HISTORY OF SOUTH 24 PARGANAS
The present South 24 Parganas district forms the southern-most part of the deltaic plains of Bengal. This is a relatively new land, emerged from the alluvial deposits of the Ganges and its various tributaries. From the first century B.C. we have found some foreign literary accounts about this region, which indicate the existence of a land of prosperous people in this part of Bengal. But this is a land where there have been constant shifts in the courses of rivers. Therefore, it is unlikely to find the supportive detailed archaeological evidences.
The Greek writers, from the first century B.C. onward, mentioned the people of this region, often referred to as the Gangaridae, Gangaridai, Gangaridi etc. According to Ptolemy, the country near the mouth of the Ganges was occupied by the Gangaridai. He also mentioned that they were different from the people of the territory of Tamrolipta. It may be assumed that the whole deltaic Bengal became the land of the Gangaridai people. The district of South 24 Parganas as of now falls within these limits.
From the Greek sources, we know that the country of the Gangaridai was a prosperous one and this prosperity was largely depended upon its profitable foreign trade. There was a famous port-city, called Ganges. This city was situated on the confluence of the Ganges with the sea. According to ‘The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea’, a travelogue written by ananonymous
Greek sailor of the first century A.D. a considerable amount of trade used to be carried out in betel, spikenard, pearl and maslin through this port. Gold coins were used as the medium of exchange. Historians are confused about exact location of that port city. It might have been in the present Sagar island, or at Chandraketugarh, North 24 Parganas. Another possible place is Atghara near Baruipur.
The establishment of the Gupta Empire marks the end of the political isolation of the various independent states that flourished in Bengal. This part of Bengal, also, got incorporated in the Gupta Empire, though the actual effectiveness of their rule in this area remains uncertain. From indirect archaeological evidence it seems that the Gupta rule made a deep cultural impact on the district. A large number of terracotta icons of Puranic Brahmanical Gods and Goddesses have been found from Atghara. Some Buddhist icons have also been found.
This part of Bengal remained outside the effective hegemony of the Gauda kingdom of Sasanka. It was under the sway of the Pala Empire. Palas lost a large portion of their territory in Vanga to the Chandras, who started their career as a feudatory of the former. There is still a brick temple, popularly known as Jatar Deul, standing at the village of Uttar Jata of Mathurapur, which was constructed by a certain king named Jayanachandra in 975 A.D. It is interesting to note that all the remnants found from the surrounding area represent Puranic Brahmanical tradition, not Mahayani Buddhist tradition, which indicates that the Palas were unable to imprint their own image onto the culture of this region. In the Sena period this tradition is not only continued but strengthened. It is well known that the Senas were the patrons of Brahmanism. By issuing land grant to the Brahmanas, they wanted to extend their hegemony over the rural folk. This kind of activities from the part of Senas had other consequences also. As a result of the regular settlements in the Sundarban regions, the agricultural economy was spreading more and more towards the south.
From the ancient times till the sixteenth century at least, there were many janapadas which emerged on the banks of old Bhagirathi channel. Boral, Rajpur, Mahinagar, Baruipur, Bahadu, Joynagar, Majilpur, Chatrabhog were some among them. Bipradasa Pipalai’s ‘Manasavijaya’, provides us with a list of villages and towns of this region. Baruipur was a populous city in the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century. Chandsadagar, a merchant character of ‘Manasavijaya’, reached Baruipur, from Kalighat, through the old Bhagirathi channel. From there he proceeded towards Chatrabhog, and then traveling through Hatigarh pargana reached the open sea. Chaitanyadeva (1486-1534), according to his contemporary biographies, also went through this route. In his journey towards Puri, through the Bhagirathi channel, he halted at the village of Atisara, near Baruipur. His last stoppage in 24 Parganas was at Chatrabhog, now a village within the jurisdiction of Mathurapur police station. Chatrabhog seems to have been an important river-port on the old Bhagirathi Channel.
A retrogressive process might have been started from the middle of the sixteenth century onward. These hitherto burgeoning centres of northern Sundarban areas and the BhagirathiHooghly received setbacks. There were two reasons. The first was the rampant activities of the Portuguese free-booters and others. The second was geographic, the eastward trend of the Ganges dramatically intensified after the late sixteenth century, and hence it gradually abandoned the old Bhagirathi channel, presently known as Adiganga.
In 1538, the Portuguese had obtained from Sultan Ghiyasuddin Mahmud the permission to build settlement in Santgaon, Hooghly. From this time onwards, the Portuguese slowly but steadily became the masters of the water of these riparian tracts. They had a secondary naval station at Tardaha on the confluence of Bidyadhari in South 24 Parganas. In this period Bengal’s political geography was dominated by the so-called ‘Baaro Bhuniyas’ (twelve landed Chiefs). The Portuguese free-booters became the allies of these independent Bhuniyas against the Mughals and in return got freedom of action in this lower part of Bengal. They went on with their business of piracy with impunity. For nearly a century or so this part of region remained under the effective control of the Portuguese pirates and free-booters. Therefore, the hitherto populated centres of this region of Bengal got depopulated and jungles of the Sundarbans
extended. The present district of South 24 Parganas was within the kingdom of Pratapaditya (1590-1612), one of the most powerful Bhuniyas. In 1612 he was defeated by the Mughal army. The Mughals established a fauzdari at Jessore and the present district of South 24 Parganas came under this jurisdiction. By this time the Portuguese menace was controlled, but not finally ended, especially in the areas of the southern-most part of Bengal, which were full of rivers, creeks and tiger-infested jungles. The arms of the Mughal Emperor or of the Nawab of Bengal did not effectively reach these areas. Besides the Portuguese, there were Magh or Arakanese pirates operating in the same areas. This lawlessness, uncertainties and insecurities became the part of everyday life of the people living in this area throughout the eighteenth and for the better part of the nineteenth centuries.
Then the English appeared. The 24 Parganas were one of the earliest places of their colonial subjugation. The treaty of 1757 between Mir Jafar and the East India Company ceded to the Company the Zamindari rights of 24 Parganas. The British colonial rule continued uninterrupted till India’s independence in 1947.
Many of the stalwarts and leading men of nineteenth-century Bengal were either born or had worked in this district. Rajnarayan Basu was born in Boral. He was a leading figure of the Brahmo movement and was the forerunner of the swadesi movement. Sibnath Sastri had his ancestral home at Majilpur but was born in the maternal home at Changripota (now Subhasgram). In 1878 he had established Sadharan Brahmo Samaj. Umesh Chandra Dutta had established Harinavi Brahmo Samaj. South 24 Parganas was one of the active centres of Hindu Mela also. The first ever Hindu Mela in rural Bengal, was held in Baruipur in 1870. The concept of Swadeshi was an outcome of the activities of Hindu Melas.
During this time secret revolutionary movements gained momentum as well. The present district of South 24 Parganas was a fertile soil of the revolutionary nationalist movement. The Jugantar Party had a strong base in the district. In 1907, two swadeshi dacoities were held at railway stations on Sealdah Divisional Southern Section line. The first was at Netra station and the second was in Changripota, now called Subhasgram station. Some of the members of the Jugantar Party were involved in these incidents. Narendranath Bhattacharjee (alias Manabendranath Roy), as a member of the Jugantar Party, were involved in these dacoities. A notable number of members were sentenced to varying terms of imprisonment. The Jugantar Party continued its hold on the locality. Satkari Bandyopadhyay, Harikumar Chakravarty and Aswini Ganguly were the prominent figures of the revolutionary activities in this region. During the First World War, they were involved in the arms deal with the Germans, under the leadership of Jatindranath Mukherjee (Bagha Jatin). Satkari Bandyopadhyay and Harikumar Chakravarty formed a new group called Sadhan Sangha on 1920 in this district. Sangha established gymnasia and libraries at various parts of the district, and from the users of gymnasia and libraries they secretly recruited the political activists, giving them special training in use of arms and ammunitions. Another group, the Bengal Volunteers, had its centres at Kodalia, Mahinagar and Malancha. Dinesh Majumder, the martyr, had a close link with these groups and it is noteworthy that his main area of operation was South 24 Parganas. It needs to be mentioned that Subhas Chandra Bose and Sarat Chandra Bose’s ancestral home was at Kodalia. Both of them were the members of the first 24 Parganas District Committee of the Congress, which was formed in 1921. This district took an active part in the first Non-Cooperation Movement and later in Civil Disobedience Movement.
Before ending this section, an observation on the cultural heritage of South 24 Parganas may be of particular interest. South 24 Parganas comprises an area which was mostly covered by dense forest in not-so-distant past. For survival, the settlers had to fight with Nature day in and day out. The same goes on in the Sundarbans even at present time. The hardships of daily existence have given rise to fraternal feelings and non-communal traditions. Members of both Hindu and Muslim communities worship the same Gods and Goddesses, Gazis and Pirs. The two most famous among them are Dakshin Ray and Banabibi. Dakshin Ray is worshiped as the God of tiger and all those who enter the forests for subsistence worship Dakshin Ray irrespective of their caste, creed and religion. Banabibi, on the other hand, is considered as the protector of the inhabitants of the forests. She is popular both amongst Hindus and Muslims. These Gods and Goddesses are not recognised by either religion but are local deities created and worshipped by local people.