Gaya - two hundred years ago

The town of Gaya, in about 1810 AD, consisted of two parts : one the residence of the priests, which properly was called Gaya ; and the other the residence of lawyers and tradesmen, which was originally called Elahabad, but later on,as developed by a renowned collector  “Saheb”- Mr.Thomas Law, it was called Sahebgunj.

The old City of Gaya

Sahebgunj and Gaya was a beautiful country, finely varied with scattered hills and rocks. The Raja of Tikari`s house was much concealed by the earthen ramparts of the fort, by which it was surrounded. The old town of Gaya was on a rocky eminence between a hill and the Phalgu river and Sahebgunj was situated on a plain, on the bank of the Phalgu, south from a hill named Ramsila. Between the two towns was an open sandy space called the Rumnah or chase, but the court houses had occupied a part of this, and the remainder was taken up by the houses and gardens of the few Europeans at the station. These were small buildings, and the grounds and roads in the vicinity were not near so good, as might have been expected from the number of convicts in jail,who were used for the civil work on those days. 
Mahabodhi temple(Artist- Crockatt, James ,1800 AD)

The buildings for the accommodation of the Zila courts were good. The streets in Sahebgunj were wide, perfectly straight, and kept in good order, although not paved ; and in general there was a double row of trees, leaving in the middle a road for carriages, with a foot way on each side. The foot ways were usually occupied by hucksters, or by part of the families and furniture of the adjacent houses.

The buildings were not equal to the design of the town, the greater part of them being mud walled huts of one story ; but in general they were covered with tiles. There were some good brick houses and neat gardens, especially one belonging to Raja Mitrajit of Tikari : on the whole, Sahebgunj was one of the neatest place in Bihar. 

Bungalows on the shore of Lake Mora at Gaya, viewed from the hills,
Artist: Jairam Das Medium: WatercolourDate: 1836

This town also had an hospital for the reception of sick. Every one that applied was received ; but almost the only patients were destitute pilgrims, taken ill on the spot, and persons who had suffered violence, and were placed by the magistrate in charge of the surgeon. Two gates like triumphal arches, and evidently planned by an European, were standing at two ends of a street ; erected by either Mr. Law or to Mr. Seton, intended to form an inn (saray). A wall behind each side of the street, and a guard at each of the gates had been erected to secured the property of the lodgers, and the street had been formed of chambers for their reception.
The buildings of old town of Gaya were much better than those of Sahebgunj
, the greater part of the houses being of brick and stone, and many of them having two or even three stories. The architecture was very singular, with corners, turrets and galleries projecting with every possible irregularity. This style of building, and its elevated situation, rendered a distant view of the town picturesque, although the small number and size of the windows produced a gloomy appearance. The streets were narrow, crooked, dirty, uneven, and often filled with large blocks of stone or projecting angles of rock, over which the people had for ages clambered, rather than take the trouble to remove such impediments.. The best houses towards the market places had sheds erected in front of the lower story, and these were let to petty traders and artificers, who kept them in the most slovenly condition. In both towns these galleries or shops were often painted very gaudily with strange caricatures, although not meant for such, of beasts, men and gods. 
General view of the city of Gaya from the Fulga River Dated 29 December 1824,Artist: D'Oyly, Sir Charles (1781-1845)

The two places constituting Gaya were said to have been found to contain 6OOO houses in 1810 AD . The place was extremely populous, a great many strangers being constantly on the spot, and the pilgrims and their followers often amount to several thousands. 

When Sahebgunj was built, there no longer existed an occasion for fortifications, but old Gaya had been often attacked, and sometimes plundered. The sanctity of the place would had been no security against Mahrattas and, when these invaded the district, the priests boldly formed themselves into 14 companies, to each of which was entrusted the defence of an entrance into the town. Except at these entrances the houses and a few walls formed a continued barrier, and the projecting angles, and small windows of the houses formed a strong defence, so that the Mahrattas were on all occasions repulsed. 

Many Jamindars and other war  like persons retiring to the town with their families and effects, gave a great addition to the power of the priests. During the subversion of the Mogul government the same vigour saved the town from the rapacity of Kamgar Khan, chief of the Mayis. 

In 1800 AD,Gaya contained many religious buildings. Buniyadgunj, opposite and a little below Sahebgunj, contained 1200 houses, mainly occupied by weavers. Tikari, the residence of Raja Mitrajit, contained about 500 houses, built like Sahebgunj, and was adjacent to his fort or castle. The fort had a good earthern rampart with bastions fit for guns, and a large wet ditch and has resisted many attacks. Kinar, east from Shahebgunj seven cos, contains 400 houses. Besides these Angti, Koch, Futehpur, Dekuli, Mawak, Baona, Majurahanda, and Salimpur were small towns containing from 250 to 100 houses.

The Hindu places of worship were numerous and of great celebrity.About five or six centuries ago in Gaya, as a place of worship, the Temple of Gadadhar was founded, and this was the first large building that was erected. The only other temple of note, the Vishnupada was some more recent.

The Main place of worship in Gaya ,over that period ,among the Muslims was the Imamvara north from Sahebgunj.
Here on day of the Karbala, about 20,000 people assembled to celebrate the grandsons of the prophets ; but many of the most active performers were Hindus. 

  • The History, Antiquities, Topography, and Statistics of Eastern India: Behar (1838) By Robert Montgomery Martin Publisher W.H. Allen and Co.,London.
  • Urban development in India (1978) Author Kamaldeo Narain Singh, Publisher -Abhinav Publications