By Nusaiba Mirza
It is a sad truth that the average “world history” class contains very little information regarding the history of South Asia. We are often unaware of Bengal’s own flavor of history. Packed with wars, jealous aunts and double-crossing advisors, South Asian history is rather fascinating.
The Mughal Empire had an enormous impact on the Indian Subcontinent. It is one of the reasons why this area was able to flourish in trade and religion, and was why so many historical events took place.
Here are some rulers of the Bengal who deserve a little more credit for their historical significance:
Pratapaditya was the Hindu Maharaja of the Kingdom of Jessore. That’s right, you heard it. Jessore used to be a kingdom that was declared independent from the Mughal Empire from the late 1500s to the early 1600s.
Pratapaditya was known to be a great patron of the arts, and he would encourage musicians, artists and poets to present their skills at the palace court. It was during his rule when indigenous tribes such as Mundas and Bawalis were made to settle in the Sundarbans to increase agricultural land and food production.
During his era, the first Jesuit missionaries entered the Bengal and were free to preach their faith. The mass people were also free to convert if they liked. In fact, the first Jesuit church was established during this time, in the year 1600.
Murshid Quli Khan
Murshid Quli Khan was the first ever independent Nawab of the Bengal. He was the father of the Zamindari system that later took over the Bengal. Quli was born as a Hindu Brahmin in 1660. He was taken under the care of Haji Shafi, who named him Mohammad Hadi. After Shafi’s death, Quli worked at the revenue offices in Berar. He was a talented young man, who soon earned the respect of the Emperor Aurangzeb.
Quli was put in charge as a Diwan, the person in charge of taxation and revenue, in various places, and he brought in significant revenue to the Empire though his quality work, even in hard times. Hence, Emperor Aurangzeb gave him the title of Murshid Quli Khan and allowed him to name the city he is working in after himself, as Murshidabad. In the year 1717, several Mughal emperors later, Quli was made an independent Nawab of the Bengal, the first ever of its kind.
As a person, Quli was known to be religious and would feed all his guests twice every day. He had one wife, Nasiri Banu Begum, unlike other Nawabs and he never took any concubines. He allowed Hindu people to work in his offices, as they were fluent in Persian and good in tradesmanship. Even after his independence from the Mughal Empire, he continued to send generous amounts of money to the Empire. Historians argue that he did it so the Emperor would not set restrictions to his rule.
Shuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan
Shuja-ud-Din was the successor of Murshid Quli Khan in 1727 and is known as one of the most successful Nawabs of Bengal. Although Qali had left him a rich land, Khan was able to make the land even richer. Historians say that this was the height of wealth in the Bengal region. Khan was known to be a realist, and followed through with his plans.
Khan was a liberal Nawab, and the general people did not live under a reign of fear during his rule. He was a strictly religious man, and was never involved in unethical scandals. However, he was not a big fan of his predecessor, which was why he decided to tear down all the public offices that Qali had built and replaced them with luxurious public buildings such as a Court of Justice, a lush palace, gardens and so on. He is also known to have re-settled Hindu Zamindars who had not received much freedom of trade earlier on.
Khan was known to be a generous soul, and spent extravagantly on his officers and workers. He used to hold meeting sessions with the commoners, where he would sit and listen patiently before giving advice. Khan was succeeded by his son Sarfaraz, who was killed by conspirers and a new lineage of Nawabs were introduced to the Bengal.
Sirajud-Daulah was a young Nawab, and his reign did not last very long. However, he is held to be an iconic character of the Bengal history as he was the last Nawab to be independent of the British rule and to attempt to uproot the increasing influence of the British on Indian lands.
Daulah was put to the throne at a young age, succeeding his grandfather Alivardi Khan in the year 1756. He was 23 years old the time. Prior to his succession, Daulah was seen to be the palace brat who practiced gambling and all the other ills. However, all of those habits soon left him as he promised his dying grandfather to do the best he could for Bengal.
Coming to power, Daulah was quick to get rid of his enemies, including his aunt Gheseti Begum, a wealthy and influential lady residing in Motijheel Palace. However, he still could not get rid of the trouble that was lurking from all corners outside his reign. The East India Company was gaining strength and other rulers from other parts of India showed their interest of conquering Bengal.
Daulah’s reign lasted only a little over a year. He died in the Battle of Plassey the next year, when he was betrayed by his general Mir Jafar. Daulah is often dismissed by many historians as someone who was too often feared. However, others argue over the fact that he was very young, and had attempted his best to protect his land.