A large part of the considerable architectural heritage of
is the Zaminder Bari; the palaces of the Zaminders. Bangladesh
So who were these Zaminders? Well, perhaps the simplest explanation would be to describe them as the commercial aristocracy of the commercial rulers who were the ‘Honourable East India Company’, the British trading company who assumed control of much of North East India following the Battle of Plassey (Locally known as the Battle of Polashi).
Of course, even the most ancient of European aristocracy were once, themselves, newcomers. The great palaces, stately homes and land holdings that remain in the hands of the ancient aristocracy of countries like Britain were gained either through ancient forms of ‘land grabbing’; by doing favours for monarchs; or by buying or being granted the possessions to undertake the responsibility for collection and remitting taxes.
Following the Plassey, the East India Company acquired overlordship of ever increasing lands in North East India, especially
Bengal. In laws know as the Permanent Settlement enacted in 1793, the zaminders appointed by earlier rulers were confirmed in permanent and hereditary possession of their land holdings on condition of paying revenues collected, to the Company, the amount of which was assessed and fixed.
If they failed to pay, then the Company took possession of the lands and put them up to public auction, to be knocked down to the highest bidders; inevitably, someone who assessed he could make more profit from the work than the next man! The top bidder then entered into possession subject to the same terms as his predecessor.
We find, therefore, when looking at the family origins of the ‘tax farmers’ who were the Zaminders, plenty of those whose origins were more in commerce than in traditional landowning.
From their effective farming of revenues rather than crops grew many of the Stately Homes that still, though often in ruinous state, can be discovered across the lands of modern Bangladesh.
Some Zaminders survived partition, but in the new age, tax farming was something governments increasingly retained for themselves. The lands were broken up; the age of the Zaminders was past. Just as in Europe, and increasingly in India, the palaces greatest prospect for survival will be tourism.