The Bengal Sultanate

The Bengal Sultanate

The Bengal Sultanate was an independent medieval Islamic state in the Indian subcontinent established on the coast of Bay of Bengal in 1342. Its dominion and influence extended across modern-day Bangladesh, East India and West Burma. The sultanate was dominated by numerous dynasties of Turkic, Arab, and Persian, Bengali and Abyssinian origin. It disintegrated at the end of the 16th-century and was absorbed into the pan-South Asian Mughal Empire and the Arakanese Kingdom of Mrauk U.

Brief History

The important kingdoms that ruled Bengal Sultanate were:

Illyas Shahi Dynasty: Bakhtiyar Khilji annexed the Bengal region as a province of the Delhi Sultanate, but in mid 14th century the governors of Bengal announced their independence. The Bengal Sultanate was then formed in 1352 by Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah when he conquered Lakhnauti, Sonargaon and Satgaon. The dynasty’s rule was interrupted by an uprising by the Hindus under Raja Ganesha. However the Ilyas Shahi dynasty was restored by Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah.

Ganesh Dynasty:  The Ganesha dynasty began with Raja Ganesha in 1414. After Raja Ganesha seized control over Bengal he faced an imminent threat of invasion. With the help of Qutb al Alam, the threat was seized but the Muslim influence continued. Raja Ganesha’s son converted to Islam who was known as Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah. Jalaluddin’s son, Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah ruled for only 3 years due to chaos and anarchy. The dynasty is known for their liberal policy as well as justice and charity.

Hussain Shahi Dynasty: This dynasty ruled from 1494-1538. Alauddin Hussain Shah was considered as the greatest of all Sultans of Bengal. He extended the Sultanate’s territory and trade links. In the later period, the Afghans sacked the kingdom’s capital Gaur and remained for several decades until the arrival of Mughals.

Culture

The Cultural heritage of the Bengal Sultanate had many Persian influences along with the traditional Bengali culture. The Sultans of Bengal were termed as the King of Kings in the East. Poetry was appreciated and encouraged in the period. The literature that was used in royal courts included works in Arabic, Persian and Sanskrit. In the 15th century, the Mosque City of Bagerhat was built under the Bengal Sultanate rule. This city, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, has more than 50 Islamic monuments. It has been called as an outstanding example of an architectural ensemble which illustrates a significant stage of human history. The Sufi Baul movement also took birth under their reign.

Art

Literature prospered and grew by leaps and bounds in this era. Persian was the official language used in the region. Many scholars, teachers, lawyers and clerics relocated to the Sultanate. Several Persian manuscripts and books were published. The Rikhta tradition of Bengali Muslim poetry was first introduced by Nur Qutb Alam. These poems written were half in Bengali and the half in Persian. Sufi literature also flourished with the main theme of cosmology. Hindu writers were also encouraged by Sultans. Under the rule of Alauddin Hussain Shah the Bengali adaptation of the Mahabharata was written. Gaudiya Vaishanavism – the Vaishanava religious movement, which was started by Chaitanya Mahaprabhu also came into being in the period of the Bengal Sultanate.

Architecture:

Bengal Sultanate is known for its iconic architecture. A unique Bengali-Islamic form took form. It was inspired by styles from Persia and Byzantium. Single and multiple shaped domes were accessorized with stones and terracotta. One of the best examples of their work is Adina mosque. It looks similar to Great Mosque of Damascus.

The Mosque city of Bagerhat, a lost city in Khulna Division of Bangladesh was set up during the reign of the Bengal Sultanate. It was established by the warrior saint Turkish giant Ulugh Khan Jahan in the 15th century. It is a UNESCO world heritage site which was originally called as, “Khalifatabad” It was one of the major mint towns of Bengal Sultanate.

Administrative Centers

The Bengal Sultanate governed its territories through a network of administrative centers known as Mint Towns. These towns hosted a mint which produced the taka. They were district headquarters and contributed to urbanization. They received migrants from other parts of the Muslim world, including North India, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Mint Town Modern areas
Lakhnauti Maldah District and Rajshahi District
Sonargaon Dhaka District and Narayanganj District
Satgaon Hooghly District and Calcutta District
Chatgaon Chittagong District
Mrauk U Sittwe District
Fatehabad Faridpur District
Khalifatabad Bagerhat District
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
Muzaffarabad Maldah District
Husaynabad 24 Parganas
Tandah Maldah District

 

Economy

Bengal was a high yielding land where agricultural activities flourished. The clothing industry consisted of textile weavers. When the Chinese traveler Ma Huan wrote about the region, he mentioned about the booming shipbuilding industry. Trading activities extended up to different parts of the world such as East Africa. Bengal was connected to the caravan routes of West and Central Asia, through the Grant Trunk road. Items that were exported included salts, fruits, liqueurs, wines, grain, ornaments, handloom items and precious metal. The maritime and land trade routes of the sultanate extended far and wide from Central Asia to the West.

Coinage

Earlier, coins were issued in the name of the Delhi Sultan. However, that caused a lot of difficulties due to the rulers in Bengal. The first independent sultanate was established in Bengal for the next 300 years after Balban died in 1287 CE. Things took a turn in 1576 CE when Delhi brought Bengal under complete control as a part of the Mughal Empire. When the Muslims ruled, they introduced taka as the standard form of currency. Bengal was considered the richest country to trade with by European traders. The uniqueness of the Bengal Sultanate coinage stands out mainly because of the monometallic design based on the silver tanka. This denomination was based on the tola of 11 grams.

An example of the first Islamic coin struck in the Bengal Sultanate is the Muhammad Bin Sam 20 ratti gold coin. It shows a horseman galloping on the left while he holds a mace. A Nagari legend surrounds it. When Muhammad Bin Sam set up the Delhi Sultanate, his rule extended up to Bengal and he issued coins under the Delhi Sultan’s name.

Fractional Gold Tanka in the name of Muhammad Bin Sam

Later, the Bengal Sultans modeled their coin designs on those of the Delhi sultanate. Most of the coins of the Bengal sultans have several types of test cuts. For example, the big pit in the centre plus the cuts on the rim of reverse sides. This could mean that counterfeiting was a common occurrence.

One of the most iconic coins was issued by Jalal-al-Din Muhammad. It was a silver tanka featuring a standing lion to the right and an inscription. The legend carries the ruler’s titles and is accentuated with an ornamental border. The design of this coin was copied by later Kings and sultans of Bengal.

Most of the coins were inscriptional only written in between geometric shapes such as squares and circles.

Their four main types were:

  • Features the ruler’s name and titles on obverse side. Shahada (a form of expression of faith) on the reverse side sometimes with the “Abbasid Caliph” name.
  • Had the ruler’s name and titles on the reverse side and obverse carried the words “Abbasid Caliph” on reverse.
  • Reverse side same as above but the obverse side contained religious titles.
  • Ruler’s name titles on both sides.

Rare and Scarce Coins:

Hamzah Shah Coins: Hamzah Shah was in power for a short period. Most of his coins are rare to find. An example is the Silver Tanka, that bears the legend “al-mu’ayyad bi-ta’yid al-rahman saif al-dunya wa’l din abu’l mujahid  hamzah shah ibn a’zamshah al-sultan / “ and nasir al-islam wa’l muslimin yamin amir al-mu’minin in a ruled circle. The coin style is similar to those attributed to Muzzamabad. Another rare coin of his is the silver tanka with a scalloped circle on the reverse.

Silver Tanka of Hamzah Shah

Jalal-al-Din Muhammad Coins: His coins are generally believed to have been minted at Sonargaon. One of his rare type of Silver Tanka issued by him is with the legend al-sultan al-‘adil jalal al-dunya wa’l din abu’l muzaffar muhammad shah al-sultan/ in a scalloped circle and the legend asir amir al-mu’minin ghawth al-islam wa’l muslimin in an inverse scalloped circle. It also has a marginal legend with the prophet’s names and probably an AH date.

Silver Tanka of Jalal-al-Din Muhammad

Jalal al-Din-Fath Coins: A silver tanka issued by Jalal al Din-Fath carrying the legend al-sultan ibn al-sultan jalal al-dunya wa’l din abu’l muzaffar with sola countermarks and obverse side with legend fath shah al-sultan ibn mahmud shah al-sultan is one of the scarcest types of Bengal Sultanate coins. It has countermarks that are unlike the standard chop and test marks.

Surya or Chakhra Silver Tanka of Jalal-al-Din-Fath

Bibliography

http://coinindia.com/galleries-bengal.html

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bengal_Sultanate

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Bengal

http://coinindia.com/galleries-bengal.html

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