Bengal District Gazetteers: Angul
L.S.S. O’Malley, Indian Civil Service
The Bengal Secretariat Book Depot, Calcutta
27 Jan, 2018
This gazetteer, published in 1908, is the first of Angul district in Odisha. It describes various aspects about the district – its economy, society, politics and administrative setup, as well as its history, geography, climate, biodiversity and natural resources. It does so for the district’s two sub-divisions: Angul and the Khondmals.
The Marathas, who had maintained half a century of suzerainty over Odisha, surrendered Angul to the British in 1803. Angul’s chief entered into an agreement with the East India Company; he promised to say loyal to it and pay an annual tribute. After a series of rebellions though, the British invaded and occupied Angul in 1848. The district came under direct colonial rule and in 1891 it was merged with the Khondmals.The Bengal District Gazetteers were prepared by British colonial administrators for the districts of Angul, Balasore, Cuttack, Koraput and Puri, and the ‘Feudatory States of Orissa’. 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.
Angul district is made up of two separate tracts, the Angul sub-division, with an area of 881 square miles, and the Khondmals, covering over 800 square miles. These two sub-divisions are separated by the Baud State and their headquarters are 87 miles apart.
The name Angul is said to come from Anugol, named after Anu, the last Khond chieftain who was defeated in battle by the king of Orissa. At that time, the Khond, Savara and Gond occupied this area. The Khonds were the dominant community (the gazetteer uses the term ‘race’). The area was divided into independent principalities, each governed by a Khond chief. But the king of Orissa succeeded in establishing his rule over the Khond. While most Khond chiefs acknowledged his suzerainty, Anu led a rebellion but was eventually deposed by the king.
The Angul sub-division is surrounded by tributary states and has a hilly tract. Its east-central portion is comparatively flat and well-cultivated. The Khondmals sub-division, at a higher elevation, forms a plateau broken up by high ranges, giving way to a series of valleys. The area of cultivated land is small; the uplands and downslopes of the hills are periodically cleared to cultivate dry crops and the lowlands are permanently cleared for an annual paddy crop. The rest of the area is covered with thick forest.
The Khond hold their own lands and claim permanent rights over the soil. They practice the joint community system of land ownership.
The Mahanadi river, which forms the southern boundary of Angul, carries large quantities of timber and bamboo downriver on rafts. Large country boats can also ply along the river.
The gazetteer’s author notes that the Khonds routinely practiced human sacrifices to ensure good crops and immunity from diseases and accidents. Female infanticide too, the author notes, was prevalent as a result of their marriage customs and poverty.
The first Census of 1872 listed a population of 130,184 persons in Angul district. In 1901, this number had grown to 191,911 persons. According to the 1901 Census, 76 per cent of the population was involved in agriculture. There was a substantial increase in the population of Angul sub-division, which had attracted settlers from adjoining states. The population was divided into Hindus (who were in a majority), “Animists”, Muhammadans and Christians.
There are three main castes or tribes in the area with over 25,000 people each: the Khond (considered most powerful), the Chasa (cultivators) and the Pan (serfs of the Khond). Other minority castes include Gaura (pastoralists), Taula (weavers), and Sudha (cultivators, former soldiers).
Marriages are always between adults; the girl is generally a few years older than the boy as she is expected to run the household. There is no fixed age for marriage and widows are permitted to remarry. Divorce is not uncommon, and both parties are free to remarry.
The district has a reputation for poor health in part due to the thick jungles and sudden temperature changes. Malaria is prevalent as are skin, ear and eye diseases, rheumatism, dysentery and dyspepsia. Sporadic cases of cholera occasionally lead to an epidemic. Vaccination is not compulsory, but has made fair progress among the people of this district.
A famine spread across Angul in 1889 and the area had scarcity [of food] in 1897 and 1900 due to the failure of the monsoons.
The 1901 Census shows that only 2 per cent of the population can read and write. However, there has been an improvement in educating girls.
Factoids and Focus compiled by Aditi Chandrasekhar.
Note: The Factoids have been quoted almost verbatim from the gazetteer.