Patna - two hundred years ago

It is told by the historians that the fort and city of Patna were built by  Azim, the grandson of Aurangzeb, and that Patliputra had long been completely  destroyed when that prince arrived to Patna.                                                        

This historical sketch of Patna in 1838  was furnished to Dr.  Buchanan by an anonymous Indian draftsman (Click on the image to enlarge)
In the year 1611, a convention of Afgan chiefs assembled at Patliputra, which was then the capital of Bihar.It appeared that about that time the town was not only fortified, but had within the walls a palace, where the Subah resided. The inscription on the gate of the fort was dated in the Hijri 1042,which  attribute its erection to Feroz Jung Khan.

It is alleged, that until the Mahratta invasion, the city walls contained all the inhabitants, and its main increase and prosperity seem to have been owing to the European commercial factories.
The English, Dutch, Danes and French had factories there, and traded to a great extent, especially in cotton cloth. This trade had no doubt suffered, and although that of saltpeter and opium had increased.
The city of Patna, including the suburbs, was about six miles in length, and skirt the Ganges. The breadth, in no place, exceeded half a mile. There was one street tolerably wide that run from the eastern to the western gate, but it was by no means straight not regularly built. Every other passage was narrow, crooked, and irregular. The great street, when it break into sloughs, was occasionally repaired with earth thrown in by the convicts, the others were left to nature. Paving, cleaning and lighting were totally out of the question. In the heats of spring the dust was beyond credibility, and in the rains every place was covered with mud. In the rainy season there was in the town a considerable pond or lake.

The main road in the city, was very much
crowded. The inside of the town was disagreeable and disgusting. At a little distance south from the walls, there was
no building that over tops the intervening trees, and no bustle to indicate the approach to a city.
 The view from the river,
owing to the European houses scattered along its bank, was great and was enlivened by a great number of fine formed women who bring water. However, the appearance of the town from thence, especially
in the dry season, was an irregular high steep bank of clay without herbage, and covered with all manner of impurities.

Eastern gateway of Patna City . 26 October 1824
Artist: D'Oyly, Sir Charles (1781-1845)

There were houses made of brick along the main street of Patna city
lower story of these houses, towards the street, being let for shops to low tradesmen or even to artificers. Many of the British inhabitants afforded to reside in this part of the town, and it was fashionable for the wealthy people to have country houses. The Nawab Bakur Ali Khan had a house there, but this was formerly occupied by an European gentleman, and had been bought by the Nawab with a view to receive visits from the Europeans.Kasinath, a rich banker, was the only person, who had a country house ; where both the buildings and garden were neat, and of a respectable size ; but was used very rarely, and that only on festivals and entertainments, and his family constantly resided in the town. 
This was one of the main European settlements in India, being the seat of a court of ap
peal, of a city judge and magistrate, of the collector of a very fertile district, of a custom-house, of a commercial resident, of an opium agent, and of a provincial battalion.


The houses of the  English residents, were all at the west-end, called " Bankipore"The greater part of the English residences were on the
banks of the river, many of them being on the northern side of an open square, which formed the parade ground, and racecourse(Present Gandhi maidan). The collector`s house was at the south-west corner of the square, enclosed in spacious grounds, and about a quarter of a mile from the jail. At a distance of about four miles east of Bankipore, in the heart of the city, was the Opium Godown, a large building enclosed within high and strong walls, where all the opium of the district was stored and manufactured for transmission to Kolkata.

The inside of the opium godown at Patna, showing a staircase rising on increasingly high arches
Artist: Sita Ram (1810-1822)

Date: 1814

The main attraction of Bankipore was the maidan, around which were a large number of very fine European residences, standing in well-laid-out gardens and grounds sloping to the brink of the river Ganga There was also the Gola (Presently,Golghar) a wondrous bell-shaped building, one hundred feet high, with a winding outer staircase leading to the top, and a small entrance door at the base. This monstrous mass of brick- work, was intended for a granary, to be filled when there was the expectation of famine, but the plan was found to be, both politically and materially, impracticable. After the terrible famine in this neighbourhood in 1770. it was determined by the Government of the day that a storehouse should be built in which grain could be kept for relief purposes in the future, but the outcome of that really praiseworthy project was the construction of a building which, on completion, was found to be absolutely useless. This brick structure, known as " The Gola" was built in the shape of an ordinary straw beehive, and it was intended that grain should be poured through an aperture at the top, and that when it was required it should be drawn from doors in the wall on the level of the ground  floor.
Golghar at Bankipur, Patna, 1814-15 
(Artist Robert Smith)

But, to the discomfiture of the Government officials, the contractor, and all who had any part or lot in the scheme, it was discovered that the doors had been made to open inwards instead of outwards !
Continued in the next page...