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The Saga of Banaili Raj and Purnea’s Champanagar Palace Where The Royals Still Reside

The roots of Banaili Estate go deep into the annals of Gujarat. According to Vinodanand Sinha, during the invasions of Mohammad Bin Qasim and Mehmood Ghaznavi, Gujarati Brahmins, including Vinodanand’s ancestors, sought refuge in Northern Bihar, becoming known as Maithili Brahmins. They eventually settled in Baigni and Nawada

syed jaffer imam Reported By Syed Jaffer Imam |
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Purnea’s Champanagar Market, situated in K. Nagar block, stands out as one of the oldest markets in the block. Just before its entrance lies Banaili Raj’s Champanagar Deorhi – a royal palace whose boundary walls resemble the forts often seen in movies. Positioned along the northern road of the city, this architectural gem serves as a silent deponent of centuries-old history within its intriguing structures.

With a legacy dating back one hundred and fifty years, the palace of Banaili Estate in Champanagar Deorhi takes you back to a time when Champanagar held the prestigious title of being the capital of Banaili Estate. Today, the grandeur of the palace remains undiminished, with the fifth-generation descendants of Raja Dular Singh, the founder of Banaili Estate, continuing to reside within its storied walls. Welcoming visitors through the ‘Singh Darwaza,’ the main gate of the palace itself exudes a sense of historical significance.

Right Above the Singh Darwaza, a small gallery-like structure called Naubat Khana holds a significant history where Shehnai melodies once resonated in honor of the goddess, deity, and the ruling monarch of the palace. Vinodanand Sinha, the grandson of Raja Bahadur Kritianand Sinha and a current resident of the Champanagar palace, shared his insights into this enduring tradition.

According to him, the age-old practice of playing Shehnai persists to this day. Annually, during the ten days of Dussehra, the palace reverberates with the sweet tunes of Shehnai in a celebration that has endured for nearly two centuries. The talented grandsons of Bismillah Khan’s brother are specially invited to Champanagar, ensuring this musical tradition remains an integral part of the Dussehra festivities for generations.

What We Saw Inside the Campus

As we stepped through the historic Singh Darwaza the palace grounds treated our eyes with a cannon which was half-sunken on the ground, flower gardens, and an array of both small and towering trees. These gardens boasted decades-old fountains scattered throughout. Adding to the charm, the palace grounds were also home to a diverse range of bird species, making it a delightful walk for nature enthusiasts.

Beyond the lush greenery, a stunning sequence of buildings awaited the exploration within Champanagar Deorhi. Among these architectural marvels, the ‘Navratna’ building stood out as the most renowned one in Champanagar Deorhi. The campus of the palace also featured structures like ‘Ganesh Bhawan,’ ‘Do Mahala,’ ‘Lakshmi Bhawan,’ and ‘Puran Bhawan,’ each standing as a testament to the palace’s timeless allure.

Inside the grand Navratna Palace, we discovered the regal court where the estate’s kings once convened with influential figures of the state. In its heyday, the court was adorned with intricate decorations, as the king attentively listened to the concerns of his people.

Vinodanand Sinha graciously guided us through the royal court, unveiling an impressive collection of paintings depicting the Banaili Raj kings and sharing insights into the rich history of Champanagar. He emphasized the significant annual expenditure dedicated to maintaining the Rajdarbar, highlighting the commitment to preserving this historical treasure.

The palace extended its charm to horticulture, flourishing gardens that nurtured a variety of flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees. A dedicated team of six gardeners and numerous labourers worked tirelessly each day to maintain this vibrant place. Vinodanand Sinha’s father, Kumar Vimalanand Sinha had 11 sons, who now reside in these distinguished buildings. In essence, the palace offered not just a glimpse into history but a living testament to the enduring legacy of Champanagar.

Unveiling the Origins of Banaili Estate

The fascinating tale of Banaili Estate, also known as Banaili Raj, unfolds with the Raja Dular Singh at its helm. According to Girijanand Sinha’s book, “Banaili Roots to Raj,” the inception of this historic estate traces back to a 2-century-old journey.

A gentleman called Parmanand Chaudhary migrated from Baigni in Bihar to Munger and Purnia. He had two sons – Eklal Chaudhary, and Dulal Singh, the younger of the two, originally named Tejanand Singh. Eklal Chaudhary, born in 1750, passed away in 1785, leaving Dulal as the sole heir of his father Parmanand Chaudhary. The title of Chaudhary was bestowed upon those responsible for collecting income.

Dulal Chaudhary, along with his father and cousin Hiralal, settled in Amour, Purnia.
Bhairav Mullik, the chief income collector of Purnia, was a close friend of Dulal Chaudhary. Bhairav’s house was looted by dacoits and after a few days, he died too.

Dulal became the principal income collector of Purnia and Dinajpur, receiving an annual sum of Rs 1,037 from the government.
The transition from Dulal Chaudhary to Raja Dular Singh marked a turning point. Utilizing his earnings from revenue collection, Raja Dular Singh ventured into business, accumulating substantial wealth and acquiring vast tracts of land.

However, a familial dispute with his cousin Hiralal led to a partition, with Hiralal obtaining Asja Pargana and Raja Dular Singh claiming Tirkhardah Pargana. In 1772, Raja Dular Singh arrived in Banaili, constructing a magnificent palace and establishing his residence. The strategic location of Banaili, surrounded by the Saura River, bestowed upon it a natural fort-like quality, ensuring the security of Raja Dular Singh’s palace.

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Vinodanand Sinha, a direct descendant of Raja Dular Singh, reminisces about the family’s migration from Kunwari to Banaili, emphasizing the historic temple and ruins that still stand in Garh Banaili. Due to a malaria outbreak, the family eventually left Banaili, relocating to Sultanganj in the Munger district. A fort was erected in Asarganj, marking a significant chapter in the Banaili Raj’s journey.

Boasting 3,600 villages and commanding a substantial area in the state of Bengal, Banaili Raj held a prominent position. Today, remnants of its historical legacy endure, with forts like Sultanganj, Garh Banailli, and Ramnagar continuing to tell the tale of Banaili’s rich history.

Raja Dular Singh’s Role in the British-Nepal War

An English Historian Francis Buchanan wrote “An Account of the District of Purnia,” published between 1809-1810, Raja Dular Singh was acknowledged as a major vassal of “Purania Haveli.” The book also recognizes his father, Parmanand, and grandfather, Manikchandra.

Girijanand Sinha, in his book “Banaili Roots to Raj,” sheds light on the pivotal Sugauli Treaty signed in 1816. As the British-Nepal War unfolded in 1814, Raja Dular Singh played a crucial role by supporting the British forces. He dispatched numerous soldiers with elephants, to join the fight.

The aftermath of the Sugauli Treaty saw Nepal ceding territories, including Sikkim in the east, Kumaon and Garhwal Rajshahi in the west, and significant portions of the Terai land in the south.

In gratitude for Raja Dular Singh’s support, the British government conferred upon him the esteemed title of ‘Raja Bahadur.’ As a token of appreciation, a reward of 14 miles of land connecting to Tirakhardah was also bestowed upon Banaili Raj.

While talking to ‘Main Media’, Vinodananad Sinha said, “Lord Hastings was the Governor General at that time. Banaili Raj not only supplied food and resources to Lord Hastings but also contributed cannons, elephants, and horses to the cause. As a result, they secured a stretch of land, snatching 15 kilometers from the Nepal border.

Reflecting on this historic episode, Vinodanand added, “After the Treaty of Sugauli, this region became part of Banaili Raj, encompassing Thakurganj and Jogbani. Our ancestral stronghold in Amour witnessed a significant shift as we moved from Kunji to Banali.” The alliance between Banaili Raj and the British during the war reshaped the landscape and solidified Raja Dular Singh’s legacy.

The Chronicles of Champanagar: From Origins to Educational Legacy

The genesis of Champanagar’s royal palace coheres with the advent of the Zamindari system in 1773, spearheaded by Lord Cornwallis through the ‘Permanent Settlement.’ Lands were auctioned, and according to Vinodanand Sinha, his ancestors secured Tirakhardah and Asja Pargana. This marked the beginning of Banaili Raj in 1772.

Raja Bahadur Dular Singh, the torchbearer of Banaili Estate, passed away in 1821, paving the way for his son, Raja Bahadur Bedanand Singh, to assume control. The estate flourished under his reign, with his brother Rudranand establishing residence in Srinagar, 6 kilometers away from Banaili Village. Subsequent shifts in leadership saw Raja Bahadur Leelanand Singh relocate to Ramnagar after the demise of Bedanand Singh.

An epidemic spread in the village that kept getting deadlier. Raja Bahadur Leelanand Singh moved to Champanagar in 1869 where he built a majestic palace, now adorned with iconic structures like Navratna, Ganesh Bhawan, Do Mahala, Lakshmi Bhawan, and Puran Bhawan, each crafted in distinct periods.

The Purnia District Gazetteer of 1911, penned by LS O’Malley, depicts the division of Banaili Raj between Bedanand Singh and Rudranand Singh. Their jagirs extended across Bhagalpur, Munger, Malda, and Santhal while Purnea’s Srinagar, Ramnagar, and Champanagar became bastions for the Banaili Raj legacy. Two sons of Raja Leelanand Singh and Queen Sitabai of Khuskahpur named Kalanand Singh and Kristiansand Singh inherited the landlordship of the Banaili estate.

Transitioning to the educational realm, Raja Bahadur Krityanand Sinha, son of Raja Bahadur Leelanand Singh, in 1883, played a pivotal role in establishing TNB College, a testament to Banaili Raj’s commitment to education. Tej Narayan Banaili College aka TNB College received 60 acres of land and Rs 6 lakh from Banaili Estate.

Vinodanand, grandson of Raja Krityanand Sinha, shared insights into the family’s dedication to education. He highlighted that education has always been a paramount focus in the royal family of Champanagar. He said that today, their income surpasses the bygone Banaili estate, and the family takes pride in their educational achievements, with many holding doctorates and excelling in management. Their historical contributions include the construction of Patna Medical College, and Banaili Raj has been instrumental in the founding of Bhagalpur University and TNB College.

Unraveling the Tales of Banaili Estate: From Gujarat to Bihar

The roots of Banaili Estate go deep into the annals of Gujarat. According to Vinodanand Sinha, during the invasions of Mohammad Bin Qasim and Mehmood Ghaznavi, Gujarati Brahmins, including Vinodanand’s ancestors, sought refuge in Northern Bihar, becoming known as Maithili Brahmins. They eventually settled in Baigni and Nawada

They became the ‘Manasabadar’ of Tughlaq Raj in Baigni-Nawada, Vinodanand’s forebears maintained a formidable army of thousands of horses for Delhi’s Sultan. In return, the Sultan granted them land to cover army expenses and an annual stipend.

However, with the weakening of the Delhi Sultanate during Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq’s rule, the people of the Darbhanga belt ceased paying tribute, prompting Tughlaq’s invasion. The Banaili Raj community, foreseeing the conflict, fled to Kunwar, bringing with them wealth in the form of gold, silver, horses, and elephants.

The History of Srinagar Estate

Srinagar Estate, another facet of Banaili Raj was founded by Raja Rudranand Singh. The grandeur of the Srinagar estate may have faded, but the estate’s palace remains a local treasure. Founded by Raja Rudranand Singh, the younger brother of Raja Bedanand Singh and son of Raja Dular Singh, Srinagar Estate is situated 6 kilometers from Banaili.

Chinmayanand Singh, a descendant of Rudranand Singh’s son Kalikanand Singh talked to us. He said that the palace was built around 1900 months after the demise of Raja Rudranand Singh, who had three children from two wives. Kamalanand Singh, a poet and writer, was born to a second wife and left a literary legacy, as he translated Bankim Chandra Chattopadhyay’s renowned Bengali novel ‘Anand Math’ into Hindi. His poetic creations can be found on the ‘Kavita Kosh’ website, immortalizing the cultural contributions of the Srinagar Estate.

Educational Legacy and Timeless Temples: Srinagar Estate Unveiled

Chinmayanand Singh sheds light on the evolution of the Srinagar Estate, revealing that by 1940, zamindari in the state had nearly dissipated. However, education became a focal point in the estate, marking a pivotal moment in 1952 with the establishment of the second high school in the Purnia district within Srinagar.

This institution, Sarvodaya 10+2 High School, endures to this day, imparting knowledge in subjects like Agricultural Science. Additionally, the District Institute of Educational Training (DIET) stands in Srinagar, a testament to the state’s commitment to education.

Reflecting on the historical context, Chinmayanand Singh further says, “The system at that time aimed to engage villagers in meaningful work while offering competitive salaries to dampen theft. Despite the prevailing reluctance of the upper class towards educating villagers, Srinagar spearheaded educational initiatives. The estate generously donated acres of land for educational institutions and hospitals.”

Journey into the Past: Temples of Srinagar Estate

Today’s Srinagar does not have too many historical monuments but an ancient Shiva temple is standing in the village as a silent witness to centuries-old history. The estate once boasted a grand Durga temple, tragically succumbing to a natural disaster in 1934.

Another historical gem in the Srinagar estate is the Kali temple, where the magnificent ‘Durga Puja Mohotsav’ has been gracing the surroundings for around 160 years, drawing in lakhs of devotees even today.

Banaili village once epitomized the Banaili Estate but today only the remnants remain in a pond and temples. The story unfolds with Banaili Estate situated near the Saura River becoming a recurrent victim of floods. The relentless floods triggered an epidemic, compelling the kings and their families to abandon Banaili, seeking refuge in nearby havens like Srinagar, Ramnagar, and Champanagar.

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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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