Wednesday, 13 April 2011

History of Bengal

Pre-600 C.E
The region of Bengal (including present day Bangladesh), find mention in the writings of Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (90 BC - 40 BC), as the powerful kingdom of Gangaridai, which along with Prasii (present day Gangetic India), forced Alexander the Great, to abandon his advances into South Asia.

Hindu, Gupta empire (335 - 600 CE) and were responsible for establishing Bengal as a prosperous and culturally and militarily advanced region with its sphere of influence extending into Indonesia, Tibet and Myanmar. The Mallas, Devas, Chandras, Varmans and other localized dynasties, whose influence was limited to small parts of Bengal, were instrumental in developing arts and culture unique to Hinduism in Bengal. Tantric Buddhism and Shakta Hinduism under the Mimansa School of Hindu philosophy were the popular belief systems.

The Anga Mahajanapada (Greater Republic)

The earliest reference to Angas, the region which is now known as Bengal, occurs in the Atharava Veda. According to Buddhist texts like the Anguttara Nikaya, Anga was one of the sixteen great nations Mahajanapada (great Republics) which had flourished in central and north-west India in the 6th century BC. The Puranic texts like the Garuda Purana, Vishnu-Dharmottara, and the Markendeya Purana divide ancient Janpada horizon into nine divisions and place the Janapadas of the Angas, Kalinngas, Vangas, Pundras or Pundra Kingdom (now some part of East Bihar i.e. Purnea, West Bengal and Bangla Desh), Vidarbhas, and Vindhya-vasins in the Purva-Dakshina division.

Based on Mahabharata evidence, the kingdom of the Angas roughly corresponded to the region of Bhagalpur and Monghyr in Bihar and parts of Bengal; later extended to include most of Bengal. The River Champa (modern Chandan) formed the boundaries between the Magadha in the west and Anga in the east. Anga was bounded by river Koshi on the north. According to the Mahabharata, Duryodhana had named Karna the King of Anga.
The capital of Anga was Champa. According to Mahabharata and Harivamsa, Champa was formerly known as Malini. Champa was located on the right bank of river Ganga near its junction with river Champa. It was a very flourishing city and is referred to as one of six principal cities of ancient India (Digha Nikaya). Champa was noted for its wealth and commerce. It was also a great center of trade and commerce and its merchants regularly sailed to distant Suvarnabhumi for trading purposes. The ancient name of region and kingdom of Champa of central Vietnam (Lin-yi in Chinese records) apparently has its origin in this east Indian Champa.

Mauryan Dynasty 

From the 6th century BC, most of Bengal was a part of the powerful kingdom of Magadha, belonging to the Mauryan dynasty, which was an ancient Indo-Aryan kingdom of ancient India, mentioned in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. It was also one of the four main kingdoms of India at the time of Buddha, having risen to power during the reigns of Bimbisara (c. 544-491 BC) and his son Ajatashatru (c. 491-460 BC). Magadha spanned to include most of Bihar and Bengal. The Magadha Empire included republican communities such as Rajakumara. Villages had their own assemblies under their local chiefs called Gramakas. Their administrations were divided into executive, judicial, and military functions. Bimbisara was friendly to both Jainism and Buddhism and suspended tolls at the river ferries for all ascetics after the Buddha was once stopped at the Ganges River for lack of money.
In 326 BC, the army of Alexander the Great approached the boundaries of the Nanda Empire of Magadha. The army, exhausted and frightened by the prospect of facing a larger Indian army at the Ganges River, mutinied at the Hyphasis (modern Beas) and refused to march further East. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was convinced that it was better to return.

Gupta Dynasty 

The Gupta Empire is considered by many scholars to be the "golden age" of Bengal. The Rulers of the Gupta Empire were strong supporters of developments in the arts, architecture, science, and literature. The Guptas circulated a large number of gold coins, called Mudras, with their inscriptions. This period is also very rich in Sanskrit literature. Several important works were composed by well-known writers, such as Mrichchakatika or The Little Clay Cart by Shudraka, along with ones like Shakuntala, Kumarasambhava and Meghduta by Kalidasa and others. Panchatantra, the animal fables by Vishnu Sharma, and 13 plays by Bhasa, were also written in this period. Some of the best works of Sanskrit Literature, and thus of Indian Literature, were written down during this period. The most significant achievements of this period, however, were in religion, education, mathematics, art, Sanskrit literature and drama, and Kama Sutra, the principles of pleasure. Hinduism witnessed a crystallization of its components: major sectarian deities, image worship, emotionalism, and the importance of the temple. Education included grammar, composition, logic, metaphysics, mathematics, medicine, and astronomy. These subjects became highly specialized and reached an advanced level. The Indian numeral system—sometimes erroneously attributed to the Arabs, who took it from India to Europe where it replaced the Roman system—and the decimal system are Indian inventions of this period. Aryabhatta's expositions on astronomy in 499, moreover, gave calculations of the solar year and the shape and movement of astral bodies with remarkable accuracy.
In medicine, the Guptas were notable for their establishment and patronage of free hospitals. And although progress in physiology and biology was hindered by religious injunctions against contact with dead bodies, which discouraged dissection and anatomy, Indian physicians excelled in pharmacopoeia, cesarean section, bone setting, and skin grafting. Indeed Hindu medical advances were soon adopted in the Arab and Western worlds.

600-1200 C.E
The first recorded independent king of Bengal was Shashanka - reigning from 606 CE.
More concrete evidence of Bengal becoming an independent political entity is found in the 6th century, with the first recorded independent king of Bengal - Shashanka - reigning around 606.
The first Buddhist Pala king of Bengal, Gopala I came to power in 750 in Gaur by election. This event is recognized as one of the first democratic elections in South Asia since the time of the Maha Janapadas. The dynasty's most powerful kings, Dharmapala (reigned 775-810) and Devapala (reigned 810-850) united Bengal and made the Pala Empire the most powerful empire in 9th century India after expanding across much of the Indian subcontinent and parts of Afghanistan. Internecine strife during the reign of Narayanpala (reigned 854-908) and administrative excesses led to the decline of the dynasty.
A brief revival of the kingdom under Mahipala I (reigned 977-1027) ended in battle against the powerful, South Indian Chola kingdom. The rise of the Chandra dynasty in southern Bengal expedited the decline of the Palas, and the last Pala king, Madanpala, died in 1161.
The Malla dynasty emerged in Bengal in the seventh century, although they only rose to prominence in the 10th century under Jagat Malla who moved his capital to Vishnupur. Unlike the Buddhist Palas and Chandras, the Hindu Mallas worshipped first the Hindu god Shiva, then the Hindu god Vishnu. The Mallas built temples and spectacular religious monuments during their rule in Bengal.
Shashanka the first important king of ancient Bengal, occupies a prominent place in history of the region. It is generally believed that he ruled approximately between 600 AD and 625 AD, and two dated inscriptions, issued in his 8th and 10th regnal years from Midnapore, and another undated inscription from Egra near Kharagpur have been discovered. Besides Shashanka's subordinate king of Ganjam (Orissa) Madhavavarma's copper plate (dated 619 AD), Harshavardhana's Banskhera and Madhuvan copper plates and the Nidhanpur copper plate of the Kamarupa king Bhaskaravarmana contain information about Shashanka. Besides, Shashanka issued gold and silver coins. A number of independent rulers flourished in Bengal in the intervening period between the decline of Guptas and the rise of Shashanka, and their existence is known from a few inscriptions and gold coins. Besides the seal-matrix of Shri Mahasamanta Shashanka from Rohtasgarh and the contemporary literary accounts of Banabhatta and the Chinese pilgrim Xuanzang (also known as Hiuen Tsang) and the Buddhist text Aryamanjushrimulakalpa are important sources of information.
Shashanka has been described both in the inscriptions and literary accounts as the ruler of Gauda. In the narrower sense Gauda is the territory between the river Padma and Bardhaman region. But in course of time it embraced much wider area. In the Satpanchasaddeshavibhaga, the seventh patala of Book III, Shaktisangama Tantra Gauda is said to have extended from the vanga country up to Bhuvanesha (i.e. Bhubaneshwar in Orissa). It is not unlikely that the author had described the extension of Gauda country keeping in mind the kingdom of Shashanka, which also embraced a part of Orissa.
Pala Empire (8th to 11th cent. CE)
The Pala Empire was a dynasty in control of the northern and eastern Indian subcontinent, mainly the Bengal and Bihar regions, from the 8th to the 11th century. The name Pala means "protector" and was used as an ending to the names of all Pala monarchs.
The founder of the empire was Gopala. He was the first independent Buddhist king of Bengal and came to power in 750 in Gaur by democratic election, which was unique at the time. He reigned from 750-770 and consolidated his position by extending his control over all of Bengal. His successors Dharmapala (r. 770-810) and Devapala (r. 810-850) expanded the empire across the northern and eastern Indian subcontinent.
The Palas were followers of the Mahayana and Tantric schools of Buddhism. They often intermarried with the Gahadvalas of the Kannauj region. They created many temples and works of art and supported the Universities of Nalanda and Vikramashila. Their proselytism was at the origin of the establishment of Buddhism in Tibet.

Gopala (ruled 750 – 770 CE) was the founder of the Pala Dynasty of Bengal. The last morpheme of his name Pala means "protector" and was used as an ending for the names of all the Pala monarchs. Pala does not suggest or indicate any ethnic or caste considerations of the Pala dynasty.
Gopala was the first independent Buddhist king of Bengal and came to power in 750 CE in Gauda by democratic election as per evidence furnished by Taranatha. After the death of famous Gauda ruler Sasanka, there ensued a century of anarchy and confusion in Bengal. Tired of ceaseless political chaos and anarchy (known as matsyanyaya), the various independent chieftains of Bengal, in 750 CE, selected a person named Gopala to put an end to this sorry state of affairs.[2] Gopala was already a leading military general and had made a mark as a great ruler. In the Khalimpur copper plate inscription (dated 32nd regnal year of Dharmapala) Gopala's father Vapyata is described as a noted military chief of his time and his grandfather Dayita Vishnu is described as a learned man of no military distinctions.
The Palas emerged as the champion of Buddhism, and they patronized Mahayana Buddhism. The Pala universities of Vikramashila and Nalanda became seats of learning for East Asia. The famous university of Nalanda reached its height during the Pala Empire. The Palas were responsible for the spread of Mahayana Buddhism in Tibet, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar and the Indonesian archipelago, and the fame of Bengal spread in the Buddhist world for the cultivation of Buddhist religion, culture and other knowledge in the various centres that grew under the patronage of the Pala rulers. Buddhist scholars from the Pala Empire traveled from Bengal to the Far-East and propagated Buddhism. A few outstanding ones among them are Shantarakshit, Padmanava, Dansree, Bimalamitra, Jinamitra, Muktimitra, Sugatasree, Dansheel, Sambhogabajra, Virachan, Manjughosh and many others. But the most prominent was Atish Dipankar Srigyan who reformed Buddhism in Tibet after it had been destroyed by king Langdharma.

Sena Dynasty (11th-13th cent. CE)

The Sena dynasty ruled Bengal through the 11th to 13th centuries. They were called Brahma-Kshatriyas and Karnata-Kshatriyas.
The dynasty's founder was Hemanta Sen, who was part of the Pala Dynasty until their empire began to weaken. He took power and styled himself king in 1095 AD. His successor Vijay Sen (ruled from 1096 AD to 1159 AD) helped lay the foundations of the dynasty, and had an unusually long reign of over 60 years. Ballal Sena conquered Gour from the Pala and expanded his empire. Lakshman Sen succeeded Ballal Sen in 1179 and ruled Bengal from Nabadwip for approximately 20 years.
1200-1500 C.E
Sometime in 1243–44 C.E, residents of Lakhnauti, a city in northwestern Bengal, told a visiting historian of the dramatic events that had taken place there forty years earlier. At that time, the visitor was informed, a band of several hundred Turkish cavalry had ridden swiftly down the Gangetic Plain in the direction of the Bengal delta. Led by a ruthless officer named Muhammad Bakhtiyar, the men overran and destroyed venerable Buddhist monasteries in neighboring Bihar before turning their attention to the northwestern portion of the delta, and then ruled by a mild and generous Hindu monarch. Disguising themselves as horse dealers, Bakhtiyar and his men slipped into the royal city of Nadiya. Once inside, they rode straight to the king's palace, where they confronted the guards with brandished weapons. Utterly overwhelmed, for he had just sat down to dine, the Hindu monarch hastily departed through a back door and fled with many of his retainers to the forested hinterland of eastern Bengal, abandoning his kingdom altogether.
This coup d'├ętat started an era, lasting over five centuries, during which most of Bengal was dominated by rulers professing the Islam. Eventually, in Bengal, those areas with a Muslim majority would form the eastern wing of Pakistan—since 1971, Bangladesh—whereas those parts of the province with a Muslim minority became the state of West Bengal within the Republic of India. In 1984 about 93 million of the 152 million Bengalis in Bangladesh and West Bengal were Muslims, and of the estimated 96.5 million people inhabiting Bangladesh, 81 million, or 83 percent, were Muslims; in fact, Bengalis today comprise the second largest Muslim ethnic population in the world, after the Arabs.

Enforcement of Islamic authority over a Hindu society

The reliance on naked power of the new Islamic rulers of Bengal, or at least on its image, is seen in the earliest surviving Muslim Bengali monuments. Notable in this respect is the tower (minar) of Chhota Pandua, in southwestern Bengal near Calcutta. Built toward the end of the thirteenth century, when Turkish power was still being consolidated in that part of the delta, the tower of Chhota Pandua doubtless served the usual ritual purpose of calling the faithful to prayer, inasmuch as it is situated near a mosque. But its height and form suggest that it also served the political purpose of announcing victory over a conquered people. Precedents for such a monument, moreover, already existed in the Turkish architectural tradition. Bengal's earliest surviving mosques also convey the spirit of an alien ruling class simply transplanted to the delta from elsewhere. Constructed (or restored) in 1298 in Tribeni, a formerly important center of Hindu civilization in southwest Bengal, the mosque of Zafar Khan appears to replicate the aesthetic vision of early Indo-Turkish architecture as represented, for example, in the Begumpur mosque in Delhi (ce. 1343).
Clues to the circumstances surrounding the construction (or restoration) of the mosque are found in its dedicatory inscription:
"Zafar Khan, the lion of lions, has appeared,
By conquering the towns of India in every expedition, and by restoring the decayed charitable institutions.

And he has destroyed the obdurate among Hindu infidels with his sword and spear, and lavished the treasures of his wealth in (helping) the miserable". 
Zafar Khan's claims to have destroyed "the obdurate among Hindu infidels" gains some credence from the mosque's inscription tablet, itself carved from materials of old ruined Hindu temples, while the mutilated figures of Hindu deities are found in the stone used in the monument proper. Near Zafar Khan's mosque stands another structure, built in 1313, which is said to be his tomb; its doorways were similarly reused from an earlier pre-Islamic monument, and embedded randomly on its exterior base are sculpted panels bearing Vaishnava subject matter.
Entrenchment of Islamic rule in Bengal
More accounts of Muhammad Bakhtiyar's 1204 C.E, capture of the Sena capital is that of the chronicler Minhaj al-Siraj, who visited Bengal forty years after the event and personally collected oral traditions concerning it. "After Muhammad Bakhtiyar possessed himself of that territory," wrote Minhaj, he left the city of Nudiah in desolation, and the place which is (now) Lakhnauti he made the seat of government. He brought the different parts of the territory under his sway, and instituted therein, in every part, the reading of the khutbah, and the coining of money; and, through his praiseworthy endeavours, and those of his Amirs, masjids [mosques], colleges, and madrassas(for Dervishes), were founded in those parts.
The passage clearly reveals the conquerors' notion of the proper instruments of political legitimacy: reciting the Friday sermon, striking coins, and raising monuments for the informal intelligentsia of Sufi Muslims and the formal intelligentsia of scholars, or'ulama.
One of the clearest statements of the political vision of the Islamic invaders of Bengal was given by Fakhr al-Din Razi (1209 C.E) of Herat, a celebrated Islamic scholar and jurist who served several Khurasani princes, in particular those of the Ghurid dynasty of Turks. Inasmuch as Razi was at the height of his public career when his own patrons conquered North India (1193 C.E) and Bengal (1204 C.E) and had even been sent once on a mission to northwestern India himself (1184 C.E), it is probable that his political thought was familiar to the Ghurid conquerors of Bengal. Certainly, Razi and Muhammad Bakhtiyar inherited a shared tradition of political beliefs and symbols current in thirteenth-century Khurasan and the Perso-Islamic world generally.
In his Jami' al-'ulum Razi formulated the following propositions:
The world is a garden, whose gardener is the dawlat [state]; 
The state is the sultan whose guardian is the shari'a [Islamic law]; 
The Law is a policy, which is protected by the mulk [kingdom]; 
The kingdom is a city, brought into being by the lashkar [army]; 
The army is made secure by mal [wealth]; 
Wealth is gathered from the ra'iyat [subjects]; 
The subjects are made servants by 'adl [justice]; 
Justice is the axis of the prosperity of the 'alam [world].
Far from mere platitudes about how kings ought to behave, these propositions present a unified Islamic theory of a society's moral, political, and economic basis—a worldview at once integrated, symmetrical, and dogmatic.
Sufis of Bengal
The Sufi orders that migrated to Bengal under the patronage of Islamic rulers, were instrumental in bringing about massive social upheavals. In the first two centuries of Islamic rule, five major Sufi orders had been established and local Hindu and Buddhist population by fear and fraud converted into Islam in large numbers. Most Sufi Muslim orders were led by Persian or Central Asian missionaries, who faced persecution under Sunni Islamic rulers in their native land. Most of these men belonged to three organized Sufi brotherhoods, the Suhawardi, the Firdausi, and the Chishti orders. 
The political role played by these Sufi Muslims in Bengal was shaped by ideas of virulent and dangerous Sufi authorities that had otherwise failed to evolve in the contemporary Persian-speaking Islamic world in the Middle East and Central Asia but showed its efficiency by converting non Muslims in these frontier areas of Caliphate control.
Shaikh Jalal al –Din Tabrizi
Shaikh Jalal al-Din Tabrizi (d. 1244–45), was one of the earliest-known Sufis of Bengal. The earliest notice of him appears in the Siyar al-‘arifin, a compendium of Sufi biographies compiled around 1530–36, three centuries after the shaikh’s lifetime. According to this account, after initially studying Sufism in his native Tabriz (in northwestern Iran), Jalal al-Din Tabrizi left around 1228 for Baghdad, where he studied for seven years with the renowned mystic Shaikh Shihab al-Din Suhrawardi. When the latter died in 1235, Jalal al-Din Tabrizi traveled to India and, not finding a warm welcome in the court of Delhi, eventually moved on to Lakhnauti, then the remote provincial capital of Bengal. There he remained until his death ten years later. 
“When he went to Bengal,” the account records, "There was also there a (river) port called Deva Mahal, where an infidel had built a temple at great cost. The shaikh destroyed that temple and in its place constructed a (Sufi) rest-house [takya]. There, he made many infidels into Muslims. Today [i.e., 1530–36 C.E], his tomb is located at the very site of that temple, and half the income of that port is dedicated to the upkeep of the public kitchen there".
Shah Jalal Mujarrad
Shah Jalal Mujarrad (d. 1346 C.E), is Bengal’s best-known Muslim so-called 'saint’. His biography was first recorded in the mid sixteenth century by a certain Shaikh ‘Ali (1562 C.E), a descendant of one of Shah Jalal’s companions. According to this account, Shah Jalal had been born in Turkestan, where he became a spiritual disciple of Saiyid Ahmad Yasawi, one of the founders of the Central Asian Sufi tradition. The account then casts the shaikh’s expedition to India in the framework of holy war, mentioning both his (lesser) war against the infidel and his (greater) war against the lower self. “One day,” the biographer recorded, "Shah Jalal represented to his bright-souled pir [i.e., Ahmad Yasawi] that his ambition was that just as with the guidance of the master he had achieved a certain amount of success in the Higher (spiritual) jihad, similarly with the help of his object-fulfilling courage he should achieve the desire of his heart in the Lesser (material) jihad, and wherever there may be a Dar-ul-harb [i.e., Land of non-Islam], in attempting its conquest he may attain the rank of a ghazi or a shushed [martyr]. The revered pir accepted his request and sent 700 of his senior fortunate disciples…along with him. Wherever they had a fight with the enemies, they unfurled the banner of victory".
After reaching the Indian subcontinent, he and his band of followers are said to have drifted to Sylhet, on the easternmost edge of the Bengal delta. “In these far-flung campaigns,” the narrative continued, “they had no means of subsistence, except the booty, but they lived in splendour. Whenever any valley or cattle were acquired, they were charged with the responsibility of propagation and teaching of Islam. In short, [Shah Jalal] reached Srihatta (Sylhet), one of the areas of the province of Bengal, with 313 persons. [After defeating the ruler of the area] all the region fell into the hands of the conquerors of the spiritual and the material worlds. Shaikh [Jalal] Mujarrad, making a portion for everybody, made it their allowance and permitted them to get married.”
In modern Bangladesh Islamists present Shah Jalal as someone who brought about a break between Bengal’s Hindu past and its Muslim future, and to this end a parallel is drawn between the career of the saint and that of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad. The number of companions said to have accompanied Shah Jalal to Bengal, 313, corresponds precisely to the number of companions who are thought to have accompanied Muhammad at the Battle of Badr in A.D. 624, the first major battle in Muhammad’s career and a crucial event in launching Islam as a world religion. The story thus has an obvious ideological propaganda value to it.

Bengal under Mughals: Consolidation of Islamic hegemony

In the late sixteenth century, a dynasty of Chaghatai Turks commonly known as the Mughals annexed Bengal to their vast Indian empire, thereby ending the delta’s long isolation from North India. As just one among twelve provinces, Bengal was now administered by a class of imperial officials who, regularly rotated through the realm, shared a larger, pan-Indian view of their political mission. The new ruling class lacked attachments to Bengal and its culture. This served to widen the gulf betweenashraf Muslims, identified with the new wave of outsiders who swept into the delta after the conquest, and non-ashraf Muslims, increasingly identified as native converted Bengali Muslims.
It was in Jahangir’s reign (1605–27 CE) that the Mughal enterprise in Bengal passed from an ad hoc pursuit of rebels to the establishment of a regular administration. In May 1608, aiming to crush rebellious elements once and for all, Jahangir appointed as governor ‘Ala al-Din Islam Khan, an extraordinarily able and determined commander. A man about thirty-seven years of age at this time, Islam Khan enjoyed close ties with the emperor—the two had grown up together since childhood as foster-brothers—and possessed remarkable powers of self-discipline. Taking leave of the emperor, he moved down the Gangetic Plain at the head of an immense army of cavalry, artillery, and elephants, and a huge flotilla of war boats. After entering Bengal and pausing in Rajmahal, the army made its way through the jungles of the central delta, subdued rebellious chieftains on both sides of the Ganges-Padma river system, and finally reached Dhaka in 1610.
Soon after Islam Khan’s arrival in Bengal, the Mughals succeeded in annihilating or winning over all the major chiefs entrenched in the countryside since the time of the sultans. Yet it is fair to ask how far the new rulers were able to extend their political reach beneath the level of important chieftains, or zamindars, after these had submitted to imperial rule.
In sum, by the mid seventeenth century, as both foreign observers and contemporary revenue documents attest, the Mughals had established power throughout the delta. They achieved this by means of a military machine that effectively combined gunpowder weaponry with mounted archers and naval forces, a determined diplomacy that rewarded loyalty while punishing perfidy, and the financial services of mobile and wealthy Marwari bankers. Both militarily and diplomatically, success begat success. Bengali chieftains who witnessed these successes increasingly understood that the advantages of joining the new order outweighed those of resisting it. Above all, the advent of the Mughal age, unlike previous changes of the guard at Gaur, did not represent a mere military occupation in which one ruling class simply replaced another. Nor were the changes accompanying Mughal rule merely ones of scale—that is, bigger cannons, a more dazzling court, or taller monuments. Rather, as will be seen in the following chapters, the conquest was accompanied by fundamental changes in the region’s economic structure, its sociopolitical system, and its cultural complexion, both at court and in the countryside.

During the Mughal rule Sufis saints, under the patronage of Mughal's successfully penetrated Islam into the developing agrarian social order. As state-supported pioneers established Islamic institutions in formerly forested areas, three different kinds of frontier—the economic frontier separating field and forest, the political frontier separating Mughal from non-Mughal administration, and the religious frontier separating Islam and non-Islam—fused into one.

Despite the virulent ways in which Mughals had accommodated itself to North India, with respect to distant Bengal, isolated for centuries from the north, the Mughals saw themselves as distinctly alien. In part, this was because of the delta’s wet monsoon climate, of which North Indian officers posted in Bengal frequently complained. In effect, Bengal had become a colony for outsiders, effectively reversing the long-term pre-Mughal trend whereby a Muslim ruling class had progressively accommodated itself to the Bengali environment owing to generations of forced marriages with Hindu Bengali women and centuries of isolation from the north.
Both the literature and the architecture of the period reveal the new ruling class’s profoundly foreign—that is, non-Bengali—character. In 1626 an Afghan, Mahmud Balkhi, journeyed to Rajmahal and wrote of encountering people whose family origins lay in Balkh, Bukhara, Khurasan, Iraq, Baghdad, Anatolia, Syria, and North India. These would have been remnants of the predominantly Sunni ashraf of Akbar’s day, when Rajmahal was the provincial capital. Some years later the poet-official Muhammad Sadiq Isfahani, who lived in Dhaka from 1629 to his death in 1650, kept a diary, the subh-i sadiq, in which he mentions the dozens of artists, poets, generals, and administrators he had come to know in that city. Most of these men were Shi‘as whose ancestors had migrated from distant centers of Persian culture—for example, Mashhad, Teheran, Ardistan, Isfahan, Mazandaran, Qazvin, Taliqan, Shiraz, Tabriz, Herat, Bukhara, or Gilan. This suggests that between the reign of Akbar (1556–1605), when Rajmahal was capital, and that of Shah Jahan (1628–58), when Dhaka was capital, an increasing proportion of Bengal’s urban ashraf, although born in North India, claimed Iranian ancestry.
The most striking statement of the imperial attitude toward Bengal was made by Akbar’s chief advisor, Abu’l-fazl. “The country of Bengal,” he wrote in 1579, shortly after imperial armies had routed the capital’s Afghan occupants, “is a land where, owing to the climate’s favouring the base, the dust of dissension is always rising. From the wickedness of men families have decayed, and dominions [have been] ruined. Hence in old writings it was called Bulghakkhana (house of turbulence).” Here, in this “Mughal colonial discourse,” we find a remarkable theory of political devolution: an enervating climate corrupts men, and corrupted men ruin sovereign domains, thereby implicitly preparing the way for conquest by stronger, uncorrupted outsiders. In linking Bengal’s climate with the debased behavior of people exposed to it, Abu’l-fazl’s theory of sociopolitical decay anticipated by several centuries the similar views adopted by British colonial officials.
Even immigrant Sufis harbored negative attitudes about the Bengal. Shah Ni‘mat Allah Firuzpuri (d. 1669), anashraf shaikh from the Punjab who settled down in Malatipur near Malda early in the reign of Shah Jahan, quickly grew tired (malul) of the region. Mincing no words, he revealed his thoughts in the following clumsy but blunt quatrain:
"Bengal is a ruined and doleful land; 
Go offer the prayers to the dead, do not delay. 
Neither on land nor water is there rest; 
It is either the tiger’s jaws, or the crocodile’s gullet".
While harboring such attitudes toward his adopted home, the shaikh nonetheless curried favor with the province’s ruling class, whose life-style he and his descendants adopted, and from whom he accepted substantial lands in personal endowments (madad-i ma‘ash).
The Mughals’ feeling of alienation from the land was accompanied by a sense of superiority to or condescension toward its people. In matters of language, dress, and diet, newly arrived officials experienced great differences between Bengal and the culture of North India. The delta’s diet of fish and rice, for example, disagreed with many immigrants brought up on wheat and meat, basic to the diet in Punjab. Written in 1786, the Riyazal-Salatin faithfully reflects the ashraf perspective regarding Bengali culture, and reads almost like a colonial British manual on how to survive “amongst the natives”:And the food of the natives of that kingdom, from the high to the low, are fish, rice, mustard oil and curd and fruits and sweetmeats. They also eat plenty of red chilly and salt. In some parts of this country, salt is scarce. The natives of this country are of shabby tastes, shabby habits and shabby modes of dress. They do not eat breads of wheat and barley at all. Meat of goats and fowls and clarified butter do not agree with their system[s].
Mughal officers also associated Bengalis with fishermen, whom they openly despised. Around 1620 two imperial commanders, aiming to belittle the martial accomplishments of one of their colleagues, taunted the latter with the words: “Which of the rebels have you defeated except a band of fishermen who raised a stockade at Ghalwapara?” In reply, the other observed that even the Mughals’ most formidable adversaries in Bengal, ‘Isa Khan and Musa Khan, had been fishermen. “Where shall I find a Dawud son of Sulayman Karrani to fight with, in order to please you?” he asked rhetorically, and with some annoyance, adding that it was his duty as a Mughal officer to subdue all imperial enemies in Bengal, “whether they are Machwas [fishermen] or Mughals or Afghans.” In this view the only truly worthy opponents of the Mughal army were state rebels or Afghans like the Karranis; Bengalis, stereotyped as fishermen, were categorized as less worthy adversaries.

So finally these Islamic rules change the Bengal forever.

No comments:

Post a Comment