Establishment and Consolidation of Muslim Rule in Bengal (1204-1342)

In 1204, the first Muslim ruler Bakhtiyar a Turk captured Nadia and established Muslim rule. After his death, the Sultan of Delhi extended his authority into Bengal. Let’s discover a detailed history of the establishment and consolidation of Muslim rule in Bengal.

However, it was a period of instability and there was in-fighting amongst rivals for the Delhi Sultanate, so the Turkish rulers of Bengal were almost independent. The spread of Islam in Bengal was also enabled by Muslim saints called Sufis.

Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji and the Turkish Conquest

The political influence of Islam began to spread in Bengal with the conquest of Nadia, the capital city of the Sena ruler Lakshmana, by Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khalji in 1204 AD.

Muslim rule in northern India

Bakhtiyar Khalji’s arrival in the Bengal frontier was part of the same Turkish advance that saw the expansion of Islam into India. Towards the end of the twelfth century, Muhammad Ghuri had captured Delhi and established Muslim rule in northern India. He was succeeded by his General, Kutubudding Aibak.

During the time of Kutubuddin, Bakhtiyar was granted a small territory near Bihar, from where they started invading surrounding areas. At one point, he thought of capturing Bengal and in 1204 he attacked the Sena capital, Nadia.

The conquest of Nadia in Bengal

Bakhtiyar captured Nadia in a unique way. Sensing the presence of a strong army of Lakshmana Sena on the main route to Nadia, Bakhtyar proceeded instead through the jungle of Jharkhand. He divided his army into several groups, and he himself led a group of horsemen and advanced towards Nadia in the guise of horse-traders.

In this manner, Bakhtiyar had no problem in entering through the gates of the royal place. Shortly afterward, Bakhityar’s main army also joined him and within a short while, Nadia was captured.

Further expansion

After capturing Nadia, Bakhtiyar advanced towards Gauda (Lakhnuti), another capital of the Sena kingdom, conquered it, and made it his capital in 1205. Next year, Bakhtiar set out for an expedition to capture Tibet, but this attempt failed and he had to return to Bengal with poor health and a reduced army. Shortly afterward, he was killed by one of his commanders, Ali Mardan Khaliji.

Internal Feud

The death of Bakhtiyar was followed by an internal feud among three of his lieutenants. In the fight, Iwaz Khalji emerged victoriously and he ruled Bengal from 1212 to 1227, at which time he was killed while fighting an army sent out from Delhi by Sultan Iltutmish, who wanted to extend his authority on Bengal.

Delhi influence

After the death of Iwaz Khalji until the year 1287, Bengal remained politically unstable. During this period, 15 rulers of Turkish origin ruled Bengal. Some of these rulers were obedient to the Delhi Sultan, but others wanted to get rid of Delhi’s influence. As the Delhi Sultans were often fighting amongst themselves for control of the Sultanate, they did not always concentrate on controlling Bengal.

So some Turkish rulers ruled Bengal almost independently. Notable among the rulers of Bengal of this period were Nasiruddin, Son of Delhi Sultan Iltutmish, Jalaluddin, and Tughral Khan. It was during Tughral Khan’s time that Balban, the Sultan of Delhi, invaded Bengal following Mughal’s declaration of independence from Delhi. Tughra was defeated and Bengal now came firmly under the control of Delhi Sultanate.

Independence from Delhi and expansion

However, after the departure of Balaban, his son Bughra Khan, and grandson Kaikaus ruled Bengal virtually independently from Delhi. These two members of the family of Balban ruled Bengal until virtually independently from Delhi. These two members of the family of Balban ruled Bengal until 1301 when Shamsuddin Firoz Shah took over.

Firuz brought about an expansion of Muslim territories second only to the expansion achieved one hundred years earlier by Bakhtiyar Khalji. Before Firuz, the Lakhnauti dominion was confined within Bihar, north and northwestern Bengal, and Lakhnor in southwestern Bengal.

Occupation of Satgaon in Hughli and Sonargaon had started in the reign of Kaikaus and under Firuz the process was completed. He also conquered Mymensingh and Sylhet. Firuz, like his two predecessors, remained virtually independent of Delhi.

Further, struggles with Delhi

Firuz Shah died in 1322. His death was followed by a bloody feud among his sons, and the Sultan of Delhi, Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, was forced to send and the army under his adopted son Bahram Khan (also known as Tatar Khan) to restore Muslim control in Bengal.

With Bengal again under control, Delhi Sultan Ghiyasuddin Divided Bengal into three administrative units: Satgaon, Sonargaon, and Lakhnauti, and different officials were appointed for administering these regions.

But control from Delhi did not last long, and the period between Mubarak Shah, armor-bearer (Silhadar) of Bahram Khan, took control of Sonargaon and proclaimed independence and assumed the title of Sultan. He then defeated forces from Staging and Lakhnauti which had been sent to restore Delhi’s control.

Fakhruddin’s achievement was to mark the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Bengal when there were two centuries of independence from external control.

The Sufis and the Speared of Islam in Bengal

Sufis were Muslim saints who were considered to possess the blessing of God and spiritual power. Sufis derive their inspiration from Hazrat Muhammad, who forms the source of spiritual knowledge and teachings in danger, the Sufi leader (Pir) and his disciples (Murids) took up arms as well. Most Sultans of Bengal tried to keep good relations with the Sufis.

Establishment and Consolidation of  Muslim Rule in Bengal
Establishment and Consolidation of Muslim Rule in Bengal

In Bengal, the Sufis were numerous and they played a prominent role in delivering the    Islamic message of equality and social justice and thus drew people of different religions towards Islam.

Sufis arrived in Bengal from the Middle East or Central Asia as early as the time of the arrival of Bakhtiyar Khalji. One of the earliest and most revered Sufis of Bengal was Shah Jalal (died 1346), who arrived and settled in Sylhet with his 313 disciples.

It is said that his simple life, Love of ordinary people of different religions and castes, and his Keramati (power of making miracles) attracted the people of Sylhet to Islam.

Other revered Sufis and Pirs include:

  • Baba Adam Shahid, who selected the Dhaka region as his area of activity sometime in the fourteenth century. He is buried in Munshiganj.
  • Hazrat Khan Jahan Ali (died 1459), who preached Islam in Khulna and Jessore and settled in Bagerhat. He built the famous Shat-Gombuj or Sixty-Tomb mosque there.
  • Hazrat Shah Makhdum (died 1313), who perched and settled in Rajshahi.
  • Hazrat Bayazid Bostami (Died 874) is another famous Sufi whose name is associated with a famous dargah situated on top so a hillock at Nazirabad in Chittagong. Popular belief has it that he visited Chittagong long before the Muslim conquest of Northern Bengal in 1204. This belief is based on the fact that Chittagong was a sea-port where the Arabs came for trade as early as the ninth century.

Wider influence of Sufism

It appears that Sufism not only helped the spread of Islam in Bengal, but it also influenced the local religions. The idea of Sufism, attaining the love of God through the love of his creation, has greatly influenced the devotional doctrines of Vaishnavism as well as the mysticism of the Bauls. At times, Sufism in Bengal has been transformed into a folk religion with many of the Sufis being regarded as saints or folk deities.

During a maritime journey, for example, especially if a storm arises sailors pray to Pir Badar repeating his name Badar Badar. The names of different Sufi saints are inscribed on the bodies of buses, trucks, launches, and steamers to ensure safe journeys.

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