ʿAẒĪMĀBĀD (Patna), ancient Pataliputra, present capital of Bihar state in northeast India. After its great days as the capital of the Mauryas (321-185 B.C.) and the Guptas (A.D. 319-550) Pataliputra got relegated to the position of a small town. Its fortune revived when Šēr Shah (r. 947-52/1540-45), impressed by the strategic location of the site, had a fort built there in about 948/1541. The town, Patna, subsequently developed and became the capital of Bihar (ʿAbdallāh, Tārīḵ-edāʾūdī, ed. Shaikh ʿAbd-al-Rašīd, Aligarh, 1389/1969, p. 150). During the next two centuries Patna emerged as an important political, commercial, and cultural center.
It was the headquarters of a long line of governors (ṣūbadārs), including Mughal princes, many of whom built new buildings there, including public facilities, administrative centers, mausoleums, mosques, etc. The most notable builders were Sayf Khan (1038-42/1628-32), whose madrasa and ʿīdgāh have partly survived, and Šāʾesta Khan (1049-53/1639-43), some of whose mosques are extant and the site of whose shopping center (katra) can still be identified (see Q. Ahmad, Corpus of Arabic and Persian Inscriptions of Bihar, Patna, 1973, passim).
Patna obtained a new name, ʿAẓīmābād, and greater splendor during the governorship of Prince ʿAẓīm (1115-19/1703-07), a grandson of Awrangzēb (r. 1658-1707; q.v.) and better known as ʿAẓīm-al-šaʾn. Coins bearing the new name are available from the year 1117-18/1705-06 onwards. The district (pargana) was also renamed ʿAẓīmābād.
The town spread lengthwise along the southern bank of the Ganges river at the point where it joins the river Punpun, which flows parallel to it a little further south. It was walled and had several gates, of which the eastern and the western ones are still marked.
The town’s population (474,000 according to the 1971 census, 12 percent of whom were Muslims) was estimated by S. Manrique in 1051/1641 at 200,000 (two lakhs; Travels of Manrique 1629-43, tr. F. Luard and H. Hosten, London, 1927, II, p. 140); it had started spilling beyond the wall since the eighteenth century, if not earlier. During the British period the westward expansion began. The East India Company’s civil station and cantonment were built on that side. A conspicuous monument of the period is the Golghar (Rose-house), a granary built in 1200/1786 by Warren Hastings; it is 96 feet high with two staircases on the outside winding to the top. In modern times the town has also expanded southwards, cutting across the railway which used to mark the southern boundary. The eastern part represents the old, walled town; elderly people still call it ʿAẓīmābād or simply Šahr (the city).
ʿAẓīmābād was located at the confluence of three rivers, well connected to overland trade routes, and serving as a vital commercial link to the fertile province of Bengal, and so turned into an industrial and commercial center which attracted European entrepreneurs. Its industries comprised textiles, paper, sugar, carpets, gilded glass, earthenware, vermilion, indigo, later also opium (see H. K. Naqvi, Urban Centers and Industries in Upper India, 1556-1803, New York, 1968). It also served as a cultural and educational center. Moḥammad-Ṣādeq, the author of Ṣobḥ-e ṣādeq, mentions many eminent litterateurs, teachers, magistrates, physicians, calligraphists, and musicians from whom he received his education. It appears that many Persian migrants who passed through Bihar en route to service in Bengal returned to settle in ʿAẓīmābād upon their retirement. The madrasa of Sayf Khan was well-endowed, providing residential arrangements for many of its teachers and students. The presence and patronage of ʿAẓīm-al-šaʾn attracted many notable persons in various fields. Later, during the political upheavals of 1119-34/1707-22 and after Nāder Shah’s invasion of 1152/1739 many of Delhi’s élite and non-élite began to emigrate to other parts of Hindustan, particularly ʿAẓīmābād. Many Sufis, poets, historians, and scholars lived and flourished there, among others, Mīrzā ʿAbd-al-Qāder Bīdel (1054-1133/1644-1721), Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Khan, author of Sīar al-motaʾaḵḵerīn, ʿAlī Ebrāhīm Khan, compiler of an anthology of Persian poets entitled Ṣoḥof-e Ebrāhīm, and Abu’l-Ḥasan Fard, the poet-saint of the Phulwari ḵānaqāh. Non-Muslims, too, achieved excellence in Persian. The Dīvān of the Persian verses of Raja Ram Narain, pen-name Mawzūn, nāʾeb nāẓem of Bihar (1169-74/1756-60), a disciple of Shaikh Ḥazīm, who visited ʿAẓīmābād in 1163/1750, as also the history Ḵolāṣat al-tawārīḵ, of Maharaja Kaliyan Singh, are well known. There were many others whose works have either been lost or lie neglected in manuscript collections (for a partial listing see ʿEbratī’s Rīāż al-afkār, Khuda Bakhsh Oriental Public Library, Patna, ms. copy). ʿAẓīmābād is also the home of a library donated by Mawlawī Ḵodābaḵš (d. 1326/1908), known for its excellent collection of rare Persian and Arabic manuscripts.
A new phase in the town’s history began in the mid-12th/18th century. From his base at ʿAẓīmābād, ʿAlīverdī Khan founded the virtually independent kingdom of Bengal, to which Bihar was appended. Outside of the control of Delhi, Bihar was drawn into the whirlpool of mid-12th/18th-century Bengal politics. When the British won the crucial battles of Plassey and Buxar, the fugitive Prince ʿAlī Gawhar, later Shah ʿĀlam II (r. 1172-1220/1759-1806) came to ʿAẓīmābād in a bid to seize the town and assert his sovereignty. He failed and the British assumed economical control throughout the region. ʿAẓīmābād was a center for the Uprising of 1857 and also for the sociopolitical reform movement popularly known as the Wahhabi Movement.
During the early 14th/late 19th century Bihar, and with it ʿAẓīmābād, suffered as it became incorporated into a large, populous administrative unit. The laying of railways (1279/1862) adversely affected the river-borne commercial traffic on which the town’s prosperity had depended. Meanwhile, with the expansion of the British educational system and the emergence of a vocal middle class, there was increasing demand for a more equitable distribution of resources and services in the Bihar sub-province. In response to this condition and for a variety of other reasons, the British opted to parcel up Bengal. In 1921 Bihar was constituted as a separate province of British India, and ʿAẓīmābād, once again labeled Patna, reverted to its status as a provincial capital.
See also Q. Ahmad, ed., Patna trough the Ages, Patna, 1986.
M. Archer, Patna Painting, London, 1948.
J. D. Beglar, “Report of a Tour through the Bengal Provinces in 1872-3,” in A. Cunningham, Archaeological Survey of India Reports VIII, Calcutta, 1879.
H. Beveridge, “The City of Patna,” The Calcutta Review, 1884, pp. 211-22.
F. Buchanan, An Account of the Districts of Bihar and Patna in 1811-12, Patna, 1896.
N. Kumar, Image of Patna, Patna, 1971.
Ramji Misra, ed., Patna Municipal Centenary Celebration Souvenir, Patna, 1965.
L. S. S. O’Malley, Bihar and Orissa Gazetteers: Patna, Patna, 1917.
J. N. Sarkar and J. C. Jha, A History of the Patna College, (1863-1963), Patna, 1963.
The New Encyclopaedia Britannica, 15th ed., 1980, vol. 13, p. 1076.
Originally Published: December 15, 1988
Last Updated: August 18, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. III, Fasc. 3, pp. 259-260