Sunday, August 26, 2007

Ancient Indian District of Allahabad

District of Allahabad, India

Located in the easternmost portion of the Allahabad division within the United Provinces, the district of Allahabad presents us with with a fairly accurate picture of the lives of most Indians living around the time of the turn of the century.

Geography and Environment

Allahabad is limited to the north by Partabgarh and to the east by Mirzapur with the Banda district representing its southern boundary, and finally Fatehpur to the west. Geographically, we can divide the district in terms of its two major rivers - the Ganges and the Jumna - into three areas. The Doab is the first of these subdivisions. Triangular in shape and land-locked between the two rivers, it is a relatively fertile land with patches of forests on its elevated plains and featureless ravines closer to its mainland.

The second major geographical subdivision of the district is called the Trans-Ganges tract. While well-wooded and more fertile than the Doab and containing many swamp areas near which rice is grown, its southern portion contains some 60,000 acres of barren land; this does not include other uncultivable land permanently occupied by roads, railways, and the such. The final area under consideration is the Trans-Jumna tract of land; this is where the largest presence of barren land (70,000 acres) is to be found, despite also having the widest area of physical attributes. From this brief description, then, we can begin to see a pattern of land scarcity that surely has a guiding role in the organization of economic and social activity among the peoples of this district.

Agriculture and Commerce

The agricultural and commercial activities in the Allahabad district are largely influenced by the geographic and climactic conditions of this region. The one remaining factor that delineates economic activity is the social caste system of India. One recognizable feature of Allahabad is the regularity of the rains that are received, averaging some 38 inches per annum. This ensures that a predictable harvest can happen, one upon which local economic activity is planned. As hinted at earlier, the lack of cultivable land results in high commodity prices due to scarcity to which we must also add a relatively dense population. Rice, wheat, barley and various autumn pulses represent the mainstay of the crops in this district. Opium and hemp is also cultivated in significant numbers.

The district benefits, since the great famine of 1896-7 which was due in part to decreased precipitation, from an extensive network of wells and reservoirs which are needed for the intensive rice cultivation. Farming in Allahabad is also characterized by the Indian caste system. The Kachhi and Kurmi castes are seen as "careful," employing "intensive tillage," where as the methods of the others (mainly higher castes) are described as "scanty tenantry."

In terms of keeping livestock as an economic activity, this is largely present in the Trans-Jumna tract: extensive pastures have been utilized for the breeding of buffaloes and bulls. Fisheries is another important source of food for many, and a primary occupation of the Mollah and Kahar castes, but one that is insufficient due to an inadequate supply. Industry and factory is negligible in Allahabad: metals and the manufacture/repair of military equipment as well as the production of tiles, indigo and bricks make up the majority of the work.

Trade is limited to the bare necessities of the populace. In terms of imports, we can speak of oil-seeds from Banda district (by river), grain from the north in Partabgarh across the Ganges, in addition to metals, salt and piece goods from elsewhere. The main exports are cotton, sugar, grain and ghi. The final remark to be made concerns the "sanctity" of Allahabad as a prime center of pilgrimage within the entire UP. Tradition, therefore, plays an important role for the local population, to which we will now turn.


The population of Allahabad is roughly divided equally between the make and female sexes and total some 1.5 million, 14% of whom are urbanized (largely owing to the size of Allahabad city) while the rest of the people living among some 3,500 towns and villages. Hinduism is the largest religious affiliation with around 1.3 million believers, followed by Islam (200,000) and Christianity (1,300).

The most numerous castes within the Hindu population are the Brahmans (land-holders, cultivators and money-lenders), the Chamars (agriculturalists, cattle breeders) and the Rajputs. While the Rajputs represent only a mere 5% of the Hindu population, they are a dominant caste, owning more land than any other. For example, the Raja of Manda, a Gaharwar Rajput, is the largest landholder of the district. The Raja will then typically lease out the land to cash-paying tenants, the preferred method among landholders.

Literacy in Allahabad district is comparatively high and has made huge progress over the years. As of 1901 some 7.96% of the males were literate, a figure that is surpassed only in Lucknow and Benares as well as some of the hill districts. Female literacy has also steadily increased to a percentage of 0.56 in 1901. Among the Muslims, the literacy rate is slightly higher, roughly 10% for the males compared with 7% among the Hindu's. The main reason for this is the general likelihood for the Muslim population to be residing in cities as opposed to rural areas which present less educational opportunities.

Allahabad City

In terms of administration, Allahabad city is the headquarters of the district and the seat of government of the United Provinces. As such, it is one of the largest urban areas in the entire province. The city is located on the left bank of the Jumna river. The population, as of 1901, was some 172,000 with the majority of them Hindu but with a significant Muslim minority of 50,000. The city is a great point of assembly for religious pilgrimages, with up to a million people bathing and celebrating in the great rivers of Allahabad.

Where the city lacks in terms of trade or recognizable historic buildings it makes up for in its educational institutions. Allahabad is the most important center for education within the United provinces. The Muir College (founded in 1872), the Allahabad Christian College (1902) and the Kayastha Pathshala, with the number of students ranging between 50 and 350, all attest to the importance of higher learning to Allahabad. The city is also home to numerous English language newspapers such as the Pioneer, which is the more prominent among them.

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