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Birbhum district

Birbhum (বীরভূম) is a district in West Bengal state of India. The district headquarters is located at Suri. It lies at the middle of the western border of West Bengal right below the narrow waist of West Bengal. Birbhum is the northernmost district of "Bardhaman Division" -one of the three administrative divisions of West Bengal.

Often called "The land of red soil" Birbhum is famous for its topography and cultural heritage which is unique and is somewhat different from that of the other districts in West Bengal. Birbhum has a both of bushy plateau (Chhotanagpur) terrain from the west with its partly nomadic tribes (like (Santhals), that gradually merges with the fertile alluvial farmlands in the east, where farming is the most common occupation. The district is drained by rain-fed rivers Ajay and Mor. Replete with such diversity this land has inspired many cultural and religious movements in history. Visva Bharati University at Santiniketan, established by Rabindranath Tagore, is one of the places Birbhum is internationally renowned for. The star attraction of many of the famous festivals of this district, including Poush mela, are the safron clad bauls singing their philosophical songs in the local dialect along with ektara, a single string musical instrument. Here lived two Nobel laureates- Rabindranath Tagore and Amartya Sen.

Origin of name

The name Birbhum comes probably from the Land ("Bhumi") of the Brave ("Bir"). Some have opined that the district bears the name of Bir kings who ruled in the area. "Bir" in Mundari language means forests. Therefore, it could also mean a land of forests.

History

Prehistory

The area now known as Birbhum was inhabited from pre-historic times. Some of the archaeological sites related to Pandu Rajar Dhibi of chalcolithic remains are located in Birbhum. Stone age implements have been found at several places in the district.

According to Acharanga Sutra, the old Jain book, Mahavira, the last (24th) great Tirthankara, had wandered through this land ("pathless country of Ladha (Rarh) in Vajjabhumi and Subbhabhumi (probably suhma)") in the 5th century, B.C. According to some historians, the spread of the Jain religion in the Rarh region was synonymous with the Aryanisation of the area. Gautam Buddha probably traversed this area to go to Pundrabardhan and Samatat (inferred by Dr Atul Sur, based on Divyabdan - a Buddhist text).i don't know anything about birbhum......

The Rarh region was part of the Maurya empire. It was subsequently included in the empire of the imperial Guptas, of Shashanka and of Harshavardhana. After dismemberment of Harshavardhana’s empire, the region was ruled by the Palas till 12th century AD, when overlordship of the area passed into the hands of the Senas. During the rule of the Pala dynasty Buddhism, particularly the Vajrayana cult, flourished here. In 7th century A.D., the Chinese traveller, Wang Chuang, described some of the monasteries he visited. The Senas were staunch Hindus and ensured that Hinduism dominate in Bengal. They destroyed most of the Buddhist monasteries in the region in the process.

Medieval Age

The 13th century witnessed the advent of Muslim rule in the region. However, control over the western parts of the district appears to have been nominal, and the area was ruled by the local Hindu chiefs, known as the Bir Rajas. The three towns of Hetampur, Birsingpur and Rajnagar contain their relics.

Minhaj i Siraj, the author of the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri mentions about Lakhnur, the headquarters or thanah of the Rarh wing of the Muslim rule and an important frontier post. The location of Lakhnur, though still not exactly identified, falls in Birbhum.

Mythology has it that the forests of Bajrabhumi (west Birbhum) were hot-spots of Hindu and tantric activities. According to historian Dr. Atul Sur, the solitude of the less populated jungles of Bajrabhumi made it an ideal place for sacred rituals. Some old authors have called Birbhum by the name Kamkoti which relates to its tantric heritage. Bhandirban was the Ashram (hermitage) of Bibhandak Muni (sage). Rishasringya Muni, it is said, lived in Siyan, and Shitalgram was the place of Sandipan, Garga and Durbasa.

Tantrics (including the Vajrayana, Shaktas), and Buddhists established many temples for tantra sadhana rituals and Shakti worship. Birbhum has many Shakti Peethas such as Bakreshwar, Tarapith, Kankalitala, Labhpur, Fulberia and Nalhati. Prior to 1856 AD Baidyanathdham / Deoghar was within Birbhum.

Out of the numerous Shakti Peethas, Tarapith/ Siddhapith is the most famous. One of the famous Shakti worshippers of Tarapith was Bamdev, popularly known as Bama Khyapa. The actual stone idol, which is kept hidden at Tarapith, is decapitated.

Modern Era

During the time of British East India Company there was no existence of any administrative unit by the name Birbhum till 1787, and this area was administratively a part of Murshidabad district. In 1787 when the official designation "District Beerbhoom" started the District was much bigger and included "Bishenpore" or Bishnupur (now part of Bankura district) till 1793. Till 1857 Sepoy Mutiny Santhal Pargana was also part of Birbhum, the district thus sprawled up to Deoghar in the west. The immediate reason then for separating the western tribal majority areas was the Santhal rebellion of 1855-56, which was quelled. Sidhu and Kanu are remembered in Birbhum as martyrs of the uprising.

Geography

Situated between 23° 32' 30"(right above the tropic of cancer) and 24° 35' 0" north latitude and 87° 5' 25" and 88° 1' 40" east longitudes, and about 1,757 sq miles (4,550 km²) in area, this district is triangular in shape with the apex pointing north and the base (southern boundary) formed by the river Ajay. The river forms the boundary between Birbhum and Bardhaman districts. This area lies at the north eastern end of the Chota Nagpur plateau, as it slopes down and merges with the alluvial plains of the Ganges. The western portion of the district is historically known as Vajjabhumi or Bajrabhumi from bajra meaning thunderbolt or strong and bhumi meaning land. It is an undulating, generally barren, upland. The comparatively more fertile eastern portion, constituting the northeastern Rarh region, merges with the Gangetic plain. Vajjabhumi is also included in the Rarh region, and rest of Rarh is called Sumha to differentiate it from Vajjabhumi.

Landscape and vegetation

Important geographical features in Birbhum are the khoai (eroded undulated patches of barren area), the red, laterite soil (ranga mati), with palm trees visible from a long distance and multiple protected forested areas on the western side.

Although the majority of Birbhum is rural, in recent times, it has been the site of many development projects such as condominiums and gated communities for people from numerous urban centres in West Bengal. This has raised many issues. Some fear that these projects do not take into account the lives of the local people and that this will threaten the natural environment for which Birbhum is so renowned for.

Most common trees found the the district are Neem, Shal, Piyal, Palash, Mohua. There are occasional grasslands in the relatively less fertile places.

Rivers

The rivers of Birbhum are: Ajay, Mor (Mayurakshi), Bakreswar, Kopai, Dvarka, Brahmani, Hinglo, Chapala, Bansloi, Pagla etc. A project on the Mayurakshi (Mor, a tributary of Ganges), that includes the Tilpara Barrage (near Suri), provides irrigation for about 600,000 ac (2400 km²).Almost all the rivers originate higher up on the Chota Nagpur plateau and flow across Birbhum in a west-east direction. These river are furious during the monsoons but shrink during the dry summer months. The cyclical rotation of drought and floods of the rivers destroy lives and property, and adds to the cruelty of life in the region.

“The Mayurakshi is famous for its strong current. For seven or eight months in the year the river is a desert – sands stretching from shore to shore for a mile and a half. But when the rains come, she is terrible, demoniac. She races along, four to five miles wide, her deep grey water swamping everything within reach. Then comes once in a while the Harpa flood, when the water, six to seven cubits deep, rushes into villages nearby and washes away homes and granaries and all else in its way. This does not happen very often though. The last time was about twenty years ago.”

That description is from Tarashankar Bandopadhyay. However, that was before barriers were built across the Mayurakshi. The picture continues to be similar for other Birbhum rivers, although dimensions may differ.

Climate

The climate on the western side is dry and extreme, but is relatively milder on the eastern side. During summer temperature can shoot well above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) and in winters it can drop to around 10 degrees Celsius (50 degrees Fahrenheit.) It receives annual rainfall of around 1,300 mm, mostly in the monsoon months (June to September). The western part is relatively dry and less fertile than the eastern part. Agriculture depends upon rains in monsoon. Some amount of irrigation is also available in some areas. Groundwater is extensively used for agriculture too.

Geology

The most interesting part of the geology of Birbhum stems from the gradient of red soil.

If one looks at the soil map of India one will notice that actually the Rarh region has laterite soil (type 28 in the map), and the Vajjabhumi has a different kind of sandy hard red soil of the alfisoil type (type 21 in the map).

Birbhum has some mineral reserves that are relatively unimportant in the national context but are important locally. Coal, China clay, low grade iron-ore and granite are mined in west Birbhum.

Economy

Birbhum is primarily an agricultural district. While 159.3 km² of land are occupied by forests, 3,329.05 km² are used for agricultural purposes. 91.43 per cent of the population live in the villages. Around 75 per cent of the population is dependent on agriculture.

Agriculture

Rice, legumes, wheat, corn (maize), and mangoes are the chief crops harvested largely in the east Birbhum. Canada Dam on the Mayurakshi at Massanjore is virtually on the border of Birbhum and Dumka district in Jharkhand. Further down the Mayurakshi is the Tilpara Barrage at Suri. Land with irrigation facilities in 2001-02 totaled 2,763.9 km². There are five barrages, providing irrigation support. The district has 13 cold storages.

Industry

The district's principal industries include cotton and silk harvesting and weaving, rice and oilseed milling, lac harvesting, and metalware and pottery manufacture.

Birbhum is a major centre for cottage industries. Perhaps the most famous cottage industry is a non-profit rural organization Amar Kutir. Other main industries in Birbhum are agriculture-based industries, textiles, forestry, arts and crafts. Sriniketan is a famous dairy and forestry center. Some of the notable forms of cottage industries of Birbhum include textile- especially cotton and locally harvested tussar silk, jute works, batik, kantha stitch, macrame (weaving by knotting threads), leather, pottery and terracotta, solapith, woodcarving, bamboo and cane craft, metal works and various tribal crafts. There are 8,883 small and medium scale industries. Bakreshwar Thermal Power Station (210 MW x 3 + 210 MW x 2 under construction) is the only heavy industry.

One of the famous industrialist was Late Nitai Pada Ghosh from Mohammed Bazar who was the founder Patel Nagar Minerals & Industries Limited specilising in China Clay. Mohammed Bazar block contains china clay and laterite mines. Panchami village of Mohammed Bazar block contains the industry of laterite. One proposed methane gas processing industry is going to be set up in this district by British Petroleum.

Divisions

Birbhum district is divided into three subdivisions:

  1. Suri subdivision has 7 blocks: Suri - I, Suri - II, Sainthia, Rajnagar, Khoyrasole, Muhammad Bazar and Dubrajpur.
  2. Bolpur subdivision has 4 blocks: Bolpur-Sriniketan, Ilambazar, Nanoor, Labhpur
  3. Rampurhat subdivision has 8 blocks: Rampurhat -I, Rampurhat -II, Nalhati - I, Nalhati - II, Mayureswar-I, Mayureswar-II, Murarai - I, Murarai - II

Totalling above Birbhum has 19 blocks (each block has one police station) which together comprise of 2467 villages. Suri is the District administrative head office ("Zila Sadar"). Suri, Dubrajpur, Bolpur, Rampurhat, Nalhati and Sainthia have municipalities. Other than them, the district is dotted with small towns such as Murarai, Mayureshwar, Muhammad Bazar, Rajnagar, Khairasol, Hetampur, Ilambazar, Kankalipith, Birsingpur and Patharchapuri (or Patharchapri). The district has 2 seats for the Lok Sabha (parliament) and 12 seats for the state assembly.

Transport

The major modes of transportation are trains, buses and bullock carts (rarely seen other than in the remote villages.) Historically the palki or palanquin was common transport for the rich.

The Panagarh-Morgram Expressway runs through the district. All the towns and villages are connected by roads. The total length of roads in the district are: surfaced – 2,413 km and unsurfaced – 4,674 km. Against this the total length of rail track in the district is 201.32 km, including 26.55 km of the Ahmadpur-Katwa narrow gauge track, laid in 1917.

The Howrah-Sahibganj loop of the Eastern Railway, laid in 1862, passes through this district. There is a junction at Nalhati for the connection to Azimganj in Murshidabad district. The Andal-Sainthia line connects it to the main Howrah-Delhi main line at Andal (please refer to the map).

Demography

In 1901 Birbhum had a population of 902,280, which by 1981 rose to 2,095,829. According to the 2001 census data, the total population has further risen to 3,015,422. The following table summarises the population distribution:

Rural/Urban Persons Males Females
Total 3,015,422 1,546,633 1,468,789
Rural 2,757,002 1,414,097 1,342,905
Urban 258,420 132,536 125,884

Hindus form around 65 percent of the population according to 2001 census. The rest of the population (35 percent) are mostly Muslim. There is a sprinkling other religious groups in the population. According to the 2001 census, 29.51 per cent of the population belong to the scheduled castes and 6.74 per cent to the scheduled tribes.

Other than the those speaking the local dialect of Bengali, there are tribal Santhals (local as well as those migrating seasonally from neighbouring areas.) The local industry and agriculture partly depends on the Santhal labourers who come in during the work seasons (like planting of rice seedling during rainy season.) Apart from the Santhals, there are ten tribal communities in Birbhum with a sizeable presence, amongst whom Koda, Mahali and Oraons are prominent.

Culture

The red soil and the shallow serpentine rivers ridden with sand islands have inspired the poets from this land. Many poets of Vaishnav and Shakta Padavali fame were born in this land, as for example, Jaydeb, the celebrated author of Geetagovinda, and Chandidas (Rami).

The folk culture of Birbhum is specially enriched with the contribution of bauls, their philosophy and their songs. Baulism is a religiously liberal philosophy and lifestyle which might have some links to Sahajiya movement of 16th century A.D. (derived from Sahajyan, a form of Vajrayana Buddhism, influenced also by Vaishnavism and Sufism). Chandidas and many other poets were part of the Sahajiya movement. The Bauls earn their living by singing and collecting alms. They accommodate people from any caste and creed. Rabindranath Tagore was inspired by their philosophy and patronized them actively. Birbhum has also been home to famous kabiyals, kirtaniyas and other folk culture groups. do u

The many fairs of Birbhum starts with Pous Mela (from 7th Pous onwards) at Santiniketan and follows through the Bengali month of Pous (spread across December and January) till Makar Sankranti. Particulalrly lively is the fair at Kendubillo, with the participation of bauls, the itinerant singers, in large numbers. Birbhum has a number of other major attractions. The temple and hot spring at Bakreshwar is famous and draws in pilgrims from far and near. Tarapith attracts pilgrims throughout the year. It has many old temples with delicate decorative tiles made of terracotta (burnt clay). Patharchapuri contains the grave of Data Mehboob Shah, a Sufi Pir. It sees pilgrims, mostly Muslims but some Hindus as well, all through the year. During the Patharchapuri mela, tens of thousands of people attend the shrine and make their wishes (called mannat.)

Durga and Kali puja are two festivities celebrated with a lot of enthusiasm among the population. The local clubs arrange pujas enthusiastically. Money comes from voluntary contributions from the locals. Occasionally, however, there are troubles over amount of contribution.

Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha (Bakri-eid, locally) are prominent festivities in this district. The eateries and the bus stands wear a deserted look during Ramadan, the month when Muslims fast. On the day of Ashura during the month of Muharram processions are taken out to commemorate the deaths of Hassan and Hussein, the grandsons of Muhammad.

People of Birbhum love Jatra a kind of folk drama and "Aalkap". People ofen travel long distance to watch Jatra overnight, and return home next morning.

Gramdevta

In addition to being a confluence of Vaishnav, Shakta and Saiva cultures, Birbhum villages also observe prehistoric customs like worship of gramdevta (gram means village and devta means deity) in many forms at different places.

One form of gramdevta popular in villages of birbhum is Dharma Thakur, symbolized by a stone, worshipped mainly by Bauri, Bagdi, Hari, Dom etc. castes. According to the Dharmapuran, even kings worshipped Dharma Thakur. In some places there are festivals called Dharmer Gajan. According to some authorities, these are transformed old deities and totems which continued even after these castes accepted Buddhism as a result of the oppression by the higher castes. Later on these old deities were equated to either Shiva or Buddha.

Another Gramdevta is the goddeess of snakes - "Manasa" who might have been a transformation of the feminine snake totem to a form more acceptable to later society. Now Goddess Manasa is worshiped for protection from snake bite. Vajrayana Buddhists had an equivalent of Manasa named Janguli. In Manasamangal, the house made for Lakhinder was on top of "Santhali" mountains, which might have been a reference to Santhal pargana which was historically a part of Birbhum.

Personalities, literature and films

Rabindranath Tagore made this district his home and established his great centre of learning, Visva Bharati University at Santiniketan. Kendubillo, the birthplace of the 12th century Sanskrit poet, Joydeb, is on the bank of the river Ajay. Nanoor is the birthplace of the poet Chandidas Rami. He possibly wrote in the 14th century. There are several counter claims about these poets. Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, one of the leading Bengali literary figures in recent times and who wrote extensively about life in Birbhum, belongs to Labhpur.

Satyajit Ray shot major portions of the film Abhijan in Birbhum and made the Mama Bhagne pahar, near Dubrajpur, well known to the outside world. Two rocks sit delicately, one on another, in close embrace, but they do not fall off. One is mama (maternal uncle) and the other is bhagnney (nephew). The entire hillock strewn with rocks is known by that name.

Many other famous people lived and worked in Birbhum, specially at Santiniketan. Amongst the notable personalities linked with Birbhum district are:

  • Nityananda Swami (1474-?) - (Nitai of the famous Nitai-Gaur pair) the co founder of Vaishnav religion (with Shri Chityanyadev known also as "Gaur" ie gauranga) was born at Birchandrapur area of village Ekachakra 20 k.m. away from Rampurhat.
  • Lord Satyendra Prasanna Sinha (1863-1928) - member of the British House of Lords, was born at Raipur and was a student of Birbhum Zilla School.
  • Shrikumar Chaottopadhyay (1892-1970) – renowned literary critic was born at Kushmor village. He was a student of Hetampur College.
  • Samsuddin Hossein (1892-1926) – peasant leader and founder of Labour Swarajya Party was born at Sardanga village under Nanoor PS.
  • Sajani Kanta Das (1900-1962)- author was born in his maternal uncle’s house at Betalban village in Bardhaman district but belongs to Raipur.
  • Muhammad Qudrat-i-Khuda (1900-1977) was born in village Margram of this district. He was a renowned scientist, educationist and writer.
  • Abdul Halim (1901-1966) – one of the pioneers of the communist movement was born at Sabdanga and was a studen of Kirnahar Shib Chandra High School.
  • Sailajananda Mukhopdhyay (1901-1976) – author and friend of Kazi Nazrul Islam was born at Rupasi village.
  • Rejaul Karim (1902-1993) – freedom fighter and journalist was born at Margram (Saspur village).
  • Taradas Mukhopadhyay (pseudonym : Falguni Mukhopadhyay) (1904-1975) – author was born at Nagara Kolakgram and was a student of Hetampur College.
  • Samaresh Basu (1928-1988) -The famous Bengali Novelist known by the pen name Kalkut, though Born in Bikrampur (in Bangladesh), spent most of his adolescence at Nalhati. He was deeply influenced by the social dynamics of this district which reflected in his writings.
  • Purna Das Baul (1933- ) One of the most famous bauls who braught baul songs to the attention of western world, was born at Ekchakka (Ekachakra) village near Rampurhat
  • Tarashankar Bandopadhyay():The famous Bengali Novelist, Born in Labhpur, Birbhum
  • Pranab Mukherjee(): Honorable minister of external affairs, India
  • Former President of Bangladesh Abdus Sattar was born in the village of Daraka in Birbhum District
  • Mr.Kshitish Chandra Mitra Land lord of Batikar gram, & He is one of the Honourary magistrate & One of the light man of 'Birbhum Samabay Sangathan'. He was one of the key man of "Krisak Andolan" in 50's.
  • Mr. Dwarakesh Mitra was the one of the successful juniour leader & freedom fighter.

Flora

The laterite soil of the western highlands is iron rich and alkaline. It grows characteristic shrubs, herbs and some trees. These include species of wendlandia, evolvulus, Stipa, Tragus, perotis, spermacoce, Zizyphus , capparis. Trees like mango and bamboo are also frequently found. Other abundant species are jack fruit, arjun, sal, date plum, piar, dhau, kend and mahua.

Fauna

Other than feral dogs, and domestic cattle, the most frequently encountered non-human mammal is the hanuman (semnopithecus entellus formerly presbytis entellus), a long tailed grey langur prevalent in the gangetic plain. Hanumans live near human community and are not easily scared by them. Some wild boars and wolves may still be found in the small forests of Chinpai, Bandarsol and Charicha. Wild leopards and bears are not to be seen any more. Sometimes wild Asiatic elephants from Jharkhand come in during the mahua bloom, trampling crops and threatening life and property.

Birds of Birbhum include a mix of hilly and plain-land dwelling species like partridge, pigeon, green pigeon, various water fouls, doyel, Indian robin, drongo, hawk, cuckoo, koel, sun bird, Indian roller (nilkanth), parrot, babbler, and some migratory birds.

Literacy and education

According to the 2001 census Birbhum district had a literacy rate of 62.16 per cent, 71.57 per cent for males and 52.21 per cent for females. In 1951 the literacy rate was 17.74 per cent. It increased to 48.56 per cent in 1991.

The growth of literacy in the last decade of the twentieth century was particulalrly remarkable with special emphasis on the eradication of illiteracy. While it is feared that Birbhum may not be able to fulfil the national objective of sending all children in the age group 6-14 years to school by 2010, efforts are on in that direction. Educational facilities in the district are as follows:

Type Nos.
High School 256
Higher Secondary School 110
Junior High School 86
Junior High Madrasa 10
Senior Madrasa 4
Primary School 237
Sishu Siksha Kendra 495
Anganwadi Centre 2407
College 12
University 1

The district has 2 engineering colleges, 1 polytechnic and 1 industrial training institute (ITI).

There are 127 libraries supported by the Government, 1 private libaray and 1 district library.

Sports

One of the most popular village outdoor sports in this area used to be "danguli" or guli-danda (literal meaning "ball and stick") which is somewhat equivalent of "goli danda" in North India but doesn't involve a "guli" i.e. ball, instead a spindle shaped wood (small stick with two ends sharpened) is used as a ball. The spindle shaped small stick is kept on an uneven surface and is tumbled off ground by hitting with a long handled stick (danda) and then hitting again a second time to pitch it to a long distance. However, in recent times cricket has replaced some of the popularity of this game, partly because danguli used to create eye injury as the most frequent sports accident. Another sport that can be played both outdoors and indoor, and still popular among children here is "marble", which involves projecting a striker bead with fingers to hit an ensemble of black or green glass beads. It is a kind of an aerial version of carrom, which itself is a locally popular indoor game. In addition to cricket the other most popular outdoor sport of this district are football and kabadi.

One traditional village level religious team sport of Birbhum is "baich khela" which is a competition of taking the whole idol of goddess Durga and her companion icons on bamboo supports and carrying it around with lots of lightings ("hajak lights"), dhak (drum) beat and fanfare all around the village.

Santhals living in and around Birbhum are good archers too and have many a time reached the national level of all India-archery competitions.

References

  • Data and information has been used from Birbhum special issue of Paschim Banga published by the Information & Culture Department, Government of West Bengal.

External links

See also

(http://thebaulsofbengal.blip.tv)

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