Bihar and Orissa District Gazetteers: Puri

AUTHOR

L.S.S. O’Malley, Indian Civil Service (Revised edition by P.T. Mansfield, I.C.S)

COPYRIGHT

Superintendent, Government Printing, Bihar and Orissa

PUBLICATION DATE

01 Jan, 1929

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FOCUS

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 1929, describes various aspects of Odisha’s Puri 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 had two main divisions: the headquarters subdivision, which occupied three-fifths of the total area, and the hilly Khurda subdivision. The district got its name from the town of Puri, which was then called Jagannath by ‘up-country Hindus’ and Purushottam Kshetra locally. Puri was (and still is) home to the 12th century Jagannath temple, which attracted (and still attracts) Hindu devotees from across the country every year. Situated on the northwestern shore of the Bay of Bengal, the town was also a favoured holiday resort for Indians and Europeans because of its pleasant weather.

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.

    FACTOIDS

  1. According to the 1921 census, the district of Puri had an area of 2,499 square miles (over 6,472 square kilometres) and a total population of 951, 651 persons.

  2. The average population density was 382 persons per square mile (approx. 147.5 persons per square kilometre). It was highest in the Pipli thana (or police station area), where the soil was fertile (270.3 persons per square kilometre) and lowest in the Banpur thana, which consisted of hills and reserved forests (104.6 persons per square kilometre).

  3. The gazetteer says that Puri district had three tracts with distinct characteristics: a belt of sandy ridges along the sea, a fertile, alluvial tract with rice fields, and another tract with long hill ranges and isolated peaks. The Khurda subdivision, with almost all the hills, has the conspicuous peaks of Solar, Bhelari, Baitha and Barunai.

  4. The gazetteer traces the history of the region, from prehistoric times to the reigns of Emporer Ashoka, the Mauryan dynasty, King Kharavela, the Kesari kings, the Eastern Ganga kings, the ‘Muhammadan’ kings, the Suryavansha dynasty, the Maratha rulers and finally, the British.

  5. Tribes like the Savar and the Pan, according to the gazetteer, were the likely original occupants of the region. Over time, they were dispossessed and reduced to slaves by other tribes.

  6. An entire chapter of the gazetteer is dedicated to the history, mythology and worship of Lord Jagannath. It says that Puri was home to various religious beliefs, including Animism, Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism.

  7. According to the 1921 census, 65 per cent of the population was involved in agriculture, 12 per cent in industry and nearly 9 per cent in trade. Fishing was an important occupation too, and the district had an open coast that allowed for deep-sea fishing.

  8. In 1848-49, there were 9 schools with 279 students in Puri district. By 1868-69, the numbers had grown – 63 schools with 4,000 students. By 1926-27, there were a total of 38,000 students with 32,000 boys and 6,000 girls.

  9. The climate in the region was mostly ‘healthy’, according to the gazetteer, that is, not prone to causing malaria and other diseases. The north was comparatively ‘healthier’ than the south, as the latter was often flooded during the rains and remained submerged for long periods before the water completely drained out or dried up.

  10. The Puri Forest Division, which stretched over 1,227 square kilometres of reserved and protected forestland in 1929, was in the Khurda subdivision. The casuarina plantation to the east of Puri (2,000-3,000 acres of the sandy tract acquired by the Forest Department) was different from the other reserved forests in the district because its thriving forests acted as a barrier to the sand blown inland and its wood was used for fuel in the town.

  11. The region’s rivers could be divided into three groups: those of the Khurda subdivision in the north, those of the delta (the Kuakhai, its tributaries and offshoots), and a group of rivers to the east (the Prachi, the Kadna and the Devi). The river Daya formed a natural boundary separating the plains in the south-east from the hills in the north-west.

  12. Rainfall in the area was unpredictable. The plains, with a large area of cultivable land, were susceptible to heavy floods that would destroy crops, whereas the hills would likely suffer from drought in some parts. In 1924, the government appointed a committee to study the floods in Orissa and minimise the losses brought about by them.

  13. The health of people was reported to have improved in the town of Puri due to the completion of drainage schemes implemented between 1895 and 1916.

  14. The deaths due to diarrhoea and dysentery in the district were the highest in the province. Filariasis, elephantiasis and similar infections are endemic to Puri, and the district was prone to frequent epidemics of small pox. In the gazetteer’s reckoning, vaccinations were unpopular in Puri because people were conservative and superstitious.

    Factoids and Focus compiled by Aditi Chandrasekhar.