By: Nawshad Haque
Karpashdanga is a village situated on the bank of the Bhairab river in Chuadanga District in Bangladesh. Karpashdanga was part of Nadia district during British administration. The Headquarters of Nadia District is Krishnanagar situated on the bank of the Jalangi river, West Bengal, India. I have very recently found Nadia District Gazetteer published in 1901, from website of Krishnanagar District Office. The life and society is depicted in this gazetteer. In this Gazetteer, there are sections with most prominent places of Nadia district around that time. Karpashdanga is mentioned with a separate large section under 'Kapasdanga'. I did not find any other documented historical information specific about this place anywhere. In the gazetteer, it is noted that in 1809, a Christian missionary out-post was established. Someone with name Mr. Innes visited 'Kapasdanga' in 1841. He described this place as it stands on the Bhairab river. According to his description, "a beautiful river whose banks are richly ornamented with fine trees and the water of which is truly excellent and wholesome". In 1843, a church was built and in 1893, it was replaced by a somewhat larger building (this must be the present day old Catholic church of Western para section of Karpashdanga). There was a school in the village at this time in 1843 and a cemetery was about a mile way. I suspect it denotes present day cemetery of Christian community beside Karpashdanga Kutubpur road.
It is mentioned that Nichintapur is located one mile east of 'Kapasdanga'. The post office of Karpashdanga was called Nichintopur used to be written by my father, I can not remember exactly if even we may have used this as our post-office in mail addresses. There was a head-quarter of a Concern (I think Concern means here Bengal Indigo Concern of British East India company) which formerly used to cultivate indigo but then later (in circa 1849) did zamindari only. It was one of the largest indigo concerns in Nadia district. This is noted by the Manager of the Concern who came here in 1849 and became manager in 1850. Since then he managed this office over 10 years until 1960. His name is not found in the writing. This manager was seemed somewhat disappointed with description of Mr. Innes, he noted that present condition as found by him was not healthy presumably due to the stagnation of the river (denoting the Bhairab).
This river now looks almost disappeared particularly during winter or dry season. It seems the stagnation of the Bhairab started quite a while ago as found from this manager's written notes. When I was a boy, I saw Bhairab as a very wide river during rainy season. There is a lot of interesting information about this Bhairab river which started from the Ganges somewhere and this is the same river falls into the Bay of Bengal. It lost its name and reappears throughout the course. Khulna city is located on the bank of downstream of this river. It is mentioned by the local old people that this river was navigable from Calcutta. Berge and boats used to ply on this river and carry goods to and from Kapasdagna bazaar to Calcutta (now Kolkata). Although, the British officials frequently complained about the difficulty with river navigation around this area as found in the gazetteer. British took dredgers from England around 1825 to dig Mathabhagna river but equipment failed to meet expected work.
I can remember, once a dam was constructed where the Bhairab meets the Mathabhanga close to Subalpur village. Although Bhairab ends here and re-emerges with this name again in the downstream. The Bhairab had full to the brim for several years until one monsoon, the bank could not hold the river. The dam broke and water gushed into the Mathabhanga. That was possibly mid 80s. That is the last time, I saw Bhairab was full with water. The river had good fish, when I was a boy I had experience of few catches of small silver fish 'puti mach' using hooks during monsoon. There were a lot of professional fishermen who used to live on this river catching fish and selling in the bazaar, their only means of livelihood. Locally these group of fishermen colony used to be called malo para. I can remember boat race or swimming race on this river around 80s. We used to run through the bank of river watching the drowning of Durga idol, the biggest festival of Hindu community, arranged by the local Munda colony.
The noted 'Concern' is current Neel Kuthi area in Karpashdanga. When I studied in Primary School, school was very close to this Neel Kuthi, I still can remember part of this area was with a boundary wall and an entrance gate built with brick surki concrete (old type building architecture style). The main kuthi building was large palatial double storey with stairs and many rooms just on the bank of the Bhairab. The window glasses were coloured mosaic style like old roman churches. There were sofa like seats (locally called shaheb mem der howakhana meaning for enjoying gentle breeze by Englishmen and ladies) in front of the building, where we used to sit to enjoy the breeze of the river with vast panoramic view to the north-eastern direction to further downstream with large horizon in view quite a distance along the winding river like a snake far far away. On the the river banks, another neighbouring village stands Bagadanga (literal meaning Tigerland) was barely seen with dense bamboo grooves. Actually Tiger used to roam around this area around that time. It was such a dream land to us that it was like "kothao amar harye jete ney mana, mone mone....." - "There is nothing to stop me, getting lost anywhere land as I am euphorically thinking" by Rabindranath Tagore. In front of this building, there were number of bath houses. Now there is a College established on the bank of this river, I saw this college when I last visited several years ago. I can remember there was a small cemetery between the river and our school. The local used to call Neel Kuthi area as "Shaheber hata" or "Den of English". There were smaller ruins and buildings in diabolical states until very recent time. There were several abandoned buildings. The whole area for us was an open land. I knew few villagers used to farm this area, used to grow paddy and other winter crops with little success of good harvest. Generally this land was not very attractive to them. My suspicion is that this area used to be controlled by the local union Tahsil (Land) Office most recently and used to be treated as government land. The land was not fertile, one reason is that soil is very sandy. The other reason is that brick bats from all the ruins and building were spread all around the land. There were parts of the land still was jungle. The whole area would be, my guess, 100 ha land. It was like ghost land to us as growing kids. Specially, there were some trees in the graveyard, small patch of dense bushes with trees of huge diameter trunk with extremely long hanging branches covering almost quite a large part of the graveyard, carrying dense but small dark evergreen leaves. Birds used eat it's small fruits and leave the seeds on the ground. We used to collect these seeds sometimes to make garland. Locally we used to call this tree 'Tasme gach'. My suspicion is that this tree would belong to Syzygium ('jam fruit') genus (i.e. subgroup of plant family) or some sort of wild berry class. Those graves had epitaphs, grave stones, head stones and inscriptions with names of deceased, dates and birth details. I can remember large stones for adults and small stone for children's grave. At least there were more than 20 adult and few children's grave I can remember. This place is now converted to local Bus Depot and stand. Stones were stolen and taken by others. I think a large piece of stone used to be a table in the local Maddrasha or religious school. A police substation is established quite a while ago at this land. Now the whole area is so called "Guchho gram" or hamlet. I can remember around mid 90's a group of landless people came from other villages and started occupying this place, started building thatched house overnight and now the whole area is a village out-skirt of Karpashdanga. Since the establishment of this village, most of ruins have been destroyed along with the large main building. At this place, people used to say, white people used to have buried their horses too in this graveyard. There were several patches of Casuarina ('Jhau gach') trees around the central part, trees must be quite old, at least in couple of blocks of land close to present day girls high school. A lot of parrots used live in these trees, this flock of birds used to fly in the sky above, looked as if a green blanket is flying and spread in the sky as the birds had beautiful attractive green feathers. There were plenty of birds including doves and other animals such as foxes, rabbits and mongoose or 'bejji' used to live in this area too. I can remember I collected both wild parrots and dove from this area, domesticated and had as my pets at home for some time when I was a boy. There was very mystic hissing sound when wind passed through the needles of jhau trees. When I was a boy, we used to roam around these places. It was fascinating feelings that sings in my heart till now as if I am in the land of rural Bengal landscape described in the Pather Panchali novel. I do not think boys of current generation can think about the uniqueness and such very private, secluded places, very rural but at the same so vast area with large sky, surrounds and horizon, freedom even now I can feel those pleasing moments, without worry, no thoughts of what to do or what not to do. I wish I get back those days.
The Karpashdanga "Neel Kuthi" Concern was known as "Katchee Katta". The manager (no name is found as mentioned earlier) who joined this property as an Assistant in 1849 in Pykeparah Division of this concern wrote the notes about 'Kapashdanga', recorded and painted a picture of that time. He noted that the area had failed cropping before his joining due to high inundations and everywhere around was wasteland and jungles all around his four factories (presumably for indigo processing). This area was used to be favourite hunting grounds of Nawabs of Murshidabad when large parties were used to be thrown during Mr. Torrentine's (with his question mark after this name indicating the uncertainty of this name) time. That aforementioned party was last held in 1851, afterwards the area began to clear up. According to his description, the villages were deserted and few houses left were in miserable condition. Mr Montresor was the Magistrate of Nadia district who visited Pykeparrah in March 1850 with this manager and was shown as a witness to back up his claims. He managed this area between 1849 to 1860, first one year as Assistant and became Manager in 1950. He claimed that he converted this wasteland into cultivation of Katchee Katta, Pykeparrah and Doorgapore Divisions (currently the village is called Durgapur, an adjacent neighbouring village of Karpashdanga). He also produced Mr. Forlong, who was in this area lately as his supporter of these facts. He claimed to bring 40,000 to 50,000 bighas of land (equivalent to about 10,000 hactare) under cultivation in Katchee Katta concern. After 10 years under his management a number of large and prosperous villages emerged and existed by this time. This was done by cultivating land for one year by himself with his people (neezabad) and then abandoning them to the ryotts (the lease holding subsistence farmers). In many instances, he claimed to have dug with his own coolies (very low-paid contract workers), and after these ryotts used to pay him for expenses and they used to took the land for paddy. He pursued this system for several years. This manager also wrote in reference to 1857 Sepoy Mutiny. In his statement, "Since these unhappy disturbances began, the factory business everywhere has gone as regularly and as quietly as if mutiny in this country (meaning this case 'the region') has never happened". English people use country to denote remote villages or regions. He seemed more frightened about the lack of rain than that of mutiny or what the disbanded sepoys had done. He thought he should have had little to make him anxious indeed (I think he meant from mutiny). Although, according to Banglapedia, indigo rebellion (Neel bidroho) spread over Damurhuda extensively, may be well before sepoy mutiny.
When I was at primary school, there were irrigation drains passing beside our school. A diesel engine (locally used to call Domkol) used to pump water from the river in a concrete tank and then water flows through concrete channels beside the Neel Kuthi boundary. This channel was possibly one meter deep and one meter wide and at least a couple of kilometres long to supply water to the farmlands. We used to play with paper boats, filling the boats with small stones or even live ants on this channel. This channel passed our school and then beside the Munda colony (locally called Buno (wild) para). They are like low-caste hindus and physically they look similar to Mundas I saw in Jharkhand area in India. Arjun Munda is the name of the Chief Minister of Jharkhand. The Munda's in Karpashdanga must have been originated from this region during Mughal's time. It is said that they came as soldiers of Mughal troops and was left in places when troops returned to Delhi after any war. According to Banglapedia, until recently, Mundas (and Mahatos, another tribe bearing close affinity to them) were known as bunos or jungle clearers. They came to this country about two hundred years ago from Ranchi and Chota Nagpur of the Bihar State of India to help reclaim land for agriculture for zamindars and dig lakes and ponds for them. They seem to be the coolies mentioned by the manager of the Neel Kuthi. According to some accounts, Mundas came from the Rajmahal Hills of India and settled in the northern part of Rajshahi district. Some of them, settled in this country permanently and were employed at indigo factories (seems have some relevance with Karpashdagna Neel Kuthi).
The names of the places of Neel Kuthi such as Katchee Katta, Pykeparrah are not familiar to me. I have never heard of the names of the English people mentioned in the Gazetteer either. One English name is called Mr. Barkosh mentioned by the local people, not mentioned in the gazetteer. May be he was a more recent official after 1900. There is a place called Kata khali close to this Neel Kuthi. I had a good friend who showed me various remote rural historical villages in Chuadanga and Meherpur Districts sometimes on a push bike and sometimes on his motor bike when he bought this. We possibly roam around miles after miles exploring at least few hundred years old ponds, really old orchards, fourteen fifteen century mosques and temples around this area. This was my most favourite activities when I was on my university holidays. My friend had keen interest about historical relics and extreme attention to details about these historical buildings, establishments and medieval architecture. The ponds and old orchards spread over large land area in some villages of Meherpur District such as Mahajanpur, Kutubpur, Shibnagar, Ratanpur, Ballavpur around Mujibnagar are really fascinating to visit. These areas must had been rich past around that time. I think this area was quite close to historical places like Pallasey, Nawbadip, Murshidabad and Kolkata in West Bengal. After division of countries in 1947, this area suffered most and has been backwater due to the location in border region and disconnection from major commercial centres of both India and Bangladesh. Now slowly communication in this area is developing because of tourist attraction of Mujibnagar.
Some good works that Christian missionaries established are Ballavpur (as 'Ballabhpur' written in the gazateer) hospital and Karpashdanga clinic and dispensary. They had good names all around since some dedicated European volunteer missionary doctors and nurses used to live and work there. Their patient care and treatment earned very high reputation that attracted people from many miles away. I heard names such as Sister Agnesh from my mother and other nurses who looked after me when I was a sick baby at this clinic. No idea where are these people now or where they came from. They were mainly Europeans and had connections with Mother Teresa's group in Kolkata. One thing I can testify that there was very good harmonious relations among village people irrespective of their religious affiliations. I hope they are still like this.
I have visited extensively Nadia in West Bengal. The border village is Hatkhola or Rangeerpota, then Elangi, Madhupur, Pipragachi, Koroigachi, Bahirgachi, Ichapur, Lakshmipur, Mathurapur are all close to Krishnanagar. These villages have historical past at least I can imagine at least couple of hundred years back. They were mainly subsistence farmers of both hindus and muslims. Historically Nadia district's majority of population was Mohamedan according to the gazetteer. All these places in Bangladesh and West Bengal can be excellent tourist spots. With these and some other initiatives, this region would gain the past glory back again and be a place that was in history.
The following map shows the boundary and other places mentioned above.
Information source: Nadia District Gazetteer: http://nadia.nic.in/District%20Gazetteer/DistrictGazetteer.html
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