Medieval History Of West Bengal


 The medieval history of Bengal was dominated by the Pala and the Sena dynasty along with different Muslim dynasties. Development in late medieval history was not only significant for Bengal but it eventually influenced the history of whole India.

The medieval history of Bengal witnessed disturbance in the law and order for more than a century. But in 8th century, the political structure of Northern and Eastern India including Bengal changed. The rule of Pala dynasty from about the middle of 8th century mark a new era in the history of West Bengal.

Early Medieval History of Bengal

Medieval history of Bengal included invasions, cultural reforms and architectural experts by different Hindu, Buddhist and Muslim rulers. The main rulers of medieval period were as follows:

Pala Empire in West Bengal

The Pala Empire (750-1120) was the first independent Buddhist dynasty of Bengal. The Pala dynasty lasted for four centuries and ushered in a period of stability and prosperity in Bengal. They created many temples and works of art as well as supported the important ancient higher-learning institutions of Nalanda and Vikramashila. It was during the Pala period Bengal became the main center of Buddhist as well as secular learning.

Gopala I was the founder of the Pala dynasty of medieval Bengal. He came to power in 750 CE in the Gauda. Gopala reigned from about AD 750-770 and consolidated his position by extending his control over all of Bengal. Gopala’s empire was greatly expanded by Dharmapala and Devapala.

Dharmapala was the second ruler of the Pala empire of Bengal region in the Indian sub-continent. He was the son and successor of Gopala. He adopted the title Paramesvara Paramabhattaraka Maharajadhiraja. He ruled from 770 to 810 CE. He built Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur (Naogaon district, now in Bangladesh) which is one of the greatest Viharas in the Indian sub-continent.

Devapala was the third king in the line and had succeeded his father Dharmapala. He is regarded as the most powerful Pala ruler. He ruled from 810 to 850 CE.

Like his father, Devapala was a great patron of Buddhism and his fame spread to many Buddhist countries outside India.

Chandra Dynasty in West Bengal

From the beginning of the 10th century CE they ruled over the kingdom of Harikela in Eastern Bengal. Their empire was ruled from their capital, Vikrampur (modern Munshiganj) and was powerful enough to militarily opposed the Pala Empire to the North-West. The rule of Chandra dynasty came to end after the last ruler of the Chandra dynasty Govindachandra was defeated by the South Indian Emperor Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty in the 11th century.

Sena Dynasty in West Bengal

The Sena rulers were descendend of the Karnataka migrants. They established their rule in Bengal after Chandra dynasty. The founder of the dynasty was Samantasena. His son Hemanta flourished in the last quarter of the 11th century AD who took advantage of the unstable political situation of Bengal. His son Vijayasena brought the family into limelight during his long reign of more than sixty years. The greatest ruler of the dynasty was Vijayasena (1095-1158 CE). He conquered nearly the whole of Bengal and was succeeded by his son Ballala Sena (1158-1179 CE).

Ballala Sena conquered Gauda from the Pala and became the ruler of the Bengal delta and made Nabadwip his capital. Ballala Sena was the author of Danasagara, a work on Smriti and Adbhuta Sagara, a work on astronomy. Ballala Sena is assigned with an important social movement known as Kulinism by which the nobility of birth and purity of blood were carefully protected.

Ballala Sena’s succeeded by his son Lakshmana Sena. Some scholars regard him as the founder of the Lakshmana Sena era of 1119 CE. On coming to the throne, he established himself as a conqueror and a patron of learning. He conquered Kalinga, Kamarupa and Benares.

Lakshmana Sena’s court was adorned with literary personalities like Jayadeva, the author of Gita Govindam, Halayudha, the linguist and Dhoyi, the poet of Pavanadutam. In 1203 CE, Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji attacked the capital Nabadwip, capture the capital city Gaud and annexed much of Bengal.

Deva Dynasty in West Bengal

It was a Hindu dynasty of medieval Bengal that ruled over Eastern Bengal after the collapse Sena Empire. The capital of this dynasty was Chittagaung in present-day Munshiganj district of Bangladesh. The inscriptional evidences show that this is kingdom was extended up to the present-day Comilla-Noakhali-Chittagong region. Four rulers of this dynasty are known from the inscriptions: Shantideva, Viradeva, Anandadeva and Bhavadeva.

The rules of the Devas was indeed a period of peace, prosperity and creative excellence, Damodardeva (1231-1243) was the most powerful ruler of this dynasty. He took the title of Ariraja-Danuja-Madhava Dasharathadeva and extended his kingdom to cover much of East Bengal. He made an alliance with Ghiyas-ud-Din Balban in 1281. His brother Bikramaditya Deva later moved to the Eastern side of the kingdom in 1294.

Late Medieval History of Bengal

The late medieval history of Bengal started from the advent of Turk-Afghan rule in Bengal in the 13th century to the rule of Mughal Nawabs of 18th century CE in Bengal.

Turk-Afghan Rule 

Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji’s invasion to Bengal marked the advent of Turk-Afghan rule in Bengal. Khilji’s rule in Bengal lasted from 1203 to 1213 CE. From the 13th century CE onwards Bengal region was controlled by the Bengal Sultanate, Hindu Rajas and Baro Bhuyan or warrior chiefs and landlords.

In 14th century, Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (1320-25 CE) of Tughlaq dynasty turned his attention towards Bengal. After annexing Bengal in 1324, CE he placed Nasiruddin on the throne of Bengal. He attempted to ensure the loyalty of Bengal by dividing it into three administrative divisions with capitals at Lakhnauti (North Bengal), Sonargaon (East Bengal) and Satgaon (South Bengal); but his measures failed. After the end of Turk-Afghan, Ilyas Shahi Dynasty started and Bengal came under the rule of Ilyas Shah.

 Ilyas Shahi Dynasty in West Bengal

Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah founded the Ilyas Shahi dynasty which lasted from 1352-1414 CE in Bengal. They were patrons of art and literature. The massive Adina Masjid and Darasbari Masjid was built during this period. They encourage Bengali culture and literature. Ilyas Shahi dynasty was interrupted by an uprising by the Hindus under Raja Ganesha.

Ganesha Dynasty in West Bengal

This dynasty was founded in the Bengal region by Raja Ganesha in 1414 CE. Other kings of this dynasty were Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah and Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah who were originally Hindu but converted to Islam. They were son and grandson of Raja Ganesha respectively.

Hussain Shahi Dynasty in West Bengal

Alauddin Hussain Shah established this dynasty after defeating the Arabs in 1494 CE. He was an unbeatable warrior and his generosity to both Hindus and Muslims was legendary. Alauddin Hussain Shah (AD-1493-1519) is regarded as the greatest independent Muslim ruler of Bengal who brought cultural renaissance in Bengal. During his reign, Chaitanya preached Vaishnavism in Bengal. Alauddin Hussain Shah was a prominent personality of Bengali literature. The Hindus honoured him as an avatar of Krishna, Nripati Tilak’ (Crown of Kings) and Jagat Bhushan’ (Adornment of the Universe). Hussain Shah’s son, Nusrat Shah (AD 1519-32) succeeded him. He kept the kingdom intact but his hold on the Trans-Gandak region weakened due to the Mughal invasion.

Afghan Rule

Sher Shah established Afghan rule in Bengal by killing Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah the last independent Sultan of Bengal in 1538 CE. He extended Grand Trunk Road from Chittagong in the frontiers of the province of Bengal in North-East India to Kabul in Afghanistan. After Sher Shah’s successor, Afghan rule in Bengal was carried by Karrani family, who were among the principal ministers and officials of Sher Shah.

 Karrani Dynasty in West Bengal

The Karrani dynasty was founded in 1564 CE by Taj Khan Karrani. It was the last dynasty to rule the Sultanate of Bengal. Taj Khan was formerly an employee of the Afghan Emperor Sher Shah Suri. From 1562 to 1564 CE, Taj Khan captured South-Eastern Bihar and Western part of Bengal. After the assassination of the last Muhammed Shahi ruler, he seized all of Bengal. Bengal had its capital at Sonargaon. Other prominent Karrani rulers were Sulaiman Khan Karrani and Daud Khan Karrani.

Mughal Rule in Bengal 

After the defeat and death of Daud Khan Karrani, Bengal was made one of the Subas of Mughal empire by Akbar and Khan-i-Jahan was made the Subedar who ruled ably for over three years before his death in 1578 CE. Man Singh, appointed as Governor of Bengal in 1594 CE, strengthened the Mughal rule in Bengal.

During the reign of Mughal emperor Jahangir, Bengal was finally integrated as a Mughal province. During this time Bengal witnessed many revolts by powerful zamindars, prominent among which were the revolts of Musa Khan, Satarajit, Raja Pratapaditya, Ramchandra, etc. On the whole, peace and prosperity prevailed in Bengal from 1628 to 1707 CE during the reign of Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb. During this long period, Bengal did not have any separate identity and its history merely formed a part of the history of the Mughal empire. Bengal remained under Mughal control till the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 CE. Taking privilege of Aurangzeb’s death, his Governor Murshid Quli Khan declared himself Nawab making Murshidabad his capital.

Hindu Kings Apart from the Afghan rule, several Hindu kings also ruled the region. Maharaja Pratap Aditya (1561-1611 CE) ruled in Jessore. Raja Sitaram Ray, a vassal of Mughal empire, revolted and established his rule in Burdwan (Bardhaman). The kingdom of Bhurshut in 14-15th centuries was established by King Rudra Narayan in Southern Bengal. The Koch dynasty in Coochbehar is another Hindu dynasty established by King Viswa Singha. This is the longest running dynasty in the history of Bengal starting from 1515 to 1949.

Nawabs of Bengal

Nawab is the title given by Muslim Emperor to the Muslim rulers of the Princely States. They were given primary duty to administer their province. The popular Nawabs of Bengal were as follows:

 Murshid Quli Khan

The first of the Nawabs, who was appointed by Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar as the Nawab of Bengal in 1717 CE, reigned over Bengal, Bihar and Orissa from his capital Murshidabad which he had transferred from Dacca. He changed Jagirdari system to the Mal Jasmani system, later which transformed into Zamindari system. He sent revenues from the state to the Mughal empire. He also opened a mint and introduced the ‘Zurbe Murshidabad’ coin. Murshid Quli Khan had built the magnificent Katra Masjid. After his death in 1727 CE, he was buried under the steps of Katra Masjid.

Sarfaraz Khan 

Sarfaraz Khan (1739-1740 CE) was the son of Shuja-ud-Din and grandson of Mursid Quli Khan. He received the imperial titles of ‘Motamul-ul-Mulk’and ‘Ala-ud-Din Haridar Jung’. His throne ended in 1740 CE only after 13 months of reign, when he was defeated in the ‘Battle of Giria’on 10th April, 1740 by Alivardi Khan. The Nasiri dynasty of Murshid Quli Khan ended with the death of Sarfaraz Khan.

Alivardi Khan 

Alivardi Khan (1671-1756 CE) was the Nawab of Bengal during 1740-1756 CE. In 1733 CE, he was assigned as the Deputy Subedar of Bihar. One year later, he was given the rank of Paach Hazari Mansabdar by Nawab Shuja-ud-Din. On the 10th April, 1740 in the Battle of Giria, he defeated and killed Shuja-ud-Din’s successor Sarfaraz Khan.

Then he took control of Bengal and Bihar in 1740 and ruled for 16 years thereafter. During his glorious reign (1740-1756 CE) as Nawab of Bengal, Alivardi successfully defended his kingdom from his enemies to expand his dominion across Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.


Mirza Muhammad Siraj-ud-Daulah (1733-1757 CE) was the grandson of Alivardi who ascended the throne after the death of Alivardi in 1756 CE. He appointed Mir Madan as Bakshi (paymaster of the army) in place of Mir Jafar. On 24th May, 1756, Siraj occupied the Cossimbazar factory of the British. Then he went on to occupy Calcutta in June, 1756.

The British amassed forces and reconquered Calcutta in February, 1757 and then struck a secret treaty with Mir Jafar. The British captured the French factory at Chandernagore. The Nawab and the British army, under Robert Clive fought in the Battle of Plassey. In an act of great betrayal by Mir Jafar, Siraj was defeated on 23rd June, 1757 and killed and Mir Jafar ascended the throne of Bengal.

 Battle of Plassey (AD 1757) 

The Battle of Plassey was fought between British East India Company and Nawab of Bengal, Siraj-ud-Daulah. On 23rd June, 1757, Siraj-ud-Daulah’s army with 50,000 soldiers, 40 cannons and 10 war elephants was defeated by 3000 soldiers of Colonel Robert Clive. Mir Jafar and Rai Durlabh and Yar Lutuf Khan assembled their troops near battle field but did not join the battle, only a small force under Mahanlal and Mir Madan fought the battle. In this battle, the last independent Nawab of Bengal Siraj-ud-Daulah was defeated.

After Siraj, Mir Jafar was proclaimed Subedar of Bengal. Siraj-ud-Daulah was captured and murdered by the orders of Miran, the son of Mir Jafar. Robert Clive and his colleagues secured large rewards for themselves in addition to the zamindari of the 24 parganas and a large sum for the Company. This battle paved the way for the British conquest of Bengal and eventually of the whole of India.

Mir Jafar 

Mir Jafar (1757-1760 CE and 1763-1765 CE) was the first Nawab of Bengal who came into power with the support of East India Company. He was an incompetent ruler and was under the control of British administration.

Mir Qasim 

The British replaced Mir Jafar with his son-in-law, viir Qasim in 1760 CE on account of non-payment of dues. Due to this Mir Jafar invited the Dutch forces to fought the British East India Company. Consequently, the Battle of Chinsura took place in 1759 CE in which British defeated the Dutch forces.

After Lord Clive, Vensittart became the new Governor of Bengal from 1760 to 1765 CE. The Company ordered the Nawab of Bengal, Mir Qasim to pay for war expenses and expenses to purchase the presidencies of Bombay and Madras. Company had also taken the zamindari of Burdwan, Midnapore and Chittagong. This angered Mir Qasim and he shifted his capital from Murshidabad to Munger in 1762 and also established a gun factory. This marked the beginning of the conflict between the Company and Nawab.

Conflict of Nawabs and Company: Battle of Buxar 

Due to conflict between Mir Qasim and Company rule, the Battle of Buxar was fought on 23rd October, 1764 between the forces under the command of the British East India Company led by Major Hector Munro on one side and the combined army of Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal, the Nawab of Awadh and the Mughal King Shah Alam II on other side. This battle gave a decisive victory for the British East India Company.

lam the creator and editor of Design Shard, I created this blog to post my inspirations, work, and free resources that I hope others find interesting too. See all posts by -- Sourav Mukherjee

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