Araria has a very prestigious past though shrouded in midst of uncertainties. Some passages in the Mahabharata (Sabha Parva and Vana Parva) describing the conquest of Bhima in the eastern India furnish valuable information regarding the antiquity of the district.
In ancient times ruled by three important clans of Indian history Araria may be termed as a place of confluence of three entirely different cultures. The important tribe of Kiratas governed the northern side , while the eastern side was under the Pundras and area west of the river Kosi, at that time flowing somewhere near the present Araria, by Angas.
Angas are believed to be the earliest inhabitants of the district, mostly in the area west of the river Kosi and these are among the easternmost tribes as described in the Atharva-Samhita known to the Aryans. Pundras are said to be the descendents of Saint Vishwamitra. Whereas the Kiratas were among the few most important ruling clans of that time. It is said that Raja Virata of Mahabharata had married a Kiranti woman who was the sister of Raja Kichaka , King of Kiratas.
Manu regards the Kiratas as Kshatriyas. Mahadeva was associated with Kiratas and Bhima meets the Kiratas in the east of Mithila, i.e. the present Araria district. He is credited with having defeated seven of the Kirata rulers. Kiratas are described in the Kirata-Parva and Vana-Parva of Mahabharata and they were considered so powerful that even the Lord Shiva is said to have taken the form of a Kirata.
During the Mauryan period this area formed the part of the Mauryan Empire and according to Asokavadana the Emperor Asoka put to death many naked heretics of this area who had done despite to the Budhist religion. In later times the district formed the part of the empire of Imperial Guptas.
In the sixth century A.D. the area south of the Himalayan pilgrim center of Varaha Kshetra, namely the Gupta kings Budhgupta and Devagupta gave Koti-varsha for the maintenance of the said pilgrim centre. Present district of Araria seems to be part of the Koti-varsa.
A brief account of this area and its people has been left by Huen-tsang, the famous Chinese traveler , who visited about 640 A.D. As he saw it had a flourishing population and was studded with tanks , hospices and flowering groves. The land was low and humid with abundant crops and genial climate.
According to the Ancient History of India by S.Beal the area west of the river Mahananda, i.e., the present Araria district was held by the Vrijis, a confederacy of tribes, who had come in from Nepal many centuries before.
At the beginning of 7th century the tract now included in the district seems to have been under Sasanka , the powerful king of Gauda. He was worshipper of Lord Shiva and hated Buddhism. He destroyed the Budhist convents and scattered the monks carrying his persecutions towards the Nepalese hills.
Harsha, the great Budhist ruler of 7th century defeated Sasanka. But after the death of Harsha it seems likely that Araria became a part of Magadhan Empire under Aditya sena. From the 9th to 12th century it was under the Pala kings and on their decline became subject to the Senas of Bengal.
At the end of 12th century the Muslims under Bakhtiyar Khilji burst down upon Bengal shaking Bihar. Bakhtiar removed the seat of government to Lakhnauti (Gaur) and from this centre Ghiasuddin Iwaz (1211-26) extended the area of Muslim control over the whole country called Gaur as well as Bihar and his rule was acknowledged by the surrounding tracts including Tirhut.
But it seems due to an impenetrable network of rivers interspersed with large patches of jungle, the area of Muslim control could not extend to the northern portion of the erstwhile Purnea district, i.e., the present Araria district. Hence the present Araria district seems still to have been held by the hill tribes of Nepal.
It was not less than the 18th century that it could be gained from the northern tribes. In the year 1738, the military governor of Purnea Nawab Saif Khan, son of an Afgan Amir, recovered the area north of the Jalalgarh fort up to Jogbani (i.e., the present Araria district) from the Rajput kings of Morung. Saif Khan appointed one Raja Nandlal as the administrator of the newly annexed area, who is credited to have built the temple of Lord Shiva at Madanpur.
Saif Khan after forcing the hill tribes back to the terai, cleared the jungles and brought the area under cultivation. He also defeated the Birnagar chief and subjugated his territory. Birnagar included the area west of river Kosi, presently the entire area under Raniganj and Bhargama blocks and some portion of Narpatganj.
In the year 1765 though the area came under the Dewani of East India Company, it was continued to be ruled by the Nawabs of Purnea till 1770. In the same year a British Supervisor, later to be known as District Magistrate and Collector Mr. G.G.Ducarrel was posted and since then it has the same history as Purnea. But some special events related to the history of this area are worth mentioning.
When in 1738 Saif Khan annexed this area, i.e., the present Araria district, he gave it to the family of Purnea Raja, an old ruling family of this district. This family had its headquarters at Pahsara near Raniganj. They belonged to the Surgan Lauam family of Shrotriya Brahmins of Mithila. Maharaja Samar Singh was the founder of the family during the regime of Shah Jahan, the Mogul king of India. After Samar Singh his son Krishnadev became the ruler, followed by Vishwanath, Veernarayan, Narnarayan, Ramchandranarayan, and Indranarayan all having the title of Maharaja. Indra died in 1784. After his death his wife Maharani Indrawati became the ruler. She ruled till her death in 1803. The contemporary British writers have described her as one of the most able rulers. The area under her administration included the purganas of Sultanpur, Sripur, Nathpur, Gorari, Katihar, Gondwara, Tira Khardah, Asja and others.
Indrawati had built a beautiful palace at Pahsara, which now stands in ruins and a number of temples. One of these temples devoted to Lord Shiva is still present in the Basaiti village of Raniganj block.
In the year 1751 Maharaja Ramchandra of the same family gave the purganas of Tira Khardah ( present Kursakata and Sikti blocks) and Asja ( present Amour block of Purnea) to one Devanand, who distributed the two purganas between his two sons Parmanand alias Hajari getting Tira Khardah and Maniknanadan getting Asja. The present ex zemindars of Champanagar, Garhbanaili, Sultanganj and Srinagar ( all part of the old Banaili Raj) are the descendents of Parmanand .
Maharani Indrawati died without child. After the death the succession of the family became disputed. Indrawati had adopted Bhaiyajee Jha, son of her maternal uncle, as her successor. But the descendents of Maharaja Samar’s second son Raja Bhagirath of Sauriya branch put their claim over the large estate of Maharani and a quarrel issued.
In the year 1815 Raja Bhaiyajee Jha died having one son named Vijaygovinda, who became the Raja. Vijaygovinda had two sons Kumar Vijay Gopal Singh and Kumar Bhav Gopal Singh . But both died without a son. The quarrel of the succession ruined the large estate of Indrawati and in 1820 the estate was purchased by Babu Pratap Singh, banker of Murshidabad and Babu Nakchhed Lal grandfather of Raja P.C.Lal of Purnea City. Pratap Singh purchased entire Sultanpur and Sripur parganas. His descendents sold the pargana of Sultanpur to Alexander John Forbes.
A.J.Forbes was a military adventurer and had taken part in the adventures of Northwest India . He was also in the team of Commissioner Yule of Bhagalpur while fighting the rebels of 73rd native infantory.A.J.Forbes founded the Sultanpur estate and a number of indigo factories situated at different places in this district. The sub divisional town of Forbesganj is named after him.
Due to its proximity with the international boundary of Nepal the problems from across the borders always have been a special concern for the administrators of this district. In the time of British rule the Nepalese sardars used to the subjects of this area.
In 1770, Ducarrel the Supervisor or Collector at Purnea reported that Budhkaran who had been the Dewan of the deceased Raja Kamdat Singh of Morung was plundering the Company’s frontiers and putting the subjects to flight. Ducarrel’s suggestion was to extend the influence by rendering military assistance to Regonault who was opposing Budhkaran.
Depredations of the religious mendicants (Fakirs) was also one of the troubles from the north and above all it were the Dacoits who after committing crimes in this area took refuge in Morung. All these compelled the district administration to have a serious thought in regard of the problems from the north. Again in the year 1788 the collector of Purnea wrote to the board of revenue that the conquest of Morung by the Gorkhas in defiance of Mr. Hasting’s order, the assassination of the young Raja and their repeated ravages on our frontier, that nothing but a decisive step will be sufficient to restrain them within their bounds. According to O’Malley the aggression of the Nepalese continued during the next century. In 1808 the Gorkha Governor of Morung seized the whole zamindari of Bheemnagar. This flagrant encroachment could not be over looked and in June 1809 a detachment of troops was sent from Purnea to the frontiers. Climax to all these happening was the Indo Nepalese war of 1811 – 12 and after this war the present boundary between Araria (India) and Nepal was determined.
In the first war of independence of 1857 Araria also witnessed a few skirmishes between the mutineers and the commissioner Yule’s forces, which took place near Nathpur. In view of the 1857 episode and other developments regarding the law & order, in the year 1864 Araria was constituted as Sub-Division by merging the small divisions of Araria, Matiari, Dimia, parts of Haveli and Bahadurganj to provide better administration and ultimately it became a district in 1990.