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Hughli, City


Hughli, City was founded by theportuguese in the sixteenth century. It lies just west of the Hughli River and at present is the headquarters of the district of the same name in West Bengal (India). It is a major road and rail connection. Before the rise of the Portuguese settlement in the sixteenth century, it was a petty village on the right bank of the Bhagirathi, two miles or so east of satgaon which contained only a number of straw-huts and bamboo stockades. Here the visiting Portuguese ships used to sell their cargo of salt from Hijli and evacuated it when the transaction was over. It was then called a ganj or mart. In May 1578, a delegation of the Firingis headed by Peodro Tavares, met Emperor akbar (1556-1605) and received permission to found a city in Bengal for the Portuguese. They were then promised full religious liberty including the right to preach their religion, make converts and build churches. The fruit of this mission was, in fact, the official establishment of a Portuguese colony at Hughli (in 1579 AD). Here the great Augustinian monastery was built in 1599 at a village which came to be called Bandel (a Portuguese corruption of bandar or port) and also the college of the Jesuits, besides a poor house and some other minor religious edifices. Thus the colony of the Portuguese at Hughli turned into a flourishing urban centre.

It is learnt from the Portuguese sources that of the various trading ports in Bengal during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the richest, the most flourishing and the most populous was that of Hughli. Due to its importance as a port it received the name and position of porto piqueno, or small port, a Portuguese term, hitherto applied to the city of Satgaon. To it vessels from India, China, Malacca and Manila repaired in great numbers. Hindustanis, Mongols, Persians andarmenians came there. In its initial stage, it was an open port, which had no fort, no protective wall and no ditch round it. But as the seventeenth century advanced, the growing prosperity and population of the port drew the attention of the authorities in Portugal. Hitherto the inhabitants including the Portuguese of Hughli had been allowed by the Mughal Governors to manage their local affairs including defense, provided that the emperor's overlordship was not denied. The King of Spain and Portugal nominated one Captain Convidor to Hughli, as a sort of Mayor with four assistants, yearly elected by the citizens, and placed the port under the protection of the governor of Ceylon, as Goa was too distant. In course of time, owing to the carelessness of the Bengal rulers, many Firingis assembled there and built extremely lofty and strong mansions and strengthened them with cannons, muskets and other armaments.

But soon the political disorder in the town, the moral degeneration and piratical proclivities of the Portuguese induced Emperor shahjahan (1628-1658) to instruct qasim khan jwini, the Mughal governor of Bengal, to take possession of Hughli, crush the Portuguese power and make captives of them. Qasim Khan laid siege on Hughli on 20 June 1632 and captured it on 15 September. From the beginning to the end of the campaign a total of ten thousand Portuguese were slain, blown up by gunpowder, drowned in water, or burnt in fires while the imperial army lost nearly one thousand dead.

After the expulsion of the Portuguese, the English east india company established their factory at Hughli in 1651 during the viceroyalty of shah shuja (1639-1660). But following the quarrel between the Mughals and the English, the latter began to evacuate Hughli and settled at Sutanuti on 24 August 1690. The emergence of calcutta led to the decline of Hughli. Although the city, from a political point of view, was losing its splendour, culturally it remained important as a Shia colony and a centre of Shia theology and Persian culture, at least up to the time of the growth of murshidabad. The port city of Hughli was stormed, sacked, plundered and burnt by the English on 10 January 1757.

The important historical monuments of this town include a Muslim imambara (meeting place of the Shia community) and a Portuguese church (1660).

The town, however, seems to have revived under English rule. In 1865 Hughli and chinsura constituted a joint municipality. At present, it is one of the industrial district towns of West Bengal. [Md Akhtaruzzaman]

Bibliography JJA Campos, History of the Portuguese in Bengal, Calcutta, 1919; JN Sarkar (ed), History of Bengal, vol II, Dhaka, 3rd edition, 1976.