Bengal Sultanate

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Sultanate of Bengal
শাহী বাংলা[1]







The empire of the Bengal Sultanate in 1500, during the reign of Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah
Capital Gaur
Languages Bengali (general language)[2]
Arabic (liturgical)
Persian (diplomatic)
Arakanese (regional)
Religion Sunni Islam (official), Hinduism, Buddhism
Government Absolute monarchy, unitary state with federal structure
 •  1342-1358 Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah (first)
 •  1572-1576 Daud Khan Karrani (last)
Historical era Late medieval
 •  Independence declared from Delhi 1352
 •  Battle of Raj Mahal 1576
Currency taka
Today part of  Bangladesh

The Bengal Sultanate was a sovereign state that encompassed present-day Bangladesh, the Indian state of West Bengal and the Myanmarese state of Rakhine between the 14th and 16th centuries. It was a regional power and a melting pot of diverse Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists, located at the crossroads of modern South Asia and Southeast Asia.


A sultanate era painting depicting the Shahnameh

The fertile Bengal region, formed by the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta, was integrated into the Muslim world after the Islamic conquest of the Indian subcontinent. It was annexed by Bakhtiar Khilji as a province of the Delhi Sultanate. In the mid 14th century, governors in Bengal declared independence from the Delhi Sultanate, including at Lakhnauti, Sonargaon and Satgaon. In 1352, the Bengal Sultanate was formed by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah after he conquered the three cities. He also defeated an invasion by the Sultan of Delhi Firuz Shah Tughluq in 1353. Ilyas Shah led successful campaigns against neighboring Hindu states which consolidated the position of the Bengal Sultanate as the foremost military power in the eastern subcontinent. He was styled as "the second Alexander, the right hand of the caliphate, the defender of the Commander of the Faithful".[3] His successors formed the Ilyas Shahi dynasty. His son Sikandar Shah and grandson Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah expanded the military, diplomatic and architectural influence of the sultanate.[4]

In 1414, the Hindu noble Raja Ganesha staged a coup and installed his son Jadu on the throne. Jadu later converted to Islam and took the title Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah, reigning until 1433 and proclaiming himself as a caliph of Islam. During his reign, Arakan in Burma came under a century of Bengali suzerainty.[5] His military assisted the Arakanese ruler Narameikhla to regain control of the city of Mrauk U in return for Arakan becoming a vassal state of the Bengal Sultanate. Bengali Muslims formed their own settlements in Arakan. The Buddhist rulers in Arakan received Islamic titles. Coins in Arakan depicted Burmese script on one side and Arabic script on another side.[6]

The Ilyas Shahi dynasty was restored in 1435. It continued to expand the territory of the sultanate, especially towards Northeast India. Palace coups became a regular phenomenon in the kingdom. Between 1487-1494, a group of Abyssinian generals assumed power and ruled the kingdom, taking turns as the Sultan of Bengal.[4]

By the mid 16th-century, the Bengal Sultanate began facing increasing challenges. Between 1539 and 1554, it was overrun by the Afghan Sur Empire of Sher Shah Suri. The Twelve Bhuyan landlords also began asserting their independence. Arakan and Portuguese Chittagong formed the independent Kingdom of Mrauk U.[4]

The Karrani dynasty was the last royal house of the kingdom. Despite the ambitions of its last ruler Daud Khan Karrani, the Bengal Sultanate was abolished by Emperor Akbar of the Mughal Empire after Karrani was defeated in the Battle of Raj Mahal in 1576. Most territories of the sultanate were eventually incorporated into Mughal Bengal.[4]

Mint towns[edit]

Old Gateway of Gaur, the first capital of the Bengal Sultanate
The giraffe gifted to the Chinese emperor by the Bengal Sultan in 1414

The Bengal Sultanate governed its territories through a network of administrative centers which served as regional capitals and minted currency.[7] These cities were district headquarters and contributed to urbanization. They received migrants from other parts of the Muslim world, including North India and the Middle East.

Mint Town Modern areas Notes
Lakhnauti Maldah District and Rajshahi District The oldest mint town and first capital of the Bengal Sultanate
Sonargaon Dhaka District and Narayanganj District Capital of several Bengal Sultans and administrative center of East Bengal
Satgaon Hooghly District and Calcutta District Flourishing port city
Chatgaon Chittagong District Bengal's largest seaport and administrative center of southeast Bengal
Mrauk U Sittwe District Administrative center of Arakan
Fatehabad Faridpur District
Khalifatabad Bagerhat District Includes Mosque City of Bagerhat
Ghiaspur Mymensingh District
Barbakaabad Dinajpur District
Sharifabad Birbhum District
Nusratabad Rangpur District and Bogra District
Chandrabad Murshidabad district
Rotaspur Located in Bihar state, India
Mahmudabad Nadia District and Jessore District
Jalalabad Sylhet District Named after Hazrat Shah Jalal
Muzaffarabad Maldah District Served as one of the longest capitals of the Bengal Sultanate
Husaynabad 24 Parganas
Tandah Maldah District Wartime capital of the last Sultan of Bengal

Foreign relations[edit]

Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah developed relations with the Chinese Ming dynasty, particularly with Emperor Yongle. The two rulers exchanged numerous embassies, including several missions by Chinese envoy Zheng He.[8] Bengal gifted an African giraffe to the Chinese emperor in 1414.[8] On several occasions, Ming China acted as a mediatory between Bengal and its neighboring kingdoms during times of disputes or conflict. Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah developed relations with Shahrukh Mirza of the Timurid Empire and Barsbay of Mamluk Egypt.[9]

Many countries sent embassies to the Bengal Sultanate. They included ambassadors Niccolo De Conti of the Republic of Venice and Ralph Fitch of the Kingdom of England.[10][11]

In the 16th century, the Portuguese Empire engaged with the Bengal Sultans and gained permission to set up trading posts in Chittagong and Satgaon.[12]

Economy and trade[edit]

Silver taka minted under the Governor of Chittagong, c. 1417

During his two visits to the sultanate, Ibn Battuta described Bengal as a vibrant fertile land overflowing with agricultural commodities.[13] 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.[14] Shell currency was widely used in the sultanate and imported from the Sultanate of the Maldives in the Indian Ocean.[15] Its trade networks spanned as far as East Africa, including the Somali Ajuraan sultanate. It had both a maritime and overland trade route with China. The Grand Trunk Road connected Bengal through overland caravan routes to West and Central Asia, where its muslin was in high demand. The region exported grain, salt, fruit, liquors and wines, precious metals and ornaments besides the output of its handlooms in silk and cotton.

During 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".[16]


Hafez maintained contacts with Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah.[17]

The ruling class of the Bengal Sultanate combined heavy Persianate influences with the rich cultural heritage of Bengal.[3] According to historian Richard M Eaton, the Bengali court was modeled on Iranian tradition.[3] The Sultans were styled as the "King of Kings in the East".[3] The Bengal style of Indo-Islamic architecture developed during the sultanate. The most grand testament to their imperial ambitions is reflected in the ruins of the Adina Mosque, the largest mosque ever built in the Indian subcontinent.[3] It combines the art of the late Pala-Sena period with Islamic architecture.[3] The mosque has a plan similar to the Great Mosque of Damascus and elements of the pre-Islamic Sassanid Taq Kasra monument.[18][3] The Mosque City of Bagerhat was built during the Bengal Sultanate in the 15th century. Other monuments include the Firoz Minaret, the Golden Mosque and the Old Gateway of Gaur.

Literature in the royal courts was influenced by Persian, Arabic and Sanskrit works. The Sultans patronized translations of ancient Indian epic poetry, including the Mahabharata and Ramayana. Bengali was the universally spoken language in the sultanate, according to the Chinese envoy Ma Huan.[3] Shah Muhammad Sagir wrote Yusuf-Zulekha during the reign of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah. The Sufis were highly influential in the Bengal Sultanate. The Sufi Baul movement began emerging during this era. Among Hindus, Krittibas Ojha wrote the first Bengali adaptation of the Ramayana during Azam Shah's reign. Under the reign of Sultan Alauddin Hussain Shah, Kabindra Parameshvar wrote his Pandabbijay, a Bengali adaptation of the Mahabharata. Similarly, Shrikar Nandi wrote another Bengali adaptation of the Mahabharata. Kabindra Parameshvar in his Pandabbijay eulogised Alauddin Hussain Shah.[19] Bijay Gupta wrote his Manasamangal Kāvya also during his reign. He eulogised Husain Shah by comparing him with Arjuna (samgrame Arjun Raja prabhater Rabi).[20] He mentioned him as Nrpati-Tilak (the tilak-mark of kings) and Jagat-bhusan (the adornment of the universe) as well.[21] An official of Husain Shah, Yashoraj Khan, wrote a number of Vaishnava padas and he also praised his ruler in one of his pada.[22] The Gaudiya Vaishnavism movement pioneered by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu appeared during the sultanate's era.

One foreign account on the kingdom's populace described the following:-[23]

They are honest and pure and speak a language called Bengali. Some men wrap their foreheads in white cloth and wear long white shirts. Some others are wrapped in colorful cloth from the waist down. Women are dressed in short shirts and draped with brocades...

The kingdom is densely populated and has abundant resources and fertile lands. Hard-working men plough the fields while diligent women weave cloth. Many of the rich build ships and go abroad for business.

List of Sultans[edit]

Name Reign Notes
Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah 1352–1358
Sikandar Shah 1358–1390
Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah 1390–1411
Saifuddin Hamza Shah 1411–1413
Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah 1413–1414
Alauddin Firuz Shah I 1414
Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah 1414–1435
Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah 1433–1435
Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah 1435–1459
Rukunuddin Barbak Shah 1459–1474
Shamsuddin Yusuf Shah 1474–1481
Sikandar Shah II 1481
Jalaluddin Fateh Shah 1481–1487
Shahzada Barbak 1487
Saifuddin Firuz Shah 1487–1489
Mahmud Shah II 1489–1490
Shamsuddin Muzaffar Shah 1490–1494
Alauddin Hussain Shah 1494–1518
Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah 1518–1533
Alauddin Firuz Shah II 1533
Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah 1533–1538
Khidr Khan 1539–1541
Qazi Fazilat 1541–1545
Muhammad Khan Sur 1545–1555
Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah II 1555–1561
Ghiyasuddin Jalal Shah 1561–1564
Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah III 1564
Taj Khan Karrani 1564–1566
Sulaiman Khan Karrani 1566–1572
Bayazid Khan Karrani 1572
Daud Khan Karrani 1572–1576

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Chakrabarti, Kunal; Chakrabarti, Shubhra (2013). Historical Dictionary of the Bengalis. Scarecrow Press. p. 562. ISBN 978-0-8108-8024-5. 
  2. ^ Eaton, Richard Maxwell (1996). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-20507-9. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h "The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760" (PDF). Retrieved 2016-05-05. 
  4. ^ a b c d Hussain, Syed Ejaz (2003). The Bengal Sultanate: Politics, Economy and Coins, A.D. 1205-1576. Manohar. ISBN 978-81-7304-482-3. 
  5. ^ Richard, Arthus (2002). History of Rakhine. Boston, MD: Lexington Books. p. 23. ISBN 0-7391-0356-3. Retrieved 8 July 2012.
  6. ^ Yegar, Moshe (2002). Between integration and secession: The Muslim communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma / Myanmar. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. p. 23. ISBN 0-7391-0356-3. 
  7. ^ "Banglapedia". 2015-10-25. Retrieved 2016-05-05. 
  8. ^ a b Mukherjee, Rila (2011). Pelagic Passageways: The Northern Bay of Bengal Before Colonialism. Primus Books. p. 285. ISBN 978-93-80607-20-7. 
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Conti, Nicolo de - Banglapedia". 2014-07-22. Retrieved 2016-05-05. 
  11. ^ Pakistan Quarterly 6–7: 51. 1956  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  12. ^ "Portuguese, The - Banglapedia". 2015-02-09. Retrieved 2016-05-05. 
  13. ^ 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. 
  14. ^ Mukherjee, Rila (2011). Pelagic Passageways: The Northern Bay of Bengal Before Colonialism. Primus Books. pp. 305–. ISBN 978-93-80607-20-7. 
  15. ^ "A fractured link". Dhaka Tribune. 2014-03-29. Retrieved 2016-05-05. 
  16. ^ Nanda, J. N (2005). Bengal: the unique state. Concept Publishing Company. p. 10. ISBN 978-81-8069-149-2. Retrieved 22 November 2010. 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. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ Hasan, Perween (2007). Sultans and Mosques: The Early Muslim Architecture of Bangladesh. I.B.Tauris. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-84511-381-0. 
  19. ^ Sen, Sukumar (1991, reprint 2007). Bangala Sahityer Itihas, Vol.I, (Bengali), Kolkata: Ananda Publishers, ISBN 81-7066-966-9, pp.208-11
  20. ^ Sen, Sukumar (1991, reprint 2007). Bangala Sahityer Itihas, Vol.I, (Bengali), Kolkata: Ananda Publishers, ISBN 81-7066-966-9, p.189
  21. ^ Chowdhury, AM (2012). "Husain Shah". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh. 
  22. ^ Sen, Sukumar (1991, reprint 2007). Bangala Sahityer Itihas, Vol.I, (Bengali), Kolkata: Ananda Publishers, ISBN 81-7066-966-9, p.99
  23. ^ "Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People's Republic of China". Retrieved 2016-05-05.