Gazetteers are mostly mistaken for or confused with the Gazettes. They are indeed poles apart; however, the words Gazettes and Gazetteer are cognate terms. It appears that in Greek, 'Gaza' meant a treasury of news. Gazetteers are distinctly reference volumes of lasting value while the Gazettes are official newspapers or bulletins. Earlier, a Gazetteer signified a geographical index or geographical dictionary or guidebook of important places and people. But with the passage of time its range has vastly widened and it had come to mean a veritable mine of knowledge about the numerous aspects of life of the people and of the country or region they inhabit.
Some books of yore such as the work of Stephen of Byzantium of the 6th century AD. Doomsday Book compiled for William the conqueror, Brihat-Samhita of varaha Mihira, Vayu Purana, Abdul Fazl's Ain-I-Akbari are cited as having in them some resemblance to elements of Gazetteers. But the system of Modern Gazetteer literature arose in Europe in the wake of the new intellectual ferment brought about by the Renaissance and Industrial Revolution. Germany and France led the way in this respect. The colonial British administration in India took up military, revenue and statistical survey to help stabilize its position in the country.
The earliest Gazetteers to appear in India were the East India Gazetteer in 1815 and the Gazetteer of the territories under the Government of the East India Company in 1854 which were prepared by two private authors Walter Hamilton and Edward Thornton. A few years later, by 1866, Richard Temple published the first official Gazetteer of the Bhandara District of the central province. This set the pace and there appeared a number of Gazetteer volumes for the various parts of the country.
For the princely state of Mysore and Coorg, B.L. Rice published three volumes in 1877-78. They presented remarkable studies and served as a model. He revised the two volumes twenty years later. The subjects dealt were physical geography, flora including crops and cultivation, fauna, ethnography, history, religion, language, art and industry, administration, particulars of districts and important places, and they had maps and pictures. For the districts of Bombay and Madras Provinces, Gazetteers were brought out between the last quarter of the 19th century and the first decade of 20th century. Infact B.L.Rice has himself recorded in his preface to the Vol.I of Mysore and Coorg Gazetteer that, the first Gazetteer for Mysore was compiled by Arthur Wellesley in 1867 and later K.Krishna Iyengar compiled and edited the Kolar District Gazetteer in 1869 which was the pioneering publication in this series. He further records that manuscripts were prepared for Tumkur District by Major C. Pearse, for Chitradurga district by Mr. Krishna Rao. Hassan by Major W Hill and Shimoga by Captain Gordon Cumming were compiled and edited but never published.
In the meanwhile the first edition of the Imperial gazetteer of India was published in nine volumes in 1881 under Sir. William Hunter. It was augmented to 14 volumes in 1885-87 and to 26 volumes in 1907-1909 when a provincial series was also issued. Likewise B.L. Rice had done a splendid job for Mysore and his work was extolled by Sir. William Hunter as "better than anything he himself had been able to do even for Bengal". The third decade of 20th century saw the publication of the Mysore Gazetteer in eight books under the editorship of Sri. Hayavadana Rao and these also kept up a high standard. Later there were supplements issued for South Kanara and Bellary also.
For meeting the altogether changed national requirements there were immense need for preparation and publication of new Indian Gazetteers. Some of the States like the former Bombay and Madras, Bihar and Rajasthan undertook this work between 1949 and 1957, and others including Karnataka took up the task later according to an all-India plan formulated by the Central Government for preparation of the Gazetteers on reoriented lines on the basis of new knowledge, with uniformity of form and contents, but providing for variations and additions to meet local or special needs. This is a monumental task of immense complexity and magnitude and has to be carried out with patient labour, circumspection and thoroughness.
Various states and union territories have had published about 125 reoriented district Gazetteers and 12 of them belong to Karnataka up to the end of financial year 1973-74. In addition to the district series, there was also the State Gazetteer, one volume for each state. The work was coordinated by the Central Government that gave grants. There were State and Central Gazetteer Advisory Committee consisting of official and non-official members. In each district Gazetteer there were 19 chapters and in addition, general appendices, illustrations, a select bibliography, comprehensive alphabetical index, addenda and corrigenda, and maps are provided.
Broadly, the topics treated in the District series are : Physical features, flora, fauna, natural resources, history and archeology, the people, heir demography, languages, home life, social life, social structure, customs and religious beliefs, agriculture, horticulture, forestry, irrigation, animal husbandry, fisheries, old time industries and various kinds of present day industries, labour welfare, potentialities of development, banking and finance, co-operative movement, trade and commerce, transport and communications, miscellaneous occupations, economic trends, general administration, revenue, law and order and justice, Government Departments, local self government, education, sports, art and culture, medical and public health, other social services, public life and voluntary social services and places of interest.
In short, nothing of interest pertaining to the district is left out, for instance, whether it is toponomy (i.e. study of place names) history of less known ruling families like Balam or Aigur Chiefs, Chautas, Kampili Rayas, agrarian movement, Aliya Santana system of heritance prevalent in coastal Karnataka and how it differs from Marumakkattayam of Kerala, the glories of Lakshmidevi temple of Doddagaddavalli, Kalleshwara temple of Araguppe, Madanike figures of Kuravatti, Ibrrahim Roza of Bijapur, Cathedrals of Mangalore, problems of recurrent famines in north-eastern districts, beneficial impact of the gigantic Tungabadra project, prospects of the Vijayanagara steel mills and Kalinadi Hydro-electric project, food habits, types of dwellings, ornaments, local festivals, wedding customs and ceremonies of a particular section, new Mantr-Mangalya marriages, Huttari dance and peculiar social customs of the Kodavas, legend of the cauvery, fascinating sunset of the Agumbe, natural bird sanctury of Mandagadde, sandalwood carvings, beauty spots, pineapple cultivation and spicy mango pickles of malnad, large sized black monkey of Sagar forests locally called Mushy,a buffalo race and Bhoota cult of South Kanara all such varied matters must find a place to give a whole picture of life in the territory as it was and is lived by the people with their natural and other resources, since a precise knowledge of the past is necessary to understand the present in the correct perspective.
The significant and stupendous all around changes and development that have been taking place in various spheres in India since the dawn of Independence called for production of re-oriented Gazetteers with a novel pattern to meet the new national requirements. A reappraisal of several other features in the light of the fresh data also became imperative. Because of the special position of the districts as a unit of administrative organization and in social and economic life of the people, a self-contained and comprehensive volume devoted to each one of the districts became highly desirable.
The first repatterned series after the attainment of Independence started rolling out in 1975. These new district Gazetteers are being published by the State Government in accordance with an all-India plan at the instance of the Central Government which gave grants for the purpose to all the state and union territories. This district Gazetteers were part of the Gazetteer of India and are hence superscribed as the Gazetteer of India.
In order to have a broad and basic uniformity in the pattern of the new Gazetteers, the Central Gazetteers Unit in consultation with the State Units devised a common plan of contents so as to enable a wide coverage of various aspects which would not be otherwise feasible in volumes devoted to the State or the country as a whole.
Ideas and ideals, perspective and approaches, values and aspirations have undergone great alterations. There is awakening of an unprecedented kind. A new epoch and a new age have dawned. Since the days when a Gazetteer meant only a geographical index, the concept has vastly widened and the Gazetteers of the present age have to cover large dimensions and have to give, in a new perspective, an integrated and objective picture without losing sight of the greatly changed social values; this demands a great deal of caution and circumspection. Laborious and time consuming processes are involved in the production of these Gazetteer volumes, which is an overwhelming task. The present Gazetteers are the most comprehensive single source of knowledge about the districts. They can serve also an integrated sample survey of districts of moving and developing India. For the country as a whole and for the States, reference works on various subjects are available for both the specialist and general readers, but scarcely are there standard reference works focusing on individual districts. The District Gazetteers fulfill this great need by delineating an all-round picture of individual districts in unfolding the panorama of the life of the people they inhabit.
The genesis of the Gazetteer units at the Centre and in most of the states can be traced to the recommendations of the Expert Committee appointed by the Union Government in 1955. By that time, in a few states (like Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu) Gazetteer units were already functioning for some years. Therefore, the various other State Governments also set up offices for preparation and publication of District Gazetteers at the instance of the union Government, and left it to the individual states to employ larger or smaller staff.
The Gazetteer unit in this State was started in the middle of the Second Plan Period in 1958 and the scheme has been continued till this date. The unit was earlier attached to the General Administration Department for purposes of administration. It is at present under the administrative control of the Department of Information, Tourism and Kannada & Culture. There is an Advisory Committee of distinguished men of letters with the Chief secretary as the Chairman.
The first re-oriented series started after the dawn of Independence and there was no hierarchy doing this work. Since it was a new venture of an extra ordinary character, the approach to this State was prudently cautious; drawing upon the examples of the units of neighbouring states of Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu. As such the department was set up to bring out independent district Gazetteers coupled with the revision of gazetteers. Each Gazetteer is similar to an encyclopaedia on various information of the districts considered to be most valuable, authentic and comprehensive publication depicting all aspects of history, culture, folklore, etc, of the region. After collecting various source materials the preparation of chapters covering people, history, sociology, economics, banking, trade and commerce, industries, education and medical services, other departments and places of interest ; giving highlights of the district based on Government Plan Programmes and policies. Therefore the publication of the Gazetteer constitutes an authenticated source for the use of Government departments, general public and for historical research.
Realizing the importance of Gazetteer publication, Government has also taken up along with Kannada, the English versions of Gazetteer publication for the purpose of popularizing its rich history and culture outside the state and country. So far, the district Gazetteer of Kodugu, Dharwad, Gulbarga, Bijapur Mandya and Kolar had been brought out as revised editions. Few district gazetteers are out of print, which are in great demand from the public. Therefore the department has sent proposals to the government for the re-print of the old rare Gazetteers (both pre and post Independence publications) Under the said scheme the Bijapur district Gazetteer (1881) had been reprinted in 2001.
So far, the department has brought out all the twenty (20) districts Gazetteers, (English Editions) Karnataka State volume, its decennial supplement both in Kannada & English and the Handbook of Karnataka and its revised editions.