Establishment of Mughal Empire in India and Expansion to Bengal

The Mughals first arrived in India in the early sixteenth century and extended their authority widely. In Bengal, they encountered strong opposition from the Afghans but flowing a Mughal victory at the Battle of Rajmahal in July 1576. Bengal finally became an integral part of the Mughal Empire. Here is a detailed history of the establishment of the Mughal empire in India.

Main events for Mughal empire in India: struggles between Mughals and Afghans

  • 1526 Battle of Panipat: Moghul Babur defeats Sultan of Delhi
  • 1538 Sack of Gaur: Afghan rule established in Bengal
  • 1539 Battle of Chausa: Afghan Sher Shah defeats Mughal Humayun
  • 1540 Battle of Kanauj: Humayun again defeated and flees to Persia
  • 1556 Mughal Akbar: Assumes power
  • 1575 Afghan Daud Khan: Recovers Bengal
  • 1576 Battle of Rajmahal: Bengal becomes part of the Mughal Empire.

The Mughal invasion by Emperor Babur

The rise and the reign of the Mughal dynasty is one of the most interesting episodes in Indian history. At the height of their power, the Mughals ruled almost the corner of India. Bengal was one of these. Bengal comes under the influence of the Mughals not only in the field of politics but also of economy and culture.

Mughal empire in India
Babur (The Mughal Emperor)

Babur: the founder of the Mughal Empire in India

The founder of the Mughal Empire was Zahiruddin Muhammad Babur. Through his father’s line. Babur was a descendant of Amir Taimur (also known as Timulane, 1336-1405), and through his mother’s line, he was a descendant of Chengiz Khan, both of whom were famous warriors of the medieval period.

Budur was born in Central Asia in 1483 into the ruling family of a small kingdom called Fargana. He was a very ambitious man and tried to establish an empire in Central Asia. But he was unsuccessful and instead turned to India to set up his empire.

Taking advantage of a power vacuum in India

The circumstances in India were ideal for Babur’s ambitions mind. With the decline of the last strong Sultans of the Tughlaq dynasty, the central power in Delhi was not strong. Then the invasion of Delhi in 1398 by Timulane had brought further instability. The Sultans of the Sayyid and Lodi dynasty had tried to maintain the political power of Delhi but faced great difficulties.

The Lodis, racially Afghans, had extended their political influence in India considerably. but there was little stability as the Afghan Lodi rulers of different regions often fought with each other for supremacy.

Battle of Panipat

Babur stepped in India amidst this situation. Between 1519 and 1520, he conquered Vira, Sialkot, and Saidpur. he conquered Kandahar in 1522 and Panjab in 1525. Then in the battle of Panipat (1526), he defeated Ibrahim Lodi, Sultan of Delhi, and began to establish the Mughal Dynastic rule in India.

The battle of Panipat not only paved the way for Babur’s rise to supremacy in northern India but also in Bengal.

Afghan Resistance to the Mughals in Bengal

Sultan of Bengal wavers between Afghans and Mughals

After the defeat and death of Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat in April 1526, some Lodi leaders were forced to seek refuge with Nusrat Shah, Sultan of Bengal and Bihar. Nusrat Shah not only gave them protection but also presented them with privileges and villages according to their ranks and titles.

Nusrat Shah is even said to have married Ibrahim Lodi’s daughter. It is believed that IN the face of the advance of the Mughals under Babur, Nusrat Shah was seeking to build an alliance with the Afghans.

In 1527, however, Babur sent an envoy to Nusrat Shah (1519-32), asking for his neutrality in the ongoing conflicts between the Mughals and the Afghans. Nusrat Shah kept putting off his reply.

In 1528. Babur sent another envoy to Bengal asking for a definite answer from the Sultan. Nusrat Shah could delay no longer. He sent presents to Babur and guaranteed that he would remand neutral during Mughal’s campaign.

In order to pursue the rebellious Afghan Chefs,  Babur asked Nusrat Shah for free passage through the trans-Ghagra territory. When Nusrat Shah hesitated, Babur occupied the territory up to Saran after defeating the Sultan’s contingent posted there. Nusrat Shah’s military governor of Monghyr promptly concluded a treaty with Babur accepting all his terms.

The death of Babur and Nusrat Shah and the emergence of Sher Khan

Shortly after this, Babur died (1530). His death was followed by the assassination of Nusrat Shah (1532). Babur was succeeded by his son Humayun, and Nusrat Shah was succeeded by his brother, Mahmud Shah. Both of the new leaders were less able than their predecessors, and the next influential figure was Sher Khan, an Afghan of insignificant origin.

He not only captured Bengal and Bihar but also kept the Mughals away from North India as long as he lived. Therefore Sher Khan ie be seen as an important figure not only in the history of Bengal but also in India.

Emperor Humayun and the Afghan Resistance

Afghan Sher Shah topples Mahmud Shah in Bengal

Sher Khan (better known as Sher Shah) came to the limelight when Mahmud Shah sent an army into Bihar to punish one of his governors for his alleged involvement in the assassination of his into Bihar to punish one of his governors for his alleged involvement in the assassination of his father, Nusrat Shah. But the governor happened to be an ally of Sher Khan, who in defense of his ally, advanced towards Bengal and captured Gaur in 1538, in course of his fight against Mahmud Shah.

Mahmud Shah was forced to concede all territories west of Rajmahal and pay an annual tribute of about one crore tankas (takas). Shortly afterward, when Mahmud Shah broke his commitment to paying the annual tribute, he was finally toppled by Sher Shah’s army. With this, the afghan rule was established in Bengal. But the Mughals were coming.

Sher Shah defeats the great Moghul Humayun

In northern India, after the death of his father, Humayun became the Mughal emperor but soon he sensed great danger to his new empire from the emerging power of Sher shah. In 1538, Humayun marched towards Bihar and Bengal with a huge army to subdue Sher Shah.

Wisely, Sher Shah did not confront Humayun’s massive army face to face and melted into the Bihar interior, allowing the Mughals an easy occupation of Bengal.

But whilst Humayun was busy merrymaking in Gaur, Sher Khan established his control over the territory between Bihar and the capital Delhi, thus cutting off all the lines of communication between Delhi and Bengal. Humayun had unwisely wasted his time in Bengal when the rainy season was drawing near.

After some time, when Humayun realized his mistake and started for Agra from Bengal, his way was blocked by Sher Shah at Chausa. Sher Shah defeated Humayun in the battle of Chausa, near Boxer, in June 1539.

Soon afterward, Sher Khan sent an army to Gaur and succeeded in overthrowing the Mughal garrison. In the meantime, Humayun made another attempt to recover his fortune and confronted the Afghans in Kanauj in May 1540, but was defeated again. Humayun fled to Persia.

Sher Shah and the rule of the Afghans

Administration of Sher Shah

  • In a brief reign of only five years (1540-1545), Sher Shah established peace and order in the Empire and remodeled its administration. For example:
  • He divided his Empire into 47 sarkars and subdivided each sarkar into a number of Parganas. Bengal had 19 sarkars, with two high officials, Shiqdar-i-Shiqdaran (Shiqdar-in-Chief) and Munsif-i-Munsifanappointed in each sarkar to look after the work of Pagano officers.
  • Taxes were fixed at one-fourth of the gross produce, after proper measurement of land, and were payable either in cash or in kind.
  • Sher Shah reformed the currency and improved trade and commerce by abolishing some duties. A network of excellent roads, connecting the capital Agra with outlying areas of the empire, as well as Sarai, mosques, and temples at regular intervals, improved communication. His most important road was the Sarak-i-Azam, which ran for 3000 miles from Sonargoan to Multan via Agra, Delhi, and Lahore, with shady trees on both sides. This road came to be known as the Grand Trunk Road in the Colonial period.
  • He introduced a means of easy and quick dispatch of government orders and messages, to and from the capital, by the relay of horses, saris, besides being shelters for traders, travelers, and government servants served as dak-chowkis (stations for changing post-horses) as well.
  • The maintained a strong standing army and an efficient espionage system. A man with a strong sense of justice, the sultan was the highest court of appeal both for civil and criminal cases. Next to him was the Qazi-ul-Quzzat. In the Parganas, the Qazi administered criminal cases. While the Amin looked after the civil ones. Panchayats decided the civil cases of the Hindus.

The Sultan made liberal grants for charitable purposes, opened free public kitchens for the poor, founded madrasas, mosques, and important buildings laid cut gardens and erected hospitals. His excellent taste in buildings is well attested by his noble mausoleum at Sasaram.

Sher Shah was a pious Muslim, but he also was tolerant of the Hindus. He combined the qualities of a military leader, a wise monarch, and a capable and far-sighted statesman.

Source: adapted from Banglapedia, Asiatic Society of Bangladesh

Return of the Mughals

The death of Sher Shah in 1545 gave Humayun an opportunity to regain his empire from the Afghans. He finally managed to achieve this by 1555. The return of the Mughals led to long-lasting Mughal supremacy almost all over India.

However, the process of consolidation of the Mughal Empire was carried out not by Humayun, but by his son, Akbar, the greatest of the Mughals. Bengal once again came under the influence of Mughal supremacy during his time.

Akbar and the beginnings of Mughal Rule in Bengal

Akbar ascended the throne of Delhi at the age of thirteen following the death of his father, Emperor Humayun, in January 1556. After assuming power, Akbar had to fight a number of battles in order to consolidate his empire in the north and south of India.

Meanwhile, Bengal continued to be under the successors of Sher shah until 1564, when Sulaiman Kararni, the governor of South Bihar, extended his authority over Bengal. Sulaiman, till his death in AD 1572, formally recognized the overlordship of Akbar and maintained uncomfortable bout friendly terms with the Mughal Emperor.

However, on the death of Sulaiman, his son, Daud Khan, aroused the wrath of the Mughal emperor by declaring his independence and then attacking and capturing the fort of Zamania, on the Eastern frontier of the Empire. Akbar personally marched against Daud Khan in 1574 and drove him out of Patna and Hajipur.

He then returned to Delhi, leaving an army of 20,000 to continue confronting the Afghans. However, Daud Khan was able to strike back and recover Bengal in October 1575. But when Daud Khan was killed at the battle of Rajmahal in July 1576, Bengal finally became an integral part of the Mughal Empire.

Activity: Writing an obituary

When important people die, newspapers often write an account of their lives. This is called an obituary. You are going to write an obituary with a difference. Your obituary is going to be about either Nusrat Shah or Sher Shah. But it is not going to be a fair obituary.

You must decide to write it either only to praise your selected ruler or only to criticize him. Once you have written it, compare your account with that written by someone who had the opposite view. Who do you think has written the most accurate account?

Akbar and the Baro Bhuiyans

Anti-Mughal resistance by the Baro Bhuiyans in Bengal

However, Mughal control of Bengal was far from secure at this stage. Between 1574 and 1610, local resistance prevented the Mughals from completing their mission of absolute control over Bengal. The resistance was put up by a number of powerful chieftains and landlords (zamindars) of Bengal, collectively known as the Baro Bhiyans (twelve landlords).

Most of the Bhuiyans were governors of the now fallen Sultanate of Bengal. The anti-Mughal resistance was led by the famous Isa Khan, who had his capital in Sonargaon, close to today’s Dhaka.

Mughal forces defeated by Isa khan

In September 1584, Isa Khan defeated a large Mughal navy. Two later, when the Mughals successfully marched through the Bengal delta and reached as far as Chittagong, Isa Khan played a rather conciliatory role and seemed to have accepted Akbar’s overlordship. But Isa Khan was increasingly begin viewed by the Mughals as a menace to their Empire.

Therefore, Akbar sent one of his most charismatic generals, Raja Manshigh, to be governor of Bengal. Mansingh led an expedition against Isa Khan in 1595. But in the meantime, Isa khan became more emboldened by the alliance from neighboring zamindars such as Kedar Rai of Faridpur.

In 1597, he defeated the Mughal forces under Mansingh whose son was killed in the battle. Isa Khan’s resistance against the Mughals has been reflected in folk songs, ballads, and poems.

Musa Khan takes up the struggle against Mughal forces

However, the era of successful resistance against the Mughals declined with the death of Isa Khan in 1599. After the death of Isa Khan, his son Musa Khan, took up the leadership of the anti-Mughal resistance. In the meantime, Mansingh was able to defeat and kill Kedar rai, one of the most influential allies of Musa Khan.

Resistance to the  Mughals centered around Musa Khan and Usman Khan, one of the last very powerful Afghans. These two chieftains continued their struggle against the Mughals with mixed success, but finally, they had to give in when Islam Khan, an illustrious Mughal governor, was sent to Bengal.

Influence of Jahangir

Mughal governor Islam Khan breaks up control of Musa Khan

Islam Khan’s appointment in Bengal followed changes in political circumstances in northern India. In October 1605, Emperor Akbar had died and he was succeeded by his son, Jahangir, Jahangir had sent to Bengal two governors, Qutub al-Dia khan Koka and Jahangir Quli Khan in quick succession between 1606 and 1608 (1606-1607 and 1607-08).

It was during these years that the Bengali chief, Musa Khan, and his allies had recovered some of their territories which had been lost during Mansingh’s invasions. Then Jahangir sent Islam as the new Mughal Viceroy.

Islam Khan was young and energetic and was determined to establish Mughal authority over Bengal. He brought in increased forces and war materials, including guns and artillery, as well as a large fleet. A new Diwan, Abu Al Hasan, and a new admiral of the fleet, Ihtimam Khan, joined him at Rajmahal shortly after his arrival.

While Islam was preparing for war in 1608, he also tried to induce Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore, another influential figure of the Baro Bhuiyans, to join the Mughals by offering territories and patronages. thus began a new period in the Mughal Policy I Bengal. Islam Khan applied diplomacy in winning over as many of the Jamindars and chiefs as he could to break up to the power of Musa Khan and his confederates.

Pratapaditya responded favorably to Islam Khan’s offers and accepted his overlordship, but eventually refrained from supplying his my to assist the Mughals, though he promised to do so. As a result, Islam Khan defeated and empoisoned Pratapaditya and annexed his territory.

Mughal control established over Bengal

After crushing Pratapaditya, Islam Khan fought against many minor Afghan leaders before finally defeating Musa Khan in 1611 and Usman Khan in 1612. Musa Khan was compelled to come to a compromise with the mighty Mughals, but Usman Khan died fighting the Mughals.

With the submission of Musa Khan and the death of Usman Khan, the period of resistance of the Baro Bhuiyans came to an end. With this, most ob Bengal also come firmly under Mughal administration. The most important event of the time was that Dhaka was made the capital of Bengal. This was named Jahangir Nagar, in honor of the Mughal emperor.

The Baro Bhuiyans of Bengal: A Note

Abul Fazal and Mirza Nathan claimed the Bhuiyans to be twelve in number. It should be mentioned, however, that the Baro Bhuiyans during the time of Akbar was not the same as those in the time of emperor Jahangir, his son. Parganas also changed hands.

During the Reign of Akbar, Chand Rai and Kedar Rai were Jamindars of Bikrampur and Sripur but in the reign of Jahangir, these Parganas were in the hands of Musa Khan. The families of Chand Rai and Kedar Rai were probably extinct.

According to the Akbarnama, the Bhuiyans were:

  1. Isa Khan Masnad-I-Ala,
  2. Ibrahim Nazal,
  3. Karimdad Musazai,
  4. Majlis Dilwar,
  5. Majlis Pratap,
  6. Kedar Rai,
  7. Sher Khan,
  8. Bhadur Ghazi,
  9. Tila Ghazi,
  10. Chand Ghazi,
  11. Sultan Ghazi,
  12. Selim Ghazi,
  13. Qasim Ghazi.

In the Baharistan-I-Ghaibi, the names of Musa Khan and his 12 Zamindar allies are as follows:

  1. Musa Khan Masnad-I-Ala,
  2. Ataul Khan, Abdullah Khan,
  3. Mahmud Khan, Bahadur Ghazi,
  4. Sona Ghazi,
  5. Anwar Ghazi,
  6. Shaikh Pir,
  7. MIrza Mimin,
  8. Madhav Rai,
  9. Binode Rai,
  10. Pahlawan,
  11. Haji Shamsuddin Bagdadi.

Actually, they were thirteen including the leader.

Adapted from Banglapedia (Asiatic Society of Bangladesh)

Influence of Shah Jahan

Emperor Jahangir died in 1627 and was succeeded by his third son, Prince Khurram, or Shah Jahan. Shah Jhan’s reign of thirty years till 1658 was marked by peace and prosperity.

For the province of Bengal, too, as a part of the Empire, it brought the security of life and property, especially in lower Bengal. Hugli was captured from the Portuguese and the slave trade closed.

The Viceroys of Bengal during Shah Jahan’s reign

Qasim Khan was sent to replace Fida Khan as Viceroy of Bengal. The next two viceroys, Azam Khan (1632-35) and Islam Khan Mashadi (1635-39) had to deal with fresh trouble in Assam and Arakan. The Mughals occupied Darrang in Asam and set up headquarters in Gauhati.

In 1639, Islam Khan Mashadi was recalled to take up the post of Prime Minister, and so Prince Suja, the second son of Shah Jahan was appointed Viceroy of Bengal.

Prince Suja as Viceroy of Bengal

Prince Suja’s appointment was clear evidence of the importance given to the frontier province by the Emperor. Bengal enjoyed a long period of peace prosperity during Suja’s viceroyalty of twenty-one years (1639-1660).

Rajmahai: The new capital

Suja removed the headquarters from Dhak to Rajmaha, which was a drier region near the Bihar frontier. It also enabled effective control over all parts of the province, including Kamrup in the northeast.

Influence of Aurangzeb

Emperor Shah Jahan fell seriously ill at the end of September 1657. This was a signal for a struggle of succession to break out among his four sons, Dara Shiko, Suja, Aurangzeb, and Murad.

Aurangzeb wins the struggle for succession amongst his brother Suja

Suja had proved himself an efficient administrator as Viceroy of Bengal. However, he had hardly any influence in court. Murad, the youngest son, did not have the qualities needed either. The main contest, therefore, was between Dara, the eldest son, and Aurangzeb.

Dara was defeated by Aurangzeb at Samugar, eight miles east of Agra on the 29 May 1658. Dara fled and Aurangzeb occupied Agra and, as his brother Dara had done, imprisoned his father in the Agra fort. He also imprisoned his brother Murad.

The armies of Aurangzeb and Suja confronted each other at Khajwa, in modern Uttar Pradesh of Khandesh, Moazzam Khan alias Mir Jumla in pursuit of Suja. He then returned to the capital and had Dara imprisoned and beheaded.

In the meantime, Suja took refuge in Tanda near Gaur. Mir Jumla occupied Rajmahal in April 1659 and defeated Suja early in 1660. Suja fled to Dhaka with his family and finally sought asylum in Arakan. Mir Jumla made a triumphant entry into Dhaka in May 1660.

The Arakan ruler had Suja and his family members mercilessly killed, probably when he attempted a coup with the help of the Muslim subjects of the Arakan ruler.

  1. Why do historians see the reign of Shah Jahan as successful?
  2. Can you find any examples of Aurangzeb’s determination to make himself an undisputed ruler?

Mir Jumla as new Viceroy of Bengal: capital transferred to Dhaka

Suja’s escape to Arakan ended the war of succession. Aurangzeb wanted Mir Jumla to continue to remaining Bengal. He wanted to reward Mir Jumla for his services by giving him the viceroyalty and also to establish his authority firmly over Bengal.

Mir Jumal was awarded the title of Khan-e-Khanan, the highest of all ranks in recognition of his achievement.

Mir Jumla transferred the capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka. During his viceroyalty, he occupied Kuch Bihar and succeeded in annexing the greater part of Assam. Orissa, which had been joined to the Bengal administration during Prince Suja’s time, was also under his administration until a new. governor of Orissa was appointed.

When Mir Jumal died, Daud Khan was made the temporary governor until Shaista Khan, Mumtaz Mahal’s brother, arrived as the new Viceroy of Bengal.

Shaista Khan as Viceroy: reforms and Chittagong

Shaista Khan arrived in Dhaka in December 1664. He introduced a number of reforms such as the abolition of trade monopolies and customs and tolls.

Kuch Bihar remained under Shaista Khan’s control, and he planned to capture Chittagong from the Arakanese. At first, his forces occupied Sandvip. Then after defeating the Arakanese in a battle in 1666, he entered Chittagong.

Many Bengali men and women, held prisoner by the Arakanese, were set free. Chittagong was named Islamabad by the Emperor.

Murshid Quli as Viceroy: more independent

Murshid Quli Zafar Khan was made Viceroy of Bengal in 1705. He proved to be a strong and capable ruler. He transferred the capital from Dhaka to Murshidabad. It was during Murshid Quli’s time that, Bengal’s political connection with central Mughal administration weakened. Murshid Quli did not openly severe the connections with the Mughals, but he was wise enough to realize that the great Mughal Empire was gradually becoming weak.

He, therefore, asserted his authority in a way that would not trouble the emperor but would help him run the affairs of Bengal virtually independently. This trend of ruling Bengal independently from the central Mughal administration was adopted by rulers of Bengal until the British took over. But why the hitherto very successful Mughal Empire beginning to weaken?

The decline of the Empire after Aurangzeb

Aurangzeb, the last great Mughal Emperor, had reached the height of his power in the year 1690. His rule extended from Kabul to Chittagong and from Kashmir to the river Kaveri. Then, gradually, this great Empire began to disintegrate even before Aurangzeb’s death in March 1707, though the pace was accelerated soon after his death.

One of the reasons was the struggle for succession between his three sons. But there were many other reasons, which we will read about in the next section.

Activity: A Historical Debate

One of the most interesting things about history in that whilst we can often agree about what happened, often we can’t agree about why or how important an event is. You are now going to take part in a debate about the Baro Buiyans.

You have to prepare a speech supporting one of the views below and then try to persuade the rest of your classmates that you are right.

  • The Baro Bhuiyans were great heroes of Bengal. They showed the Mughals how powerful Bengal was.
  • The Baro Bhuiyans were wasting their time. The Mughals were too powerful and were bound to defeat them in the end.

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