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Bengal

Bengal emerged into history as regions of Magadha, Pundra (West Bengal), Vanga (East 'Banga' - modern Bangladesh), Anga (parts of Bengal and modern central Bihar state), and Suhma (comprising regions from both east and west Bengal). The neighbouring modern state of Orissa was called Kalinga, Videha formed parts of Nepal, present day Assam (Ahom) was known as Pragjyotisha in the Mahabharata, and in the first millennium AD Kamarupa was known as Kirat Pradesh (Twipra - modern Tripura). Magadha expanded to include most of Bihar and Bengal with the conquest of Licchavi and Anga respectively, followed by much of eastern Uttar Pradesh. The Greek envoy Megasthenes referred to Bengal as Gangaridai in his book, Indica, mainly because it was structured along the banks of the River Ganges ('Ganga').

Bengal coalesced into a single entity during the first millennium AD, when a short-lived and ultimately unsuccessful tribal kingdom emerged in the seventh century. Subsequently the region was conquered by the Palas in the second millennium, then ruled by the Hindu Sena dynasty, and then taken over by the Islamic Khilji Malik sultanate which was controlled from Delhi, like much of the rest of northern and central India.

(Information by Abhijit Rajadhyaksha.)

Gauda Kingdom of Bengal
c.AD 600 - 625

After the fall of the Guptas, the dominion of Bengal gained its independence and was known as the Gauda kingdom, although this was far from including all of Bengal. The various regions which were later joined together as Bengal were known as Pundra Vardhana (now northern Bangladesh), Gauda (parts of West Bengal and Bangladesh), Dandabhukti (southern West Bengal), Karna Subarna (part of West Bengal), Varendra (northern Bangladesh), Rarh (southern areas of West Bengal), Summha Desa (south-western West Bengal), Vanga (central Bangladesh), Vangala (southern Bangladesh), Harikela (north-eastern Bangladesh), Chandradwipa (southern Bangladesh), Subarnabithi (central Bangladesh), Navyabakashika (central and southern Bangladesh), Lukhnauti (North Bengal and Bihar), and Samatata (eastern Bangladesh).

The first recorded independent king of Bengal, or Gauda, was a tribal leader named Shashanka. He pulled together the disparate sections of his kingdom at some point around the start of the seventh century, and was also a contemporary and adversary of King Harshavardhana of Thaneshwar. The kingdom of Bengal, or Gauda (the territory between the River Padma and the region of Bardhaman) had its capital at Karnasuvarna, and the famous metropolis was situated near Chiruti railway station, close to Rajbadidanga (ie. the site of Raktamrttika-mahavihara, or modern Rangamati) in the Murshidabad district of West Bengal.

The region descended back into anarchy after this brief period of success.

c.600 - 625

Shashanka / Sasanka

606

Shashanka feigns friendship with Rajyavardhana of Thaneshwar in order that he might get close enough to kill him, thereby achieving the revenge sought by Deva Gupta, the last of the Gupta kings.

c.625

Manava

Son. Ousted soon after his father's death.

c.625

Following his death, Shashanka's kingdom falls apart and the region descends into anarchy until it is conquered by Harshavardhana of Thaneshwar.

After a turbulent hiatus, the second half of the seventh century sees the emergence of two new lines of kings in Bengal: the later Guptas in Gauda and ancient Magadha (western Bengal and southern Bihar), and the Khadagas in Vanga and Samatata (southern and south-eastern Bengal). In the eighth century a Buddhist dynasty called the Devas emerges to rule in south-eastern parts of Samatata. They may be contemporaries of the early Palas. Neither of these dynasties, however, appears to succeed in establishing a strong ruling presence in Bengal.

Pala Dynasty
AD 750 - 1174

In the ninth century the native Buddhist-Hindu Palas emerged to gain power in a fragmented Bengal. Gopala, the first Pala king, was elected by the various regional chieftains to take command and put an end to a century of anarchy. The Palas lasted for a long time and proved to be a formidable dynasty, not just in Bengal but in the surrounding areas as well. But they were not alone. South-eastern Bengal saw the emergence of the kingdom of Harikela, which may have embraced the area from Chittagong to Comilla, and the Chandras succeeded the Harikela rulers from the beginning of the tenth century. In the last quarter of the eleventh century the Varman dynasty, taking advantage of the Kaivarta rebellion in the Pala empire, established their independent rule in south-eastern Bengal to rule for less than a century before being toppled by the Senas, just as the Palas themselves were.

750 - 770

Gopala

First Buddhist king of Bengal. Elected by regional chieftains.

770 - 810

Dharmapala

Son.

During his reign, Dharmapala defeats the Pratihara king, Indraraja or Indrayudha, of Kannauj. The king is deposed and Dharmapala places Chakrayudha on the throne of Kannauj in his stead. Later, however, Dharmapala is defeated by Vatsaraja of the Pratihara dynasty, to whom he even temporarily loses his capital, Gauda. In turn, Vatsaraja is defeated by King Dhruva of the Rashtrakutas, which leaves the Pratiharas weakened, indirectly helping Dharmapala to end their dynasty and establish Pala hegemony over northern India. The Palas now count among their vassal states the kingdoms of Kannauj, Madra, Gandhara, Nepal, Rajputana, and Malwa.

810 - 850

Devapala

Son.

Devapala counts as his military successes the conquest of Pragjyotisha (Assam), where the king submits without a fight, and the Utkalas, whose king flees from his capital city. He routs the Hunas (White Huns), fights against Kamboja (on the north-east frontier), defeats Ramabhadra of the Pratiharas, and later the Bhojas too. Devapala also vanquishes the Rashtrakuta ruler, Amoghavarsha.

850 - 854

Shurapala I / Mahendrapala

Son.

854 - 855

Vigrahapala

Son of Jayapala, grandson of Dharmapala's brother, Vakpala.

855 - 908

Narayanapala

908 - 940

Rajyapala

940 - 960

Gopala II

c.940 - 990

During the reigns of Gopala II and his successor, the Pala have to face new threats from northern India in the Chandellas and the Kalachuris, both of whom have established themselves in former Pratihara empire territory. At around the same time, the Kambojas of the Himalayas again attack North Bengal and seized north-east Bengal. The Pala suffer losses and are pushed back to the south of Bihar, in western Bengal, under threat of extinction.

960 - 988

Vigrahapala II

In Bihar only.

c.975 - 990

According to the copperplates issued by his successors, the Chandra king, Kalyanachandra, makes his power felt in Gauda and Kamarupa. He may be responsible for delivering the final blow to Kamboja power in northern and western Bengal and thereby paving the way for the revival of Pala power under Mahipala I.

988 - 1038

Mahipala I

c.990

Mahipala reverses the fading fortunes of the Pala. He successfully wrests northern and western Bengal back from the Kambojas, regaining the ancestral seat of the Palas. He also subsequently regains northern Bihar as well.

1038 - 1055

Nayapala

1055 - 1070

Vigrahapala III

1070

The Hindu Sena dynasty gains control of the Radha region, signalling the end of Pala greatness.

Pala dynasty Buddha
A statue of Buddha from the Pala dynasty, which was itself founded by a Buddhist

1070 - 1075

Mahipala II

1070 - 1075

During the rein of Mahipala II, the Sena king, Vijaya Sena, takes advantage of a revolt in the Varendra region of Samatata (in modern Bangladesh). He gradually consolidates his position (through a matrimonial alliance with the daughter of the king of Orissa) in western Bengal and ultimately assumes a fully independent position for the Sena dynasty.

1075 - 1077

Shurapala II

1077 - 1130

Ramapala

The last great Pala king.

c.1100

Ramapala restores much of the past glory of the Pala lineage. He crushes the Varendra rebellion and extends his empire farther, reaching as far as Kamarupa (Assam) about 1110-1115, plus Orissa, and northern India.

1126

While it seems to take some time for his former Pala masters to deal with the rogue former governor in Assam, Timgyadeva, retribution for his declaration of independence arrives in the form of Kumarapala, son of Ramapala (apparently before he ascends the Pala throne). Timgyadeva is deposed (his ultimate fate is unknown) and a new governor is assigned to the region.

1130 - 1140

Kumarapala

Son.

1140

Following the death of Kumarapala, his Pala governor in Assam, Vaidyadeva, also declares his independence, but his reign is very brief as the Kamarupa kings take this opportunity to restore their own rule.

1140 - 1144

Gopala III

1144 - 1162

Madanapala

Eventually reduced to Bihar only.

1150

The Varman dynasty in eastern Bengal falls to the Senas. Now only the Pala stand against them, but in a very much weakened state. The last years of Madanapala's reign are confined to Bihar only.

1162 - 1174

Govindapala

Ruled a small principality.

1174

The Sena king, Ballala Sena, strikes the final blow against the Palas, defeating Govindapala and fully uniting Bengal under one ruler.

Sena Dynasty
AD 1070 - 1230

The Senas started as feudal vassals in the Radha region of the Palas, but soon usurped power to start their own royal dynasty under their founder, Hemantasena. The rulers of the Sena dynasty were Hindu 'vaishnavites' (worshippers of Vishnu), and one important aspect of their rule in Bengal is that the whole of Bengal was brought under the control of a single ruler for the first time in its history. The Senas originally belonged to the Karnata lands (Karnatadeshatagata) in southern India, the Kannada or Kanarese-speaking region in Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh, and they were Brahma-Kshatriyas (Brahmanas first and only Kshatriyas, or warriors, afterwards). However, Islam was introduced into Bengal by Arab Muslim traders during this period, and a large number of people became Muslims in the twelfth century through the influence of Sufi missionaries.

1070 - 1096

Hemantasena / Hemanta Sena

Founder of the dynasty.

1096 - 1159

Vijaya Sena

Declared Bengal's independence from the Palas.

1070 - 1075

During the rein of the Pala king, Mahipala II, Vijaya Sena takes advantage of a revolt in the Varendra region of Samatata (in modern Bangladesh). He gradually consolidates his position (through a matrimonial alliance with the daughter of the king of Orissa) in Western Bengal and ultimately assumes a fully independent position for the Sena dynasty.

1150

The Varman dynasty in eastern Bengal falls to the Senas. Now only the Pala stand against them, but in a very much weakened state.

1159 - 1179

Ballala Sena

Son.

1174

Ballala Sena strikes the final blow against the Palas, defeating Govindapala, the last Pala ruler. During the lifetime of his father, Ballala Sena had also conquered Mithila.

1179 - 1206

Lakshamana Sena

Son.

1205 - 1206

Lakshamana is defeated by the Turkic slave general, Bakhtiar Khilji, although areas of eastern Bengal remain free. The conquered areas become a province under the control of the slave dynasty at Delhi and they are administered locally by the Khilji Malik sultans. The remainder of Bengal is ruled by Lakshamana's sons.

1206 - 1225

Vishvarupa Sena

Son.

1225 - 1230

Keshava Sena

Brother.

1230

With the death of Keshava Sena, the dynasty disappears from history. The later Senas have in any case been eclipsed by the Hindu Deva dynasty which itself might be the last important native dynasty in Bengal. Large areas of western Bengal continue to be ruled by the Khilji Malik dynasty.

Khilji Malik Dynasty
AD 1206 - 1227

Bakhtiar Khilji, a Turkic general under the command of the Delhi slave dynasty, conquered Bihar (where his armies ransacked and destroyed the famous Nalanda University). Then his armies invaded Bengal. He captured the capital city, Gaud, and conquered large parts of Bengal, sending Lakshman Sen of the ruling Sena dynasty fleeing to Bikrampur in the east (in 1205). The captured territory was ruled by sultans and feudal lords in the name of the sultanate at Delhi for the next few hundred years.

1204 - 1206

Muhammed Bin Bakhtiyar Khilji

Afghan Ghilzai under Ghurid command.

1206 - 1208

Khilji leads a disastrous campaign to Tibet in which he meets his end. The other Khilji noblemen appoint Muhammed Shiran Khilji as his successor, but apparently this isn't popular with one Ali Mardan Khilji, who rebels against Shiran. Shiran attacks and routs Ali Mardan's army, and Ali Mardan flees to Delhi and gains the sultan's support. The sultan dispatches Kayemaj Roumi, governor of Oudh, to assist Ali Mardan, and the army dethrones Muhammed Shiran, who flees to Dinajpur, where he dies. However, Ali Mardan doesn't gain his reward straight away.

Nalanda University
The ruins of Nalanda University which was destroyed by the army of Bakhtiyar Khilji

1206 - 1208

Muhammed Shiran Khilji

Ousted following a rebellion.

1208 - 1210

Hussamuddin Iwaj Khilji

Dethroned by Ali Mardan. Restored in 1212.

1210 - 1212

Ali Mardan Khilji

Highly unpopular and soon murdered by his own courtiers.

1212

After the death of Ali Mardan, the previous ruler, Hussamuddin Iwaj Khilji, regains the throne and assumes the name Ghiyasuddin Iwaj Khilji. He transfers the capital from Devkot to Gaur, and resumes his rule from there. This time he consolidates his position and brings much desired peace to Bengal.

1212 - 1226

Ghiyasuddin Iwaj Khilji

Restored.

1224

During his rule, Ghiyasuddin builds up a powerful navy and takes on Vanga (eastern Bengal), Kamarupa (Assam), Utkala (northern Orissa), and Tirhut (northern Bihar). The conquest of Bihar irks the sultan of Delhi, Iltutmish Shams ad Din. He attacks Bengal in 1224 and forces a treaty on Ghiyasuddin, making him cede eight million takas and thirty eight elephants and making him re-avow his vassalage to Delhi. Ghiyasuddin recants as soon as the sultan is back in Delhi.

1227

The second Turkish invasion of Assam is led by Ghiyasuddin but this is defeated by the Khen king, Prithu, the second such defeat of a Turkish invasion into the region.

1227

Determined to put an end to Ghiyasuddin's disobedience, the sultan of Delhi launches a final campaign against Bengal. Ghiyasuddin is killed and his army routed, and Delhi takes direct charge of Bengal for fifty years, placing Mamelukes there as governors (although Ghiyasuddin's son seizes back the throne in 1229).

Mameluke Dynasty
AD 1227 - 1281

The Mamelukes were Turkic slave generals under the command of the sultan of Delhi. Following the brief governorship of Bengal by the sultan's son, a series of governors, mostly Turkic, managed the region. Local power politics saw governors of Oudh and Bihar vying for control, as more than one governor declared his own independence from Delhi, although this was usually only a brief state of affairs.

1227 - 1229

Nasiruddin Mahmud

Son of Sultan Iltutmish in Delhi. Governor of Bengal.

1228

Dealing with the recalcitrant Khen kings of Assam once and for all, Nasiruddin's father, the sultan of Delhi, kills Prithu and subjugates his territories. Carried away with his success, the sultan supposedly also goes on to attack Tibet, although this cannot be confirmed and may be little more than a cross-border raid.

1229

Finding the throne vacant after the death of Prince Nasiruddin Mahmud, Malik crowns himself sultan. He rules for three years until he is deposed by the sultan of Delhi, Shamsuddin Iltumish.

1229 - 1232

Malik Balkha Khilji

Son of Ghiyasuddin Khilji. Also known as Daulat Shah Bin Maudud.

1232 - 1233

Allauddin Jani

Turkish Governor. Removed from office.

1233 - 1236

Saifuddin Aibak

Murdered.

1236

Saifuddin Aibak is murdered by a courtier named Awar Khan Aibak who assumes the position of governor of Bengal. He is almost immediately overthrown himself by the governor of Bihar, Tughral Tughan Khan, who takes over in Bengal.

1236

Awar Khan Aibak

Usurper. Overthrown.

1236 - 1246

Tughral Tughan Khan

Former governor of Bihar. Restored in 1272.

1246

The king of Orissa, Narsinghadev, invades southern Bengal, and Tughral Tughan Khan tries to counter the Oriya army. Although initially successful, the Oriyan army strikes back and Tughral finds himself cornered. He seeks help from Delhi, and the sultan, Allauddin Masud Shah, asks the governor of Oudh, Tughlaq Tamar Khan, to go to Bengal's rescue. But after having repulsed the Oriyan attack, Tughlaq himself assumes the governorship of Bengal, forcing Tughral to flee to Delhi. In compensation, the sultan makes Tughral governor of Oudh.

1246 - 1247

Tughlaq Tamar Khan

Former governor of Oudh.

1247 - 1251

Jalaluddin Masud Jani

Turkish Governor. Removed from office.

1251 - 1257

Malik Ikhtiyaruddin Iuzbak / Yuzbak

Former governor of Oudh.

1257

After repulsing the king of Orissa from south-western Bengal, Iuzbak proclaims himself an independent ruler and adopts the title 'Sultan Mughisuddin Abul Mujaffar Iuzbak'. The ambitious Iuzbak then makes the mistake of taking on the sultan of Delhi when he attacks and occupies Bihar. Buoyed by his success, he invades Kamarupa (Assam), but this proves disastrous and Iuzbak is killed in battle.

1257 - 1259

Ijjauddin Balban-e-Iuzbaki

Previously an interim governor.

1259

Ijjauddin is defeated by Tatar Khan, the governor of Oudh, who declares himself to be an independent king. This is confirmed in 1266 by the new sultan of Delhi, Balban Ulugh Khan, in return for Tatar Khan's promise of support in future battles.

1259 - 1268

Tatar Khan

Former governor of Oudh. Independent king.

1268 - 1272

Sher Khan

Governor appointed by Delhi.

1272

Amin Khan

Swiftly deposed.

1272

Tughral Tughan Khan, the former governor of Bengal (1236-1246), is appointed sub-governor of Bengal under Amin Khan, but he quickly deposes his superior and declares himself to be the independent ruler of Bengal, assuming the name Mughisuddin Tughral. He later defeats Vishwarup Sena in eastern Bengal.

1272 - 1281

Mughisuddin Tughral

Formerly governor (1236-1246).

1279 - 1281

Tughral ransacks Jajnagar in Orissa and recovers a large amount of booty. Sultan Balban sends a huge army from Delhi, led by Malik Turmati, the ruler of Oudh, to put him down. Tughral defeats not only this army, but also the even larger army which is subsequently sent against him. On the third occasion, Sultan Balban himself leads the attack against Tughral in 1280. Tughral flees to Jajnagar, but he is pursued and killed in battle. The sultan places his own son in charge of Bengal.

Balban Dynasty
AD 1281 - 1328

Following the defeat of the separatist Mamelukes, Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban Ulugh Khan placed his own son, Mahmud Shah, in charge of the difficult province. When the sultan himself died in 1287, Mahmud continued with local tradition and declared himself independent of Delhi. Soon afterwards, his family were displaced as sultans in Delhi by the Khilji dynasty, and so survived only in Bengal.

1281 - 1291

Mahmud Shah / Naseeruddin Bughra Khan

Son of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Balban Ulugh Khan of Delhi.

1287 - 1290

Mahmud Shah marches on Delhi intent on taking the throne from his son, Kay Qubadh, who is controlled by his own wazir. However, father and son instead reach an understanding and the wazir is ousted. Unfortunately, just a very short time later, Kay Qubadh is murdered by his own general, who declares his own Khilji dynasty in Delhi. Mahmud Shah himself soon abdicates, possibly in grief at the loss.

1291 - 1300

Rukunuddin Kaikos

Son. Died childless.

1300 - 1322

Shamsuddin Firoz

Possible brother.

Shamsuddin Firoz expands the kingdom by taking the Sonargaon area (in south-east Bengal). He also resists attacks by the Delhi sultanate.

1322 - 1324

Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah I

Son.

1324 - 1328

Bengal is attacked by Sultan Tughlaq Shah of Delhi and Ghiyasuddin is taken prisoner and hauled off to Delhi. Bengal becomes a governed province. However, he is released by the next sultan of Delhi and created governor of Sonargaon (south-east Bengal). Ghiyasuddin declares himself independent in 1328, constructs a new city, naming it Ghiyaspur (near Mymensingh) and is subsequently attacked by Delhi. General Bahram Khan of Delhi attacks and kills Ghiyasuddin and is made next governor of Sonargaon.

Tughlaq Governors
AD 1328 - 1342

Following the reinstatement of the Balban king, Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah I, as a vassal ruler of part of Bengal, his declaration of independence brought swift retribution from Delhi. With his death, the Tughlaq sultans of Delhi established their own governors in Bengal.

1328 - 1338

Bahram Khan

Governor for Delhi.

1338 - 1339

Following the death of the governor, his armour-bearer, Fakruddin Mubarak Shah, declares himself king. Mubarak then kills Kader Khan, governor of Lakhnauti (western Bengal), and establishes himself as an independent king of Sonargaon. A senior official in the now leaderless province of Lakhnauti, Allauddin Ali Shah, seizes control and declares himself sultan there, while Haji Iliyas becomes independent in Satgaon, also in Bengal.

1338 - 1349

Fakruddin Mubarak Shah

Armour-bearer for Bahram Khan. Sultan of Sonargaon.

1339 - 1342

Allauddin Ali Shah

Sultan of Lakhnauti.

1338 - 1342

Haji Iliyas

Sultan of Satgaon. Founded the Iliyas Shahi dynasty.

1338 - 1342

A three-way power struggle ensues in Bengal between the independent rulers. Eventually, the former two are overthrown by Haji Iliyas and a new ruling dynasty takes complete control in Bengal.

Iliyas Shahi Dynasty
AD 1342 - 1414

Haji Iliyas, or Iliyas Shah, consolidated the independent sultanate of Bengal by defeating his regional rivals. He was originally from Sijistan, to the east of Persia and came from a noble family. Initially in the service of Delhi, he had to escape to Bengal after problems arose and he took service under lzzuddn Yahya, the governor of Satgaon. After Izzuddin Yahya's death, he became the master of Satgaon in 1338 and after consolidating his authority there, he waged a long war against Allauddin Ali Shah of Lakhnauti, conquering the latter region in 1342 and founding a new dynasty which ruled large areas of Bengal, including the eastern area of Samatata.

1342 - 1358

Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah / Haji Iliyas

Achieved superiority in Bengal.

1358 - 1390

Sikandar Shah

Son.

1390

Forever famous for the building of the Adina mosque at Pandua, Sikandar Shah is killed in battle against his son, Ghiyasuddin Azim Shah. Driven from court by the machinations of his step-mother, this son rebels in Sonargaon and attacks his father's army Goalpara, near Pandua, although the sultan is killed despite his son's orders that he not be injured.

Adina Mosque at Pandua in Bengal
The domed interior of the Adina Mosque at Pandua in Bengal, painted by Seeta Ram between 1817-1821

1390 - 1411

Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah

Son.

1411 - 1412

Saifuddin Hamza Shah

Son. Assassinated.

1413 - 1414

Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah

Usurper.

1414

The usurping Shihabuddin Bayazid Shah is in turn killed by Raja Ganesha, a powerful 'zamindar' (landlord) in Bhatturiah and Dinajpur. Raja Ganesha creates his own ruling dynasty in Bengal.

Raja Ganesha Dynasty
AD 1414 - 1436

The Hindu Raja Ganesha dynasty was an interruption of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty in Bengal. Raja Ganesha himself was a powerful 'zamindar', or landlord, in Bhatturiah and Dinajpur in northern Bengal who seized control when the rule of the Iliyas Shahi was disrupted by murder and usurpation. Claims that Raja Ganesha oppressed his Muslim subjects brought the threat of invasion, so as an act of appeasement he allowed his son to be converted to Islam.

1414 - 1415

Raja Ganesha

Dynasty founder.

1415

Faced with the threat of invasion by compatriots of the Muslims he is accused of oppressing, Raja Ganesha agrees to step down in favour of his son, who is converted to Islam. As soon as the threatening army leaves, Ganesha removes his son and takes back the throne. However, Muslim servants of his son kill him, re-convert the boy, and place him back on the throne.

1415 - 1416

Jadu / Jalaluddin Muhammed Shah

Son. Converted to Islam.

1416 - 1418

Raja Ganesha

Restored. Murdered.

1418 - 1433

Jadu / Jalaluddin Muhammed Shah

Restored.

1433 - 1436

Shamsuddin

Son. Murdered.

1436

Ruling in much the same way as his grandfather, Shamsuddin is said to be very cruel towards his Muslim subjects, and is eventually killed by them, allowing a restoration of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty. Meanwhile, the Suryavamsas of Orissa take some areas of Bengal into their newly founded kingdom.

Iliyas Shahi Dynasty (Restored)
AD 1436 - 1487

Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah was responsible for restoring the dynasty after a gap of over twenty-two years, following the murder of the last Raja Ganesha dynasty ruler by his own subjugated Moslem servants. Some territory had been lost to the Suryavamsas of Orissa. Despite being a descendant of the first Iliyas Shahi sultan, his exact line of descent seems to be unknown.

1435 - 1459

Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah

An Iliyas Shahi descendant.

1459 - 1474

Rukunuddin Barbak Shah

Son.

1474 - 1481

Shamsuddin Yousuf Shah

Son.

1481

Sikander Shah II

Probable son. Deposed by his nobles after only two months.

1481 - 1487

Jalaluddin Fateh Shah

Brother of Shamsuddin Yousuf Shah. Assassinated.

1487

During the reign of Jalaluddin Fateh Shah the Habshi Assyrians become very powerful in Bengal. The sultan is murdered by his own eunuch palace guard, Shahzada, who then establishes the Habshi dynasty.

Habshi Dynasty
AD 1486 - 1494

Shahzada Barbak II was a member of the increasingly powerful Habshi Assyrian faction in Bengal, and he rose to power by murdering his master, the last Iliyas Shahi sultan, in 1487. However, none of this dynasty's rulers lasted very long, and neither did the dynasty itself. The first ruler was replaced by a former loyalist of the old regime, and factional in-fighting after that doomed the dynasty to destruction.

1486 - 1487

Shahzada Barbak II

Former Iliyas Shahi eunuch palace guard.

1487 - 1489

Saifuddin Firuz Shah

Another former Iliyas Shahi army commander.

1489 - 1490

The infant, Mahmud Shah II, is placed on the throne by another Habshi, Habsh Khan. But both of them are killed by yet another Abyssinian, Siddi Badr, who seizes the throne under the name of Shamsuddin Muzzaffar Shah.

1489 - 1490

Mahmud Shah II

Infant.

1489 - 1490

Habsh Khan

Power behind the throne.

1490 - 1494

Shamsuddin Muzzaffar Shah

Deposed.

1494

Shamsuddin Muzaffar Shah is assassinated by his wazzir, Alauddin Husain Shah, who is subsequently elected the first Husain dynasty shah by the leading nobles.

Husain Shahi Dynasty
AD 1494 - 1533

Alauddin Husain Shah was the son of a minor official in Khorasan who accidentally ended up in Bengal where he received an education and eventually became the sultan's wazzir (prime minister). He repaid that education and promotion by usurping the sultanate and murdering the last member of the Habshi dynasty. However, his reign witnessed the widespread territorial expansion of the sultanate, and he secured his western frontier against the onslaught of the Lodi dynasty from Delhi.

Ashraf Husaini

Sharif of Makka, Termez, Khorasan (modern Uzbekistan).

1494 - 1519

Alauddin Husain Shah

An Afghan. Founder of the Husain Shahi dynasty.

1498

The Portuguese explorer, Vasco de Gama, reaches India by sea, and traders follow close behind him, marking the first lasting contact between India and Europe since the time of Alexander the Great. That contact is felt most strongly in Bengal when it becomes one of the first regions to be controlled by Europeans after 1757.

1498 - 1510

Alauddin Husain Shah invades the territory of the Khen kings in Assam during this period, although precisely when seems to be unclear. He takes advantage of the weakened Khen kings to establish holdings in the region, but he is not able to hold onto his conquests for long and is soon driven off by the Bhuyans and Ahoms.

1519 - 1533

Nasiruddin Nusrat Shah

Son.

1529

The Moghul ruler of Delhi, Babur, defeats a coalition force led by Mahmud Lodhi, the nephew of Ibrahim Lodhi, and Nusrat Shah. Both agree to Babur's suzerainty.

1531 - 1532

Almost right away, the Moghul emperor, Humayun faces problems when the Afghan adventurer, Sher Shah Suri, attacks and seizes the fort of Chunar. A four month siege of Chunar by Humayun fails to deliver the fort back to him, and he is forced to agree a quick treaty with Sher Shah Suri when another enemy presents himself.

1533

Mahmud Shah

An incompetent ruler.

1533

Sher Shah Suri seizes his opportunity and captures and annexes Bengal to his already captured territories in Bihar. This also allows the Barobhuyan chieftains in eastern Bengal and western Assam to gain strength.

Suri Dynasty / Muhammed Shahi Dynasty
AD 1533 - 1564

The great general and conqueror, Sher Shah Suri, seized Bengal in 1533 and attached it to the territories he had already conquered in Bihar. He didn't stop there, however, attacking the sultans of Delhi over the course of a decade in order to capture that city as his ultimate prize in 1540. Victory meant that he was able to displace the ruling Moghul emperors in favour of his Suri dynasty there, while Bengal was handed over to a regional governor. Bengal's history is filled with regional governors declaring independence, and this time proved to be no different. In 1554, Sher Shah Suri's grandson declared independence, creating the Muhammed Shahi Dynasty.

1533 - 1538

Sher Shah Suri

Usurper. Shah in Delhi from 1539. Bengal handed to governor.

1535 - 1539

Humayun tries to cut Sher Shah Suri down to size by capturing Chunar after a six-month siege, and then takes Bengal. There, he wastes valuable time, allowing his enemy time to regroup and capture Benaras, Kara and Sambhal. Humayun is further distracted when his youngest brother proclaims himself Moghul emperor at Agra, and abandons Bengal to Sher Shah Suri in order to resolve the situation.

1540 - 1545

Victory at the Battle of Bilgram in 1540 gains Agra and Delhi for Sher Shah Suri and he replaces the Moghul rulers with his own Suri dynasty.

Tomb of Sher Shah Suri
The tomb of Sher Shah Suri at Sasaram in Bihar

1539 - 1541

Khidr Khan

Governor.

1541

Khidr Khan attempts to declare independence from Delhi and is removed from office by Sher Shah Suri. A new governor replaces him for the remainder of Sher Shah Suri's lifetime, after which another governor is appointed by his son.

1541 - 1545

Qazi Fazilat

Governor.

1545 - 1555

Muhammad Khan Sur

Governor. Independent as Shamsuddin Muhammed Shah (1554).

1554 - 1555

The death of Islam Shah Suri in Delhi leaves the dynasty weak and open to rival claimants, of which their are many. In Bengal, the governor declares his own independence from Delhi under the name of Shamsuddin Muhammed Shah. He immediately conquers Arakan (in Burma). He also competes for power with Islam Shah's successor, Muhammed Shah Adil, but is defeated and killed in battle by Adil's general, Hemu (a Rajput who had been born in Alwar). Muhammad Shah Adil then appoints Shahbaj Khan as ruler of Bengal.

1555

Shahbaj Khan

Governor.

1555 - 1561

Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah II

Son of Muhammad Khan Sur.

1555

Ghiyasuddin Bahadur Shah II deposes Shahbaj Khan to became ruler of Bengal. He later kills the advancing Sultan Muhammed Shah Adil. Towards the end of his reign, Ghiyasuddin tries to capture Jaunpur (in modern Uttar Pradesh), but is defeated by the Moghuls.

1561 - 1563

Ghiyasuddin Jalal Shah

Brother.

1563

?

Son (name unknown). Assassinated after a few months.

1563 - 1564

Ghiyasuddin (III)

Assassinated.

1562 - 1564

The Afghan Karrani dynasty began to capture large tracts of south-eastern Bihar and west Bengal from 1562. The last shah is assassinated within a year of ascending the throne by Taj Khan Karrani, who founds his own dynasty.

Karrani Dynasty
AD 1564 - 1576

The Afghan Taj Khan Karrani captured large tracts of south-eastern Bihar and west Bengal between 1562-1564, and with his assassination of the last Muhammed Shahi ruler, he seized complete control of Bengal. Taj Khan Karrani had long been a thorn in the side of regional rulers, conquering parts of modern Uttar Pradesh from Muhammed Shah Adil before being defeated and pushed out to Bengal, where he captured large swathes of territory before killing the sultan. He subsequently moved his capital to Tanda and ruled until1566.

1564 - 1566

Taj Khan Karrani

Former employee of Sher Shah Suri.

1566 - 1572

Suleiman Khan Karrani

Brother.

1565 - 1566

Bengal under Suleiman Khan Karrani accepts the suzerainty of the Moghul emperor, Akbar, and the Karranis remain on the throne as Moghul governors, or vassal kings (albeit with Moghul Subahdars to oversee their actions). Sulaiman Khan subsequently sends his son, Bayazid Khan Karrani, and the famous general Kala Pahada to attack the king of Bhoi dynasty Orissa, Mukunda. Orissa is defeated and brought under Bengal's control. Sulaiman Khan Karrani then sends Kala Pahada to fight the Kamata (later known as Koch Bihar under the Moghuls), Vishwa Singha. He defeats and captures the Kamata general, Shukladhwaja, who also happens to be the third son of Vishwa Singha.

1572

Bayazid Karrani

Son.

1572

Bayazid Karrani declares his independence from the Moghuls, but is killed by his own nephew and son-in-law, Hansu, who himself is captured and killed by the Moghuls.

1572 - 1576

Daoud Shah Karrani

Brother.

1574 - 1576

Following Daoud Shah Karrani's almost inevitable declaration of independence, he is attacked by the Moghuls. The capital at Tanda is annexed to the empire, although Daoud is allowed to remain on the throne. The following year, Bengal is also annexed, with the capital being moved to Gaur, and when Daoud rebels again in 1576 he is defeated. Bengal comes under direct Moghul rule, with governors (Subahdars) being installed.

Moghul Subahdars of Bengal
AD 1565 - 1704

The subahdars were governors who were appointed by the Moghul emperor, Akbar. Initially, they oversaw the efforts of the Karrani rulers, but following the final defeat of Daoud Shah Karrani in 1576 the governors had full control of the province, as well as that of Orissa, under the authority of the emperor himself.

1565 - 1576

Khan Jahan

Subahdar of Bengal under Moghul emperor Akbar.

1578

Ismail Quli

1579 - 1580

Mujaffar Khan Turbati

1580 - 1582

Mirza Haqim

1582 - 1583

Mirza Aziz Koka

1583 - 1585

Shahbaz Khan

1585 - 1586

Sadiq Khan

1586 - 1587

Wazir Khan

1587 - 1594

Syed Khan

1592

Overlordship of the Bhoi dynasty of Orissa is removed from Syed Khan of Bengal and passes directly into the hands of the Moghuls, although it seems that the Bengalis still retain an interest in the region.

1594 - 1605

Mansingh

Mansingh is the Kachawa raja of Amber and is also Akbar's most trusted general. He defeats the raja of Jessore (now in Bangladesh).

1605 - 1606

Mansingh

Subahdar of Bengal under Moghul emperor Jahangir.

1606 - 1607

Qutubuddin Koka

1607 - 1608

Jahangir Quli Khan

1608 - 1613

Sheikh Islam Khan Chishti

1613 - 1617

Qasim Khan Chishti

c.1615

Qasim Khan Chishti forces the independent Barobhuyan chieftains to the east of Bengal to submit, ending their period of strength.

1617 - 1624

Ibrahin Khan

1625

Muhabbat Khan

1626 - 1627

Muqarram Khan / Makaram Khan

Invaded Orissa.

1627 - 1628

Fidai Khan

1628 - 1632

Qasim Khan Juvayni

Subahdar of Bengal under Moghul emperor Shah Jehan.

1632 - 1635

Azim Khan

1635 - 1639

Islam Khan II

1639 - 1647

Prince Shah Shuja

Son of Moghul emperor Shah Jahan. Governor of Bengal.

1647 - 1652

There is a gap in the records while Prince Shah Shuja is out of favour in Bengal. As he is a royal prince it is unlikely he spends much time in the region even when he does hold the post, so in all probability a deputy handles the day-to-day running of the province, and continues to do so during this period.

1652 - 1658

Prince Shah Shuja

Restored as governor.

1657 - 1658

Moghul emperor, Shah Jahan falls ill and a succession struggle ensues between his four sons. Shah Shuja is defeated by the rightful heir, Dara Shukoh, and is killed in Bengal. It is two years before a new governor is appointed.

1660 - 1663

Mir Jumla

Subahdar of Bengal under Moghul emperor Aurangzeb.

Mir Jumla is an enterprising ex-employee from Golconda who switches sides to join the Moghuls. He is made governor of Bengal, where he does a commendable job. He expands the territory to include Kamarupa and Koch Bihar (both in Assam).

1664 - 1678

Shaista Khan

Aurangzeb's maternal uncle.

1678 - 1680

There is a second gap in the records while Shaista Khan is out of favour in Bengal. Again, a deputy probably handles the day-to-day running of the province, and continues to do so during this period. In 1680, Shaista Khan returns after a forgettable first period of office as governor, and this time does a good job, strengthening the Moghul navy.

1680 - 1688

Shaista Khan

Restored.

1688 - 1689

Khan Jahan Bahadur

1689 - 1697

Ibrahim Khan II

1697 - 1712

Prince Ajim-us-Shan

1707

Following the death of Moghul emperor Aurangzeb, the empire is ruled by a series of weak emperors who witness the slow diminution of their power and territory. Bengal also drifts towards independence, with the remaining governors holding less influence between 1707-1717 in the face of the rise to power of the viceroys, or Nawabs.

1712 - 1713

Khan Jahan

1713 - 1717

Farkundashiyar

Last subahdar of Bengal.

FeatureNawabs of Bengal
AD 1704 - 1880

The nawabs (or viceroys) gained power in Bengal, displacing the Subahdars. Nominally they were still under the control of the Moghul emperors, but in reality they felt they could ignore the emperor at will. Murshid Quli Khan proved this by continuing to claim customs duties from the British East India Company even after they won the right to duty-free trading from Emperor Farrukhsiyar in 1717.

Murshid Quli Khan was the grandson of the famous Mohammed Quli Khan (formerly Netaji Palkar, the Maratha general who served under Shivaji, and who was captured and was converted to Islam). He was appointed by Alamgir as nawab of Bihar, Bengal & Orissa and granted the title 'Kartalab Khan' by Aurangzeb, meaning 'the seeker of challenges' in Persian. He moved the capital of Bengal from Dhaka to what became Murshidabad.

1704 - 1725

Murshid Quli Khan Ala' ad Dawla

First nawab or viceroy, ruling independently of the Moghuls.

1725 - 1739

Shuja Khan Shuja ad Dawla

Son-in-law.

1733

Shuja Khan merges Bihar with Bengal and divides the merged territory into four divisions for administrative purposes.

1739 - 1740

Sarfaraz Khan Ala ad Dawla

Son. Deposed.

1740 - 1756

AlÓwirdi Khan Hashim ad Dawla

Usurper.

1740 - 1742

Under the command of the Peshwa, the Maratha army reaches Rajasthan in 1735, Delhi in 1737, and Orissa and Bengal by 1740. In 1742, Orissa is ceded by Nawab AlÓwirdi Khan to the Marathas (in the form of Raghuji Bhosale of Nagpur).

1756 - 1757

Mirza Mahmud Siraj ad Dawla

Grandson. Known as Surjah Dowlah to the British. Killed.

1757

In January Mirza Mahmud Siraj ad Dawla of Bengal captures Calcutta, which contains the headquarters of the British East India Company. He also captures and imprisons many European prisoners. Such prisons are known at the time in Britain as black holes, and Mirza's prison becomes everlastingly infamous as the Black Hole of Calcutta. However, Mirza is hated by his own courtiers, and they arrange with the Briton Robert Clive to defeat and dethrone him, which is achieved after the Battle of Plassey on 23 June.

The East India Company is now the effective master of Bengal, and it rules the region through the Bengal presidency (soon afterwards this is overseen by the position of governor general), and a puppet nawab, keen only on improving its trade with India rather than creating an empire. The province remains troubled, however, as it is swarming with Muslim fighters from the north, the French are still active in promoting their own attempts to control India's trade, and the neighbouring state of Oudh is still hostile. Clive defeats them all.

Clive of India meets Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey
Clive of India meets Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey in 1757, portrayed secondhand by Francis Hayman in about 1762 from original Indian miniatures

1757 - 1760

MÓr Jafar Muhammad Khan/

British puppet ruler. Replaced.

1760 - 1763

MÓr Qasim Ali

Son-in-law. Replaced for being too able and competent.

1763 - 1765

Mir Jafar Muhammad Khan

Restored.

1765 - 1766

The British East India Company creates the Bengal presidency from which to rule the region at Calcutta. This is soon overseen by the position of governor general in British-administered India. The nawabs remain on the throne but as mere figureheads.

1765 - 1766

Najimuddin Ali Khan

Son.

1766 - 1770

Saif ud Daullah Najabut Ali Khan

Brother.

1770

Sayyid Ashraf Ali Khan

Brother.

1770

The Bengal famine claims millions of lives.

1770 - 1793

Mubarak Ali Khan

Brother.

1775

After fleeing to Bengal to escape the control of his wazir, Moghul Shah Alam proclaims himself emperor (independent of any control). In fact, he is under the patronage of the British East India Company until the Marathas invite him to Delhi to become emperor in fact as well as name.

1778 - 1783

After being visited by a deputation of American diplomats, Benjamin Franklin and Silas Deane, France declares war on Britain in support of the rebellion in North America, only too glad to make the most of Britain's misfortune. In India, Hastings is forced to lend his troops to a local ruler in order to crush an uprising which, if it could succeed, would threaten Bengal itself and the East India Company's headquarters in Calcutta. The French fleet encourages rebellion against British interests, and French intriguing in India continues until the end of the American War of Independence.

1793

The nizams lose all authority and power, leaving them no more than pensioners of the British East India Company.

1793 - 1810

Baber Ali Khan

1810 - 1821

Zainul Abedin Ali Khan

1821 - 1824

Ahmad Ali Khan

1824 - 1838

Mubarak Ali Khan II

1838 - 1880

Mansur Ali Khan

Abdicated. Died 1884 from cholera.

1858

Direct British rule follows the Indian Mutiny (or Great Sepoy Mutiny) through a series of British Viceroys.

1880

The last nawab is forced to relinquish his titles and position when his post is abolished. Henceforth, the nawabs only have a titular claim to the state, although they are granted a lesser and relatively meaningless title by the British, that of nawab of Murshidabad, a district of West Bengal and the region in which Bengal's first independent kingdom was formed (the Gauda kingdom).

1880 - 1906

Hassan Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur

Son. Nawab of Murshidabad.

1906 - 1959

Wasif Ali Mirza Khan

Son. Nawab of Murshidabad.

1947

When India gains independence from colonial rule, Bengal is partitioned along religious lines. The western half remains part of India as West Bengal, while the eastern section is joined to Pakistan and in 1971 becomes the independent state of Bangladesh. The great-grandson of Mansur Ali Khan becomes the first president of Pakistan in 1956.

1959 - 1969

Waris Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur

Son. Nawab of Murshidabad.

1969 - Present

The title of nawab of Bengal is still claimed by the three sons of Waris Ali Mirza Khan Bahadur, but they are unable to decide which of them succeeds their father. The succession remains disputed.

Modern Bangladesh
AD 1971 - Present Day

Bangladesh - the People's Republic of Bangladesh - means the 'country of Bengal'. The state was born out of the province of East Pakistan with a capital at Dhaka. Originally, at the point of Indian independence in 1947, Bengal was split in two, the western part remaining within India, and the eastern part becoming East Bengal, part of Pakistan. Accusations of discrimination against the governing powers in Pakistan proper led to a war of independence in 1971. However, the independent state which emerged from that war is one of the poorest and most densely populated in South Asia.

1971

The Indo-Pakistan War is triggered after Pakistan launches a pre-emptive strike on eleven Indian airbases. The war lasts just thirteen days. Following this, East Pakistan succeeds from West Pakistan to become Bangladesh.

1975

The first democratically elected prime minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, is assassinated along with his family by members of the military forces. Coups and counter-coups over subsequent months lead to the anti-Communist General Ziaur Rahman taking charge, and he remains in control after he reinstates party politics.

1975 - 1981

Ziaur Rahman

Military ruler. Assassinated by the military.

1982 - 1990

Hossain Mohammad Ershad

Military ruler. Resigned.

1990

The western world feels that anti-Communist leaders are no longer needed following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and Hossain Mohammad Ershad is pressured into stepping down. The country reverts to being a parliamentary democracy.

Regular floods in modern Bangladesh
The picture of floods in modern Bangladesh (ancient Vanga, or former East Bengal) is a very familiar one from the late twentieth century

2007 - 2008

Political rule is suspended for the span of these two years as emergency law is introduced in its place to quell widespread violence, root out corruption, and hold free and fair elections. The effort proves highly successful.