(Acknowledgement: This is NOT my own writing. I collected this, in fragmented forms from the postings in a users group web page, around 2008-2009 and, unfortunately, I lost track of the group. I tried, through Google, to reach the user's group page later but have been unable to find. But I remember that the person who put that in the users group also copied those from some other writings. Bibliographies are included in some sections and I acknowlede their work towards this history. It is NOT my intention to plagiarize others work. If anyone has any valid objection, I would remove it. Till then, I hope others enjoy this interesting history...)
The reconstruction of the history of Bengal in the pre-Muslim period is difficult due to paucity of sources. The difficulty is felt more acutely for the earlier period, down to the 4th century AD, when Bengal came under the Imperial Guptas. For this period we have to depend on very scanty references in the Vedic, Epic and Puranic literature as well as on the available archaeological evidence. From the Gupta period onwards we get written records in the form of epigraphs and literature which contain information on the history of the 'region' of Bengal.
In the earliest period Bengal was known to be inhabited by different groups of people, whose names came to be associated with the area inhabited by them. Thus the ancient janapadas of vanga, pundra, radha and gauda came to be recognised as inhabited by non-Aryan ethnic groups bearing those names. samatata was an important janapada in the trans-Meghna region of Bangladesh in its southeastern part (Comilla-Noakhali area). The name of this janapada was purely descriptive and had no ethnic connection. The Chittagong area with its adjacent areas was known by the name of harikela. The existence of these janapadas is known from later Vedic literature, as areas inhabited by non-Aryan people.
Aryan influence in ancient India came to be felt in the northwestern parts in the middle of the second millennium BC and it took a long time for the Aryans to reach the eastern limits of the subcontinent. Thus the people of Bengal felt the tide of Aryanisation quite late. From about 5th century BC it pushed into Bengal from the west and it took about one thousand years to Aryanise the whole of Bengal. By the time Aryan influence reached Bengal, it had become feeble during its long march through the entire area of northern India. Thus the pre-Aryan elements in the culture of the people of Bengal got time to become deeply rooted and even under Aryan influence, which was feeble, they retained many elements in their life and culture which were non-Aryan and pre-Aryan.
Stone tools provide the earliest evidence of human settlements. Prehistoric stone implements have been discovered in various parts of West Bengal in the districts of Midnapur, Bankura and Burdwan. But it is difficult to determine, even approximately, the time when people using them first settled in Bengal. It might have taken place ten thousand years (or even more) ago. The original settlers were the non-Aryan ethnic groups� Nisadas or Austric or Austro-Asiatics � who are now represented by the primitive peoples known as Kola, Bhil, Santal, Shabara, Pulinda etc. At a subsequent age, peoples of two other ethnic stocks settled in Bengal, whose languages were Dravidian and Tibeto-Burman.
Archaeological discoveries during the 1960s have furnished evidence of a much higher degree of civilisation in certain parts of Bengal even at such a remote period as the beginning of the first millennium BC, perhaps even earlier. The discoveries at pandu rajar dhibi in the valley of the Ajay river (near Bolpur) in Burdwan district and in several other sites on the Ajay, Kunar and Kopai rivers have thrown fresh light on Bengal's prehistory. Pandu Rajar Dhibi represents the ruins of a trading township, which carried on trade not only with the interior regions of India, but also with the countries of the Mediterranean world. It is evident from Vedic literature that the Aryans regarded the peoples whom they met in Bengal as barbarians. But the evidence of the higher material culture that has come to light in West Bengal proves beyond any doubt the invalidity of the Aryan idea. But at the same time it must be said that Aryan settlement, which took place gradually over a long period of time, profoundly affected its culture and the process of gradual Aryanisation forms the chief point of interest in the subsequent history of the region. The history of ancient Bengal from the 4th century AD onwards, which appears to us in a more or less clear light, is the history of Aryan domination, both from the political and cultural points of view.
Greek and Latin sources (3rd century BC - 1st century AD) refer to an eastern Indian nation/state called 'Gangaridae' (Greek)/ 'Gangaridai' (Latin) which was very strong militarily. Scholars have located 'Gangaridai' in parts of southern and southeastern Bengal, adjacent to the mouths of the Ganges (Bhagirathi and Padma).
An inscription written in the Brahmi script, found in an excavated site of the old Pundranagar, now represented by the ruins at mahasthan in Bogra district, bear testimony to Maurya rule (3rd century BC) in parts of Bengal. This inscription, the earliest epigraphic record in Bangladesh, seems to have establishes the identification of ancient Pundranagar with modern Mahasthangarh (Mahasthanagad) of Bogra district. Pundranagar is thus the earliest urban settlement in Bangladesh. Archaeological excavations prove the existence of this urban administrative and cultural centre throughout the ancient period, up to the 12th century AD.
The Arthashastra of Kautilya (3rd century BC) refers to the fine cotton fabric of Vanga (south-eastern Bengal) as an important item of her trade throughout India. The Greek and Latin writers (more or less of the same period) also mention it. Thus it may be emphasized that the tradition of weaving fine cotton cloth goes back to a very early period. It was this item of southeastern Bengal, which in the 16th and 17th centuries AD earned worldwide fame as the 'Muslin' of Bengal, and specifically of Dhaka. It may also be mentioned here that the making of terracotta plaques is also a very old art tradition in Bengal. Terracotta plaques have been found in the excavations at Pandu Rajar Dhibi, which prove the antiquity of this art in Bengal.
The history of Bengal from the fall of the Mauryas (2nd century BC) to the rise of the Guptas (4th century AD) is obscure. The discovery of some beautiful terracotta figurines at Mahasthan, tamralipti (modern Tamluk in West Bengal) and chandraketugarh, datable in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC, proves that Bengal continued to flourish in the Sunga and Kusana periods. It appears from the accounts of The Periplus of the Erythrean Sea and Ptolemy that in the first two centuries of the Christian era the whole of deltaic Bengal was organised into a powerful kingdom with its capital at Gange, a great market town on the banks of the Ganges. We have evidence of widespread trade between Bengal and China as well as other countries. The Milinda-Panho mentions Vanga in a list of maritime countries where ships congregated for the purpose of trade.
It is likely that on the eve of Gupta expansion under Samudragupta (4th century AD) Bengal remained divided into independent states. By about the middle of the 4th century AD most independent states came under Samudragupta's rule. Samatata (The trans-Meghna region comprising the Comilla-Noakhali area) was outside his empire, but was reduced to the status of a tributary state. Samudragupta's son and successor, Chandragupta II consolidated his possessions in the east and had to wage wars against the Vangas. Gupta suzerainty over Samatata might have come at a later stage and by the end of the 6th century AD this area appears to have been ruled by a king with his name ending with Gupta (Vainyagupta). Several copper-plates of 5th century Gupta emperors (Kumaragupta- Budhagupta) found in northern Bengal prove that Gupta rule was then well established in that area. They also testify to the existence of a well-structured local administration, in which the representatives of the local people had the opportunity of playing an important part. It goes to the credit of the Gupta emperors that they established an administration in Bengal in which the participation of the local people was ensured. The set-up of the local administration, as evidenced by Gupta copperplates, is undoubtedly the earliest instance of local self-government in Bengal and its significance cannot be overestimated.
Under Gupta rule Bengal was an important province. The period of the Imperial Guptas is generally considered to be the golden age of Indian history. During this period India was under a strong benevolent central government, which brought peace, wealth and prosperity for a considerable time. Bengal enjoyed the benefit of being a part of the All-Indian empire, in which there prevailed efficient administration and political stability. This period is remarkable for its trade and commerce, in which Bengal had her due share. Fa-hsien, the Chinese visitor, states that in the east Tamralipti was the great emporium of trade. The discovery of a large number of Gupta coins and imitation Gupta coins in Bengal prove the economic prosperity of the region under the Guptas.
The period is also remarkable for religious toleration. The imperial Gupta monarchs embraced Brahmanism and styled themselves Paramabhagavatas or Paramadaivatas. But they also patronised Buddhism and Jainism. The people of the period enjoyed an environment of religious toleration and coexistence of religious beliefs. The artistic excellence of the Gupta age is well known and it influenced the artistic tradition of Bengal. The Gupta School inspired the Bengal school of sculptural art.
The break-up of the Gupta empire, the invasions of the Hunas and the sudden entry and exit of Yashodharman on the political stage of northern India dealt great shocks to eastern India. In the first half of the sixth century AD southern and eastern Bengal shook off the suzerainty of the Guptas and attained importance as an independent kingdom under local rulers-the kingdom of Vanga. When in the central part of northern India the Maukharis rose to prominence, the later Guptas held sway over Bihar, western and northern Bengal. There was a long-drawn-out struggle between the Maukharis and the later Guptas for the possession of Magadha (southern Bihar) and parts of western and northern Bengal.
Towards the close of the sixth century AD the kingdom of Gauda emerged in parts of western and northern Bengal under the later Guptas. By the beginning of the seventh century shashanka captured power in Gauda. Magadha formed a part of his dominions. Shashanka is the first known king of Bengal to extend his suzerainty over territories far beyond the geographical boundaries of that province. He attempted to establish a north Indian empire and defended the independence of the Gauda empire against a very powerful northern Indian adversary, Harsavardhana. It was no mean achievement on the part of Shashanka to have preserved his own sovereignty against such a powerful adversary. For a king of Bengal it was a great show of strength to have ventured into northern Indian politics. There can hardly be a dispute in regarding him the first important king of Bengal, who could launch Bengal for the first time in her history on aggressive endeavors to establish supremacy over northern India. In this sense he was the forerunner of the aggressive northern Indian policy of the later day Pala rulers like dharmapala and devapala. His capital, karnasuvarna, has been identified with Rangamati, six miles southwest of Baharampur in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal.
The death of Shashanka was followed by a period of anarchy and lawlessness. For more than a century, roughly from 650 to 750 AD, the history of Gauda is obscure in the extreme. The period was marked by political chaos and confusion caused by the death of Harsavardhana (646 or 647 AD), the usurpation of his kingdom by his ministers, and the adventures of the Chinese envoy Wang-hiuen-tse were followed by the invasions of the powerful king of Tibet, Srong-tsan-Gampo. In the second half of the seventh century AD Bengal saw the emergence of two new lines of kings: the later Guptas in Gauda and Magadha (western Bengal and southern Bihar) and the khadgas in Vanga and Samatata (southern and southeastern Bengal). Neither of these dynasties, however, appears to have succeeded in establishing a strong rule in Bengal.
In the first half of the 8th century AD Bengal was overwhelmed by repeated foreign invasions, the most notable of which was the invasion of Yashovarman of Kanauj (725-752 AD). The glories of Yasovarman were soon eclipsed by Lalitaditya of Kashmir. The Kashmiri historian Kalhana refers to five Gauda kings defeated by Lalitaditya and this clearly indicates a state of political disintegration in Gauda, which became a field of struggle for the local chiefs who assumed independence in the absence of any central authority. The successive foreign invasions destroyed the political equilibrium and hastened the process of disintegration.
In the century following the death of Shashanka, Bengal saw very little of stable government and the whole country was torn by internal strife and disturbed by invasions from outside. The condition of Bengal towards the middle of the 8th century AD, before the rise of gopala, found mention in one of the Pala records (Khalimpur copperplate) as a state of matsyanyayam. lama taranatha, the Tibetan monk who wrote his History of Buddhism in India in 1608 AD confirms this and writes: "... every Ksatriya, Grandee, Brahman and merchant was a king in his own house (or in the neighbourhood) but there was no king ruling over the country." Gopala, the founder of the dynasty, emerged out of this chaos as the ruler, and as mentioned in the Pala copperplate, put an end to the state of lawlessness (matsyanyayam).
The Sanskrit term matsyanyayam has special significance. The Kautilya Arthashastra explains the term as follows: when the law of punishment is kept in abeyance, it gives rise to such disorder as is implied in the proverb of fishes, ie, the larger fish swallows a smaller one, for in the absence of a law-enforcing authority, the strong will swallow the weak. The contemporary Pala record uses this significant term to describe the prevailing political situation in Bengal. It was a situation of complete lawlessness arising out of the absence of a strong ruling power capable of enforcing law and order. Gopala emerged at the helm of affairs in Bengal and succeeded in putting an end to the state of matsyanyayam.
The process of Gopala's rise to power has been a matter of controversy among historians. Some have argued that the people elected Gopala their king. Without going into the details of the controversy it may be said that Gopala came to occupy the throne at a time when there was chaos and confusion and he must have had the support of a group of influential people or leaders and his success in putting an end to the state of matsyanyayam may have earned popular support for him. It is claimed in the Pala records that Gopala "attained everlasting peace after having overcome the power of those who were acting according to their own desires", or in other words those who had created the situation of matsyanyayam in Bengal.
The Pala Dynasty
The dynasty founded by Gopala in the middle of the 8th century AD, ruled Bengal for about four hundred years through many vicissitudes. During this long period of eighteen generations of kings we notice ups and downs in the fortunes of the dynasty. But there can hardly be any doubt regarding the fact that the rule of the Palas formed a glorious chapter in the history of ancient Bengal. The history of the long line of Pala rulers can be viewed under different phases: (I) Period of Ascendancy under Dharmapala (c 781-821 AD) and Devapala (c 821-861 AD); followed by a (II) Period of Stagnation (c 861-995 AD) to be rejuvenated by mahipala i (c 995-1043 AD), who is considered to be the second founder of the dynasty; and the last phase, (III) a Period of Decline and Disintegration, which was halted briefly by the vigorous rule of ramapala (c 1082-1124 AD). But the Pala empire did not last long after him and the final collapse came with the rise of the Senas in the third quarter of the 12th century AD.
The period of ascendancy saw the vigorous rule of Dharmapala and Devapala. In this period the Palas were powerful enough to bid for the mastery of northern India. In this quest they were involved in a tripartite struggle with the Gurjara Pratiharas of western India and the Rastrakutas of southern India. When Bengal saw the rise of the Palas, the Rastrakutas wrested power from the Chalukyas in the Deccan, and the Gurjara Pratiharas consolidated their power in Malwa and Rajasthana. In northern India there was a vacuum after it was swept over by Yashovarman and Lalitaditya. So during the subsequent two generations northern India with its traditional central seat at Kanauj felt a rush on the part of these three powers to fill up this vacuum.
During Dharmapala's reign there were two phases of this tripartite struggle. Though he suffered reverses in the first phase, he achieved some success in the interval between the first and second phases. He succeeded in advancing his influence up to Kanauj, where he put his protege Chakrayudha to rule for some time. The Pala empire extended beyond the boundaries of Bengal and Bihar as far as Kanauj. He may have pushed his empire in other directions as well, but we are not sure about the amount of his success. In the second phase of the tripartite struggle Dharmapala tasted reverses. But there is very little doubt that he succeeded in maintaining his hold outside Bengal and Bihar. Dharmapala's name stands out in the annals of the Pala dynasty as a great conqueror under whose leadership Bengal's influence came to be felt in northern India for quite some time.
Dharmapala was a devout Buddhist and a great patron of Buddhism. He is credited with the foundation of the Vikramashila monastery (at Patharghata, 6 miles to the north of Colgong and 24 miles to the east of Bhagalpur in Bihar), which was one of the most important seats of Buddhist learning in India from the 9th to the 12th centuries AD. somapura mahavihara at Paharpur (in Naogaon district of Bangladesh) is another monumental architectural work of Dharmapala.
Devapala, the son and successor of Dharmapala, maintained the aggressive policy of his father and during his reign the struggle for supremacy over northern India continued. He may have had some initial success, but ultimately the Gurjara Pratiharas succeeded in establishing their empire over Kanauj and adjacent territories. The Pala empire, however, was extended in other directions, towards the southwest into Orissa and towards the northeast into Kamarupa.
The reigns of Dharmapala and Devapala formed the period of Pala ascendancy. These two rulers consolidated their empire in northern and western Bengal and in Bihar. Under them Bengal, for the first time in her history, came to be reckoned as a powerful force in north Indian politics. Bengal could hold its own against powerful rivals. There were all round conquests. But with the death of Devpala the period of glory and a period of stagnation followed which gradually led to decline and disintegration until the Kingdom was rejuvenated by Mahipala I.
The period of stagnation continued for more than a hundred years covering the reigns of five generations of kings. In this period the energy and vigour which were so manifest during the reigns of Dharmapala and Devapala were totally absent. Hardly was there any attempt at expansion, and the Pala kings were not even powerful enough to check incursions from outside or uprisings from inside. The Kambojas rose to an independent position in parts of western and northern Bengal in the middle of the 10th century AD and for a time the Pala empire was confined to parts of Bihar only. The existence of Kamboja Gaudapatis is known from epigraphic records.
The reign of Mahipala I (c 995-1043 AD) brought back some vitality and gave a second lease of life to the Pala empire. He succeeded in bringing back the lost territories in northern and western Bengal and restored the position of his dynasty to a firmer footing. But during the reigns of his successors up to that of Ramapala, the fortunes of the dynasty seem to have fallen to their lowest ebb. The repeated invasions of north Indian powers (Kalachuris and Chandellas) showed the apparent weakness of the Pala kings. But the weakness of the Pala rulers was clearly exposed during the reign of Mahipala II (c 1075-1080 AD) when the revolt of the Samantas succeeded in establishing the independent rule of the Kaivarta chief Divya in Varendra (northern Bengal). When the central authority becomes weak it is natural that the forces of disintegration should play their part. The success of Divya in north Bengal is the most glaring example of this tendency.
The vigour and energy of Ramapala (c 1082 - 1124 AD) was the last significant flicker in the life of the Pala dynasty. He succeeded in restoring Pala authority in northern Bengal and in demonstrating vigour in expansion programmes. But his success was short-lived and his successors were too weak to check the gradual decline. vijayasena, possibly a feudatory ruler in the Pala empire, found opportunity to gather strength, and by the middle of the 12th century AD the Palas were ousted from their possessions in Bengal. Bengal saw the emergence of a new power, the Senas, under the leadership of Vijayasena, whose ancestors were brahmaksatriyas hailing from the Karnata country in southern India.
The long rule of the Pala dynasty, spreading over about four centuries, gave to Bengal the blessings of a stable government, which bore rich fruits in the arts of peace. The Palas could establish a sound administrative structure. Their land-based empire was basically agrarian in nature. Trade and commerce was not that important a factor in Pala economy. Trading activities were possibly limited within the region or at best extended beyond the borders to the adjacent territories. The decline of the port of Tamralipti after the 8th century AD deprived them of the outlet necessary to have a share of the sea-borne trade of Bengal.
The long Buddhist rule of the Palas generated an environment of religious toleration in Bengal and we notice an atmosphere of Hindu-Buddhist amity and co-existence. The Palas initiated a policy of religious toleration. Their liberal patronage of Hindu gods and goddesses as well as Brahmans, who were employed in high state posts, clearly speak of the sagacious policy of the rulers. This also resulted in narrowing the gaps between the two religions and one merging into the other gave rise to new forms and practices which culminated in the evolution of Tantric cults and practices among the Buddhists in Bengal. The socio-religious climate of the Pala period bred a spirit of toleration and mutual coexistence and this spirit had a far-reaching impact in the history of the land.
The Pala period is also significant for various achievements in the fields of arts. The Buddhist Vihara architecture attained maturity in the Somapura Mahavihara at Paharpur and this form influenced the subsequent structures in Southeast Asian countries. The terracotta art of Bengal reached its high-water mark during this period. The Pala School of Sculptural Art came to be recognised as a distinct phase of Eastern Indian Art. The artistic genius of the Bengal sculptors found full expression in the Pala period. Though literary works of the period have not survived in large numbers, yet the ramacharitam, the great poetical work of the north Bengali poet sandhyakar nandi, is a testimony to the quality of composition in a rare poetry form, in which each verse has two meanings. The anthologies of poetry compiled in the subsequent period contain many verses composed by poets of the 10th and 11th centuries AD. A few illustrated palm leaf manuscripts of Buddhist texts of the period evince the excellence of the art of painting. Considering all these achievements the Pala period can rightly be considered the most glorious period in the early history of Bengal.
Dynasties of Southeastern Bengal
Southeastern Bengal seems to have preserved an independent political entity for quite some time in the ancient period. From the break-up of the Gupta empire down to the coming of the Senas the deltaic part of Bengal was never assimilated in the political system of north and western Bengal, though from time to time there were attempts to do so.
As early as the first half of the sixth century AD southeastern Bengal formed an independent kingdom, the kingdom of Vanga, and the names of Gopachandra, Dharmaditya and Samacharadeva are preserved in six copperplates. It cannot be ascertained whether Shashanka's empire embraced southeastern Bengal. Scholars theorise about the probable existence of a Bhadra dynasty in this region.
In the second half of the 7th century AD when the Later Guptas captured power in Gauda (western Bengal) southeastern Bengal saw the emergence of the Khadga kings. We know about three generations of Khadga kings ruling Samatata (Comilla-Noakhali area) with their capital at Karmanta-vasaka (identified with Badkamta near Comilla). The names of two semi-independent feudatory chiefs, Lokanatha and Shridharana Rata, are known from copper plates; they ruled in parts of Samatata in the 7th century AD.
Southeastern Bengal emerged as a kingdom of considerable size and strength under the deva dynasty in the 8th century AD with their capital at devaparvata (a city in the Mainamati-Lalmai area, the exact location of which is not yet settled). Four generations of rulers (Shantideva, Viradeva, Anandadeva and Bhavadeva) ruled Samatata and they were contemporaries of the early Pala kings, who held sway over northern and western Bengal and Bihar. The Devas were Buddhists and under their patronage the Mainamati area rose into prominence as an important Buddhist cultural centre. The remains unearthed through archaeological excavations at Mainamati prove the existence of a few Buddhist Viharas (Buddhist religious and educational establishments) namely, Shalvan Vihara, Ananda Vihara and Bhoja Vihara built by the Deva rulers near their capital city of Devaparvata. The cruciform plan of the central shrine, which is seen in a matured form at Paharpur, seems to have originated in the Mainamati area, where we see their earlier and smaller manifestations. The Mainamati remains also contain terracotta plaques of high merit. The sculptural remains of Mainamati prove the development of this art in this region.
In the 9th century AD southeastern Bengal saw the emergence of the kingdom of Harikela, which may have embraced the area from Chittagong to Comilla. The Chandras followed the Harikela rulers and from the beginning of the 10th century AD five generations of Chandra rulers (trailokyachandra, Srichandra, Kalyanachandra, Ladahachandra and govindachandra) ruled for about 150 years (c 900-1050 AD). Their empire embraced a large area in Vanga and Samatata comprising the whole of southern and southeastern Bangladesh and extending as far northeast as Sylhet area. Their capital was at vikramapura in present-day Munshiganj district, south of Dhaka. The Chandras were quite powerful and could match the power of the contemporary Palas of northern and western Bengal. Srichandra was the greatest ruler of the dynasty and under his vigorous rule the Chandra empire witnessed widespread expansion in the territories beyond the borders into kamarupa (Assam). His encounters against Gauda, mentioned in his copper plates, may have been against the Kamboja rulers of the area and this may have indirectly helped the Palas to recapture power in their paternal kingdom (rajyam pitriyam) during the early years of Mahipala I.
In the last quarter of the eleventh century AD the Varman Dynasty, taking advantage of the Kaivarta rebellion in the Pala empire, established their independent rule in southeastern Bengal. Five generations of the Varmans (Jatavarman, Harivarman, Samalavarman and Bhojavarman) ruled for less than a century (c 1080- 1150 AD) before they were toppled by the Senas. The Varmans were Hindus and their capital was also at Vikramapur.
The rulers of southeastern Bengal commanded the sea trade through the vast coastal area of the Chittagong - Comilla region and this is attested to by the find of a large number of silver coins in various places of their empire. The accounts of the Arab merchants and navigators, written between 9th and 11th century AD, contain evidence of flourishing sea trade in the coastal area of southeastern Bengal, specially through the port, which the Arabs called 'Samandar', identified with the area near present-day Chittagong port. The rulers of southeastern Bengal could earn the necessary bullion for the issue of silver coins. We also have evidence of boat building industries in the records of the period. The picture of a flourishing sea-trade emerges very clearly and the resultant economic affluence of the area is beyond any doubt.
The Sena Dynasty
Towards the end of the 12th century AD Vijayasena founded the Sena empire. His forefathers hailed from the Karnata country of the Deccan, but he emerged in the politics of Bengal as a feudatory ruler in West Bengal during the rule of the Pala emperor Ramapala. During the period of decline of the Palas after Ramapala, Vijayasena rose into prominence and gradually grabbed power. He defeated the Varmans in southeastern Bengal and then ousted the Palas from northern and western Bengal. He also attempted to expand his empire in northern Bihar and adjacent territories. The Palas lingered on for some time in southern Bihar until the Muslim occupation of the area in the beginning of the 13th century AD.
The Senas held sway over Bengal for more than a century (c1097-1223 AD) in which five generations of kings (Vijayasena, Vallalasena, Laksmanasena, Vishvarupasena and Keshavasena) ruled. But it must be noted that the invasion of Muhammad bakhtiyar khalji put an end to Sena rule in parts of western and northern Bengal (in 1204 AD) and Laksmanasena had to fall back on his possessions in southeastern Bengal where, after him, his two sons ruled for some time. It should also be noted that Vijayasena, after having ousted the Varmans and the Palas, succeeded in bringing the whole of Bengal under one unified rule which continued up to 1204 AD. So in a sense, it can be said that it was only under the Senas that the whole of Bengal came under a single rule. The separate political entity of southeastern Bengal in the preceding four centuries must have had deep-rooted socio-cultural consequences in the history of Bengal. Vikramapura, which was the capital of the Chandras and the Varmans, continued to be the capital of the Senas as well.
The first three kings of the dynasty-Vijayasena (c 1097-1160 AD), vallalasena (c 1160-1178 AD) and laksmanasena (c 1178-1206 AD)-were important figures of the dynasty. The last two (Vishvarupasena and Keshavasena) held on to power in a very limited area in southeastern Bengal. The Sena rulers were Hindus and their rule is considered to be a period of revival of Hinduism in Bengal. Vallalasena is known to have attempted the establishment of an orthodox Hindu social order with caste rigidity. It was an attempt to bring back Hindu orthodoxy in a society that had long lived in a social milieu of religious toleration and Hindu-Buddhist amity. The decline of Buddhism in Bengal may be ascribed to this change in social order. It is not unlikely that Buddhism received a rude shock from this revival of orthodox Hinduism by the Senas and it is rightly said that " it was not Islam which overcame Buddhism, but a more jealous rival of nearer origin'' and it is clear that "Buddhism had already been severely crippled before the Muslims reached Bengal." This scenario of Hindu-Buddhist enmity in Bengal and the attempt at bringing back Hindu orthodoxy in the Sena period may be said to have had a far-reaching impact in the history of Bengal. The scenario may have indirectly helped the cause of Islam in Bengal.
The Sena period is significant from another point of view. The period saw the development of Sanskrit literature in Bengal. It was partly under the direct patronage of the Sena kings and partly due the environment created by them that literary activities in Sanskrit are distinctly visible in this period. By far the most important contribution of Bengal to the poetic literature in Sanskrit is the Gitagovinda of jaydev, who was one of the ornaments of the court of Laksmanasena. Other luminaries of his court were poets dhoyi (author of Pavanaduta), umapatidhara, govardhana (author of Arya-Sapta-Shati) and Sharana, and these five may be regarded as the five ratnas (jewels) of the court of Laksmanasena.
One anthology (saduktikarnamrta) compiled by Sridharadasa during this period stands out as a treasure house of poetical works of the period as also of earlier periods. It contains 2370 poems composed by 485 poets whose dates range from the 10th to 12th century AD. Bhavadeva Bhatta and jimutavahana, two great writers of Dharmashastra, belong to this period. Vallalasena and Laksmanasena were royal authors of no mean merit. Halayudha's Brahmana-sarvasva was also written in this period. There were other works too. It is really noteworthy that 12th century Bengal under the Senas witnessed unprecedented flourish in literary activities in Sanskrit.
Another arena of artistic achievements in the period was in the field of sculptural art. The Bengal school of sculptural art reached its high-water mark in the Sena period and in this phase its regional character marked by individualistic traits became manifest.
1. Niharranjan Ray, Bangalir Itihas(Adiparva), Kolkata, 1400 BS;
2. RC Majumdar (ed), History of Bengal, vol-1, Dhaka, 1948;
3. Abdul Momin Chowdhury, Dynastic History of Bengal, Dhaka, 1968;
4. RC Majumdar, History of Ancient Bengal, Kolkata, 1971.
Edited on, February 23, 2005, 2:23 PM GMT, by Arnab.
Early Sultanate Period
The Muslim rule in Bengal had its beginning in the opening years of the thirteenth century (1204 AD). Long before this, the Arab Muslims had contact with Bengal, which was primarily commercial and religious in nature and limited to the coastal regions.
The process of Muslim expansion in Bengal began with the military exploits of Bakhtiyar Khalji. After his conquest of Bihar in 1203 AD, Bakhtiyar Khalji went to Badaun to pay Qutbuddin Aibak, the viceroy of Sultan Muhammad Ghuri in India, a courteous visit. Aibak entrusted him with the administration of the conquered territories, and encouraged him to continue further onslaughts. On his return from there he reinforced his armies and made a sudden attack on Bengal in 1204-05 AD and captured nadia, the temporary capital of king Laksmanasena. Bakhtiyar took possession of immense wealth and many elephants. He then captured gaur, the traditional capital of Bengal, made it his capital and spent there about two years in making administrative settlement of his newly conquered territories.
He established a kind of clannish feudalism in his territory. He parcelled out the conquered area into units and placed them in charge of his trusted generals. Such a unit was known as iqta and the administrator thereof was called a muqta. Besides administrative settlements Bakhtiyar also found time to lay the foundation of Muslim society in Bengal. To this end he built mosques for congregation, madrasahs for the schooling of Muslim children, and khanqahs for the Sufis to preach religion.
Bakhtiyar then embarked upon his Tibet Expedition. Before proceeding to Tibet, Bakhtiyar made adequate arrangements for the defence and administration of the conquered region in his absence. shiran khalji was sent with an army to Lakhnor (in Birbhum) to guard the frontier region against any possible attack from Orissa (Jajnagar). The western region was placed in charge of iwaz khalji to guard it in the direction of Tirhut and Oudh. ali mardan khalji was posted in the northeastern region, in the vicinity of Rangpur. His Tibet expedition, however, met with a total disaster and he, a broken man, either died of fever or was put to death by Ali Mardan Khalji only three months after his return to devkot.
On the basis of the contemporary and modern sources a fair idea of the geographical extent of Bakhtiyar's dominion may be determined. It comprised, besides his original jagir in the Mirzapur district of Oudh, southern Bihar and a strip of northern Bihar along the northern bank of the Ganges. In Bengal proper it included the districts of Rajmahal, Malda, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Rangpur and Bogra in the north. The Tista-Brahmaputra-Karatoya river system is regarded as setting the eastern limit of the lakhnauti principality.
The Initial period (1206-1227 AD)
Bakhtiyar's death was too sudden to enable him to pay any attention to the question of succession. Ali Mardan, Husamuddin Iwaz and Muhammad Shiran now fell out amongst themselves for the throne.
The period from Bakhtiyar's death in 1206 to Iwaz's death in 1227 may be regarded as the initial period of Muslim rule in Bengal. The first six years of this period were marked by struggles for succession among the generals of Bakhtiyar. The period from 1212 to 1227 was covered by the rule of Iwaz Khalji, the first notable ruler of Muslim Bengal who tried to expand and consolidate the Muslim rule in Bengal in a planned way.
Struggle for power after Bakhtiyar
Ali Mardan, the governor of the northeastern region seems to have been present at Devkot at the time of Bakhtiyar's death. He was, therefore, the first to capture power. But Shiran, governor of the southwestern region, left his post at Lakhnor, marched on Devkot and on his approach, Ali Mardan withdrew to Ghoraghat. Shiran defeated and captured him and kept him confined under Baba Haji Isphani, the Kotwal. The Khalji nobles, then, accepted Shiran as the ruler of Lakhnauti.
Shiran Khalji attempted to consolidate his position by following a policy of conciliation towards the partisans of Ali Mardan by confirming them in their posts. But Ali Mardan, somehow, managed to escape from his confinement, went to Delhi and instigated Qutabuddin against Shiran. Qutbuddin asked Quimaz Rumi, the governor of Oudh, to march upon Lakhnauti and settle affairs there. Accordingly Quimaz Rumi proceeded against Lakhnauti and Ali Mardan stayed on at Delhi.
Hitherto Iwaz, governor of the western region, had not taken part in the struggle. On the advance of Quimaz, he placed his services at his disposal and marched with him towards Devkot. Finding it impossible to oppose the combined forces of Quimaz and Iwaz, Shiran vacated Devkot and withdrew eastward. Quimaz Rumi placed Iwaz in charge of the Lakhnauti dominion and started his return march. At this juncture Shiran gathered his forces and advanced towards Devkot. Quimaz Rumi retraced his steps and inflicted a decisive defeat upon Shiran, who fled towards Moseda and Santosh (Mahiganj in Bogra district) and it appears that his own nobles killed him. Iwaz ruled Lakhnauti for about two years (1208-1210 AD) as governor of Delhi. Meanwhile Ali Mardan had accompanied Qutbuddin to Ghazni and rendered valuable services.
In recognition of this the sultan appointed him governor of Lakhnauti in place of Iwaz. Armed with formal appointment and accompanied by a sufficient number of fresh recruits Ali Mardan proceeded to Lakhnauti. Iwaz submitted peacefully to Delhi's nominee, received him with due respect, made over the charges of the province and went back to his own place. Soon after this Qutbuddin died (1210). In the backdrop of the chaos at Delhi following Qutbuddin's death, Ali Mardan assumed independence at Lakhnauti and styled himself Sultan Alauddin Ali Shah. He thus became the first independent ruler of the Muslim territory in Bengal. Later Iwaz inherited independence from him (1212) and remained so till 1227.
Ali Shah, though a capable and vigorous ruler, was vindictive and ruthless. He mercilessly suppressed the partisans of the deceased Shiran. However, he reasserted the Muslim authority over the southwestern region that Shiran had abandoned when he marched upon Devkot. During his time Bihar was also within the principality of Lakhnauti.
Ali Mardan's ruthless policy of 'blood and iron' soon made him unpopular with the Khalji nobles. Taking advantage of this situation Iwaz emerged from the background, organised the discontented nobles, overthrew and killed Ali Mardan and ascended the throne in 1212 AD with the title of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Iwaz Khalji.
Ghiyasuddin Iwaz Khalji
The reign of Iwaz was significant in a number of ways. It marked the end of the struggle for succession that started after Bakhtiyar's death. He was the first Muslim ruler in Bengal whose coins have come to light and he too pioneered the expansion of Muslim territory in Bengal in a planned way giving new orientation to the mode of warfare and strategy. His policy resulted in appreciable expansion as well as consolidation of the Muslim dominion in Bengal.
He conducted campaigns to the southwest, southeast, northeast and northwest from his capital. He recovered Lakhnor (Birbhum) from Ananga Bhima III (1211-1238), the king of Orissa, and posted his Amirs there. He extended his domain further south to the river Damodar in the Bankura district. The territories of Jajnagar (Orissa), Bang (eastern Bengal), Kamarupa (Assam) and Tirhut (north Bihar) sent him tributes.
In 1225 iltutmish, in order to bring back Lakhnauti to the fold of Delhi, led an expedition against Iwaz, which ended in a treaty. Iwaz had to pay an indemnity of eighty Lakhs of Tankas and 38 elephants, acknowledge the Delhi sultan's authority and read the Khutba and issue coins in his name. Iltutmish then separated Bihar from Lakhnauti, put it in charge of Alauddin masud jani and returned to Delhi. Shortly after Iltutmish's departure, Iwaz expelled Jani. At this Iltutmish sent his son prince Nasiruddin to put down Iwaz. In a pitched battle near Lakhnauti, Iwaz was defeated and along with some of his principal nobles beheaded (1227). Thus came to an end the significant career of Iwaz, by far the ablest of Bakhtiyar's deputies who contributed most to the consolidation of Muslim rule in Bengal.
The Muslim dominion under Iwaz comprised, besides southern Bihar, a compact and fairly extensive area in Bengal embracing the modern districts of Malda, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Bogra and Rajshahi in the north, the districts of Murshidabad, Pabna, Nadia and northern Jessore in the south and those of Birbhum and Burdwan in the southwest. [The districts shall be taken in the sense of their pre-1947 position]
Lakhnauti under Delhi Sultanate (1227-1287) The period from Iwaz's death in 1227 till the establishment of Ilyas Shahi dynasty in 1342 was one of steady expansion and consolidation. Prince Nasiruddin succeeded Iwaz to the governorship of Lakhnauti territory. He united his original province of Oudh with Bengal and Bihar, and fixed his capital at Lakhnauti. This enlargement of his jurisdiction and the fact of his being the son of the Delhi sultan naturally increased the importance of his dominion in contemporary eyes. It was further enhanced when Iltutmish bestowed upon him the title of 'Malik-us- Sharq' (king of the East). He ruled the combined territory for a year and a half. He continued the policy of consolidation started by Iwaz.
On his death in 1229 Malik Ikhtiyaruddin balka khalji, a partisan of Iwaz, assumed power at Lakhnauti. He issued coins in 1230 in the joint name of himself and Iltutmish. But this could not satisfy the Delhi sultan. Iltutmish immediately led an expedition against Balka Khalji and killed him. Then Malik alauddin jani, governor of Bihar, was put in charge of Lakhnauti. Bihar was placed under a separate governor, malik saifuddin aibak.
For some reasons, however, Alauddin Jani was transferred from Lakhnauti only after one year and Saifuddin Aibak was placed over it. Saifuddin Aibak, who ruled over Lakhnauti for a little more than three years, led an expedition to 'Bang', captured a number of elephants and sent them to Iltutmish as presents. Saifuddin died at Lakhnauti in 1236 shortly after Iltutmish.
On Saifuddin's death one of his companions, aur khan aibak assumed power at Lakhnauti. He was challenged in his position, however, by the Bihar governor tughral tughan khan who marched against him, defeated and killed him and became the master of the united territory of Lakhnauti and Bihar. During his rule of about ten years he, instead of seeking an expansion of territory towards the east and southwest Bengal, sought to bring Oudh and the adjoining region of north India under his control. Tughral successfully repulsed an Orissan invasion under Raja Narasimhadava I (son of Anangabhima III) with assistance from Delhi (March 1245). Delhi's assistance came in the shape of the combined army of Malik Qara Qash Khan, governors of Kara-Manikpur (Allahabad) and Malik Tamar Khan, governor of Oudh. Immediately after the retreat of the Orissan invaders, Malik Tamar Khan pressed Tughral Khan for relinquishing the charge of the Lakhnauti province to him. Through the negotiation of Minhaj, the historian, an agreement was reached between the two; Tughral surrendered Lakhnauti and Bihar to Tamar Khan and in return he was allowed to depart unmolested with his treasures and followers.
Tamar Khan died in 1246. He was followed by Malik Jalaluddin Masud Jani (1247-1251) and Malik Ikhtiyaruddin Yuzbak (1251� -1258), both appointed by Delhi. Yuzbak took up the task of extending the territory in the southwest. Through repeated attempts he defeated Savantar, a son-in-law of Narasimhadeva of Orissa, and captured Mandaran (in modern Hughli). Emboldened by this success Yuzbak assumed independence and struck coins in his own name. He advanced with his army and war-boats upon Oudh and captured it (1255). Thus he became supreme over Lakhnauti, Bihar and Oudh.
Yuzbak next turned his attention towards the northeast and embarked upon a disastrous expedition against Kamarupa (Assam), then under one Koch Hajo, in 1257. After initial success he had to return mortally wounded by an arrow to which he succumbed shortly afterwards. Thus the second Muslim attempt to advance towards the northeast also ended in failure.
After Yuzbak's death one of his fellow tribesmen, Malik Izzuddin Yuzbak, assumed power at Lakhnauti and got the formal appointment from Delhi in 1259. Izzuddin undertook an expedition against 'Bang' but suffered the same fate as had befallen Iwaz a few years earlier. Taking advantage of his absence in eastern Bengal Malik Tajuddin Arslan Khan, governor of Kara, marched upon Lakhnauti and occupied it. In the ensuing fight with his adversary Izzuddin was defeated and killed.
Perhaps Tajuddin Arslan ruled over Bihar and Lakhnauti from 1259 to1265. His son Tatar Khan (1265-1268) succeeded him, and was followed by Sher Khan (1268-1272), a member of Tajuddin Arslan Khan's family. Sultan Balban then appointed amin khan, governor of Oudh to administer Lakhnauti in addition to his original province, and associated with him mughisuddin tughral Khan as deputy governor. This practice of having a deputy governor was an innovation. Balban probably did it either to have a better administration or to ensure check and balance. Amin Khan appears to have remained busy with Oudh affairs, and Tughral did the real work at Lakhnauti.
Tughral's achievement was the conquest of east Bengal from the hands of the lingering Sena dynasty. He led several expeditions to eastern Bengal and reached very near to sonargaon and built the Qila-i-Tughral at Narkilla identified with Larikal about 25 miles due south of Dhaka. The only important Hindu chieftain of east Bengal, who remained outside the realm of the Muslims, was danuj rai in chandradvipa (Barisal). Tughral also led a number of campaigns to the southwestern areas. He aspired to become independent and the rumour of Balban's death provoked him to declare independence openly in 1277; he assumed the title of Sultan Mughisuddin Tughral, issued coins and had the 'khutba' read in his name. Balban, however, suppressed him in 1281 and meted out severe retribution upon Tughral and his supporters
Balban placed prince bughra khan in charge of the province, and started for Delhi early in 1282. On the eve of his departure he instructed Bughra Khan to conquer Diyar-i-Bangala, meaning the remaining portion of eastern Bengal. Balban died in 1287 and Bughra Khan immediately declared independence at Lakhnauti.
House of Balban (1287-1301)
Bughra Khan and Kaikaus ruled Bengal independently from 1287 to 1301. At the end of Bughra Khan's rule (1282-1290) the Muslim dominion in Bengal consisted of four distinct divisions: Bihar, the Lakhnauti-Devkot region of north Bengal, the Satgaon-Hughli in southwest Bengal and Sonargaon region in east Bengal. Bugra Khan was succeeded by his younger son ruknuddin kaikaus (1290-1301), whose reign witnessed the expansion of Muslim territory in Bengal in the eastern region and from the revenue 'Bang' he issued coins. His empire extended to Bihar in the west, Devkot in the north and Satgaon in the south.
Kaikaus made important changes in the administration. Probably he divided his empire into two provinces: the province of Bihar under its governor Firuz Aitigin and the province of Lakhnauti, which extended from Devkot in the north to Satgaon in the south, under its governor Jafar Khan Bahram Aitigin, both the provincial governors took the title of Sikandar-i- Sani (second Alexander). Kaikaus himself also assumed pompous title. These titles imply the pomp and power of Bengal.
Shamsuddin Firuz and his successors (1301-1324)
Shamsuddin firuz shah (1301-1322), who was erroneously thought to be connected with the Balbani family, succeeded Kaikaus. After Bakhtiyar; it was under him that the Muslim territories extended most. Till his time Lakhnauti dominion was confined within Bihar, north and northwestern Bengal, and Lakhnor in southwestern Bengal. Occupation of satgaon in Hughli and Bang towards Sonargaon started in the reign of Kaikaus and under Firuz the process was completed. He also conquered Mymensingh and Sylhet.
Firuz Shah's death was followed by a struggle for succession among his sons. Firuz Shah left the throne to his son Shihabuddin Bughda. However, his ruthless brother ghiyasuddin bahadur, ousted him and seized power. It seems he eliminated all his brothers except Nasiruddin Ibrahim who escaped the slaughter and sent some of his chief men to Delhi for help. It thus offered the much-desired opportunity to the Tughlaqs for intervention in Bengal and Sultan ghiyasuddin tughlaq marched towards Bengal with a large army in 1324.
The Delhi sultan sent a strong army under his adopted son Bahram Khan alias tatar khan along with Nasiruddin Ibrahim; Ghiyasuddin Bahadur was defeated and imprisoned. Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq reorganised the administration of Muslim dominion in Bengal; divided it into three administrative units of Lakhnauti, Satgaon and Sonargaon. He confirmed Nasiruddin Ibrahim in the government of Lakhnauti with special power of issuing coins in joint names. Bahram Khan was made governor of Sonargaon and Satgaon. Ghiyasuddin Bahadur was made a captive and taken to Delhi.
Muhammad bin tughlaq, successor of Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, thoroughly re-arranged the administration of Bengal. He freed Ghiyasuddin Bahadur and made him joint-governor with Bahram Khan in Sonargaon on conditions that the latter was to send his son as hostage to Delhi; to strike coins in the joint names of himself and the sultan and to read the Khutba in their joint names. Qadar Khan was appointed governor of Lakhnauti. Nasiruddin Ibrahim was called to Delhi. Satgaon was constituted into a separate governorship with Izzuddin Yahya as the governor.
Ghiyasuddin Bahadur carried out all the terms of the agreement except sending his son to the Delhi court. He continued to issue coins from Sonargaon mint in the joint names of himself and the Tughluq sultan till 1328. However, in 1328, he attempted to shake off his allegiance. Bahram Khan, assisted by other amirs, defeated and killed him, flayed his skin and sent it to Delhi where it was exhibited as a warning to future rebels.
The three regions of Lakhnauti, Satgaon, and Sonargaon were governed for the following ten years (1328-1338) respectively by Qadar Khan, Izzuddin Yahya, and Bahram Khan. In 1338 Bahram Khan died. On his death at Sonargaon his armour-bearer (Silhadar) Fakhruddin captured power, proclaimed independence and assumed the title of Sultan fakhruddin mubarak shah. This acted as a signal for a new series of struggles for power which ultimately led to the establishment of Ilyas Shahi rule in Bengal. It heralded the beginning of the Independent Sultanate that continued for two hundred years (1338 - 1538). [Delwar Hussain]
1. JN Sarkar (ed), History of Bengal, vol. II, Dhaka, 1948;
2. A Karim, Banglar Itihasa - Sultani Amal, (Bangla) Dhaka, 1977;
3. Muhammad Mohar Ali, History of the Muslims of Bengal (1203-1757), Riyadh, 1985;
4. Sukhamay Mukhopadhyaya, Banglay Muslim Adhikarer Adi Parba (Bangla), Calcutta, 1988.
Iliyas Shahi Period
The dynasty founded by iliyas shah ruled Bengal for nearly one hundred and fifty years (1342-1487 AD) with an interruption of about twenty-three years (1412-1435/36 AD). The period of Iliyas Shahi rule is important and significant for various reasons. The Independent Sultanate, inaugurated by Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah, was consolidated and witnessed widespread expansion. The Muslim administration was given a distinct shape in this period. Arts and literature, particularly Bangla literature, flourished. The Muslim rulers were obliged to take the local people into confidence and opened the door for their participation in the administration of the country. Thus the process of transformation of alien Muslim rule into Bengali Muslim rule was started during this period. Above all, the whole territory, which was hitherto known not by any unitary name but by its different regional names such as Vanga, Gauda etc, came to be designated as Bangalah.
Haji Iliyas, the founder of the dynasty and the real founder of the Independent Sultanate of Bengal, was a Sijistani noble. Initially he was in the service of Malik Firuz of Delhi and afterwards came under Izzuddin Yahya, the imperial governor of Satgaon. He rose there to the position of Malik and, in 1338, after the death of Izzuddin Yahya, became the master of Satgaon. Consolidating his power at Satgaon, Haji Iliyas marched against Ali Mubarak of Lakhnauti in 740 AH /1339 AD and was involved in long-drawn hostilities which resulted in the victory of Haji Iliyas. He ascended the throne of Lakhnauti with the title of Sultan Shamsuddin Abul Muzaffar Iliyas Shah in 1342 AD and thereby laid the foundation of the Iliyas Shahi Sultanate in Bengal. Iliyas Shah was a vigorous and efficient ruler and by his sagacity and political acumen earned for himself the titles of Shah-i-Bangalah, Shah-i-Bangaliyan and Sultan-i-Bangalah. He died at pandua in 1358 AD after a reign of about sixteen years and was succeeded by his son sikandar shah.
Sikandar enjoyed a long and prosperous reign of about 33 years and died sometime around 1390 in the course of a fight with his son Azam Shah at Goalpara near Pandua. On his death, Azam Shah ascended the throne with the title of Sultan ghiyasuddin azam shah in 793 AH/ 1390-91 AD. He was a capable ruler with a profound regard for the law. He is also known for his friendly relations with foreign countries. He died in 813 AH/1410-11 AD and was succeeded by his son saifuddin hamza shah who ruled Bengal for a short period of one year and a few months (813 AH/1410-11 814 AH/1411-12 AD). During his reign raja ganesha, a Hindu Zamindar of Bhaturiah in Rajshahi District, became powerful and it was at his instigation that the sultan's slave Shihabuddin killed his master and himself ascended the throne of Bengal. When these things were happening, muhammad shah bin hamzah shah probably declared himself sultan somewhere in Bengal and issued coins. Possibly he could not maintain his position and ultimately was defeated by Raja Ganesha and Shihabuddin and, thus, the rule of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty was interrupted.
Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah, the slave of Sultan Saifuddin Hamza Shah ruled Bengal from 814 AH/1411-12 AD to 817 AH/1414 AD. The cordial relations between Shihabuddin and Raja Ganesha did not last long. Shihabuddin led a revolt against Raja Ganesha and for a time he succeeded in confining him and eclipsing his authority. He assumed the title of Sultan Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah and issued coins in his own name. Soon Ganesha hatched a conspiracy against the sultan, attacked him and killed him in 817 AH/1414 AD. Alauddin Firuz, son of Shihabuddin Bayazid, somehow escaped to southern or southeastern Bengal and tried to establish his authority there. But Raja Ganesha attacked and killed him and himself ascended the throne of Bengal in 817 AH/1414 AD.
House of Raja Ganesha
On becoming the ruler of Bengal Raja Ganesha began to oppress the Muslims. At this stage, nur qutb alam, the saint of Pandua, sought the intervention of Sultan Ibrahim Sharqi of Jaunpur. Raja Ganesha requested the saint to exert his influence so that Ibrahim Sharqi withdrew from Bengal. The saint conceded to the request of Ganesha when the latter agreed to convert his son Jadu to Islam and to install him on the throne of Bengal. Ibrahim Sharqi left Bengal in 818 AH/1415 AD.
Jadu, as Jalaluddin Abul Muzaffar Muhammad Shah, minted coins in 818 AH. He ruled for a short period of one year and a few months when in 819 AH/1416-17 AD his father Raja Ganesha seized the throne and reconverted him (Jalaluddin) to Hinduism. It appears that this time Raja Ganesha ruled Bengal up to 821 AH/1418 AD under the title of Danuj Mardan Dev. His younger son Mahendra succeeded him. But within a very short time he was ousted by his brother Jadu in 821 AH/1418 AD who, after his reconversion to Islam, assumed the title of jalaluddin muhammad shah. He had a peaceful reign of about fifteen years. He died in 837 AH/1433 AD and was succeeded by his son shamsuddin ahmad shah who reigned up to 839 AH/1435 AD. The tyranny of Ahmad Shah drove everybody to despair and two of his slaves, Nasir Khan and Shadi Khan, conspired against him and killed him. Nasir Khan and Shadi Khan soon quarreled over the throne. The former ascended the throne killing the latter, but was destined to rule only for a few days. The nobles soon opposed his authority and slew him.
Later Iliyas Shahi dynasty Following the murder of Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah, the nobles placed Nasiruddin, a descendant of Sultan Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah, on the throne of Bengal in 839 AH/1435-36 AD. Thus the Iliyas Shashi dynasty was restored. Assuming the title of nasiruddin mahmud shah, the new sultan reigned peacefully for about twenty-four years. He died in 864 AH/1459-60 AD and was succeeded by his son ruknuddin barbak shah, who was just, liberal, learned and a wise sultan. He had a fancy for Abyssinian slaves, and recruited them in large numbers. The Habshi slaves, consequently, became a powerful factor in Bengal politics. Barbak Shah died in 879 AH/1474 AD and was succeeded by his son shamsuddin yusuf shah. The distinguishing feature of Yusuf Shah's reign was that he strictly and impartially applied the Sharia laws in state affairs and charged the Ulama to see that the laws of Islam were followed in all spheres of life.
After Yusuf's death (probably in 886 AH/1481 AD), the nobles raised his son Sikandar II to the throne. But the nobles deposed him after a nominal reign of a few days and offered the throne to Fath Shah, son of Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah. Fath Shah assumed the title of jalaluddin fath shah. Towards the close of his reign the Abyssinian slaves became very powerful in the court of Bengal and occupied most of the important positions. Fath Shah was murdered in 893 AH/1487 AD by one of his slaves, named Barbak. With the death of Fath Shah the rule of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty came to an end.
The period from 1342 to 1487 witnessed remarkable expansion of the territory of the Bengal Sultanate. Consolidating his authority at Lakhnauti, Iliyas Shah launched upon a career of conquest. The time was opportune for him. The political conditions that prevailed at that time on the western frontier of Bengal allured him to turn his attention towards the west. He first attacked Tirhut (North Bihar) and occupied it easily in 745 AH/1344 AD. In 1350 he made a bold thrust across the inhospitable region of Terai in Nepal which was yet untrodden by Muslim soldiers.
Iliyas Shah advanced as far as the capital Kathmandu and returned with immense wealth after destroying some temples. Then he led a campaign against Eastern Bengal, conquered Sonargaon, defeating ikhtiyaruddin ghazi shah in 753 AH/1352 AD, and became the first independent Muslim sultan to have united the entire Muslim possessions in Bengal. Afterwards he led an expedition to the southwest and invaded Jajnagar (Orissa) and advanced as far as Chilka Lake. He also invaded Bihar and soon his dominions extended up to Benaras. His success in the west brought him into direct conflict with Sultan firuz shah tughlaq of Delhi who in vain marched upon Bengal to bring Iliyas Shah under subjugation. As a result of this invasion Iliyas Shah was deprived of his conquests west of Lakhnauti, but he continued to rule Bengal as an independent sultan. Iliyas Shah also succeeded in exerting his influence on the neighbouring Kingdom of Tippera. Towards the close of his reign, he added one more laurel to his crown by leading a successful campaign against Kamarupa in 758 AH/ 1357 AD and conquering a portion of it.
Sikandar Shah, the next sultan, was also a military leader of high calibre. During his reign Firuz Shah Tughlaq again made an attempt to reduce Bengal to submission, but failed to do so and had to return disappointed. Sikandar successfully defended his Sultanate and maintained its integrity. He issued coins from Kamarupa in 759 AH. He might have lost Kamarupa towards the end of his reign. There is very little information about the conquest of Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah. He captured Kamarupa in 1394-95 AD though he failed in his attempt to capture Kamta.
Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah extended his territory up to Fathabad (Faridpur). khan jahan conquered Khulna and Jessore during the reign of Nasiruddin Mahmud. Mahmud perhaps mounted an unsuccessful expedition against Orissa. He is also supposed to have marched upon Mithila to conquer it but Bhairab Singh, King of Mithila might have baffled his attempt. Nasiruddin Mahmud ruled over a vast territory bounded by the districts of Bhagalpur to the west, Mymensingh to the east, Gaur- Pandua to the north and Hughli to the south.
Bakerganj was conquered during the reign of Ruknuddin Barbak Shah. He sent an army under shah ismail ghazi to attack Gajapati, Raja of Mandaran. Ismail Ghazi attacked and defeated Gajapati. Subsequently Ismail Ghazi was engaged in a protracted war to ward off the Assamese intrusion in the northeastern border areas of the Sultanate. Then Barbak Shah appointed Ismail Ghazi to lead an army against Kameshvara, King of Kamarupa. The Kamarupa king surrendered voluntarily and Kamarupa came under the sway of Barbak Shah. He is also reported to have conquered a portion of Tirhut. Barbak Shah ruled over a vast territory comprising the regions of north, east, west, south and southeast Bengal and portions of Bihar.
During the reign of Yusuf Shah the Bengal Sultanate was further extended in western and northern Bengal. Besides, a large part of eastern Bengal came under his control. Jalaluddin Fath Shah continued to rule the Sultanate that he inherited from his predecessors and further extended it to Sylhet in the east and to the river Damodar in the southwest.
The administration of the Iliyas Shahi sultans opened a new chapter in the history of Bengal. The sultans were aware of the fact that their very existence depended upon the co-operation of the local people. So they adopted a liberal policy in administration. Besides the title of sultan, the Iliyas Shahi rulers adopted a variety of other titles. Of these mention may be made of Sultan al-Muazzam, al-Sultan al-Azam, Sultan al-Salatin, Sultan al-Zaman, Sikandar al-Thani, Nasir al-Islam wa al-Muslimin, Ghauth al-Islam wa al-Muslimin, al-Mujahid fi Sabil al-Rhaman, al-Adil, Al-Badhil etc. At the same time, they also recognised the theoretical sovereignty of the Khalifah. But this was only in name; they were independent for all practical purposes.
The administrative organisation of the Iliyas Shahi Sultanate was the result of an evolutionary process; various rulers effected improvements and changes. The sultans had gradually evolved a system of administration for the centre as well as the administrative units. The sultan was the pivot of administration, which depended for its efficiency on his personal supervision. He was the head of the executive and was responsible for the peace and security of the Sultanate and was the chief lawgiver and the final court of appeal. He was also the supreme commander of the army. Though the sultan of Bengal was all in all in the empire, yet the supremacy of the Shariah and the influence of the Ulama limited his power.
The diversity of administration and requirement of spectacular ceremonials necessitated the attendance of many officials and servants of different ranks. The royal household played a significant role in the actual administration of the Sultanate. The sultan also maintained a splendid court. Quite a big retinue of nobles, amirs and high officials of the state attended the court. The sultan himself carried out a good deal of administrative work.
Iliyas Shahi sultans appointed some ministers and high officials and entrusted them with the responsibility of different departments like finance, judiciary, military affairs etc. The chief minister was called the wazir. He was in charge of the office of the Diwan-i-wazirat. He acted as the head of all the departments and kept a vigilant eye on the work of each department. But his immediate concern was finance. Besides the office of the Diwan-i-wazirat others forming part of the state administration were the Diwan-i-Risalat, the Diwan-i-Insha and the Diwan-i-Ariz. The Diwan-i-Risalat dealt with diplomatic and foreign correspondence and kept in close touch with the envoys sent to and received from foreign rulers. The Diwan-i-Insha dealt with royal proclamations and dispatches. The chief of this department was the dabir-i-khas, who was assisted in his work by a number of Dabirs, Katibs and Kar-i-farmans. The Diwan-i-Ariz dealt with army matters. The Ariz-i-Lashkar was the head of this department. High-ranking military officers were entitled Sipah-Salar, sar-i-laskar, Wazir Lashkar and Mir Bahr. References to military ranks such as sar-i-khail, Amir, Malik and Khan are available in different sources. In addition to the four ministries there was the department of justice presided over by the qazi. The kotwal was the head of the police and was responsible for maintaining peace and order in the city. It was his duty to keep the sultan informed of all daily occurrences in his jurisdiction.
For the efficiency of administration, the Iliyas Shahi sultans divided Bengal into a number of administrative units. But these were not homogenous, with uniform administrative systems in them, and their number varied from time to time. Possibly it depended partly on necessity and partly on the prevailing political condition in the centre. The larger administrative units were known as Iqlim, while the smaller units were called Arsah or Mulk. The ruler of an administrative unit was the head of the military and civil administration.
There are references to the administration of some cities, which were variously called Shahr and Qasbah. These cities were not separate administrative units but component parts of bigger units like Iqlim or Arsah. There were also some military outposts known as Thanas. Thanas were placed under the control of the bigger units adjacent to them. The smaller unit after Iqlim and Arash was the Mahal, an aggregate of many villages, and primarily a revenue unit. But later on, in order to enforce revenue regulations and to maintain law and order, some responsibility for civil administration was also given to it.
Arts and literature
The Iliyas Shahi sultans were great patrons of the arts and literature. After consolidation of his authority over Bengal, Iliyas Shah rightly realised the necessity of winning the support of the local people. Hence, Iliyas Shah initiated a policy of patronising local culture, art and literature.
The Iliyas Shahi sultans made a bold attempt to develop a grand architectural style befitting the dignity of the new Sultanate. The Iliyas Shahi architectural style represents an amalgam of local and Muslim elements. In fact, it demonstrates reconciliation between the traditional Muslim features and the indigenous architectural elements. The Bengali masons and artisans followed the traditional Muslim pattern in erecting the building and then incorporated local elements such as piers, curved cornices and various types of ornamentation depicting local tradition and motifs in brightly expressive terracotta plaques. These local elements in effect turned the Muslim architecture of Bengal into Bengali Muslim architecture.
Of all the sultans of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty the reign of Sikandar Shah is marked by architectural development such as Bengal had never witnessed before. The most magnificent building of his reign is the adina mosque at Hazrat Pandua, built in 766 AH/1374 � 75 AD. This mosque was planned in the conventional style. It was the most ambitious structure of its kind ever essayed in eastern India. It is a bold creation, unique of its kind. Of the other monuments erected during the Iliyas Shahi period, mention may be made of the tomb of Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah at Sonargaon, the kotwali darwaza, the dakhil darwaza, the Nim Darwaza, the chika building, the chamkathi mosque, the tantipara mosque, the lattan mosque, the Kadamrasul Masjid and the darasbari mosque of Gaur, the mosque of Mullah Ata at Gangarampur in the district of Dinajpur, the mosque of Mullah Simla in Hughli and the Sona Masjid of Pandua.
The period also witnessed the development of calligraphic styles. A beautiful form of Tughra is noticeable in Iliyas Shah's inscription found at Bainapukur, Calcutta. A style was evolved by arranging the shafts of vertical letters rather prominently so as to produce the impression of a row in the Muslim prayer congregation or of a marching army, while the main parts of the letters are set at the base forming loops and ringlets. Nasiruddin Mahmud's Pandua inscription of 863 AH and Barbak Shah's Deotala inscription of 868 AH are two notable examples of this style. The next important development is the setting of curved letters across the shafts producing an altogether new design variously called 'the Bow and Arrow' or the 'Boat and Oar' designs. Two notable examples of this style are Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah's Bhagalpur inscription of 860 AH and the Hatkhola inscription of Ruknuddin Barbak Shah of 868 AH. The high-water mark of this style was reached in the time of Shamsudin Yusuf Shah.
The Iliyas Shahi sultans accorded recognition and status to Bengali language and literature. They extended liberal patronage to the Bengali poets and men of letters. As a result of their patronage, Bengali language and literature developed rapidly. Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah was famed for his learning and enlightenment and also for appreciating the literary and intellectual attainments of others. He contributed a good deal to the development of Bengali language and literature. Under his patronage shah muhammad sagir wrote his famous poetical work yusuf-zulekha. It effected a revolution in Bengali literature, which was greatly enriched with the addition of the religious stories of Islam and the introduction of the romantic tale as a new theme for Bengali poets.
Probably Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah asked krittivas to write the Ramayana in Bengali. Ruknuddin Barbak Shah extended his patronage to Muslim and Hindu scholars alike. During his reign Zaynuddin composed the rasulbijay and Ibrahim Qayum Faruqi composed the Safarnamah. From the Safarnamah we get the names of a few scholars and poets of the time. They are-Amir Zaynuddin Harwi, Amir Shihabuddin Hakim Kirmani, Mansur Shirazi, Malik Yusuf bin Hamid, Sayyid Jalal, Sayyid Muhammad Rukn, Syyid Hasan and Shaikh Wahedi. Barbak Shah equally extended his patronage to Hindu scholars and poets. During his reign Raimukuta Brhaspati acquired fame and glory. Barbak Shah honoured maladhar basu, the compiler of the srikrishnavijay, with the title of 'Gunaraj Khan'. The son of Maladhar Basu was also honoured with the title of 'Satyaraj Khan'. It is to be mentioned here that the courtiers and nobles of Barbak Shah evinced similar interest in arts and letters. An officer of Barbak Shah named Kuladhara patronised a Brahmin named Govardhana who composed a Sanskrit work titled Puransarvaswa. Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah and Jalaluddin Fath Shah also extended their patronage to the development of Bengali literature and some poets flourished during their periods.
Importance of the Iliyas Shahi period The rule of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty occupies a distinct and significant place in the history of Bengal. The Muslim Kingdom of Bengal, known as the Kingdom of Lakhnauti, was transformed into the Sultanate of Bangalah. During this period, for the first time the different parts of Bengal were united under the sole authority of Sultan Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah. From this time, the united territories of Bengal received the name of Bangalah and its people came to be known as the Bengalis. This unification of Bengal also integrated the Bengali-speaking people into one politico-social union and laid the foundation of Bangalah and Bangalees. The Sultanate founded by Iliyas Shah maintained an independent existence for nearly two hundred years. During this period things changed greatly and the rudiments of a well-organised system of administration started to take shape.
Bengal's economy also made great strides during this time. There was remarkable prosperity in agriculture, industries and commerce. The abundance of agricultural and industrial products and the large volume of trade, both external and internal, evoked the wonder and admiration of foreign merchants and travellers.
Great changes took place in the field of art and architecture. The Iliyas Shahi sultans made a bold attempt to develop a grand architectural style befitting the dignity of the new Sultanate. Bangla language and literature received the patronage of the Iliyas Shahi sultans. Territorial expansion as well as the growth and consolidation of Muslim society marked the Iliyas Shahi period.
The Iliyas Shahi dynasty, with remarkable consistency, produced a succession of able rulers who were noted for their tolerance and enlightenment. To have ruled over a people of an alien faith for nearly seventy years was in itself a great achievement; to be restored was an even greater one. It was a singular proof of their popularity. [ABM Shamsuddin Ahmed]
1. Ziauddin Barani, Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi, Calcutta, 1862;
2. Yahiya bin Ahmad, Tarikh-i-Mubarak Shahi, Calcutta, 1931;
3. Abdul Karim, Banglar Itihas (sultani Amal) in Bangla, Dhaka, 1977;
4. ABM Shamsuddin Ahmed, Bengal under the Rule of the Early Iliyas Shahi Dynasty, Unpublished Thesis, Dhaka University, Dhaka, 1987.
Towards the close of the reign of Sultan Jalaluddin Fath Shah, the Abyssinian (Ethiopian) slaves became a dangerously powerful element in the court of Bengal. Shahzada, a Habshi eunuch and the leader of the Abyssinian slaves usurped the throne by murdering Jalaluddin Fath Shah, the last ruler of the house of Iliyas Shah in 893 AH/1487 AD.
The rule of the Habshis (Abyssinians) in Bengal lasted nearly six years (893 AH/ 1487 AD to 899 AH /1493 AD), during which four rulers (Barbak Shah Shahzada, Saifuddin Firuz Shah, Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah II and Shamsuddin Muzaffar Shah) ruled Bengal.
On his accession Shahzada assumed the title of Sultan Barbak Shah. His rule was characterised by a policy of systematic elimination of opponents. This policy, however, could not save him and Malik Andil ultimately murdered him. Barbak Shah's rule lasted only six months.
Malik Andil, with the consent of the nobles, ascended the throne with the title of Saifuddin Abul Muzaffar Firuz Shah in 893 AH/1487 AD. The Persian chroniclers praised him highly for his benevolence and kindness to the poor and needy. He valued justice and liberality and made noble efforts to secure peace and comfort for his subjects. He was also a patron of art and architecture. From the evidence of his coins and inscriptions it appears that he ruled over a wide tract of Bengal. He either died a natural death or was secretly murdered after a reign of three years in 896 AH/1490 AD.
Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah II succeeded Saifuddin Firuz Shah. During his reign, Habash Khan grew in influence and this excited the jealousy of another Abyssinian slave named Sidi Badr Diwana, who ultimately killed Habash Khan and Mahmud Shah with the help of the paiks. Mahmud Shah's reign lasted a few months.
After the murder of Mahmud Shah II, Sidi Badr ascended the throne in 896 AH/1490 AD and assumed the title of Shamsuddin Abu Nasr Muzaffar Shah. His reign was, for all practical purposes, a reign of terror. In order to get rid of his opponents, he slew many nobles and scholars. He exploited his subjects and collected revenue at extortionate rates, disbanded the greater part of his standing army and reduced the pay of his soldiers. Though a brute, Muzaffar Shah was not altogether a heartless tyrant. During his reign he devoted himself to the promotion of education and culture. He was a patron of saints and built a mosque at Gaur. His reign lasted nearly three years (896 AH/ 1490 AD to 899 AH/1493 AD). His inscriptions and coins indicate that his kingdom included the whole of north Bengal and some portions of Bihar.
The tyrannical rule of Muzaffar Shah alienated the people; Sayid Husain, an Arab by descent and the chief minister of Muzaffar Shah organised a revolt and killed the sultan. With the murder of Muzaffar shah, Habshi rule in Bengal came to an end.
Husain Shahi Rule (1494-1538 AD)
Husain Shahi Rule occupies a significant place in the medieval history of Bengal. It marked the zenith of the Independent Sultanate in Bengal. Husain Shahi rule was characterised by territorial expansion, stabilisation of administration and significant developments in religion, literature, the arts and the economy. In this period Bengal's political isolation from North India reached its culminating point, and this helped her to reinforce her cultural identity. The literary renaissance which characterised the period was but a flowering of the local genius which had remained repressed in the earlier period. Though in this period Bengal did not witness the emergence of any new forms of art, the surviving specimens of fine arts and architecture indicate an advanced stage of development and seem to reflect the prosperity of the period. The Husain Shahi rulers, taking off the cloak of their foreign origin, tried to identify themselves with local aspirations, and the development of the Muslim mind was, more or less, along the lines of the indigenous culture. The period saw the advent of the Europeans in Bengal. Towards the close of the period Mughal rule touched only the outer fringe of Bengal and European trade and commerce were yet to have a proper beginning. The period witnessed the initial signs of the new forces that were destined to shape the life of the country for centuries to come. In that sense the period represents a 'formative period' of Bengal history.
The founder of the dynasty, Alauddin husain shah, occupied the throne by assassinating the Habshi Sultan Shamsuddin Muzaffar Shah, under whom he had served as wazir. He was elected sultan by the leading nobles in 1494 AD. His reign witnessed the territorial expansion of the Sultanate of Bengal. Having conquered kamarupa and Kamta, his troops advanced further into the upper Brahmaputra valley of Assam. He attained some temporary success in his hostilities against the king of Orissa and inscribed the legend 'conqueror of Kamarupa and Kamta, and Jajnagar and Orissa' on his coins. He succeeded in annexing a part of Tippera to his kingdom. Chittagong formed an integral part of his kingdom. Towards the end of Husain Shah's reign a Portuguese mission came to Bengal to establish diplomatic links. Husain's reign ended in 1519 AD. The country enjoyed undisturbed peace and vijay gupta, the contemporary poet mentioned him as nrpati-tilaka (the tilak-mark of kings), jagatabhusana (the adornment of the universe) and Krsna-avatara (the incarnation of Krsna). He was tolerant and liberal in his policy towards Hindus. He appointed them to high posts and patronised their religion.
Alauddin Husain Shah was succeeded in 1519 AD by his eldest son Nusrat, who assumed the title of Sultan Nasiruddin nusrat shah. Taking advantage of the significant political changes that were taking place in northern India Nusrat extended his territory into Tirhut (northern Bihar). Though he gave shelter to a few defeated Afghans, he cleverly tried to avoid any confrontation with babur, who had appeared in the eastern Indian scene after his victory at Panipath(1526). Nusrat professed neutrality and avoided having any connection with the anti-Mughal confederacy that was formed by Mahmud Lodi with Afghan chiefs. But in spite of these maneuverings, Nusrat could not avoid a direct conflict with Babur.
Nusrat faced reverses in the battle of the Ghogra, concluded a peace with Babur and saved Bengal from an impending cataclysm. Nusrat avoided joining the Afghans in the battle of Daurah (1531) in which humayun defeated the Afghans headed by Mahmud Lodi. Bengal's hold on Kamarupa and Kamta was probably unaffected till the end of Nusrat's reign. Due to his preoccupation with the affairs of the northwestern frontier he had hardly any opportunity to pay attention to Assam. Towards the end of 1521 two Portuguese missions came to the court of Nusrat to establish diplomatic relations with Bengal. The portuguese were active during his reign in the Bay of Bengal. His governors in Chittagong had to deal on several occasions with the Portuguese 'menace' in the coastal area off Chittagong.
Nusrat possessed noble virtues; he meted out kind and benevolent treatment to his own brothers and also to the Afghans. Compared with his illustrious father, he appears to be a man of pusillanimous disposition. But one may well bear in mind the circumstances under which he was placed. The weakness of his position was largely due to the uncertain character of Afghan politics and the superiority of the Mughals. Nusrat was a great patron of Bangla literature in which his name finds repeated mention. While visiting his father's tomb at Gaur, one of his slaves is said to have killed him.
The process of disintegration of the Husain Shahi regime, which began in the reign of Nusrat found its culmination in the reign of his successors. Though Nusrat had nominated his younger brother Mahmud to succeed him, a group of nobles put his young son Firuz on the throne with the title alauddin firuz shah (1532). Firuz had a brief reign of only about nine months (1532-33) and was murdered by his uncle, Mahmud. Shridhara, the author of the metrical romance called Vidyasundara has made repeated mention of Firuz and his interest in arts and literature.
Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah, the last of the Husain Shahi sultans, could hardly check the centrifugal forces operating in different parts of his kingdom. The governors of outlying regions assumed virtual independence. Khuda Baksh Khan, a governor in the southeastern part of his empire, began to behave like a vassal ruler having extended his sway over the region lying between the Karnafuli and the mountains of arakan. Tippera, taking advantage of Mahmud's weak position on the northwestern frontier, had made a daring bid for expanding her territories at the expense of Bengal. Khuda Baksh probably could hold out against Arakan and Tippera until sher shah finally occupied Bengal.
The problems on the northwestern frontier of Mahmud's empire started with the ascendency of Sher Khan Sur in Bihar. Mahmud had sent an army under Ibrahim Khan to attack Bihar on behalf of Jalal Khan Lohani, the rival of Sher Khan in Bihar. In the battle of Surajgarh (1534) Ibrahim was defeated; this forced Jalal to fall back and paved the way for Sher Khan's ascendancy in Bihar. Taking advantage of Humayun's preoccupations in Gujrat (1535), Sher Khan annexed the territories up to Bhagalpur. In 1536 Sher Khan appeared before Teliagarhi which was defended by Mahmud's army assisted by Portuguese soldiers. Sher Khan appeared before gaur via jharkhand. Mahmud was terrified and Sher Khan extended his territories up to Teliagarhi. Mahmud had allowed the Portuguese to build fortresses and factories at Chittagong and Satgaon and granted them the right to collect rent from the local people. This greatly enhanced the power of the Portuguese in Bengal.
In 1537 Sher Khan's position was secure in Bihar and he controlled the Teliagarhi pass. Sher Khan appeared in Gaur for the second time and demanded a large sum of money from Mahmud as annual tribute. Mahmud's refusal led Sher Khan to besiege Gaur, which fell into the hands of the Afghans in April 1538. Mahmud made a last minute effort to join hands with Humayun against Sher Khan. But at the execution of his two sons in Gaur by the Afghans Mahmud suffered a mental breakdown and died. Thus the independent Sultanate of Bengal came to an end in 1538. Mahmud had failed totally to have a grasp of the precarious political situation that befell him. The year 1538 marks the end of a significant period in the history of Bengal and the beginning of an era of chaos and confusion which troubled her life down to the early seventeenth century.
The Husain Shahi period witnessed consolidation of the administration. The administrative structure was improved. Alauddin Husain Shah was conscious of the fact that administrative anomalies had worked against the stability of the state. He disbanded the paiks and banished the Abyssinians whose conspiracy and ambition had already convulsed the country. Husain addressed himself to the task of political settlement by transferring the seat of administration from Gaur to ekdala, appointing a number of efficient governors in different provinces and reducing disloyal elements. The Bengal administration was possibly a close copy of the administration of the Sultanate of Delhi. The guiding policy of Husain Shahi administration was provided by Husain Shah, and Nusrat, Firuz and Mahmud had hardly any necessity of altering the general policies adopted by the founder of the dynasty. The nobility, composed of heterogeneous elements likes Arabs, Pathans, Mughals and Bengalis played an important part in administration. The nobles of Husain Shahi Bengal do not seem to have been much different from their north Indian counterparts; the military governors enjoyed revenue assignments. The Wazir was possibly the Administrator General closely connected with the finance and military departments at the centre and he could occasionally act as the Sultan's alter ego. The Husain Shahi provinces, variously known as iqlim, mulk or arsah, were as follows: Chatgaon, Mu'azzamabad, Mahmudabad, Fathabad, Khalifatabad, Husainabad (Lakhnauti), Nusratabad, Barbakabad, Satgaon, Muhammadabad, Sajlamankhbad, Hajipur (North Bihar), Monghyr (South Bihar) and the newly conquered areas of Kamarupa and Kamta . Each province was placed under an officer who had the title of sar-i-lashkar wa wazir, combining military and revenue functions. However, it must be said that the provincial administration was not uniform all over the empire. All sections of people enjoyed various advantages under Husain Shahi administration, which was free from religious fanaticism. The rulers might have been actuated by political considerations in following a thoroughly liberal policy; nevertheless, it was quite helpful in promoting the country's interest. The Husain Shahi period was characterised by a gradual rapprochement between the ruler and the ruled, and this ushered in a new socio-political phenomenon in Bengal.
The accounts of varthema, barbosa, tome pires (written in the early 16th century) and Joao de Barros (written immediately after the fall of the Husain Shahi dynasty) together with Bengali poems, Persian literature, coins and inscriptions give many indications of developments in the field of economy. Bengal derived her wealth mainly from agriculture, trade and industry. It is not possible to have a precise idea about the ratio of the urban and rural populations. Since the society of medieval Bengal was basically agricultural, people living in villages must have outnumbered those in towns and cities. Considered from the point of view of its economic structure, the village in medieval Bengal did not differ much from its modern counterpart. It had a number of inter-dependent socio-economic groups, which functioned collectively to sustain the life of the entire rural population.
Though mainly based on land and its produce, the village had a limited amount of trade and commerce. In contrast, towns and cities saw the concentration of people associated with administration, trade and commerce. There were a few towns and cities, such as Gaur, Pandua, Satgaon, Chittagong and Sonargaon, whose existence in the period can be explained in terms of political and commercial reasons. Although Alauddin Husain Shah shifted the capital to Ekdala, the importance of Gaur and Pandua, which were capitals in the earlier periods of Muslim rule, does not appear to have decreased. Apart from serving as political centres, these two cities contributed considerably to the commercial life of Bengal. The mint towns of the period, generally located on riverbanks, were not only administrative headquarters, but also commercial centres. Mandaran, at the southwestern frontier and Paragal Khan's headquarters on the Feni river in Chittagong, were military outposts. Bengal had several ports, which greatly facilitated her sea-borne trade. Saptagram (Hughli district) continued to enjoy an important position down to the middle of the 16th century; its religious sanctity and economic affluence have been vividly described in Bangla literature as well as in foreign accounts. Sonargaon, situated between the Laksya and the Meghna, used to export rice and cloth to different parts of the world. Chittagong, located on the Karnafuli and facing the Bay of Bengal, held a precarious position in the commercial life of Bengal, for its possession was being disputed by the rulers of Bengal, Tippera and Arakan.
But it was of unique interest to the Portuguese who called it Porto Grande. In view of the lucrative positions of Chittagong and Satgaon, the Portuguese had covetous eyes on them and controlled their custom houses towards the end of the 16th century. Satgaon, Sonargaon and Chittagong, which have been clearly located on the map of Joao de Barros, maintained economic and cultural links between Bengal and distant parts of the world. Since Bengal is primarily an agricultural country, a vast number of people belonged to the peasantry. Bengal used to produce innumerous varieties of paddy in plenty. Among other agricultural products cotton, sugarcane, ginger, long pepper, turmeric, betel nut, pulses and lentil may be mentioned. The flourishing state of Bengal's sea-borne trade in the period presupposes the growth of internal trade also. Moneylenders, moneychangers and merchants together with the local markets find repeated mention in the vernacular literature.
The commercial activities also presuppose the growth of industry. The variety and richness of the textile manufactures of Bengal became famous. Fine cotton fabrics, jute fabrics and silk products of Bengal attracted foreign buyers. Sugar of fine quality was produced in Bengal. The metal industry flourished; blacksmiths and goldsmiths constituted distinct economic classes.
The Husain Shahi rulers issued numerous silver coins and only a few gold coins. Nusrat and Mahmud issued copper coins, which were rare pieces. There is a sudden influx of silver coins, very rich in variety, in the Husain Shahi period. This undoubtedly suggests that there was a considerable increase in the volume of foreign trade in the period.
It appears from the accounts of the foreigners that the upper class in Bengal lived in affluence. However, it is difficult to ascertain the economic condition of the general people. chaitanya bhagavata contains numerous references to famines that affected the life of the people of Bengal in the Husain Shahi period. The prevalence of slavery indicates the presence of poverty among certain sections of people.
The expansion of maritime trade, the process of commodity production connected with it and the existence of an organised money economy were expected to have brought about significant changes in the socio-economic life of Bengal. But a number of deterrents in the sphere of trade, industry and agriculture belie that expectation. Foreign merchants largely controlled foreign trade. Tome Pires noticed some definite deterrents in the process of capital formation. These were: weak position of the Bengali merchants in international trade, the lack of commercial organisations as well as technological skills in shipping and the low level of business ethics. The agricultural sector remained at a primitive level and capital formation in the agro-based economic sector was also an impossibility. The administrative system was mainly based on the agricultural surplus, and this checked the process of capital formation.
The religious life of the period had a number of distinct elements such as Islam, vaisnavism, tantricism and the manasa, Nath and Dharma cults. Islam played a dominant role in the life of the people. A careful study of the vernacular literature shows that there prevailed a sort of folk Islam among the common mass of Muslim population. This popular Islam seems to have been influenced by accretions. Some Muslims even used to worship Manasa. Nusrat Shah constructed a building to preserve therein the footprint of the Prophet (Sm). Originating in Buddhism, this type of fetishism seems to have made its way into Hinduism, Christianity and Islam. Muslim mystics of the time had brought a wide variety of tantric and yogic ideas and customs to the fold of Islam. The idea of Adi-deva or the primordial god and Adya-shakti or the primordial goddess, obtaining in most of the mystic cults of medieval Bengal, appears to be a modified version of the Sangkhya conception of Purusa and Prakrti, which are regarded as the underlying principles of cosmic evolution. The period witnessed the growth of the Pir cult in Bengal.
Sufism greatly influenced the society of the period. nur qutb alam, the Chistiya Sufi who died in the first half of the 15th century, was held in high esteem by Alauddin Husain Shah. Nusrat Shah built the tomb of akhi sirajuddin at Sadullahpur. Two Chistiya Sufis � Shaikh Husamuddin Manikpuri, the chief disciple of Nur Qutb-i-Alam, and Raji Hamid Shah � greatly influenced the religious life of the time. The Madariya sect, introduced in Bengal in the middle of the 15th century, continued to exist in the period; the Shunya-Purana refers to the Madariya slogan dam Madar (the breath of Madar). Maulana Shah Daulah settled in Bagha (Rajshahi district) and became the founder of several generations of Pirs in that part of Bengal. Ismail Ghazi, who was executed at the order of Barbak Shah in 1474, was highly venerated in this period. Muslim Sufis and saints, who were held in high esteem by the people, appear to have brought about a cultural synthesis by adapting yogic and tantric philosophy to Islamic mysticism. Epigraphic records and literary evidence indicate the growth of Shi'ite influence in the period. Bengal had direct maritime connection with the Persian Gulf and Iraq. Barbosa found a good number of Persian merchants in Bengal in the early 16th century. The process of the growth of Shi'ism in Bengal was accelerated in the 17th century by the large-scale immigration of Persians into Bengal due to socio-political insecurity under the Safavids.
Sri chaitanya gave Vaisnavism a reality which it did not hitherto possess. Although the name of Chaitanya has become closely associated with the history of Vaisnavism, he does not appear to have worked out any theological or philosophical system for the sect. The emotional mode of worship emphasised by Chaitanya gave to Vaisnavism an added popular interest and made it widely known. It produced a rich literature in Bengali and Sanskrit. Chaitanya did not abolish the caste system, but he opened the door of his emotional faith to all people irrespective of caste and religion. This catholic attitude stood in sharp contrast with the conservative spirit of Brahmanical orthodoxy and amounted to a social revolution in those days. The growth of Chaitanyaism and the consequent mental loosening of a significant section of Bengali people must be understood against the background of the contemporary socio-political scenario.
Dominated politically by the Muslims, the Hindus of Bengal were being gradually influenced by Muslim ideas and practices. Islam had sympathy and understanding for some of the local cults and for the mystic ideas underlying their philosophical systems. Converts to Islam under these circumstances must have grown in number. The discursive Brahmanical mind found expression in the highly abstruse Navya Nyaya. Chaitanya preferred the path of devotion. Brindavanadasa regrets that people were worshipping Shakta-tantrik goddesses like chandi, manasa and Vashuki and that even those who cared to read the gita and the Bhagavat, did not attach any importance to the worship of Krishna or Vishnu. The writers of the period believed that Chaitanya descended on earth with a view to fully establishing the cult of bhakti. Thus it may be maintained that Chaitanya's movement originated in response to certain social demands in order to bring about some sort of reconciliation of the different conflicting elements prevailing in the Hindu society of Bengal. The social appeal of Islam must have been greatly minimised when Vaisnavism grew in Bengal and took the sting out of Brahmanism, and this saved the country for Hinduism.
The Dharma cult seems to have found a regular place in the religious life of 15th and 16th century Bengal. It has been contended that the cult is a very primitive one, possibly of Austric origin, which has accommodated within itself a variety of Aryan and non-Aryan elements with accretions from buddhism including the term Dharma, one of the three jewels of Buddhism. While the cult seems to be of composite character, the idea of superiority of Dharma to the Hindu triad- Brahma, Visnu and Shiva-dominates Dharmite cosmology. The relationship of the cult with Muslim political power and with Islamic ideas is also significant. Lurking traces of the cult are available in the Manasavijaya of Bipradas. The Dharma cult seems to have developed passive sympathy for Islam, possibly under the pressure of the Brahmanical persecution it suffered in those days. This may have led to an understanding between the Muslims and the followers of the Dharma cult in the social sphere.
Nathism seems to have been one of the important religio-philosophical systems of Husain Shahi Bengal. The followers of this Shaiva-tantrik cult used to consider the attainment of immortality to be the highest object of their life. They believed that liberation could be achieved by adopting certain methods of yogic discipline. The goraksavijay contains a versified form of the popular story of Goraksanatha and matsyendranath that must have had wide circulation among the people of those days.
Of the other cults, those of Manasa and Chandi were quite prominent. The cult of Manasa, the snake goddess, appears to be of a composite nature containing Vedic, Puranic and non-Aryan elements. It also had a connection with the Dharma cult. The Manasamangal Kavya details the achievements of the goddess, while Raghunandana codified the rituals appropriate for the worship of the goddess. The worship of the goddess Chandi is frequently mentioned in the Chaitanya Bhagavat and Mukundarama's Chandimangala, written towards the end of the 16th century, recounts the achievements of this goddess. Saivism had become quite decadent in the period, over-shadowed by the Shakta-tantrik cults of Manasa and Chandi.
There was a considerable amount of influence of Tantricism on the Hindu society of Bengal. Contemporary works are replete with references to Tantric ideas and practices and it seems that their influence saturated Brahmanical religious practices and beliefs. Contemporary literature shows that the relation between the Vaisnavas and the Tantrics was quite unfriendly.
The period witnessed intense literary activities, both in Sanskrit and the vernacular language which had attained a form quite capable of giving expression to the religious and secular ideas of the people. The growth of the Bangla language and the birth of Bangla literature symbolised the triumph of the native culture. The Husain Shahi period marks the culmination of this sociological process. Persian, which was linked with the royal court, seems to have had very little impact on the life of the ordinary people and could not produce literature of any importance in the period. The rulers of this period took an active interest in the growing indigenous literature by patronising some of the poets of the time. The sultans, because of their close association with the local people, gave status and dignity to Bangla language which now began to play the role that was played by Sanskrit in the pre-Muslim period. Of the Bengali poets of the period, Yashoraj Khan, Kavindra Parameshvara, Srikara Nandi and Sridhara received direct court patronage. Vijay Gupta and Bipradas, composers of verses on the snake-cult, are eloquent in admiring Husain Shah, though they do not appear to have received any court patronage. Kavindra Parameshvara and Shrikara Nandi, the translators of the mahabharata, were patronised by paragal khan and his son Chhuti Khan respectively, both being governors of Chittagong under Husain Shah. Of the few writers of Vaisnava padas, Yashoraj Khan served as an official of Husain Shah, while Sheikh Kabir, a Muslim poet, was intimately connected with Nusrat Shah. Shaikh Zahid composed his yogic philosophy Adya Parichaya in 1498-99 AD, and this may be taken as the earliest Bangla poem dealing with yogic ideas (if Charya songs are excluded) and was the precursor of such poems as the Goraksavijaya, Jnanapradipa, Yogakalandar and Jnanasagara.
The period also marked the growth of secular elements in Bangla literature. Shridhara, the author of Vidya Sundara, received patronage from prince Firuz, son of Nusrat Shah. Slightly earlier a Muslim poet, Sabirid Khan, wrote another Vidya Sundara. The literary tradition established by these poets was followed by the 18th century poet bharatchandra. It is strange to note that no prominent biography of Chaitanya was written during his lifetime. Chaitanya Bhagavat and chaitanya charitamrita were composed towards the end of the 16th century. The only work ascribed to the Husain Shahi period is the Kadacha of Govindadas, but its historicity is doubtful and it has been considered spurious.
In the Husain Shahi period we notice a sudden outburst of literary activities in Sanskrit. Greatly influenced by the digest-writers of the earlier period, the great smarta scholar Raghunandan produced his Smrtitattva, which gives the sum total of Smrti-knowledge that the Hindu mind possessed in those days. He was the main exponent of the Navadvipa School of Smrti and his injunctions are found even today to govern the socio-religious behaviour of orthodox Bengali Hindus. It was in Nyaya that the Bengali scholars of the period excelled. The Navya Nyaya school of Navadvipa was founded by Raghunatha Tarkika Shiromani. Among his numerous works the Tattvachintamani-didhiti and the Padartha-khandanam are famous. The Navya Nyaya School of Raghunatha, founded in the beginning of the 16th century continued to influence the intellectual life of India down to the 18th century. Madhusudana Sarasvati wrote his Advaitasiddhi on Advaita doctrines in the 16th century. But the most prominent aspect of Sanskrit literature of the period was the biographical works on Chaitanya written by people who had been associates of the great reformer. murari gupta wrote his Chaitanya Charitamrta immediately after the death of Chaitanya (1533 AD).
Other biographies of Chaitanya that were written afterwards heavily drew upon Murari's work. Besides Chaitanya's biographies poems and dramas dealing with the Radha-Krsna cult were produced in the period. Notable among them are the dramas�Dana-keli-kaumudi, Lalita-madhava and Vidagdha-madhava - by Rupa Gosvami and the kavyas, Hangsa-duta and Uddhavasandesha of Rupa, and Bhramara-duta of Rudra Nyaya Vachaspati. Rupa also produced an anthology of poetry, Padyavali, containing poems by a number of medieval and ancient poets.
During the Husain Shahi period Bengal's contributions to architecture and calligraphy were quite significant. Architecture and calligraphy were largely the product of court patronage. Similar was the case probably with music, particularly its classical branch which seems to have flourished in the court. The numerous Arabic and Persian inscriptions, as also the coins, of the period portray the excellence of the art of writing. The period saw the development of modified forms of Naskh and Thulth styles, but the 'Bow and Arrow' form of the ornamental Tughra style was the most prominent calligraphic style of the period. In this period the Tughra style became more elegant, flowery and decorative. The reign of Nusrat Shah witnessed a sudden flowering of pictorial art as is evidenced by the ten folio illustrations of the first part of the Sikandarnamah, known as the Sharafnamah, which details the exploits of Alexander in the East.
By the time the Husain Shahi rulers came to power Bengal had already developed a tradition of architecture. The Iliyas Shahi rulers had inaugurated a rich architectural tradition with an individuality of its own. Husain Shahi architecture is a continuation of this earlier tradition. The ruins of the darasbari madrasa laid bare at Gaur (on the Bangladesh side of the medieval city) exhibit the vigour of the building art in the period. The gumti gate (doubts have been raised about its Husain Shahi origin), the qadam rasul, the Jahanian Mosque, the bara sona mosque and the chhota sona mosque represent the glorious 'brick style of Bengal' developed in the Husain Shahi period. The buildings built outside the capital seem to have followed the plan and design of buildings erected in the metropolis. The sura mosque and Hemtabad mosque in Dinajpur, the bagha mosque, the navagram mosque in Pabna, the majlis aulia mosque of Pathrail in Faridpur, the Sankarpasha mosque of Sylhet and the goaldi mosque in Sonargaon are some of the excellent examples of the period. The Bara Sona mosque and the Chhota Sona mosque have a spirit of ornamentation which most of the earlier structures lack.
In this period we find a predominance of stone cutters' art. The architecture of the period clearly reveals local influences and gives expression to Bengal's life and culture. The old terracotta art, which had its revival in the earlier period of Muslim rule, continued under the Husain Shahi rulers. The local elements, which found expression in the architecture of the period, include the curvature of the cornice and the copy of the chauchala. The Husain Shahi artists copied the terracotta art on stones. In its rich ornamentation the Husain Shahi style stands in strong contrast with the rather austere style of the previous phase. [AM Chowdhury]
1. JN Sarkar (ed), History of Bengal, II, Dhaka, 1948;
2. Sukhamay Mukhopadhyay, Banglar Itihaser Dusho Vachhar:
3. Svadhin Sultander Amal, Calcutta, 1962;
4. A Karim, Banglar Itihas: Sultani Amal, Dhaka, 1987;
5. MR Tarafdar, Husain Shahi Bengal, 2nd revised ed, Dhaka, 1999.
Afghan Rule, 1539-1576
Afghan Rule started in Bengal in 1539 after the discomfiture of Humayun at Chausa at the hands of Sher Khan and ended in 1576 with the Mughal victory at rajmahal over daud karrani. But long before Sher Khan (who assumed the title of Sher Shah after his victory at Chausa had wrested Bengal from Jahangir Quli Khan, the Mughal deputy, in October 1539, the Afghans had entered the services of the Bengal sultans. Like the Sharqi sultans of Jaunpur, the sultans of Bengal too used to recruit Afghans in their services. For example, the last Habshi Sultan Muzaffar Shah (1491-94 AD) had a few thousand Afghans in his army. Sultan Husain Shah (1494-1519 AD) too had in his service a good number of Afghan officers and soldiers who subsequently played an important role as generals and administrators under Nusrat Shah (1519-33 AD). So by the time Sher Shah conquered Bengal, the Afghans were no strangers. They now found their own man on the throne, first of Bengal and Bihar and ultimately of the Indian empire.
Bengal under the Sur governors (1539-53 AD)
Realising justly the importance of Bengal for his empire building, Sher Shah paid his utmost attention for its proper administrative reorganisation. He deposed his first governor Khizir Khan for treacherous activities within a span of two years and, as a novel scheme, subdivided Bengal including Chittagong into a number of smaller units, each under a separate Muqta, and appointed Qazi Fadilat, a learned scholar of Agra, as the supreme superintendent with a jurisdiction on all the subordinate muqtas. Sher Shah's plan worked well and the Afghans became so permanently domiciled in Bengal that its climate and culture had transformed them almost beyond recognition vis-a-vis the non-Afghan Bengalis.
Islam Shah (1545-53 AD), son and successor of Sher Shah, wielded a very firm control over the whole of Bengal. But in his bid to further centralise the administration he removed Qazi Fadilat and appointed as governor his own relative Muhammad Khan Sur in 1545 AD. The new governor retained his position by successfully chastising a rebel named Sulaiman Khan alias Kali Das Gajdani in 1546-48. Subsequently when the unworthy Adil Shah had usurped the Afghan throne of Delhi by murdering Islam Shah's son and successor Firuz Shah, Bengal governor Muhammad Sur deemed it below his dignity to acknowledge the authority of the usurper and declared independence in 1553 AD with the title of Sultan Shamsuddin Muhammad Shah Ghazi. His successors ruled Bengal up to 1563 AD, when his line was brought to an end with the ascendancy of the Karrani Afghans in Bengal.
Bihar witnessed the arrival and settlement of Afghans right from the beginning of the 13th century and this process gained momentum with Afghan ascendancy under the Lodis at Delhi in 1451 AD. Darya Khan Nuhani was succeeded by his son Bahar Khan Nuhani in Bihar. The latter shook off Lodi allegiance and with the support of the majority of the eastern Afghans declared himself independent under the title of Sultan Muhammad Nuhani sometime after 1522 AD. In 1527 his death brought his son Jalal Khan Nuhani to the throne. In the meantime Mahmud Lodi, brother of Ibrahim Lodi, championed the Afghan cause and the supporters of the fallen dynasty rallied round him. Very soon he wrested Bihar from Jalal who found political asylum with Nusrat Shah of Bengal. In spite of many initial successes Mahmud too was forced to take shelter in the court of Nusrat as a refugee in consequence of a hot pursuit by Babur.
Babur's death in 1530, however, turned the scale and Mahmud Lodi again took the field for Afghan resurgence. But he was defeated by Humayun at Dorah in 1532, retired from politics and subsequently died in Orissa in 1542 AD. In the meantime Sher Shah steered clear of the tangled politics by ousting all other rivals including Humayun.
In his administrative rearrangements Islam Shah appointed a certain Saiyyed Yahya as muqta of Bihar in 1548/9 AD. But after the former's death in 1553 AD northern Bihar passed under the control of Sultan Shamsuddin Muhammad Shah of Gaur while in southern Bihar sulaiman karrani and Fath Khan Batani were in joint command.
Independent Sur Sultanate (1553-63 AD) of the four sultans of this dynasty
Muhammad Shah and Bahadur Shah proved themselves of much ambition and ability. Sultan Muhammad Shah had not only reconquered Chittagong from the Tripura kings but also made inroads into the Arakanese territories. In Bihar also his authority was recognised. His undisputed hold over eastern India tempted him to contest with Sultan Adil Shah Sur for the sovereignty of northern India. He captured Jaunpur and thereupon marched upon Kalpi and Agra with Delhi as his goal. But at Chhapparghatta, Adil Shah and his general Himu intercepted him and the Bengal sultan was killed along with his followers except a few in the battle fought in December 1555.
This catastrophic defeat of the Bengal forces, however, did not dampen its spirit. Khizir Khan, the eldest son of the late sultan, ascended the throne with the title Ghiyasuddin Abul Muzaffar Bahadur Shah.
The new sultan killed his uncle Khan Jahan, who attempted to play a traitor, and thus secured his position. Sultan Bahadur Shah marched against Adil Shah to avenge his father's murder. In the fierce battle that look place in April. 1557 AD/964 AH at Fathpur, four miles to the west of Surajgarh in Munghyr, Bahadur's forces utterly routed Adil's army. Adil Shah too fell captive and was killed. Bahadur ruled over the vast territory from Jaunpur to Chittagong and cultivated friendship with Khan-i-Zaman, governor of akbar in the eastern provinces.
Bahadur's death in 1560 AD brought his brother Jalal Shah to power and he exercised it till his death in 1563 AD. He had alienated his nobles by arrogant and disrespectful dealings that paved the way for Karrani takeover as a result of Taj Khan Karrani's victory over the usurper Ghiyasuddin III.
Karrani dynasty (1563-76 AD)
The third quarter of the 16th century saw the rise and fall of a new Afghan dynasty in eastern India. The first decade of this era was the time when the Afghan domination in northern India had already faded away and ultimately disappeared before the re-emerging Mughal pressure under Humayun and Akbar. In consideration of their heavy losses in northern India, the Afghans regarded the emergence of the Karrani dynasty in eastern India as a new attempt to preserve their rule, and if possible, to drive away the Mughals. The fugitive Afghans from northern India turned towards Bihar and Bengal in large numbers.
Son of Jamal Khan Karrani, who was a Sahib-i-Jama and grandee of Afghan sultans like Sher Shah and Islam Shah, Taj Khan had to his credit a long political career ever since the rise of Shar Shah in the beginning of 1540. His steady rise to political eminence culminated in his assumption of sovereign status with the capture of Gaur, capital of Bengal from the usurper Ghiyasuddin III in 1563 AD. Badauni rightly calls him the wisest and most learned man among the Afghans.
Taj Khan was succeeded by his brother Sulaiman Karrani in 1563 AD. His skilful discharge of sovereign authority till his death in 1572 AD/980 AH earned him fame and glory. Sulaiman's initial measures included his shifting of the capital of Bengal from Gaur to Tandah; the climate of Gaur being detrimental to the health of both men and beasts.
Highly ambitious by nature Sulaiman Karrani was jealous of Fath Khan Batani who was predominant in south Bihar with the famous fort of Rohtas as his headquarters. Sulaiman realised that as long as his potential rival Fath khan held Rohtas his own position in Bengal could not be quite secure and accordingly he followed it as a policy that Fath Khan should either be destroyed or at least reconciled to his own authority. Through diplomatic maneuvers Sulaiman ultimately so thoroughly pacified Fath Khan that the latter forgot the entire bitter episode of the recent past and accepted service under Sulaiman until he was perfidiously put to death on malicious charge of seditious correspondence with Sulaiman's enemies. Subsequently two other Batani nobles Mian Hasan Batani and Mian Allahdad Batani whom Sulaiman had identified as his potential enemies were hunted down to his utter relief.
The conquest of Orissa was another feat of Sulaiman's glorious and outstanding military career. He defeated Mukunda Deva, the raja of Orissa, in 1567 AD/975 AH and made adequate arrangements for its administration. Sulaiman then captured Kuch Bihar in 1568 AD. The Afghans advanced as far as Tezpur and occupied a number of places in the environs and outskirts of the Kuch capital.
Expediency and far-sightedness masked Sulaiman's relation with the Mughals. He displayed unique statesmanship and skilful diplomacy by following the wise policy of placating the Mughals with occasional gifts and presents as well as by the lip service of outward submission with a promise to recite the khutba and strike the coins in the name of Akbar.
Sulaiman Shah Karrani, the ablest and greatest Afghan sultan of eastern India, died perhaps in October 1572 AD/980 AH and was buried at Tanda. His son Bayazid Karrani, who assumed all royal prerogatives with the concurrence of all the leading nobles including Lodi Khan Karrani, succeeded him. Bayazid as a prince had previously held out great promise for the future, but now as the sultan he initiated a policy of harassment and persecution. The aggrieved party at court had him murdered in less than a month's time and offered the throne to Bayazid's younger brother Daud Khan Karrani.
Daud's accession witnessed dissension among the different factions of the Afghan nobility. Daud inaugurated his rule by first avenging his brother's murder and punishing the regicide Hansu, the son of his uncle Khwaja Iliyas Karrani. He assumed absolute sovereignty by having the khutba read and coins struck in his own name to the utter displeasure of Akbar, his land-hungry and jealous neighbour. Daud's next step was to appoint the leading noble Lodi Khan to the governorship of Bihar and pacification of another potential noble Gujar Khan who was about to install Bayazid's son as a rival claimant of the throne. Once Gujar was won over, the other seditious elements in Bihar sank deep down the surface.
The dramatic shifts and tumultuous developments in the internal polities of the Afghan kingdom were of singular importance for the Mughal imperialists who were always on the look out for an opportunity to make the best use of it. In the meantime Daud foolishly had his general Lodi Khan murdered which worsened the situation and Lodi's well wishers took his son Ismail to munim khan, the Mughal governor, in order to provide for his safety.
This dramatic turn of the situation offered Munim Khan the opportunity to besiege Patna, which Daud immediately evacuated and reached Katak in the farthest Orissa via Garhi, Tanda and Satgaon. The Mughals hotly pursued him there, and war became inevitable. The battle of Tukaroi (3 March 1575) ended through signing of the Peace Treaty of Katak whereby Daud is said to have agreed to become a Mughal feudatory committing himself never to revolt.
Munim Khan's death brought Husain Qhli Khan Jahan, nephew of the famous Bairam Khan, in the Mughal war-front as the new governor. Both sides were in a frenzy of battle cry. The battle of rajmahal, fought on 12 July 1576 AD, sealed Daud's fate. He was captured alive and taken before Khan-i-Jahan who ordered his execution.
The Karrani sultans were rulers of commendable attainments. They lost their dominions more because of their internal dissension and treachery of Hindu confidants than because of the much-stressed military superiority of Mughal imperialists.
But for the rise of a new Afghan dynasty under the leadership of Qatlu Khan Nuhani, around whom the leaderless Afghans now rallied, the Afghan resistance to Mughal arms in eastern India was to die down with the extinction of the Karrani dynasty. From his main centre Ghoraghat, Qatlu wielded undisputed power over vast territories in Bihar and Orissa as well and successfully won over to his side the local Hindu landed aristocracy. His false show of submission in 1584 was cast aside leading to the Mughal punitive expeditions against him under mansingh in 1590 AD, but no harm could be caused to him till he passed away of short illness.
Among the notable Afghan leaders after Qatlu, mention must be made of Isa Khan Nuhani, his sons Khwaja Sulaiman Nuhani (1592-94 AD) and Khwaja Usman Nuhani (1594 -1612 AD). While Isa acted as regent of Qatlu's son Nasir Nuhani, Sulaiman succumbed to an explosion inside the Afghan fort in 1594 AD. It was now Khwaja Usman Nuhani's (also known as usman khan afghan) turn to assume the leadership of the Afghans. He collected a vast following of about 20,000 strong and proclaimed himself sultan. He became an ally of Isa Khan Masnad-i-Ala of Bhati and other indigenous rajahs, and zamindars with his command over vast regions beyond the Brahmaputra that flowed between his own and the Mughal territories. His protracted struggle against the Mughal reached its height during islam khan chisti's governorship (1608 �13 AD). But Usman's sudden death from a fatal injury in the battlefront led to the total surrender of his followers to their Mughal adversaries.
1. JN Sarkar (ed), History of Bengal, II, Dhaka, 1948;
2. MA Rahim, History of the Afghans in India, Karachi, 1961;
3. M Ibrahim, Afghan Rule in Eastern India (1535-1612), Unpublished PhD Thesis, Aligarh Muslim University, India, 1986.
Upto 1757 Mughal rule was established in Bengal after the defeat of the Karrani Afghan Sultan Daud Khan in the battle of Rajmahal, 12 July 1576 at the hands of Khan Jahan. With Khan Jahan's victory over Daud Khan, the Mughals made determined and sustained efforts to establish their authority over Bengal, till ultimately in 1612, Islam Khan Chishti, the subahdar of jahangir, brought the whole of Bengal (except Chittagong) under the Mughal control.
With Daud Khan's defeat ended the Sultanate rule in Bengal, but this in no way meant the end of Bengali resistance to the imperial power. Different military chieftains and bhuiyans, some of whom were powerful enough to be styled as rajas (kings), controlled different pockets of Bengal. They tried to resist the Mughal aggression as independent or semi-independent chieftains. Among those who resisted the Mughals, some bhuiyans, known as bara-bhuiyans (twelve territorial landholders) stand out prominent.
The rajas, bhuiyans and the zamindars who put up stubborn resistance to the Mughals were many, about 36. The bara-bhuiyans resisted the Mughal aggresion for several decades. The chief of the bara-bhuiyans was Isa Khan who assumed the title of Masnad-i-Ala. He combined with other bhuiyans and led them in the struggle against the Mughals till his death in 1599. Isa Khan's son musa khan took the leadership of the bara-bhuiyans and put up a stubborn resistance to the Mughals. But they were at last forced to submit to the imperial armies led by Subahdar Islam Khan Chishti in the reign of Emperor Jahangir.
After Jahangir's accession, Islam Khan took up the task of subjugating the remnant resisting elements. For political reason, he transferred the capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka. The bara-bhuiyans were then finally defeated. As a political strategy, the defeated bhuiyans and chiefs were not allowed to retain their principalities under their control. Instead, they were motivated to work under the Mughals. After conquering Bhulua and driving its ruler, Raja Ananta Manikya across the Feni River towards Arakan, Islam Khan sent a large army against Khwaja Usman Khan Afghan of Sylhet who was defeated and killed. With that ended Bengal's resistance to Mughal expansion.
During the last two years of Jahangir's reign, the Bengal administration had to face the Arakanese Magh raids into coastal Bengal. The first subahdar of Emperor Shahjahan, qasim khan jwini (husband of Manija Begum, Nurjahan's sister), recovered Hughli from Portuguese occupation in 1632. Later, they were allowed to return, but with the condition of respecting the Mughal authority. Subahdar islam khan mashhadi met the challenge of the Ahom king in the Kamarupa frontier and forced him to sign a treaty of non-aggression in 1639. Then came Prince shah shuja, who was a subahdar for twenty years (1639-1658), when the province enjoyed uninterrupted peace. But towards the end of Shahjahan's reign, a war of succession flared up among his four sons�Dara, Shuja, Aurangzeb and Murad. Each of them wanted the throne by denying the claim of others. Shuja enthroned himself, but after long struggles, first against Dara and then against Aurangzeb, was defeated in 1660, fled from Bengal and took shelter with the king of Arakan. The king of Arakan brutally murdered him in 1661 to seize the treasure in his possession.
Mir Jumla, who had come to Bengal at the heels of Shah Shuja, was appointed subahdar. Taking his position in Dhaka, Mir Jumla went to suppress the rebellion of Raja of Kuchbihar and punish the king of Assam, who had grabbed a part of Kamarupa during the war of succession. He occupied the Kuch capital Kamtapur, and drove out the Raja Pran Narayan and then proceeded to Assam. The Ahom king could not resist him. The subahdar occupied his capital, Garhgaon and pressed forward. He stayed at Garhgaon during the rains, but due to damp climate, he fell seriously ill. The Mughals suffered due to shortage of ration, many soldiers and horses were lost and during the rains the Ahom army also harassed them. Mir Jumla thought it wise to make a treaty with the enemy. The treaty was to his advantage, the Ahom king agreeing to surrender gold and silver and portion of his territory. But Mir Jumla died on his way back, a little away from Khizrpur (near Narayanganj) on 30 March 1663.
Shaista khan was appointed the next subahdar of Bengal who belonged to the family of Nur Jahan. He was a son of Asaf Khan and a brother of Mumtaz Mahal, queen of Shahjahan, i. e. he was a maternal uncle of the Emperor Aurangzeb. He was not only of noble birth, but also an accomplished Persian poet and scholar and a great general. He served in various parts of the empire before taking the assignment in Bengal. Shaista Khan ruled Bengal for twenty-two years with a break for a little more than one year during which time azam khan koka (Fidai Khan) and Prince muhammad azam became subahdar one after another. Shaista Khan first reached Bengal in March 1664 and completed his first term of office in early 1678. His second term of office began on 13 October 1679 and ended in June 1688. Shaista Khan was already 63 when he first came to Bengal, after 24 years when he left Bengal for good he was 87. Though past 60, he ruled Bengal with vigour, but the English merchant William Hadges who saw him in 1683 reports that he was very old and feeble. He was accompanied by a few grown up and gifted sons who helped him in administering the country. His sons were Buzurg Umed Khan, Aqidat Khan, Jafar Khan, Abu Nasr Khan and Iradat Khan. They held charge of different sarkars or divisions, the father and the children sharing the administration and they ruled the country worthily.
Shaista Kahn's greatest fame in Bengal lay in his conquest of Chittagong. The Magh king of Arakan with the aid of Portuguese pirates attacked the Mughal province of Bengal whenever he found an opportunity. Moreover, the Portuguese pirates used to attack the coastal regions, looted property and enslaved men, women and children. The Portuguese piracy was a regular menace. So Shaista Khan's policy was to make the area safe by wresting Chittagong from the king of Arakan and also to save the coastal area from the menace of the pirates and making it a part of the empire. Soon he conquered Chittagong and made the whole region free from the Arakanese raids
Shaista Khan was succeeded by Mir Malik Husain entitled Khan Jahan Bahadur, a foster brother of Aurangzeb. He was a man of weak character and was not equal to the dignity of a subahdar. His tenure was less than a year and he was replaced by ibrahim khan, son of the celebrated Amir-ul-Umara Ali Mardan Khan, the grand noble of the time of Shahjahan. In his time shobha singh of Benares revolted and began plundering raids to the neighboring districts. In his plundering Shobha Singh was joined by rahim khan, an Afghan chief of Orissa and both plundered and looted an extensive area in Burdwan, Hugli and Murshidabad districts up to Rajmahal. They attacked the Hugli fort and the faujdar of the place fled for life. Ibrahim Khan was a man of mild disposition. He could do little to subdue the rebels. However, the dutch company from Chinsura first blocked the path of the rebels and drove them away from Hughli. Zabardast Khan, son of Ibrahim Khan took the field on the side of the Mughals. He cleared the whole area up to Burdwan. The rebels fled towards the hills and jungles of Midnapore and Chandrakona.
Aurangzeb removed Ibrahim Khan and appointed in his place Prince Muhammad Azimuddin, his grandson. Azimuddin, later entitled azim-us-shan, was a son of Prince Muhammad Muazzam, later emperor Shah Alam Bahadur Shah (1707-1712). Azim-ush-Shan, on his way to Dhaka first visited Burdwan, completely destroyed the rebels, consoled the affected people and rehabilitated the displaced zamindars. Azim-ush-Shan utilised his tenure in Bengal in amassing money, by whatever means he could, because he was sure about a war of succession after the death of Auranzeb. In lieu of cash gift, he first permitted the English east india company to purchase from the owners, the three villages of Sutanuti, Govindpur and Kalikata in 1698 and thus paving the way to the ultimate establishment of British rule in India within half a century.
One very important event of Azim-us-Shan's subadari was his quarrel with the diwan, murshid quli khan. To avoid his presence, Murshid Quli Khan shifted his diwani to Murshidabad, and the subahdar later shifted his nizamat to Patna. Dhaka thus lost the glory of being the capital of Mughal Bengal. It is asserted by many scholars that the prosperity of Dhaka and its hinterland Eastern Bengal began to decline since the transfer of the government agencies to Murshidabad and Patna.
Murshid Quli Khan, blessed by the support of Auranzeb, became the virtual ruler of Bengal subah. He was appointed subahdar of Orissa, diwan of three provinces, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and faujdar of five districts Murshidabad, Sylhet, Midnapur, Burdwan and Katak. After the death of Aurangzeb during the reign of Shah Alam Bahadur Shah, he was transferred to south India, but he was appointed diwan of Bengal again in 1710. From this time onward he remained in Bengal till his death in 1727. He made the Bengal economy dynamic and paid imperial dues regularly. So, in 1716, Murshid Quli Khan became the subahdar of Bengal. During his subahdari Bengal flourished economically. The foreigners who came to participate in Bengal export trade were forced to observe the law of the land.
Murshid Quli Khan, though he paid tributes to the centre regularly, became practically an independent nawab. So at the time of his death he nominated his grandson (from daughter's side) sarfaraz khan to succeed him. And accordingly he became the nawab of Bengal in 1727. But soon he was ousted by his father, shujauddin muhammad khan, who became the nawab of Bengal in the same year. Shujauddin Khan, at the time of his death, nominated his son Sharfaraz Khan to the masnad in 1739. But Sarfaraz was a weak ruler and alivardi khan ousted him in 1740.
Alivardi Khan's rule was marked by annual Maratha raids. He had to buy peace with the Marathas, by practically ceding Orissa to Mir Habib who was under the influence of the Marathas and paying 12 lakhs of rupees to the Marathas annually as chauth. Alivardi was a kind man and skilful ruler, he developed a puritanical temperament and unlike others of the time he was not addicted to debauchery or drunkenness. The rise of the banking family, the jagat sheth, was a remarkable feature of his regime. It was the Seths who were mainly responsible for the political change that occurred through the staged battle of palashi in 1757. Alivardi Khan died on 10 April 1756 at the age of 80. Earlier he nominated sirajuddaula, his grandson from daughter's side, to the throne.
Sirajuddaula, the new nawab was only 23 when he ascended the throne of Bengal. Soon he found himself surrounded by enemies, local and foreign. In his own house his greatest enemy was ghaseti begum (Meherun-Nisa), the eldest sister of his mother. shawkat jang, his cousin, living in Purnia, was another great rival. Then there was mir jafar ali khan who was the commander-in-chief of Alivardi's army. He also was the husband of a half-sister of Alivardi Khan. Most dangerous was the Jagath Seth family which controlled the Bengal money market and who had many sympathisers in the Durbar. The greatest enemy was the English East India Company, which was quite openly ignoring the nawab. Without taking any permission from the nawab they were fortifying the fort william of Calcutta and taking other military preparations. The Fort William was made a safe haven for the criminals and violators of the law of the land.
To bring the English under law, Nawab Sirajuddaula attacked Calcutta. The English left the city for Fulta wherefrom they came back being reinforced from Madras. Colonel Robert clive entered into a conspiracy with the disaffected officials of the nawab, Mir Jafar, Jagat Sheth, Rajballabh and others. The Fort William Council agreed to a secret treaty with Mir Jafar promising to place him on the throne, and the latter agreeing to grant territorial, financial and trade facilities to the English. Armed with this treaty and the treachery of Mir Jafar and others, Clive arrived at Palashi and took position on 23 June 1757. Siraj also came to the place to encounter the company's army. But to his dismay he found that the larger part of his own army defied his command and stood silent. Siraj fled from the field, but was captured and brought back to the capital and killed. Clive, in accordance with the terms of the secret pact, placed Mir Jafar on the throne. The Mughal sovereignty was virtually over with the event of Palashi though the English took a decade more to assert real power.
Mughal revenue administration in Bengal was elaborately chalked out. It was made separate from the general administration, the latter was called nizamat while the former was designated as diwani. While the general administration including defence and warfare and maintenance of peace was in the hands of Nazim or subahdar, the revenue administration was under the diwan. The latter was lower than the subahdar in rank, but he was completely independent in financial and revenue matters, being under the control of the Central diwan. The rule for separation of powers and duties was made to safeguard imperial interests and those of the raiyats, Zamindars, taluqdars, ie those who were connected with land. The emperor from time to time embodying these rules issued orders. The first example of revenue figures is found in what is known as Todar Mal's bandobast or settlement. But this was nothing more than paper for, in 1582, when Todar Mal made the settlement, the major portion of Bengal was outside Mughal control. It is therefore presumed that Todar Mal just copied the revenue figures prevailing in the pre-Mughal period.
Todar Mal divided Bengal (including Chittagong, which came under the Mughal control 84 years later) into 19 Sarkars, and each Sarkar was divided into a number of Parganas. The revenues were again divided into mal or land revenue and sair or sayer, which included all kinds of collection, like custom duty and other sundry duties, excluding the land revenue. In the Mughal system, lands were also divided into Khalsa and jagir. Khalsa lands were directly administered by the state through the diwan and his staff. Jagir lands were those which were assigned to the officers, civil or military, in lieu of their services, i.e. they were paid by jagirs. In the later period lands were assigned to establishments like the Nawwara (navy), kheda (catching elephants), Amla-i-Asham (or military establishment for guarding the eastern frontier). Lands were also endowed for maintenance of religious institutions and were granted to religious persons like saints, sufis etc as means of their subsistence. An important feature of the revenue administration was the existence of zamindars, who acted as middlemen between the rayats and the government.
The collection of revenues was no great problem for the government, the main problem was fixation of the rate of revenue to be collected from the rayats and the amount to be paid by the collectors/zamindars to the government exchequer. The diwan and his staff remained busy in settling this issue keeping in view the loss of crops due to weather condition, the land erosion caused by flood and change of river course, change of agricultural lands to fallow lands etc. They also decided cases where taqavi or agricultural loans had to be sanctioned. The Mughal revenue system was designed to achieve the double purpose of collecting as much revenue as possible and at the same time keeping the rayats happy and content so that they might prosper and bring more and more land under the plough.
In Todar Mal's settlement the total Bengal revenues was a little more than one crore rupees from both Khalsa and Jagir lands. In Jahangir's time the whole of Bengal (except Chittagong) and Kamarupa were brought under Mughal rule and Todar Mal's settlement actually worked and necessary adjustments were made determining the real worth of the land. In Shah Shuja's settlement of 1658, there was an increase of revenue by about 15.5% in 76 years after Todar Mal's time. Murshid Quli Khan made the next settlement in 1722, this time the increase was by another 10%. Murshid Quli's system was know as Mal-Jamini which probably meant that he made the zamindar stand security to realise and pay revenues regularly and in time.
In the collection of revenues, Murshid Quli Khan was harsh, at times to the extent of brutality. He divided Bengal into 13 Chaklas, but his chakla system did not survive long. He also established Punya, i.e. at the end of the Bengali year on a fixed day Punya was held and zamindars, taluqdars etc. were asked to clear their payments on that day. The punya system survived and continued until the abolition of zamindari in the early Pakistan days (1951). Murshid Quli Khan also introduced a new cess, abwab-i-khashnavisi. The Mughal emperors always prohibited the imposition of abwabs, because though they were imposed on the zamindars, the latter realised the same from the rayats. Later Nazims followed Murshid Quli Khan. Shujauddin, Alivardi and mir qasim, all imposed cesses and by the time of Mir Qusim the total receipt of the government almost doubled.
With the coming of the Mughals Bengal witnessed the working of certain new forces in her social, economic and cultural life. These forces transformed Bengal's life and thought and as has been nicely put by one scholar, "the outer world came to Bengal and Bengal went out of herself to the outer world." Unlike the previous period, when she enjoyed independence, free from outside control, Bengal now became a part, a province of the centralised Mughal government, under one administration, one law, one official language, a uniform official cadre and uniform currency. Muslims from various countries came to Bengal from the beginning, but with the introduction of Mughal rule and with the prospect of peace, prospect of employment opportunities also increased. So scholarly Muslims, i.e. those who pursued peaceful life, like the ulama, teachers, poets, physicians and merchants came to Bengal in larger number. There also came the Shia ulama and scholars in the train of Shia political leaders, subahdars, diwans and others.
Some very prominent Mughal subahdars were Shias. Murshid Quli Khan had practically established a Shia dynasty ever ready to welcome the talented and pious Shias. Names of many Persian poets are found who either made Bengal their permanent home or passed a part of their career in Bengal under the patronage of the subahdars and other high officers. Persian became the official language and not only Persian literature was produced in the country but also Persian language influenced local Bengali language. Bengali poets borrowed Persian themes and Persian words in large number have entered into the local language. State revenue service was more elaborate than before and so the zamindars, muqaddams, patwaris, i.e. all those locals connected with the revenue service had to learn Persian language in which the accounts were maintained. Unlike the Bengal sultans, Mughal subahdars came to Bengal for particular terms. So they had neither the aptitude nor the time to learn local language, and hence the agents of local zamindars stationed at the court had to be masters of Persian language.
During early Mughal rule, higher posts in the revenue department were reserved for Muslims and Hindus coming from upper India like the Khatirs, Lalas etc., but later, particularly from the time of Murshid Quli Khan, these high posts passed into the hands of the Hindus. In Murshid Quli's time the chief qanungos were Darpa Narayan and Krishna Narayan, the chief of the mint was Raghunandan; in the time of Shujauddin the diwan was Rai Raiyan Alam Chand, who was also a member of the advisory council; in the time of Alivardi prominent Hindu officers were Janakiram, Durlabhram, Ram Narain, Kirat Chand, Ummid Rai, Bira Dutta, Ramram Singh and Gokul Chand; in the time of Sirajuddaula, nanda kumar and Omi Chand etc. With the growth of trade and commerce came the Marwari Banking families like the family of Jagat Sheth; some zamindars, for example the zamindar of Burdwan also came from upper India. In trade and commerce also Bengal's isolation was broken, she now took greater part in inter-provincial trade, the inland trade carried Bengal goods to Patna, Agra, Delhi and to Multan, while the sea-borne trade carried the goods to Balasore, Katak, Madras and so on.
In trade and commerce, Bengal came to limelight in history by her international trade. During the early Muslim-period, Bengal's products could be sold for money to a small extent. The foreign merchants buying the goods were Chinese, Malayese, Arabs and Persians. Among the European traders, the Portuguese came first and opened trade in the first quarter of the 16th century. They first appeared at Chittagong, and after many vicissitudes, got permission to trade with Bengal. But they prospered when, with the permission from the Mughal emperor Akbar, they established a settlement at Hugli in 1580. The Portuguese established their supremacy in the sea, and being unrivalled got enormous profits out of their trade with Bengal. But soon the Portuguese degenerated, by the first quarter of the 17th century their power and trade began to decline. Their indulgence in piratical and proselytising activities invited retaliation from the Mughals, but the main cause of their decline was the competition with other European companies.
The Dutch East India Company started their trade with Bengal from their base at Masaulipatam in the Coromandel coast in the beginning of the 17th century, the English East India Company followed them. Both the companies prospered in their trade with the privileges received from the Mughal government. They established their factories near Hugli in the bank of river Bhagirathi, the Dutch at Chinsura and the English at Hughli. Later the English moved to Calcutta, and when the French company came, they established their factory at Chandernagar. During the rebellion of Shobha Singh, all the companies fortified themselves against possible attack, and with the permission of subahdar Azimuddin, the English purchased from their owners the three villages of Sutanuti, Govindpur and Kolkata and laid the foundation of the city of Calcutta. Later came the Ostend Company and from 17th to 18th centuries Bengal's overseas trade increased by leaps and bounds. The companies exported from Bengal salt-petre, ingredients of making gunpowder, abundantly available in Lalganj, North-Bihar. Other goods that were exported from Bengal were fine cotton goods, coarse cotton textiles, silk and silk-textiles, indigo, Lac, rice (for Asiatic countries and to be used as ballast).
Mughal rule thus saw enormous growth of Bengal's overseas trade. As against exports, the import of foreign companies was negligible, because except rarities, the imported goods of the foreign companies could not attract the local consumers. The foreign companies, therefore brought in huge quantity of bullion, thus giving coffers in the hands of Bengali producers and manufactures, and this had far-reaching effects in the country's economy. First, the money circulation rose to a great degree. Formerly, all over Orissa and in many parts of Bengal, the land revenue could be collected only in kind, i.e. in grain, and it was very difficult for the collectors to pay the government revenue in cash, because the conversion was difficult, vexatious and sometimes involved heavy losses. From now on, Bengal could purchase goods from other countries and other provinces of India to an extent inconceivable in former times. Money prices and money wages also rose sharply in Bengal. This did not mean increase in the real wage, but upper class people certainly grew richer and possessed more articles of luxury and government officials and revenue collecting middlemen made fortune.
And what is more important, as a result of greater export of local goods, there was great rise in the production of industrial and manufactured goods. A vast market was now opened for Bengal's cotton goods, silk and silk yarn, rice, sugar etc. The agents of foreign companies as well as the individual buyers stood ready with a hung amount of cash in hand for almost any quantity that Bengal producers and manufacturers could offer. The foreign exporters also helped organising industrial production in the country in an efficient manner and on economic basis. They stationed agents at every mart, made advances to workmen, and artisans; set up workshop at their factories where local labourers could work under European expert supervision. They imported dyers and twist-throwers from their home country to teach local artisans better methods and thus raised Bengal's industrial productions both in quality and quantity.
The Mughals had been in peaceful possession of Bengal after its conquest had been complete. Except the rebellion of Shobha Singh in the closing years of the reign of Aurangzeb, which was crushed in a short time, there was no great disturbance against the Mughal authority. The piratical activities of the Portuguese in collusion with the Maghs of Arakan were also stopped after Shaista Khan's conquest of Chittagong in 1666. Before the Mughals, however, Bengal was notoriously famous as a rebel province. The then rulers of Delhi tried to solve the problem by decentralising the administration but instead of following that policy, the Mughals appointed the emperor's sons and relatives and other very high and trusted civil servants. The emperors and central government attached much importance to the administration of this province and if the post of the governor fell vacant the governor of Bihar was sent to occupy the vacant office.
Mughal rule in Bengal opened an era of peace and prosperity. The overseas trade, the influx of gold and silver turned Bengal actually a Jannat-ul-Bilad, by which name she had been designated by the upcountry Muslims. The foreign travellers from Portugal, Italy, France, England and Holland started coming to Bengal from the time she became open to the European ships. To name a few, they were Duarte Barbosa, Varthema, Caesar Frederick, Sebastien Manrique, Ralph Fitch, Thomas Bowrey, Niccolao Manucci, Francois Bernier, Tavernier, Stavorinus etc. Almost all of them spoke very highly of Bengal's wealth, rich products and highly prized manufactured goods. The rich exuberance of the country, together with the beauty and amiable disposition of the native women, has given rise to a proverb in common use among the Portuguese, English and Dutch, that the Kingdom of Bengal has a hundred gates open for entrance, but not one for departure.
1. Abul Fazl, Ain-i-Akbari, I, tr, H Blochmann, 2nd edn, revised and ed by DC Phillott, 3rd edn, Calcutta, 1927, Ain-i-Akbari, II, tr, HS Jarrett, 2nd edn, revised by JN Sarkar, 3rd edn, Calcutta 1978, and Akbarnama, III, tr, H Beveridge, Reprint 1973;
2. Mirza Nathan, Baharistan-i-Ghaibi, tr, MI Borah, 2 vols, Government of Assam, 1936;
3. JN Sarkar, ed, History of Bengal, II, Dhaka, 1948;
4. A Karim, Murshid Quli Khan and His Times, Dhaka, 1963;
5. Ghulam Husain Salim, Riaz-us-Salatiun, tr, Abdus Salam, Delhi Reprint, 1975;
6. S Islam, ed., History of Bangladesh, I& II, Dhaka, 1992;
7. A Karim, History of Bengal, Mughal period, I & II, Rajshahi, 1992 and 1995.
It is indeed unique that the East India Company which was in trading contact with Bengal for about a century since 1650 and which sought extraction of wealth through trade and commerce in conformity with the spirit of mercantilism, finally turned itself into rulers. It may also be noted that the colonial state that the company built in Bengal was, in fact, the first event of the kind in the age of overseas expansions. Elaborating on this otherwise unique event many scholars maintain that the British Empire in India was built in a fit of absentmindedness and that it was never consciously planned by the traders who built it; on the contrary, they were rather against it, and yet the colonial state came into being. It is true that many company directors and also the government expressed unwillingness in establishing political dominance in the east. But it is also true that practical politics in the Bay of Bengal had shaped the course of the company's history in the region more decisively than the adverse theories alluded to in the Board meetings at the centre. The conquering initiatives taken by its field servants like Robert Clive, Warren Hastings, Lord Wellesley and Lord Dalhousie and other smaller imperialists always made their conquests a fait accompli which the centre only accepted.
The establishment of the company's Bengal state was not, of course, the consequence of one battle of Palashi or Buxar. It was a case of uneven development spread over more than a century. For example, ever since the company settled in Hughli in 1651, its only concern was to pursue trade and commerce and secure maximum trade privileges whenever possible. Arrogant and aggressive policy was pursued in the second phase between 1756 and 1765. In the third phase, between 1765 and 1784, came the idea of partial control of the country with the intention of extracting its revenue for financing the company's business in the 'East Indies'. The fourth and final phase, between 1784 and 1793, was marked by the positive and serious actions towards establishing a sovereign colonial state.
Pursuit of Trade and commerce to 1756
The discovery of sea-lanes to the eastern waters brought the western maritime people into direct contact with Bengal. It was predominantly an exporting country from ancient times; but curiously, its export trade was, for cultural reasons mainly, conducted by mostly foreigners. Being encouraged by the Mughal government the Portuguese, the Dutch, the French, the English and others came by sea to participate in the Bengal export trade. In the competition among themselves in lifting Bengal goods for foreign markets, the English East India Company had a decided advantage over all others. While all other companies were required to pay 2.5 percent or more customs duties to government, the English were exempted from paying any duty at all. They secured a nishan (1651) or patent from the Bengal subahdar, prince Shuja, which allowed the English to trade in Bengal without paying any customs duties in return for an annual tribute of Rs 3000 only.
This extraordinary privilege was to become subsequently a major issue of conflict between the country government and the company. Partly for chronic losses in revenue and partly for pressure from other competing companies, subahdars succeeding Shuja were not equally favourably disposed to the company. With the steady growth of English trade in Bengal, the government was inclined to annul the nishan or at least modify its terms. But the company would not agree to any such proposal and considered the nishan as an irrevocable and inviolable charter of right. The dispute often led to serious conflicts between the government and the company. The protracted Anglo-Mughal war of 1686-1690 had originated from this issue.
The peace treaty of 1690 recognised the nishan of 1651 and also of the foundation of the company's Calcutta settlement. Sir Josia child, the founder of the Calcutta settlement had made it no secret to all that henceforth the company would apply force, if necessary, in order to defend its rights. The company's volume of trade had increased significantly since the foundation of the Calcutta settlement. In 1698 the company became a country power by acquiring zamindari right over three villages � Calcutta, Sutanuti and Govindapur. In the same year Calcutta was turned into a self-governed territory under the company. For defence, the Fort William was erected in the same year. In 1700, the Fort William was made a separate Presidency independent of Madras.
The English East India Company's road to dominance was, however, blocked for the time being by the rise of the regionally powerful nawabi regime from the beginning of the 18th century. The success of the three great rulers of Bengal�Murshid Quli Khan (1701-1727), Shujauddin Khan (1727-1739) and Alivardi Khan (1740-1756) in achieving political stability and relative economic prosperity worked as an effective deterrent to the company's increasing influence. Murshid Quli Khan had neither confirmed nor denied the company's privilege of having duty-free trade in the country. The local chowkis (toll stations) of the nawab always expressed their ignorance about any farman or parwanas regarding the privilege and often forced the company's boats to pay tax on merchandise according to the law of the land. The company, being unable to persuade the nawab in implementing the nishan in full, sent a delegation headed by John Surman to Delhi and obtained a farman (1717) from the Emperor Farrukhshiyar. The farman not only confirmed the company's right to duty-free commerce in the country but also made an additional grant of zamindari right over thirty eight mouzas around the company's Calcutta zamindari.
Farrukh siyar's farman of 1717 made the company a constitutionally recognised political power in the region. It is true that a phantom monarch whose control over the subah was more a fiction than a reality conferred the company's new rights. The English were not unaware of the monarch's predicament. And yet they spent money on obtaining the imperial farman. The purpose was only to create a legal basis to put up pressure on the nawab. But the astute and tough Nawab Murshid Quli Khan was able to sustain it and uphold his sovereign right. The succeeding two nawabs (Shaujauddin Khan and Alivardi Khan) were equally successful in maintaining the uneasy peace with the company. But the storm gathered threateningly under Sirajuddaula who tried to contain the company in a non-conventional way.
Road to dominance 1756-1765
Before his death Alivardi Khan, having no son of his own, nominated his grandson Sirajuddaula (son of his daughter amina begum) to the masnad of the subah and accordingly he became the nawab in April 1756. Sirajuddaula, a young man of independent spirit and dauntless character, was not prepared to follow the appeasement policy of his predecessors. He found the conduct of the English grotesque and unbearable. Immediately after his accession to the masnad he issued to the company a preemptory parwana proclaiming his readiness to take necessary action unless they were obliged to comply with his three conditions immediately: that the unauthorised fortification works in and around Calcutta must be demolished, that as aliens they must pursue their legal trade strictly according to the law of the land and finally, they must make over to government all outlaws now under the protective umbrellas of the Fort William authorities. The company refused starkly to accept the nawab's conditions and Siraj also refused to accept the company as bonafide traders in the country. He despatched troops and took over all the English trading factories; and finally expelled the English from Calcutta in June 1756.
But he could not sustain the initial victory. From Madras soon came an expedition headed by Robert Clive and recaptured the city in January 1756. The nawab recognised the reality of confronting a naval force which he lacked and made under the circumstance a formal peace treaty (alinagar treaty, 9 February 1757) with the company to the effect that the company would enjoy all the privileges accorded to the company by the imperial farman of 1717 and that the nawab would give due compensation for the losses sustained by the company and others consequent upon his Calcutta campaign.
Robert Clive, who established himself in the south as a soldier and a diplomat, took the Alinagar Treaty as a truce rather than a durable peace accord. His next step was to make necessary preparations for overthrowing Sirajuddaula who seemed to him to be irreconcilably hostile to English. As he did it in dealing with the princes in the south, he tried to identify and win over nawab's enemies to his side. He set up secret contact with the amirs actually or potentially opposed to the nawab. A conspiracy was hatched up against Sirajuddaula and a secret treaty was concluded in May 1757 with the conspirators headed by Jagat Sheth and Mir Jafar. Clive and the conspirators proceeded according to the secret treaty and staged the battle of Palashi (23 June 1757) deposing Siraj and inducting Mir Jafar into the masnad.
The event of Palashi and post-Palashi developments had established very firmly the political dominance of the company. Yet, for various reasons, it chose to remain a political arbiter without becoming the king of the country. Its manpower was neither oriented to civil administration nor adequate enough to rule an extensive kingdom like Bengal. Moreover, the court of directors was not enthusiastic initially about establishing the company as a territorial power.
However, the company's domination ultimately ended up in a dominion. It was not perhaps in the original scheme of Palashi to establish company's rule in Bengal the way it was done, but the course of subsequent developments led the company to move consciously to the goal of sovereignty. Mir Jafar, the puppet nawab had failed to indemnify the company according to the secret treaty with Clive. Nor was he found very quite serious about paying the compensations. In 1760, he was replaced by his son-in-law, mir qasim. The new nawab quickly settled the indemnity affair by ceding to company's control three large and resourceful districts- Burdwan, Midnapur and Chittagong.
Mir Qasim had his own plan in his mind while he parted with three districts. He wanted to get rid of Clive's constant pestering by disbursing to him all outstanding dues and then assert himself as the real sovereign of the country. According to the plan, the capital was shifted from Murshidabad to Mungher, a distant and not easily accessible hill-fort in Bihar and far from the reach of the English marine strike. He raised there a new army and a new bureaucracy. He dismissed the faithless zamindars and made the loyal ones to pay for the reformed army. Finally he asserted his sovereign status and called upon the company and other private traders to refrain themselves from resorting to unlawful trading activities and to honour the laws of the land. The English paid scant regard to his call. The abuses of dastak continued unabated.
The enraged nawab attacked Patna (July 1763) and captured all company establishments there. Many resisting Europeans were killed including the chief of the Patna factory. Mir Qasim's Patna action had triggered off a full-scale war between the company and the nawab. Mir Qasim won a number of sporadic battles. Finally, he could persuade the emperor and the nawab of Oudh to join him in his war against the English. The combined forces met the British in a decisive battle at Buxar (23 October 1764). The English army defeated the allied troops comprehensively. Meanwhile the company had made a fresh treaty with Mir Jafar and reinstated him as the nawab.
Road to sovereignty
The battle of Buxar led to the company's acquisition of Diwani in 1765, which in turn brought the company close to sovereignty. Clive's strategic formulation was that since the emperor and the company were at war, there must be an agreement between the belligerent powers to restore peaceful relations. For Clive it was an opportune moment. It was a time when Mir Qasim was deposed, Mir Jafar dead, and a boy-nawab, Nazmuddaula, on the throne of Bengal. But he used the opportunity in a very unexpected way. He founded the company's control in Bengal within the framework of the Mughal state. He concluded a treaty with the phantom emperor imprisoned in the hands of the Marathas at Allahabad. According to the terms of the treaty (12 August 1765) Emperor Shah Alam conferred on the English East India Company the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa "as a free gift and altamga". The company would pay under the agreement annually a fixed tribute of twenty six lakh rupees to the emperor and fifty three lakh to the nawab and the balance of the revenue collections from the three provinces would go to the coffer of the company. Clive's Diwani treaty made the company the controller of the resources of the country. Under the Diwani system the people were thus left with two masters to serve: the company and the nawab.
While acquiring Diwani, Robert Clive did not mean to go, as Diwan, into all villages with his revenue bowl in hand and collect tax from every household of peasants and artisans. It was a job of an organised government, which the company was yet to evolve. Clive rather looked for a kind of an intermediate agency, like in the business world, to do the revenue collection job at commission. Syed Muhammad reza khan was selected to stand, so far as revenue collection was concerned, between the company and the taxpayers. He was given the title of Deputy Diwan. All the native establishments were kept intact. Reza Khan, as deputy diwan, was to make settlement, collect revenue, pay the officers and surrender the surplus revenue to the company. The company got the revenue income at no cost of its own. This queer system of Clive which gave him access to resources of the country without any corresponding responsibility is known in history as the Double Government. The system had a set purpose � financing the company's eastern trade without importing any more gold and silver from home. Bengal had been traditionally exporting more and importing less. So the company had always to adjust in the past the chronic unfavourable balance of trade with Bengal against bullion which it had to import from London to the much criticism of the mercantilist public. Clive's acquisition of the diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa solved the problem.
The Double Government was practically no government. Under this system the company had power but no responsibility, and the nawab had responsibility, but no power. Instead of pursuing peaceful trade and commerce, the company people started amassing wealth for themselves by ruthless extortion and plundering. Naib Diwan Reza Khan was constantly warning the Calcutta Council about the imminent collapse of the economy and the state system if the predatory traffic of the company servants was not stopped forthwith. The Calcutta Council paid no heed to Reza Khan's anxieties. Instead of restraining the rampant corruption of the officials, the company sent furthermore European supervisors to every Bengal district in 1767 to keep watch on the affairs of the local officials and also to see how the quantum of revenue could be increased. Appointing district supervisors was, indeed, the first step towards assuming directly the administration of the country.
The District Supervisors were sent out with an express direction to collect all information about revenue administration and local government. Based on their reports the Double Government was abolished in 1772 and the company had directly assumed the responsibility of the diwani administration. Governor Warren Hastings began his state building activities with the restructuring of revenue administration and civil justice. For revenue and judicial administrations Hastings divided Bengal into many distircts. Every district was placed under a European collector vested with unlimited powers.
The structure of the colonial state that Robert Clive and Warren Hastings had built in phases received the parliamentary sanction (1773) in the form of the regulating act of that year. Parliament made Warren Hastings the governor general of the Fort William in Bengal and to assist him a four member council was provided in the Act. The council was to act as the virtual cabinet as well as legislature with the governor general as the head of the government. However, the colonial state building was for the time being impeded by the negative stand taken by the majority members of the council. According to the Regulating Act the governor general had no power to supersede the majority resolution of the council. Three out of four members of the council were prejudiced against Hastings and had been consistently opposing his state building activities. The council was in favour of allowing the Murshidabad nawab to govern his country uninterfered by the company and to this policy the Court of Directors rendered their support.
But the American Revolution had dramatically changed the British attitude to India. For Britain, the Indian situation offered an opportunity to offset the loss of power in the Western Hemisphere. Parliament for the first time took positive decision to establish political power in India. pitt's india act (1784) provided for a military member in the council and the governor general was empowered to supersede the majority view of the council, if necessary, in the interest of the company and the British nation. Parliament appointed lord cornwallis, a general in the lost American War, as governor general with specific instructions to consolidate the colonial state and establish a permanent system of administration for it. Lord Cornwallis abolished the fiction of the nawabi rule by resuming all powers of the nawab and reducing him to just a pensioner of the company. To govern the state Cornwallis introduced many institutions in the realms of administration, judiciary and revenue collection. He separated the company's civil administration from trade and commerce and introduced a professional civil service as a backbone of the new state. The most remarkable among his state-building works was the permanent settlement that served as a symbiotic link between the rulers and the ruled until the end of the colonial rule. An elaborate judicial code and other institutions suitable for governing the colonial state were established. He also introduced a highly paid and highly organised civil service to administer the colonial state.
The fiction of the sovereignty of the Mughal emperor was, however, still maintained though the company had established the colonial state in Bengal with all the marks of sovereignty. The myth of the Mughal sovereignty was upheld even when parliament declared sovereignty over British India in 1813. The government continued to mint coin in the name of the emperor, an ornate practice which was abolished in 1833 when the Charter Act had asserted absolute sovereignty by changing the constitutional title of the 'Governor General of the Fort William in Bengal' into 'Governor General of India'.
Reduction of Bengal to provinciality
The rise of British India in the 19th century was only the blown up form of the company's Bengal kingdom. The expansion led to the absorption of Bengal into the imperial milieu. Even as a province, Bengal lost its pre-eminence in that unlike Madras and Bombay provinces, Bengal was not endowed with an autonomous Governor-in-Council. The Governor General of India acted as the governor of Bengal. And because he was to remain preoccupied with imperial affairs mainly, Bengal administration was looked after on his behalf by a so-called deputy governor selected from one of the Council members and whose tenure seldom exceeded more than a year. One of the secretaries of the Central Secretariat remained in charge of Bengal administration. Thus without a governor-in-Council and without a secretariat of its own, Bengal was reduced to a second fiddle to the empire. In response to the increasing public criticism about the step motherly treatment of Bengal, the Dalhousie administration had at last created under the Charter Act of 1853 a post of Lieutenant Governor for Bengal in 1854, a status it enjoyed until 1905 when Bengal was partitioned into two provinces under separate Lt. Governors. In 1912 when the partition was annulled and the imperial capital shifted to Delhi Bengal got, like Madras and Bombay, the status of a Governor's province for the first time.
Road to Partition and Pakistan
Of the measures taken by the administration of lord curzon (1899-1905), the most tumultuous was the partition of bengal (1905). Making the Bengal administration more efficient was the apparent intention of the decision. To achieve the same purpose, public opinion had been demanding the introduction of Governor-in-Council for Bengal in the model of Madras and Bombay. Why the government should divide the province into two parts instead of introducing Governor-in-Council is not clear. Even many serious historians suspect that the partition measure was actually aimed at weakening nationalist politics by dividing the Bengal people communally. There are, of course, critics of Divide and Rule theory. Whatever may be the purpose of the action it did not receive popular support. The nationalist elements became violent in its resistance to the measure. Faced with insurmountable nationalist opposition Bengal was reunified under the new system of Governor-in-Council in 1912.
Bengal's partition first and then its annulment under pressure had embittered the Hindu-Muslim relations beyond measure. Most educated Muslims of East Bengal had supported the partition. Their frustrations were reflected in the subsequent politics of Bengal.
In spite of many attempts made by nationalist Muslim and Hindu leaders to restore the amity between the two communities, the gap caused by the event was ever widening. The separatist parallelism between the two major communities was institutionally fostered by the separate electorate system. bengal pact (1923) of chitta ranjan das was, however, successful in bringing the two communities together under a common platform. But with his death in 1925 the compact collapsed. All the Council and local bodies elections since then were held on communal basis. The operation of the India Act of 1935, which had further contributed to communalist politics by providing reserved seats for various communities and professions, had led successively to the formation of the Muslim dominated Ministries since elections of 1937.
The muslim league, which had small influence in Bengal until then became soon the sole spokesman by the 1940s. It is significant that the lahore resolution of 1940, which set out a new dream for the Muslims, was proposed by the premier of Bengal. The election results of 1946, in which the League won all seats reserved for Muslims except two, proved beyond doubt that the Muslims of Bengal were set for Pakistan. But the Congress, which represented predominantly the Hindus, was not initially prepared to accept the concept. The result was continual communal tension and occasional riots that culminated in the great Calcutta killing (August 15-20, 1946) followed by communal riots in Noakhali and Bihar. All these developments had sealed the fate of united Bengal. The Hindu Mahashaba, many leading members of which were activists in the agitations against partition of Bengal in 1905, had first proposed and started agitation for the partition of Bengal on communal lines. The idea under the circumstance was finally accepted by the Congress and the League and accordingly Bengal got partitioned and East Bengal (now Bangladesh) got independence from Britain (14 August 1947) within the framework of Pakistan.
Impact of Colonial Rule
It was a meet of two cultures, two civilisations when British and Bengal peoples met politically through Palashi. And at the end of the colonial rule we find many areas where the two cultures conformed. Bengal under colonial setting was made to receive all the governing institutions and practices of the ruling race unmixed or insignificantly mixed with local traditions.
The Governor General-in-Council of the colonial state had no similarity with the previous subahdar-in-darbar. The powers of the subahdars were limited by tradition, customs, and religious injunctions. But the Governor General-in-Council had enjoyed unlimited powers, at least up to the first quarter of the twentieth century. The subahdar had maintained strong local government administered by a long chain of officers from the lowest grampradhan (village chief) and panchayet of the village to the faujdar of the district supported by an intermediate class of administrators called zamindar, taluqdar, thanadar, kazi, qanungo, amin, etc. But the Governor General's local government was simple. Only two civilians (a judge and a collector) armed with unlimited powers ruled a district having a size of hundreds of sq. kilometres. The powers and privileges of the Mughal state was shared between the Hindu and Muslim elites. But the bureaucracy of the colonial state was an all-white affair until the last quarter of the nineteenth century. Only the nominally paid jobs and services in the lower rung of the administrative ladder, which were never to be sought by any European, were open to the natives.
Whereas the justice in the Mughal times and before was rendered on the spot by the qazi on the basis of local investigation, the colonial system of justice was based on interrogating the witnesses by vakils. The vakils worked for fees and so did the professional witnesses who were amply available in the court premise on payment. Universal education was in vogue during the pre-colonial regimes when government gave land grants to all educational institutions (tols, pathsalas, maktabs and madrasas) which gave free education to all students. The learned men received madaat-e-maash or subsistence grants (vrttee,mahattran, millaki, waqf). Consequently, literacy rate was then very high. Education became a private affair and very expensive under the British and as a result literacy rate came down to insignificant level in the mid-nineteenth century. Only 4% were literate in 1872, according to Census data of that year, whereas it was above 80% a century earlier, according to Adam's Report on Education.
The most glaring example of British innovation was the transplantation of the system of English landlordism coated with the nomenclature, Permanent Settlement. There were zamindars before this system, but they were then merely rent collecting state agents entrusted with other state responsibilities. The zamindars under the Permanent Settlement were made the absolute owners of the zamindaris that became their private estates like those of their counterparts in Britain. But with a difference. A British landlord had productive participation in the economy as a production partner, whereas a Bengal zamindar proved to be a parasitic element in the production process. He collected from peasants his unearned income (rent and selami) by virtue of his right in land, a property that he got without any investment. The Permanent Settlement was the foundation of the Bengal society on which rested the superstructure of the colonial state. The secret of ruling a great territorial district by only two civilians lay in the ever loyal zamindar class.
Bengal had been traditionally an exporting country. Within half a century of company rule Bengal lost its predominance in the export market. Gradually it was turned into a captive market for British industrial products and an agricultural hinterland for the supply of agricultural raw materials to the metropolitan manufactories. In the process, the former entrepreneurs became landowners by and large and artisans joined cultivation and rural labours. In the mean time, the development of communication and the rise of a consumer market (owing to the growth of urbanisation and of a middle class), had created an environment for modern industries. In the absence of Bengali entrepreneurs, the foreign elements particularly the Europeans, armenians, marwaris, Parsees came to seize the new opportunities. Until the last decade of British rule, almost all the modern industries set up in Bengal including their labour force were almost entirely dominated by the non-Bengali entrepreneurs. Even the industrial labour came from outside of Bengal.
The most distinguishing feature of the colonial rule was its project to bring a socio-cultural transformation with the object of westernising the country, a kind of attempt which no previous regime had ever undertaken. With few passing deviations, toleration of all faiths and cultures was the hallmark of all those regimes. But the British rulers of the 19th century, imbued with the Utilitarian and evangelical ideas of human progress and emancipation, felt it their moral responsibility and obligation to 'civilise the fallen'. It was this moral and 'civilising' outlook that had animated them to enact reform Acts like abolition of sati and slavery, supressing the thugs, prohibiting child marriage, hooking in Charak Puja, sacrificing child at birth, and so on. Educational reforms had the same object in view� to make the people appreciate and adopt western values and institutions. In administration, western system of bureaucracy and local government institutions was established. Finally, attempts were made to introduce the Westminster method of representative government in phases. The result of all these exercises was that while the age-old native system of social organisation and governance was allowed to go into disuse, the transplantation of western systems found the native soil unfertile to take deep root. [Sirajul Islam]
1. JH Broomfield, Elite Conflict in a Plural Society: Twentieth-Century Bengal, California, 1968; 2. Harun-or-Rashid, The Foreshadowing of Bangladesh, Dhaka, 1987;
3. Sirajul Islam, ed, History of Bangladesh 1704-1971, 3 vols., Dhaka, 2nd edn, 2000.
Pakistan Period (1947-71)
India and Pakistan emerged as two independent dominions as per the India Independence Act passed by the British Parliament on 18 July 1947. By the same stroke the province of Bengal was divided into East Bengal and West Bengal East Bengal became a part of Pakistan and West Bengal that of India. The province of 'East Bengal' was born on 14 August 1947 and its nomenclature was changed to 'East Pakistan' on 8 September 1955.
On 5 August khwaja nazimuddin defeated huseyn shaheed suhrawardy by 75-39 votes and formed the first cabinet of East Bengal on 14 August 1947. Sir Frederick Bourne was appointed the first Governor of East Bengal. None from Suhrawardy's cabinet was inducted in the cabinet of Nazimuddin. It showed a lack of understanding among the political leadership.
When mohammad ali jinnah died in September 1948, Nazimuddin became the Governor General of Pakistan while nurul amin was appointed the Chief Minister of East Bengal. Nurul Amin continued as the Chief Minister of East Bengal until 2 April 1954. The abolition of the Zamindari system in East Bengal (1950) and the language movement were two most important events during his tenure.
During the provincial elections of East Bengal in 1954, the question of language was incorporated in the 21-point election manifesto of united front. So, when the United Front emerged victorious in the election, Bangla language subsequently received constitutional recognition as the principal state language in the first constitution of Pakistan framed in 1956. The language movement had a lasting impact on the politics of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh). The spirit and craving for self-determination germinated in this land from the language movement.
The first election for East Bengal Provincial Assembly was held between 8 and 12 March 1954. Under the provision of reserved seats for non-Muslims in separate electorate, the number of seats for the Assembly was fixed at 309. Of these, 237 (including 9 for women) were Muslim seats, 69 (including 3 for women) seats for Hindus, 2 for Buddhists and 1 for Christians. Those who had attained the age of 21 years on 1 January 1953 were enlisted as voters. The total number of voters was 1,97,39,086. The Awami Muslim League, krishak sramik party and nezam-e-islam formed the United Front, on the basis of 21-points agenda. Notable pledges contained in the 21-points were: making Bangla one of the state languages, autonomy for the province, reforms in education, independence of the judiciary, making the legislative assembly effective, etc.
The United Front bagged 215 out of 237 Muslim seats in the election. The ruling Muslim League got only 9 seats. khilafat-e-rabbani party got 1, while the independents got 12 seats. Later, 7 independent members joined the United Front while 1 joined the Muslim League. There were numerous reasons for the debacle of the Muslim League. The party got detached from the people since 1947. Many dedicated leaders and workers of the party left it to form new parties. As the party in power at the centre and the provinces, the Muslim League also had to bear responsibility for the diverse disparity that cropped up between East and West Pakistan from 1947 onwards. The economy of East Bengal deteriorated during the period between 1947 and 1954, and the prices of essential commodities rose sharply. Above all, the Muslim League regime angered all sections of the people of Bengal by opposing the demand for recognition of Bangla as one of the state languages and by ordering the massacre of 1952. Voting for the United Front, the people of East Bengal had implicitly expressed their support for the autonomy of East Bengal. The number of Muslim League members in the Pakistan Constituent Assembly decreased due to this reduction in their number in East Bengal Legislative Assembly. As a result, a coalition government became inevitable at the centre.
The United Front got the opportunity to form the provincial government after winning absolute majority in the 1954 election. Of the 222 United Front seats, the Awami Muslim League had won 142, Krishak-Sramik Party 48, Nezam-i-Islam 19 and Ganatantri Dal 13. The major leaders of the United Front were Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy and Maulana abdul hamid khan bhasani of Awami Muslim League and ak fazlul huq of Krishak-Sramik Party. Suhrawardy and Bhasani did not take part in the election and Fazlul Huq was invited to form the government. But a rift surfaced at the very outset on the question of formation of the cabinet. The unity and solidarity among the component parties of the United Front soon evaporated. Finally, on 15 May, Fazlul Huq arrived at an understanding with the Awami Muslim League and formed a 14-member cabinet with 5 members from that party.
But this cabinet lasted for only 14 days. The Muslim League could not concede defeat in the elections in good grace. So, they resorted to conspiracies to dismiss the United Front government. In the third week of May, there were bloody riots between Bengalee and non-Bengalee workers in different mills and factories of East Bengal. The United Front government was blamed for failing to control the law and order situation in the province. Fazlul Huq was then quoted in an interview taken by the New York Times correspondent John P Callaghan and published in a distorted form that he wanted the independence of East Bengal. Finally, on 29 May 1954, the United Front government was dismissed by the central government and Governor's rule was imposed in the province, which lasted till 2 June 1955.
Curiously enough within two months of his sacking, Fazlul Huq was appointed the central Home Minister. As Home Minister, Fazlul Huq utilised his influence to bring his party to power in East Bengal. Naturally, the United Front broke up. The Muslim members of the United Front split into two groups. In 1955 the Awami Muslim League adopted the path of secularism and non-communalism, erased the word 'Muslim' from its nomenclature and adopted the name of awami league. On the other hand, the group led by Fazlul Huq became acceptable to the Muslim League government and on 3 June 1955 abu hossain sarkar of Krishak-Sramik Party was invited to form the government in East Bengal. The Awami League demanded the government to prove its majority in the assembly but the demand was ignored. No session of the legislative assembly was summoned during the next eight months.
The position of Huq's party in the province got a boost when he was appointed the Governor of East Bengal on 5 March 1956. He summoned the Assembly for its budget session in May 1956, but on 24 May suspended the session in apprehension that his party government would collapse if the budget were not passed. Only seven days after Governor's rule was withdrawn and Abu Hossain Sarkar ministry was reinstated. This ministry was also not directed to prove its majority. In this way, the coalition government of Krishak-Sramik Party remained in power in East Bengal through unconstitutional means until 30 August 1956. In exchange for his Governorship and the installation of his party's government in East Bengal, Fazlul Huq made two important promises to the central Muslim League government, to which he remained committed. The pledges were � first, his party would support the draft Constitution placed in the Constituent Assembly, and second, the party would not support the demand for regional autonomy and joint electoral system proposed by the Awami League.
As the Krishak-Sramik Party opposed the joint electoral system, the minority members of East Bengal Provincial Legislative Assembly withdrew their support to the party and instead extended support to the Awami League. But the Governor postponed the session on the advice of the Chief Minister just a few hours before it was scheduled to commence. The cabinet headed by Abu Hossain Sarkar collapsed on 30 August 1956 and in its place a coalition government led by the Awami League was formed comprising of minorities and left parties. Ataur Rahman Khan of the Awami League was elected the Chief Minister of this new cabinet. On 12 September, a coalition cabinet of the Awami League and the Republican Party was formed at the centre. Led by Huseyn Shaheed Suhrawardy, the Awami League remained in power at the centre for 13 months (12 September 1956 to 18 October 1957) and in East Pakistan for 18 months (6 September 1956 to 31 March 1958).
As they were simultaneously in power at both the centre and the province, the Awami League could initiate a number of development programmes in East Pakistan. Notable among these initiatives of the Awami League government were: construction of power station in East Pakistan, constitution of Jute Trading Corporation, setting up of gas factory at Fenchuganj, establishment of dairy farm at Savar, constitution of Water and Power Development Board (WAPDA) for the purpose of flood control and irrigation, establishment of Dhaka Improvement Trust (DIT) for development of Dhaka city, formulation of 'Greater Dhaka City Master Plan', establishment of Film Development Corporation (FDC), development of Dhaka's Ramna Park, setting up of Veterinary College at Mymensingh, construction of Dhaka-Aricha, Nagarbari-Rajshahi and Dhaka-Chittagong Highways for improving the communication system, setting up of Planning Board for economic development of the province and framing of the 3-year development plan (1957-60). The Awami League government also declared 21 February as an official holiday.
When Maulana Bhasani founded the National Awami Party (NAP) in 1957, twenty eight Provincial Assembly members of the Awami League resigned from the party and joined the NAP. They withdrew support from the Awami League government and instead extended support to the Krishak-Sramik Party. A few minority members also withdrew their support from the Awami League. In this situation, when it became clear that it was impossible for the Awami League to pass the budget in the upcoming budget session, the government requested the Governor to postpone the budget session for a few days. But AK Fazlul Huq dissolved the cabinet (31 March 1958) and invited Abu Hossain Sarkar to form a new cabinet. At this juncture, the cabinet of Firoze Khan Noon's Republican Party was in power at the centre with the support of the Awami League.
In order to keep the Awami League government in power in East Pakistan, the central government dismissed Fazlul Huq from the post of Governor (1 April 1958) and gave the charge of Governorship to the Chief Secretary of East Bengal. The new Governor reinstated the Awami League government (1 April 1958). The government won the vote of confidence by a margin of 182-117. But one and a half months after this episode, the government lost in a motion on the question of food situation on 18 June 1958. As a result, the Awami League government collapsed on 19 June 1958 and a Krishak-Sramik Party government headed by Abu Hossain Sarkar was again formed on 20 June 1958. With the support of the NAP, the Awami League defeated the Abu Hossain Sarkar government in a vote of no confidence (156-142) on 23 June 1958. But this time, rule of the centre was imposed (25 June 1958) instead of inviting the Awami League to form the government. Exactly two months after this, another Awami League government headed by ataur rahman khan was formed.
In this way, seven cabinets were formed in East Pakistan and Governor's rule was imposed thrice between March 1954 and August 1958. Finally, an anarchic situation developed in the Legislative Assembly on 23 September 1958 and the Deputy Speaker shahed ali died on 25 September after being hit by a group of unruly members. After this episode, Martial Law was imposed throughout Pakistan on 7 October 1958.
After the imposition of Martial Law on 7 October 1958, the constitution of 1956 was scrapped, the central and provincial governments were dismissed, the national and provincial legislative assemblies were dissolved, all political parties were banned and fundamental rights were suspended. Expelling Iskander Mirza, ayub khan seized all powers on 27 October. In this way, parliamentary democracy in Pakistan died a premature death. Immediately after imposition of Martial Law, Ayub Khan brought charges of corruption and nepotism against politicians, high officials, rich businessmen, former central and provincial ministers, members of national and provincial assemblies, and so on. On 7 October 1959, he promulgated two Orders titled 'Election Bodies Disqualification Order, 1959' (EBDO) and 'Public Offices Disqualification Order' (PODO). Under EBDO, 3978 politicians from East Pakistan and 3000 politicians from West Pakistan lost their right to engage in politics. Under PODO, 13 officers from Pakistan Civil Service, 3 from Foreign Service, 15 from Police Service and 1662 officers from the Provincial Service were dismissed or retired. Under PODO, those newspapers, which wrote about provincial autonomy and rights (such as Ittefaq, Sangbad and Pakistan Observer), were black-listed and deprived of government and semi-government advertisements.
An innovation during Ayub Khan's autocratic military rule was basic democracy. Framed through an Ordinance of 1959, basic democracy was a 4-tier system of local autonomous governance. Apart from establishing local governments, Ayub Khan built up a coterie of his supporters up to the village level. Through the basic democracy system, arrangements were made to elect a total of 80,000 basic democrats (40,000 each) from East and West Pakistan. They in turn acted as voters in an electoral college for electing members to the provincial and national assemblies as well as the President. In this way, people were deprived of their right to vote for electing the President and members of the legislative assemblies, the role of the political parties and the general masses in national politics became secondary and the control and influence of the government on a limited number of basic democrats became easy. Election of basic democrats took place throughout the country on 11 January 1960. Ayub Khan promulgated the 'Presidential Election and Constitutional Order, 1960' on 13 January 1960. He was elected President for five years with the powers to frame a constitution through a referendum held under the Order on 14 February 1960. The Constitution was declared on 1 March 1962 and it was made effective from 8 June. The basic democrats also elected members to the national and provincial assemblies between 1 March and 8 June. Martial Law was lifted on 8 June.
When Suhrawardy was arrested on 30 January 1962, the student community called a strike on 1 February in protest and brought out a militant procession on the streets. The strike continued at a stretch up to 5 February. The Anti-Ayub movement started from this episode. The student community of East Pakistan held militant rallies and boycotted classes the moment Ayub Khan announced the Constitution on 1 March 1962. Another movement started in September 1962, which is known as 'education movement of sixty two'. A students-movement commenced under the joint leadership of Chhatra League and Chhatra Union in September 1962 as soon as the report of the Sharif Education Commission was released. Protest rallies were held everyday between 15 August and 10 September. During the strike observed on 17 September, students such as Babul, Golam Mostafa, Waziullah, etc died from police firing and around 250 were injured. The recommendations of the Sharif Commission were kept in abeyance by the government as a result of this movement. The significance of this movement was that the students became the driving-force in the Anti-Ayub movement. Since then, the student community has been observing 17 September as the 'Education Day'.
The politicians got back their right to take part in party politics after the lifting of Martial Law on 8 June 1962. Suhrawardy called for forging an Anti-Ayub Front comprising of all parties. As a result of his initiative, a front styled National Democratic Front or NDF led by the Awami League was formed on 4 October 1962, comprising of Jamaat-i-Islam, Nezam-i-Islam, National Awami Party, Krishak-Sramik Party, Council Muslim League and the faction of Muslim League led by Nurul Amin. The goal and objective of this Front was to build up a movement to restore democracy and to democratise the Constitution. Another strategy of Suhrawardy was at work behind the formation of the front. Although politicians punished under EBDO were banned from participating in politics, there was no such embargo on their taking part in activities of the Front. So he attached much importance to the formation of the Front. And very soon, the Front earned wide popularity.
After the death of Suhrawardy in December 1963, the Awami League came out in the open the very next month on 25 January 1964. sheikh mujibur rahman was nominated the General Secretary of East Pakistan Awami League. Prior to that, parties like NAP, Jamaat-i-Islam, Nezam-i-Islam had come out of the Front. As a result, the NDF became weak and inactive. An alliance styled Combined Opposition Party (COP) was formed by parties like the Awami League, NAP, Council Muslim League, Jamaat-i-Islam, Nezam-i- Islam, etc. to field a common candidate against Ayub Khan in the presidential election slotted for 2 January 1965. COP made Fatima Jinnah (sister of Mohammad Ali Jinnah) their presidential candidate. 80,000 basic democrats were the voters in the presidential election and Ayub Khan was in control of those democrats. So, although much enthusiasm was observed among the people in favour of Miss Jinnah, in the election Ayub Khan polled 49,951 votes, whereas Miss Jinnah could muster only 28,961. Elections to the national and provincial assemblies were held after the presidential election. The Convention Muslim League won absolute majority in those elections. The election results proved that it was not possible to oust Ayub Khan as long as basic democracy was in operation.
Under the patronisation of Ayub Khan, the basic democrats became a class of beneficiaries with special interests. So, cancellation of basic democratic system became a major issue in the anti-Ayub movement. Demand for direct election came to be articulated in East Pakistan. Then, before the dissatisfaction of the people of East Pakistan emanating from the election results could subside, the 1965 Indo-Pak war started in September. It became clear during this war that the defence of East Pakistan was not strong enough. Even administratively, this province remained cut off from the centre during the 17 days of the war. Thus it was proved once again that with two provinces 1600 kilometers apart, the concept of the state of Pakistan was an absurdity. Meanwhile, the conscious segments of population in East Pakistan became angry at the growing disparity between East and West Pakistan in the fields of administration, economy and society.
The bureaucrats were at the centre of all administrative power since the emergence of Pakistan. The representation of East Pakistan in the bureaucracy was very nominal. Out of 42,000 officers in the central government of Pakistan in 1956, the number of people from East Pakistan was a mere 2,900. As Islamabad the capital of the country, the West Pakistanis got a monopoly of jobs in government offices and courts. Due to the geographic distance, it was not possible for the people of East Pakistan to appear at interviews to get those jobs. Besides, it was not easy for the Bengalee students to achieve success in different competitive examinations before Bangla was recognised as a state language in 1956.
In this situation, the disparity between East and West Pakistan in administration widened day by day. The proportion of East Pakistanis in the foreign service in 1962 was 20.8%; the proportion of East and West Pakistanis among the officers of defence services was 10:90. It was observed in the field of education that whereas West Pakistan was allocated a sum of Rupees 1530 crore during 1948-55, East Pakistan was sanctioned a mere 240 crore rupees (13.5%) during that period. During the period 1947-55, only 10% of total expenditure of the central government were spent in East Pakistan. Whereas Rupees 1496.2 million were spent in the development sector in West Pakistan during the period, the amount spent in East Pakistan was only Rupees 514.7 million. Three capital cities were built in West Pakistan (Karachi, Rawalpindi and Islamabad) in phases during the Pakistan era. An amount of Rupees 5700 million was spent till 1956 for Karachi alone in order to build it up as the capital city. This was 56.4% of the total expenditure for East Pakistan, its share in the total expenditure during the period being only 5.10%. Whereas Rupees 3,000 million were spent for the development of Islamabad until 1967, the amount spent for development of Dhaka was a meagre Rupees 250 million. Due to the location of the capital and the head offices of different civil and military departments in West Pakistan, the West Pakistanis got sweeping benefit in the fields of employment, outlays for construction of buildings, furniture, residences for staff etc., and the employment opportunities generated from construction and supplies.
In this way, the demand for autonomy of East Pakistan became stronger due to discriminations it endured in different fields, failure to get desired results from elections and the inadequate defence status of the province. When the Awami League leader Sheikh Mujibur Rahman raised the 6-points charter of demands for autonomy of East Pakistan at a convention of opposition leaders in Lahore on 5 and 6 February 1966, 735 out of 740 delegates present rejected it. In protest, Sheikh Mujib walked out of the convention and returned to Dhaka. There was no party decision regarding the six-point programme that Sheikh Mujib declared at Lahore. But the 6-point demands got approval of the Awami League working committee on 13 March.
Sheikh Mujib and other leaders of the party then started a countrywide campaign for realising the 6 points. There was unprecedented public backing in support of the 6-points; apprehensive, the regime started to arrest the leaders and workers of the Awami League. Sheikh Mujib was arrested under the security law of the country on 8 May 1966. In protest the Awami League and Chhatra League observed strike throughout the province on 7 June 1966. The working class also responded to this strike. 10 people died in Dhaka and Narayanganj due to police firing. After this strike of 7 June, the government became vindictive. The editor of Ittefaq tofazzal hossain (Manik Mia) was arrested on 15 June and Ittefaq was banned on 16 June. 9330 workers and supporters of Awami League were arrested within September. Newer onslaughts were carried out against Bengali language and culture. The government banned the broadcast of Tagore songs over radio and television in August 1967.
The Anti-Ayub political parties formed a political alliance called Pakistan Democratic Movement or PDM on 2 May 1967. The PDM announced an 8-point program. These 8-points were an extended form of 6-points. These 8-points of PDM not only included the demand for provincial autonomy, they also included programmes for removal of accumulated disparities between the two provinces within a period of ten years. The Awami League's 6-points were the demands of a regional party, whereas the PDM's 8-points became a national demand. As the main demand in PDM's 8-points was the demand for provincial autonomy, the wrath of the government fell on Sheikh Mujib. To detach Sheikh Mujib and the Awami League from the general masses and to create divisions within the opposition alliance, the government discovered a conspiracy on 6 January 1968. This conspiracy was dubbed as the 'Agartala Conspiracy'. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman and 29 others were arrested on charge of involvement in the conspiracy. In protest, strike was observed throughout East Pakistan on 29 January. A new phase of Anti-Ayub movement erupted. To invigorate this movement, Democratic Action Committee or DAC was formed comprising of the alliances NDF, PDM, parties like the pro-6-point Awami League, NAP (Wali), Council Muslim League, Jamaate Islami, Nezame Islami, etc. But as it was formed by both leftist and rightist parties, it became difficult for DAC to undertake united programmes.
A 'Students Action Committee' was formed jointly by the East Pakistan Chhatra League and the East Pakistan Chhatra Union in January 1969. They announced the 11-point demand as part of the movement. The 6-point demand of the Awami League was incorporated in the 11-point demand of the 'Students Action Committee'. Besides, other demands relevant for the Bengalee middle class and the peasants and labourers were also included. As a result, the 11-points received massive public support in East Pakistan. Anti-Ayub meetings, processions and gatherings became a part of everyday life. The movement intensified due to the participation of working class. The government failed to contain the movement with the aid of police, EPR and the army. When student leader M. Asaduzzaman embraced martyrdom in police firing on 20 January 1969, the situation went beyond the control of the government and the movement assumed the form of a mass upsurge. Around 100 East Pakistanis were killed in the movement of 1969. The movement reached its peak when the Proctor of Rajshahi University Dr. mohammad shamsuzzoha was killed by a bullet fired by the Pakistani military on 18 February 1969 while he was performing his duty.
The government withdrew the Agartala conspiracy case on 22 February 1969 and was forced to release Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Sheikh Mujib was accorded a reception at Racecourse Maidan on 23 February attended by around 5 lakh people where he was given the title of 'Bangabandhu'. The slogan 'Joy Bangla' was also born there. Ayub Khan then took an initiative for dialogue and compromise. He arranged a meeting of the opposition leaders at Rawalpindi on 10-13 March 1969. Although Bhasani NAP and People's Party boycotted that meeting, Sheikh Mujib joined it and demanded full implementation of the 6 and 11-points. Resolutions were adopted at the meeting for establishment of a federal form of parliamentary democracy under universal adult franchise. Although the rightist parties were happy about this decision, the Awami League and NAP (Wali) rejected it. These two parties withdrew from the DAC.
Meanwhile, the movement intensified in West Pakistan as well. In this situation, Ayub Khan handed over power to the then Army Chief, General mohammad yahya Khan, on 24 March 1969 and Yahya Khan imposed Martial Law in the country on 25 March. Eight months after assumption of office, Yahya Khan declared on 28 November 1969 that elections to the National Assembly would be held on 5 October 1970 and to the Provincial Assembly on 22 October. The outline of that election was announced on 28 March 1970 through the 'Legal Framework Order'. Yahya cancelled the unitary status of West Pakistan and instead created four provinces there. The policy of 'one person one vote' for the election was also adopted. Under the Legal Framework Order, the number of seats in the Jatiya Sangsad was fixed at 313 (including 13 for women); out of these, the share of East Pakistan was 169, including 7 for women. The Order stipulated that the National Assembly would have to frame a constitution by tabling a 'Constitution Bill' within 120 days after its first session was summoned; the Assembly would stand dissolved if it failed to do so. The National Assembly could also be dissolved if the bill failed to get the assent of the President. It could therefore be seen that the survival of the National Assembly was made subservient to the will of the President through that Order.
Although critical of the Legal Framework Order, all parties except the Bhasani NAP and the National League decided to participate in the election. The Awami League termed the election as a 'referendum' for its 6-point and 11-point demands. Around 11 political parties of Pakistan participated in this election, and the powerful political parties (such as the Awami League and the Pakistan People's Party) had regional base.
The dates for election to National and Provincial Assemblies were fixed for 7 December and 17 December 1970 respectively. But when 2 lakh people died after a devastating cyclone that struck East Pakistan on 12 November, elections to 9 National Assembly seats and 21 Provincial Assembly seats in the cyclone-affected areas of the province took place after one month.
The election saw the Awami League winning absolute majority by capturing 167 out of 169 seats in East Pakistan. The Pakistan People's Party (PPP) won 88 out of 144 National Assembly seats in West Pakistan. The Awami League failed to win any seat in West Pakistan while the PPP could not win any in East Pakistan. In the election for East Pakistan Provincial Assembly, the Awami League won 288 out of 300 seats. Immediately after declaration of the election results, the PPP Chief Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto demanded that as the PPP represented the provinces of Punjab and Sindh, so no government could be formed or constitution framed without its support. In reply, the Awami League argued that the representation of Punjab and Sindh was not essential as the election was held under the 'one person one vote' policy. The Awami League Chief Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared that as the people of East Pakistan had given a mandate in favour of the 6 and 11 points, it could not be bypassed while framing the constitution. Amid this furore, Yahya Khan announced on 14 February that the session of the National Assembly would commence in Dhaka on 3 March 1971 for the purpose of framing the constitution.
But Bhutto refused to join that session unless he was given assurance that his views would be heeded. As a result, Yahya Khan postponed the session of the National Assembly scheduled for 3 March through an announcement on 1 March 1971. The people of East Pakistan erupted in anger at this announcement of Yahya Khan. Sheikh Mujibur Rahman called hartal in Dhaka on 2 March and throughout the province the next day. All governmental activities came to a halt. An announcement titled 'Declaration and programme for independent and sovereign Bangladesh' was made by East Pakistan Chhatra League at Dhaka's Paltan Maidan on 3 March 1971. Yahya Khan again summoned the session of the National Assembly on 25 March through an announcement on 6 March. In his speech delivered on 7 March at Dhaka Racecourse Maidan, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman put forward four preconditions for joining the session of the National Assembly on 25 March as announced by Yahya Khan � (a) martial law would have to be lifted immediately, (b) the military has to return to the barracks, (c) investigations have to be made regarding loss of lives, (d) power has to be handed over to the party having absolute majority before the commencement of the National Assembly. The Awami League would consider joining the National Assembly session only if those conditions were met.
Yahya Khan arrived in Dhaka on 15 March and held talks with Mujib up to 24 March. Bhutto arrived in Dhaka on 21 March to join the talks. Yahya khan was in fact killing time in the name of talks; meanwhile, he was bringing in military equipment and soldiers from West Pakistan. At last, after all preparations were complete, the Pakistani Army carried out a genocide in Dhaka on the night of 25 March. In protest against these brutal killings, the liberation war of Bangladesh was started. The armed liberation war that started on 26 March 1971 continued for 9 months.
On 10 April 1971, the leaders of Awami League (AL) formed the government-in-exile headed by Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman as the President. syed nazrul islam and tajuddin ahmed took the charge of Vice-President and Prime Minister respectively. In the absence of the President (who was in jail in Pakistan), the Vice-President took up the responsibilities of the state. On 17 April 1971 the government-in-exile (also known as Mujibnagar Sarkar) took oath at Baidyanathtala under Meherpur district. With the surrender of the Pakistani army at the Dhaka Racecourse Maidan on 16 December 1971 ended the war of liberation.
Mujib Government (1972-1975)
Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujib returned to Bangladesh on 10 January 1972, after being freed from Pakistani prison. The very next day he issued a Provisional Constitutional Order to initiate parliamentary system and to introduce cabinet form of government. Within two months all Indian troops were withdrawn from Bangladesh and civil administration was restored in all districts. The constitution of 1972 was framed taking nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism as the state principles. Parliamentary elections were held for the first time under the new constitution on 7 March 1973. In this election, out of 300 seats Awami League won 292, National Awami Party (NAP) 1, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal 1, Jatiya League 1 and independent candidates won 5 seats. Later in the year elections to local bodies were also held.
Mujib's vision was to ensure the leadership of the political elite over the civil-military bureaucratic elite who ruled the country right from the British down to the Pakistani period. Of course, the Bangali civil bureaucracy and the military initially accepted their subordinate roles because the nationalist movement had all along supported the idea of a parliamentary democracy where politicians provided leadership. The bureaucracy and the military were also institutionally weak as many senior members of the two institutions were interned in Pakistan and could not return to Bangladesh till 1973. The political parties were also weak and fractionalised.
Sheikh Mujib relied on his charisma and personal popular support to establish rule of law. However, this also led to further weakening of the existing institutions and the rise of a 'personality cult'. A faction of the Awami League's student wing dubbed the four principles of state ideology�nationalism, socialism, democracy, and secularism�as Mujibbad (Mujibism).
Although the state apparatus was weak, it had to tackle massive problems: establishing law and order, disarming civilian freedom fighters, rehabilitating refugees, reconstructing infrastructure, managing industries left by non-Bengali owners, negotiating with the international community for recognition and assistance, and so on. An effort was made to establish industries and factories, banks and insurance companies, though the state's limited capacity was seriously challenged by these tasks of economic and political management.
Bangladesh society was also in great turmoil. On the one hand there was a popular demand for holding war crime trials of the Pakistani prisoners of war and their collaborators and on the other there was strong pressure from the friends of Pakistan in the international community to drop the war crime trials. The experiences of the liberation war radically altered the vision of different groups. Many, particularly young freedom fighters, expected a revolutionary change in society. Within a year after independence, one faction of the student wing of the Awami League started a new political party�Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (JSD) - calling for the establishment of scientific socialism. Various factions of communist parties were engaged in class warfare in different parts of the country. Some freedom fighters started more peaceful initiatives establishing non-government organisations (NGOs) to raise consciousness of marginalised groups and deliver services to the poor. The NGO movement, which was later to emerge as a major force in society, started its existence in the years immediately following the birth of Bangladesh.
Faced with these contradictory pressures Sheikh Mujib tried to maintain balance among opposing groups. War crime trials were dropped and the Pakistani prisoners of war were eventually freed. Then Mujib turned his attention to the radical leftist opposition. A paramilitary counter insurgency force, Rakkhi Bahini� composed of Awami League loyalists�was created by him to tackle the militants.
Awami League was under pressure for the massive reconstruction and rehabilitation of the country; but the progress was slow. As a result discontent with the Awami League regime started growing. At the same time, there were allegations of corruption against many Awami League leaders. The internal dispute of Awami League surfaced. On the one side, militant youth leaders of the Awami League demanded for the establishment of a revolutionary government under Sheikh Mujib. On the other, older moderate leaders were supporting to continue the parliamentary democratic rule. The 1974 flood, food deficit, shortage of foreign currency, unwillingness of the international banking system to provide loan, and failure to get instantaneous aid in spite of the formation of 'Bangladesh Aid Agency' resulted in a famine in Bangladesh. The law and order situation deteriorated. Mujib finally decided to provide a one party presidential form of government with restrictions on the freedom of press and judiciary by the fourth amendment of the constitution in January 1975.
On 24 February 1975, Sheikh Mujib dissolved all political parties to form a single national party called Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League (BAKSAL), which had five fronts: peasants, workers, youth, students, and women. Breaking the long-standing tradition of the British and Pakistani periods, members of the civil bureaucracy and the armed forces were allowed to join the party.
Sheikh Mujib termed it as the 'second revolution'. Some economic and administrative reforms were introduced with the formation of one party government. Reform in the monetary sector, reduced control on imports, renewed initiative on food production, new strategy on export promotion, reduced control on industrial sector, open market policy in the pricing of commodities were introduced. Initiatives were taken for reform of district administration through appointment of a political governor in each district, which was earlier a subdivision and for the supply of essential commodities to the villagers co-operative institutions were established. However, before Sheikh Mujib could fully implement his new ideas he was assassinated along with his family members and some of his colleagues by a group of ambitious junior military officers on 15 August 1975. Mujib's constitutional process was thus 'aborted'.
Mostaq Government (1975)
The coup leaders made khondakar mostaq ahmad the President and the Chief Martial Law Administrator. Some ministers of Mujib government joined the Mostaq cabinet. On the one hand, some leading Awami League leaders were sent to prison and on the other the regime freed some political prisoners belonging to the Islamic party, Jamaat-i-Islam, and the pro-China National Awami Party of Maulana Bhasani (NAP-B). China and Saudi Arabia extended diplomatic recognition to Bangladesh. Mostaq regime did not last even three months. But within that short period, the concept of district governors was scrapped and the civil bureaucracy managed to push through several measures to ameliorate their grievances. Some senior bureaucrats who were out of favour with the Mujib government were put in key positions in the administration.
On November 3, some senior military officers led by Brigadier khaled mosharraf (raised to the position of Major General on the same day) staged a counter coup. Brigadier Mosharraf declared martial law ousting Khondakar Mostaq and the junior officers, who staged the coup on 15 August. But before handing over power the killers of Sheikh Mujib assassinated Awami League leaders Syed Nazrul Islam, Tajuddin Ahmed, m mansur ali, and ahm qamaruzzaman inside Dhaka Central Jail.
Khaled Mosharraf's counter coup was short lived. Uncertainty prevailed for three days in the country. Mostaq was president without power. Mosharraf and his associates were killed on 7 November in an uprising engineered by the soldiers' who were followers of retired Colonel abu taher and the JSD. On the same day Chief Justice AM Sayem was sworn in as President and Chief Martial Law Administrator.
Major General ziaur rahman was selected Army Chief by the Mostaq government. Khaled Mosharraf arrested Zia on November 3 but he was freed on November 7. On 15 November 1975 a set of martial law regulations were promulgated stipulating death sentence to future mutineers. Col. Taher together with some leaders of the JSD were arrested. Col. Taher was later tried in a military court and sentenced to death.
Zia Government (1975-1981)
Ziaur Rahman emarged as a powerful military leader after soldier uprising of 7 November 1975. Zia shared power for a year as one of the three Deputy Martial Law Administrators and gained influence. Though Justice abusadat mohammad sayem was the President and Chief Martial Law Administrator, the real power lay with Zia. On 28 November 1976 Zia assumed the charge of the Chief Martial Law Administrator. He amended the constitution through a Martial Law Ordinance promulgated on 21 April 1977 and held the post of the President. Parliament was dissolved. The President's Council of Advisors was drawn mainly from the ranks of bureaucrats and technocrats.
Zia restored discipline in the Army and put down repeated coup attempts quite firmly. He integrated the Rakkhi Bahini with the military and made hussain muhammad ershad his deputy.
Zia started political dialogues with different politicians though political parties were banned. The Collaborators Order of 1972 was repealed and a general amnesty declared, releasing a large number of people arrested under the Collaborator's Act. It also lifted ban on political parties. Zia was also able to pick up the support of the National Awami Party of Bhasani. After negotiating political support from different political parties, political activities were permitted on a limited scale in July 1976. 23 parties were permitted to operate 'indoors'.
The Constitution (Amendment) Order, 1977 brought forth some remarkable changes in the constitution. These are: (a) the amendment changed the identity of the citizens of Bangladesh from Bangali to Bangladeshi; (b) dropped 'secularism' as a state principle substituting it with 'absolute trust and faith in Almighty Allah' and bismillahir rahmanir rahim was inserted in the beginning; (c) socialism was redefined to mean 'economic and social justice'; (d) the state shall endeavor to consolidate, preserve, and strengthen fraternal relations among Muslim countries based on Islamic solidarity; (e) nationalisation and acquisition of property would be duly compensated.
Within a year, Zia started the process of launching a party. Under his patronisation Vice-president Justice abdus sattar formed a party, named Jatiyatabadi Ganatantrik Dal in February 1978, which later in the year (September 1978) came to be known as bangladesh nationalist party (BNP). Zia drew members from people believing in different political ideologies. Several retired military and civil service personnel joined the party. A few elections were held under martial law. Among these a national referendum in 1977, a presidential election in 1978 and a parliamentary election in 1979 are mentionable. In the second parliamentary elections held on 18 February 1979, BNP got 207 seats out of 300, followed by the Awami League 39, Muslim League and Islamic Democratic League 20, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Siraj) 8, Jatiya League 2, Awami League (Mijan) 2, Ganafront 2, and independent candidates 16. In the newly formed parliament the previous four years military rule of Ziaur Rahman was legalised by the Fifth Amendment of the constitution.
During the four years military rule, Zia tried to improve the law and order situation in the country. He engaged in dialogues with different groups of people and embarked on participatory development activities, eg canal digging. He laid emphasis on Gram Sarkar (village government). On the economic front, Zia took up different development programmes. Quite a few coup attempts were made during Zia's rule of five and a half years. In one of such a coup Zia was killed in Chittagong on 30 May 1981.
Sattar Government (1981-82)
After Zia's assassination, Vice-President Abdus Sattar became the Acting President. Later on he was elected President. Under pressure of the army Sattar agreed to set up a 'National Security Council' consisting of the President, the Vice-President, the Prime Minister and the chiefs of the three services. This, however, did not satisfy the army. On 24 March 1982 Ershad declared martial law, suspended the constitution, dismissed Sattar and his cabinet, dissolved the parliament and became the Chief Martial Law Administrator. The chiefs of the Navy and Air Force were appointed as his deputies. Ershad ruled the country under martial law for the next four years.
Ershad Government (1982-1990)
The Council of Advisors of Ershad was drawn from the members of the civil and the military bureaucracy . He behaved as a military dictator. In 1988 he amended the constitution (eighth amendment) to make Islam the state religion. Most sectors were opened up to private investment.
Ershad floated political party twice, first as Jana Dal in 1983 and later as jatiya party (JP) in 1986. Jatiya Party was composed of retired military and civil officials, and defectors from other existing parties. The series of elections held under the Ershad regime included Local Government Elections in 1984, a National Referendum in 1985, a Parliamentary and a Presidential Election in 1986 and another Parliamentary Election in 1988. In the third parliamentary elections, held in 1986, Jatiya Party got 155 seats followed by the Awami League 74, Jamaat-i-Islam 10, Communist Party of Bangladesh 5, NAP (united) 5, Muslim League 4, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Rab) 4, Bangladesh Krishak Sramik Awami League 3, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Siraj) 3, Workers' Party (Nazrul) 3, NAP (Mujaffar) 2, and independent candidates got 32 seats. In the fourth parliamentary elections, held in 1988, Jatiya Party got 251, Combined Opposition Party (excluding Awami League and BNP) 19, Freedom Party 2, Jatiya Samajtantrik Dal (Siraj) 3, and independent candidates were elected to 25 seats. BNP boycotted all elections held under Ershad regime. The Awami League participated in the 1986 parliamentary elections but did not participate in 1988 polls. Ershad introduced the Upazila (sub-districts) system. It was made the focal point of local level government.
The movement against Ershad started in 1983, gained momentum in 1987, and became severe in 1990 with the participation of all student organisations including the student wings of the two leading parties, the Awami League and the BNP. Civil society groups, particularly the professional associations, actively joined the movement for the restoration of democracy. Ershad promulgated State of Emergency more than once to remain in power. But the scenario changed when the senior army officers withdrew their support from behind Ershad. Under the circumstances, Ershad resigned on 6 December 1990. The power was transferred to an Acting President acceptable to the combined opposition. The opposition chose Chief Justice shahabuddin ahmed as the Acting President to oversee a free and fair election. A neutral caretaker government was formed under Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed and thus for the first time a government was changed through popular uprising.
Within ninety days Shahabuddin's neutral caretaker government was able to organise a parliamentary election. This election was declared by all observers, local as well as foreign, to be the most free and fair election ever held in Bangladesh. In the election BNP won 144 seats, followed by the Awami League 88, Jatiya Party 35, and Jamaat-i-Islam 18 seats. Besides, BAKSAL and CPB got 4 each, Workers' Party, Ganatantri Party, Islami Oikya Andolan, NDP, JSD (Siraj), and NAP (Muzaffar) 1 each and independent candidates captured 2 seats.
Khaleda Zia Government (1991-96)
After the 1991 election, BNP under begum khaleda zia formed the government with the support of Jamaat. Both BNP and the Awami League worked together in parliament and a constitutional amendment (twelfth amendment) was passed reintroducing a parliamentary form of government.
During the Khaleda Zia government notable progress was achieved in the field of education introduction of free and compulsory primary education, free education up to class X for female students and adoption of food for education programme etc.
Prime Minister Khaleda Zia's main challenge was the task of translating into reality the promise of democratic governance. The disagreement between Awami League and BNP intensified over several municipal and parliamentary by-elections. Finally, in March 1994, the Awami League refused to accept the results of the parliamentary by-election in Magura alleging election fraud by the BNP government. The Awami League demanded resignation of the government and started a movement for a free, fair, and acceptable national election to be held under a neutral caretaker government. The Awami League boycotted parliament. In the next two years they organised a movement in support of the proposed caretake government. On that issue, the Jatiya Party and the Jamaat-i-Islam rendered support to the Awami League. As a matter of fact, the country was repeatedly brought to a stand still by a series of hartals called by the Awami League. In December 1994, the opposition parties led by the Awami League resigned from parliament.
Civil society groups and the international donor community stepped in as referees to break the continuing political deadlock between the two major political parties. The international donor community, a mission sent by the Commonwealth Secretariat, Dhaka based Ambassadors, and a group of local eminent persons failed in their attempts to mediate between the Awami League and the BNP to resolve the conflict. Khaleda Zia dissolved parliament in December 1995 and the sixth parliamentary elections were held in February 1996. But the combined opposition boycotted the election.
The movement under Awami League demanding election under a caretaker government got momentum. The prolonged confrontation between the Awami League and the BNP led to a national crisis, which was resolved by BNP acceding to the caretaker government idea. The Parliament formed under 1996 election assembled in only one session in which it effected the Thirteenth Amendment to the constitution providing for caretaker government. Khaleda Zia resigned and handed over power to a caretaker government headed by former Chief Justice habibur rahman. The seventh parliamentary elections were held in 1996 and Awami League won 146 seats, followed by the BNP with 116, Jatiya Party with 32, and Jamaat-i-Islam with 3 seats. The JSD (Rab) got 1 and independent candidates got 2 seats. The Awami League candidates filled the 30 seats reserved for women.
Sheikh Hasina Government (1996-2001)
On 23 June 1996 Awami League formed the government under the leadership of sheikh hasina. Parliament elected Justice Shahabuddin Ahmed president of Bangladesh (9 October1996). Sheikh Hasina articulated the need for national consensus and took initiative to form an all-party government. BNP refused, but two other parties, Jatiya Party and the JSD (Rab), joined the government.
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina emphasised good governance and formed several commissions. Formed with government and non-government members the commissions reviewed several sectors including education, local government, health, autonomy to Radio and Television and civil administration to suggest reform measures. New industrial and health policies were approved. Elections to union parishads were held. The constitutional indemnity protecting the killers of Sheikh Mujib and other Awami League leaders was revoked and judicial inquiry and trials were started against the killers under the common law of the land. Hasina government signed a thirty-year Ganges water sharing treaty with India in 1996 and a peace accord relating to the Chittagong Hill Tracts in 1997. Alleging government suppression of workers of the opposition, BNP repeatedly boycotted parliamentary sessions. The BNP also refused to participate in parliamentary by-elections.
At the end of their term the Awami League government, under the provision of the constitution, handed over power to the caretaker government in the middle of July 2001. The caretaker government headed by former Chief Justice Latifur Rahman held the election to form the 8th National Assembly. In the election held on 1 October 2001, the BNP led Four Party Alliance got 214 seats out of 300. Awami league bagged 62 seats, Jatiya Party (Ershad) 14, Krishak Sramik Janata League 1, Jatiya Party (Manju) 1, and independent candidates got 6 seats. With more than two-thirds majority in parliament the Four Party Alliance under Khaleda Zia formed the government on 10 October 2001.