READING HALL

"THIRD MILLENNIUM LIBRARY"

Jewels from the Christian World Civilization

HISTORY OF INDIA

 

Turks and Afghans

 

XI

THE KINGDOM OF BENGAL

 

 

IT must not be supposed that the province of Bengal, conquered for Muhammad bin Sam and Qutb-ud-din Aibak by Muhammad Bakhtyar the Khalj, was conterminous with the Lower Provinces of Bengal which were governed until 1905 by a Lieutenant Governor. Before the Muhammadan conquest Bengal was divided into five regions,

(1) Radha, the country west of the Hughli and south of the Ganges;

(2) Bagdi, the delta of the Ganges and Brahmaputra;

(3) Banga, the country to the east of the delta;

(4) Barendra, the country to the north of the Padma and between the Karatoya and the Mahananda rivers; and

(5) Mithila, the country west of the Mahananda.

Muhammad Bakhtyar took possession of the south-eastern parts of Mithila, Barendra, the northern districts of Radha, and the north-western districts of Bagdi. The Muhammadan province and kingdom of Bengal was long confined to this territory, which was commonly known, from the name of its capital, as Lakhnawati, but was subsequently extended into Banga, and the western districts of Radha, which included Jhar­khand, or Chota Nagpur.

The course of events in Bengal during the period of its dependence on Delhi, which was its normal condition until 1330, has already been traced. Although the country was regarded until that time as a province the loyalty of its governors was always, owing to the distance which separated Lakhnawati from Delhi, and climatic conditions which rendered military operations impossible for many months in each year, a very uncertain quantity. It depended almost entirely on the king's ability to command obedience, and the dubious attitude of the governors of Lakhnawati to the central authority became a byword at Delhi.

The royal title was occasionally assumed, as by Ali Mardan, who obtained the government from Qutb-ud-din Aibak after the death of Muhammad Bakhtyar, and by Ghiyas-ud-din the Khalj, who succeeded Ali Mardan. The first serious rebellion against a strong king of Delhi was that of Tughril against Balban, and the first instance of the unquestioned use of the royal title in Bengal was that of Nasir-ud-din Mahmud, the contemptible father of the still more contemptible Muizz-ud-din, Balban's successor on the throne of Delhi. The father was content with the sovereignty of Bengal, and outlived the son, who was unfit to wield the sceptre of Delhi. Mahmud, on his death in 1291, was succeeded by his next surviving son, Rukn-ud-din Kaikaus, who, though he used the royal title and coined money in his own name, owned allegiance to Ala-ud-din Khalji of Delhi.

Kaikaus died in 1302, and was succeeded by his next brother, Shams-ud-din Firuz, who reigned obscurely until his death in 1318, when his eldest son, Shihab-ud-din Bughra, and his third son, Ghiyas-ud-din Bahadur, contended for the kingdom. The Muslims had by this time extended their rule into Bang, or Eastern Bengal, and Bahadur had established himself, before his father's death, at Sonargaon, in the present district of Dacca, and when Bughra ascended the throne in Lakhnawati he attacked and defeated him. Bughra, died, or was slain, and his next brother, Nair-ud-din, who was older than Bahadur, ascended the throne and in 1324 sought the assistance of Ghiyas-ud-din Tughluq of Delhi against his brother. Tughluq marched into Bengal, established Nasir-ud-din on the throne of Lakhnawati, and carried Bahadur a captive to Delhi.

Muhammad Tughluq, immediately after his accession, restored Bahadur to the government of Sonargaon, or Eastern Bengal, but associated with him, as a precautionary measure, Tatar Khan, better known by his later title of Bahram Khan. Shortly afterwards Muhammad appointed Malik Bidar Khalji, Qadr Khan, to the government of Lakhnawati and Izz-ud-din Azam-ul-Mulk to that of Satgaon.

In 1330 Bahadur rebelled in Sonargaon, but was defeated and put to death and Bahram Khan remained sole governor of Eastern Bengal. Muhammad Tughluq displayed the vindictive temper for which he afterwards became notorious by causing Bahadur's skin, stuffed with straw, to be exhibited throughout the provinces of the kingdom as a warning to disaffected governors.

The history of Bengal during the period immediately preceding and following Bahrain's death in 1336 is extraordinarily obscure. Bahram either died a natural death or was slain by his chief armour-bearer, who had acquired great influence in the state and on his master's death assumed in Sonargaon the royal title of Fakhr-ud-din Mubarak Shah. In 1339 Qadr Khan died at Lakhnawati, and the muster-master of his forces caused himself to be proclaimed king of Western Bengal under the title of Ala-ud-din Ali Shah, and removed his capital from Lakhnawati to Pandua.

 

Independence of Bengal

Neither rebel had much to apprehend from Muhammad Tughluq, whose long course of tyranny was now bearing fruit in these rebellions which led to the disintegration of his kingdom, and Ala-ud-din Ali's transfer of his capital to Pandua seems to have been a strategic move calculated to bring him within striking distance of his rival’s capital at Sonargaon. Hostilities between the two continued for some years, and in 1349 Mubarak disappears from the scene.

He can hardly have been defeated and put to death, as stated by the chroniclers, who place the event some years earlier, by Ali, for he was succeeded in Eastern Bengal by his son, Ikhtiyar-ud-din Ghazi Shah, and Ali himself was no longer reigning in 1349, for his foster-brother, Malik Iliyas, who had been contending with varying success for the crown of Western Bengal ever since Ali had assumed the royal title, caused him to be assassinated in 1345, and ascended the throne under the title of Shams-ud-din Iliyas Shah. He was nicknamed Bhangara from his addiction to the preparation of hemp known as bhang. There is some authority for the statement that he captured and slew Mubarak of Sonargaon, but he did not obtain possession of Sonargaon until 1352, when Ghazi Shah was expelled. Iliyas is also said to have invaded Jajnagar, as the Muslim historians style the kingdom of Jajpur in Orissa, and there to have taken many elephants and much plunder. He also invaded the south-eastern provinces of the kingdom of Delhi and overran Tirhut, thus incurring the resentment of Firuz Tughluq, whose punitive expedition against him has already been described.

Iliyas was compelled to leave his capital, Pandua, at the mercy of the invader, and to retire to Ikdala, where he offered a successful resistance. The victory described by the sycophantic historians of Delhi was infructuous, for Firuz was obliged to retreat without obtaining from Iliyas even a formal recognition of his sovereignty, and, though he is said to have remitted tribute to Firuz in 1354 and 1358, the truth seems to be that he merely accredited envoys to Delhi who bore with them the complimentary presents which eastern custom demands on such occasions.

In December, 1356, Firuz formally recognised the independence of Bengal, and the gifts borne by his mission were at least as valuable as those received by him from Iliyas. These gifts, however, never reached their destination, for the envoy, Saif-ud-din, heard when he reached Bihar of the death of Iliyas and the accession of his son Sikandar, and applied to his master for instructions regarding their disposal.

Firuz, notwithstanding his treaty with Iliyas, directed that they should be distributed among the nobles of Bihar and recalled Saif-ud-din to Delhi to assist in the preparations for an invasion of Bengal. Some pretext for this breach of faith was furnished by a refugee who had recently arrived at his court. This was Zafar Khan, son-in-law to Mubarak of Eastern Bengal, whom, according to his own account, he had had some expectation of succeeding. The conquest of Eastern Bengal by Iliyas had compelled him to seek safety in flight, and after many vicissitudes he reached Delhi, where he was well content with the position of a courtier until his wrongs suggested themselves to the king as a pretext for invading and conquering Bengal. His advance to Bengal has already been described in Chapter VII, and while he halted at Zafarabad, engaged in superintending the building of Jaunpur, he received envoys from Sikandar, bearing valuable gifts. These he meanly retained, while persisting in his design of invading Bengal. Sikandar, like his father, took refuge in Ikdala, and so completely baffled Firuz that when he opened negotiations for peace he demanded and obtained most favourable terms. He is said to have been obliged to agree to send to Delhi an annual tribute of forty elephants and to surrender Sonargaon to Zafar Khan. The latter condition was never fulfilled, owing, as the Delhi historians say, to Zafar Khan's preferring the security of Delhi to the precarious tenure of a fief in Sikandar's dominions, and if the tribute was ever paid Sikandar obtained an equivalent in the formal recognition of his independence, a jewelled crown worth 80,000 tangas, and 5000 Arab and Turkman horses; and Bengal was no more molested.

Sikandar had seventeen sons by his first wife, and only one, Ghiyas-ud-din Azam, the ablest and most promising of them all, by his second. Azam’s stepmother, in order to secure the succession of one of her own sons, lost no opportunity of traducing him to his father, and at length succeeded in arousing his apprehensions to such an extent that in 1370 he fled to Sonargaon and assumed the royal title in Eastern Bengal. Sikandar, who had never believed the calumnies against Azam, left him unmolested for several years, but in 1389 marched against him. The armies of the father and the son met at Goalpara, and although Azam had given orders that his father was to be taken alive, Sikandar was mortally wounded, and died, after the battle, in his son’s arms, forgiving him with his latest breath. The throne was the victor's prize, and one of Azam’s first acts after his accession was to blind all his stepbrothers and send their eyes to their mother. He is more pleasantly remembered as the correspondent of the great poet Hafiz, who sent him the ode beginning ...etc.

An Ode of Hafiz

Of the circumstances in which the ode was composed and sent a graceful story is told. Azam, stricken down by a dangerous malady, abandoned hope of life and directed that three girls of his harem, named 'Cypress', 'Rose', and 'Tulip' should wash his corpse and prepare it for burial. He escaped death and, attributing his recovery to the auspicious influence of the three girls, made them his favorites. Their advancement excited the jealousy of the other inmates of the harem, who applied to them the odious epithet ghassala, or corpse-washer. One day the king, in merry mood with his three favorites, uttered as an impromptu the opening hemistich for the ode, 'Cupbearer, the tale now runs of the Cypress, the Rose, and the Tulip', and finding that neither he nor any poet at his court could continue the theme satisfactorily, sent his effusion to Hafiz at Shiraz, who developed the hemistich into an ode and completed the first couplet with the hemistich :

 

‘And the argument is sustained with the help of three morning draughts’,

 

the word used for ‘morning draught’ being the same as that used for ‘corpse-washer’. The double entendre, said to have been fortuitous, was more efficacious even than the king's favor, and secured the three reigning beauties from molestation.

Another story also exhibits Azam in a pleasing light. One day, while practising with his bow and arrow he accidentally wounded the only son of a widow. The woman appealed for justice to the qazi, who sent an officer to summon the king to his court. The officer gained access to the royal presence by a stratagem and unceremoniously served the summons. Azam, after concealing a short sword beneath his arm, obeyed the summons and, on appearing before the judge, was abruptly charged with his offence and commanded to indemnify the complainant. After a short discussion of terms the woman was compensated, and the judge, on ascertaining that she was satisfied, rose, made his reverence to the king, and seated him on a throne which had been prepared for his reception. The king, drawing his sword, turned to the qazi and said, “Well, judge, you have done your duty. If you had failed in it by a hair's breadth I would have taken your head off with this sword!”. The qazi placed his hand under the cushion on which the king was seated, and, producing a scourge, said, “O king! You have obeyed the law. Had you failed in this duty your back should have been scarified with this scourge!”. Azam, appreciating the qazi’s manly independence, richly rewarded him. If this story be true Bengal can boast of a prince more law-abiding than Henry of Monmouth and of a judge at least as firm as Gascoigne.

It is said that Azani, alarmed by the growth of the power of the eunuch Khvaja Jahan of Jaunpur remitted to him the arrears of tribute due to the king of Delhi, but there is no evidence that tribute had ever been remitted to Delhi, and the sum sent to Khvaja Jahan was perhaps a complimentary present.

Little more is known of Azam except that he died in 1396, and even the manner of his death is uncertain. Most historians mention it casually, as though it were due to natural causes, but one author asserts that it was brought about by Raja Ganesh of Dinajpur, a Hindu chieftain who is styled Raja Kans by most Muslim historians and ultimately ruled Bengal for several years. Azam was, however, peaceably succeeded by his son, Saif-ud-din Hamza Shah, the obscurity of whose reign ill accords with the grandiose title of Sultan-us-Salatin, or king of kings, bestowed upon him by some chroniclers, though it does not appear on his known coins. He was defeated in 1404 by Ganesh, but continued to reign until his death in 1406, though it appears that the influence of Ganesh was dominant in Bengal from the time of his victory. Shams-ud-din, a son or adopted son of Hamza, was permitted to ascend the throne, but exercised no power, and died after a reign of little more than three years. Muslim historians describe Ganesh as a sovereign ruling Bengal in his own name, but he has left neither coins nor inscriptions, and it would seem that he was content with the power of royalty without aspiring to its outward tokens, for coins prove that the puppet Shams-ud-din was succeeded by another puppet, Shihab-ud-din Bayazid, whose parentage is doubtful. There is no less difference of opinion regarding the character than regarding the status of Ganesh. According to some accounts he secretly accepted Islam, and according to one tolerated it and remained on the best of terms with its professors, while remaining a Hindu, but the most detailed record which has been preserved represents him as a Hindu bigot whose persecution of Muslims caused Qutbul Alam, a well-known Muslim saint of Bengal, to invoke the aid of Ibrahim Shah of Jaunpur. Ibrahim invaded Bengal, and Ganesh is said to have sought, in his terror, the intercession of Qutbul Alam, who refused to intercede for a misbeliever. Ganesh considered conversion as a means of escape from his difficulties, but eventually compounded with Qutbul Alam by surrendering to him his son, Jadu or Jatmall, in order that he might be converted to Islam and proclaimed king, by which means the country might escape the horrors of a religious war. Qutbul Alam accepted the charge, but discovered, after he had, with great difficulty, prevailed upon Ibrahim Sharqi to retire, that he had been the dupe of Ganesh, who treated the proclamation of his son as a farce, persecuted Muslims more zealously than ever, and attempted to reclaim the renegade.The ceremonial purification of the lad was accomplished by the costly rite of passing him through golden images of cows, which were afterwards broken up and distributed in charity to Brahmans, but the young convert obstinately refused to return to the faith of his fathers, and was imprisoned. The discredited saint suffered for his folly by being compelled to witness the persecution of his nearest and dearest, but in 1414 death came to the relief of the Muslims of Bengal and the convert was raised to the throne under the title of Jalal-ud-din Muhammad, and persecuted the Hindus as his father had persecuted the Muslims. The Brahmans who had arranged or profited by the ineffectual purification of the new king were permanently defiled by being obliged to swallow the flesh of the animal which they adored, and hosts of Hindus are said to have been forcibly converted to Islam.

The general attitude of the Muslim rulers of Bengal to their Hindu subjects was one of toleration, but it is evident, from the numerical superiority in Eastern Bengal of Muslims who are certainly not the descendants of dominant invaders, that at some period an immense wave of proselytization must have swept over the country, and it is most probable that that period was the reign of Jalal-ud-din Muhammad, who appears to have been inspired by the zeal proper to a convert, and by a hatred of the religion which had prompted his imprisonment, and had ample leisure, during a reign of seventeen years, for the propagation of his new faith.

On his death in 1431 he was succeeded by his son, Shams-ud-din Ahmad, who reigned until 1442, but of whose reign little is known, except that Bengal suffered at this time from the aggression of Ibrahim Sharqi of Jaunpur. Ahmad is said to have appealed to Sultan Shahrukh, son of Timur, who addressed to Ibrahim a remonstrance which proved effectual. Towards the end of Ahmad's reign his tyranny became unbearable, and he was put to death by conspirators headed by Sbadi Khan and Nasir Khan, two of his principal officers of state, who had originally been slaves and owed their advancement to his favor. Each had designs upon the throne, but Nasir Khan forestalled his confederate and, having put him to death, assumed the sovereignty of Bengal under the title of Nasir-ud-din Mahmud. He claimed descent from Iliyas, and in his person the line of the house which had compelled Delhi to recognize the independence of Bengal was restored.

Mahmud reigned peacefully for seventeen years, for the warfare between Jaunpur and Delhi relieved Bengal of the aggressions of its western neighbour, and left the king leisure for the indulgence of his taste in architecture. He rebuilt the old capital, Gaur, and built a mosque at Satgaon, but we know little else of him. He died in 1459, and was succeeded by his son, Rukn-ud-din Barbak, who died in 1474. He was the first king in India to advance African slaves in large numbers to high rank, and is said to have had no less than 8000 of these slaves, who afterwards became a danger to the kingdom. He was succeeded on his death by his son Shams-ud-din Yusuf, a precisian who insisted on the rigid observance of the Islamic law and prohibited the use of wine in his dominions. On his death in 1481 the courtiers raised to the throne his son Sikandar, a youth whose intellect was so deranged that he was almost immediately deposed in favor of his great-uncle, Jalal-ud-din Fath Shah, a son of Mahmud. Fath Shah was a wise and beneficent ruler, but incurred the hostility of the African slaves who thronged the court, by curbing their insolence and punishing their excesses. The malcontents elected as their leader a eunuch named Sultan Shahzada, and took advantage of the absence from court, on a distant expedition, of Indil Khan, who, though an African, was a loyal subject of Fath Shah and an able military commander, to compass the king's death. The guard over the palace consisted of no less than 5000 men, and it was the king's custom to appear early in the morning at the relief of the guard and receive the salutes of both guards. The eunuch corrupted the officers of the palace guards, and one morning in 1486, when the king came forth, as usual, to take the salute, caused him to be assassinated and usurped the throne under the title of Barbak Shah.

Death of Barlak Shah

Indil Khan, at his distant post, heard of the tragedy and was considering on what pretext he could lead his troops to the capital to avenge his master's death when he received a summons from Barbak. He welcomed the opportunity and hastened with his troops to Gaur, where his influence and the armed force at his command rendered his position secure. He found that the eunuch's rule was already unpopular, and allowed it to be understood that he was a partisan of the old royal house, which was not yet extinct. Barbak was apprehensive of his designs, and when he appeared at court insisted that he should take an oath not to injure or betray him. A copy of the Koran was produced, and Indil Khan, who could not refuse the oath, added to it the reservation that he would not injure Barbak so long as he was on the throne; but he interpreted the reservation literally, and, having bribed the ushers and doorkeepers of the court, awaited an opportunity of avenging the murder of Fath Shah. This soon presented itself when the eunuch fell into a drunken slumber. Indil Khan forced his way into the royal apartment, but finding that Barbak had fallen asleep on the cushions which composed the throne, hesitated to violate the letter of his oath, and was about to withdraw when the drunkard rolled heavily over on to the floor. Indil Khan at once struck at him with his sword, but the blow failed of its effect, and Barbak, suddenly waking, sprang upon him and grappled with him. His strength and weight enabled him to throw his adversary and sit on his chest, but Indil Khan called to Yaghrush Khan, a Turkish officer whom he had left without, and who now rushed in with a number of faithful Africans. The lamps had been overturned and extinguished in the struggle, and Indirs followers hesitated to strike in the darkness, lest they should injure their master, but he encouraged them by shouting that their knives would not reach him through the eunuch's gross body, and they stabbed Barbak repeatedly in the back. He rolled over and feigned death, and they retired, satisfied that their task was done. After they had left a slave entered to relight the lamps, and Barbak, fearing the return of Indil Khan, lay still. The slave cried out that time king was dead, and Barbak, recognising his voice, bade him be silent and asked what had become of Indil Khan. The slave replied that he had gone home, and Barbak, who believed the man to be faithful to himself, issued an order for the execution of Indil Khan. The slave left the chamber, but instead of delivering the order to any who might have executed it, went at once to Indil Khan and told him that his enemy yet lived. Indil Khan returned to the palace, stabbed Barbak to death, and, sending for the minister, Khanjahan, consulted him regarding the filling of the vacant throne, the rightful heir to which was a child of two years of age. In the morning the courtiers waited upon Fath Shah's widow, who urged the avenger of her husband's blood to ascend the throne. Indil Khan, after a decent display of reluctance, accepted the charge, and was proclaimed, a few months after the assassination of Fath Shah, by the title of Saifuddin Firuz. His elevation established an unfortunate precedent, and historians observe that it was henceforth an accepted rule in Bengal that he who slew a king's murderer acquired a right to the throne.

Firuz had already distinguished himself as a soldier and administrator, and during his short reign of three years he healed the disorders of the kingdom and restored the discipline of the army. His fault was prodigality, and despite the warnings and protests of his counsellors he wasted the public treasure by lavishing it on beggars.

On his death in 1489 the nobles raised to the throne, under the title of Nasir-ud-din Mahmud II, the surviving son of Fath Shah. Owing to the king's youth the administration was necessarily carried on by his counsellors, and all power in the state fell into the hands of an African entitled Habash Khan, whose monopoly of power excited the discontent of the other courtiers, one of whom, an African known as Sidi Badr the Madman, slew him and took his place. Sidi Badr's ambition was purely selfish, and in 1490 he caused the young king to be put to death and himself ascended the throne under the bombastic title of Shams-ud-din Abu-Nasr Muzaffar Shah. This bloodthirsty monster, in the course of a reign of three years, put most of the leading men in the kingdom to death. The only measure in which he displayed wisdom was his choice of a minister, which rested on Ala-ud-din Husain, a Sayyid of a family which came from Tirmiz, on the Oxus, and a man respectable alike by reason of his lineage, his ability, and his personal character. He probably restrained Muzaffar's violence, and he served him faithfully as long as it was possible to do so, but the African developed the vice of avarice, fatal to a ruler whose authority depends upon the sword, and committed at once the crime of enhancing the burdens of his people and the blunder of diminishing the emoluments of his army. Sayyid Husain could no longer maintain his master's authority, and, wearied by protests against the tyranny with which his position in a measure identified him, withdrew his support, and immediately found himself the leader of a revolt. The troops, placing him at their head, besieged the king for four months in Gaur. The contest was terminated by the death of the king, who perished in a sortie which he led from the fortress. The nobles, after some consultation, elected Sayyid Husain king in 1493, on receiving from him guarantees which bore some resemblance to a European constitution of 1848.

The new king’s full title appears from inscriptions to have been Sayyid-us-Sadat Ala-ud-din Abu-l-Muzaffar Shah Husain Sultan bin Sayyid Ashraf al-Husain, and it is possible that to his father's name Ashraf may be traced the belief of some historians that he was descended from or connected with the Sharifs of Mecca. He proved to be worthy of the confidence reposed in him, and inaugurated his reign by issuing orders for the cessation of plundering in Gaur. The orders were not at once obeyed, and the punishment of the refractory was prompt and severe, though the statement that he put 12,000 plunderers to death on this occasion is probably an exaggeration. The booty recovered from those who suffered for their disobedience enriched the royal treasury.

Husain Shah transferred his capital from Gaur to Ikdala, probably with the object of punishing the people of Gaur for their support of Muzaffar’s cause, but his successor restored Gaur to its former preeminence.

Expulsion of Africans

Husain was, with the exception of Iliyas, the greatest of the Muslim kings of Bengal. Among his earliest reforms were two very necessary measures, the first of which was the destruction of the power of the large force of paiks, or Hindu infantry, which had long been employed as the guards of the palace and of the royal person, and had gradually, during several preceding reigns, acquired a position analogous to that of the Praetorian Guards at Rome. A great part of the corps was disbanded, and the remainder was employed at a distance from the capital, and the duty of guarding the king's person was entrusted to Muslim troops. The second reform was the expulsion from the kingdom of all Africans, whose numbers had greatly increased and whose presence, since some of them had tasted the sweets of power, was a danger to the throne. During the seventeen years preceding Husain's accession three kings of this race had occupied the throne, and there was some reason to fear that the negroes might become a ruling caste. The exiles in vain sought an asylum in Delhi and Jaunpur, where they were too well known to be welcome, and most of them ultimately drifted to the Deccan and Gujarat, where men of their race had for many years been largely employed.

In 1495 Husain Shah, the last of the Sharqi kings of Jaunpur, having been driven from his kingdom by Sikandar Lodi of Delhi, fled for refuge to Bengal, and was hospitably accommodated by Ala-ud-din Husain Shah at Kahalgaon (Colgong), where he lived in retirement until his death in 1500.

Husain, having established order in the neighbourhood of the capital, carried his arms into those districts which had formerly been included in the kingdom of Bengal, but had, during the disorders of the six preceding reigns, fallen away from a trunk too feeble to support branches. He recovered the lost provinces as far as the borders of Orissa to the south, and, having thus established his authority at home, turned his attention to foreign conquest, and in 1498 invaded the kingdom of Assam, then ruled by Nilambar, the third and last reign of the Khen dynasty. Husain led his army as far as Kamrup and, after a long siege, captured Kamalapur, Nilambar’s capital, by stratagem. Other rulers, Rap Narayan, Mal Kunwar, Gosal Khen, and Sachhmi Narayan, are mentioned by a Muslim historian as having been overcome in this campaign. They were probably governors of provinces of Nilambar's kingdom.

Husain, on returning to his capital, placed one of his sons in command of his new conquest, but the raja, who had fled to the hills, took advantage of the rainy season, when the state of the roads and rivers rendered the arrival of reinforcements and supplies impossible, to descend into the plains and attack the foreign garrison, which he put to the sword. Husain made no attempt to avenge this defeat or to recover Assam, but devoted his attention to securing his frontiers, and to the building of mosques and alms­houses, for the maintenance of which he provided by endowments of land. He died a natural death in 1518, after a reign of twenty-five years, and was succeeded by his eldest son, Nasib Khan, who assumed the title of Nasir-ud-din Nusrat Shah.

Nusrat Shah, who had, before his accession, exercised almost regal power as governor of Bagdi, or the Ganges delta, and had coined money in his own name, was a prince of gentle disposition and strong natural affections, for he not only refrained from following the barbarous eastern custom of slaying, mutilating, or imprisoning his brothers, but doubled the provision which his father had made for them. Early in his reign he invaded Tirhut, attacked, defeated, and slew the raja, and appointed Ala-ud-din and Makhdum-i-Alam, his own brothers-in-law, to the government of the reconquered province.

Nusrat had occupied the throne for seven years when Babur invaded India, and having defeated and slain Ibrahim Lodi, seated himself on the throne of the kingdom of Delhi. Numbers of the Afghan nobles of Delhi and many of the late royal family fled to Bengal, and were well received by Nusrat, who bestowed fiefs upon them for their support, and married the daughter of Ibrahim Lodi. He made a demonstration against Babur by sending Qutb Shah, one of his nobles, to occupy Bahraich, but when Babur established his authority in Jaunpur attempted to conciliate him with gifts which would not have turned him from his purpose had the time been ripe for the invasion of Bengal. In 1532, after Babur's death, Nusrat was alarmed by rumors of the hostile intentions of Humayun, and sent an envoy to Bahadur Shah of Gujarat in Mandu to form an alliance. The envoy was well received, but his mission was fruitless.

The Portuguese in Bengal

The Portuguese now made their first appearance in Bengal. In 1528 Martim Affonso de Mello Jusarte was sent by Nuno da Cunha, governor of the Portuguese Indies, to gain a foothold in Bengal, but was shipwrecked, and fell into the hands of Khuda Bakhsh Khan of Chakiria, south of Chatgaon (Chittagong), where he remained a prisoner until he was ransomed for £1500 by Shihab-ud-din, a merchant of Chittagong. Shihab-ud-din was soon afterwards in difficulties with Nusrat Shah, and appealed to the Portuguese for help. Martim Affonso was sent in command of a trading expedition to Chittagong, and sent a mission, with presents worth about £1200 to Nusrat Shah in Gaur. The misconduct of the Portuguese in Chittagong, and their disregard of the customs regulations incensed the king, and he ordered their arrest and the confiscation of their property. The governor of Chittagong treacherously seized their leaders at a banquet to which he had invited them, slew the private soldiers and sailors who had not time to escape to the ships, confiscated property worth £100,000, and sent his prisoners to Gaur. Nusrat Shah demanded a ransom so exorbitant that the Portuguese authorities refused to pay it, but punished the king by burning Chittagong. This measure of reprisal in no way benefited the captives, who had from the first been harshly treated, and were now nearly starved.

Nusrat Shah’s character deteriorated towards the end of his reign, probably as a result of his debauchery, and his temper became violent. One day in 1533, as he was paying a visit to his father's tomb at Gaur he threatened with punishment for some trivial fault one of the eunuchs in his train. The eunuch, in fear of his life, persuaded his companions to join him in an attempt to destroy the tyrant, and on returning to the palace the king was put to death by the conspirators. He was succeeded by his son Ala-ud-din Firuz, who had reigned for no more than three months when he was murdered by his uncle, Ghiyas-ud-din Mahmud, who had been permitted by Nusrat to wield almost royal power throughout a great part of the kingdom.

Mahmud usurped his nephew's throne in 1533, and was almost immediately involved in trouble by the rebellion of his brother-in-law, Makhdum-i-Alam, who held the fief of Hajipur in Bihar and was leagued with the Afghan, Sher Khan Sur of Sasseram, who had established himself in Bihar on the death of Muhammad Shah, the Afghan who had been proclaimed by the refractory Lodi nobles king in Eastern Hindustan. The two rebels defeated and slew Qutb Khan, governor of Monghyr, who was sent against them by Mahmud, and Sher Khan captured the elephants, material of war, and treasure of the defeated army, by means of which he was enabled immediately to increase his power and extend his influence.

The successful issue of this rebellion and the great profit reaped by Sher Khan emboldened Makhdum-i-Alam again to rise against Mahmud without seeking, on this occasion, a partner who might again appropriate all the spoils, but the task was beyond his power, and he was defeated and slain. Sher Khan resolved to avenge the death of his former confederate, sent his advance guard towards Bengal, and followed it with all his available forces. The position which Mahmad elected to defend was the narrow passage between the Rajmahall hills and the Ganges, which is strengthened by the fortress of Teliyagarhi on the south and Sikrigali on the north bank of the Ganges, and was known as the gate of Bengal, and he turned for assistance to his Portuguese captives, all of whom, except four, preferred action with a chance of freedom to their lingering captivity.

In this chosen position the troops of Bengal were able to stem the advance of Sher Khan's army for a whole month, and the Portuguese were the life and soul of the defence, but the invaders at length forced the position and advanced against the main body of Mahmud's army, which met them at some spot between Teliyagarhi and Gaur, and was defeated. Mahmud fled to Gaur, whither Sher Khan followed him, and the capital was invested. The siege, which was vigorously pressed, suffered little interruption from a rising in Bihar, for Sher Khan, who returned to suppress the disorder, was able to leave his son Jalal Khan and Khavass Khan, one of his officers, in charge of the operations, which did not languish in their hands, and the garrison was reduced to such straits by famine that on April 6, 1538, Mahmud led them forth and attacked the besiegers. He was defeated and put to flight, his sons were captured, and Gaur was sacked and occupied by Jalal Khan.

The Rise of Sher Shah

Sher Khan, having restored order in Bihar, returned to Bengal and pursued Mahmud, who, when closely pressed, turned and gave him battle, but was defeated and grievously wounded. Sher Khan entered Gaur in triumph and assumed the royal title, while Mahmud fled for protection to Humayun, who, in response to an appeal from him, had taken advantage of Sher Khan’s preoccupation in Bengal to capture Chunar from his officers, and had now advanced to Darvishpur in Bihar. Sher Khan sent Jalal Khan and Khavass Khan to hold the gate of Bengal, and Humayun sent Jahangir Quli Beg the Mughul to attack it. Jahangir Quli's force was surprised at the end of a day’s march and routed, the commander himself being wounded. Humayun then advanced in force to attack the position, and during his advance Mahmud, the ex-king of Bengal, died at Kahalgaon, after learning that Sher Khan had put his two sons to death.

Jalal Khan, who feared to encounter the whole strength of Humayun’s army, avoided it by escaping into the hills to the south of his position, and fled thence to Gaur, where he joined his father, while Humayun advanced steadily towards the same place. Sher Khan, alarmed by his approach, collected his treasure and fled into Radha, and thence into the Chota Nagpur hills. Humayun entered Gaur without opposition, renamed the place Jannatabad, caused the khutba to be recited and coin to be struck in his name, and spent three months there in idleness and pleasure while his officers annexed Sonargaon, Chittagong, and other ports in his name. He foolishly made no attempt to pursue Sher Khan, and lingered aimlessly at Gaur until the climate bred sickness in his army and destroyed many of his horses and camels. In the meantime Sher Khan descended from the Chota Nagpur hills, captured the fortress of Rohtas, raided Monghyr, and put the Mughul officers there to the sword. At the same time, in 1539, Humayun received news of Hindal Mirza’s rebellion at Delhi, and was overwhelmed by the accumulation of evil tidings. After nominating Jahangir Quli Beg to the government of Bengal and placing at his disposal a contingent of 5000 picked horse, he set out with all speed for Agra, but Sher Khan intercepted his retreat by marching from Rohtas to Chausa, on the Ganges. Here he was able to check Humayun's retreat for three months, and extorted from the emperor, as the price of an undisturbed passage for his troops, the recognition of his sovereignty in Bengal. Having thus lulled Humayiln into a sense of security, he fell upon his army and defeated and dispersed it.

On his return to Bengal he was harassed for some time by the active hostility of Humayun's lieutenant, Jahangir Quli Beg, but ultimately disposed of his enemy by inveigling him to an interview and causing him to be assassinated. He thus became supreme in Bengal, and the increasing confusion in the newly established Mughul empire enabled him to oust Humayun and ascend the imperial throne.

When he marched from Bengal in 1540 to attack Humayun he left Khizr Khan behind him as governor of the province. Khizr Khan’s head was turned by his elevation, and though he refrained from assuming the royal title he affected so many of the airs of royalty that Sher Shah, as soon as he was established on the imperial throne, marched into Bengal with the object of nipping his lieutenant's ambition in the bud. Khizr Khan, who was not strong enough to try conclusions with the conqueror of Delhi, welcomed his master with the customary formality of the East, and was immediately seized and thrown into prison. Sher Shah obviated a recurrence of his offence by dividing Bengal into a number of small prefectures, the governors of which were responsible, for the regular collection and remittance of the revenue, to Qazi Fazilat of Agra, who was appointed supervisor of the now disintegrated kingdom of Bengal.

The independence of Bengal, due partly to the weakness and preoccupation of the sovereigns of Delhi between 1338 and 1539, and partly to the existence, between 1394 and 1476, of the buffer state of Jaunpur, dated from the later days of the reign of Muhammad Tughluq, and endured, despite the two abortive attempts of Firuz Tughluq to subvert it in the reigns of Iliyas and his son Sikandar, until Humayun destroyed it by establishing himself, for three months in 1539, on the throne of Gaur. It was restored by Sher Khan's defeat of Humayun at Chausa, but again destroyed by Sher Shah after his ascent of the imperial throne.

The annals of Bengal are stained with blood, and the long list of Muslim kings contains the names of some monsters of cruelty, but it would be unjust to class them all as uncultured bigots void of sympathy with their Hindu subjects. Some certainly reciprocated the attitude of the lower castes of the Hindus, who welcomed them as their deliverers from the priestly yoke, and even described them in popular poetry as the gods, come down to earth to punish the wicked Brahmans. Others were enlightened patrons of literature. At the courts of Hindu rajas priestly influence maintained Sanskrit as the literary language, and there was a tendency to despise the vulgar tongue, but Muslim kings, who could not be expected to learn Sanskrit, could both understand and appreciate the writings of those who condescended to use the tongue in which they themselves communicated with their subjects, and it was the Muslim sultan rather than the Hindu raja that encouraged vernacular literature. Nasir-ud-din Nusrat Shah, anticipating Akbar, caused the Mahabharata to be translated from Sanskrit into Bengali, and of the two earlier versions of the same work one possibly owed something to Muslim patronage and the other was made to the order of a Muslim officer at the court of Sayyid Ala-ud-din Husain Shah, Nusrat's father, who is mentioned in Bengali literature with affection and respect