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Purnia’s Centuries-Old Jalalgarh Fort Holds a Rich History, Now in Ruins

syed jaffer imam Reported By Syed Jaffer Imam |
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The Jalalgarh Fort, located in Jalalgarh village of Bihar’s Purnia district, revolves its time-worn wheel and compels us to peek into history. Situated approximately 20 kilometers away from Purnia city, this ancient structure, which has now turned into ruins, used to house a cantonment of 15 to 20 thousand soldiers several decades ago. Popularly known as Jalalgarh Fort, this building still stands as a testament to history on the ventilator of its pages and a few distinct bricks.

The locals are unaware of the history buried beneath the ground

When “Main Media” arrived at the premises of Jalalgarh Fort, we came across the remnants amidst agricultural fields. It is challenging to estimate the existence of a colossal fort that stood here two to three centuries ago merely by observing the ruins. The remnants of the fort are gradually merging with the earth, embraced by the surrounding forests. With the help of a resident, we reached a small gate of the fort, which was closed years ago. Many sections of the fort remain, although it is nearly impossible to determine the purpose of each corner based on their current condition.

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When we asked the people, standing nearby, about the fort, they mentioned that their ancestors might be aware of its history, but they had no idea about the fort’s historical significance.

Mention of the Fort in Purnia Gazetteer

Jalalgarh Fort is situated on the banks of the Kosi River. This place was initially sandy terrain resembling a hillock. Gradually, with the receding of the river, the dry sandy land emerged, and in the seventeenth century, the construction of this colossal fort was undertaken. In the final edition of the Purnia district gazetteer in 1911, L.S.S. O’Malley recorded the history of Jalalgarh Fort.
According to him, the fort was built between 1605 and 1627 by Muslim rulers to protect against invasions from the Nepal border. The gazetteer further mentions that Jalalgarh Fort was built by Raja Syed Mohammad Jalaluddin, the first king of Kishanganj’s Khagra, chosen by Mughal ruler Jahangir. Historians believe that the village, where the fort was built was named “Jalalgarh” after Raja Mohammad Jalaluddin.

Some other historians suggest that Jalalgarh Fort was built by Nawab Saif Khan of Purnia in 1722, but the widely accepted belief is that the fort came into existence in the early seventeenth century.

Why Jalalgarh’s Commander was prisoned by Siraj-ud-Daulah

Famous historian Ghulam Husain Zaidpuri, in his book ‘Riyaz-us-Salatin’ published in 1788, writes that the king of Birnagar had a force of 15,000 soldiers and some people belonging to the Chakwaar tribe, who were associated with the area, used to loot travelers. This was the reason why Jalalgarh Fort was constructed on the border of the Morang region.

Saif Khan was the Faujdar of Purnia, and he was appointed as the commander of Jalalgarh Fort. After several years, Sayyid Muhammad Jaleel became the Jagirdar of Khagra. He refused to pay taxes to Nawab Siraj-ud-Daulah of Bengal, which led to his imprisonment by Siraj-ud-Daulah. Since then, Jalalgarh Fort came under the control of the Nawab of Bengal.

At the beginning of the 19th century, the magistrate of Purnia expressed a desire to make Jalalgarh Fort the district headquarters due to the unhealthiness of Purnia city, but it couldn’t be realized for some reason. Jalalgarh Fort is located about 1.5 kilometers southeast of Purnia-Araria Road. It is believed that the fort was built as a military barracks. According to L.S.S. O’Malley, back then, there was a significant threat from the Gorkhas, which may be why the fort was constructed at that specific location.

The architecture of Jalalgarh Fort

Jalalgarh Fort was originally situated on a sprawling area of 100 acres, surrounded by walls. During that time, this fort was one of the most renowned buildings in Purnia, designed in Indo-Islamic architecture. The length of the walls from east to west was 550 feet, and from south to north, it measured 400 feet. The width of the walls was approximately 7 feet, and they were said to be 22 feet tall.

The main entrance of the fort opened towards the east, which was about 9 feet tall and 13 feet wide. There was also an exit door of the fort, which was 7 feet tall and 5 feet wide. This door opened towards the south. The fort’s entrance gate had a heavy wooden double-door structure, which was seen until the year 1962.

The ‘rumoured’ tunnel to Murshidabad

There were semi-circular chambers surrounding all sides of the fort. When we reached the fort, we noticed the architecture resembling semi-circular chambers. Jalalgarh Fort is located near the Kosi River on the eastern side, and it is believed that through this river, the rulers of Jalalgarh Fort maintained contact and benefited from communication with the rulers of Murshidabad. It is rumoured that there was this tunnel inside the fort that connected Jalalgarh to the rulers of Murshidabad.

Approximately 300 years later, today, the locals do not seem to have specific knowledge about this fort. The Archaeological Survey of India has listed Jalalgarh Fort among 30 ‘State Protected Monuments’ but the ruins of the fort continue to ascend.

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Syed Jafar Imam, born in Kishanganj, began his journey in journalism from Delhi in 2017. He has worked for Public Vichar, A.M. 24 Bihar, Scribblers India, Swan Tree Foundation, and Jamia Patrika. Since the publication of his book "A Panic Attack On The Subway" in 2021, he has been vocal on social media about mental health issues.

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