Bilaspur, which was formerly a very isolated tract, is now traversed in three directions by lines of the Bengal-Nagpur railway. It suffered severely from the famine of 1896-1897. In 1897 the general death-rate was as high as 90 per thousand, rising to 297 in Bilaspur town. It suffered no less severely in 1900, when in May the number of persons relieved rose to one-fourth of the total population.
In 1901 the population was 1,012,972, showing a decrease of 13%, compared with an increase of 14% in the preceding decade. In 1906, however, the new district of Drug was formed, which took away 739 sq. m. from Bilaspur; the population on this reduced area of Bilaspur in 1901 was 917,240.
Among the Hindu inhabitants of the district, the Chamars and Pankas deserve particular notice. The former, who form the shoemaker and leather-dealing caste of the Hindu community, had always been held in utter contempt by the other Hindu castes. But between 1820 and 1830 a religious movement, having for its object their freedom from the trammels of caste, was inaugurated by a member of the caste, named Ghasi Das, who preached the unity of God and the equality of men. Ghasi Das gave himself out as a messenger of God; he prohibited the adoration of idols, and enjoined the worship of the Supreme Being without any visible sign or representation. The followers of the new faith call themselves Satnamis, or the worshippers of Satnam or God. They do not keep the Hindu festivals and they defy the contempt of the Brahmans. Ghasi Das, the founder of the faith, was their first high priest. He died in 1850; his son succeeded him, but was assassinated (it was said by the Hindus), and the grandson succeeded him. The Pankas, who form about a sixth of the population, are all Kabirpanthis, or followers of Kabir, a religious reformer of the 15th century. There is no great difference between the Kabir Pankas and the Satnamis. They both abstain from meat and liquor, marry at the age of puberty, ordinarily celebrate their ceremonies through the agency of the elders of their own caste and bury their dead. The Pankas worship the Supreme Being under the name of Kabir, and the Chamars under the name of Satnam; while each community has a high priest to whom reverence is paid. At present the majority of the Pankas are cultivators, though formerly all were weavers. The Gonds are the most numerous among the aboriginal tribes, but so great an intermixture has taken place between them and the Hindu races that they have lost their language and most of their ethnical characteristics, such as the flat forehead, squat nose, prominent nostril, dark skin, &c., and are scarcely distinguishable from the other classes of the Hindu labouring population. In addition to some of the Hindu deities which they worship, the Gonds have their own gods—Bara Deva and Dula Deva. The Kanwars are the next largest section of the aboriginal population. The upper class among them claim to be Rajputs, and are divided into numerous septs. Although an aboriginal tribe, the census returns them as a Hindu caste. All the northern landholders of Bilaspur belong to this tribe, which consequently occupies an influential position.
The chief wealth of the district consists in its agricultural produce. Rice, wheat, pulses, millet, mustard, oil-seeds and cotton are the chief crops. Rice, the chief export, is sent to Bombay, Berar and northern India. The tussur silk industry is of considerable importance, and the silk is reputed the best in the Central Provinces. Sal and other timber is exported. Lac is sent in large quantities to Calcutta and Mirzapur. Coal and iron are the chief minerals; sandstone for building purposes is quarried near Bilaspur and Seorinarain. Among local industries the most important is the weaving trade.
The early history of the district is very obscure. From remote ages it was governed by kings of the Haihai dynasty of Ratanpur and Raipur, known as the Chhattisgarh rajas, on account of thirty-six forts (garhs), of which they were the lords. A genealogical list of kings of this dynasty was carefully kept up to the fifty-fifth representative in the year 1741, when the country was seized without a struggle by the Mahrattas of Nagpur. From 1818 to 1830 Bilaspur came under the management of the British government, the Mahratta chief of Nagpur being then a minor. In 1854 the country finally lapsed to the British government, the chief having died without issue. During the Sepoy mutiny a hill chief of the district gave some trouble, but he was speedily captured and executed.
BILBAO, formerly sometimes written Bilboa, the capital of the province of Biscay, in northern Spain; in 43° 15′ N. and 2° 45′ W.; on the river Nervion on Ansa (in Basque Ibaizabal), and about 8 m. inland from the Bay of Biscay. Pop. (1900) 83,306. Bilbao is one of the principal seaports of Spain, and the greatest of Basque towns. It occupies a small but fertile and beautiful valley, shut in by mountains on every side except towards the sea, and containing the fortified haven of Portugalete, the industrial town of Baracaldo (q.v.), and the villages of Santurce and Las Arenas, where the Nervion broadens to form the Bay of Bilbao at its mouth. Bilbao comprises two distinct parts, ancient and modern. The new town lies on the left bank, while the old town rises on the right in terraces. Communication across the river is afforded by five bridges, of which the oldest, San Antonio, is of stone, and dates from the 14th century. The houses in the principal streets are built of hewn stone, and are several storeys high, with projecting eaves that give shelter from both sun and rain. Many of the streets in the old town are very narrow, and have an appearance of cleanliness and quiet. For a long time no carts or carriages were permitted to enter the city for fear of polluting and injuring the pavement, and the transport of goods was carried on in hand-carts. But after 1876 entirely new districts were mapped out on the left bank of the Nervion. Fine broad streets, splendid squares and public gardens, hotels, villas, palatial new public buildings and numerous schools came into existence. The part of the town on the right bank is, however, still the great centre of business, the narrow streets containing the best shops. There, too, are the banks, the town hall, the theatre, the principal clubs, and the principal churches, including that of Santiago, which dates from the 14th century. In and around Bilbao there are more than thirty convents and monasteries, and at Olaveaga, about a mile off, is the Jesuit university, attended by 850 students. Public education is not, however, entirely in the hands of the priesthood and nuns; there are an institute, a normal school to train teachers, a school of arts and handicrafts, a nautical school and numerous public primary schools for both sexes.
Few Spanish cities grew so rapidly in size, importance and wealth as Bilbao in the latter half of the 19th century. Its first bank was founded in 1857; its first railway (Bilbao-Tudela) opened in 1863. Thenceforward, despite the check it received from the Carlist rebellion of 1870-1876, and the contemporaneous decline of its wool and shipbuilding industries, its prosperity increased steadily. The population, 17,649 in 1870, rose to 50,734 in 1887, 74,076 in 1897, and 83,306 in 1900. This development was due principally to the growth of the mining and metallurgical industries. From a very early period, as the Old English word bilbo, “a sword,” attests, Bilbao was celebrated for the excellent quality of its steel blades; in modern times it was the natural headquarters of the important steel and iron trades of the Basque Provinces. Hence it became the centre of a network of railway lines unsurpassed in Spain. The harbour works board, constituted in 1877, improved the river channel and the bar; made wharves and embankments; lighted the lower reaches of the river by electricity, so as to allow vessels to enter by night; and constructed a breakwater and counter-mole outside the bar of the river Nervion, between Santurce, Portugalete and the opposite headland at the village of Algorta, so as to secure deep anchorage and easy access to the river. The first dry dock was constructed in 1896; in 1905 it was supplemented by another, the largest in Spain. The exports are chiefly iron; the imports coal; large quantities of wine from Navarre and the Ebro valley are also sent abroad, and the importation of timber of all kinds from Scandinavia and Finland, and coastwise from Asturias, is of great importance. In the coasting trade the exports are mostly pig-iron, codfish and some products of local industries and agriculture. The shipping