Today Purnia is famously known as the birth place of great Hindi Novelist Phanishwar Nath 'Renu' (फणीश्वर नाथ रेणु).
The earliest inhabitants of the district are supposed to have been Anas to the west and Pundras to the east. The former are generally grouped with the Bengal tribes in the epics and formed the easternmost tribes known to the Aryans during the time of the Atharva-samhita. The later are closed among the most degraded classes of men in the Aitarya-brahmana. But it is also stated that they were descendants of the sage Vishwamitra that would seem to imply that they had Aryan blood, though degraded. This Opinion survived in the epic period, for in the Mahabharata and the Harivansa, the Pundras and the Angas are said to be descendents of the blind sage Dritrashtra who was born to the queen of the demon Bali and according to the Manu-Samhita they sank gradually to the condition of Sudras because they neglected the performance of sacred rites and did not consult Brahmanas.
Some passages in the Mahabharata (Sabhaparva, Adhyaya 30), describe the conquests of Bhima in Eastern India. Bhima is said to have conquered Mahanja king of Kausiki kacha, a tract line between Modadiri (Munger)and the land of the Pundras, which is thus identifiable with south Purnia. It is also said that he also defeated Karna, the king of Anga, conquered the hill tribes, killed the king of Modadiri in the battle, and then subdued the powerful Pundras king, Vasudeva, who is described as the king of the Vangas, Pundras and Kiratas.
The Pundra land appears to have been bounded on the east by the river Kasataya, on the west by the modern Mahananda, which separates it from Anga, on the south by the modern Padma, and on the north by the hills, which were inhabited by aboriginal hill tribes, such as the Kiratas. Local tradition still speaks of the struggle and the conquest of the Kiratas, and the Kirata women from the Morang or Tarai are said to have been the wife of Raja Virat, who according to the legend, gave shelter to Yudhistira and his four Pandava brothers during the 12 yrs of exile. The site of his fort is still pointed out at Thakurganj in the north of the district.
At the dawn of history, the part of the district, to the west of Mahananda apparently formed a part of Bhagalpur in the kingdom of Anga, while eastern portion was included in Pundra-Vardhana. Anga was an independent kingdom till the sixth century BC.
During the lifetime of Buddha it was annexed by Bimbisara, the ambitious ruler of Magadh and it never appeared to have regained its independence. The Raja of Anga during the time of Budhdha was a noble man, of whom nothing is known except that he granted a pension to a Brahmin. Thenafter its history got mergedwith that of the Magadh Empire. Later, the district formed a part of the empire of the Imperial Guptas, which extended as early as the reign of the Samudra Gupta (Circa AD 340) to Kumarupa (Assam ) and Samatata ( East Bengal) on the east. The Gupta Empire was shattered by the invasion of the Huns, and Purnia appears to have passed into the hands of Baladitya, the King of Magadh, who in alliance with other kings, and in particular Yasadharman of central India defeated and captured the Hun King, Mihiragula. Mihiragula later killed the Vajra's son on Baladitya and extinguished the family of the Duttas of Pundra- Vardhana.
Butivarman of Kamrupa possibly had put an end to the Imperial Guptas in the Pundra-Vardhana region in the 6th century AD.
A brief account of Pundra-Vardhana and its people has been left by Hiuen Tsian (Yuan-Chwang), who visited around AD 640.
At the beginning of the seventh century the tract now included in the district seems to have been under Sasanka, the powerful king of Aauda, who held North and South Bihar as well as Central Bengal. He was a worshipper of Shiva and hated Buddhism, which he did his best to destroy. He dug up and burned the holi Bodhi tree at Bodh Gaya, broke the stone marked with foot prints of Buddha at Patliputra, destroyed the Buddhist convent and scattered the monks carrying his persecutions to the foot of the Nepalese hills.
Harsha, the great Buddhist emperor of the century (AD 606-647 ), determined to crush Sasanka, and in AD 620, he succeeded in doing so, during the course of his conquest of northern India. After the death of Harsha, the empire was dismembered, and it seems likely that Purnia became part of the Magadha kingdom under Adityasena. From the 9th to the 12th century it was under the Pala king, and on the decline became subject to the Senas.
Muhammadan Rule At the end of the 12th century the Muslims under Bakhtiyar Khilji burst down upon Bengal and Bihar.
During the Mughal rule, Purnia formed a great military frontier province under the rule of a faujdar, who was nominally subordinate to the subedar. The greater part of Purnia was held in Jagir for the maintenance of himself and his troops. From the Ain-i-Akbari, it appears that the present district was included in Sankar Tejpur, east of the Mahananda and Sarkar Purnia, west of the river. Within its limits were also the two mahals of Sarkar Audumbar and one mahal of Sarkar Lakhnauli in the south. All these sarkars belonged to the Subah Bengal.
English Rule and freedom struggle
The last of the Governors was Md. Ali Khan who was replaced in 1770 by Mr. Ducarrel, the first English supervisor or Collector. The early years of British rule were years of trouble for Purnia. The district suffered terribly during the great famine of 1770. From the old records, it appears that there were European settlers in Purnia almost immediately after the establishment of British rule in the district. By 1771, a number of Europeans had settled in the area known as Rambagh, the only building left in Rambagh was the church and the priests' houses. The Roman Catholic Church was dismantled and re-erected in the new station of Purnia where the Europeans had already set up their residences. The foundation of this new church was there until 1934, when it was badly effected by the Bihar earthquake. The church was dismantled again. The nuns of Loretto convent of Darjeeling had come to Purnia near about 1882 and had opened a day school as well as a boarding school for children in Purnia district. When the Jesuit Mission of Bengal tool over the Purnia Mission from the Capuchin Mission, the school was closed and the nuns returned to Darjeeling. This house still stands and is known as the Coumblin. It is one of the oldest houses in Purnia town and is now occupied by the Allisons.
Kisan Sabha movement, which had been responsible for an acute agitation in Purnia district in the third decade in 20th century and figured prominently for about 20 years, had its roots in the very agricultural economy and the precious structure of permanent land-lordism in this state. The Kisan Sabha was formed at Munger near about 1922-23. After 1940-41, the kisan sabha movement slowly merged into the Congress Movement.
Purnia district, being so very contiguous to several districts of undivided Bengal, had been promptly affected by the swadeshi movement in the first decade of the 20th century. At that time there were no facilities for higher education in Purnia district and the students who sought higher education had to go to Calcutta or to Patna. The Bihar National College and TK Ghosh Academy were suspected as the two centers for a secret students organization, which indulged in sedition and both these institutions had a sprinkling of students from Purnia. A boy from Purnia, Atul Chandra Mazumdar, a student of the BN College, Patna was arrested under the Defence Act of India.
Since 1919, Purnia had closely followed the policy, aims and objectives of the Indian National Congress. Some of the delegates of Purnia attended the Nagpur session of Congress in 1920 and the moment Mahatma Gandhi gave the call for the Non-Cooperation, there were a number of volunteers in this district. Some of the early local leaders were Gokul Krishna Roy, Satyendra Narayan Roy and a few others who gave up their practice in the Bar and joined the movement.
In 1921, a national School was started in Katihar. Shri Rajendra Prasad toured Purnia district in 1921 and addressed meetings at Purnia and at other places. In 1942 Quit India Movement tactics were fully implemented by the people of Purnia. Mahatma Gandhi visited Purnia in 1929, during which time he met the Raja of Nazargunj and addressed crowded meetings at various places including Kisahnganj, Bishnupur, Araria and Purnia. The survey and settlement operations in Purnia district commenced in 1952 and settlement operations were concluded in 1960. During the 1911-20 period, Purnia suffered from epidemics of cholera every year from 1915 to 1919. A very serious outbreak of cholera occurred in 1925. Incidences of smallpox and malaria was very high during this period.
Phanishwar Nath 'Renu' (फणीश्वर नाथ रेणु) (1921-1977) is one of the great Hindi novelists of the post-Premchand era. The intimacy in writing brought to the reader with use of local flavor of Hindi in contrast to Khari Boli Hindi was entirely new literary experience. His masterpiece is मैला आंचल (Maila Anchal) (The Soiled Linen, 1954), a social novel that depicts the life of a region and its people, especially the backward and the deprived. He got a PadmShri award from Govt. of India for this novel. Which also was his first. Later during Jayaprakash Narayan Andolan, he gave up his award in solidarity. Another of his short story पंचलाइट (Panchlight) (Petromax) is beautiful in its depiction of human behavior. One can find many parallels between his and Premchand's writings. Also a short story मारे गए गुलफाम (Maare Gaye Gulfam) was adapted into a film by name of Teesri Kasam. Curiously Katihar railway station figures in many of his writings. He wrote descriptive prose with rapid character building senses.. He would then sets about reflecting on his characters and backgrounds from every angle. एक आदिम रात्रि की महक (Ek Aadim Ratri Ki Mehak) which is straight forward story with touchy ending, is one example his unending need for exploring pristine emotions of his characters.
Maila Anchal and Parti Pari Katha are two of his masterpieces. One of his stories, Maare Gaye Gulfam, has been filmed by the name Teesri Kasam. How can one forget the immortal songs: "Paan khaye saiyan hamare" and "Sajan re jhoot mat bolo". Raj Kapoor and Vahida Rehma have retold the story of Hiraman and Hirabai on screen, through their acting. Maila Aanchal has also been captured by the camera and has telecast on TV as a serial.
Novels by Renuji
Maila Anchal, Parti Parikatha, Juloos, Deerghtapa, Kitne Chaurahe, Paltu Babu Road
Famous Stories of Phanishwar Nath Renu
Film Teesri Kasam (1960), based on Phanishwar Nath 'Renu''s Maare Gaye GulfamMaare Gaye Gulfam (Teesri Kasam), Ek Adim Ratri Ki Mehak, Lal Pan Ki Begum, Panchlight, Thes Samvadiya, Tabe Ekla Chalo Re, Thumri (Katha-Sangrah), Agnikhor (Katha-Sangrah), Acche Aadmi (Katha-Sangrah), Ek Shravani duphari.
Reportage by Renuji
HrinJal- DhanJal, Nepali Kranti Katha, Van tulsi ki gandh, Shruth Asruth purve.