Saran district, along with its severed parts – the neighbouring Siwan and Gopalganj districts, constitutes the origin of a diverse and far-flung diaspora flourishing in Fiji, Mauritius, Surinam and the Caribbean islands including Guyana, Trinidad and Tobago.
Interest in its antiquity is thus, immense not only among the diaspora but also in the world of academics and culture.
Chhapra, as the district is called in popular parlance, was the district headquarters of the Old Saran district and was an important entity in Mughal times too. The Ain-e-Akbari, the official chronicle of Emperor Akbhar, describes the area as ‘Saran Sarkar’ one of the six sarkars (revenue divisions) comprising the subba of Bihar.
Even after the East India Company got the diwani of the region in 1765, Saran and Champaran continued to be an important revenue unit.
A river-from city, Chhapra has been vividly described by writer Amitav Ghosh in his novel, Sea of Poppies. The story takes a rapid turn with the flight of the protagonists, Deeti and Kalua, to a new life as labourers in Mauritius. Chhapra is a stop-over during their boat trip in the Ganga river from Ghazipur to the estuary Kolkata.
Chhapra has been identified with ancient Alakappa (Anvalkopa) , a republic of clan of Buli Kshatriyas during the time of 16 Mahajanapds (600 BCE) and Second Urvanisation. According to ‘Dhammapadatthakatha’, therepublic comprised 10 yojana (115 km approximately) and had the privilege of sharing the felics of Gautam Buddha, along with seven others.
According to Tripitaka, a highway from ‘ Mahasala (Masarh)’ to ‘Bethadipa (Bettiah)’ passed through Alakapppa. The deformed name of Allakappa is Anvalkopa. There is a huge mound in the nearby village Chhapra. The modern group of villages Anwal, Kopa and Chatara, situated in the west of Chhapra town , is Ancient Allakappa.
However, the modern name of Chhapra town is believed to have been derived from the word ‘ chhapar’ meaning ‘thatched roof, as the people here usually lived in houses of wattled walls and thatched roofs because of the frequent danger from river floods. It is also called as ‘Chiran Chapra’ from a more ancient place called Chirand, six miles to its east.
In his memories, Emperor Baba refers to village ‘Chouparah’, which clearly means the modern Chhapra.
A portion of Chapra town, which was in possession of Dutch till 1770 has a Dutch cemetery at Karinga on Baniapur Road to the northwest of the town with inscription dating as far back as 1712, is an object of interest. Both Taverier and Bernier, who visited Bihar in 1666 had mentioned about the Holland company trading in saltpetre in a town called Chhapra. During the end of 17th century and early 18th century, the area was a centre of attraction for the Europeans due to saltpetre. The mausoleum of the Dutch Governor Jacobus J. Van Horn is reminiscent of its past importance. It is a substantially built grave and an edifice which has withstood the test of time.
Chirand, among the first Bihari settlements
The origin of Saran’s socio-cultural continuity dates back to early historical times as far back as the 3rd millennium BCE or probably even before, with one of the first human settlements being in the alluvial Bihar plains at Chirand, 11 km southeast of Chhapra.
Excavations at the site have revealed a massive mound with occupational deposits, about 1 km in length, at the confluence of the Saryu and Ganga rivers.
An amazing array of tools and implements has been unearthed here. Other tools like pestles, querns and balls have been found along with microlithic blades and points made of Chalcedony, agate and jasper.
A large number and variety of bone and antler implements like scrapers, chisels, borers,awls, diggers andpins too have been discovered in course of the excavations.
These finds reveal that the earliest occupiers here adept at both farming and hunting. This has been further corroborated with the finding of plant remains which include rice, wheat, barley and lentils.
The hunting and fishing prowess of the early settlers of Chirand finds support from the discovery of bots of bones of animals, birds and fishes. Remains of wild elephants, rhinoceros, deer and domestic cattle too have been found.
The pottery unearthed here include red, grey and black wares with some being black and red ware. While the earliest pottery were hand-made, evidence suggesting the use of the turn-table technology too has been found.
Some pots had painted, usually red ochre, and scratched designs on their surface and these were generally linear of geometric. The exterior of many grey pots were burnished and the bowls and vases found are of various shapes and sizes.
The women of Chirand were quite fashionable. Bone ornaments found here include pendants, earrings, bangles, discs and combs. Bangles made of tortoise bone and ivory too have been discovered.
A variety of beads of agate, carnelian, jasper, steatite and faience have been found and their shapes are as diverse as long tubular, long and short barrel, cylindrical and disc.
Terracotta was also handy and favoured as the finding of terracotta beads, bangles, wheels, balls and fragments of brooch reveals. Terracotta figurines of the humped bull, birds and snakes too have been found here.
If the earliest residents of Chirand could be so fond of fashion, how could they possible not engage in pleasures when free from agrarian of hunting activities? A small perforated stem with traces of soot inside indicates that it was perhaps a smoking pipe!
Chilling out with the ‘chillum’? Isn’t it a familiar sight in the Bihar countryside? We can now perhaps guess where it all commenced.
The Neolithic people of Chirand lived in circular wattle and duab huts with rammed floors. In the early stages, the floors were below ground level, but later it was raised to ground level.
The family hearts were located inside the homesteads which had mud boundary walls. Burnt chunks of clay and bamboo suggest that the houses were destroyed by fire.