Bengal Sultanate

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Sultanate of Bengal
Shahi Bangla

শাহী বাংলা
Bengal Sultanate.png
Capital Pandua (1352-1450)
Sonargaon (1390-1411) [note 1] [1]
Gaur (1450-1565)
Tandah (1565-1576)
Common languages Persian, Bengali (official)
Arabic (religious)
Islam (official)
Government Absolute monarchy
 Unification of Bengal
 Mughal invasion
Currency Tanka
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Delhi Sultanate Flag (catalan atlas).png Delhi Sultanate
Mughal Empire Blank.png
Kingdom of Mrauk U Blank.png
Suri Empire Blank.png
Baro-Bhuyan Blank.png
Today part ofFlag of Bangladesh.svg  Bangladesh
Flag of India.svg  India
Flag of Myanmar.svg  Myanmar

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) [2] was the sovereign power [3] [4] [5] of Bengal for much of the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries. It emerged after more than a century of rule by the Delhi Sultanate. The Bengal Sultanate was a cosmopolitan and important Muslim state in Asia. [6] Described by the Europeans as the richest country to trade with, [7] 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. In European and Chinese accounts, the Bengal Sultanate was described as a major trading nation in the medieval period.

Persian language Western Iranian language

Persian, also known by its endonym Farsi, is a Western Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European language family. It is a pluricentric language primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan and Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and some other regions which historically were Persianate societies and considered part of Greater Iran. It is written right to left in the Persian alphabet, a modified variant of the Arabic script.

Bengali language Indo-Aryan language mainly spoken in India and Bangladesh

Bengali, also known by its endonym Bangla, is an Indo-Aryan language primarily spoken by the Bengalis in South Asia. It is the official and most widely spoken language of Bangladesh and second most widely spoken of the 22 scheduled languages of India, behind Hindi. In 2015, 160 million speakers were reported for Bangladesh, and the 2011 Indian census counted another 100 million. With approximately 260–300 million total speakers worldwide, Bengali is the 6th most spoken language by number of native speakers and 7th most spoken language by total number of speakers in the world.

Sovereign state Political organization with a centralized independent government

In international law, a sovereign state, sovereign country, or simply state, is a nonphysical juridical entity that is represented by one centralized government that has sovereignty over a geographic area. International law defines sovereign states as having a permanent population, defined territory, one government, and the capacity to enter into relations with other sovereign states. It is also normally understood that a sovereign state is neither dependent on nor subjected to any other power or state.


The kingdom was formed after Delhi's governors in Bengal declared independence. Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah united the region's states into a single government headed by an imperial Sultan. Aside from a population of Bengalis, the kingdom was a stronghold for Persianate Turkic immigrants, Moorish merchants and Sufi clerics. It was notable for religious pluralism, in which Hindus played an important role in government, the military, land ownership and the arts. Bengal's economy flourished after the stoppage of wealth outflow to Delhi. [8] Shipbuilding and textile manufacturing became the largest industries. Bengali silver currency had a greater supply than Delhi. [9] The kingdom played an important role in Indian Ocean trade and Asian Pacific trade, with a maritime network stretching from the Red Sea and East Africa in the west to China, Brunei, Malacca and Sumatra in the east. Bengali ships were the largest vessels in Southeast Asia. [10] In the west, Bengal won wars against Delhi and Jaunpur; captured the attention of the Persian poet Hafez; traded with the Maldives; financed colleges in the Hejaz; and imported mercenaries from Africa. In the early 16th-century, permission was given for setting up the Portuguese settlement in Chittagong, which was the first European trading colony in Bengal.

Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah was the first Sultan of Bengal and founder of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty, which lasted for nearly one hundred and fifty years. A Sunni Muslim of Sistani Afghan origin, he unified the Bengal region into an Islamic kingdom during the 14th century. Popularly known as Ilyas Shah, he waged military campaigns across the eastern Indian subcontinent and defeated the rulers of Delhi, Sonargaon, Satgaon, Nepal, Orissa and Assam. Based in Pandua, his campaigns reached as far as the Kathmandu Valley, Varanasi, Gorakhpur, Champaran and Cuttack. His campaigns were considered "world-conquering" in the context of medieval India. Ilyas Shah has been described as the Bengali equivalent of Alexander or Napoleon.

Sultan noble title with several historical meanings

Sultan is a position with several historical meanings. Originally, it was an Arabic abstract noun meaning "strength", "authority", "rulership", derived from the verbal noun سلطة sulṭah, meaning "authority" or "power". Later, it came to be used as the title of certain rulers who claimed almost full sovereignty in practical terms, albeit without claiming the overall caliphate, or to refer to a powerful governor of a province within the caliphate. The adjective form of the word is "sultanic", and the dynasty and lands ruled by a sultan are referred to as a sultanate.

Bengalis Ethnic group native to India and Bangladesh

Bengalis, also rendered as the Bengali people, Bangalis and Bangalees, are an Indo-Aryan ethnic group native to the Bengal region in South Asia, specifically in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, presently divided between Bangladesh and the Indian states of West Bengal, Tripura, Assam's Barak Valley, who speak Bengali, a language from the Indo-Aryan language family. The term "Bangalee" is also used to denote people of Bangladesh as a nation.

At the height of its territorial empire, the kingdom ruled over areas in eastern South Asia and Southeast Asia. It restored Min Saw Mon as the king of Arakan after the Reconquest of Arakan. The Sultans were very Persianized. [11] Literature was fostered in Persian and Bengali, with strong Sufi influences. Bengali architecture evolved significantly during this period, with several external influences. Mosques were the most important civic architecture. [12] Sultan Sikandar Shah built the largest mosque in the Indian subcontinent.

Eastern South Asia

Eastern South Asia is a subregion of South Asia. It includes the countries of Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, and Nepal. Geographically, it lies between the Eastern Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal. Two of the world's largest rivers, the Ganges and the Brahmaputra, flow into the sea through Eastern South Asia. The region includes the world's highest mountainous terrain and the world's largest delta, and has a climate ranging from alpine and subalpine to subtropical and tropical. Since Nepal, Bhutan, and northeast India are landlocked, the coastlines of Bangladesh and East India serve as the principal gateways to the region.

South Asia Southern region of Asia

South Asia, or Southern Asia, is the southern region of the Asian continent, which comprises the sub-Himalayan SAARC countries and, for some authorities, adjoining countries to the west and east. Topographically, it is dominated by the Indian Plate, which rises above sea level as Nepal and northern parts of India situated south of the Himalayas and the Hindu Kush. South Asia is bounded on the south by the Indian Ocean and on land by West Asia, Central Asia, East Asia, and Southeast Asia.

Narameikhla Min Saw Mon was the last king of Launggyet Dynasty and the founder of Mrauk-U Dynasty of Arakan.

The kingdom was ruled by five dynasties. These included the Ilyas Shahi dynasty, the Hussain Shahi dynasty, the Suri dynasty, the Karrani dynasty; and the dynasty established by Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah. The sultanate's reign was interrupted by Raja Ganesha's coup and the rebellion of African mercenaries in the 15th-century; [13] [14] and the invasion of Sher Shah Suri in the 16th-century.

The Ilyas Shahi dynasty also called the ইলিয়াস শাহী রাজবংশ was the first independent Turkic Muslim ruling dynasty in late medieval Bengal, which ruled from the 14th century to the 15th century. It was founded in 1342 by Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah.

The Hussain Shahi dynasty ruled from 1494-1538. Alauddin Husain Shah, considered as the greatest of all the sultans of Bengal for bringing a cultural renaissance during his reign. He conquered Kamarupa, Kamata, Jajnagar, and Orissa and extended the sultanate all the way to the port of Chittagong, which witnessed the arrival of the first Portuguese merchants. Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah gave refuge to the Afghan lords during the invasion of Babur though he remained neutral.The hindu people of bengal gave him the titles of Nripati Tilak and jagatbhusan. He was also known as Akbar of bengal. He encourage the translation of Sanskrit literature in Bengali. He built a famous mosque named chota sona masjid.

The Karrani dynasty was founded in 1564 by Taj Khan Karrani, an ethnic Pashtun from the Karlani tribe. It was the last dynasty to rule the Sultanate of Bengal.

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 eastern Bhati region was ruled by remnants of the sultanate, known as the Twelve Bhuiyans, until the early 17th-century. The Twelve Bhuiyans resisted Mughal expansion under their leader Isa Khan before succumbing to Mughal conquest by the early 1600s.

Mughal Empire dynastic empire extending over large parts of the Indian subcontinent

The Mughal Empire, or Mogul Empire, founded in 1526, was an empire that comprised the majority of the Indian subcontinent. It was established and ruled by the Timurid dynasty, with Turco-Mongol Chagatai roots from Central Asia, claiming direct descent from both Genghis Khan and Timur, and with significant Indian Rajput and Persian ancestry through marriage alliances; the first two Mughal emperors had both parents of Central Asian ancestry, while successive emperors were of predominantly Persian and Rajput ancestry. The dynasty was Indo-Persian in culture, combining Persianate culture with local Indian cultural influences visible in its court culture and administrative customs.

Babur 1st Mughal Emperor

Babur, born Zahīr ud-Dīn Muhammad, was the founder and first Emperor of the Mughal dynasty in India. He was a direct descendant of Emperor Timur (Tamerlane) from what is now Uzbekistan.

Humayun second Mughal Emperor

Nasir-ud-Din Muḥammad, better known by his regnal name, Humayun, was the second emperor of the Mughal Empire, who ruled over territory in what is now Afghanistan, Pakistan, Northern India, and Bangladesh from 1530–1540 and again from 1555–1556. Like his father, Babur, he lost his kingdom early but regained it with the aid of the Safavid dynasty of Persia, with additional territory. At the time of his death in 1556, the Mughal Empire spanned almost one million square kilometres.


Ruins of Adina Mosque, the largest mosque in the Indian subcontinent, in Pandua Adina Mosque at Malda district of West Bengal 07.jpg
Ruins of Adina Mosque, the largest mosque in the Indian subcontinent, in Pandua
"People of the Kingdom of Bengal", 16th-century Portuguese illustration Codice Casanatense Bengalis.jpg
"People of the Kingdom of Bengal", 16th-century Portuguese illustration
Baro Shona Masjid in Gaur Barasona Mosjid.JPG
Baro Shona Masjid in Gaur

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. [15]

Delhi Sultanate Successive Islamic dynasties that ruled large parts of the Indian subcontinent (1206–1526)

The Delhi Sultanate was an Islamic empire based in Delhi that stretched over large parts of the Indian subcontinent for 320 years (1206–1526). Five dynasties ruled over the Delhi Sultanate sequentially: the Mamluk dynasty (1206–90), the Khalji dynasty (1290–1320), the Tughlaq dynasty (1320–1414), the Sayyid dynasty (1414–51), and the Lodi dynasty (1451–1526). The sultanate is noted for being one of the few powers to repel an attack by the Mongols ,, caused the decline of Buddhism in East India and Bengal, and enthroned one of the few female rulers in Islamic history, Razia Sultana, who reigned from 1236 to 1240.

Fakhruddin Mubarak Shah ruled an independent kingdom in areas that lie within modern-day eastern and southeastern Bangladesh, centered in Sonargaon. He is also the first Muslim ruler to conquest Chittagong, the principal port of Bengal region in 1340 AD.

Alauddin Ali Shah was an independent ruler of Lakhnauti, the old capital of Bengal.

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. [15] 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. [16] After conquering Bengal, Sher Shah Suri proceeded to Agra. His governor in Bengal rebelled and later reclaimed the sultanate. The Pashtun Karrani dynasty was the last royal family of the kingdom.

The absorption of Bengal into the Mughal Empire was a gradual process. It began with the defeat of Bengali forces under Sultan Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah by Babur at the Battle of Ghaghra. Humayun occupied the Bengali capital of Gaur during the invasion of Sher Shah Suri against both the Mughals and Bengal Sultans. Mughal rule formally began with the Battle of Raj Mahal when the last reigning Sultan of Bengal was defeated by the forces of Akbar. The Bengal Subah was created. The eastern deltaic Bhati region remained outside of Mughal control until being absorbed in the early 17th-century. The delta was controlled by a confederation of twelve aristocrats of the former sultanate, who became known as the Twelve Bhuiyans. Their leader was Isa Khan, a former nobleman of the sultanate. The Mughal government eventually suppressed the remnants of the sultanate in Bhati and brought all of Bengal under imperial rule.


The Firoz Minar in Gaur FIROZ MINAR FRONT.jpg
The Firoz Minar in Gaur

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. [17] The Hussain Shahi dynasty employed many Hindus in the government and promoted a form of religious pluralism. [18]


Babur began absorbing Bengal in the early 16th century Babur.2.jpg
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. [19]

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. [19]

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. [19]

Name of ConflictBelligerentsOutcome
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


Maritime links of the Bengal Sultanate Maritime links of the Sultanate of Bengal.png
Maritime links of the Bengal Sultanate

The economy of the Bengal Sultanate inherited earlier aspects of the Delhi Sultanate, including mint towns, a salaried bureaucracy and the jagirdar system of land ownership. The production of silver coins inscribed with the name of the Sultan of Bengal was a mark of Bengali sovereignty. [20]

Bengal was more successful in perpetuating purely silver coinage than Delhi and other contemporary Asian and European governments. There were three sources of silver. The first source was the leftover silver reserve of previous kingdoms. The second source was the tribute payments of subordinate kingdoms which were paid in silver bullion. The third source was during military campaigns when Bengali forces sacked neighboring states. [9]

The apparent vibrancy of the Bengal economy in the beginning of the 15th-century is attributed to the end of tribute payments to Delhi, which ceased after Bengali independence and stopped the outflow of wealth. Ma Huan's testimony of a flourishing shipbuilding industry was part of the evidence that Bengal enjoyed significant seaborne trade. The expansion of muslin production, sericulture and the emergence of several other crafts were indicated in Ma Huan's list of items exported from Bengal to China. Bengali shipping co-existed with Chinese shipping until the latter withdrew from the Indian Ocean in the mid-15th-century. The testimony of European travelers such as Ludovico di Varthema, Duarte Barbosa and Tomé Pires attest to the presence of a large number of wealthy Bengali merchants and shipowners in Malacca. [8] Bengal was also an entrepot. For example, horses were imported into Bengal and re-exported to China. [21]

The baghlah was a type of ship widely used by traders in the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Malacca Straits and the South China Sea Sd2-baggala.JPG
The baghlah was a type of ship widely used by traders in the Indian Ocean, the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, the Malacca Straits and the South China Sea

A vigorous riverine shipbuilding tradition existed in Bengal. The shipbuilding tradition is evidenced in the sultanate's naval campaigns in the Ganges delta. The trade between Bengal and the Maldives, based on rice and cowry shells, was probably done on Arab-style baghlah ships. Chinese accounts point to Bengali ships being prominent in Southeast Asian waters. A vessel from Bengal, probably owned by the Sultan of Bengal, could accommodate three tribute missions- from Bengal, Brunei and Sumatra- and was evidently the only vessel capable of such a task. Bengali ships were the largest vessels plying in those decades in Southeast Asian waters. [10]

All large business transactions were done in terms of silver taka. Smaller purchases involved shell currency. One silver coin was worth 10,250 cowry shells. Bengal relied on shiploads of cowry shell imports from the Maldives. Due to the fertile land, there was an abundance of agricultural commodities, including bananas, jackfruits, pomegranate, sugarcane, and honey. Native crops included rice and sesame. Vegetables included ginger, mustard, onions, and garlic among others. There were four types of wines, including coconut, rice, tarry and kajang. Bengali streets were well provided with eating establishments, drinking houses and bathhouses. At least six varieties of fine muslin cloth existed. Silk fabrics were also abundant. Pearls, rugs and ghee were other important products. The finest variety of paper was made in Bengal from the bark of mulberry trees. The high quality of paper was compared with the lightweight white muslin cloth. [22]

Europeans referred to Bengal as "the richest country to trade with". [23] Bengal was the eastern pole of Islamic India. Like the Gujarat Sultanate in the western coast of India, Bengal in the east was open to the sea and accumulated profits from trade. Bengal also followed the prosperous Malabar Coast of southern India in becoming a center for re-exports. [21] Merchants from around the world began to trade in the Bay of Bengal. Cotton textile exports were a unique aspect of the Bengali economy. Marco Polo noted Bengal's prominence in the textile trade. [24] [25] In 1569, Venetian explorer Caesar Frederick wrote about how merchants from Pegu in Burma traded in silver and gold with Bengalis. [24] Overland trade routes such as the Grand Trunk Road connected Bengal to northern India, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Currency and mint towns

Silver taka with a lion symbol, 15th century Silver Coin of Jalaluddin.jpg
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. [26]

  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)


Khan Jahan Ali, the Sultan's governor in the Sundarbans, built the Mosque City of Bagerhat ssaatt gmbuj msjid, baagerhaatt 02.jpg
Khan Jahan Ali, the Sultan's governor in the Sundarbans, built the Mosque City of Bagerhat

Bengali was the most spoken language. Persian was an administrative and commercial language. Men wore white shirts, cotton fabrics of various colors, turbans, sarongs, lungis, dhutis, leather shoes, and belts to wrap their robes on the waist. Women wore cotton saris. Upper-class women wore gold jewelry. There were various classes of artisans, as well as physicians and fortune tellers. There was a class of musicians who would gather by the houses of the rich during dawn and play music; and they would be rewarded with wine, food and money during breakfast hours. Some men would have performances with a chained tiger. The Hindu minority did not eat beef. The streets and markets included bathing areas, eating and drinking places, and dessert shops. Betel nut was offered to guests. The population included royalty, aristocrats, natives and foreigners. Many of the rich built ships and went abroad for trade. Many were agriculturalists. Punishments for breaking the law included expulsion from the kingdom, as well as bamboo flogging. [27]


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. [28] An important migrant community were Persians. Many Persians in Bengal were teachers, lawyers, scholars and clerics. [29] Mercenaries were widely imported for domestic, military and political service. One particular group of mercenaries were the Abyssinians. [17]

Diplomatic relations

The giraffe gifted by Bengal to China in 1414 Tribute Giraffe with Attendant.jpg
The giraffe gifted by Bengal to China in 1414
Silver coin from Arakan. The kings of Arakan modelled currency, government and even royal clothing based on the Bengal Sultanate Muhghazi.jpg
Silver coin from Arakan. The kings of Arakan modelled currency, government and even royal clothing based on the Bengal Sultanate


Political relations between China and the Indian subcontinent became nonexistent after the decline of Buddhism in India. [30] 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. [31] 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. [32] The exchange of embassies included the gift of an East African giraffe by Sultan Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah to the Chinese emperor in 1414. [33] [34] [32] China also mediated an end to the Bengal-Jaunpur War after a request from Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah. [35]

Ming China considered Bengal to be "rich and civilized" and one of the strongest countries in the entire chain of contacts between China and Asian states during the 15th-century. [36]


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. [37] 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. [38]


There are records of envoys from the East African city state of Malindi being hosted in the Bengali court. [39] Animals constituted a significant part of tributes in medieval courts. [33] The East African envoys brought giraffes, which were noticed by Chinese envoys. [39]


There are records of contacts between Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah and Sultan Shahrukh Mirza, the Timurid ruler of Herat. [35]


Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam began sending envoys to the neighboring Jaunpur Sultanate. He sent elephants as gifts to Sultan Khawja Jahan. [31] 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. [40]


Chinese accounts state that Bengali ships carried an embassy from the Bruneian Empire to Ming China. [10]


The island of Sumatra lies at the southeastern tip of the Bay of Bengal. Northern Sumatra was ruled by the Aceh Sultanate. Chinese accounts state that Bengali ships carried a Sumatran embassy to Ming China. [10]


European accounts refer to the presence of a large number of Bengali merchants in the Malacca Sultanate. The merchants were wealthy shipowners. It is yet to be ascertained whether these merchants had a significant role in the Sultan's court. [8] Ship-owning merchants were often royal envoys. [41]


The Delhi Sultanate initially received tributes from the Bengal Sultanate between 1353 and 1359. Tributes stopped after a war and peace treaty in 1359. The Delhi Sultanate gradually weakened, leaving Bengal as the most powerful state in eastern India.

Contribution to Mecca and Medina

Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam sponsored the construction of madrasas (Islamic theological schools) in Mecca and Medina. [42] 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. [43] Several other Bengali sultans also sponsored madrasas in Mecca and Medina, including Sultan Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah. [35]


The kingdom was visited by noblemen from city states such as the Venetian Republic, including Niccolo De Conti, Caeser Frederick and Ludovico di Varthema. [44] [45] [46] [47]


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. [25]

Tomb of Hafez in Shiraz. The Iranian poet wrote a poem for the Sultan of Bengal Hafez 880714 095.jpg
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. [48]

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. [49]

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. [50] [51]


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. [52]

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. [52]

An exceptional building was the Adina Mosque, the imperial mosque of Bengal and the largest mosque ever built in the Indian subcontinent. [53] The monumental structure was designed in the hypostyle of early Islam with a plan similar to the Umayyad Mosque. The style is associated with the introduction of Islam in new areas. [52]

List of Sultans

Bengal and contemporary states in the Indian subcontinent India in 1525 Joppen.jpg
Bengal and contemporary states in the Indian subcontinent
States of the Far East, 1415 Map of Ming Chinese empire 1415 (cropped).jpg
States of the Far East, 1415
The Bengal Sultanate, shown as the Ganges Delta, in the Portuguese Miller Atlas map from 1519 AtlasMiller BNF Indian Ganges.jpg
The Bengal Sultanate, shown as the Ganges Delta, in the Portuguese Miller Atlas map from 1519

Ilyas Shahi dynasty (1342-1414)

Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah 1342–1358Became the first sole ruler of whole Bengal comprising Sonargaon, Satgaon and Lakhnauti.
Sikandar Shah 1358–1390Assassinated by his son and successor, Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah
Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah 1390–1411
Saifuddin Hamza Shah 1411–1413
Muhammad Shah bin Hamza Shah1413Assassinated 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 1414Son of Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah. Assassinated by Raja Ganesha

House of Raja Ganesha (1414-1435)

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

Restored Ilyas Shahi dynasty (1435-1487)

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)

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

Hussain Shahi dynasty (1494-1538)

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)

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

Muhammad Shah dynasty (1554-1564)

Muhammad Khan Sur 1554–1555Declared independence and styled himself as Shamsuddin Muhammad Shah
Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah I1555–1561
Ghiyasuddin Jalal Shah 1561–1563
Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah II 1563-1564

Karrani dynasty (1564-1576)

Taj Khan Karrani 1564–1566
Sulaiman Khan Karrani 1566–1572
Bayazid Khan Karrani 1572
Daud Khan Karrani 1572–1576

See also

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  1. Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah held his court in Sonargaon.

Further reading

Coordinates: 24°52′0″N88°8′0″E / 24.86667°N 88.13333°E / 24.86667; 88.13333