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Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah


Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah (1389-1410 AD/ H 792-813) the third sultan of the early Iliyas Shahi dynasty of Bengal, who devoted himself more to the task of consolidation than to conquests and annexations. But during the initial period of his reign, Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah led an expedition against kamarupa, conquered it and kept it under his control for some years. Assam Buranjis have on record that he invaded the territory of the Raja of Kamta, which was inconsequential.

Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah earned a good name for his ideal character, patronage of learning and for good administration. He had a profound regard for the law. It is on record that the sultan while practising with a bow hit the son of a widow with an arrow and caused his death. The widow appeared before the Qazi and brought a charge of murder against the sultan. Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah, being summoned by the Qazi, appeared before the court like an ordinary accused person, made graceful submission to the custodian of law and satisfied the complainant by offering a suitable indemnity in accordance with the decree. When the trial was over the Qazi stood up and praised the sultan for his regard for the law. At this the sultan remarked that he would have instantly beheaded the Qazi if he was found wanting in his duty as a judge. The Qazi smilingly retorted that he would have scourged His Majesty had he not obeyed the law. This incident conveys the whole spirit of the administration of Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah.

Himself a scholar and poet, Sultan Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah held literary men in great esteem. On occasions, he used to compose verses in Arabic and Persian. He corresponded with the famous Iranian poet Hafiz. Once he sent to him an unfinished couplet for completion and invited him to visit Bengal. Hafiz supplied the second line. He also sent another ghazal to the sultan. Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah also contributed a good deal to the development of Bengali literature; Shah Muhammad Sagir wrote his famous work, Yusuf-Zulekha, under his patronage. Probably, the sultan also ordered Krttivasa to write the Ramayana in Bengali.

Like his father (sikandar shah) and grandfather (iliyas shah), Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah had great respect and reverence for the Alims and the Sufis. He liberally patronised the learned and the pious. Of his contemporaries, shaikh alaul haq and Shaikh nur qutb alam were well known. He paid great homage to Shaikh Muzaffar Shams Balkhi of Bihar, with whom he corresponded. He gave all kinds of help to pilgrims to the holy cities of Makka and Madina. More important still, he sent immense gifts, more than once, to the people of those holy cities. It is said that he built two Madrasas there - one near the Umme- Hani gate at Makka and the other near the Gate of Peace (Bab-al-Salam) at Madina for the dissemination of Islamic learning and made suitable endowments for these institutions. These two institutions came to be known as ghiyasia madrasa. He sent thirty thousand gold coins (mithqals) for repairing the stream of Arafa.

Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah is known for his friendly relations with foreign countries. It has already been mentioned that he had friendly correspondence with Poet Hafiz of Shiraj and sent envoys to Makka and Madina on several occasions. We have two more instances of his desire to establish friendly relations with foreign powers: one with the Kingdom of Jaunpur and the other with China. It is recorded that Ghiyasuddin sent his envoys to Khwaja Jahan of Jaunpur and sent elephants as gifts to him. He cultivated friendship with Young-Io, the contemporary emperor of China. He sent ambassadors to China in 1405, 1408 and 1409 AD. The Chinese emperor received the envoys cordially and reciprocated by sending envoys with valuable presents for the sultan of Bengal.

Another aspect of Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah's reign was that the Hindus gained much prominence in his court and this led to the rise of raja ganesha, the zamindar of Bhaturiya (in Dinajpur district). Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah died in 814 AH/1411 AD. It is suspected that Raja Ganesha treacherously killed the sultan.

Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah, a very interesting personality, was a great sultan of the early Iliyas Shahi dynasty. The events of his life are so variegated that he may be compared to a prince in a fairy tale. [ABM Shamsuddin Ahmed]