Preserve the Cuttack Maratha barracks for posterity, say researchers

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Cuttack: Demands for converting the Maratha barracks, one of the last surviving treasures of medieval era structures, are growing louder.

Tucked away along the busy OPM square in Cuttack city, the barracks, which served as military cantonments of the great Marahatas, are widely perceived as original remaining structures and a unique example of the synthesis of Maratha and Odishan architecture.

The sprawling barracks, which reminds one of the fact that Marahata reign flourished in the state in the medieval times prior to British occupation, now house the 6th Battalion of the Odisha State Armed Police.

The last surviving relic of Marahatas needs to be preserved for posterity. Though barrack is well maintained after 6th battalion of OAP began operational, part of the barrack should be segregated from the OAP battalion so that it could be given the shape of a museum, said INTACH Odisha chapter head and researcher, Anil Dhir.

The museum could be perfect initiative for reminding the generation-next that Odisha is a treasure house of building style and architectural design of the Marahatas. Funds are no constraints for the setting up of a museum. The planners need to give serious thought over it to preserve the historic edifice in the millennium city, Dhir observed.

Amiya Bhusan Tripathy, the former Director General of Police during his stint as the State’s Police Chief, a Police Museum had been set up in Cuttack with the display of historic replicas. However it was soon shut down and has remained closed for years. A museum at the Marahata barrack is a workable and feasible step in the direction of preserving archaeological remains that are lying neglected across the state, he said.

The Maratha administration of Odisha effectively began from 1751. The medieval rulers had divided Odisha into two broad political divisions, the Mughalbandis and the Garhjatareas.The Maratha rule in Odisha was for a brief period of half a century, however it had a lasting effect of the socio-economic development. They introduced proper land records, translated many classical Odia texts, and persuaded many Kings, Queens and rich Zamindars to endow lands to the Jagannath and other temples. Under the Marathas, Odisha enjoyed a simple judicial and revenue system.

The Marathas, being Hindus, repaired and restored the temples that had been destroyed by the Mughals and Afghans.  The worship of Lord Jagannath at Puri received special attention, and a number of villages and lands were assigned to the temple to meet the expenses of the rituals and ceremonies. The internal stability, peace and security during the Maratha rule attracted pilgrims from Bengal, Benares, Rajasthan and the Central Provinces to Puri.

Dhir, who researched the Old Jagannath Sadak for INTACH, said that it was the Marathas who improved the communication in their territory. The Jagannath Sadak connected Bengal with Puri and passed through Midnapore, Balasore, Jajpur, and Bhadrak and entered Cuttack.The road was made into a highway, bridges and ghats were made. The Marathas had built serais, mutts and temples all along the road.

The Maratha Barracks were built soon after the occupation. Rajaram Pandit started the work in 1775 and it was completed by Sadasiva Rao in 1793. Spread across a vast patch of forest land on the outskirts of the city, the place was infested by tigers, panthers, snakes and other wildlife. The forest was cleared except for some ancient trees, which are still standing tall. The domed structures were solidly built with local materials. Kiln baked bricks and lime mortar was used. There were big wells in the compound and underground cells. Separate stables for their horses and elephants, magazines for storing gunpowder, living quarters etc. were made. The barracks housed the artillery, cavalry and infantry forces. The Marathas had as many as 2,000 soldiers in the barracks. There was a thick wall around with watch towers, none of which now exist.

The East India Company was aware of the strategic position of Odisha, situated as the land between their emerging power in Bengal and Madras. On the 17th December 1803, RaghojiBhonsle II signed the Treaty of Deogaon and handed over the reins of the province of Cuttack to the East India Company.After the Maratha forces abandoned the barracks, they were occupied by the Englishmen. However the Company officials built houses near the Barabati Fort and shifted the troops to the centre of the city. During the Great Famine of 1866, the barracks were used to store food grains. Later the barracks were used as stables. Dhir says that a race course was made inside the compound and regular Sunday races were held. The few Englishmen in Cuttack even had fox hunts in the place.The East India Irrigation Company used it while they were working on the canals in the region.

Half a dozen rows of the old barracks were pulled down a few years ago because of structural instability. However, one continuous row of 70 rooms still exists and is being used by the OSAP as their headquarters. There are huge manicured lawns and a parade ground where ceremonial parades are held. Many of the old louvered doors and windows have been replaced with newer ones, but one can still see the holes in the walls for the punkahs strings that were pulled by the orderlies. Many of the small alcoves in the walls that were used to keep the lamps have been made over.

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