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Bihar in The Eyes of British Travellers and Painters 1780-1850

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Item Code: HAP334
Author: Edited By Surendra Gopal, Tejakar Jha
Publisher: Kameshwar Singh Darbhanga Sanskrit University, Bihar
Language: English
Edition: 2008
Pages: 300 (Throughout Color and B/w Illustrations)
Other Details 10x7.5 inch
Weight 776 gm
Book Description
About The Book

European travel accounts from the sixteenth century onwards are a major source for the study of different dimensions of Indian history. When the English East India Company decided to know and understand India after they had established their rule in the second half of the eighteenth century, they sent British painters to sketch architectural monuments, scenes in the countryside as well as in towns, and people engaged in their everyday chores, celebrating their festivals, performing their rituals, practising their crafts, etc.

This volume presents to the reader works of two such artists, Hodges and William Daniell. They bring to us the images of the monuments then standing as well as scenes from the towns and villages. Simultaneously, their observations throw light on the impact of early British rule in Bihar.

The volume also has paintings by Sir Charles D'Oyly, an employee of the Company, stationed in Patna, depicting local monuments, structures and scenes. He was the first to set up a printing press in Patna in 1830s. He published paintings showing local flora, fauna and monuments, he popularized the emerging Company School of Painting.

Finally, the book also includes an account of Bihar by Miss Emma Roberts, a very perceptive writer, who carefully collected data and wrote about urban centres in Bihar, such as Ara, Chhapra, Munger, etc.

About the Editors

Prof. Surendra Gopal taught history at Patna University for four decades. His current research interests are Maritime History of Medieval India and Indian Diaspora, India and Central Asia from 16th Century onwards and History of Modern Bihar.

He is a member of the Indian Historical Records Commission (Govt. of India) and the Board of Trustees of Maharajadhiraja Kameshwar Singh Kalyani Foundation.

Tejakar Jha has been keenly searching out and locating old and rare documents of historical significance relating to the history of Bihar for a long time.


A trust deed was prepared and executed by Maharaniadhirani Kam Sundari Devi, the surviving wife of the last Maharajadhiraja of Darbhanga raj, in 1988 for setting up the Mahanajadbinija Kameshwar Singh Kalyani Foundation at Kalyani Niwas, Darbhanga. Considering the long cultural tradition of her house, she proposed the pursuit for the advancement of knowledge and education as a prominent objective of the Foundation. The Board of Trustees, therefore, decided, in spite of having the constraints of resources, to start a series of publication for bringing to light such old and rare records, documents and books (relating to socio-cultural and economic life of the people of Bihar) as those which generally the scholars today are either hardly aware of or which are practically not accessible to them.

As the Foundation came to afford at least a visible organizational shape by 1996, publication under Maharajadhiraja Kameshwar Singh Bihar Heritage Series was commenced.

It is a matter of great pleasure for us that the present work, Bihar in the Eyes of British Travellers and Painters (1780-1850), has been brought out in this series.

The editors managed to collect the travel accounts of William Hodges, William Daniell and Emma Roberts by making continuous effort for a long time. They also got copies of some of their paintings (printed in this volume).

The observations, opinions and remarks of these travellers regarding the villages, people, heritage sites, etc., of Bihar contribute a great deal to our knowledge of the situation in this region during the period from about 1780 to about 1850. One, thus, finds at least the glimpses of the conditions of peasantry of the period in which Permanent Settlement was promulgated. It was quite a critical event that created conditions of structural change of our society in the following decades. These accounts are, therefore, quite valuable for understanding the forces to which our entire social system was subjected. I am sure, the scholars working on Bihar of early phase of British rule will find it quite valuable.

We are indebted to the editors who not only compiled and edited the relevant portions of the accounts of the said authors, but gave us the opportunity of publishing them together in one volume in Kameshwar Singh Bihar Heritage Series. The proprietors of Vigyapan, Patna, were kind enough to take the responsibility of designing and printing it i in a short time. We are very thankful to them. We also thank all those friends who extended their co-operation as and when required in the course of its publication.


When Vasco da Gama opened the sea-route from Europe to India in 1498, the primary European concern was to develop trade with India. The early European visitors were mainly Portuguese. Their observations are full of geographical information, discussion of available economic resources and descriptions of prime commercial centres. These data relate to coastal India where the Portuguese were active. The Portuguese hardly visited the interior of the country.

The first century after the arrival of Vasco da Gama in India belonged to the Portuguese. In the late sixteenth century non-Portuguese Europeans, Cesare Fredrici (Italy), Ralph Fitch (England), Linschoten (Holland), Pyard da Laval (France), etc. also came to India. They ventured because Portuguese power had declined and the myth of Spain's naval superiority had been exploded after the defeat of Armada at the hands of England in 1588; their objective was to assess trade prospects for their respective countries and suggest measures to help start trading operations in India. Their reports threw light on Portuguese activities and also on the state of affairs in areas away from the coast. Non-Portuguese Europeans decided to start trading operations in Mughal port of Surat in Gujarat.

From the beginning of the seventeenth century European accounts of India undergo a qualitative change since the Dutch, English, French, etc., actively pursued trade in the plains of north India. They had fanned out in almost all parts of India. As the European employees were answerable to Directors of the Company back home, we learn about their day to day activities. The searchlight was on economic affairs but some of them such as Mandelslo (German), Tavernier, Bernier and Thevenot (French), Fryer (Englishman), etc., wrote about India at great length. They pointed out the ills that beset it; they noted social practices such as Sati and/or female infanticide. The behaviour of ruling circles was not ignored. They commented on Hindu, Islamic and other religions, followed by masses in different parts of the country. They described the trading communities, both indigenous and external, with whom they interacted. They mentioned the prominent social groups. However, the European accounts were still primarily concerned with Indian economy, politics and focussed on mainly urban areas.

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