1902 Encyclopedia > Dacca (Dhaka, Bangladesh)

(Dhaka, Bangladesh)

DACCA (now DHAKA, BANGLADESH), the principal district in the division of the same name, in Bengal, British India, situated between 20° 21’ 12" and 23° 6’ 30" N. lat. , and between 89° 47’ 50" and 91° 1’ 10" E. long. It is bounded on the N. by Maimansinh, on the E. by Tipperah, and on the S. and W. by Bakarganj and Faridpur. The district consists of a vast level plain, divided into two sections by the Dhaleswari river. The northern part, again intersected by the Lakshmia river, contains the city of Dacca, and as a rule lies well above flood-level. The soil is composed of red ferruginous kankar, with a stratum of clay in the more elevated parts, covered by a thin layer of vegetable mould, or by recent alluvial deposits. The scenery along the Lakshmia is very beautiful, the banks being high and wooded. About 20 miles north of Dacca city, small ridges are met with in the Madhupur jungle, stretching into Maimansinh district. These hills, however, are mere mounds of from 20 to 40 feet high, composed of red soil containing a considerable quantity of iron ore; and the whole tract is for the most part unproductive. Towards the city, the red soil is intersected by creeks and morasses, whose margins yield crops of rice, mustard, and til seed; while to the eastward of the town, a broad, alluvial, well-cultivated plain reaches as far as the junction of the Dhaleswari and Laksmia rivers. The country lying to the south of the Dhaleswari is the most fertile part of the district. It consists entirely of rich alluvial soil, annually inundated to a depth varying from 2 to 14 feet of water. the villages are built on artificial mounds of earth, so as to raise them above the flood level.

Rivers. – Dacca is watered by a network of rivers and streams, ten of which are navigable throughout the year by native cargo boats of four tons burthen. (1) The Meghna forms the eastern boundary of the district, separating it from Tipperah. (2) The Hanges, or Padma river, marks he western and south-western boundary, separating the district from Faridpur and Bakarganj. This river, here from three to four miles in width, is liable to frequent and extensive changes in its course; the old channel is now almost dry in the hot months. (3) The Lakshmia, a branch of the Brahmaputra, flows through the north of the district and empties itself into the Dhaleswari. (4) The Jamuna, or main stream of the Brahmaputra, only touches on the north-western corner of the district, where it joins the Ganges. (5) The Mendi-Khali, a large branch of the Meghna, communicates with the old Vrahmaputra. (6) The Dhaleswari, an offshoot of the Jamuna, intersects the district from west to east, and falls into the Meghna at Munshiganj. It has two large navigable branches, both of which reunite with the parent-stream, viz., (7) The Ghazi-khali and (8) the Buriganga.

Wildlife. --The wild animals comprise a few tigers, leopards, and wild elephants, deer, will hog, porcupines, jackals, foxes, hares, otters, &c. The green monkey is very common; porpoises abound in the large rivers. Among birds are vultures, crows, several varieties of eagles, fish eagles, kites, falcons, owls, swallows, kingfishers, woodpeckers syamas, green paroquets, spoonbills, saras, manikjors, herons, pelicans, shill ibis, adjutants, bulbuls, gulls, cormorants, coots, plovers, snipe, pigeons, doves, partridges, wild geese and ducks, &c. A trade is carried on in bird feathers, principally in those of the kingfisher tribe. The common fishes are the shark, ray, saw-fish, anwari or mullet, tapsi machh or mango fish, hiulsam chital, katla, rui, migral, kai, khalisa, crabs, fish, prawns, &c. Crocodiles are found in most of the large rivers. Among snakes are the cobra, sanda, girgit, bamani, gosamp, python, &c., and several varieties of tree and water snakes.

Agriculture. – Rice forms the staple product of the district. It is divided into three great classes; - boro, or spring rice, sown from December to February, and reaped in April and May; aus, or autumn rice, sown from March to May, and reaped from July to September; ad aman, or winter rice (the great crop of the year), sown from March to May, and reaped in November and December. Wheat and barley are cultivated to a small extent; pulses are largely grown; also oilseeds, such as mustard, til, and linseed. Cotton was formerly a staple product, but since the decline of the fine Dacca Muslims, due to the introduction of Machester goods, its cultivation has almost entirely ceased. Jute cultivation has enormously extended of late years. The other crops raised are indigo, sugar-cane, pan or betel leaf, cocoa-nut, turmeric, ginger, tobacco, and safflower. Of the area of the district in 1870 (viz., 3217 square miles) 2245 are returned as cultivated, 24 as fallow land, 672 as cultuivable waste land, and 276 as uncultivable. No statistic exist showing the cultivation of each kind of crop. But roughly speaking, it may be said that in the rains three-fifths of the cultivated area is under rice, one-fifth is fallow or uncultivated, and one-fifth under jute; and that in the dry season, two-fifths is under oil seeds and pulses, two-fifths fallow or uncultivated, and one-fifth under other crops.

Industry. -- The manufactures consist of weaving, embroider, gold and silver work, shell carving, and pottery. The weaving industry and the manufacture of fine Dacca Muslims have greatly fallen off, owing to the competition of European piece goods. Forty different kinds of cloth were formerly manufactured in this district, the bulk of which during many years was made from English twist, country thread being used only for the finest Muslims. Those of the most delicate texture were known by the name of ab-rawan, or "running water," and shabnam, or "evening dew." It is said that, in the time of the Emperor Jahangir, a piece of ab-rawan muslim, 15 feet by 3, could be manufactured, weighing only 5 sikkas, or 900 grains, its value being £40. in 1840, the finest cloth that could be made of the above dimensions weighed about 9 sikkas, or 1600 grains, and was worth £10. Since then the manufacture has still further decayed and the finer kinds are not now made at all except to order. The manufacture of indigo is largely carried on with European capital. The great trading centers are Narainganj and madanganj, a the confluence of the Laksmia and Dhaleswari rivers, on opposite banks. Narainganj may be termed the port of Dacca, from which it is distant about 9 miles by land, and 16 or 18 by water. it constitutes the great south-eastern mart on the Jamuna, and has regular steam communication with Calcutta and the Assam districts. The general revenue of the district increased from £86,926 in 1860-61 to £111,620 in 1870-71; and the civil expenditure in the same period from £44,666 to £49,803. the land tax contributes about one-half of the general revenue, and amounted in 1870-71 to £53,672. There are 8 magisterial and 25 civil and revenue courts besides 1 honorary magistrate’s court, situated in the district. The regular police consists of a force of 430 officers and men, besides a municipal and rural police. For educational purposes, there is a Government college at Dacca city, together with 148 Government or aided schools, attended in 1871 by a total of 7155 pupils, besides numerous unaided village schools, for which no statistic exist.

Diseases. – Cholera and small-box occasionally visit the district in an epidemic form. The principal endemic diseases are – intermittent and remittent fever, elephantiasis, bronchocele, enlargement of the spleen, dysentery and diarrhoea, rheumatism, catarrh, whooping cough, bronchitis, opthalmia, cutaneous diseases, and intestinal worms. Cattle disease is also common. Five charitable dispensaries are maintained in the district, one of which, the Mitfold Hospital, is the largest institution of the kind in Bengal out of Calcutta. There are also a lunatic asylum and an almshouse for indoor paupers.

Population. – The Bengal census of 1872 returned the population of Dacca district at 1,852,993 persons (males 905,775; females, 947,218), distributed over 2897 over 2897 square miles, and residing in 5016 villages or towns, and 290,593 houses. The population is thus classified according to religion: - Hindus, 793,789, or 42-9 per cent.; Muhammadans, 1,050,131, or 56.7 per cent.; Buddhists, 4; Christians 7844, or 4 per cent; "other," 1225. The proportion of males in the district population was 48.9 per cent. Six towns contain a population of voer 5000, viz., - (1) Dacca city (q.v.) population 69,212; (2) Manikganj, population: Hindus, 6381; Muhammadans, 5159; and "others," 2-ttoal, 11,542; (3) Narainganj, population: Hindus, 5200; Muhammadans, 5694; and Christians, 17 – total, 10,911; (4) Sholaghai, population: Hindus, 4478; Muhammadans, 2047-total, 6525; (5) Hasara, population; Hindus, 4807; Muhammadans, 900 – total, 5707; (6) narisha, population: Hindus 2030; Muhammadans, 3570; Christians, 37 – total, 5645. The material condition of the people particularly of the cultivating classes, has greatly improved of late years owing to the increased prices of produce, and the cultivation of more valuable crops.

DACCA CITY, the principal place in the above district, is situated on the left or north bank of the Buriganga river. In 23° 43’ 20" N. lat. And 90° 26’ 10" E. long. The city is bounded on the E. by a low alluvial plain stretching to the Lakshmia river, and on the E. and N.W. by a tract of jungle interspersed with Muhammadan cemeteries, deserted gardens, mosques, and ruined houses. The streets, bazaars, and lanes extend four miles along the bank of the Buringanga, the breadth of the town being about 1 _ miles. The chauk, or market-place, lies at the west end, near the river bank. It is a square of considerable dimensions, surrounded by mosques and shops. The numerous streets which intersect the town are extremely crooked; and only a few are wide enough for wheeled conveyances. In parts the city, inhabited by particular castes, such as the weavers’ and shellcutters’ bazaars, where building ground lets at a high rent, many four-storied houses have a frontage of only 8 or 10 feet, while the side walls run back to a distance of twenty yards. Ht opposite ends of these buildings are roofed in; the middle part is left open, and constitutes a small court. The ruins of the English factory, St Thomas’s church, and the houses of the European residents lie along the banks of the river, and give the town a rather imposing appearance when viewed from the south . in the Armenian quarter are several large brick houses, for the most part now falling into decay. Of the old fort erected by Nawab Islam Khan, in the reign of the emperor Jahangir, no vestige remains; but the jail is built on a portion of its site. The principal Muhammadan public buildings, erected by subsequent governors and now in ruins are the Katra and the Lal-bagh Palace, the former built by Sultan Muhammad Shuja in 1645, in front of the chauk, or market place. its extensive front faced the river, and had a lofty central gateway, flanked by smaller entrances, and by two octagonal towers rising to some height above the body of the building. The Lal-bagh Palace was commenced bySultan Muhammad Azim, the third son of the Empero Aurangzeb. It originally stood close to the Buriganga river; but the channel has shifted its course, and there is now an intervening space covered with threes between it and the river. The walls on the western side, and the terrace and battlement towards the river, are of a considerable height, and present a commanding aspect from the water. these outworks, with a few gateways, the audience hall, and the baths, were the only parts of the bnuilding that survived in 1840. since then, their dilapidation has rapidly advanced; but even in ruin they show the extensive and magnificent scale on which this princely residence was originally designed. It appears never to have been completed; and when Tavernier visited Dacca, circ. 1666, the Nawab was residing in a temporary wooden building in its court. The English factory was built about that year. The central part of the old factory continued to be used as a court-house till the present century, but owing to its ruinous state it was pulled down in 1829 or 1830; in 1840 the only portion that remained was the outward wall. The French and Dutch factories were taken possession of by the English in the years 1778 and 1781 respectively.

The trade of Dacca, which formerly was considerable, has steadily declined since the beginning of this century. In 1800 the population of the city was estimated at 200,000, while a census in 1830 returned only 66,989 inhabitants. The city still continued to decline, and in 1867 its population was estimated at 51,636 only. The rise, however, of the jute trade in late years, and increased prices for country produce, have now begun to compensate for the loss of its cotton manufactures. The census of 1872 showed that the population of the city had increased to 69,212 souls (males, 37,395; female, 31817) made up as follows: - Hindus, 34,433; Muhammadans. 34,275; Christian, 479; "others," 25. Sanitary improvements are being carried out; and a wealthy Muhammadan gentleman lately gave a donation of £5000 for the purpose of providing the city with a pure water-supply, and in 1875 it was proposed to light the main thoroughfares with gas. The principal local institutions are the Mitford Hospital and the Dacca Government College. Two English and several vernacular newspapers are published in the town.

History. – Dacca first attained political importance between 1608 and 1612. inorder to check the depredations of Magh pirates from Chittagong, and the rebellions of the Afghans, it was found necessary to remove the seat of government of Bengal from Rajmahal to Dacca, where the Nawab Islam Khan erected a fort and increased the strength of the fleet and artillery, and changed the name of the town toJahangirnagar. Subsequently, in 1704, the capital of Bengal was removed to Murshidabad, and the government of Dacca and the eastern districts made over to a deputy of the Nawab Nazim. During the time of the Mughul government, the city was under the jurisdiction of a magistrate (faujdar) and six amins, who, with the police, were maintained by rent-free grants of land. The fleet consisted of 700 war boats and state barges. Dacca was also a depot for the Mughul artillery in Eastern Bengal, and possessed a mint. On the establishment of the British power the old officers and representatives of the native rulers were pensioned, but the title of Nawab was continued in the family until 1845, when it became extinct on the death of the last incumbent without heirs. The only event of historical importance in late years was the mutiny of 1857, when two companies of the 73rd Native Infantry, which were stationed in the town, joined in the revolt, but were overpowered by a small European force and dispersed. (W.W.H.)

The article above was written by Sir William Wilson Hunter, M.A., LL.D., C.E.I., K.C.S.I., Director-General of Statistics to the Government of India, 1871; edited the Imperial Gazeteer of India; author of A Brief Account of the Indian Peoples; A Statistical Account of Bengal and Assam; and Life of the Marquis of Dalhousie.

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