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Birbhum district,West Bengal

Birbhum district 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 in Suri. Jamtara, Dumka and Pakur districts of the state of Jharkhand lie at the western border of this district; 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 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.

History
Prehistory

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.

Medieval age

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.

Modern era

During the time of British East India Company, the administrative unit by the name Birbhum was formed in 1787. Before 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 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.