government to abolish the titles of the Indian monarchs on 28 December 1971, he remained deeply respected for the remainder of his life. A distinguished scholar of Sanskrit, Puranas and the Vedas, he also presided over a number of scholastic, religious and charitable institutions, including a term from 1992 until his death as Chancellor of Benares Hindu University, and took part in public religious ceremonies in the City of Benares. At his death on Christmas Day, 2000, aged 73, he had only 4 issues 3 daughters and a son,1.Maharaj Kumari Shri Vishnu Priya,2.Maharaj Kumari Shri Har Priya,3.Maharaj Kumari Shri Krishna Priya and the youngest being Maharaj Anant Narayan Singh who succeeded him and he has two son 1.kunwar Aniruddh Narayan Singh and 2.Praddyumna Narayan Singh
Vibhuti Narayan's only son, Anant Narayan Singh, who succeeded him as Maharaja of Benares, today continues the rich scholarly and historic traditions of the Royal House of Benares.
History of Ramnagar
The Ramnagar Fort was built by Kashi Naresh Raja Balwant Singh with creamy chunar sandstone in the eighteenth century. It is a typically Mughal style of architecture with carved balconies, open courtyards, and picturesque pavilions.
Ram leela at Ramnagar
When the Dussehra festivities are inaugurated with a colourful pageant, Kashi Naresh rides an elephant at the head of the procession. Then, resplendent in silk and brocade, he inaugurates the month-long folk theatre of Ramlila at Ramnagar.
The Ramlila is a cycle of plays which recounts the epic story of Lord Rama, as told in Ramcharitmanas, the version of the Ramayana penned by Tulsidas. The plays sponsored by the Maharaja, are performed in Ramnagar every evening for 31 days. On the last day the festivities reach a crescendo as Rama vanquishes the demon king Ravana. Maharaja Udit Narayan Singh started this tradition of staging the Ramleela at Ramnagar in mid-nineteenth century. Over a million pilgrims arrive annually for the vast processions and performances organized by Kashi Naresh.
All India Kashi raj Trust
Serious work on the Puranas began when the All India Kashiraj Trust was formed under the patronage and guidance of Maharajadhiraj Dvijraj Dr. Vibhuti Narayan Singh, the Maharaja of Kashi, which, in addition to producing critical editions of the Puranas, also published the journal Puranam.
Saraswati Bhawan at Ramnagar Fort
A rare collection of manuscripts, especially religious writings, is housed in Saraswati Bhawan. It includes a precious handwritten manuscript by Goswami Tulsidas. There are also many books illustrated in the Mughal miniature style, with beautifully designed covers some examples of the books 'balwant naama','vansa vivaran'etc.
Vyasa Temple at Ramnagar
According to a popular Puranic story, when Vyasa failed to get alms in Varanasi he put a curse on the city. Soon after, at a house where Parvati and Shiva had taken human form as householders, Vyasa was so pleased with the alms he received that he forgot his curse. However, because of his bad temper Shiva banished Vyasa from Varanasi. Resolved to be near at hand, Vyasa took his residence on the other side of the Ganges where his temple may still be seen at Ramnagar.
- Mitra, Swati (2002). Good Earth Varanasi city guide. Eicher Goodearth Limited. p. 216. ISBN 978-81-87780-04-5.
- Lethbridge, Sir Roper (2005). The golden book of India: a genealogical and biographical dictionary of the ruling princes, chiefs, nobles, and other personages, titled or decorated of the Indian empire. Aakar Books. p. 584. ISBN 978-81-87879-54-1.
- Bayly, Christopher Alan (1983). Rulers, Townsmen, and Bazaars: North Indian Society in the Age of British Expansion, 1770-1870. Cambridge University Press. p. 489 (at p 18). ISBN 978-0-521-31054-3.
- Banham, Martin (1995). The Cambridge Guide to Theatre (second ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 1247. ISBN 978-0-521-43437-9.
- Mittal, Sushil (2004). The Hindu World. Routledge. p. 657. ISBN 978-0-415-21527-5.