Palamu is one of the twenty four districts of the Eastern Indian state Jharkhand. From time immortal, Palamau portrays waves of unending small hillocks, dense forest and rain feed seasonal rivers. Its natural beauty, unpolluted air, forest resources and simple lifestyle of forest tribes attracted Indian writers, film makers and tourists for centuries. Through it is not too far from the East Indian urban centre it successfully retained its rustic virgin beauty.
It is situated at Auranga river about 20 miles south-east of Daltenganj (nowadays Medininagar). It is beyond southern limits of Bihar: spread over an uneven land, leading to the plateau of Chotonagpur( geologically one of the earliest land mass of our planet) in the south-east and the central provinces in the south west. In recent past the area faced severe maoist dominance. At present, not only the law and order situation becomes better; the entire district is equipped with new infrastructures.
The greatest tourist attraction of the area is the first Indian tiger reserve at Betla. At stone throwing distance to the main entrance of the tiger reserve there remain two relics of fort. The official website of Palamu opens with the image of one of these structures but we have not found any board(s) of Archaeological Survey of India around those relics.
Autonomous tribes probably inhabited the area in past. Kharwars, the Oraons and the Cheros practically ruled over the tract. Palamau, according to Mughal historians (Fifteenth Century), lay south of Patna, the distance from latter to the northern boundary of the former being 71 miles. It is likely that the Cheros territory extended upto Daudnagar or Arwal, where the remains of the Cheros forts have been found. Toward the north-east, the Cheros were mentioned by Abul Fazal as the principal Zamindars in Chai Champa (Ramgharh) and Pundag (Palamau). Very little is known about the Kharwar rulers of Palamau. Haraprasad Shastri in his quest for origin of Buddhhsim in Eastern India also came to this conclusion that the ethnic races ruled in the Chtonagpur zone were Cher – an offshoot of Dravidian aboriginals.
Prior to the domination of Palamau by the Cheros, Rakshel Rajputs held sway over the district. They have probably been assimilated in the indigenous population. The Rakshels had reached Palamau by moving through Rohtasgarh from the Rajputana area of Rajasthan. Later on they were thrown out by the Cheros. The area was probably inhabited by indigenous tribes in the past. Besides the Kharwars, Oraons and Cheros. other tribes related with Palamau were the Gonds, the Korwas, the Paharis and the Kisans.The Kharwars outnumbered other tribes.
In order to understand the real cause of many of the village disorders in Mughal times, we must bear in mind that the population was dynamic, not static. Internal movements of the people were constantly going on. In different generations different tribes migrated to new districts and tried to push away the older settlers in order to make home for themselves. A clan that had entered a district as servants and tenants, in a few generations grew strong enough to overthrow their masters and became the dominant race and owner of the land.
Three aboriginal races practically ruled over this tract. Inscriptions and other relics which have been found indicate a fairly developed civilization in spite of the jungles and comparative inaccessibility of the area. The Oraons had their head quarters at Rohtasgarh in the then Sahabad district. And there is every indication that for some time a portion of Palamau was ruled from the head quarters of Rohtasgarh. The Cheros reigned in Palamau for nearly 200 years and the most famous of Chero rulers was Medini Rai who according to tradition made himself lord paramount of the southern portions of Hazaribag and Sarguja ( in Madhya Pradesh).
Historians and local people of Palamau differ on the date the fort was built. However the conscious view is that the old fort was built by the Rakshels before the Chero dynasty. Raja Medini Rai, a tribal Chero king who ruled between 1662-1675, rebuilt the old fort, making it into a sprawling, impregnable and majestic structure overlooking the meandering Oranga river, surrounded by densely wooded hillocks. Raja Medini Rai was capable, upright and benevolent king known for his in-depth knowledge of warfare as well as his astute leadership.
As per the details kept in the local Government Museum, the fort belonged to the adivashi Chero King. Cheros fought gallantly against Mughal invasion from Akbar’s period. Ultimately in second half of seventeenth century Cheros were defeated by the Mughal army. The relic clearly indicates its Islamic face-lifting. As per Alamgirnama Mughal General Daud Khan demanded Cheros their tribute to Delhi and complete conversion of the Hindus to Islam. Cheros fiercely fought for their liberty and honour but were defeated. Even Daud was very slow in his progress with his army, as the area was a dense forest. He had to move by constructing road for his army ; hence his marching in Palamau was in snail’s pace(1660-1661).
The mammoth size of both the relics clearly indicate that once upon a time a huge urban and military population was there within a dense forest. Chero King Medini Rai or his linage might have accumulated tremendous resources but how did they erect such structures within the dense forest? That means Cheros inherited the basic structures and then renovated as per their own requirement. Chero kings are termed as Vanvashi kings. It is clearly indicated that during Chero’s regime the fortification was within the forest.
It is clear that during a glorious past a huge human civilization with urban influence might have flourished in and around today’s Betla, might be the place was urbanized not like the deep forest which is recorded since 1660. Interestingly, the locals available as drivers of jeeps, guides of the jungle trail and mahout of the elephant safari at the main gate of the Betla National Park are practicing Muslims- that might be the signature of Daud Khan’s invasion.
As often happens in the annals of history when an able ruler passes away, the entire dynasty fall apart as was evident following Raja Madini Rai’s death due to power struggles and in-fighting in the ruling family. The administration slowly and indirectly passes into the hands of various ministers and advisors who are driven by personal gain rather than dynasty. It is difficult to ascertain who the real betrayers were but the dynasty struggled with controversies and lacked any real achievement, starting from the reign of Raja Pratap Rai to that of Raja Rudra Rai, Raja Dikpal Rai, Sahab Rai, Joy Kishan Rai, and finally Chiranjit Rai.
We came across certain pre-independence records of both forts under British Administration in Imperial Gazetteer of India and annual report of Archaeological Survey of India- mentioning some fund requirement of proposed renovation. The history of the Forts under British Raj had a very common pattern – Hindu native landlords of Palamau under British protection, inheritance disputes, placement of more puppet Hindu landlords, aboriginal rebellion, failure of paying revenue to the administration, and ultimately the entire Palamau forest and the decadent forts went under the sole British control. (By the middle of July 1771, the East India Company established its authority over the whole Palamau). During our research we came to know of one thesis paper of Tahir Hussain Ansari, where in 2008, he was referring to one portrait in connection with the Mughal invasion of Palamau Fort (he mentioned that the masterpiece was in Mannulal Librbrary, Gaya). In relation to this portrait, Ansari took the words of W.W.Hunter for describing the foot solders “…..majority are black, with loin cloth, and bare heads and bare feet, bows with one curve and plenty of arrows, besides which some have spears, some swords and some shields.” Does it not represent Indian independence ? The 1857 Sepoy Mutiny is now embalmed as the first struggle for Indian Independence – why are we forgetting about the Cheros ? is not this portrait important to the modern day Indians ? Is not this portrait a piece for national archive ?
It is clear that the property (fort) was in its deploring condition during British Raj but unfortunately it remained in the worst state today. It appears that from 1660 onwards the structures are standing within the forest without slightest of maintenance. Now in our country a drive is carried out for revisiting our glorious past for rewriting a truthful history of our country. Is anyone working on those forts?
The aboriginals of Palamau were known for their fierce sense of liberty- it was amply recorded during entire British Raj time and again. Might be the same spirit somehow went in these structures; human civilization and administration of the country have forgotten about them but somehow they kept themselves stood tall within a dense forest and challenging nature against their intended oblivion .
Research: Santanu Roy and Abhijyan Basu.
Photography: Debabrata Roy.
1. Ain-I -Akbari by Abul Fazal . Ed. Saiyed Ahmad Khan. 1986.(pdf file)
2. The comprehensive history of Bihar, The Cheros by K.S. Singh ed. Sayd Hasan Askari
and Q. Ahmad.
3. Bahiristan-I -Ghalybi By Mirza Nathan, Vol-1. Tr. by B.I. Borah. Guwahati 1936.
4. The Statistical Account of Bengal by William Wilson Hunter.
5. A historical account of Chotanagpur. Journal of Historical Research, 1960. Voll-3
6. Dynamics of Tribal migration of India by Ranjit Toppo. Xavier Institute of social
Service (Ranchi, India)
7. History of Aurangzeb (Northern India, 1658-1681) by Acharya Jadunath Sarkar.
2nd. Edition. Published by S.C.Sarkar (pdf).
8. India : An illustrated Tribal World by Hrisikesh Mondal, Sumit Mukherjee & Archana
Dutta. Anthropological Survey of India.
9. Haraprasad Shastri Rachanaboli- Part-3, Article "Bouddha Dharma Kothay Gelo"
Publishing Year 1917.
10. "The Cheros of Palamau" by Tahir Hussain Ansari. An article published in Sodhganga.
11. Lastly, Mr. Debabrata Roy. a wildlife enthusiast, without his cordial help and co- operation , we could not proceed to document this remarkable fort.