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(64) Opinions respecting Gour, and the great Delta of the Ganges [[442-447]]

[[442]] The ancient city of Gour, of which only an immense assemblage of ruins, covering full thirty square miles, are to be seen, stood not very far from Mauldah. That able geographer Major Rennell states it to have been the capital of Bengal seven hundred and thirty years before Christ, and that it was deserted in consequence of a pestilence; that it formerly stood on the banks of the Ganges, from which it is now distant nearly five miles; the river having, as is very common in that quarter, changed its course: the Mahanuddy, which passes within two miles of it, is navigable throughout the year. Many parts of Gour are now full twelve miles from the Ganges.

The following extract from Major Rennell's Memoirs (p. 55) may serve to illustrate the position I have to assume regarding the Sunderbunds: he says, "Taking the extent of the ruins of Gour at the most reasonable calculation, it is not less than fifteen miles in length (extending along the old bank of the Ganges), and from two to three in breadth. Several villages stand on part of its site: the remainder is either covered with thick forests, the habitations of tigers, and other beasts of prey, or is become arable land, whose soil is chiefly composed of brick-dust.

"The principal ruins are a mosque, lined with black marble, elaborately wrought, and two gates of the citadel, [[443]] which are strikingly grand and lofty. These fabrics [=fabrications], and some few others, appear to owe their duration to the nature of their materials, which are less marketable, and more difficult to separate, than those of the ordinary brick buildings; and are transported to Moorshedabad, Mauldah, and other places, for the purpose of building. These bricks are of the most solid texture of any I ever saw; and have preserved the sharpness of their edges, and the smoothness of their surfaces, through a series of ages.

"The situation of Gour was highly convenient for the capital of Bengal and Bahar, as united under one government; being nearly centrical with respect to the populous parts of those provinces, and near the junction of the principal rivers that compose that extraordinary inland navigation for which those provinces are formed ; and, moreover, secured by the Ganges, and other rivers, on the only quarter from which Bengal has any cause for apprehension."
The author, though genrally so perspicuous, has not clearly stated what quarter is meant in this instance; the greater part of Bengal being divided from Gour by that same river, the Ganges, which is here described as a protection to Gour against incursions from Bahar.

Leaving, however, that question as irrelevant on this occasion, we may observe that throughout the Delta of the Ganges, which forms an area of full twenty thousand square miles (it being nearly a right-angled triangle, whose sides average about two hundred miles), we have not one vestige of remote date.

It has, no doubt, been asserted by some travellers, and several of the natives have declared, that in some parts of the Sunderbunds ruins of great extent are to be seen.[[444]] These are said to be the remains of cities which formerly flourished on the borders of the ocean, but were abandoned in consequence of the depredations of the Burmans, or Muggs, who inhabited the country lying south of Chittagong, and who have, within the last fifteen years, called to our memory that such a nation was still in existence.

Admitting the existence of such reputed ruins, we have no right to place them to the account of the earlier ages. We have no records of their existence; the whole of the details that have hitherto been offered to the world, either by native traditionists or European surveyors, give no account of any such fragments; while on the other hand, every presumption is in favour of the whole Delta being comparatively modern.

Major Rennell (at page 347 of his Memoirs) observes in a note, that "a glass of water taken out of the Gauges, when at its height, yields about one part in four of mud. No wonder then that the subsiding waters should quickly form a stratum of earth; or that the Delta should encroach upon the sea." If we estimate the course, of the Ganges, (setting apart the Barampooter) at fifteen hundred miles, and take its mean width at half a mile; which is, indeed, reducing that magnificent flow of water to a mere stream, we have then a surface of seven hundred and fifty square miles, of which one-fourth is said to be mud, or matter light enough to be kept suspended by the violence of the current. This should give nearly two hundred square miles of soil.

The foregoing computation proves the Delta to contain twenty thousand square miles; therefore, if Major Rennell's hypothesis be correct, the whole of the Delta might have been formed in one hundred years; taking the depth [[445]] of the river, when at its highest, to be equal to the depth of the soil. But, if we recollect that probably many fathoms of sea were filled up by the encroachment that thus took place, we may be correct in allowing ten times that period, i.e. a thousand years, for the completion, or rather for the gradual accumulation, of so extensive an addition to the terra firma of Asia.

At page 348, Major Rennell argues very strongly, though unintentionally perhaps, in support of the hypothesis that Gour formerly stood on the borders of the ocean, and was probably the Tyre of Hindoostan. He says, "As a strong presumptive proof of the wandering of the Ganges from the one side of the Delta to the other, I must observe that there is no appearance of virgin earth between the Tipperah Hills on the east, and the province of Burdwan on the west; nor on the north till we arrive at Dacca and Bauleah."

Uniting all these points, and agreeing with Major Rennell that the Ganges discharges, on a medium, 180,000 cubic feet of water in a second, we may easily imagine that the present Delta has been formed by the sedimentary portion propelled forward in constant succession, till it gained the highest level to which the annual inundation could raise it; after which, the black mould on the surface must have been produced by the constant accumulation of vegetable matter that rotted thereon.

It is a curious but well known fact that from Sooty to that part of the Cossimbazar Island which lies nearest to the tide's way, inundation is prevented only by an embankment, called the poolpundy, maintained at a very great and regular expense. Here is an obvious demonstration that the present course of the Hoogly was not settled till within a few centuries; for almost all rivers [[446]] long subject to such overflows as those in Bengal, ultimately raise their banks, by an annual deposit of matter, to such a height as afterwards prevents the passing of their streams into the adjacent country.

There can be little doubt that the city of Gour stood on a spot which, in very ancient times, was washed by the sea; and we may, without being accused of great credulity, admit that the Ganges probably then debouched into the sinus, or bay, at that same spot.

Nor should we doubt that those sands from Balasore to Chittagong, which are, at this day, so dangerous to navigation, will at some remote period be encreased and raised, so as to become, in the first instance, islands; and ultimately, parts of the continent. The present channels would thus serve for the courses of future rivers, which in so loose a soil may, like the Ganges in our times, be subject to changes of locality, should the floods ever become so impetuous as to open new beds, into which the streams would then be diverted.

The Sunderbunds, whatever may be their date or origin, present at this day a most inhospitable aspect, and give to the exterior of the country a feature by no means corresponding with the interior. They are, in truth, a hideous belt of the most unpromising description, such as must cause any stranger wrecked on that coast, who should not proceed beyond the reach of the tide, to pronounce it a country fit for the residence of neither man nor beast.
When Major Rennell remarked "that they furnish an inexhaustible supply of wood for boat-building;" he might have added, of timber for ship-building. Many very large vessels have been launched from this quarter; but no pains having been taken to season the timber, their durability could not be expected.

Nor is the wood itself of [[447]] the best quality for naval architecture; for though very strong, and bent with facility to any necessary form, it is extremely subject to be worm-eaten. This is unfavourable to its more general use, unless for such vessels as are intended to be coppered: for such, the jarrool may answer, as may also the soondry, both which abound in every part of the Sunderbunds.


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