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Author:Laxman Burdak, IFS (R)

Map of Bangladesh

Rajshahi (Hindi: राजशाही, Bengali: রাজশাহী) is a city and district in mid-western Bangladesh.


Rajshahi district is bounded by Naogaon District to the north, Natore District to the east, and Chapai Nababganj District and the Padma River to the south. There are ten rivers in this district. The main river is Padma River (Ganges). Some others are Mahananda, Baral and Barnai river.


  • Rajshahi (राजशाही), बांग्लादेश, (AS, p.633)


Rajshahi region was ruled by the Puṭhia Raj family based in the Puṭhia Rajbaɽi. The Mughal Emperror Akbar had given the Rajshahi region to the Puṭhia Raj family to govern, the governor was Pitambar. The Puṭhia family was given the title of Raja by the Mughal Emperor Jahangir.[1] Rajshahi District was established in 1772. Parts of the districts eventually became Bogura district, Malda district, Natore district, Naogaon district, Nawabganj district, and Pabna district. On 1 April 1876 Rajshahi town was made into municipal town. During the Bangladesh Liberation war in 1971 the town was the site of battles between the Mukti Bahini and Pakistan Army.


Sub-district or upazilas and thanas of Rajshahi are[2]

Gupta inscriptions in Rajshahi District

We begin with the earliest inscription of the Gupta period. Since this comes from the Rajshahi District, we are going to first cover all the inscriptions from the same District in a chronological order so that a regional picture may be got.

Dhanaidaha copper-plate inscription of Kumaragupta I G.E.113. (AD 432)

Dhanāidaha inscription of Yr. 113 (432 – 33 AD) refers to Visaya Khada in Pundravardhana Bhukti. [3] The headquarters of the Visaya seems to have been in Pancanagari, situated in Pundravardhana Bhukti. [4]

The record is from the Natore Division of Rajshahi District and is the earliest record available after Mahasthan lipi. The record is largely damaged. The name of the village is not clear. The language is Sanskrit and the script late Brahmi of northern class. [5] For the first timhttp://www.jatland.com/w/skins/common/images/button_bold.pnge in Bengal we have a reference to land measurement and the fact that land was being considred as a valued property - ksetra. According to D. C. Sircar, this inscription as well as the later Damodarpur inscriptions of 444 and 447 AD were “essentially sale–deeds and not records of free gifts. They record semi – gifts, the state land being sold at a reduced rate to Brahmanas, etc., who purchased it with religious motives. The land was probably rent – free.” [6] There are a few important assumptions here: that the land was state owned under the Gupta provincial administration; that it was being sold at a subsidized rate; and that the land was previously rent free under nividharma, which was now being annulled and sold out to the donor so that he/ they may donate the land to a brahmana.

The Dhanaidaha inscription of AD 432–33 says that an officer called Visnu mentioned some details about a plot of land to the ryats, Brahmanas, the Mahattaras, the astakuladhikarana and a few others, [7] implying that these popular units as well as gramikas and mahattaras had a voice in matters relating to the purchase, disposal and administration of lands in the villages.

Population structure and land lay-out

The record gives details of a land transfer where the population and the structure of local administration is involved. It appears that an ayuktaka official approached the Kutumbins, the brahmanas and the mahattaras and the gramastakuladhikarana since he desired to purchase one Kulyavapa of land by destroying the nivi– dharma (the non - transferability of it). The land was being purchased for the making of it into a grant for a Vedic Brahmana.

B.D. Chattopadhyaya [8] points out that two significant facts emerge from this inscription:

  • a) That the gramastakuladhikarana was not an all-comprehensive village body since different other social groups are also mentioned – like the Kutumbins, brahmana and mahattaras. The individual belonging to these categories are mentioned by names.
  • b) Consent for the alienation of land was sought at the local level, involving the presence and acquiescence of individuals from various rural groups.

The reference to the prativesi Kutumba is not given importance by Chattopadhyay. [9] But it has the significance if we are to understand the lay-out of the area where the land was being acquired for making the grant. Prativesi Kutumba here refers to a community of cultivators (according to Chattopadhyay himself) in the vicinity.

The third point made by Chattopadhyaya [10] is that there were two clear separable units in case of land use: Vastu or composite residential area and the Ksetra or the composite cultivation area within the defined village space.

The above data may be used to understand the land lay–out, man–land relationship as well as the structure of land organization in the vicinity of the already excavated archaeological sites.

In case of the Bengal sites it may be important to identify them within spatially defined zones and confining a site reckoning may not answer all our queries. Historical records like the above inscription supplies us with a modicum of an ancient zone, contemporary to the occupation period at the site being excavated. Moreover, the boundary of a site sometimes becomes fluid and even the size of the zone will vary depending on the mobility of the people and the range of contacts. So the landscape becomes important. The early historical inscriptions from Bengal afford a glimpse into the land–use pattern and hence a minute level survey could be attempted.

For this the space pattern has to be recognized taking in space use within given chrono–cultural paradigms:

The social use of space is patterned as:

a) Site

b) Intra-site

c) Region

Building up theories on:

a) The attrition of distance

b) Central places and polities.

Kalaikuri – Sultanpur grant of Gupta year 120 (440 AD)

Next comes the Kalaikuri – Sultanpur grant of Gupta year 120 (440 AD), discovered in the same district. [11] Dikshikar points out that the Śrngavera Vithi with its head quarter at Purnakausika was probably situated in Pundravardhana Bhukti. This grant was of 9 Kulyavapas of lands – 2 dronavapas of land were in village Gulmagandhika, seven Kulyavapas and six dronavapas were in Tapasapottaka and Dayitapottaka– (These two were in the Pravesya of Hastiśirsa) and in Citravatangara (in the Pravesya of Vibhitaka) and one Dronavapa of land was enclosed by an ancient moat, with the Vata river modern Bara-nai, a Tributary of Atrai, probably on the north and the borders of Gulmagandhika on the West.

The lands therefore may not have been a continuous field of cultivation. B.D. Chattopadhyay has seen in this grant the reflection [12] that:

  • a) Villages were distinct with space occupied by villagers which were separate from the wider space in which the granted land was measured.
  • b) Villages were not isolates. They were lying adjacent; or several villages were joined together for the purposes of fiscal assessment. [13] So the internal settlement structure were not dispersed but related to one another, both spatially and/ socially.
  • c) All the villages came together on the occasion of the grant which the inscription records – (or rather the villagers, those canny or alert enough, were addressed by officials on the occasion of a grant).

So the above theory of a zonal understanding of the locus of a site comes in handy here, given the data available in the inscription. In this framework the social system is also important for the activity zone, for the settlement is defined by the socially understood space too. When the populations of adjacent villages have a socially/legally contiguous connectivity, the reading of the space use becomes complex and at the same time wider.

We have other important information throwing light on the pattern of land use and population. Scholars have put forward their readings of the value of land units mentioned in the Kalaikuri–Sultanpur Inscription. The exact measurement is not important. But the fact that a measurement was fixed and a value laid on this basis is significant and goes with the organization of land administration into growing categories like Visaya, Vithi, Pravesya.

  • b) Structural features – ancient moat.

  • c) Names of villages: Gulmagandhika, Tapaspottaka, Dayitapottaka, (these two linked with Hatisirsa), Citravatasigara (linked with Vibhitaka).
  • d) Natural features – River Vata flowing to the north of the land on whose eastern border was the village Gulmagandhika. The moat was probably connected to the river.
  • e) The term pravesya – no discussion on this is available. But it could mean that the vis-à-vis the two villages of Tapasapottaka and Dayitapottaka, the units of Hastisirsa was a bigger inlet – the former two being smaller units. According to V.R.R. Dikshitar, Pravesa and Prapa were “Small territorial divisions.” [14]

According to this inscription one Kulika Bhima and some other persons of the Srngavera Vithi who are described respectively as the kayasthas and pustapalas, requested the auyktaka and a number of other persons described as the vithi mahattaras and kutumbins to allow them to purchase specified pieces of uncultivated fallow land in these villages within the jurisdiction of the vithi at the rates prevalent in the area. The purpose was to grant the same as an aksayanivi to three Brahmanas who were well versed in the four vedas and belonged to the Vajasaney Carana with a view to enable them to perform their panca mahayajnas. [15] The inscription refers to the fact that the application for buying of land was referred to the Pustapalas for examination and report. When they reported that the application was in order and that the sale would not affect adversely the interests of the state, the Ayuktaka gave permission for the sale of the lands asked for. The rights of cultivators had to be kept intact.

Plans for explorations for site identification can include using data like the above.

Jagadishpur Copperplate of Gupta year 128 (447 AD)

Third is the Jagadishpur Copperplate of Gupta year 128 (447 AD)* from the same locality as that where Kalaikuri–Sultanpur plate was found (Rajshahi district).

It mentions the same officer (as in Kalaikuri inscription of 440-441 AD) Ayuktaka Acyutadasa. This time the communication comes from the Ayuktaka to the Chief (pradhana Kutumbins headed by brahmanas of the villages–brahmanadin– pradhana – Kutumbinah).

As B.D. Chattopadhyay points out [16] – the reference by personal names to the brahmanadi pradhana kutumbinah in association with the Vithi official and the adhikarana headed by him would suggest that they were active participants in transactions. But whereas seven years earlier the Kalaikuri plate refers to Vithi-Kulika, Kayastha and Pustapalas they are not referred in this inscription and as against eight Vithimahattara and 76 Kutumbi in Kalaikuri plate, only 4 Vithimahattaras and 28 Kutumbi are mentioned in Jagadishpur plate. We can draw the following hypotheses:

  • (a) It may seem that smaller units had evolved, or
  • (b) That there was a growing hierarchy among settlements concentrated in a few numbers.
  • (c) The incidences of local participation were probably getting less.

Paharpur Copper-plate Inscription of the Gupta Year 159 (=A.D. 478)

The fourth important inscription of the period from the District is the one found at Paharpur. [17] This inscription was issued in the Gupta year 159 (479 AD), about 45 years later than the Dhanaidaha inscription.

The plate records the purchase and grant of a piece of land by a brahmana couple for the maintenance and the worship of Arhats and a resting place at the Vihara which was situated at Vatagohali in 5th century AD, under a Jaina teacher, Guhanandin. The Vihara, as suggested by Sircar, may have been a locally reputed establishment. The record mentions the Ayukatakas of Pundravardhana along with Nagarasreśthi and Puroga and the office of the city headquarters. Details of the units show a hierarchical zone of settlements, (of land administration/ settlement/ revenue collectorate?). Land was bought in Vata – Gohali, which is the lowest unit mentioned and which is located in Nitya Gohali attached to Mula Nagiratta Pravesya; land was also obtained from the lowest unit– the Prsthima Pottaka attached to Jambudeva Pravesya and Gosatamunjaka/ Gosatpuñjaka– all situated in the Palaśatta Parśva within the Nagiratta Mandala in the Daksinamśaka Vithi. According to Sircar, the Mula Nagiratta was the headquarters of Nagiratta Mandala. [18]

The pattern of administration might throw some light on the settlement question in terms of revenue assessment in the Gupta period and hence we may note the following facts obtained from this inscription: It mentions an administrative division called the Daksinamśaka Vithi in the Nagiratta mandala. V. R. R. Dikahitar [19] talks about the instance of this copper plate which, according to him indicates that if a city was also the District headquarters, probably its administration was carried on by the District Magistrate himself with the help of non-official District Council as in the case of the Kotivarsa Visaya of the Damodarpur Copper Plate. But as far as the evidence of Paharpur Copper Plate is concerned, it is indicated that if it was one other than the District Headquarters, its administration was carried out by a separate council.

It would be useful to observe this development in terms of settlement pattern, while exploring the region for possible early historical sites. Sircar also suggests that a Vithi might have been a term applied to a district on the banks of a river.

The inscription mentions four types of land categories based on use: khila or waste, śunyapratikara or land not yielding tax and samudayavajhya or land not yielding income in corps, and vastu or homestead.

In all these cases of land sale for future donation by the buyers it was the waste land of the ‘state’ that was sold at subsidized rates of two or three dinaras per kulyavapa.

The records generally talk about selling of those lands to those who intend to donate the land concerned for religious purpose that were either waste land never reclaimed: khila or those that have long been kept fallow: apratihata.

For future reference in case of settlements studies in the vicinity of Paharpur these data may be used to understand how the land could have been developed. According to Sircar [20] Gohali may be identified with Goalbhita near Paharpur. It is obvious that Paharpur Vihara was at a chromosomal stage as a Jaina establishment in the days of the Gupta rule, while it was to develop as a big center of Buddhism under the Pala rulers. The settlements lay out that provided the hinterland support to the future development of Somapuri Vihara might be found in this pattern: both in the sense of administration–cum–revenue earning as well as the social community–clientele who provide private patronage to religious establishments, far more important than the patronage of political authority or state for sustained development.

External links


  1. "The Royal Palace of Puṭhia". The Daily Star. 27 November 2015.
  2. Mahbubar Rahman, Md. (2012). "Rajshahi District". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. (eds.). Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.