Bengal Subah

Subah of Bengal
Subdivision of the Mughal Empire









Bengal was the eastern frontier of the Mughal Empire
Capital Dhaka
Government Viceregal
Historical era Early modern period
  Battle of Raj Mahal 1576
  Battle of Plassey 1757
Today part of Bangladesh
India (West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa)

The Bengal Subah was a subdivision of the Mughal Empire encompassing modern Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Bihar and Orissa between the 16th and 18th centuries. The state was established following the dissolution of the Bengal Sultanate, when the region was absorbed into one of the largest empires in the world. The Mughals played an important role in developing modern Bengali culture and society. By the 18th century, Mughal Bengal emerged as a quasi-independent state.


Akbar developed the modern Bengali calendar
British soldiers firing at Bengali forces underneath a mango orchard in Plassey, 1757

After the defeat of Sultan Daud Khan Karrani at Rajmahal in 1576, Emperor Akbar announced the creation of the Subah of Bengal. By the 17th century, the Mughals subdued opposition from the Baro-Bhuyans landlords, notably Isa Khan. Bengal was integrated into a powerful and prosperous empire; and shaped by imperial policies of pluralistic government. The Mughals built a new imperial metropolis in Dhaka from 1610, with well-developed fortifications, gardens, tombs, palaces and mosques. It served as the Mughal capital of Bengal for 75 years.[1] The city was renamed in honour of Emperor Jahangir. Dhaka emerged as the commercial capital of the Mughal Empire, given that it was the centre for the empire's largest exports: cotton muslin textiles.[2]

The Mughal conquest of Chittagong in 1666 defeated the Kingdom of Arakan and reestablished Bengali control of the port city, which was renamed as Islamabad.[3] The Chittagong Hill Tracts frontier region was made a tributary state of Mughal Bengal and a treaty was signed with the Chakma Circle in 1713.[4]

Between 1576 and 1717, Bengal was ruled by a Mughal viceroy. Members of the imperial family were often appointed to the position. Viceroy Prince Shah Shuja was the son of Emperor Shah Jahan. During the struggle for succession with his brothers Prince Aurangazeb, Prince Dara Shikoh and Prince Murad Baksh, Prince Shuja proclaimed himself as the Mughal Emperor in Bengal. He was eventually defeated by the armies of Aurangazeb. Shuja fled to the Kingdom of Arakan, where he and his family were killed on the orders of the King of Mrauk U. Shaista Khan was an influential viceroy during the reign of Aurangazeb. He consolidated Mughal control of eastern Bengal. Prince Muhammad Azam Shah, who served as one of Bengal's viceroys, was installed on the Mughal throne for four months in 1707. Viceroy Ibrahim Khan II gave permits to English and French traders for commercial activities in Bengal. The last viceroy Prince Azim-us-Shan gave permits for the establishment of the British East India Company's Fort William in Calcutta, the French East India Company's Fort Orleans in Chandernagore and the Dutch East India Company's fort in Chinsura. During Azim-us-Shan's tenure, his prime minister Murshid Quli Khan emerged as a powerful figure in Bengal. Khan gained control of imperial finances. Azim-us-Shan was transferred to Bihar. In 1717, the Mughal Court upgraded the prime minister's position to the hereditary Nawab of Bengal. Khan founded a new capital in Murshidabad. His descendants formed the Nasiri dynasty. Alivardi Khan founded a new dynasty in 1740. The Nawabs ruled over a territory which included Bengal proper, Bihar and Orissa.

The authority of the Mughal Court rapidly disintegrated in the 18th century, especially after the invasion of Nader Shah. In Bengal, the system saw most wealth hoarded by the elites, with low wages for manual labour. The Nawabs of Bengal entered into treaties with numerous European colonial powers, including joint-stock companies representing Britain, Austria, Denmark, France and the Netherlands. By the late-18th century, the British East India Company emerged as the foremost military power in the region, defeating the French-allied Siraj-ud-Daulah at the Battle of Plassey in 1757, that was largely brought about by the betrayal of the Nawab's once trusted general Mir Jafar. The company gained administrative control over the Nawab's dominions, including Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. It gained the right to collect taxes on behalf of the Mughal Court after the Battle of Buxar in 1765. Bengal, Bihar and Orissa were made part of the Bengal Presidency and annexed into the British colonial empire in 1793. The Indian mutiny of 1857 formally ended the authority of the Mughal court, when the British Raj replaced Company rule in India.

Other European powers also carved out small colonies on the territory of Mughal Bengal, including the Dutch East India Company's Dutch Bengal settlements, the French colonial settlement in Chandernagore, the Danish colonial settlement in Serampore and the Austro-Hungarian Ostend Company settlement in Bankipur.

Military campaigns

Daud Khan receives a robe from Munim Khan, Viceroy of Bengal

The following table covers a list of notable military engagements by Mughal Bengal:-

Conflict Year(s) Leader(s) Enemy Rival Leader(s) Result
Battle of Tukaroi 1575 Akbar Bengal Sultanate Daud Khan Karrani Mughal victory
Battle of Raj Mahal 1576 Khan Jahan I Bengal Sultanate Daud Khan Karrani Mughal victory
Conquest of Bhati 1576-1611 Khan Jahan I
Shahbaz Khan Kamboh
Man Singh
Baro-Bhuyan Isa Khan
Musa Khan
Mughal victory
Ahom-Mughal conflicts 1615-1682 Qasim Khan Chishti
Mir Jumla
Ram Singh I
Ahom kingdom Ahom kings Assamese victory
Mughal-Arakan War 1665-1666 Shaista Khan Kingdom of Mrauk U Thiri Thudhamma Mughal victory
Battle of Burdwan 1747 Alivardi Khan Maratha Empire Janoji Bhonsle Mughal victory
Siege of Fort William 1756 Siraj-ud-Daulah British Empire Roger Drake Mughal victory
Battle of Plassey 1757 Siraj-ud-Daulah British Empire Robert Clive British victory

Agrarian reform

The Mughals launched a vast economic development project in the Bengal delta which transformed its demographic makeup.[5] The government cleared vast swathes of forest in the fertile Bhati region to expand farmland. It encouraged settlers, including farmers and jagirdars, to populate the delta. It assigned Sufis as the chieftains of villages. Emperor Akbar readapted the modern Bengali calendar to improve harvests and tax collection. The region became the largest grain producer in the subcontinent.

Local Sufi leaders combined Islamic and Bengali cultural practices which developed Bengali Muslim society.[5]


See also: Mughal architecture and Bengali Muslim architecture

Mughal architecture proliferated Bengal in the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, with the earliest example being the Kherua Mosque in Bogra (1582).[6] They replaced the earlier sultanate-style of architecture. It was in Dhaka that the imperial style was most lavishly indulged in. Located on the banks of the Buriganga River, the old Mughal city was described as the Venice of the East.[7] Its Lalbagh Fort was an elaborately designed complex of gardens, fountains, a mosque, a tomb, an audience hall (Diwan-i Khas) and a walled enclosure with gates. The Great Caravanserai and Shaista Khan Caravanserai in Dhaka were centers of commercial activities. Other monuments in the city include the Dhanmondi Shahi Eidgah (1640), the Sat Gambuj Mosque (ca. 1664–76), the Shahbaz Khan Mosque (1679) and the Khan Mohammad Mridha Mosque (1704).[6] The city of Murshidabad also became a haven of Mughal architecture under the Nawabs of Bengal, with the Caravanserai Mosque (1723) being its most prominent monument.

In rural hinterlands, the indigenous Bengali Islamic style continued to flourish, blended with Mughal elements. One of the finest examples of this style is the Atiya Mosque in Tangail (1609).[6] Several masterpieces of terracotta Hindu temple architecture were also created during this period. Notable examples include the Kantajew Temple (1704) and the temples of Bishnupur (1600-1729).


An authentic Bengali-Mughal art was reflected in the muslin fabric of Jamdani (meaning "flower" in Persian). The making of Jamdani was pioneered by Persian weavers. The art passed to the hands of Bengali Muslim weavers known as juhulas. The artisan industry was historically based around the city of Dhaka. The city had over 80,000 weavers. Jamdanis traditionally employ geometric designs in floral shapes. Its motifs are often similar to those in Iranian textile art (buta motif) and Western textile art (paisley). Dhaka's jamdanis enjoyed a loyal following and received imperial patronage from the Mughal court in Delhi and the Nawabs of Bengal.[8][9]

A provincial Bengali style of Mughal painting flourished in Murshidabad during the 18th century. Scroll painting and ivory sculptures were also prevalent.


There was a significant influx of migrants from the Safavid Empire into Bengal during the Mughal period. Persian administrators and military commanders were enlisted by the Mughal government in Bengal.[10] An Armenian community settled in Dhaka and dominated the city's textile trade, paying a 3.5% tax.[11]

Economy and trade

A Dutch trading post in Mughal Bengal, 1665

The Bengal Subah had the largest regional economy in the Mughal Empire. It was described as the paradise of nations. 50% of the gross domestic product of the empire was generated in Bengal. The region exported grains, fine cotton muslin and silk, liquors and wines, salt, ornaments, fruits, metals and pearls. European companies set up numerous trading posts in Mughal Bengal during the 17th and 18th centuries. Dhaka was the largest city in Mughal Bengal and the commercial capital of the empire. Chittagong was the largest seaport, with maritime trade routes connecting the port city to Arakan, Ayuthya, Balasore, Aceh, Melaka, Johore, Bantam, Makassar, Ceylon, Bandar Abbas, Mecca, Jeddah, Basra, Aden, Masqat, Mocha and the Maldives.[12][13][14]

Administrative divisions

In the revenue settlement by Todar Mal in 1582, Bengal Subah was divided into 24 sarkars (districts), which included 19 sarkars of Bengal proper and 5 sarkars of Orissa. In 1607, during the reign of Jahangir Orissa became a separate Subah. These 19 sarkars were further divided into 682 parganas.[15] In 1658, subsequent to the revenue settlement by Shah Shuja, 15 new sarkars and 361 new parganas were added. In 1722, Murshid Quli Khan divided the whole Subah into 13 chakalahs, which were further divided into 1660 parganas.

Initially the capital of the Subah was Tanda. On 9 November 1595, the foundations of a new capital were laid at Rajmahal by Man Singh I who renamed it Akbarnagar.[16] In 1610 the capital was shifted from Rajmahal to Dhaka[17] and it was renamed Jahangirnagar. In 1639, Shah Shuja again shifted the capital to Rajmahal. In 1660, Muazzam Khan (Mir Jumla) again shifted the capital to Dhaka. In 1703, Murshid Quli Khan, then diwan (prime minister in charge of finance) of Bengal shifted his office from Dhaka to Maqsudabad and later renamed it Murshidabad.

A 16th century map of Bengal
Territory ruled by the Nawab of Bengal, including Bengal proper, Bihar and Orissa

The sarkars (districts) and the parganas (tehsils) of Bengal Subah were:[15]

Sarkar Pargana
Udamabar (Tanda) 52 parganas
Jannatabad (Lakhnauti) 66 parganas
Fathabad 31 parganas
Mahmudabad 88 parganas
Khalifatabad 35 parganas
Bakla 4 parganas
Purniyah 9 parganas
Tajpur 29 parganas
Ghoraghat 84 parganas
Pinjarah 21 parganas
Barbakabad 38 parganas
Bazuha 32 parganas
Sonargaon 52 parganas
Sylhet 8 parganas
Chittagong 7 parganas
Sharifabad 26 parganas
Sulaimanabad 31 parganas
Satgaon 53 parganas
Mandaran 16 parganas


The state government was headed by a Viceroy (Subedar Nizam) appointed by the Mughal Emperor between 1576 and 1717. The Viceroy exercised tremendous authority, with his own cabinet and four prime ministers (Diwan). The three deputy viceroys for Bengal proper, Bihar and Orissa were known as the Naib Nazims. An extensive landed aristocracy was established by the Mughals in Bengal. The aristocracy was responsible for taxation and revenue collection. Land holders were bestowed with the title of Jagirdar. The Qadi title was reserved for the chief judge. Mansabdars were leaders of the Mughal Army, while faujdars were generals. The Mughals were credited for secular pluralism during the reign of Akbar, who promoted the religious doctrine of Din-i Ilahi. Later rulers promoted more conservative Islam.

In 1717, the Mughal government replaced Viceroy Azim-us-Shan due to conflicts with his influential deputy viceroy and prime minister Murshid Quli Khan.[18] Growing regional autonomy caused the Mughal Court to establish a hereditary principality in Bengal, with Khan being recognized in the official title of Nazim. He founded the Nasiri dynasty. In 1740, following the Battle of Giria, Alivardi Khan staged a coup and founded the short-lived Afsar dynasty. For all practical purposes, the Nazims acted as independent princes. European colonial powers referred to them as Nawabs or Nababs.[19]

List of Viceroys

Man Singh I, the Rajput Viceroy of Mughal Bengal (1594-1606)
Shaista Khan, Viceroy (1664-1688)
Viceroy Muhammad Azam Shah (1678-1679), later the Mughal Emperor
Viceroy Azim-us-Shan (1697-1712), later the Mughal Emperor
Personal Name[20] Reign
Munim Khan Khan-i-Khanan
منعم خان، خان خاناں
25 September 1574 - 23 October 1575
Hussain Quli Beg Khan Jahan I
حسین قلی بیگ، خان جہاں اول
15 November 1575 - 19 December 1578
Muzaffar Khan Turbati
مظفر خان تربتی
1579 - 1580
Mirza Aziz Koka Khan-e-Azam
میرزا عزیز کوکہ،خان اعظم
1582 - 1583
Shahbaz Khan Kamboh
شھباز خان کمبوہ
1583 - 1585
Sadiq Khan
صادق خان
1585 - 1586
Wazir Khan Tajik
وزیر خان
1586 - 1587
Sa'id Khan
سعید خان
1587 - 1594
Raja Man Singh I
راجہ مان سنگھ
4 June 1594 - 1606
Qutb-ud-din Khan Koka
قطب الدین خان کوکہ
2 September 1606 - May 1607
Jahangir Quli Beg
جہانگیر قلی بیگ
1607 - 1608
Sheikh Ala-ud-din Chisti Islam Khan Chisti
اسلام خان چشتی
June 1608 - 1613
Qasim Khan Chishti
قاسم خان چشتی
1613 - 1617
Ibrahim Khan Fateh Jang
ابراہیم خان فتح جنگ
1617 - 1622
Mahabat Khan
محابت خان
1622 - 1625
Mirza Amanullah Khan Zaman II
میرزا أمان اللہ ، خان زماں ثانی
Mukarram Khan
مکرم خان
1625 - 1627
Fidai Khan
فدای خان
1627 - 1628
Qasim Khan Juvayni Qasim Manija
قاسم خان جوینی، قاسم مانیجہ
1628 - 1632
Mir Muhammad Baqir Azam Khan
میر محمد باقر، اعظم خان
1632 - 1635
Mir Abdus Salam Islam Khan Mashhadi
اسلام خان مشھدی
1635 - 1639
Sultan Shah Shuja
شاہ شجاع
1639 -1660
Mir Jumla II
میر جملہ
May 1660 - 30 March 1663
Mirza Abu Talib Shaista Khan I
میرزا ابو طالب، شایستہ خان
March 1664 - 1676
Azam Khan Koka, Fidai Khan II
اعظم خان کوکہ، فدای خان ثانی
1676 - 1677
Sultan Muhammad Azam Shah Alijah
محمد اعظم شاہ عالی جاہ
1678- 1679
Mirza Abu Talib Shaista Khan I
میرزا ابو طالب، شایستہ خان
1679 - 1688
Ibrahim Khan ibn Ali Mardan Khan
ابراہیم خان ابن علی مردان خان
1688 - 1697
Sultan Azim-us-Shan
عظیم الشان
1697 - 1712
Others appointed but did not show up from 1712-1717 and managed by Deputy Subahdar Murshid Quli Khan.
Murshid Quli Khan
مرشد قلی خان

List of Nawab Nazims

Portrait Titular Name Personal Name Birth Reign Death
Nasiri Dynasty
Jaafar Khan Bahadur Nasiri Murshid Quli Khan 1665 1717– 1727 30 June 1727
Ala-ud-Din Haidar Jang Sarfaraz Khan Bahadur ? 1727-1727 29 April 1740
Shuja ud-Daula Shuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan Around 1670 (date not available) July, 1727 – 26 August 1739 26 August 1739
Ala-ud-Din Haidar Jang Sarfaraz Khan Bahadur ? 13 March 1739 – April 1740 29 April 1740
Afsar Dynasty
Hashim ud-Daula Muhammad Alivardi Khan Bahadur Before 10 May 1671 29 April 1740 – 9 April 1756 9 April 1756
Siraj ud-Daulah Muhammad Siraj-ud-Daulah 1733 April 1756 – 2 June 1757 2 July 1757

See also


  1. "Dhaka". Encyclopædia Britannica. 14 July 2016. Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  2. Schmidt, Karl J. (2015). An Atlas and Survey of South Asian History. Routledge. Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  3. Wheeler, Sir Robert Eric Mortimer (1953). The Cambridge History of India: The Indus civilization. Supplementary volume. Cambridge University Publishers. pp. 237–.
  4. Saradindu Shekhar Chakma. Ethnic Cleansing in Chittagong Hill Tracts. p. 23.
  5. 1 2 Eaton, Richard Maxwell (1996). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. University of California Press. pp. 312–313. ISBN 978-0-520-20507-9. Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  6. 1 2 3 "The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760". Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  7. Hough, Michael (2004). Cities and Natural Process: A Basis for Sustainability. Psychology Press. pp. 57–. ISBN 978-0-415-29854-4.
  10. Karim, Abdul (2012). "Iranians, The". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  11. Ali, Ansar; Chaudhury, Sushil; Islam, Sirajul (2012). "Armenians, The". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  12. Pearson, M. (2007). The Indian Ocean. Routledge. ISBN 978-0-415-44538-2. Retrieved 2015-04-21.
  13. Khandker, Hissam (31 July 2015). "Which India is claiming to have been colonised?". The Daily Star (Op-ed). Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  14. Nanda, J. N. (2005). Bengal: The Unique State. Concept Publishing Company. Retrieved 2016-05-06.
  15. 1 2 Jarrett, H. S. (1949) [1891] The Ain-i-Akbari by Abul Fazl-i-Allami, Vol.II, (ed.) J. N. Sarkar, Calcutta: The Asiatic Society, pp.142-55
  16. Sarkar, Jadunath (1984). A History of Jaipur, c. 1503-1938, New Delhi: Orient Longman, ISBN 81-250-0333-9, p.81
  17. Gommans, Jos (2002). Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiers and Highroads to Empire, 1500-1700. Oxon: Routledge. p. 27. ISBN 0-415-23988-5.
  18. Chatterjee, Anjali (2012). "Azim-us-Shan". In Islam, Sirajul; Jamal, Ahmed A. Banglapedia: National Encyclopedia of Bangladesh (Second ed.). Asiatic Society of Bangladesh.
  20. Eaton, Richard M. (1993). The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204-1760. Berkeley: University of California Press. pp. 325–6. ISBN 0-520-20507-3.
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