Sarbajit Mitra, Jadavpur University
“You raid my land again and again”, lamented Gangaram, a chronicler-poet of Bengal, writing in the mid 18th Century, a time when Bengal was witness to the repeated raids of the much feared “Bargis”. The first half of the 18th Century was marked by the decline of the Mughal control over its dominions. The Marathas established their sway during this period over vast territories which remained under Mughal rule, only nominally. This allowed the Maratha chiefs to levy one-fourth of annual produce or “Chauth” from these lands. It was in demand of these “Chauth” that, Raghuji Bhonsle, the chief of the Nagpur Bhonsles raided the functioning Mughal provinces of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. The raids continued for a decade until the province of Orissa was ceded to the Marathas. These raids brought about untold miseries to the people of Bengal. The repeated crop failures added to the sufferings of the inhabitants of the province leading to desertion of villages and migration. As David Arnold observed, an episode of crisis such as this actually helps in providing a rare glimpse to the lives of the ‘common people’, about which the historical materials generally tend to be silent.
Two contemporary Bengali texts provide vivid descriptions of this historic episode. One of the texts, Annadamangal was composed in the Mangalkavya tradition by Bharatchandra Ray, the court poet of the zamindar of Nadia. While the other text, Maharashtra Puran, was composed by Gangaram, a village-chronicler. In this paper I would make an attempt to investigate how the annual raids affected the crop production system leading to dearth and desertion with the help of these two above mentioned contemporary sources.