By Prabuddha Biswas

The communication system of a region is regulated by its physical features. There are four major communication routes traversing the Indian subcontinent. The 1st line of communication runs from the mountain passes of the North-west, across the upper courses of the ‘Sindhu’ and its tributaries and along the Ganga to its delta. The 2nd ancient highway (now called the Great Deccan Road) runs from the Central Ganga Basin (ancient Magadha) to the West Coast along and across the Vindhyas. The 3rd highway links the West Coast with East Coast and skirts the Godavari and Krishna river valley. Lastly, 4th Highway links Tamilnadu with Karnataka & Andhra Pradesh by the Nallamalai hills. These four highways constitute the four arms of what is called the “Z” pattern. This “Z” pattern isolates regions like Assam, Kashmir, Gujarat and Orissa.

The physical features of the Indian subcontinent & the communication system conditioned by them help us to understand the cultural diversity within the Indian subcontinent. The main river basins constitute the areas of attraction, and the tribal areas are those of retardation and isolation. Between them lay the areas of relative isolation.

The 1st line of communication across Indo-Gangetic plain is visualized as the North west – South east corridor with varying alignments during different historical period which was known as

(i) ‘Uttara Path’ in Ancient India (ii) ‘Shahi Marg’ in Medieval Period (iii)Grand Trunk Road during East India Company rule and afterwards.

River Ganga, with its Himalayan tributaries also emerged as the very effective ‘ riverine Communication channel’ for the areas including Gangetic plain of Eastern UP, Bihar and Bengal Delta since Ancient period. The rivers served as arteries of commerce & communication and helped military and commercial transport. Evidently, the stone pillars made by Ashoka in ‘Chunar’; were carried to different parts of the country by boat.

The first line of Communication lay through the Gangetic plain of Bihar, where Gangetic Bihar constitute the area of attraction, the Chotanagpur Plateau and Santhal Pargana of Jharkhand tract and Kaimur Plateau are areas of retardation or isolation and between them, lay the areas of relative isolation.

Buddha’s ‘Mahabhinishkraman’ route was along the ‘Uttarapath’. In Bihar region, he passed through Rampurva, Lauriya Nandangarh, Bettiah, Lauriya Areraj, Kesaria, Vaisali, along left bank of Gandak & after crossing Ganga near Pataligram, he reached Rajgir & terminated at Bodh Gaya. From Bodh Gaya Buddha also reached Sarnath. Megasthenes, the envoy of Seleukos Nicator to the court of Chandra Gupta Maurya, must have travelled down this road about 302 B.C. From Patna, the road further continued to the mouth of Ganges, possibly ending at Tamralipti, modern Tamluk. Ashoka’s sent Mahendra & Sanghamitra to Sri Lanka through Tamralipti. In the first quarter of 5th century A.D., during Chandra Gupta II Vikramaditya’s reign; Fa-Hsien, the Chinese monk appears to have travelled from Patliputra eastwards by the Ganges valley route.

After the demise of Patliputra, the Jamania Buxar alignment went into disuse. In the Turko-Afghan period, the new and shorter alignment emerged (with minor variation), south of Ganges along Sawath, Mohania, Sasaram, Daudnagar, Arwal, Jahanabad, Kako, Teterwan, Ekangarsarai, Odantopuri (Biharsharif), Barbigha, Shaikhpura, Lakhisarai and after crossing Kiul river, all followed the old Ganges road through Munger, Bhagalpur, Teliagarhi & beyond.

Sher Shah constructed a great Road from Sonargaon (Near Dacca) to the River Indus and even as far as (western) Rohtas (and not to be confused with Eastern Rohtasin Bihar), the hill fort in the Jhelum district. All great historical figures, who passed through Bihar had used either of these established channels: – Buddha, Megasthenes, Fahien, Yuang Chwang, I-tsing, Babar, Humayun, Shershah, Akbar, Shah Suja among others.

We also see the slowly opening of jungle terrain of Jharkhand and many of them availed the Jharkhand route like Shershah, Mir Jumla, I-tsing, Shah Alam II, Maratha raiders, Major Carnac (against Mirkasim) among others.

The series of Maratha raids and revolts of Zamindar’s of Bengal-Bihar region and entry of Shah Alam II in troubled waters forced the military strategists of East India Company to rethink for the construction of newer route connecting ‘lower Bengal (Calcutta region) to ‘Up the country (North India)’ for the rapid deployment of forces and also for the commercial consideration (in the later period).

Cacutta – Patna Road (via Teliagarhi, Bhagalpur & Munger) was called the ‘Old Military Road’ by the East India officers. Later a ‘New Military Road’ was constructed in 1780s from Calcutta to Chunargarh, through Bankura-Purulia districts and then through’Chutia-Nagpur plateau and reaching at ‘South Bihar plain’ at Sherghati and after crossing River Sone at Barun-Dehri sector; and ultimately merged with the old alignment of ‘Shershah’s Sahi Marg’. The ‘New Miltary Road’ was functional during 1785 – 1830 and D’Oyly immortalized the route through his sketches.

In the lower region, it followed alignment, south of Damodar River and it was virtually inundated during rainy season. As result, the soldiers used to be abandoned the lower reaches and met the road in ‘Bishnupur via Burdawan’.

Later, a third road by the name ‘Grand Trunk Road’ was added which passed through new alignment, north of Damodar river was constructed, via Burdawan, Asansol, north of Dhanbad and met the ‘New Military Road’ at Sherghati at Gaya.

The Grand Trunk Road was functional by 1832 and the strategy of new alignment saved the day for the ‘East India Company’ during the great revolt of 1857 as it gave uninterrupted supply of logistics till Delhi and beyond.

Later the construction of Railways 1850 onwards; changed the whole concept and revolutionized the communication system of India ……… forever.

But, that is a different story……