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Nawabs of Bengal and Murshidabad

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Nawab of Bengal
Nawab of Murshidabad
Coat of Arms of Nawabs of Bengal.PNG
Arms of the Nawabs of Bengal
Wasif Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur.jpg
Wasif Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur, the last reigning Nawab
Style His Highness
First monarch Murshid Quli Khan
Last monarch Wasif Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur
Formation 1717
Abolition 17 August 1947
Residence Hazarduari Palace
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Nawabs of Bengal were the rulers of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. Between 1717 and 1757, they served as the heads of state of the sovereign Principality of Bengal. The position was established as the hereditary Nazims or Subahdars (provincial governors) of the subah (province) of Bengal during the Mughal rule and later became the independent rulers of the region.[1] Siraj ud-Daulah, the last independent Nawab of Bengal was betrayed in the Battle of Plassey by Mir Jafar. He lost to the British, who took over the charge of Bengal in 1757, installed Mir Jafar on the Masnad (throne) and established itself to a political power in Bengal.[2]

In 1765 the system of Dual Government was established, in which the Nawabs ruled on behalf of the British and were mere puppets to the British. In 1772 the system was abolished and Bengal was brought under direct control of the British. In 1793, when the Nizamat (governorship) of the Nawab was also taken away from them, they remained as the mere pensioners of the British East India Company.[3][4] The last Nawab of Bengal, Mansur Ali Khan abdicated on 1 November 1880 in favour of his eldest son.[5]

Nawabs of Murshidabad succeeded the Nawabs of Bengal as Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad, following Mansur Ali Khan's abdication[1][5][6] They got the title changed as the title of the Nawab of Bengal was abolished in 1880.[1] They had little or no say in the share of the revenue collected and were ceased to use any force. After Indian Independence in 1947 it was declared that the princely states must accede to either India or Pakistan (East/West Pakistan).[7] It is a fact that Murshidabad (the capital city) became a part of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) for two days, as it had a Muslim majority. It became a part of India on 17 August 1947.[8] The Pakistani flag was brought down from the Hazarduari Palace and the Indian tricolour was hoisted atop the palace.[8] After merging with India, they had no power as the Government of India took over all the princely states in India.[7] The house of the Nawabs was left without an heir in 1969 with Waris Ali Mirza being the last Nawab for more than forty years.[9] Although he left three sons and three daughters there was a dispute within the family and with no clear successor to the title since his death as he died without declaring one.[9]

In August 2014 the Indian Supreme Court ruled in favour of the claim made by Abbas Ali Mirza who was then declared to be the lawful inheritor of the titular title of Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad.[10]


Main articles: Bengal and Bengal Presidency

Modern Bengal is mainly divided between the sovereign land of Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal and Tripura. Some regions of the previous kingdoms of Bengal (during local monarchical regimes) are now part of the neighbouring Indian states of Bihar, Jharkhand, Assam, Tripura and Odisha (then Orissa).

During the partition of Bengal (1905–1911) under British Raj, a new province, Eastern Bengal and Assam was created as a Lieutenant-Governorship. In 1911, East Bengal (now Bangladesh) was reunited with Bengal, and the new provinces in the east became: Assam, Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.[11] The Nawab thus gained rule over Bihar and Orissa, which was earlier a part of Bengal.[12][13][14] That is why the Nawabs of Bengal were also mentioned as "Nawab of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa" or "Nawab Nazim of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa"[15] - where Nazim (or, Subahdar) means the provincial governor - as they ruled over three subahs while the Nawabs of Murshidabad were the local ruler of the city of Murshidabad.[16] The majority of modern Bengal is inhabited by Bengali people who speak the Bengali language.[17][18]

History before the Nawabs' rule[edit]

Rule over Bengal in BC[edit]

Rasmancha in West Bengal
The Bishnupur terracotta temples show Gupta Empire's influence over Bengal

In the 3rd century BC, the broader region of Bengal was conquered by the emperor Ashoka. In the 4th century AD, it was absorbed into the Gupta Empire. In 1010 AD, the whole Bengal was under Rajendra Chola I of Chola Dynasty. The Cholas influence changed the agriculture and other traditions of the people from Bengal Cholas marched through Burma, Cambodia and conquering till Indonesia.[19] From the 13th century onward, the region was ruled by several sultans, powerful Hindu states and Baro-Bhuyan landlords.[20]

Ilyas Shahi dynasty[edit]

The early Sultans of Bengal ruled until 1282 which was followed by the rule of several successive dynasties. Ilyas Shah founder of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty, took complete charge of the then Bengal[21] and the capital was shifted to Sonargaon (near present day, Dhaka in Bangladesh).[22] He was one of the independent rulers of Bengal. His son, Sikandar Shah, who succeeded him, built the Adina Mosque at Pandua, near Gour, Adina Mosque in the medieval times, was considered to be the largest in undivided Bengal, as well as the entire Indian subcontinent.[23]

Mughal Empire[edit]

Babur was the first Mughal emperor

The Mughal Empire emerged as a powerful Empire in northern India. Babur, who was related to two legendary warriors - Timur and Genghis Khan, invaded north India and defeated Ibrahim Lodi of the Lodi dynasty.[24] Babur thus became the first Mughal emperor. He was succeeded by his son, Humayun. At the same time, Sher Shah Suri (alias Farid Khan) of the Suri dynasty rose to prominence and established himself as the ruler of the present day Bihar by defeating Ghiyashuddin Shah. But he lost to capture the kingdom because of sudden expedition of Humayun. In 1539, Sher Khan faced Humayun in the battle of Chausa. He forced Humayun out of India. Assuming the title Sher Shah, he ascended the throne of Delhi. He also captured Agra and established control from Bengal in the east until the Indus river in the west.[25] After his death he was succeeded by his son, Islam Shah Suri. But in 1544 the Suris were torn apart by internal conflicts. Humayun took this advantage and captured Lahore and Delhi, but he died in 1556 AD.[26] He was succeeded by Akbar, who defeated Daud Khan Karrani of Bengal's Karrani Dynasty (or, Karnani Dynasty). After this, the administration of the entire region of Bengal passed into the hands of governors appointed by the Mughal emperors, who ruled Bengal till 1716 AD.[1][27][28]

There were several posts under the Mughal administrative system during Akbar's reign. Diwani was a system of provincial revenue administration under the Mughals. Nizamat (civil administration) and Diwani (revenue administration) were the two main branches of the provincial administration under the Mughals.[1] A Subahdar (provincial viceroy or governor), also called a Nazim was in-charge of the Nizamat. There was a chain of subordinate officials under the Nazims on the executive side and under Diwans on the revenue and judicial side.[1]

Emergence of the Nawab of Bengal[edit]

Murshidabad was the capital of the Nawabs
Early nineteenth century view of Murshidabad, with the Katra Mosque in the backdrops.

Murshid Quli Khan arrived as the governor of Bengal in 1717 AD. Before his arrival there were four Diwans. And, after his arrival, Azim-ush-Shan held the Nazim's office. Azim got into conflict with Murshid Quli Khan over imperial financial control. Considering the complaint of Khan, emperor Aurangzeb ordered Azim to move to Bihar.[29] Upon his departure the two posts united in one and Murshid Quli Khan became the first Nazim cum Diwan of Bengal. Murshid Khan was appointed the "Nawab Nazim of Bengal" and he emerged as the ruler of Bengal under the Mughals.[1][30] Murshidabad remained the capital of the Nawabs of Bengal until their rule.[31]

History during the Nawabs' rule[edit]


From 1717 until 1880, three successive Islamic dynasties – Nasiri, Afshar and Najafi – ruled what was then known as Bengal.[1][32][33]

The first dynasty, the Nasiri, ruled from 1717 until 1740. The founder of the Nasiri, Murshid Quli Khan, was born a poor Deccani Oriya Brahmin before being sold into slavery and bought by one Haji Shafi Isfahani, a Persian merchant from Isfahan who converted him to Islam. He entered the service of Mughal Emperor Aurangzeb and rose through the ranks before becoming the Nawab Nazim of Bengal in 1717, a post he held until his death in 1727. He in turn was succeeded by his son-in law, Shuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan.[34] After Shuja-ud-Din's death in 1739 he was succeeded by his son, Sarfaraz Khan, who hold the rank, until he was killed in the Battle of Giria in 1741, and was succeeded by Alivardi Khan, former ruler of Patna, of the Afshar Dynasty in 1740.[35]

The second dynasty, the Afshar, ruled from 1740 to 1757. Siraj ud-Daulah (Alivardi Khan's grandson), the last Afshar Nawab was killed in the Battle of Plassey in 1757.[36] They were succeeded by the third and final dynasty to rule the whole Bengal, the Najafi.[37]

Under the Mughals[edit]

Bengal (Bengal subah) was one of the wealthiest parts of the Mughal empire.[38] As the Mughal empire began to decline, the Nawabs grew in power, although nominally sub-ordinate to the Mughal emperor.[1][39] They wielded great power in their own right and ruled the subah as independent rulers for all practical purposes by the early 1700s.[39]

Maratha expeditions[edit]

Raghunath Rao was Peshwa of the Maratha Empire from 1773 to 1774.

Marathas undertook six expeditions in Bengal from 1741–1748. Maratha general, Raghunath Rao was able to annex Orissa to his kingdom permanently as he successfully exploited the chaotic conditions prevailing in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa after the death of Murshid Quli Khan in 1727.[40] Constantly harassed by the Bhonsles, Orissa, Bengal and parts of Bihar were economically ruined. Alivardi Khan made peace with Raghunathrao in 1751 ceding in perpetuity Orrisa up to the river Suvarnarekha, and agreeing to pay 12 lacs annually in lieu of the Chauth of Bengal and Bihar.[41]

The treaty included 20 lacs as Chauth for Bengal (includes both West Bengal and Bangladesh) and 12 lacs for Bihar(including Jharkhand). After this Maratha promised never to cross the boundary of the Nawab of Bengal's territory.[42]

Thus Baji Rao is hailed as the greatest Maratha chief after Shivaji because of his success in subjecting Muslim rulers of east India in states such as Bengal, Bihar and Orissa to the Maratha rule.[43]

Under British Rule[edit]

Mir Jafar meeting with Sir Robert Clive after the Battle of Plassey

After the Nawab Siraj Ud Daulah (the last independent ruler of Bengal) was defeated by the British forces of Sir Robert Clive in the Battle of Plassey in 1757, the Nawabs became puppet rulers, being dependent on the British.[36] Siraj-ud-daula was replaced by Mir Jafar. He was personally led to the throne by Robert Clive, after triumph of the British in the battle.[36] He briefly tried to re-assert his power by allying with the Dutch, but this plan was ended by the Battle of Chinsurah. After the grant of the Diwani of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa by the Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II, to the British East India Company in August 1765 and the appointment of Warren Hastings by the East India Company as their first Governor General of Bengal in 1771, the Nawabs were deprived of any real power. In 1765 the system of Dual Government was established, in which they rulecon the behalf of the British.[3][4] In 1772 the system of Dual Government was abolished and Bengal was brought under direct control of the British. In 1793, when the Nizamat (governorship) was also taken away from them, they remained as the mere pensioners of the British East India Company.[3][4]

During Nawab Mubarak ud-Daulah's administration all powers passed into the hands of the East India company. All the Diwan offices except the Diwan Ton were abolished.[44]

Bangal came to be known as Bengal Province and it became a province of the British after the arrival of the British Raj after the Indian rebellion of 1857. The power to rule was passed over to the British Crown. Administrative control of India came under the prestigious Indian Civil Service which had administrative control over all districts outside the princely states.[11]

Decline of the Nawab of Bengal[edit]

Mansur Ali Khan (alias: Feradun Jah) was the last Nawab of Bengal. During his reign the Nizamat at Murshidabad became involved in debts. The Government of India there involved it into an action of preventing further claims. The title of "Nawab of Bengal" was abolished in 1880.[45]

Feradun Jah left Murshidabad in February 1869 and started living in England. He returned at Bombay in October 1881. But he spent most of his time pleading his case against orders of the Government of India. After it was not resolved the Nawab renounced his styles and titles of Nawab Nazim of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa and abdicated in favour of his eldest son at St. Ives, Maidenhead, on 1 November 1880.[45]

Emergence of the Nawab of Murshidabad[edit]

After Mansur Ali Khan's abdication, his son, Hassan Ali Mirza succeeded as the first Nawab of Murshidabad with the lesser title of Nawab Bahadur of Murshidabad after the title of Nawab of Bengal was abolished in 1880.[37][45] Nawabs of Murshidabad were the successors of the Nawabs of Bengal. After Lord Clive secured the Diwani of Bengal from Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II in 1765 for the East India Company they did not have any effective authority. So they lavishly enjoyed their title, privileges alongside with the honours they received. They had little or no say and ceased to control any significant force.[1][46]

After Indian Independence in 1947 the princely states either had to accede to India or Pakistan (East/West Pakistan).[7] As Murshidabad had a Muslim majority, it became a part of East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) for two days. However it became a part of and merged into India on 17 August 1947.[8] After merging with India, the Nawabs had no power as the Government of India took charge over all the princely states in India.[7]

The last Nawab of Murshidabad was Waris Ali Mirza. He left three sons and three daughters. According to the law, the eldest son of the Nawab succeeded him Waris Ali's eldest son, Wakif Ali Mirza Bahadur, was excluded from the succession by his father for contracting a non-Muslim marriage and for not professing the Muslim religion. He took no steps during his lifetime to establish his succession. Before declaring a successor Waris Ali died. Since then there has been no clear successor to the title of Nawab of Murshidabad.[47]

List of the Nawabs of Bengal[edit]

The following is a list of all the Nawabs of Bengal. Sarfaraz Khan and Mir Muhammed Jafar Ali Khan Bahadur (Mir Jafar) were the only Nawabs to become the Nawab twice.[48] The chronology started in 1717 with Murshid Quli Khan and ended in 1881 with Mansur Ali Khan's abdication.[1][5][48]

Portrait Titular Name Personal Name Birth Reign Death
Nasiri Dynasty
Murshid Quli Jafar Khan.jpg Jaafar Khan Bahadur Nasiri Murshid Quli Khan 1665 1717– 1727 30 June 1727
Sarfaraz Khan.jpg Ala-ud-Din Haidar Jang Sarfaraz Khan Bahadur ? 1727-1727 29 April 1740
Shuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan.jpg Shuja ud-Daula Shuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan Around 1670 (date not available) July, 1727 – 26 August 1739 26 August 1739
Sarfaraz Khan.jpg Ala-ud-Din Haidar Jang Sarfaraz Khan Bahadur ? 13 March 1739 – April 1740 29 April 1740
Afshar Dynasty
Alivardi Khan.jpg Hashim ud-Daula Muhammad Alivardi Khan Bahadur Before 10 May 1671 29 April 1740 – 9 April 1756 9 April 1756
Siraj ud-Daulah.jpg Siraj ud-Daulah Muhammad Siraj-ud-Daulah 1733 April 1756 – 2 June 1757 2 July 1757
Najafi Dynasty
Mir Jafar (left) and Mir Miran (right).jpg Ja'afar 'Ali Khan Bahadur Mir Muhammed Jafar Ali Khan Bahadur 1691 June 1757 – October 1760 17 January 1765
Nawab Mir Qasim.jpg Itimad ud-Daulah Mir Qasim Ali Khan Bahadur ? 20 October 1760 – 1763 8 May 1777
Mir Jafar (left) and Mir Miran (right).jpg Ja'afar 'Ali Khan Bahadur Mir Muhammed Jafar Ali Khan Bahadur 1691 25 July 1763 – 17 January 1765 17 January 1765
Nazam ud-Daulah.jpg Nazam-ud-Daulah Najimuddin Ali Khan Bahadur 1750 5 February 1765 – 8 May 1766 8 May 1766
Saif ud-Daulah.jpg Saif ud-Daulah Najabut Ali Khan Bahadur 1749 22 May 1766 – 10 March 1770 10 March 1770
Mubaraq ud-Daulah.jpg Mubarak ud-Daulah Ashraf Ali Khan Bahadur 1759 21 March 1770 – 6 September 1793 6 September 1793
Babar Ali.jpg Azud ud-Daulah Babar Ali Khan Bahadur ? 1793 – 28 April 1810 28 April 1810
Ali Jah.jpg Ali Jah Zain-ud-Din Ali Khan Bahadur ? 5 June 1810 – 6 August 1821 6 August 1821
Walla Jah.jpg Walla Jah Ahmad Ali Khan Bahadur ? 1810 – 30 October 1824 30 October 1824
Nawab Nazim Humayun Jah.jpg Humayun Jah Mubarak Ali Khan Bahadur 29 September 1810 1824 – 3 October 1838 3 October 1838
Feradun Jah.jpg Feradun Jah Mansur Ali Khan Bahadur 29 October 1830 29 October 1838 – 1 November 1880 (abdicated) 5 November 1884

List of the Nawabs of Murshidabad[edit]

The Nawabs of Murshidabd succeeded the Nawabs of Bengal after the abdication in 1881 and the abolition of the title of Nawab of Bengal in 1880.[1][5] There were only three Nawabs of Murshidabad as follows:

Picture Titular Name Personal Name Birth Reign Death
Najafi Dynasty
Young Hassan Ali.jpg Ali Kadir Hassan Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur 25 August 1846 17 February 1882 – 25 December 1906 25 December 1906
Wasif Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur.jpg Amir ul-Omrah Wasif Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur 7 January 1875 December 1906–23 October 1959 23 October 1959
Waris Ali.jpg Raes ud-Daulah Waris Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur 14 November 1901 1959 – 20 November 1969 (No clear successor; post and title in dispute until 2014) 20 November 1969
Coat of Arms of Nawabs of Bengal.PNG Mohammed Abbas Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur[49] c.1942 13 August 2014 - present Extant


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