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Emperor Humayun, son and successor of Babur, the founder of Mughal rule in India,

was the first of the Mughals who is credited to have carried their victorious banner to

Bengal. By driving away the powerful Afghan ruler Sher Shah in the late 1530’s

Humayun captured Gaur, renamed it ‘Jannatabad’ and placed garrisons at important

stations for safety of the newly conquered region. But it was unfortunate for the

emperor that he was soon ousted by Sher Shah not only from Bengal but also from the

entire Sub-Continent. A little more than a quarter of a century later the Mughals again

became much concerned about Bengal during the reign of Akbar, the Great (1556­

1605). A strong imperialist by instinct Akbar followed a policy of all round conquests

for making an All Indian Mughal Empire and mainly as part of this policy the Emperor

himself in 1574 marched against the then presumptuous Afghan ruler Daud Khan

Karrani of Bengal and expelled him from Patna and Hajipur. Akbar then returned to

Fathpur-Sikri leaving Khan-i-Khanan Munim Khan, then governor of Jaunpur, in

charge of the Bengal campaign. Accordingly Munim Khan marched through

Teliagarhi Pass, captured the then Bengal capital Tanda unresisted, while Daud Khan

Karrani fled towards Orissa. From this new base at Tanda, located a little to the south

of the citadel of Gaur, Munim Khan sent out strong detachments to different parts of

Bengal and he himself rushed southwards by way of Burdwan in pursuit of Daud

Khan. In 1575 Munim Khan decisively defeated Daud Khan at the battle of Tukaroi

and thereby laid the foundation of Mughal rule in Bengal. Daud fled to Cuttack but

finding no other way of success made a complete submission to Munim Khan through

a peace-treaty. Secured in his possessions in Orissa Daud again rose in arms and

challenged the Mughal authority in alliance with his vanquished Afghan kinsmen and

the powerful Bhuiyans. In 1576 at the battle field of Rajmahal Daud was finally caught

and beheaded as a treaty breaker by the new Mughal viceroy-general Quli Beg and a

great obstacle to the consolidation of power was thus removed. But the Mughal rule

in Bengal was yet far from security. A vast area of the province was still for all

practical purposes a conglomeration of petty states ruled over by Afghan chiefs and


Hindu princelings and some of them, forming a confederacy under the leadership of

Lalbagh Fort: Shahi Jami

Isa Khan, continued defying the Mughal authority in the land. Added to this the rising of some of the dishonest Mughal captains, although severely crushed shortly after, at the instigation of Akbar’s brother Mirza Hakim at Kabul further worsened the situation. With a view to getting rid of the situation and to coercing the Bara Bhuiyans Akbar appointed more than half a dozen of viceroy-generals in regular succession. But they all despite their vast military resources failed in their projects and as a result the Mughal authority remained confined then only in the North and West Bengal.

It was however with the appointment of Mansingh Kachwa as viceroy in 1594 that the consolidation of Mughal power in the whole of Bengal and the pacification of the province practically commenced. Mansingh started his office in Bengal at Tanda, but almost a year after in 1595, laid the foundation of a new capital at Rajmahal and named it ‘Akbarnagar’ after his master. From this new capital Mansingh launched large scale campaigns, dislodged the rebel chiefs from the lands west of the Brahmaputra and in 1596 turned the frontier kingdom of Kuch into a vassal state. The authority thus imposed on the greater part of Bengal and the peace which probably ensued in consequence was once more seriously shaken by the widespread revolt in 1600 when Mansingh was away from Bengal. In 1601 Mansingh returned to his work of pacification, and by 1603-04 effectively crushed the turbulent chiefs of the Bhati for the time being and there ensued a period of comparative peace. The task of pacifying the province thus started with Mansingh received virtually the finishing touch during the viceroyalty of Islam Khan (1608-13). Unlike the viceroys preceding him Islam Khan followed a more diplomatic and tortuous line of action. The zamindars, big and small, appear to have been played off one against the others with promises of imperial favour and reward, obviously with a view to preventing a unified and concerted resistance, until all of them, one after another, was suppressed and reduced to vassalage. In 1608 Zamindar Bir Hamir of Birbhum, Shams Khan of Pachet and Salim Khan of Hijli were compelled to surrender but allowed to retain their zamindaries as jaigirs.

The viceroy then turned his attention towards the Bhati Zamindars who submitted one after another. Raja Satrajit of Bhushna (Faridpur) submitted in 1609 and was enlisted in the imperial service with restoration of his lands. By 1611 Musa Khan of Sonargaon, son of Isa Khan and the chief of Bengal zamindars, and his associates laid down their arms. They were nominally confirmed in their estates but compelled to attend the viceregal court personally and kept under strict surveillance. By 1612 Jessore and Bakla (Barisal-Patuakhali) were brought under direct rule of the viceroy. At about the same time Khwaja Usman of Bukainagar (Mymensingh) was killed in an engagement and with the surrender of Bayezid Karrani, the last resistance of the Afghans in Sylhet came to an end. A vast tract ranging from Sylhet to Noakhali and a large part of south Bengal were therefore brought under firm sway of the Mughals. With the subjugation of the refractory Bhuiyans and the Afghans, and to keep the Feringi (Portuguese) and Magh (Arakanese) pirates in check Islam Khan formally transferred the capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka in 1612 and renamed it Jahangirnagar after the reigning Mughal

emperor Jahangir. Since then till the making of Patna as official capital by Prince Azim ush-Shan in 1704, with a short break from 1639 to 1659 when Subahdar Shah Shuja’s residence was at Rajmahal, Dhaka continued to have been the administrative headquarters of Bengal under the Mughals. The complete peace and order thus established by Islam Khan continued to prevail throughout the country though at times some minor troubles broke out in the inlands and the frontier regions at the instance of the local chiefs, the Feringi and the Magh pirates, the English East India Company, the Dutch, the French and the vassal chiefs of the frontier kingdoms.

The extreme eastern and south-eastern portions of Bengal still remained beyond the pale of the Mughal authority. By a sweeping campaign the state of Tippera with it’s capital Udaipur was captured in 1618 and Udaipur made the seat of a Mughal thana with Mirza Nurullah in it’s charge. A continuous frontier in the east was therefore established by linking up the newly occupied state of Tippera with Sylhet in the north and Noakhali in the south. The region further south was still unconquered and addressed by the imperialists only after the coming of Shayesta Khan as a subahdar of Bengal (1663-78, 1679-88). The new subahdar first wrested the island of Sandwip in 1665 from Dilawwar Khan, a run-away captain of the Mughal navy, who had established himself here as a king. The most memorable work of Shayesta Khan was the expedition against the Arakanese, who took over the control of Chatgaon in 1459 and continued to have long terrorized the waterways of the deltaic land of south and south-eastern Bengal causing immense sufferings to the innocent people. The task of suppressing the Arakanese was not an easy one, for they were noted for their skill in navigation and river fighting and became almost irresistible in the eastern waters. So the viceroy had to proceed very cautiously. He created a new powerful navy. Meanwhile the entire Feringi colony of Chatgaon deserted the Arakanese and joined the imperialists at Noakhali. With the coming over of the Feringis and the enrolment of their leaders in the Mughal navy Shayesta Khan now felt strong enough to send expeditionary forces against the Arakanese both by land and sea under the command of his eldest son Buzurg Umed Khan. After a heavy fighting Chatgaon was at last brought under Mughal control in 1666, and thousands of Bengali peasants, who had been kidnapped before by the pirates and held here in serfdom, were released and restored to their homes. Chatgaon became the permanent seat of a Mughal Faujdar and was renamed Islamabad by order of Emperor Aurangzeb.

The successors of Shayesta Khan ruled Bengal peacefully to a great extent as nominees of the Delhi authority. But in the declining days of the Mughal emperor, particularly after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707, Subahdar Murshid Quli Khan (1717-27), though showed an outward allegiance to the emperor, practically established the independent Nizamat (hereditary Nawabi rule) with his seat of government at Murshidabad. The independent Bengal Nizamat lasted for a period of little less than half a century and ultimately came to an end with defeat of Nawab Sirajud-Daulah at the battle of Plassey in 1757. The victory at Plassey gave the

English a firm footing on the soil of Bengal and after the defeat of Mir Qasim at Buxar in 1764, more particularly after the conferment of the Diwani (the right of collecting revenue) of Subah Bangla by Emperor Shah Alam II to the English East India Company in 1765 they became virtually the master of the land. The year 1765 may therefore be reasonably taken as the beginning of the British Colonial rule in Bengal and consequently the whole of Indian subcontinent.

The Mughal conquest of Bengal had brought it within their greater political union of the whole of the Sub-Continent. The immediate effect of this political change was that the idea of one nation in Bengal under one linguistic and cultural platform was lost forever. New forces and ideas started pouring into this province and these were destined to profoundly influence the life and thought of it’s people. As a result Bengal lost the national development of Bengali culture a trend which was so long maintained through centuries under the direct patronization of the independent Sultans of the land. But it’s loss appears to have been compensated by the benefits it received in it’s socio­ cultural and economic life from the centres of the vast Upper Indian Mughal Empire and it’s wider connection with other parts of Asia, Africa and Europe both by sea and land. From then onwards every aspect of life here continued to have been dictated by it’s counterparts in the centres and as such it became rather a provincialised version of what had been developed by the Mughals at their imperial capitals of Delhi, Agra, Fathpur-Sikri and Lahore.

The administration of Mughal Bengal called Subah Bangla substantially differs from that of the Sultanate period. The boundaries of different administrative units such as sarkars, parganas or mahals were now more definitely fixed and a uniform administrative pattern developed. Like all other provinces of the Mughal Empire the administrative machinery of the Bengal subah was a miniature copy of the central government. There were such administrators or officers in the centre of each subah as sipahsalar or subahdar (later on nazim or nawab), diwan, bakhshi, sadr, qazi, kotwal, mir-i-bahr and waqainavis. Another important officer, not in the centre of the subah but in the sarkar, was faujdar (chief of civil as well as military affairs of the sarkar). The subahdar was the head of the civil as well as military administration of the subah. Next in rank stood the diwan who was never under control of the subahdar. Interestingly enough each of them was enjoined to keep a strict watch over the other, so that none of them could grow over-powerful. Such a division of powers very often led to clashes between subahdar and Diwan. The subahdars, though head of the province, were not in a position to put themselves in powers of the independent Sultans who were the supreme head of the state holding sovereign power with the right of striking coins and reading khutbah in their own names. The subahdars or nawabs were mere officials. It is however worth noting that in the declining days of the Mughal Empire the Bengal governor styled as ‘nawab’, since the time of Murshid Quli Khan, was almost all powerful. But still then they had to obtain a nominal sanction in legalizing their power of authority they held from the reigning Mughal Emperor.

Along with subahdars and other high officials, who were deputed to Bengal in regular official succession, also came scholars, physicians, merchants, poets, craftsmen and artisans and they all represented higher cultural traditions of Upper Indian Mughal capitals as well as of Central and Western Asia. This flow of talents and culture infused a new lease of life to the society and culture of Bengal. The Mughal rule in Bengal witnessed a tremendous development of Persian language and literature as evidenced by the fact that it was the official and court language of the subahdars as was in the imperial capitals in North India. The court language of the Sultanate Bengal was also Persian but the state revenue accounts were kept in Bengali and therefore very few Bengali speaking people, Hindus and Muslims alike, had any occasion to learn Persian. But in the Mughal period all records in the revenue, accounts and secretarial departments were maintained in Persian as was in the imperial capitals. Added with this the social and educational status of a man was at that time judged by his knowledge in Persian. With a view therefore to achieving social status and getting jobs in the secretarial works the local Hindus and Muslims started learning Persian in a large scale. Not unlike Persian language, Persian literature also got a firm footing on the soil at the instance of the subahdars who encouraged Persian poetry by offering asylum and generous help to the poets coming to Bengal during their governorship. An example to this effect can be cited here that under direct patronization of Subahdar Islam Khan Mashhadi (1635-1639) a Persian poet-scholar Mirza Muhammad Quli Tihrani (d. 1647) composed a Diwan, a Mathnavi and Jang Islam Khan. Many of the local poets attained distinction in Persian and of them the most eminent was Barq, who has left poetry of a high order and has been awarded with the title ‘Parrot of Bengal’. Mention should also be made that a good number of historical works in Persian were produced in Mughal Bengal. Noteworthy of them are the Baharistan-i-Ghayibi of Mirza Nathan (1641), the Fathiyya-i-Ibriya of Shihab Uddin Talish (alive in 1666) and the Naw Bahar-i-Murshid Quli Khani of Azad al-Husaini (1729). Along with literature Persian Shi‘a cultural tradition such as the Muharram, the Bera and Marsia songs continued to have been practised in a wider scale. The misgovernment and the official tyranny in the declining days of the Safavide dynasty made the life in the homeland intolerable. And as such a large number of cultured Shi‘as from Kashan, Mashhad, Tehran, Badakhshan, Mazandran and other places of Persia migrated to Bengal for a safe home. Subahdar Shah Shuja, who was a great patron of Shi‘a culture, is known to have married two Shia‘ ladies, one after another and brought three hundred Shi‘a nobles in Bengal. The Shi‘a culture and influence reached it’s climax in Bengal after Murshid Quli Khan had established what was practically a Shi‘a dynasty. Murshidabad, Hughli, Dhaka and some other important towns of Bengal gradually developed into prosperous Persian and Shi‘a colonies.

Unlike the Sultans the Mughal Subahdars and other high officials did not seem to have extended direct patronization to the development of Bengali. But the atmosphere of peace and prosperity they created in the land was no doubt conducive to the progress of Bengali literature. A remarkable progress was therefore made and that mainly at the

instance of the Bengali chiefs and zamindars. Of the literateur-poets with their works mainly on Sufi mysticism, religious and romantic themes such following as Alaol’s (1607-1680) Saiful Mulk Budiuzzaman and Sati Maina, Sayyid Sultan’s (1550-1648) Rasulvijaya, Muhammad Khan’s (1580-1648) Qiyamatnama, Abd al-Hakim’s (1620­ 1690) Yusuf-Zulekha, Wazir Ali’s Shahnama (1718) and Sayyid Muhammad Akbar’s (1657-1720) Zeb al-Mulk Shamarukh are most noted. Emphasis was also given to the translation works. The Ramayana, the Mahabharata and Islamic scriptures, which were respectively in Sanskrit and Arabic, were translated into Bengali. As a result the native Hindus and Muslims, who did not know Sanskrit and Arabic, got the opportunity to know about the principles and ideals of their own religions. But in doing this the local litterateur-poets sometimes had to face social hazards and severe criticism even from the alien Muslim elites. An evidence to this is Shaikh Muttalib’s Kifa-i-tul Musallin (1638) where the author mentioned that ‘Most people do not understand morals in Arabic language. On that account I have composed in the native language. I have translated the Islamic scriptures into Bangla. I know I have committed a sin by doing so.’ Not unlike Bengali, the Sanskrit learning and literature, which had been crippled in Bengal with the coming of the Muslims in the 13th century, was revived in the16th and 17th centuries under the influence of Vaisnavism. Vaisnavism now appeared as the saviour of the poor by discarding abusive cast system of the Hindu society. The Vaisnava leaders and scholars were passionate lover of Sanskrit and their literary productions were all in Sanskrit.

A remarkable feature of the socio-religious life of Mughal Bengal was the rise of heterodox mystic orders. In imitation of such Upper Indian heterodox mystic ideas as the Din-Ilahi of Akbar and the synthetic mysticism of Prince Dara Shikoh Bengal had a parallel growth of heterodox mysticism in the form of Fakirism, Darveshia, Baul etc. This new development appears to have been the product of cross-currents of Muslim and Buddhist-Hindu mystic ideas.

The growth of vast sea-borne trade with the Europeans in the Mughal period not only helped the economic and industrial development, but also introduced some new practices in the cultural and social life of the people of the land. Smoking was unknown in Bengal and other parts of this sub-continent till the 15th century. The Portuguese traders for the fist time brought tobacco-pipes and found a good market here. Soon it became widespread in the Mughal empire. From the second half of the 16th century smoking formed an indispensable usage of almost every family¯ high and low, young and old. Nawab Ali Vardi Khan is known to have kept provision for smoking with hucca (indigenous water-pipe) in the court for his distinguished guests.

Of some other practices and habits, which were prevalent in Bengal during Mughal rule, mention may be made of opium and bhang taking, and coffee and wine drinking. Opium and bhang were taken by the people as stimulant and for pleasure. Some of the Mughal emperors such as Humayun was addicted to opium and perhaps following the example of the emperor the Mughal officers and nobles were habituated to the taking of bhang and opium. Mir-i-Bahr Ihtimam Khan and his son Mirza Nathan, the two officers of the

Mughal Navy in Bengal, were addicted to these two intoxicating objects. It soon spread out among the common people as known from the evidence that Mirza Nathan distributed bhang and opium among a large number of boatmen whom he engaged in digging canals during his campaigns against the Bara Bhuiyans. Coffee was found in use from the 17th century in the court of the subahdars and nawabs. The entertainment of William Hedges with coffee in the court of Shayesta Khan at Jahangirnagar (Dhaka) in 1681 is corroborative to the statement. Nawab Ali Vardi Khan is also known to have been accustomed to take coffee in the morning and also in the company of learned men who flocked to his court for literary discussion. Wine drinking, though unheard in the Sultanate period, was in vogue in private in subahdar’s court and a kind of indigenous wine called tadi, made of palm-juice, was used by the common people of the period under study. An example in this regard is that in a feast held by Mirza Nathan in memory of his father the fellow officers were served with wine.

Of all the court ceremonials of the subahdars and nawabs the most noteworthy is the kurnish, meaning bowing down head and making low obeisance. It was originally a custom in the court of the Sassanian kings and consequently got entry in the court life of the Muslim kings of different countries. In India it was a very common practice in the court of the Mughal Emperors and in imitation of that of the imperial court Subahdar Islam Khan for the first time introduced this tradition in Bengal.

The Upper Indian Mughal culture became paramount in the social life of Bengal. Along with subahdars, nawabs and other high officers, the alien Muslims of North Indian and non-Indian origins, who were all city-dwellers and identified as the so-called ashraf or the nobility class of the society, imitated the Mughal way of life in their etiquettes, manners and dress. The local Muslim as well as Hindu zamindars followed the example of the Mughal nobility in their forms, ceremonials, dress, food and even habits. The new fashions in dress, ornaments, and the living pattern of the Mughal nobility class had also greatly influenced the ladies of the zamindar family of the country. In contrast to the ashraf, a large majority of the Muslim population were converted from the low caste Hindu religion, called atraf or the non-ashraf. The non-ashraf, who were purely of Bengali origin and spoke only Bengali, and had cultivation their main occupation and great devotion to a host of syncretistic cults like Satyapir, Panch Pir etc, were hated and despised by the minority ashraf. Obviously the non-ashraf followed the traditions and practices which had been prevalent in the land since long ago.

Education was also fostered both at private initiative and state patronisation. There were pathsalas and maktabs in villages and towns for elementary education, where the Pandit and Maulavi taught. The Hindu boys and girls learned sanskrit grammar, the Puranas and the Upanishadas, while the Muslim boys and girls were taught the Quran, the Hadith, tales and popular poems of Sadi and Firdausi including the elementary grammar. The traditional free tuition Hindu schools continued to exist throughout the Mughal period, where the teachers received subsistence from the society. There were also centres for higher learning both for Muslims and Hidnus in different cities and towns, where the students were taught on various disciplines of knowledge including

religious education. The Muslims for their higher education had madrasas or colleges, which are said to have been comparable to modern university centres. The pre-Mughal centres for higher education such as Pandua, Sonargaon, Ghoraghat, Nagaur (Birbhum) and Bagha (Rajshahi) continued operating in the Mughal period. In addition to these some new centres for higher learning sprang up at the capital cities of Dhaka and Murshidabad at the instance of the subahdars and the nawabs. The Lalbagh Madrasa or the Madrasa-Mosque of Khan Muhammad Mirdha at Dhaka and the Katra Madrasa- Mosque of Murshid Quli Khan at Murshidabad may be cited here as examples. Reputed scholars from Upper India and Middle-Eastern countries are known to have taught here in these institutions and were paid very highly from the government treasury. It is however worthnoting that education was not confined to men only. Many of the princesses and ladies of the Mughal court were accomplished scholars and poets. Of them mention may be made of Rokeya Begum, wife of Subahdar Ibrahim Khan Fateh Jung, Shayesta Khan’s daughters Iran Dukht (Pari Bibi) and Turan Dukht (Biban Bibi), Nawab Shuja Uddin’s wife Zinat un-Nesa, Nawab Ali Vardi’s wife Sharif un-Nisa and their three daughters Ghaseti Begum, Maimuna Begum and Amina Begum. Among the Hindus also there were highly educated ladies like the heorine of Bharat Chandra’s Vidyasundar Princess Vidya, who defeated her future husband in discourse on Philosophy and Religion. Some of the subahdars and nawabs were passionate lover of education, for Subahdar Islam Khan Chisti and Murshid Quli Khan are known to have maintained their own libraries and study centres.

The Mughal rule also witnessed a brilliant outburst of building activities throughout the

country both at the royal and private initiatives. The subahdars or nawabs, appointed in regular succession by the Mughal Emperors, were all more or less connoisseurs of building art. Some of these Bengal subahdars like Shah Shuja (1639-58), Shayesta Khan (1663-78, 79-88) and Murshid Quli Khan (1717-27) were great builders. It is under their direct patronisations that the three capital cities of Rajmahal, Dhaka and Murshidabad including a number of less important urban centres were beautified with different kinds of numerous erections, some of which still exist giving proofs of the glorious Mughal rule in the country. To all these patron-builders however the indigenous oriented building style of the Sultanate Bengal was not so much appealing and as such a new form of art gradually emerged here mainly in imitation of the North Indian imperial Mughal style to be addressed in detail in the next chapters.

The Mughal rule in Bengal thus transformed gradually it’s older cultural history to a newer one, which became a provincialised version or rather a miniature copy of what they (Mughals) developed in their imperial centres. It is worth noting that in the process of this transformation the older cultural trends of the land such as the Sultanate did not completely die out rather helped the process to attain perfection. This ultimately resulted in the production of a cultural synthesis, a blending of two traits¯ the Sultanate and the Mughal. And of these two trends the latter was dominating for obvious reasons. This is best reflected in the history of building art, the most noted media of cultural expressions of a nation or a dynasty in all ages throughout the world.


Historical IntroductionGeneral Character of MonumentsInventory of Structure–TypesSecular BuildingsFort and FortificationsPalacesHammamsKatrasBridgesThe Nimsarai Minar at Old MaldahReligious BuildingsMosquesTombsQadam RasulsThe I‘dgah at DhakaMonuments Known Through LiteraryConcluding RemarksBibliography

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