Bengal Sultanate

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Sultanate of Bengal
Shahi Bangla

শাহী বাংলা
Flag of Bengal Sultanate
Bengal Sultanate.png
CapitalLakhnauti and Sonargaon
Common languagesPersian, Bengali (official)
Arabic (religious)
Islam (official)
GovernmentAbsolute monarchy
• Unification of Bengal
• Mughal invasion
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Delhi Sultanate
Mughal Empire
Kingdom of Mrauk U
Suri Empire
Today part of Bangladesh

The Sultanate of Bengal (also known as the Bengal Sultanate; Bangalah (Persian: بنگالهBangālah, Bengali: বাঙ্গালা/বঙ্গালা) and Shahi Bangalah (Persian: شاهی بنگالهShāhī Bangālah, Bengali: শাহী বাঙ্গলা))[1] was an Islamic kingdom[2][3][4] established in Bengal during the 14th century as part of the Muslim conquest of the Indian subcontinent. It was the first independent unified Bengali kingdom under Muslim rule. The region became widely known as Bangalah and Bengala under this kingdom. The two terms are precursors to the modern terms Bangla and Bengal.

The kingdom was formed after governors of the Delhi Sultanate declared independence in the region. Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah united the region's states into a single government headed by an imperial Sultan. The kingdom was ruled by five dynasties. At the height of its territorial empire, the kingdom ruled over areas in Eastern South Asia and Southeast Asia. It re-established diplomatic relations between China and the Indian subcontinent. It permitted the creation of the Portuguese settlement in Chittagong, the first European enclave in Bengal. The kingdom looked west for cultural inspiration, particularly from Persianate cultures.[5] Its rulers sponsored the construction of colleges in Mecca and Medina, which host the holiest sites of Islam. Literature was fostered in Persian and Bengali, with strong Sufi influences. Bengali architecture evolved significantly during this period, with several external influences. The kingdom had an influential Hindu minority, which included aristocrats, military officers and bureaucrats. It assisted the Buddhist king of Arakan to regain control of his country from the Burmese.

The kingdom began to disintegrate in the 16th century, in the aftermath of Sher Shah Suri's conquests. The Mughal Empire began to absorb Bengal under its first emperor, Babur. The second Mughal emperor Humayun occupied the Bengali capital of Gaurh. In 1576, the armed forces of emperor Akbar defeated the last reigning Sultan, Daud Khan Karrani. The region later became Mughal Bengal.


The Adina Mosque was built by Sikandar Shah

The Delhi Sultanate lost its hold over Bengal in 1338 when separatist states were established by governors, including Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah in Sonargaon, Alauddin Ali Shah in Lakhnauti and Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah in Satgaon. In 1352, Ilyas Shah defeated the rulers of Sonargaon and Lakhnauti and united the Bengal region into an independent kingdom. He founded the Turkic Ilyas Shahi dynasty which ruled Bengal until 1490. During this time, much of the agricultural land was controlled by Hindu zamindars, which caused tensions with Muslim Taluqdars. The Ilyas Shahi rule was challenged by Raja Ganesha, a powerful Hindu landowner, who briefly managed to place his son, Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah, on the throne in the early 15th century, before the Ilyas Shahi dynasty was restored in 1432. The late 1480s saw four usurper sultans from the mercenary corps. Tensions between different Muslim communities often affected the kingdom.[6]

After a period of instability, Alauddin Hussain Shah gained control of Bengal in 1494 when he was prime minister. As Sultan, Hussain Shah ruled till 1519. The dynasty he founded reigned till 1538. Muslims and Hindus jointly served in the royal administration during the Hussain Shahi dynasty. This era is often regarded as a golden age of the Bengal Sultanate, in which Bengali territory included areas of Arakan, Orissa, Tripura and Assam.[6] The sultanate gave permission for establishing the Portuguese settlement in Chittagong. Sher Shah Suri conquered Bengal in the 16th century, during which he renovated the Grand Trunk Road.[7] After conquering Bengal, Sher Shah Suri proceeded to Agra.

The absorption of Bengal into the Mughal Empire was a gradual process beginning with the defeat of Bengali forces under Sultan Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah by Babur at the Battle of Ghaghra and ending with the Battle of Raj Mahal where the Pashtun Karrani dynasty, the last reigning Sultans of Bengal, were defeated.


The Bengal Sultanate was an absolute monarchy. The Ilyas Shahi dynasty promoted a Persianate society. It copied the pre-Muslim Persian tradition of monarchy and statecraft. The courts of the capital cities sanctified the sultan, used Persianized royal paraphernalia, adopted an elaborate court ceremony modeled on the Sasanian imperial paradigm, employed a hierarchical bureaucracy, and promoted Islam as the state religion. The rise of Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah saw more native elements inducted in the courts.[8] The Hussain Shahi dynasty employed many Hindus in the government and promoted a form of religious pluralism.[9]


Babur began absorbing Bengal in the early 16th century

Military strength was the existential basis of medieval kingdoms in Bengal and other parts of India. The sultans had a well-organised army, including cavalry, artillery, infantry and war elephants; and a navy. Due to the riverine geography and climate, it was not feasible to use cavalry throughout the year in Bengal. The cavalry was probably the weakest component of the Bengal Sultanate's army, as the horses had to be imported from foreign countries. The artillery was an important section. Portuguese historian João de Barros opined that the military supremacy of Bengal over Arakan and Tripura was due to its efficient artillery. The artillery used cannons and guns of various sizes.[10]

The paiks formed the vital part of the Bengal infantry during this period. There were occasions when the paiks also tackled political situations. The particular battle array of the foot-soldiers who used bows, arrows and guns attracted the attention of Babur.[10]

War elephants played an important part in the Bengal army. Apart from carrying war materials, elephants were also used for the movement of the armed personnel. In riverine Bengal the usefulness of elephants, though very slow, could not be minimised. The navy was of prime necessity in riverine Bengal. In fact, the cavalry could ensure the hold over this country for a period of six months whereas the boats backed by the paiks could command supremacy over the other half of the year. Since the time of Iwaz Khalji, who first organised a naval force in Islamic Bengal, the war boats played an important role in the political affairs of the country. The chief of the admiralty had various responsibilities, including shipbuilding, river transport, to fit out strong boats for transporting war elephants; to recruit seamen; to patrol the rivers and to collect tolls at ghats. The efficiency of the navy eroded during the Hussain Shahi dynasty. The sultans also built forts, including temporary mud walled forts.[10]

Name of Conflict Belligerents Outcome
Allies Opponent(s)
Bengal Sultanate-Delhi Sultanate War (1353–1359) Velanati Chodas Delhi Sultanate Victory
  • Delhi recognizes Bengal Sultanate
Bengal Sultanate-Jaunpur Sultanate War (1415-1420) Timurid Empire
Ming China
Jaunpur Sultanate Victory
  • Jaunpur halts raids on Bengal
Reconquest of Arakan (1429-1430) Launggyet Burmese Kingdoms Victory
Bengal Sultanate–Kamata Kingdom War (1498) Kamata Kingdom Victory
  • Khen dynasty overthrown
Bengal Sultanate-Kingdom of Mrauk U War of 1512-1516 Kingdom of Mrauk U Victory
Battle of Ghaghra
Eastern Afghan Confederates Mughal Empire Defeat
  • Bengal signs peace treaty with Mughals
Battle of Raj Mahal
Mughal Empire Defeat
  • Last Bengal Sultan captured


When Muslim rule was established, Bengal was rich in gold and silver from the pre-Islamic period. A new political economy was established by the Sultans. The taka was introduced as the standard currency of Bengal. The new currency consolidated the legitimacy of the sultanate. A salaried bureaucracy was established. Provincial autonomy manifested in governors and zamindars being allowed to retain shares of land revenue to maintain their own armed forces.[11]

During his two visits to the sultanate, Ibn Battuta described Bengal as a vibrant fertile land overflowing with agricultural commodities.[12] Most of its people were agricultural labourers and textile weavers. The Chinese traveler Ma Huan noted its large shipbuilding industry. Bengali traders were found in Malacca at the time of the sultanate.[13] Shell currency was widely used in the sultanate and imported from the Sultanate of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives received abundant rice supplies in exchange for its cowry shells.[23] During the early part of its reign, the sultanate had a strong trade network with the Horn of Africa, including the Ajuraan sultanate and Ethiopia. Abyssinians were imported through the port of Chittagong. An African giraffe imported by the Bengali Sultan was gifted to the Chinese emperor.[11]

The Grand Trunk Road connected the Bengali heartland with Kabul. Besides its handlooms in silk and cotton muslin, the region exported grain, salt, fruit, liquors and wines, precious metals and ornaments.Du ring the reopening of European trade with the East Indies following the Portuguese conquests of Malacca and Goa, Bengal was identified by European traders as "the richest country to trade with".[14]

Currency and mint towns[edit]

Silver taka with a lion symbol, 15th century

The Taka was the currency of the Bengal Sultanate. Locations hosting a mint also served as provincial capitals, known as mint towns. The following includes a partial listing of mint towns in the Bengal Sultanate.[15]

  1. Lakhnauti
  2. Sonargaon
  3. Ghiaspur (Mymensingh)
  4. Satgaon
  5. Firuzabad (Pandua)
  6. Shahr-i-Naw (Pandua)
  7. Muzzamabad (Sonargaon)
  8. Jannatabad (Lakhnauti)
  9. Fathabad (Faridpur)
  10. Chatgaon (Chittagong)
  11. Rotaspur (Bihar)
  12. Mahmudabad (Jessore and Nadia)
  13. Barbakaabad (Dinajpur)
  14. Muzaffarabad (Pandua)
  15. Muahmmadabad
  16. Husaynabad (24 Parganas)
  17. Chandrabad (Murshidabad)
  18. Nusratabad (Bogra and Rangpur)
  19. Khalifatabad (Bagerhat)
  20. Badarpur (Bagerhat)
  21. Sharifabad (Birbhum)
  22. Tandah (Malda)


The Bengal Sultanate, shown as the Ganges Delta, in the Portuguese Miller Atlas map from 1519

The only eastern political and economic pole of Islamic India was Bengal. Like the Gujarat Sultanate, it was open to the sea and accumulated profits from trade with agricultural incomes. Traders from around the world were present in the Bay of Bengal area, which included the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta and the Irrawaddy delta. Bengal's position as a major cotton textile exporter was unique in Islamic India and this was noticed by Marco Polo.[16][17] In 1569, Venetian explorer Cesar Fedrici, also known as Caesar Frederick, wrote about how merchants from Pegu used to trade silver and gold with the Bengalis. The fine muslin trade in Bengal was also prized by foreign countries and was admired by Ibn Battuta.[16]


Bengal was a melting pot under the sultanate. It received settlers from North India, the Middle East and Central Asia. They included Turks, Afghans, Persians and Arabs.[18] An important migrant community were Persians. Many Persians in Bengal were teachers, lawyers, scholars and clerics.[19] Mercenaries were widely imported for domestic, military and political service.[8]

Diplomatic relations[edit]

The giraffe gifted by Bengal to China in 1414


Political relations between China and the Indian subcontinent became nonexistent after the decline of Buddhism in India.[20] In the 15th century, the Bengal Sultanate revived the subcontinent's relations with China for the first time in centuries. Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah began sending envoys to the Ming dynasty. He sent ambassadors in 1405, 1408 and 1409.[21] Emperor Yongle of China responded by sending ambassadors to Bengal between 1405 and 1433, including members of the Treasure voyages fleet led by Admiral Zheng He.[22] The exchange of embassies included the gift of an East African giraffe by Sultan Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah to the Chinese emperor in 1414.[23][24][22] China also mediated an end to the Bengal-Jaunpur War after a request from Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah.[25]


Following Vasco Da Gama's landing in southern India, Portuguese traders from Malacca, Ceylon and Bombay began traversing the sea routes of the Bay of Bengal. In the early 16th century, Bengal received official Portuguese envoys.[26] Permission was given for the establishment of the Portuguese settlement in Chittagong.


There are records of diplomatic relations between Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah and Sultan Ashraf Barsbay of Mamluk Egypt. The latter sent the Bengali sultan a robe of honor and a letter of recognition.[27]


There are records of envoys from the East African city state of Malindi being hosted in the Bengali court.[28] Animals constituted a significant part of tributes in medieval courts.[23] The East African envoys brought giraffes, which were noticed by Chinese envoys.[28]


There are records of contacts between Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah and Sultan Shahrukh Mirza, the Timurid ruler of Herat.[25]


Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam began sending envoys to the neighboring Jaunpur Sultanate. He sent elephants as gifts to Sultan Khawja Jahan.[21] The two kingdoms fought a war between 1415 and 1420. The end of the war brought a long period of peace between the neighboring states. In 1494, Sultan Husayn Shah Sharqi of Jaunpur took refuge in Bengal.[29]

Contribution to Mecca and Medina[edit]

Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam sponsored the construction of madrasas (Islamic theological schools) in Mecca and Medina.[30] The schools became known as the Ghiyasia Madrasa and Banjaliah Madrasa. Taqiuddin Fasi, a contemporary Arab historian, was a teacher at the madrasa in Mecca. The madrasa in Medina was built at a place called Husn al-Atiq near the Prophet's Mosque.[31] Several other Bengali sultans also sponsored madrasas in Mecca and Medina, including Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah.[25]


The kingdom was visited by noblemen from city states such as the Venetian Republic, including Niccolo De Conti, Caeser Frederick and Ludovico di Varthema.[32][33][34][35]


Muslim poets were writing in the Bengali language by the 15th century. By the turn of the 16th century, a vernacular literature based on concepts of Sufism and Islamic cosmology flourished in the region. Bengali Muslim mystic literature was one of the most original in Islamic India.[17]

Tomb of Hafez in Shiraz. The Iranian poet wrote a poem for the Sultan of Bengal

And with the three washers [cups of wine], this dispute is going on.

All the parrots [poets] of India have fallen into a sugar shattering situation (become excited)

That this Persian candy [ode], to Bangalah [Bengal] is going on.

-An excerpt of a poem jointly penned by Hafez and Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah in the 14th century.[36]

With Persian as an official language, Bengal witnessed an influx of Persian scholars, lawyers, teachers and clerics. It was the preferred language of the aristocracy and the Sufis. Thousands of Persian books and manuscripts were published in Bengal. The earliest Persian work compiled in Bengal was a translation of Amrtakunda from Sanskrit by Qadi Ruknu'd-Din Abu Hamid Muhammad bin Muhammad al-'Amidi of Samarqand, a famous Hanafi jurist and Sufi. During the reign of Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah, the city of Sonargaon became an important centre of Persian literature, with many publications of prose and poetry. The period is described as the "golden age of Persian literature in Bengal". Its stature is illustrated by the Sultan's own correspondence with the Persian poet Hafez. When the Sultan invited Hafez to complete an incomplete ghazal by the ruler, the renowned poet responded by acknowledging the grandeur of the king's court and the literary quality of Bengali-Persian poetry.[37]

In the 15th century, the Sufi poet Nur Qutb Alam pioneered Bengali Muslim poetry by establishing the Rikhta tradition, which saw poems written half in Persian and half in colloquial Bengali. The invocation tradition saw Islamic figures replacing the invocation of Hindu gods and goddesses in Bengali texts. The literary romantic tradition saw poems by Shah Muhammad Sagir on Yusuf and Zulaikha, as well as works of Bahram Khan and Sabirid Khan. The Dobhashi culture featured the use of Arabic and Persian words in Bengali texts to illustrate Muslim conquests. Epic poetry included Nabibangsha by Syed Sultan, Janganama by Abdul Hakim and Rasul Bijay by Shah Barid. Sufi literature flourished with a dominant theme of cosmology. Bengali Muslim writers produced translations of numerous Arabic and Persian works, including the Thousand and One Nights and the Shahnameh.[38][39]


The large number of mosques built during the Bengal Sultanate indicates the rapidity with which the local population converted to Islam. The period between 1450 and 1550 was an intensive mosque building era. These mosques dotted the countryside, ranged from small to medium sizes and were used for daily devotion. Most mosques were either of rectangular or square shape. The rectangular building without an enclosed courtyard became a popular type for both large and medium-sized mosques. Bengali mosques would be covered several small domes. Other features of Bengali mosques would include corner towers, curved roofs, multiple mihrabs, pointed arches and in some cases, a dome in the shape of a hut's roof. Bengali mosques had a conspicuous absence of minarets. Ponds were often located beside a mosque. Arabic inscriptions in the mosques often include the name of the patron or builder. The most commonly cited verse from the Quran in inscriptions was Surah 72, Al-Jinn. A glimpse of houses in the Bengal Sultanate can be seen in the Iskandar Nama (Tale of Alexander) published by Sultan Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah.[40]

The buildings were made of brick. The brick mosque with terracotta decoration represented a grand structure in the Bengal Sultanate. They were often the gift of a wealthy patron and the fruit of extraordinary effort, which would not be found in every Muslim neighborhood.[40]

An exceptional building was the Adina Mosque, the imperial mosque of Bengal and the largest mosque ever built in the Indian subcontinent.[41] The monumental structure was designed in the hypostyle of early of Islam with a plan similar to the Umayyad Mosque. The style is associated with the introduction of Islam in new areas.[40]

List of Sultans[edit]

Ilyas Shahi dynasty (1342-1414)[edit]

Name Reign Notes
Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah 1342–1358 Became the first sole ruler of whole Bengal comprising Sonargaon, Satgaon and Lakhnauti.
Sikandar Shah 1358–1390 Assassinated by his son and successor, Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah
Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah 1390–1411
Saifuddin Hamza Shah 1411–1413
Muhammad Shah bin Hamza Shah 1413 Assassinated by his father's slave Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah on the orders of the landlord of Dinajpur, Raja Ganesha
Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah 1413–1414
Alauddin Firuz Shah I 1414 Son of Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah. Assassinated by Raja Ganesha

House of Raja Ganesha (1414-1435)[edit]

Name Reign Notes
Raja Ganesha 1414–1415
Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah 1415–1416 Son of Raja Ganesha and converted into Islam
Raja Ganesha 1416–1418 Second Phase
Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah 1418–1433 Second Phase
Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah 1433–1435

Restored Ilyas Shahi dynasty (1435-1487)[edit]

Name Reign Notes
Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah I 1435–1459
Rukunuddin Barbak Shah 1459–1474
Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah 1474–1481
Sikandar Shah II 1481
Jalaluddin Fateh Shah 1481–1487

Habshi rule (1487-1494)[edit]

Name Reign Notes
Shahzada Barbak 1487
Saifuddin Firuz Shah 1487–1489
Mahmud Shah II 1489–1490
Shamsuddin Muzaffar Shah 1490–1494

Hussain Shahi dynasty (1494-1538)[edit]

Name Reign Notes
Alauddin Hussain Shah 1494–1518
Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah 1518–1533
Alauddin Firuz Shah II 1533
Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah 1533–1538

Governors under Suri rule (1539-1554)[edit]

An illustration of the conqueror Sher Shah Suri
Name Reign Notes
Khidr Khan 1539–1541 Declared independence in 1541 and was replaced
Qazi Fazilat 1541–1545
Muhammad Khan Sur 1545–1554 Declared independence upon the death of Islam Shah Suri

Muhammad Shah dynasty (1554-1564)[edit]

Name Reign Notes
Muhammad Khan Sur 1554–1555 Declared independence and styled himself as Shamsuddin Muhammad Shah
Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah I 1555–1561
Ghiyasuddin Jalal Shah 1561–1563
Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah II 1563-1564

Karrani dynasty (1564-1576)[edit]

Name Reign Notes
Taj Khan Karrani 1564–1566
Sulaiman Khan Karrani 1566–1572
Bayazid Khan Karrani 1572
Daud Khan Karrani 1572–1576

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "History". Banglapedia. Archived from the original on 29 September 2017. Retrieved 23 September 2017. Shah-i-Bangalah, Shah-i-Bangaliyan and Sultan-i-Bangalah
  2. ^ Wink, André (2003). Indo-Islamic society: 14th - 15th centuries. BRILL. ISBN 978-9004135611.
  3. ^ Uhlig, Siegbert (2003). Encyclopaedia Aethiopica. p. 151.
  4. ^ Embree, Ainslie (1988). Encyclopedia of Asian history. Asia Society. p. 149.
  5. ^ Richard M. Eaton (31 July 1996). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. University of California Press. pp. 40–50. ISBN 978-0-520-20507-9.
  6. ^ a b David Lewis (31 October 2011). Bangladesh: Politics, Economy and Civil Society. Cambridge University Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-1-139-50257-3.
  7. ^ Vadime Elisseeff (1998). The Silk Roads: Highways of Culture and Commerce. Berghahn Books. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-57181-221-6. Archived from the original on 15 May 2018.
  8. ^ a b "BENGAL – Encyclopaedia Iranica". Archived from the original on 30 September 2017.
  9. ^ "He founded the Bengali Husayn Shahi dynasty, which ruled from 1493 to 1538, and was known to be tolerant to Hindus, employing many on them in his service and promoting a form of religious pluralism" David Lewis (31 October 2011). Bangladesh: Politics, Economy and Civil Society. Cambridge University Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-1-139-50257-3.
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  12. ^ Dunn, Ross E. (1986). The Adventures of Ibn Battuta, a Muslim Traveler of the Fourteenth Century. University of California Press. p. 254. ISBN 978-0-520-05771-5.
  13. ^ Mukherjee, Rila (2011). Pelagic Passageways: The Northern Bay of Bengal Before Colonialism. Primus Books. p. 305. ISBN 978-93-80607-20-7.
  14. ^ Nanda, J. N (2005). Bengal: the unique state. Concept Publishing Company. p. 10. 2005. ISBN 978-81-8069-149-2. Bengal [...] was rich in the production and export of grain, salt, fruit, liquors and wines, precious metals and ornaments besides the output of its handlooms in silk and cotton. Europe referred to Bengal as the richest country to trade with.
  15. ^ "Mint Towns - Banglapedia". 5 April 2014. Archived from the original on 1 July 2017. Retrieved 22 September 2017.
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  24. ^ Giorgio Riello; Zoltán Biedermann; Anne Gerritsen (28 December 2017). Global Gifts: The Material Culture of Diplomacy in Early Modern Eurasia. Cambridge University Press. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-108-41550-7. Archived from the original on 15 May 2018.
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  26. ^ "Portuguese, The - Banglapedia". Archived from the original on 1 April 2017.
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  40. ^ a b c Oleg Grabar (1989). Muqarnas: An Annual on Islamic Art and Architecture. Brill Archive. pp. 58–72. ISBN 978-90-04-09050-7.
  41. ^ Richard M. Eaton (31 July 1996). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. University of California Press. pp. 40–50. ISBN 978-0-520-20507-9. Archived from the original on 6 January 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Yegar, Moshe (2002). Between Integration and Secession: The Muslim Communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. pp. 23–24. ISBN 978-0-7391-0356-2.
  • Hussain, Syed Ejaz (2003). The Bengal Sultanate: Politics, Economy and Coins, A.D. 1205–1576. Manohar. ISBN 978-81-7304-482-3.
  • The Grammar of Sultanate Mosque in Bengal Architecture, Nujaba Binte Kabir (2012)

Coordinates: 24°52′0″N 88°8′0″E / 24.86667°N 88.13333°E / 24.86667; 88.13333