Historical Background of the Princely State of Bhavnagar
The Gohil Rajputs, the ruling dynasty of Bhavnagar, faced significant challenges in Marwar. Around 1260 AD, they migrated to the Gujarat coast and established three capitals: Sejakpur (present-day Ranpur), Umrala, and Sihor. However, in 1723, Bhavsinhji Gohil founded the city of Bhavnagar and made it the capital of the newly formed princely state in India. Under the indirect governance of the British administration, Bhavnagar became one of the princely states of India in the early 19th century. The state was situated in the southeastern corner of Kathiawar, bounded by various regions including Ahmedabad, Junagadh, Amreli, and several units of Kathiawar. It was part of the Baroda Agency under the Western India States Agency and later Gujarat. Geographical Boundaries of Bhavnagar State The Princely State of Bhavnagar encompassed two compact districts in the southeastern corner of Kathiawar. It was bordered by the British district of Ahmedabad to the north, Junagadh to the south, and the Barodan district of Amreli along with various Kathiawar territories, including Dedan, Khijadia, Badhli, Jasdan, and Paliyad. The state comprised 655 villages and 11 towns in 1911, with a total area of 2,961 sq m in 1941. After the inclusion of adjacent states in 1943, the territory expanded to 3,740 sq m.
Administrative Structure of Bhavnagar State
Under the British rule, Bhavnagar was a part of the Baroda Agency, later becoming part of the Western India States Agency and Gujarat. The state enjoyed full civil and criminal jurisdiction, and its ruler held the title and style of Thakor until 1917 when it changed to Maharaja Jam Saheb. In 1941, a legislative assembly consisting of 55 members was established. Bhavnagar state paid tribute to the princely states of Baroda and Junagadh. The native coinage of the state ceased to exist in 1840. Between 1802 and 1866, the state was divided into two divisions. However, through agreements in 1860 and 1866, the native ruler gained full autonomy and power over all his territories.
In 1911, Maharani Nundkanvarba of Bhavnagar was honored with the Order of the Crown of India, the highest imperial award for women in the British Empire. This recognition reflected the esteemed position of the ruling family within the princely state.
Attachment Scheme and Salute State
In 1943, according to the Attachment Scheme, the princely state of Bhavnagar included 50 states and talukas in Chok Datha and Songadh Thanas, primarily ruled by Gohel and Sarvaiya Rajputs. This region covered an area of 779 sq m and had a population of 94,811. Bhavnagar was considered a salute state of India, receiving a gun salute of 13 guns. It held the rank of fifth in order of precedence among the states of Western India.
Maritime Trade in Bhavnagar State
Bhavnagar played a crucial role in maritime trade, benefiting from its strategic location on the Gujarat coast. The ruler Bhavsinhji ensured the state's participation in the revenue generated from maritime trade, forming agreements with the Sidis of Janjira and later with the British. Bhavnagar grew in importance and size, with the addition of new territories and thriving maritime commerce. Vakhatsinhji Gohil, the grandson of Bhavsinhji, expanded the state's territory and continued to prioritize maritime trade. Bhavnagar port prospered, and the state became the first to construct its railway system without central government aid.
Economic and Cultural Development
The rulers of Bhavnagar encouraged industrial and agricultural development in the state. They established several industries such as textile mills, iron foundries, and sugar factories, which contributed to the economic progress of the region. The state also saw advancements in education, infrastructure, and public welfare. Bhavnagar State was known for its progressive policies and was considered one of the most developed princely states in India.
Maharaja Takhtsinhji (r. 1850-1896) played a crucial role in the modernization of Bhavnagar. He implemented reforms in administration, taxation, and judiciary, and introduced measures to improve education and healthcare. He also undertook extensive irrigation projects to enhance agricultural productivity in the region.
One of the notable achievements of Bhavnagar was the establishment of the Bhavnagar Railway, which connected the state to the wider rail network in British India. The railway line was inaugurated in 1880 and played a vital role in facilitating trade and transportation.
The cultural and artistic heritage of Bhavnagar flourished during this period. The ruling family patronized artists, musicians, and scholars, contributing to the development of literature, music, and fine arts in the state. Bhavnagar became a center of learning and cultural activities.
However, the decline of princely states began with India's independence and the subsequent integration of the states into the Indian Union. The process of integration brought an end to the princely states' autonomy and resulted in the merger of Bhavnagar into the state of Gujarat. The royal family continued to play a significant role in public life, but their political authority diminished.
Rulers of Princely State of Bhavnagar
Thakor Ratanji II (1660- 1703)
Thakor Akherajji II Bhavsinhji (1764- 1772)
Thakor Wakhatsinhji Akherajji (1772- 1816)
Thakor Wajesinhji Wakhatsinhji (1816- 1852)
Thakor Akherajji III Bhavsinhji (1852- 1854)
Thakor Jashwantsinhji Bhavsinhji (1854- 1870)
Thakor Takhatsinhji Jashwantsinhji (1870- 1896)
Thakor Bhavsinhji II Takhatsinhji (1896- 1919)
Maharaja Krishnakumarsinhji Bhavsinhji (1919 – 1947)
Maharaja Virbhadrasinhji Krishnakumarsinhji Gohil (1965 –1994)
Maharaja Vijayrajsinhji Virbhadrasinhji Gohil (1994 – to present)
Integration with the Union of India
Following India's independence and the withdrawal of the British government in 1947, the last ruler of the Princely State of Bhavnagar, Maharaja Krishnakumar Sinhji, acceded his state to the newly formed Union of India in 1948. Bhavnagar was among the first states to join the Indian Union and later became part of the state of Gujarat.
Legacy of Bhavnagar State
The legacy of the princely state of Bhavnagar continues to hold cultural and historical significance. The Gohil Rajputs, who ruled Bhavnagar for centuries, left an indelible mark on the region's heritage and identity.
The architectural heritage of Bhavnagar is notable, with several palaces, forts, and havelis (traditional mansions) that showcase the grandeur of the princely era. The Nilambagh Palace, constructed in the 19th century, stands as a magnificent testament to the architectural prowess of that time. It has now been transformed into a heritage hotel, attracting tourists from around the world.
The Bhavnagar Lancers, the military unit that originated from the princely state, left a significant legacy. They played a crucial role in various military campaigns and earned numerous accolades for their bravery during World War I. The unit eventually became part of the Indian Army and is still remembered for its contributions to the country's defense.
The royal family of Bhavnagar continues to be highly regarded by the people, both in the city and the areas that were once part of the princely state. They have actively engaged in philanthropic endeavors and have made significant contributions to various fields such as hospitality, real estate, agriculture, etc.
Today, Bhavnagar is a thriving city in Gujarat with a rich historical legacy. It has evolved into a major industrial and commercial hub, known for industries such as shipbuilding, cotton textiles, and diamond cutting and polishing. The city preserves its heritage through historical landmarks, museums, and cultural festivals, providing a glimpse into its princely past.
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