Gangaridai Kingdom, Vanga Kingdom,
Pundra Kingdom, Suhma Kingdom,
Anga Kingdom, Harikela Kingdom
Sultanate of Bengal
Bakhtiyar Khilji, Raja Ganesha
Pratap Aditya, Raja Sitaram Ray
Principality of Bengal
Zamindari system, Bengal famine of 1770
Swami Vivekananda, Jagadish Chandra Bose,
Rabindranath Tagore, Subhas Chandra Bose
1947 Partition of Bengal, Bangladesh Liberation War
Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, Jyoti Basu
Rarh region (Bengali: রাঢ়, Rāṛh) is a toponym for an area in the Indian subcontinent that lies between the Chota Nagpur Plateau on the West and the Ganges Delta on the East. Although the boundaries of the region have been defined differently according to various sources throughout history, today it is mainly coextensive with the state of West Bengal also comprising some portions of the state of Jharkand and Bihar in India.
The Rarh region historically has been known by many different names and has hosted numerous settlements throughout history. It is suggested that the Rarh region hosted an ancient civilisation also called Rarh and a powerful state, however much of its ancient history remains unknown.
Different names and etymology
Different names of the region as endonyms are usually variations of the term Rāṛh. It is worth noting that the grapheme ঢ় /ṛh/ is basically the same as ঢ /ḑh/, the only difference being one dot under the ঢ and they belong to the same morphophoneme. The interchangeable variations Radha, Rarha, Ladha, Lara are observed in the oldest Jain book of codes Acaranga Sutra of the 6th century BC. Some other sources use the endonyms Lala, Rara and Lada. According to the linguist Sarkar the Chinese called Rarh as Lati, the Greek as Ganga Ridae and the Aryans as Rāṭṭha. Moreover many Greek, Roman and Egyptian sources use the variations of Gangaridai, Gangaridae, Gangaritai and Gangaridum with the sense of a state, nation or civilisation which existed more or less in the same or a larger extent of Rarh. Megasthenes, Ptolemy, Strabo, Pliny, Arrian, Diodorus Siculus, Quintus Curtius Rufus and Plutarch all wrote about Gangaridae.
The etymology of the word Rarh is not clear however there are many authors suggesting that it originates from a local language of Austroasiatic family. It could have originated from any of the following words of the Santali language; lar means "thread", rarh means "tune" and larh means "snake". And according to Sarkar, the word originates from Proto-Austroasiatic *Rāŗhā or *Rāŗho which means "land of red soil" or "land of laterite".
The etymology of the word Gangaridae is also not clear. According to the historian Dr. Atul Sur, Pliny and Ptolemy it means Ganga-Ridai (Rarh of the Ganges - Ganges' Rarh). However according to other scholars it might derive as Ganga-Hrd (land with Ganges in its heart), Ganga-Rashtra (State of the Ganges) or Gonda-Ridai (Land of the Gonds). Megasthenes call the people of Gangaridae as Gangarides. Diodorus Siculus describes Gangaridae as "a nation possessing the greatest number of elephants and the largest in size."
Western parts of Rarh merging with the Chota Nagpur Plateau was historically called Vajjabhumi a definition demarcating it from the eastern part of Rarh which was called Subbhabhumi, Sumhabhumi or Suhmo. There are many descriptions of the geographical area called Rarh or Gangaridae, some being quite imprecise they are capable of indicating a very large area and some though being precise, differ in their descriptions. Most precise descriptions of Rarh seem coextensive with West Bengal. More imprecise descriptions denoting larger areas usually derive from Western sources describing Gangaridae. Some sources describe a smaller area while referring to Rarh as a geographical area and a larger description comes with Rarh defined as a geopolitical unit.
According to the Encyclopædia Britannica, Rarh is mainly Murshidabad's surrounding region, a high, undulating continuation of the Chota Nagpur plateau to the West, and the Bagri, a fertile, low-lying alluvial tract, part of the Ganges (Ganga)-Brahmaputra delta, to the East. Banglapedia says that Rarh is consisted of a large part of West Bengal. And according to West Bengal Travel & Tourism Guide, the northeastern border of Rarh is located within Birbhum.
Historically, a statement in Digvijayaprakasha locates Rarh as from the north of the Damodar River and to the west of Ganges in the south. Even though earliest written documents divides Rarh as West Rarh and East Rarh, later documents starting from the 9th and 10th century AD, divides it to Daksina Radha (Northern Rarh) and Uttara Radha (Southern Rarh). However as inferred from later documents, this newer distinction (North/South) is not based on geography but two political states. Southern Rarh included different large settlements of the modern districts of Howrah, Hooghly and Burdwan in West Bengal, or considerable portions of West Bengal lying between the rivers Ajay and Damodar. The Ajay river is usually regarded as constituting the boundary line between Northern and Southern Rarh. Based on different epigraphic records, it is suggested that Northern Rarh included the western parts of the modern district of Murshidabad, the entire district of Birbhum, including some parts of Santhal Pargana, and the northern part of the Katwa sub-division of Burdwan district. There are many archaeological sites in many parts of Rarh, where studies are going on.
Historian P. R. Sarkar, who has been doing research around most of those archaeological sites, gives a very detailed account of Rarh's geography, using the old geographical definitions of West/East Rarh. According to this definition:
- East Rarh consists of roughly of the following districts:
- West Rarh consists of the following districts:
- Old Santhal Pargana district (today 6 districts: Godda, Deoghar, Dumka, Jamtara, Sahibganj and Pakur)
- Most parts of Birbhum
- Western Burdwan
- Bankura district except for Indas
- Most parts of Giridih
- Four block of Ranchi, namely Silli, Sonahatu, Bundu and Tamar
- Jhargram subdivision of West Midnapore
History of Rarhi people also called the Gangarides in Greek sources, shows that they have expanded their territory with time. This might explain why most of the Western description of Gangaridae includes a broader region.
Gangaridae was first described by the Greek traveller Megasthenes in his work Indica. Many Western writers followed him. Many of the descriptions also comprises parts of the area of today's Bangladesh.
Ptolemy (c.90 – c.168), wrote that the Gangaridai occupied the entire region about the five mouths of the Ganges and that the royal residence was in the city of "Ganges" or "Gange". The five mouths according to Ptolemy are:
- The Kambyson
- The Mega
- The Kamberikon
- The Pseudostomon
- The Antebole
The Periplus refers Gangaridae to be located on the Bay of Bengal north to the port city of Dosarne in Kalinga (ancient Orissa). Its main city, with the same name as the river Ganges, was on the bank of the river. Strabo, Pliny, Arrian, et al. compiled a map of India as known to the early Greeks, based on Indica of Megasthenes (4th century BC), where the Gangaridae state has been shown in the lower Ganges and its tributaries. However, all the Greek, Latin and Egyptian accounts about Gangaridae suggest that the country was located in the deltaic region of Southern Bengal.
Periplus mentions the city of Pataliputra (today Patna), which is north of Tosali or Dosarne, and which based on the map, lies next to the Ganges and is at the heart of Ganga as it flows from the Himalayas to the sea.
Rarh region is believed to be created from the soil from the Deccan plateau. Red coloured laterite soil is predominant. West Rarh's Bagri river is a fertile, low-lying alluvial tract. Rice, jute, legumes, oilseeds, wheat, barley, and mangoes are the chief crops in the east; extensive mulberry cultivation is carried out in the west.
The ancient snowcovored mountain peaks of Rarh gave birth to numerous rivers. These rivers, fed by melting snow flowed to the east and south east towards the ocean. The most notable rivers are Damodar, Ajay, Mayurakshi, Dwarakeswar, Shilai and Kasai. All the river originates from Chota Nagpur Plateau and flows towards east or south-east finally to meet the River Hooghly. The river Subarnarekha flows through some parts of the region and ends at the Bay of Bengal. In the past, some of the rivers were notorious for causing flood. With the construction of several dams, the floods have been somewhat controlled.
Accounts on Rarh and Gangaridae
A chronological listing of account on both concepts:
- Mahavira travelled in the pathless country of 'Ladha' in Vajjabhumi and Subbhabhumi in the sixth century BC in trying to propagate religion. During this period the settlement was 'pathless and lawless' and its people treated Mahavira harshly.
6th century BC, Lala is mentioned by Dipavangsha and Mahavangsha:
- "Now this river, which at its source is 30 stadia broad, flows from north to south, and empties its waters into the ocean forming the eastern boundary of the Gangaridai, a nation which possesses a vast force of the largest-sized elephants. Owing to this, their country has never been conquered by any foreign king: for all other nations dread the overwhelming number and strength of these animals. [Thus Alexander the Macedonian, after conquering all Asia, did not make war upon the Gangaridai, as he did on all others; for when he had arrived with all his troops at the river Ganges, he abandoned as hopeless an invasion of the Gangaridai and India when he learned that they possessed four thousand elephants well trained and equipped for war."
- "The least breadth of the Ganges is eight miles, and its greatest twenty. Its depth where it is shallowest is fully a hundred feet. The people who live in the furthest-off part are the Gangarides, whose king possesses 1,000 horse, 700 elephants, and 60,000 foot in apparatus of war."
1st century BC, Gangaridae is mentioned by Diodorus Siculus:
- "When he (Alexander) moved forward with his forces certain men came to inform him that Porus, the king of the country, who was the nephew of that Porus whom he had defeated, had left his kingdom and fled to the nation of Gandaridae... He had obtained from Phegeus a description of the country beyond the Indus: First came a desert which it would take twelve days to traverse; beyond this was the river called the Ganges which had a width of thirty two stadia, and a greater depth than any other Indian river; beyond this again were situated the dominions of the nation of the Prasioi and the Gandaridae, whose king, Xandrames, had an army of 20,000 horse 200,000 infantry, 2,000 chariots and 4,000 elephants trained and equipped for war".... "Now this (Ganges) river, which is 30 stadia broad, flows from north to south, and empties its water into the ocean forming the eastern boundary of the Gandaridae, a nation which possesses the greatest number of elephants and the largest in size."
- "Among the southern countries the first under the Kaukasos is India, a kingdom remarkable for its vast extent and the largeness of its population, for it is inhabited by very many nations, among which the greatest of all is that of the Gandaridae, against whom Alexander did not undertake an expedition, being deterred by the multitude of their elephants. This region is separated from farther India by the greatest river in those parts (for it has a breadth of thirty stadia), but it adjoins the rest of India which Alexander had conquered, and which was well watered by rivers and highly renowned for its prosperous and happy condition."
1st century AD, Gangaridae is mentioned by Quintus Curtius Rufus:
- "Next came the Ganges, the largest river in all India, the farther bank of which was inhabited by two nations, the Gangaridae and the Prasii, whose King Aggrammes kept in field for guarding the approaches to his country 20,000 cavalry and 200,000 infantry, besides 2,000 four-horsed chariots, and, what was the most formidable of all, a troop of elephants which he said ran up to the number of 3,000."
1st century AD, Gandaritai is mentioned by Plutarch:
- "The Battle with Porus depressed the spirits of the Macedonians, and made them very unwilling to advance farther into India... This river (the Ganges), they heard, had a breadth of two and thirty stadia, and a depth of 1000 fathoms, while its farther banks were covered all over with armed men, horses and elephants. For the kings of the Gandaritai and the Prasiai were reported to be waiting for him (Alexander) with an army of 80,000 horse, 200,000 foot, 8,000 war-chariots, and 6,000 fighting elephants."
1st century AD, the people of Gangarides is mentioned by Pliny the Elder:
- "In the final part of its Ganges course, which is through the country of the Gangarides.... But Prasii surpass in power and glory every other people, not only in this quarter, but one may say in all India, their capital Palibothra (Pataliputra), a very large and wealthy city, after which some call the people itself the Palibothri, (He talks about Prasii during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya)... In the parts which lie southward from the Ganges the inhabitants, already swarthy, are deeply coloured by the sun, though not scorched black like the Ethiopians.
1st century AD, Gangaridai is mentioned in Periplus of the Erythraean Sea:
- "... Sailing with the ocean to the right and the shore remaining beyond to the left, Ganges comes into view, and near it the very last land toward the east, Chryse. There is a river near it called the Ganges, and it rises and falls in the same way as the Nile. On its bank is a market-town which has the same name as the river, Ganges. Through this place are brought malabathrum and Gangetic spikenard and pearls, and muslin of the finest sorts, which are called Gangetic. It is said that there are gold-mines near these places."
2nd century AD, Gangaridai is mentioned by Ptolemy:
- "All the country about the mouths of the Ganges is occupied by the Gangaridai with this city : - Gange, the royal residence... 146- 19.15 degree."
3rd century, Gangaridai is mentioned by Dionysius Periegetes:
- "Next come the wild tribes of the Peukalensians, beyond whom lie the seats of the Gangaridae, worshippers of Bacchus, ... the land here projects into the deep whirling ocean in steep precipices, over which the fowls of heaven in swift flight can hardly wing their way."
From 9th till 16th century:
- A Jain monk of Rara is mentioned in an inscription from Mathura.
- Radha's queen's imprisonment by Chandella is mentioned in the epigraphic records from Kajuraho.
- Radha is mentioned as being the ancestral settlement of Senas; in the Naihati Copper plate inscription of Vallalasena.
- Radha is mentioned as being a waterless, dry and woody region; in the Bhuvaneshvara inscription of Bhatta Bhavadeva.
- The division of Lada into North and South is mentioned in the Tirumulai rock inscription of Rajendra Chola. (11th century)
- The same division of Radha is also mentioned in the Gaonri Plates of Vakpati Munja (10th century), in Shridharacharya's Nyayakandali, in the Amareshvara Temple inscription of Mandhata (Nimar district in Madhya Pardesh), in Krsna Mishra's Prabodha-Chandrodaya and in Mukundarama's Chandimangal (16th century)
According to Acaranga Sutra Mahavira travelled in 'Ladha' in Vajjabhumi and Subbhabhumi at a time (5th Century BC) when the country was lawless and the people were harsh at him. Alexander the great was supposed to have been discouraged to come to eastern India due to the power of the 'Gangaridae'.
The Bhubaneswar inscription of Bhavadeva Bhatta records that "Radha was a waterless, dry and woody region".
Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay, the famous Bengali historian says: "During Chandragupta Maurya's rule Gangaridae was independent like the Andhra kingdom and Gangaridae was joined with Kalinga(ancient Orissa)." It is interesting that the description of the armed forces of Gangaridae and Calingae during the reign of Chandragupta Maurya as given by Megasthenes are identical (both possessed army of 60,000 foot-soldiers, 1,000 horsemen and 700 elephants).
Outstanding personalities of Rarh
Rarh presented human society the first philosopher Maharishi Kapil who was born near Jahlda. Maharishi Patanjali who systematized yoga was born in Patun village in Burdwan. Kashiram Das from Siddhi village in Burdwan made the Mahabharata in lucid language accessible to the people and Krittivas Ojha did the same with the Ramayana. Others were born in Rarh or were by lineage from Rarh such as: Lochandas Thakur, Vrindavandas Thakur, Govindadas Thakur, Dvaja Chandidas, Dina Chandidas, Boru Chandidas, Ghanaram Chakravorty, Kavikankan Mukundaram Chakravorty, Bharatchandra Ray, Premendra Mitra, Sharatchandra, Tarashankar Bandopadhyay, the poet Jaydev, Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Michael Madhusudan Dutta, Kazi Nazrul Islam, Satyen Dutta, Rajshekhar Basu (Parashuram), Shubhankar Das, Kashana, Jayanta Panigrahi, Ishwarchandra Vidyasagar, Satyendranath Bose, Rashbehari Bose, Prafulla Chandra Roy, Subhas Chandra Bose, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Swami Vivekananda, Shri Aurobindo, Raja Rammohan Roy, Kaliprasanna Singha, Ramprasad Sen, Keshab Chandra Sen, Akshay Kumar Datta, Devendranath Tagore, Dwarakanath Tagore, Thakur Shri Nityananda, Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Thakur Krshnadas Kaviraj, Yamini Ray, Ramkinkar Baij, Kalidasa and others.
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- Schoff, Wilfred H. (1912). The Periplus of the Erythraean Sea. pp. 47–48.
- "Bangalar Itihash" (History of Bengal) by Rakhaldas Bandyopadhyay V-I, p. 23 cited in Gangaridai.