Bengal Sultanate

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শাহী বাংলা
شاهی بنگاله
Capital Lakhnauti and Sonargaon
Languages Persian (official)
Arabic (religious)
Bengali (official)
Religion Islam (official)
Government Absolute monarchy
 •  Unification of Bengal 1352
 •  Mughal invasion 1576
Currency Tanka
Preceded by
Succeeded by
Delhi Sultanate
Suri Empire
Mughal Empire
Kingdom of Mrauk U
Today part of Bangladesh Bangladesh
India India
Myanmar Myanmar

The Bengal Sultanate or Sultanate of Bengal,[1] also Bangalah (Persian: بنگالهBangālah, Bengali: বাঙ্গালা/বঙ্গালা) and Shahi Bangalah (Persian: شاهی بنگالهShāhī Bangālah, Bengali: শাহী বাঙ্গলা)[2] was a sultanate of Islamic India which ruled in modern South Asia and Southeast Asia. It was established by the conqueror Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah in 1352. It was one of the great powers of Medieval India, ruling over what is now Bangladesh, the Indian state of West Bengal and the Arakan region of Burma. Its principal cities were Lakhnauti, Sonargaon and Pandua; along with dozens of provincial capitals known as mint towns, where the sultanate's currency was produced.[3] At the time, Europeans called it Bengala, such as in the Portuguese trading post of Porto Grande de Bengala.

Explorers who visited the sultanate included Ibn Battuta, Ma Huan and Niccolo De Conti.[4]


The Adina Mosque was built by Sikandar Shah

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 the rise of the Abyssinian slave dynasty of Bengal. People from Abyssinia (Ethiopia) were brought by the Ilyas Shahis as slaves to serve in the king's army. Four Abyssian kings gained the throne in succession. Tensions between different Muslim communities often affected the kingdom, including Sunni-Shia tension, Persian-Afghan tension and the persecution of Abyssinians by the Hussain Shahi dynasty, which ultimately led to their expulsion from Bengal.[5]

After a period of instability, Alauddin Hussain Shah gained control of Bengal in 1494 after serving as prime minister under the Abyssinian sultans. 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.[5] 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.[6] After conquering Bengal, Sher Shah Suri proceeded to Agra.

The absorption of Bengal into the Mughal Empire was a gradual process beginning with the defeat of Bengali forces under Sultan Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah by Babur at the Battle of Ghaghra and ending with the Battle of Raj Mahal where the Pashtun Karrani dynasty, the last reigning Sultans of Bengal, were defeated.


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.[7] The Hussain Shahi dynasty employed many Hindus in the government and promoted a form of religious pluralism.[8]


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.[9]

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.[9]

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.[9]

Name of Conflict Belligerents Outcome
Allies Opponent(s)
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

Currency and mint towns

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.[3]

  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)
Map of Mint Towns & Realm of Bengal Sultanate


The only eastern political and economic pole of Islamic India was Bengal. Like the Gujarat Sultanate, it was open to the sea and accumulated profits from trade with agricultural incomes. Traders from around the world were present in the Bay of Bengal area, which included the Ganges-Brahmaputra delta and the Irrawaddy delta. Bengal's position as a major cotton textile exporter was unique in Islamic India.[10]


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.[10]

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.[11]

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 acknowledging the grandeur of the king's court and the literary quality of Bengali-Persian poetry.[12]

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.[13][14]


While other Muslim kingdoms in the subcontinent imitated Persian architecture, the Bengal Sultanate encouraged a distinctive local style. A distinct Bengali-Islamic architecture developed during its reign, which combined indigenous traditions with influences from Persia and Byzantium. It featured multiple and single domed mosques with complex terracotta and stone ornamentation. The most grand testament to their imperial ambitions is reflected in the ruins of the Adina Mosque, the largest mosque ever built in the Indian subcontinent.[15] The mosque has a plan similar to the Great Mosque of Damascus and elements of the pre-Islamic Sassanid Taq Kasra monument.[15][16] The Mosque City of Bagerhat is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Sultanate-mosques are scattered throughout Bangladesh and West Bengal.

List of Sultans

Ilyas Shahi dynasty (1342-1414)

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

House of Raja Ganesha (1414-1435)

An illustration of the usurper Raja Ganesha
Name Reign Notes
Raja Ganesha 1414–1415
Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah 1415–1416 Son of Raja Ganesha and converted into Islam
Raja Ganesha 1416–1418 Second Phase
Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah 1418–1433 Second Phase
Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah 1433–1435

Restored Ilyas Shahi dynasty (1435-1487)

Name Reign Notes
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)

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

Hussain Shahi dynasty (1494-1538)

Name Reign Notes
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
Name Reign Notes
Khidr Khan 1539–1541 Declared independence in 1541 and was replaced
Qazi Fazilat 1541–1545
Muhammad Khan Sur 1545–1554 Declared independence upon the death of Islam Shah Suri

Muhammad Shah dynasty (1554-1564)

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

Karrani dynasty (1564-1576)

Name Reign Notes
Taj Khan Karrani 1564–1566
Sulaiman Khan Karrani 1566–1572
Bayazid Khan Karrani 1572
Daud Khan Karrani 1572–1576

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ "History". Banglapedia. Retrieved 23 September 2017. Shah-i-Bangalah, Shah-i-Bangaliyan and Sultan-i-Bangalah 
  3. ^ a b "Mint Towns - Banglapedia". 2014-04-05. Retrieved 2017-09-22. 
  4. ^ "During a century and a half, spread over the early 14th and mid-15th centuries, there were six travellers who wrote considerable accounts- Ibn Batuta (1326-49), Wang Dayuan (c 1330-50), Fei Xin (1409-33), Ma Huan, Gong Zhen (1413-33) and Nicolo De Conti (1420-44)"
  5. ^ a b David Lewis (31 October 2011). Bangladesh: Politics, Economy and Civil Society. Cambridge University Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-1-139-50257-3. 
  6. ^ Vadime Elisseeff (1998). The Silk Roads: Highways of Culture and Commerce. Berghahn Books. p. 161. ISBN 978-1-57181-221-6. 
  7. ^
  8. ^ "He founded the Bengali Husayn Shahi dynasty, which ruled from 1493 to 1538, and was known to be tolerant to Hindus, employing many on them in his service and promoting a form of religious pluralism" David Lewis (31 October 2011). Bangladesh: Politics, Economy and Civil Society. Cambridge University Press. pp. 44–45. ISBN 978-1-139-50257-3. 
  9. ^ a b c "Military - Banglapedia". Retrieved 2017-09-22. 
  10. ^ a b Claude Markovits (1 February 2004). A History of Modern India, 1480-1950. Anthem Press. p. 37. ISBN 978-1-84331-004-4. 
  11. ^ "Persian - Banglapedia". 2015-02-15. Retrieved 2017-09-22. 
  12. ^ "Persian – Banglapedia". 
  13. ^ "The development of Bengali literature during Muslim rule" (PDF). Retrieved 2017-09-22. 
  14. ^ "Sufi Literature – Banglapedia". 
  15. ^ a b "The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, 1204–1760" (PDF). Retrieved 5 May 2016. 
  16. ^ Hasan, Perween (2007). Sultans and Mosques: The Early Muslim Architecture of Bangladesh. I.B.Tauris. p. 63. ISBN 978-1-84511-381-0. 

Further reading

  • Yegar, Moshe (2002). Between Integration and Secession: The Muslim Communities of the Southern Philippines, Southern Thailand, and Western Burma/Myanmar. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. p. 23–24. ISBN 978-0-7391-0356-2. 
  • Hussain, Syed Ejaz (2003). The Bengal Sultanate: Politics, Economy and Coins, A.D. 1205–1576. Manohar. ISBN 978-81-7304-482-3.
  • The Grammar of Sultanate Mosque in Bengal Architecture, Nujaba Binte Kabir (2012)

Coordinates: 24°52′0″N 88°8′0″E / 24.86667°N 88.13333°E / 24.86667; 88.13333

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