Godown turned jail for Mughal ruler

Godown turned jail for Mughal ruler

Godown turned jail for Mughal ruler

Reams of newsprint have gone into dwelling at length about the association of Patna, then called Patli­pu­tra, with emperor Ashoka, Chandra­gu­pta, Chanakya, Lord Buddha et al. But what connection it has with Bahadur Shah Zafar, the last Mughal emperor of India?

In what appears to be a fact less documented by the historians, the last Timurlane ruler spent a few days of his life in a building at Gulzarbagh in Patna Saheb area, while he was being deported to Burma in 1858. The East India Company, which had by then annexed the entire country, had decided to extradite Zafar to Rangoon in Burma (now Yangon) via Calcutta (now Kolkata).

Historians here say that the last Mughal ruler was virtually under “house arrest” at a building near Ganga, where now stands a government printing press. The edifice was originally used as an indigo and opium godown by the British rulers.

Located at Gulzarbagh, this was the site of the original British opium factory, a massive fortified warehouse with a round tower. This old factory building of the East India Company was constructed in the early 17th century and renovated in 1657. In 1664, Job Charnock was appointed chief of the English Factory at Patna, where he continued till 1681. Later, when a huge fire broke out in 1767, it was precisely this building which was used as the military storehouse and was, therefore, named Grand Magazine.

Thereafter, the military storehouse was shifted to the Bankipore Gola. As this stru­cture went out of use, it was handed over to an opium agent. For a short while, the government central jail too function­e­d­ in this complex before being shifted to Bankipore jail. As of now, a government press runs in one part of the building while the other is used as a stationery depot.

“During those days, when Bahadur Shah Zafar was being deported to Burma from Delhi (after his sons were beheaded and the old erstwhile ruler posed no threat to British), there were no railway tracks. He was being taken to Calcutta via river route. It was then that Zafar was made to stay here in the building which was then an opium factory/godown but now a government printing press runs here,” noted historian Dr Surendra Gopal told Deccan Herald.

“In those good old days, Patna was the main epicentre for cultivation of poppy.

It was a centre for cultivation as well as manufacture, and used to witness heavy traffic of opium consignments, with which the British reportedly tried to poison China and which led to opium war there,” recalled Dr Surendra.

“In fact, it was the Dutch, who first established the first few opium factories in the locality. Later, the East India Company constructed a number of godowns after the Dutch left. Opium balls were prepared here and eventually despatched to Calcutta on their onward journey to China through ships,” the 79-year-old retired professor said.

“It was one of these godowns where Zafar was made to stay by the mandarins of East India Company,” Dr Surendra averred and added that only very few history books have highlighted this unknown facet. This complex has another historical significance, as it was here that Prince Ali Gauhar was crowned as the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II in 1761 in pathetic circumstances.

Between 1757 (when the Battle of Plassey took place) and 1764 (when the Battle of Buxar was fought), the British fought most of their important battles with Mughal Prince Ali Gauhar (Shah Alam II) and others in different parts of Bihar to consolidate their initial gain. Eventually, it was on March 12, 1761 that coronation of Shah Alam took place on the first floor of this opium factory. Significantly, Ali Gauhar alias Shah Alam was the second Mughal ruler after Farrukhsiyar to be officially crowned at Patna.

Historians say that it was in this era that escape tunnels or safety channels were built at the opium factory. The technical literature on Mughal architecture deals with terms like Kucha-i-salamat (in Persian) or Salamat Kucha in Hindi and Urdu. Salamat Kucha literally means escape tunnel or subterranean tunnel or surang in common parlance.

In those days, escape tunnels were often secretly built after blasting the foundation of the building and they were often so high that quite tall Afghan, Mughal and Rajput soldiers in armour could walk comfortably instead of crawling. In case of Patna, LSS O’ Malley, in his Bengal District Gazetteer of Patna (Calcutta 1907), has referred to such underground tunnels. “Here there is a subterranean passage of stone, which according to tradition, leads to Bhikna Pahari on the one side and Kumrahar on the other, each of the points being nearly a mile distant.

This passage is 25 feet down through an ancient well on the border of Gunsar, a deepened portion of an old channel of Sone or Ganga,” he wrote.

Though this piece of information was later omitted in the revised edition of the gazetteer, there are locals who vouch that before these surang (passages) were filled completely, they had heard from their elders about an “Under Ganga tunnel” running from Patna area in the south to Hajipur in the north.

Whatever may be the history, but as of now, the Bihar government runs a printing press here and also uses one of its portions as a stationery depot.

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