Saturday, 8 February 2014


According to Mirza Nathan’s Baharistan-i-ghaybi, Islam Khan, the Mughal emperor Jehangir’s Subahdar in Bengal sent out Seikh Kamal in A.D. 1608 to conquer Birbhum, Punchet and Hijli. Seikh kamal first marched against Bir Hambir who submitted to the imperial forces without a fight. He not only recognized the suzerainty of the Mughal Subahdar, but also supported the Mughal army in its march against the “Zemindar” of Birbhum, Shams Khan, and against the then incumbent to Hijli’s Salim Khan.

The Baharistan-i-ghaybi, (Vol. I translated by M.L.Borah, Gauhati, 1939) is a little confusing here. It gives the names of three “Kingdoms” and three ‘zeminders’ but explicitly associates only Salim Khan with Hijli, and leaves the association of other two ‘zeminders’ with two other ‘kingdoms’ entirely to our Historian’s guess. But Bir Hambir, was the king of Vishnupur (in present Bankura district), which place fails to find a mention in Mirza Nathan’s account, making the confusion worse confounded. There is, however, a clue in the account about Shams Khan’s seat of authority. But it is difficult to locate the ‘Darni Hill’ where Shams Khan’s seat was supposed to have been located. Jadu Nath Sarkar (History of Bengal, Vol.II, 1948) associates Bir Hambir with the ‘zemindery’ of Birbhum; an association not supported by any historical record. Moreover, Birbhum, until Warren Hasting’s time, was ruled by a Afgan house. Sarkar also associates Shams Khan with Punchet which, was never under the rule of any Muslim family. So one should like to associate Shams Khan with Birbhum. There is some circumstancial evidences for believing that Bir Hambir of Vishnupur was concurrently the ruler of Punchet or Panchakot at the time of Siekh Kamal’s expedition.

Writing about the fort of Panchakot or Garh Panchakot, supposed to have been the seat of authority of panchakot kingdom. H. Coupland started: “The date of the fort is more or less definitely fixed by two of its gates, ...on which there are duplicate inscriptions in Bengali characters referring to a Shri Vir Hamira, and giving the date Samvat 1657 or 1659, i.e, about 1600 A.D. Vira Hamira is apparently the Bir Hambir of Birbhum Raj...It is a mater of question whether the fort was built by him or subsequently captured by the Punchet Raja, or (built) by the Punchet Raja for his own protection against Vira Hamira and perhaps also against the Muhammadans. The reason of its abandonment is not known” (Bengal District Gazetteers: Manbhum, Calcutta, 1911). Indeed, legends connected with the Malla family of Vishnupur credit Bir Hamber with extensive conquests and subjugation of the kings of the neighboring territories. But the king of Panchet probably regained his fort and territories from Vishnupur Raj before A.D. 1932. In a Royal fireman dated either A.D. 1632 of 1633, we got a specific reference to Punchet zamidary; in a inter-alia stated “Bir Narayan, zamidar of Panchet, a country attached to Subah Bihar, was a commander of 300 horses and died in the sixth year.”

 Garh Panchakot is a village in Neturia P.S. at the southern foot of the Panchet hill. Where the ruins of the fort of the powerful rajas of Panchet mentioned in the 17th century Baharistan-i-ghaybi, of Mirza Nathan, can now be seen. G. D. Beglar records two inscriptions on two of the gates, referring to one Sri Hamira, who was possibly the same as the King Bir Hambir of Vishnupur. All except possibly one of the temples in the fort appear to date from the 17th or more probably, the 18th century and has no definite affinity with the Vishnupur temples, save the tower of the westerly Pancha-ratna temple, which is like those at the single-towered temples. Beglar mentions a number of massively build temples on the side of the hill overlooking the fort (having doms and arches in the Islamic fashion.) but they are not easily accessible now. The largest with a domes mahamandapa, was said to have been built by king Raghunath, son of Bir Hambir of Vishnupur.

The temples inside the fort are now dilapidated. Of the two monds, one consists of toppled-down sand stone blocks. The only other stone temple of laterite was the one referred to by block as an exact duplicate of the temple of Ragunath on the hill. The best preserved, but still very badly ruined, amoung the temples are both of Pancha-ratna design, with pillared porches on all four sids, and decorated in curved bricks (terracotta). These terracottas, consisting of small panels carves before they were backed, are totally unlike the curved brickwork of the pre-Muslim deuls. The temple on the west is the more extensively decorated-both on the interior and exterior facades. In 1965, the outerwalls were seem to have collapsed on the east and west, and many of the terracotta panels had already been taken away by souvenir hunters, but enough remained to show the richness and variety typical of this art, rows of figures, floral bands and geometrical motifs.

These temples are now empty, the images having been removed to the thakurbari of the Rajas of Kashipur, who took the images with them when the family moved from Panchet to Kashipur. Like the Visnupur temples these temples were also related to the cult of Krishna under various names like Shyamchand, Radharaman, Radha-Shyam, Madangopal, Damodar, Gopal and three hundred Salagrams . Besides this, The family worships Kali, under the name of Rajeswarimata, a traditional stone image of Durga, Ram-Sita-Lakshmana, Laksmi and other images. The temples which house them are modern flat roofed structures of Brick and cement.

Sources : 1. Bengal District Gazetteer, Manbhum ,1911
                  2. Bengal District Gazetteer, Purulia  Edited by O’Mally
                  3. Bengal District Gazetteer, Purulia  Edited by N.N. Sen.
                  4. A Tour Through Bengal Provinces in 1872-73 - J. D. Beglar ( A report
                      From Archaeological survey of india, Calcutta, Vol-III , 1878)
                  5. PASCHIMBANGER SANSKRITI  by Binoy Ghosh  ( Part-1)

Research : Santanu Roy.
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