1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Berar

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BERAR, known also as the Hyderabad Assigned Districts, formerly a province administered on behalf of the nizam of Hyderabad by the British government, but since the 1st of October 1903 under the administration of the commissioner-general for the Central Provinces (q.v.). The origin of the name Berar is not known, but may perhaps be a corruption of Vidarbha, the name of a kingdom in the Deccan of which, in the period of the Mahabharata, Berar probably formed part. The history of Berar belongs generally to that of the Deccan, the country falling in turn under the sway of the various dynasties which successively ruled in southern India, the first authentic records showing it to have been part of the Andhra or Satavahana empire. On the final fall of the Chalukyas in the 12th century, Berar came under the sway of the Yadavas of Deogiri, and remained in their possession till the Mussulman invasions at the end of the 13th century. On the establishment of the Bahmani dynasty in the Deccan (1348) Berar was constituted one of the four provinces into which their kingdom was divided, being governed by great nobles, with a separate army. The perils of this system becoming apparent, the province was divided (1478 or 1479) into two separate governments, named after their capitals Gawil and Mahur. The Bahmani dynasty was, however, already tottering to its fall; and in 1490 Imad-ul-Mulk, governor of Gawil, who had formerly held all Berar, proclaimed his independence and proceeded to annex Mahur to his new kingdom. Imad-ul-Mulk was by birth a Kanarese Hindu, but had been captured as a boy in one of the expeditions against Vijayanagar and reared as a Mussulman. He died in 1504 and his direct descendants held the sultanate of Berar until 1561, when Burhan Imad Shah was deposed by his minister Tufal Khan, who assumed the kingship. This gave a pretext for the intervention of Murtaza Nizam Shah of Ahmednagar, who in 1572 invaded Berar, imprisoned and put to death Tufal Khan, his son Shams-ul-Mulk, and the ex-king Burhan, and annexed Berar to his own dominions. In 1595 Sultan Murad, son of the emperor Akbar, besieged Ahmednagar, and was bought off by the formal cession of Berar.

Murad, founding the city of Shahpur, fixed his seat at Berar, and after his death in 1598, and the conquest of the Deccan by Akbar, the province was united with Ahmednagar and Khandesh under the emperor’s fifth son, Daniyal (d. 1605), as governor. After Akbar’s death (1605) Berar once more became independent under the Abyssinian Malik Ambar (d. 1626), but in the first year of Shah Jahan’s reign it was again brought under the sway of the Mogul empire. Towards the close of the 17th century the province began to be overrun by the Mahrattas, and in 1718 the Delhi government formally recognized their right to levy blackmail (chauth) on the unhappy population. In 1724 the Nizam-ul-Mulk Asaf Jah established the independent line of the nizams of Hyderabad, and thenceforth the latter claimed to be de jure sovereigns of Berar, with exception of certain districts (Mehkar, Umarkhed, &c.) ceded to the peshwa in 1760 and 1795. The claim was contested by the Bhonsla rajas, and for more than half a century the miserable country was ground between the upper and the nether millstone.

This condition of things was ended by Wellesley’s victories at Assaye and Argaon (1803), which forced the Bhonsla raja to cede his territories west of the Wardha, Gawilgarh and Narnala. By the partition treaty of Hyderabad (1804) these ceded territories in Berar were transferred to the nizam, together with some tracts about Sindkhed and Jalna which had been held by Sindhia. By a treaty of 1822, which extinguished the Mahratta right to levy chauth, the Wardha river was fixed as the eastern boundary of Berar, the Melghat and adjoining districts in the plains being assigned to the nizam in exchange for the districts east of the Wardha held by the peshwa.

Though Berar was no longer oppressed by its Mahratta taskmasters nor harried by Pindari and Bhil raiders, it remained long a prey to the turbulent elements let loose by the sudden cessation of the wars. From time to time bands of soldiery, whom the government was powerless to control, scoured the country, and rebellion succeeded rebellion till 1859, when the last fight against open rebels took place at Chichamba near Risod. Meanwhile the misery of the country was increased by the reckless raising of loans by the nizam’s government and the pledging of the revenues to a succession of great farmers-general. At last the British government had to intervene effectively, and in 1853 a new treaty was signed with the nizam, under which the Hyderabad contingent was to be maintained by the British government, while for the pay of this force and in satisfaction of other claims, certain districts were “assigned” to the East India Company. It was these “Hyderabad Assigned Districts” which were popularly supposed to form the province of Berar, though they coincided in extent neither with the Berar of the nizams nor with the old Mogul province. In 1860, by a new treaty which modified in the nizam’s favour that of 1853, it was agreed that Berar should be held in trust by the British government for the purposes specified in the treaty of 1853.

Under British control Berar rapidly recovered its prosperity. Thousands of cultivators who had emigrated across the Wardha to the peshwa’s dominions, in order to escape the ruinous fiscal system of the nizam’s government, now returned; the American Civil War gave an immense stimulus to the cotton trade; the laying of a line of railway across the province provided yet further employment, and the people rapidly became prosperous and contented.

See Imperial Gazetteer of India (Oxford, 1908), and authorities there quoted.