Birbhum district (Pron: ˌbɪəˈbu:m) is an administrative unit in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is the northernmost district of Burdwan division—one of the three administrative divisions of West Bengal. The district headquarters is located at Suri.Jamtara, Dumka and Pakur districts of the state of Jharkhand lie at the western border of this district, whereas the border in other directions is covered by the districts of Bardhaman and Murshidabad of West Bengal.
Often called "The land of red soil", Birbhum is noted for its topography and its cultural heritage which is unique and is somewhat different from that of the other districts in West Bengal. The western part of Birbhum is a bushy region, a part of the Chhota Nagpur Plateau. This region gradually merges with the fertile alluvial farmlands in the east. This district saw many cultural and religious movements in history. The Visva Bharati University at Santiniketan, established by Rabindranath Tagore, is one of the places Birbhum is internationally renowned for. Many festivals are celebrated in this culturally rich district, including the notable Poush Mela.
Birbhum is primarily an agricultural district with around 75% of the population being dependent on agriculture. Principal industries of the district include cotton and silk harvesting and weaving, rice and oilseed milling, lac harvesting, stone mining and metalware and pottery manufacture. Bakreshwar Thermal Power Station is the only heavy industry in the district.
The name Birbhum comes probably from the term Land (Bhumi) of the Brave (Bir). Another theory says that the district bears the name of Bir kings, who ruled in the area. But, Bir in Santali language means forests, and therefore, Birbhum could also mean a land of forests.
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 4,545 square kilometres (1,755 sq mi) in area, this district is triangular in shape. River Ajay forms the southern base whereas the apex of the triangle points to the north. The river forms the boundary between the districts of Birbhum and Bardhaman. The state of Jharkhand is located at the northern and the western border of Birbhum and Murshidabad is located at the east. Geographically, 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. It is an undulating upland that is generally barren. 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.
The climate on the western side is dry and extreme, but is relatively milder on the eastern side. During summer, the temperature can shoot well above 40 °C (104 °F) and in winters it can drop to around 10 °C (50 °F). It has been observed that rainfall is higher in the western areas as compared to the eastern areas. The annual average rainfall in Rajnagar is 1,405 millimetres (55.3 in) and in Nanoor it is 1,212 millimetres (47.7 in), mostly in the monsoon months (June to October).
Several rivers flow across Birbhum. Some of these are Ajay, Mayurakshi (Mor), Kopai, Bakreshwar, Brahmani, Dwarka, Hinglo, Chapala, Bansloi, Pagla etc. A project on the Mayurakshi that includes the Tilpara Barrage (near Suri), provides irrigation for about 2,428 square kilometres (937 sq mi). Almost all the rivers originate higher up on the Chota Nagpur plateau and flow across Birbhum in a west–east direction. These rivers 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 difficulties of life in the district.
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 the old Jain book Acaranga Sutra, the last (24th) great Tirthankara Mahavira had wandered through this land, referred to as the "pathless country of Ladha in Vajjabhumi and Subbhabhumi (probably Suhma)" in the 5th century, B.C. According to some historians, the spread of Jainism and Buddhism in the Rarh region was part of the process of Aryanisation of the area. Based on Divyabdan, a Buddhist text, Dr. Atul Sur has inferred that Gautam Buddha probably traversed this area to go to Pundravardhana and Samatata.
The Rarh region, once a part of the Maurya empire was later included in the empires of the imperial Guptas, Shashanka and 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 Xuanzang described some of the monasteries he visited.
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, Birsinghpur and Rajnagar contain their relics. Hetampur and Rajnagar Kingdoms ruled most of Birbhum and parts of Burdwan, Maldah and Jharkhand from Dubrajpur (meaning two kingdoms - Hetampur & Rajnagar). Minhaj-i-Siraj, the author of the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, mentions Lakhnur as the thanah (headquarters) of the Rarh wing of the Muslim rule and an important frontier post. The location of Lakhnur, though not yet identified, falls in Birbhum.
Mythology has it that the forests of Vajjabhumi (west Birbhum) were hot-spots of Hindu and tantric activities. Some authors have called Birbhum by the name Kamkoti which relates to its tantric heritage. Tantrics, including the Vajrayana, the Shaktas, and the Buddhists established many temples for tantra sadhana rituals and Shakti worship. Birbhum has many Shakti Peethas such as Tarapith, Bakreshwar, Kankalitala, Fullara near Labhpur, Sainthia and Nalhati. One of the famous Shakti worshippers of Tarapith was Bamdev, popularly known as Bama Khyapa.
During the time of British East India Company, the administrative unit by the name Birbhum was formed in 1787. Prior to that, it was administratively a part of Murshidabad district. In 1787, when the official "District Beerbhoom" was established, the district was much bigger than it is now. Till 1793, it included "Bishenpore" or Bishnupur, which is now part of the Bankura district. Till the 1857 Sepoy Mutiny, the Santhal Parganas 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 this uprising.
Birbhum is primarily an agricultural district with around 75% of the people dependent on agriculture. While 159.3 km2 (61.5 sq mi) of land is occupied by forests, 3,329.05 km2 (1,285.35 sq mi) of land is used for agricultural purposes. 91.02% of the population live in villages. Major crops produced in the district include rice, legumes, wheat, corn (maize), potatoes and sugar cane. The district has thirteen cold storages. Land with irrigation facilities in 2001-02 totalled 2,763.9 km2 (1,067.1 sq mi). There are five barrages, providing irrigation support. Canada Dam on the Mayurakshi river at Massanjore lies close to the border of Birbhum and the Dumka district in Jharkhand. Further down the Mayurakshi is the Tilpara Barrage at Suri.
Birbhum is a major centre of cottage industries. Perhaps the most notable cottage industry here is a non-profit rural organization named Amar Kutir. Other main industries in Birbhum are agriculture-based industries, textiles, forestry, arts and crafts. Sriniketan is noted for its dairy industry and as a forestry centre. Some of the notable forms of cottage industries of Birbhum include textile—especially cotton and locally harvested tussar silk, jute works, batik, kantha stitch, macramé (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. Principal industries of the district include cotton and silk harvesting and weaving, rice and oilseed milling, lac harvesting, and metalware and pottery manufacture. Bakreshwar Thermal Power Station (210 MW x 3 + 210 MW x 2 under construction) is the only heavy industry in the district.
In 2006 the Ministry of Panchayati Raj named Birbhum one of the country's 250 most backward districts (out of a total of 640). It is one of the eleven districts in West Bengal currently receiving funds from the Backward Regions Grant Fund Programme (BRGF).
Political and Administrative divisionsEdit
The district comprises three subdivisions: Suri Sadar, Bolpur and Rampurhat. Suri is the district headquarters. There are 17 police stations, 19 development blocks, 6 municipalities and 167 gram panchayats in this district. Other than municipality area, each subdivision contains community development blocs which in turn are divided into rural areas and census towns. In total there are 7 urban units: 6 municipalities and 1 census town. The latest amongst the urban units to have a municipality was Nalhati in 2000.
Prior to delimitation the district was divided into 12 assembly constituencies (AC):Nanoor (AC #283), Bolpur (AC #284), Labhpur (AC #285), Dubrajpur (AC #286), Rajnagar (AC #287), Suri (AC #288), Mahammad Bazar (AC #289), Mayureswar (AC #290), Rampurhat (AC #291), Hansan (AC #292), Nalhati (AC #293) and Murarai (AC #294). The constituencies of Nanoor, Rajnagar, Mayureswar and Hansan were reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) candidates.Vidhan Sabha was elected in 2006 assembly elections, which took place prior to the rearrangement of parliamentary and assembly constituencies as per order of the Delimitation Commission in respect of the delimitation of constituencies in the West Bengal. Delimitation was made effective for all elections in the state of West Bengal that was held on or after 19 February 2008. Indian general election, 2009 was based on the newly formed parliamentary constituencies and the newly formed assembly constituencies have representatives in the 2011 elections of West Bengal.
As per order of the Delimitation Commission in respect of the delimitation of constituencies in the West Bengal, the district is divided into 11 assembly constituencies: Dubrajpur (AC #284), Suri (AC #285), Bolpur (AC #286), Nanoor (AC #287), Labpur (AC #288), Sainthia (AC #289), Mayureswar (AC #290), Rampurhat (AC #291), Hansan (AC #292), Nalhati (AC #293) and Murarai (AC #294). Dubrajpur, Nanoor and Sainthia constituencies are reserved for Scheduled Castes (SC) candidates.
Dubrajpur, Suri, Sainthia, Rampurhat, Hansan, Nalhati and Murarai assembly segments form the Birbhum (Lok Sabha constituency). Bolpur, Nanoor, Labhpur, and Sainthia constituencies are part of Bolpur (Lok Sabha constituency), which will also contain three other assembly segments from Bardhaman district.
The Panagarh–Morgram Highway 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 (1,499 mi) and unsurfaced–4,674 km (2,904 mi). Against this the total length of rail track in the district is 201.32 km (125.09 mi), including 26.55 km (16.50 mi) of the Ahmedpur-Katwa narrow gauge track, laid in 1917. The 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 Branch Line connects it to the main Howrah-Delhi main line at Andal.
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:
Hindus form around 65% of the population according to 2001 census. Muslims are about 33% of the population. There is a sprinkling of other religious groups in the population. According to the 2001 census, 29.5% of the population belong to the scheduled castes and 6.7% to the scheduled tribes. Other than the those speaking the local dialect of Bengali, there are tribal Santhals and ten other tribal communities in Birbhum with some presence, amongst whom Koda, Mahali and Oraons are more common.
According to the 2011 census Birbhum district has a population of 3,502,387, roughly equal to the nation of Lithuania or the US state of Connecticut. This gives it a ranking of 84th in India (out of a total of 640). The district has a population density of 771 inhabitants per square kilometre (2,000 /sq mi) . Its population growth rate over the decade 2001-2011 was 16.15%. Birbhum has a sex ratio of 956 females for every 1000 males, and a literacy rate of 70.9%.
The bauls of Birbhum, their philosophy and their songs form a notable representation of the folk culture of the district. Birbhum has also been home to kabiyals, kirtaniyas and other folk culture groups.
The numerous fairs in Birbhum start with Poush Mela at Santiniketan and follows through the Bengali month of Poush till Makar Sankranti. Particularly lively is the fair at Jaydev Kenduli. Various festivities are organized across the seasons. People of Birbhum patronise folk entertainment programmes such as jatra, kavigan and alkap.
Many poets were born in this district, as for example, Chandidas (Rami). In addition to being a confluence of Vaishnava, 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.
Amongst the major attractions of Birbhum are Bakreshwar, Tarapith and Patharchapuri. Birbhum has many old temples, such as the ones at Jaydev Kenduli, Surul and Nanoor, with delicate decorative tiles made of terra cotta (burnt clay).
Many famous people lived and worked in Birbhum, specially at Santiniketan. Nobel laureate economist Amartya Sen is one of them. Rabindranath Tagore made this district his home and established his great centre of learning, Visva Bharati University at Santiniketan. Jaydev Kenduli, which until recently was believed to be the birthplace of the 12th century Sanskrit poet Jayadeva, is on the bank of the river Ajay. Nanoor is the birthplace of the 14th century poet Chandidas Rami. Nityananda Swami (Nitai of the famous Nitai-Gaur pair) the co–founder of Vaishnav religion with Shri Chityanyadev was born at Ekachakra. Tarashankar Bandopadhyay (1898–1971), one of the leading Bengali literary figures in recent times and who wrote extensively about life in Birbhum, belongs to Labhpur.
Flora and faunaEdit
The eastern area of Birbhum is a part of the rice plains of West Bengal, and the vegetation here includes usual characteristics of rice fields in Bengal, such as species of Aponogeton, Utricularia, Drosera, Philcoxia, Scrophulariaceae and similar aquatic or palustrine genera. In the drier western region of the district, the characteristic shrubs and herbs include species of Wendlandia, Convolvulaceae, Stipa, Tragus, Spermacoce, Ziziphus, Capparis and other similar plants that grows on laterite soil. Mango, palm, and bamboo are among commonly visible trees in Birbhum. Other common species of plants visible here are jackfruit, arjun, sal, guava, kend and mahua.
Other than feral dogs and domestic cattle, the most frequently encountered non-human mammal is the hanuman, a long tailed grey langur prevalent in the Gangetic plain. Some wild boars and wolves may still be spotted in the small forests of Chinpai, Bandarsol and Charicha. Leopards and bears are not to be seen any more in the wild. Sometimes during the season when mahua trees bloom, wild Asiatic elephants from Jharkhand come in 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, water fowls, doyel, Indian robin, drongo, hawk, cuckoo, koel, sunbird, Indian roller, parrot, babbler, and some migratory birds.
Ballabhpur Wildlife Sanctuary near Santiniketan was declared a sanctuary in 1977. Various economically important trees are planted here and Blackbucks, Spotted deer, jackals, foxes and a variety of water birds reside within its 2 km2 (0.8 sq mi).
Literacy and educationEdit
The growth of literacy in the last decade of the twentieth century was particularly remarkable with special emphasis on the eradication of illiteracy. While it is feared that Birbhum may not be able to fulfill the national objective of sending all children in the age group 6–14 years to school by 2010, efforts are on in that direction.
The district has 127 libraries supported by the Government, 1 private library and 1 district library.
One of the most popular outdoor sports in the villages of Birbhum used to be danguli (literal meaning "ball and stick"). However, in recent times cricket has replaced some of the popularity of this game. Another sport that can be played both outdoors and indoor, and is still popular among children here is marble, which involves projecting a striker bead with fingers to hit an ensemble of black or green glass bead. In addition to cricket the other most popular outdoor sport of this district are football and kabadi.
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