Murari Kumar Jha - The World of the Ganges River. The Political-Economy of the mid-Gangetic Basin, Bihar; c. 1600-1800

The MPhil dissertation has been organized in two chapters. The first chapter deals with geo-history of the mid-Gangetic basin along with positioning the rivers, plateau, mountains, soils, environment and jungles in the general narrative. This exercise helps us to situate the region in broader historical geographic perspective to be able to appreciate the changes in the early modern period. This chapter, then, closely follows the rhythms of sailing in the Ganges as it was practiced by the VOC (Vereenigde Oost-Indische Compagnie) sailors and merchants. The second chapter is more concerned with the economic and political processes in the mid-Gangetic basin and how natural environment impinged on these processes. It questions the notions of a centralized Mughal state and argues that there existed many territorial pockets in the strategic areas, particularly along the inner frontiers of Hindustan which were largely commanded by the powerful chieftains and zamindars. It shows how there emerged a spate of defiance and rebellion by the chieftains and zamindars of the Gangetic basin once the imperial centre was politically weakened. In this way, the mawas which were integrated into imperial fold or “regulation tract”, to borrow Jan Heesterman’s term, reverted back to mawas again after experiencing agricultural growth and agrarian resource accumulation. 

This study is based on three genres of sources such as Dutch unpublished sources, travel accounts of the Europeans who visited Gangetic basin and eastern India and some of the translated Persian sources. Amongst the Dutch sources, first is the official records such as Dagregister, Overgekomen Brieven en Papieren (OBP) along with others. Second is the sailing reports in the form of diary or Dagregister about the voyage in the Ganges from Hugli to Patna called Pattenase Togt. The reports of Patenase Togt are revealing in many respects as they shed light on the general conditions obtained along the banks of the Ganges. They talk about small and big market towns on the Ganges while sailing their way to Patna, commodities sold in those markets, indigenous ship-building centers, tolls collected at different places by the Mughal officials and local chieftains, difficulties of navigation, weather, storm and so forth. Indeed, the Dutch were not natives of the land, yet the way they collected the sources and cross-checked the information assures us better authenticity of the sailing reports or Pattenase Togt. They had employed many local people as “pions” to collect information and they often cross-checked one pion’s information with the two others separately.

Murari has graduated for his Research MA degree in 2009.

Last Modified: 05-08-2014