Bihar and Orissa District Gazetteers: Cuttack
Before Independence, British administrators in India published imperial district gazetteers, including those for Angul, Balasore, Cuttack, Koraput, Puri and the ‘Feudatory States of Orissa’. This gazetteer, published in 1933, describes various aspects of Odisha’s Cuttack district. It surveys the district’s economy, society, politics and administrative setup, as well as its history, geography, climate, biodiversity and natural resources.
The gazetteer says that the district was divided into two valleys by three big rivers: the Mahanadi to the south, the Baitarni to the north, and the Brahmani between the two. Its principal town Cuttack, located along the Mahanadi, was the administrative headquarters of the district and the Orissa Division. The district was spread over 3,644 square miles (over 9,437 square kilometres) and had a population of 2.17 million (2,176,707 persons), according to the 1931 Census.
The gazetteer says that indigenous tribes such as the Khond in the south, the Gond in the west, the Ho, and Bhumij and Santal settlers in the north, probably migrated to Orissa (now Odisha) in historic times. Others like the Savar, the Juang and the Pan were most likely indigenous to the region. However, the absense of reliable data made distinctions between the original inhabitants and migrants difficult. In the gazetteer’s view, caste discrimination and religious superstition were “great obstacles in the way of progress,” particularly with respect to education.
After Independence, in 1957, the responsibility of compiling the district gazetteers was transferred from the Centre to the states. In 1999 (in Odisha), this responsibility was transferred from the Revenue Department to the Gopabandhu Academy of Administration.
The district had three distinct tracts: a marshy woodland strip, a cultivated alluvial plain and a ‘broken’ hilly region.
The alluvial plains were the best suited for agriculture. They were classified based on their elevation and composition into (i) lowlands or jala (wetlands) where rice, the staple crop, was grown; (ii) highlands, with dark, manure-enriched soil or kala, where vegetables, cotton and jute were grown; (iii) riverside lands or pala where tobacco and mustard were grown.
The gazetteer traces the history of the region in chapter two, from its rule under the Anava race to the Nanda empire, Emperor Ashoka, the Mauryan dynasty, King Kharavela, the Andhra dynasty, the Kesari kings, the Eastern Ganga kings, the ‘Muhammadan’ kings, the Suryavansha dynasty, the Maratha rulers and the British.
Other than ‘rough attempts’ to put together estimates, there was no record of a ‘regular’ census in the district before 1872. This census recorded a population of 1.49 million with an average density of 470 persons per square mile.
Subsequent censuses in 1881 and 1891 showed that the population had grown to 1.73 million and 1.93 million, respectively. The growth rate increased during this period, despite the great cyclone in 1885 (that destroyed 45 villages) and repeated outbreaks of cholera.
Drought and crop failure in 1918 led to a wave of illnesses (malaria, cholera, fever, dysentery and small pox) and deaths (93,000 persons) that swept through the district that year and the next. The 1921 Census recorded a decrease in the population, from 2.1 million (1911 Census) to 2.06 million. However, in the 1931 Census, the population had grown to 2.17 million.
Cuttack, like other districts in Orissa, had a “marked excess” of women (1,117 females for every 1,000 males) in the rural areas. In the towns, however, there were 850 females for every 1,000 men.
Oriya (now Odia) was the mother tongue of the majority of people, but Bengali, Hindi, Telugu and English were also spoken in the region.
The region was a major pilgrim centre for Hindus, who accounted for a majority of the population (96.7 per cent). The ‘Muhammadan’ population was a close second at 3.03 per cent of the population.
The Khandait (“peasant militia under the ancient Rajas of Orissa”) were the largest caste group in the district. Other major caste groups were the Chasa (an agricultural caste), the Brahmans (a priestly caste), the Gaura (a pastoral caste), and the Pan (weavers and labourers).
The number of schools recognised by the government in Cuttack rose from 3 with a total of 168 students in 1856-57 to 50 with a total of 2,755 students in 1870-71. By 1875, there were 539 schools with 10,196 students, and by 1885 the number was 4,736 schools with 65,000 students. Ravenshaw College, the only college in Orissa, was in Cuttack.
The 1931 Census showed that 5.35 lakh persons earned their living from pasture or agriculture, either as ‘direct earners’ or ‘working dependents’, and for 54,971 persons, agriculture was a subsidiary occupation. These figures did not account for the large number of non-earning dependents.
Silver filigree work was the most prominent industry in the district. The gold and silver industry provided employment to around 2,400 families.
The chief article of export was rice; other exports included oil seeds, hides, jute, timber, horns, feathers, bones, panasi grass, wax and resin. The principal imports were piece goods, kerosene oil, glassware, crockery, lead, copper, zinc, gold and cotton yarn. Exports greatly exceeded imports, whether by rail, river, road, canal or sea.
Focus and Factoids by Aditi Chandrasekhar.
Indian Civil Service
Second Edition by E.R.J.R. Cousins, Indian Civil Service
Superintendent, Government Printing, Bihar and Orissa, Patna
01 Jan, 1933