Banswara was a princely state situated in the southern most Rajputana province and later became a part of British India. It is bound in the north by Partabarh and Mewar, on the west with by Dungapur and Sunth, in the south by Jhalod, Jhabua and a portion of Petlawad pargana of Indore, in the east by Sailana, Ratlam and Pratabgarh. Banswara is said to take its name from a Bhil chieftain name Wasna whose village was situated there. In 1530 he was defeated and slain by Jagmal, the first chieftain of this State. Some claim the word means a country of bamboo (bans).
Coats of Arms, Banswara State
From the beginning of 13th to 16th century, Banswara State was ruled by the chiefs of Dungapur or Bagar. It later became a separate state in 1530. According to one account Udai Singh, the chief of Bagar, who was killed in the battle of Khanua in March 1527, ordered that on his death his territory should be divided between his two sons namely- Prithvi Raj and Jagmal. The other account states that Jagmal was left dead at Khanua, but he later recovered. On returning back he was labeled as impostor. He therefore conceded to the present town of Banswara and the strife between two brothers rose. Finding the continual border warfare intolerable, the two brothers agreed to divide their lands. The river of Mahi was accepted as a fixed border between the states of Banswara and Dungapur. Accuracy of the latter account is agreed to be more truth worthy since the chief of Banswara are a junior branch of the Dungapur family and consequently Sesodia Rajputs a part of Ahariya clan.
One of the most important chief was Kushal Singh, who towards the end of the 7th century is said to have driven the Bhils. The country of Kushalgarh is said to have been named after him. Prithvi Singh was another vital chief who plundered the neighboring state of Sunth and seized the districts of Chilkari or Shergarh in the south-west of Banswara. These two tracts were later held by two principal nobles Raos of Kushalgarh and Garhi. Towards the end of the 18th century Banswara became a subject of the Marathas and paid a tribute to the Raja of Dhar. In 1812, the Maharwal offered to become a tributary of the British Government if they expelled the Marathas from their land. But no definite relations were formed until 1818.
By the treaty then concluded Maharwal agreed to act in subordinate co-operation with the British and concurred to pay tribute to Shar or any other state, whichever the British deemed adequate, provided it did not exceed three-eighths of his revenue. Maharwal Lakshman Singh died in 1905 after a rule of sixty-one years and was succeeded by his son Shambu Singh. The chiefs of this state bore the title of Maharwal and were entitled to receive a salute of 15 guns.
Archaeological remains include the ruins of a fine jain temple at Kalinjara, a hindu temple and jain temple at Arthuna in the south-west. An inscription dated 1080, found in Mandanesh or Mandlesar temple at Arthuna indicates that the latter’s place was once an extensive city (Uchhunak Nagar or Patan), the capital of the Paramara chiefs of Bagar.
Left to Right: Maharawal Lakshman Singh, Maharwal Shambu Singh, Maharwal Prithvi Singh
Population, Agriculture and Trade
The Banswara State in 1901 was split up into large number of districts or thanas. Later it was divided into two divisions- the northern and the southern. The headquarters of the north were at Bhongra and the latter at Kalinjara. The main language spoken was Bhili or Vagdi. Other castes included that of Kunbis, Brahmins, Mahajans and Rajputs.
Agriculture did not flourish much though the soil for most part was excellent. The black cotton variety in the west, especially near the Mahi River was the most fertile and yielded produce without irrigation. The north side had a rich red loam soil but for most part was uncultivated by the Bhils living in that area. The Brahmins and Patels mostly confided to the west and were industrious cultivators who grew maize, rice, wheat, barley, gram and sugar cane. The Bhils cultivated through a system of walar or walra which consisted of a system of cutting down trees where they are left to dry till the end of summer. After the first rainfall the land was ploughed and sown with maize or inferior millets known locally as kuri or kodra. This method was the most injurious to the forests. Irrigation was mainly from wells and tanks.
More than half of the Banswara was covered with jungle. Trees that grew were teak, black-wood, ebony, pipal, haldu, salar, dhak and kadamb. These were unpreserved and hence no use to the darbar. The fruit trees comprised of mango, mahua, wold date-palm and bamboo. Manufactures of course cottom cloth, little silver jewellery, lac bangles and wooden toys were primitive.
Flag of Banswara State
The chief exports included of grain, wood, honey and mahua flowers. Salt and tobacco were imported. The four British post offices were at Banswara Town (telegraph office situated here too), Chhinch, Garhi and Kushalgarh. The Banswara palace stood on the rising ground to the south and on the crest of a low bridge. To the east among the low hills was the Bai Tal, which was a small summer palace. In its garden are the chhatris or cenotaphs of the rulers of the State.
Banswara State was governed by the chief with the assistance of a Kamdar or a minister and a thanadar who possessed limited powers in each of the districts. The territory was divided into two districts, each was under a tehsildar (third class magistrate). The judicial machinery consisted of a thanadar who imposed fines for offences. Their main duty was to arrest accused persons and to hold a preliminary inquiry and later forward the cases to the capital. The powers of the Faujdar (first class magistrate) were similar, and in this way all the criminal cases were decided by the Kamdar. Most of the civil suits were decided by the Panchayat. However the cases of the Session Court presided by the Maharwal held the final appeal.
The system of land revenue was primitive and the assessment or collection is collected either in cash or kind. The lands of the jagirs could be seized if they failed to pay tribute (tanka). Khairat villages or religious and charitable allotments were rent-free. A police force consisting of cavalry and infantry men was constituted.
During most of the 19th century, Banswara used the ‘Salim Shahi’ coinage of neighboring the Pratapgarh State. But around 1870 Maharwal Lakshman Singh, defying a British prohibiting order of that year, introduced a series of crude coins in copper, silver and gold for use within the state. The legends on these coins are in a secret script and said to have been invented by Lakshman Singh himself. The central word in these legends has been tentatively identified as ‘Samsatraba’ (for “Samba Satra”, a designation for the Hindu deity Shiva) in the longer form or ‘Samba’ for the shorter form. All the gold and silver coins, and a few rare copper ones, carry the longer form. The copper coins were made for circulation, but the gold and silver were produced mainly for presentation. In 1904 an attempt was made to introduce the British currency, but the exchange rate fixed by the government was below the actual market rate. During the period of conversion only 202 Salim Shahi rupees were tendered by the public for exchange.
Some examples of coins are:
Silver Rupee Coins of Lakshman Singh, script reads as Shahr Bansahpur and Sambsatra
Silver Rupee and ½ Rupee with Samsatraba legend
- Imperial Gazetteer of India, v. 6, p. 407-413