1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bikanir

BIKANIR, a native state of India, in the Rajputana agency with an area of 23,311 sq. m. The natural aspect of the country is one desolate tract, without a single permanently running stream. Its surface is overspread with undulating sand-hills of from 20 to 100 ft. above the average level, and so loose that men and quadrupeds stepping off the beaten track sink as if in snow. Two streams, the Katli and Ghaggar, attempt to flow through this dismal region, but are lost in its sands. Water is very scarce, and is raised from wells of from 250 to 340 ft. in depth. A few shallow salt lakes are filled by rain water, but they dry up on the setting in of the hot weather, leaving a thick crust of salt on their beds, which is used for commercial and domestic purposes. The inhabitants are very poor. They live chiefly by pasturage—rearing camels, of which their chief agricultural stock consists, and horses of a fine breed, which fetch good prices. From the wool which their sheep yield they manufacture every article of native dress and good blankets. The other industries are leather work, sugar-refining, goldsmith’s work, ivory carving, iron, brass, copper, stone masonry, tanning, weaving, dyeing and carpentry. The principal towns are Bikanir, the capital, Churu, Rajgarh, Ratangarh and Reni. In 1901 the population was 584,627, showing a decrease of 30% due to the results of famine. The revenue is £141,000. The military force consists of 500 men, besides the Imperial Service Corps of the same strength. The schools include a high school affiliated to the university of Allahabad, a school for the sons of nobles, and a girls’ school called after Lady Elgin. The railway from Jodhpur has been extended towards Bhatinda in the Punjab; on the northern border, the Ghaggar canal in the Punjab irrigates about 5000 acres. Drought is of common occurrence. The famine of 1899-1900 was severely felt. The city of Bikanir has a railway station. The city is surrounded by a stone wall, 6 ft. thick, 15 to 30 ft. high and 3½ m. in circuit, with five gates and three sally-ports. The citadel is half a mile north-east of the city, and is surrounded by a rampart with bastions. The population in 1901 was 53,075. There are manufactures of fine blankets and sugar-candy.

History.—In the 15th century the territory which now forms the state of Bikanir was occupied by Rajput clans, partly Jats, partly Mahommedans. About 1465 Bika, a Rathor Rajput, sixth son of Rao Jodha, chief of Marwar, started out to conquer the country. By taking advantage of the rivalries of the clans he succeeded; in 1485 he built the small fort at the capital which still bears his name, and in 1488 began the building of the city itself. He died in 1504, and his successors gradually extended their possessions. In the reign of Akbar the chiefs of Bikanir were esteemed among the most loyal adherents of the Delhi empire, and in 1570 Akbar married a daughter of Kalyan Singh. Kalyan’s son, Rai Singh, who succeeded him in 1571, was one of Akbar’s most distinguished generals and the first raja of Bikanir; his daughter married Selim, afterwards the emperor Jahangir. Two other distinguished chiefs of the house were Karan Singh (1631-1669), who in the struggle of the sons of Shah Jahan for the throne threw in his lot with Aurangzeb, and his eldest son, Anup Singh (1669-1698), who fought with distinction in the Deccan, was conspicuous in the capture of Golconda, and earned the title of maharaja. From this time forward the history of Bikanir was mainly that of the wars with Jodhpur, which raged intermittently throughout the 18th century. In 1802, during one of these wars, Elphinstone passed through Bikanir on his way to Kabul; and the maharaja, Surat Singh (1788-1828), applied to him for British protection, which was, however, refused. In 1815 Surat Singh’s tyranny led to a general rising of his thakurs, and in 1816 the maharaja again applied for British protection. On the 9th of May 1818 a treaty was concluded, and order was restored in the country by British troops. Ratan Singh, who succeeded his father in 1828, applied in vain in 1830 to the British government for aid against a fresh outbreak of his thakurs; but during the next five years dacoity became so rife on the borders that the government raised a special force to deal with it (the Shakhawati Brigade), and of this for seven years Bikanir contributed part of the cost. Henceforth the relations of the maharajas with the British government were increasingly cordial. In 1842 Ratan Singh supplied camels for the Afghan expedition; in 1844 he reduced the dues on goods passing through his country, and he gave assistance in both Sikh campaigns. His son, Sardar Singh (1851-1872), was rewarded for help given during the Mutiny by an increase of territory. In 1868 a rising of the thakurs against his extortions led to the despatch of a British political officer, by whom affairs were adjusted. Sardar Singh had no son, and on his death in 1872 his widow and principal ministers selected Dungar Singh as his successor, with the approval of the British government. The principal event of his reign was the rebellion of the thakurs in 1883, owing to an attempt to increase the dues payable in lieu of military service; this led to the permanent location at Bikanir of a British political agent. Dungar Singh died in 1887 without a son, but he had adopted his brother, Ganga Singh (b. 1880), who succeeded as 21st chief of Bikanir with the approval of the government. He was educated at the Mayo College at Ajmere, and was invested with full powers in 1898. He attended King Edward’s coronation in 1902, and accompanied the British army in person in the Chinese campaign of 1901 in command of the Bikanir Camel Corps, which also did good service in Somaliland in 1904. The state owes to this ruler the opening up of new railways across the great desert, which was formerly passable only by camels, and the tapping of the valuable coal deposits that occur in the territory. For his conspicuous services he was given the Kaisar-i-Hind medal of the first class, made an honorary major in the Indian army, a G.C.I.E., a K.C.S.I., and A.D.C. to the prince of Wales.