Doji bara famine

The Doji bara famine (also, Skull famine) of 1791-92 in the Indian subcontinent was brought on by a major El Niño event lasting from 1789 CE to 1795 CE and producing prolonged droughts.[1] Recorded by William Roxburgh, a surgeon with the British East India Company, in a series of pioneering meteorological observations, the El Niño event caused the failure of the South Asian monsoon for four consecutive years starting in 1789.[2]

The resulting famine, which was severe, caused widespread mortality in Hyderabad, Southern Maratha Kingdom, Deccan, Gujarat, and Marwar (then all ruled by Indian rulers).[3] In regions like the Madras Presidency (governed by the East India Company), where the famine was less severe,[3] and where records were kept, half the population perished in some districts, such as in the Northern Circars.[4] In other areas, such as Bijapur, although no records were kept, both the famine and the year 1791 came to be known in folklore as the Doji bara (also Doĝi Bar) or the "skull famine," on account, it was said, of the "bones of the victims which lay unburied whitening the roads and the fields."[5] As in the Chalisa famine of a decade earlier, many areas were depopulated from death or migration. According to one study, a total of 11 million people may have died during the years 1789–1792 as a result of starvation or accompanying epidemics of disease.[6]

Map of India (1795) shows the Northern Circars, Hyderabad (Nizam), Southern Maratha Kingdom, Gujarat, and Marwar (Southern Rajputana), all affected by the Doji bara famine.

Historical accounts

Maratha kingdom


According to the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Poona (1885),

The year 1791-92, though locally a year of plenty, was so terrible a year of famine in other parts of India that the rupee price of grain rose to twelve pounds (6 shers). In the next year, 1792-93, no rain fell till October, some people left the country and others died from want. The distress is said to have been very great. The Peshwa's government brought grain from the Nizam's country and distributed it at Poona. The rupee price of grain stood at eight pounds (4 shers) in Poona for four months and in the west of the district for twelve months.[7]

Poona Produce Prices Pounds to the Rupee, 1788–1800[8]
Article 1788 1789 1791 1792 1793 1798 1799 1800
Rice 40 36 26 8 9 36 40 24
Bájri 56 44 32 7 ... ... ... 36
Jvári 56 54 48 8 ... ... ... 48
Wheat 48 28 22 ... 8 20 24 18
Tur 26 32 24 6 9 17 20 24
Gram 20 18 ... ... 8 16 16 24


The Dharwar region suffered great distress. According to the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Dharwar, 1884,

In 1790, the march of the Marathas under Parashuram Bhau through Dharwar to Maisur was accompanied by such devastation, that on its return from Maisur the victorious army almost perished from want of food. In 1791-92 there was a terrible famine, the result of a series of bad years heightened by the depredations caused by the Marathas under Parashuram Bhau. The distress seems to have been great in Hubli, Dambal, and Kalghatgi, where the people were reduced to feeding on leaves and berries, and women and children were sold. In Dambal the rains failed for twelve years and for three years there was no tillage. From the number of unburied dead the famine is remembered as Dogi Bára or the Skull Famine. The distressed were said to have been relieved by the rich. Beyond seizing some stores of grain at Hubli the Peshwa's government seem to have done nothing.[9]

The prices of food grains spiraled up.

At Dambal grain was sold at two and a half pounds the rupee. In 1791 between 23 April and 6 May, the rupee price of rice was six pounds (3 pakka shers) at Kárur, Ránebennur, Motibennur, Háveri, Sháhánur, Kailkunda, Hubli, and Dhárwár; of gram six pounds (3 pakka shers) at Kárur, Motibennor, Hubli, and Dharwar, and eight pounds (4 pakka shers) at Háveri, Sháhánur and Kailkunda; and of Indian millet eight pounds (4 pakka shers) at Kárur, Ránebennur, Motibennur, Háveri, Hubli, and Dhárwár, and ten pounds (5 pakka shers) at Sháhánur and Kailkunda.[9]

In contrast, some 80 years later, during 1868–69, a good crop year, the price of Indian millet had dropped to 90 pounds to the rupee.[10]


The neighboring Belgaum region was similarly affected. According to the Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Belgaum (1884),

In the following year 1791-92 the complete failure of the early rain caused awful misery. Hardly any records have been found regarding this famine. But tradition speaks of it as the severest famine ever known, extending more or less over the whole of the (present-day) Bombay Presidency except Sindh and to Madras and the Nizam's territory. In Belgaum the distress seems to have been heightened by the disturbed state of the country and by vast crowds of immigrants from more afflicted parts. Under these influences grain could hardly be bought. Some high-caste Hindus, unable to get grain, and rejecting animal food, poisoned themselves, while the poorer classes found a scanty living on roots, herbs, dead animals, and even corpses. The famine was so severe that it was calculated that fully half the inhabitants of many villages died; of those who survived many wandered and never returned. In 1791-92, in the town and district of Gokák, from starvation alone twenty-five thousand people are said to have perished. A story remains that a woman in Gokák under the pangs of hunger ate her own children, and in punishment was dragged at the foot of a buffalo till she died. From the numbers of uncared-for dead this famine is still remembered as the Dongi Bura or the Skull Famine. The estate-holders or jágirdárs are said to have done what they could to relieve the distress, but the Peshwa's government seems to have given no aid. Plentiful rain fell in October 1791 and did much to relieve the distress.[11]

The prices of food grains had spiraled up in the Belgaum region as well.

In 1791 from the 7 to 15 May the rupee price of rice was six pounds (3 shers) at Dudhvad, Murgod, Bendvád, Ráybág, and Kudsi, eight pounds (4 shers) at Gokák, and ten pounds (5 shers) at Athni. The rupee price of gram was six pounds (3 shers) at Dudhvad and Murgod, eight pounds (4 shers) at Ráybág and Kudsi, and ten pounds (5 shers) at Athni. The rupee price of Indian millet was eight pounds (4 shers) at Dudhvad, Murgod, Ráybág, Kudsi, Gokák, and Bendvád; and twelve pounds (6 shers) at Athni.[11]

Some 80 years later, in 1867–68, the price of Indian millet in the Belgaum region had dropped to 44 pounds to the rupee.[12]


In Bijapur too,

No measures were taken to relieve the distress, and so many perished from want of food, that this famine is still remembered as the Dogi Barra or Skull Famine, because the ground was covered with the skulls of the unburied dead.[13]


In Hyderabad State, a princely state, ruled by Ali Khan Asaf Jah II, the Nizam, who had recently signed a subsidiary alliance with the British, and whose state was monitored by a British resident, the famine was acute as well.

In 1792-93 great distress prevailed in the Telingana Districts. When Sir John Kennaway resigned the office of Resident in 1794, he made a report to the Government of India concerning the administration of the State. He stated that owing to the famine, which had recently occurred many parts of the country had been depopulated, and that in consequence agriculture and cultivation generally were at a low ebb in the Nizam's Dominions. The famine was a very severe one. Some idea of its extent and severity may be gathered from the circumstances communicated to Sir John Kennaway by the Minister, Mir Alam: first, that in the space of four months 90,000 dead bodies had appeared by the Kotwal's account to have been carried out from Haidarabad and its suburbs, in which those who perished in their houses and enclosures were not inserted; and second, that of 2,000 weavers' huts which were full of families in a district of Raichur before the famine broke out, only six were inhabited at its close. The extent of the calamity may be judged from a tradition which exists to this day, that the country in which the famine prevailed is said to have been dotted with skulls. It is known as the "Doi Barra," or skull famine. In the year after the famine there were such heavy rains that cultivation could not be attempted, and the distress was in consequence greatly aggravated. While the famine lasted, the Minister paid the cost of feeding 150 famine-stricken people daily out of his own pocket. Beyond this no endeavour seems to have been made to provide food for the starving people, and attempts were actually made in many districts to collect revenue. Forced collections and imposts were levied from some of the Amildars or district revenue collectors, two of whom, those of Nirmal and Aurangabad, fled from their districts, owing (the Nizam's) Government a balance of ninety and twenty lakhs of rupees respectively. The Resident, Sir John Kennaway, referred to the ruin and mismanagement by which the Minister was surrounded, and it is evident that the country was in a very wretched condition.[14]

Madras Presidency

In the Madras presidency, the famine was less severe than farther north in the Deccan.

Seven years had scarcely elapsed, when another serious dearth took place in the northern districts of the Presidency, and the pressure was apparently felt for about two years, viz., from November 1790 to November 1792. In April 1791, it was stated, that 1,200 persons had died of starvation in the neighbourhood of Vizagapatam, and early in 1792, the district of Ganjam was in great straits for food, and those of Ellore, Rajamundry, and Condapilly, in serious distress. From Masulipatam, it was reported, that there had been numerous deaths from starvation in all quarters of the neighbouring country, and the greatest difficulty was felt in supplying the inhabitants of the town with food, though the consumption had been at one time restricted to 1/4 seer, or half a pound, per head, per diem. The price of rice in the town, had been at one time four Madras measures per rupee (or 2d. per lb.) Rice was also raised in price to 12 seers (8 Madras measures), the rupee, (1d., per lb) in Ganjam. At an early period, the Government suspended the import and transit duties on all kinds of grain and provisions, and directed the local officers to afford every encouragement and assistance to the merchants in importing grain, but, at the same time, to prevent any improper attempts to raise the prices. They also requested the Bengal Government to encourage the export of grain to the northern districts of Madras, and they imported considerably from the same quarter on government account. In addition to these measures of relief, the Government found it necessary at the latter part of 1791, to prohibit the export of rice from Tanjore, until June 1792, except to the distressed districts, to permit 50 bags (about 7,500 lbs.) of rice, per mensem, to be distributed in charity, from the Government stores, at Vizagapatam, and to authorize the Collector of Ganjam to feed the poorest classes upon rice and natcheny porridge, at a cost of Rs. 200 to Rs. 300, per mensem. The pressure became at last so severe in this district, that Mr. Snodgrass, the Resident at Ganjam, collected local subscriptions for the relief of the poor, and employed 2,000 of them on public works, paying them their wages in grain from the Government stores.[15]

See also


  1. ^ Grove 2007, p. 80
  2. ^ Grove 2007, p. 81
  3. ^ a b Imperial Gazetteer of India vol. III 1907, p. 502
  4. ^ Grove 2007, p. 82
  5. ^ Elliot 1863, p. 288
  6. ^ Grove 2007, p. 83
  7. ^ Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Poona 1885, p. 85
  8. ^ Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Poona 1885, p. 135
  9. ^ a b Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Dharwar 1884, p. 307
  10. ^ Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Dharwar 1884, p. 590
  11. ^ a b Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Belgaum 1884, p. 281
  12. ^ Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Belgaum 1884, p. 461
  13. ^ Gazetteer of the Bombay Presidency: Bijapur 1884, p. 325
  14. ^ Bilgrami & Willmott 1884, pp. 25–26
  15. ^ Dalyell 1867, pp. 17–18


Further reading

  • Arnold, David; Moore, R. I. (1991), Famine: Social Crisis and Historical Change (New Perspectives on the Past), Wiley-Blackwell. Pp. 164, ISBN 978-0-631-15119-7
  • Mellor, John W.; Gavian, Sarah (1987), "Famine: Causes, Prevention, and Relief", Science, New Series, 235 (4788): 539–545, doi:10.1126/science.235.4788.539, JSTOR 1698676, PMID 17758244
British Raj

The British Raj (; from rāj, literally, "rule" in Hindustani) was the rule by the British Crown in the Indian subcontinent from 1858 to 1947. The rule is also called Crown rule in India, or direct rule in India. The region under British control was commonly called British India or simply India in contemporaneous usage, and included areas directly administered by the United Kingdom, which were collectively called British India, and those ruled by indigenous rulers, but under British tutelage or paramountcy, and called the princely states. The whole was also informally called the Indian Empire.

As India, it was a founding member of the League of Nations, a participating nation in the Summer Olympics in 1900, 1920, 1928, 1932, and 1936, and a founding member of the United Nations in San Francisco in 1945.This system of governance was instituted on 28 June 1858, when, after the Indian Rebellion of 1857, the rule of the British East India Company was transferred to the Crown in the person of Queen Victoria (who, in 1876, was proclaimed Empress of India). It lasted until 1947, when it was partitioned into two sovereign dominion states: the Dominion of India (later the Republic of India) and the Dominion of Pakistan (later the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, the eastern part of which, still later, became the People's Republic of Bangladesh). At the inception of the Raj in 1858, Lower Burma was already a part of British India; Upper Burma was added in 1886, and the resulting union, Burma, was administered as an autonomous province until 1937, when it became a separate British colony, gaining its own independence in 1948.

Company rule in India

Company rule in India (sometimes, Company Raj, "raj", lit. "rule" in Hindustani) refers to the rule or dominion of the British East India Company over parts of the Indian subcontinent. This is variously taken to have commenced in 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, when Mir Jafar, the new Nawab of Bengal enthroned by Robert Clive, became a puppet in the Company's hands; in 1765, when the Company was granted the diwani, or the right to collect revenue, in Bengal and Bihar; or in 1773, when the Company established a capital in Calcutta, appointed its first Governor-General, Warren Hastings, and became directly involved in governance. By 1818, with the defeat of the Marathas, followed by the pensioning of the Peshwa and the annexation of his territories, British supremacy in India was complete.The East India Company was a private company owned by stockholders and reporting to a board of directors in London. Originally formed as a monopoly on trade, it increasingly took on governmental powers with its own army and judiciary. It seldom turned a profit, as employees diverted funds into their own pockets. The British government had little control, and there was increasing anger at the corruption and irresponsibility of Company officials or "nabobs" who made vast fortunes in a few years. Pitt's India Act of 1784 gave the British government effective control of the private company for the first time. The new policies were designed for an elite civil service career that minimized temptations for corruption. Increasingly Company officials lived in separate compounds according to British standards. The Company's rule lasted until 1858, when, after the Indian rebellion of 1857, it was abolished. With the Government of India Act 1858, the British government assumed the task of directly administering India in the new British Raj.

Famine in India

Famine had been a recurrent feature of life the Indian sub-continental countries of India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, most notoriously during British rule. Famines in India resulted in more than 60 million deaths over the course of the 18th, 19th, and early 20th centuries. The last major famine was the Bengal famine of 1943. A famine occurred in the state of Bihar in December 1966 on a much smaller scale and in which "Happily, aid was at hand and there were relatively fewer deaths". The drought of Maharashtra in 1970–1973 is often cited as an example in which successful famine prevention processes were employed. Famines in British India were severe enough to have a substantial impact on the long terms population growth of the country in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Indian agriculture is heavily dependent on climate: a favorable southwest summer monsoon is critical in securing water for irrigating crops. Droughts, combined with policy failures, have periodically led to major Indian famines, including the Bengal famine of 1770, the Chalisa famine, the Doji bara famine, the Great Famine of 1876–1878, and the 1943 Bengal famine. Some commentators have identified British government inaction as contributing factors to the severity of famines during the time India was under British rule. Famine largely ended by the start of 20th century with the 1943 Bengal famine being an exception related to complications during World War II. The 1883 Indian Famine Codes, transportation improvements and changes following independence have been identified as furthering famine relief. In India, traditionally, agricultural labourers and rural artisans have been the primary victims of famines. In the worst famines, cultivators have also been susceptible.Finally, the extension of the railroad by the British put an end to the massive famines in times of peace in the 20th century.India is currently home to a quarter of all undernourished people worldwide, making the country a key focus for tackling hunger on a global scale. In the last two decades, per capita income more than tripled, yet the minimum dietary intake fell.

List of famines

This is a list of famines.

List of natural disasters by death toll

A natural disaster is a sudden event that causes widespread destruction, major collateral damage or loss of life, brought about by forces other than the acts of human beings. A natural disaster might be caused by earthquakes, flooding, volcanic eruption, landslide, hurricanes etc. In order to be classified as a disaster, it will have profound environmental effect and/or human loss and frequently incurs financial loss.

Maratha Empire

The Maratha Empire or the Maratha Confederacy was an Indian power that dominated much of the Indian subcontinent in the 17th and 18th century. The empire formally existed from 1674 with the coronation of Chhatrapati Shivaji and ended in 1818 with the defeat of Peshwa Bajirao II. The Marathas are credited to a large extent for ending Mughal rule in India.The Maratha were a Maratha (Not to be confused as Marathi speaking people of Maharashtra) warrior group from the western Deccan Plateau (present-day Maharashtra) who rose to prominence by establishing a Hindavi Swarajya (meaning "self-rule of Hindu/Indian people"). The Maratha became prominent in the 17th century under the leadership of Shivaji, who revolted against the Adil Shahi dynasty, and carved out a kingdom with Raigad as his capital. Known for their mobility, the Maratha were able to consolidate their territory during the Mughal–Maratha Wars and later controlled a large part of the Indian subcontinent.

After the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, Chhattrapati Shahu, grandson of Shivaji, was released by the Mughals. Following a brief struggle with his aunt Tarabai, Shahu became the ruler and appointed Balaji Vishwanath and later, his descendants, as the peshwas or prime ministers of the empire. Balaji and his descendants played a key role in the expansion of Maratha rule. The empire at its peak stretched from Tamil Nadu in the south, to Peshawar (modern-day Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Pakistan) in the north, and Bengal Subah in the east. The Maratha discussed abolishing the Mughal throne and placing Vishwasrao Peshwa on the Mughal imperial throne in Delhi but were not able to do so. In 1761, the Maratha Army lost the Third Battle of Panipat against Ahmad Shah Abdali of the Afghan Durrani Empire, which halted their imperial expansion into Afghanistan. Ten years after Panipat, the young Peshwa Madhavrao I's Maratha Resurrection reinstated Maratha authority over North India.

In a bid to effectively manage the large empire, Madhavrao gave semi-autonomy to the strongest of the knights, and created a confederacy of Maratha states. These leaders became known as the Gaekwads of Baroda, the Holkars of Indore and Malwa, the Scindias of Gwalior and Ujjain, the Bhonsales of Nagpur, the Mehere's of Vidharbha and the Puars of Dhar and Dewas. In 1775, the East India Company intervened in a Peshwa family succession struggle in Pune, which led to the First Anglo-Maratha War. The Maratha were victorious. The Maratha remained the pre-eminent power in India until their defeat in the Second and Third Anglo-Maratha Wars (1805-1818), which resulted in the East India Company controlling most of India.

A large portion of the Maratha empire was coastline, which had been secured by the potent Maratha Navy under commanders such as Kanhoji Angre. He was very successful at keeping foreign naval ships at bay, particularly those of the Portuguese and British nations. Securing the coastal areas and building land-based fortifications were crucial aspects of the Maratha's defensive strategy and regional military history.

Timeline of major famines in India during British rule

This is a timeline of major famines on the Indian subcontinent during British rule from 1765 to 1947. The famines included here occurred both in the princely states (regions administered by Indian rulers), British India (regions administered either by the British East India Company from 1765 to 1857; or by the British Crown, in the British Raj, from 1858 to 1947) and Indian territories independent of British rule such as the Maratha Empire. At least 35 million people may have died in famines caused by droughts and the El Niño–Southern Oscillation phenomenon during the British rule.

The year 1765 is chosen as the start year because that year the British East India Company, after its victory in the Battle of Buxar, was granted the Diwani (rights to land revenue) in the region of Bengal (although it would not directly administer Bengal until 1784 when it was granted the Nizamat, or control of law and order.) The year 1947 is the year in which the British Raj was dissolved and the new successor states of Dominion of India and Dominion of Pakistan were established.

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