Historiography the writing of history based on a critical analysis, evaluation, and selection of authentic source materials and composition of these materials into a narrative subject to scholarly methods of criticism. Historiography refers either to the study of the history and methodology of history as a discipline, or to a body of historical work on a specialized topic.
Ancient The characteristic feature shared in common by ancient Bengal with other parts of the subcontinent is the lack of a solid body of historical literature. The ramacharitam of Sandhyakaranandi is the only work that can be called a historical work among the early writings. But the contemporary copper or stone inscriptions have evidenced historical awareness among the royal dynasties and scholars of ancient Bengal. The copper plate inscriptions and praxastis (eulogies) composed by royal court poets, archivists and genealogists are pieces of historical writings. The absence of historical chronicles in ancient Bengal cannot be explained by stating that later invaders destroyed them wholesale. When the Muslim invasion of Bihar and Bengal took place towards the end of the 12th and the beginning of the 13th centuries AD monks and scholars fled to Nepal and Tibet with many manuscripts on Dharmaxastra, medicine, logic, astronomy, grammar and literature. Reference to many Bengali scholars and their works is found in the Tibetan chronicles such as Pag Sam Zon Zang of Sumpa Mkhanpo compiled in 1747 AD and in the Tyangur- catalogue. But so far only the Ramacharitam has been found in Nepal. The invaders could not have singled out only works on history as objects of destruction. Similarly, the climate factor cannot be held solely responsible for the dearth of history of ancient Bengal.
In ancient times the term Itihasa (history) was used in Bengal as well as in other parts of India in a more comprehensive sense and within its fold were included Purana texts which denote a compilation of ancient tales, anecdotes, songs and lores; Itivrtta denoting history and the Epics; Akhyayika meaning anecdotes or stories or an account of divine and human beings; Udaharana meaning example and referring to typical stories, biographies or events; Dharmaxastra denoting instructions to the followers of the Brahmanical religion in the sacred and ancient law and Arthaxastra meaning science of polity. The definition of Itihasa gradually underwent a significant change and was narrowed down to a record of past events or occurrences. The old comprehensive idea about history, however, continued to influence every piece of historical literature throughout the ancient period.
The most important of historical writings, in terms of number as well as contents, are copperplate inscriptions and prasastis of kings or high officials. The verse portion of the copperplates narrates the history of the contemporary ruler and his progenitors. Parables from Pauranic and epic characters are drawn frequently and the whole piece seems to be pervaded with Brahmanical religious spirit. Kings are mentioned, as world conquerors whose might and battle prowess are comparable to those of Pauranic and Epic heroes Krsna, Arjuna and Karna. Kings are compared with gods like Indra, Shiva, Visnu and queens with goddesses like Laksmi, Rohini, Gauri. Yudhisthira, Rama, Laksmana, Bhisma seem to have been embodiment of human virtues. Romanticism, hero-worship, myths, legends pervade the verse portion of these epigraphs and the verses are mostly eulogistic court poetry.
All good qualities are attributed to the patron king. And his heroism in the field of war results in the conquest of almost every known country, and the choice of qualities and countries for mention is often governed by requirement of metre and rhythm. But in spite of these characteristic features the copperplate inscriptions and eulogies may be considered as pieces of historical writings because these help the reconstruction of the political and socio-economic history of ancient Bengal. There being no national consciousness in the thoughts of ancient Bengalis, the political history reflected in these verses are dynastic in character. But while referring to the historical events connected with the ruler of a particular dynasty mention is also made of other royal dynasties of India. The great importance of these inscriptions lies in the fact that by collating together the history of the different ruling dynasties from these epigraphs historians are able to give a connected account.
Moreover, from the prose portion of the copperplate inscriptions, which are records of land grants, many details about the administrative system and socio-economic conditions may be known. The boundary marks of the plots of land endowed as grants to the Brahmans, Brahmanical institutions, Buddhist Viharas and monks, described in detail, reflect the economic condition and the basic nature of the economy of ancient Bengal. The composers seem to have derived these details from royal officials like Pustapala (land record keeper), Ksetrapa (officer in charge of land cultivation), Gramapati (village headman) etc.
The Aryamanjucrimulakalpa, a Buddhist chronicle of 8th century AD, narrates history, like the Puranas, in the guise of prophecies regarding future political events. The book refers to the kings, either by the first letter of their names or by synonyms, but never by the full proper name. It seems to have recorded the history of the conflict between shashanka and Harsavardhana and the disintegration of the gauda empire after the former's death. But the Aryamanjucrimulakalpa, a mere collection of old tales and traditions preserved in the Buddhist world, cannot be regarded as a historical chronicle.
The Ramacharitam is a unique historical document. It enables historians to give a critical account of the history of Bengal for almost a century (c 1075-1062 AD). According to Sandhyakaranandi himself his Ramacharitam was a '(record) of the noble achievements of the two Ramadevas, the lord of the Raghus and the king of Gauda' and he calls his work a Ramayana of the Kali age and himself Valmiki. But Sandhyakaranadi, being a partisan of ramapala, made certain misrepresentation of facts and to fit in the history of the period with the story of Rama of Ramayana had to ignore the chronology of events.
In the Ramacharitam the genealogy of the Palas begins with dharmapala and then Sandhyakaranandi, passing over the other Pala kings, mentions Vigrahapala III, father of his hero Ramapala. He then refers to the reign of Mahipala II, his imprisonment of his younger brothers Shurapala and Ramapala, the death of Mahipala in his fight against the rebels and the loss of Varendri (or varendra), the fatherland of the Palas, to the Kaivarta chief divya the recovery of Varendri by Ramapala with the assistance of the feudal lords and his maternal uncle Mathanadeva, the Rastrakuta chief, and the restoration of peace and order in Varendri and the founding of a new city called Ramavati.
Sandhyakaranandi gives in 27 verses an account of Varendri and in 12 verses describes the city of Ramavati. His description of Varendri and Ramavati is one of the finest accounts of northern Bengal's physical features, flora and fauna and the life of Bengali people during the ancient period. The poet's intense love for his native land Varendri is manifest in this account. Sandhyakaranandi's brief narration of the history of the successors of Ramapala down to the last known Pala ruler Madanapala and his references to other contemporary Indian royal powers make his Ramacharitam not only a history of Ramapala but also a history of the last phase of the Pala rule in Bengal and Bihar. Sandhyakaranandi's narration of Ramapala's war preparations to recover his fatherland and his account of the background events of the war makes it evident that the poet was fully aware of the feudal nature of the political structure of his time. His description of the battles shows that he understood the techniques of military strategies. His praise of the vanquished Kaivarta chief Bhima, an archenemy of his hero Ramapala, shows his impartiality as well as objective treatment of the history of his time. Might be he was influenced by his contemporary Kalhana, the first Indian historian in the modern sense of the term.
The socio-economic history of ancient Bengal is found in literary mosaics in the two anthologies of Sanskrit verses compiled by Bengalis the subhasitaratnakosa (the treasury of well-turned verses) and the saduktikarnamrita (excellent sayings which are nectar for human hearing). The verses quoted in these anthologies were not perhaps meant to reflect history, but these verses contain glimpses of people's life, economy, wealth, poverty, religious beliefs, philosophy of life as well as depictions of Bengal's different seasons, its village and urban settlements and its flora and fauna.
To the genre of Kosa-Kavya (anthological literature) also belongs the Aryasaptaxati of govardhan acharya consisting of more than 700 detached verses arranged in sections. Govardhan acharya, a court poet of laksmanasena, belongs to the 12th century AD. The Aryasaptasati gives glimpses in social history and more specifically in women's history of ancient Bengal. How the women lived in polygamous household and in joint family system, their sorrows, their lamentations, their total dependence on their husbands and their daily life-all these are depicted in the verses of the Aryasaptashati. In some of the verses descriptions of village fields, crops, vegetable species, birds and other animals are also found.
The contemporary writings throwing light on the history of ancient Bengal are not many in number. But the extant pieces are ample evidence of the awareness of history of the people of ancient Bengal. [Shahanara Husain]
Bibliography RC Majumdar et al (ed), The Ramacaritam of Sandhyakaranandin, Rajshahi, 1939; CH Philips (ed), Historians of India, Pakistan and Ceylon, London, 1961; Daniel HH Ingalls (tr), An Anthology of Sanskrit Court Poetry, Vidyakara's Subhasitatatnakosa, Harvard Oriental Series, 44, 1965; S C Banerji (ed), Saduktikarnamrta of Sridharadasa, Calcutta, 1965; RR Mukherji and SK Maity (ed), Corpus of Bengal Inscriptions, Calcutta, 1967.
Medieval (1200-1765) The Medieval period of Bengal refers to the time span from the commencement of Muslim rule roughly in 1200 AD to the grant of the diwani of Subah-Bangala to the east india company by the fugitive Mughal Emperor shah alam ii in 1765. The historiography of Bengal in this period is disconnected, incoherent and mostly written outside Bengal.
The establishment of Muslim rule in India heralded a new epoch in Indian historiography. It added historical literature to the mass of Indian literature. Muslim historiography was, indeed, 'a novel gift of the Muslims to Indian culture'. However, this 'gift' does not seem to have reached Bengal.
There is no information of an Iliyas Shahi or a Husain Shahi sultan patronising a historian to record the events of the time. The gap thus created in the historiography of medieval Bengal was to a great extent made up by historians beyond Bengal, principally Delhi historians, and by some accounts left by foreigners.
The first and foremost among the histories containing information relating to Bengal from outside the province is the tabaqat-i-nasiri of Minhaj-i-Siraj, who held high positions under Shamsuddin iltutmish (1210-1236) and his successors. He composed the work during the reign of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud (1246-1266) and therefore named the history after the reigning monarch probably to draw his attention and get patronage.
The Tabaqat-i-Nasiri is a general history of the Muslim World. It consists of twenty-three tabaqats or chapters, and in the twenty-second tabaqat he gives an account of Bengal from the Muslim conquest down to 1258. Of all the outside historians he alone visited Bengal (1242-1244) and took special care to collect materials for the history of the Muslims in Bengal, particularly receiving information from the surviving companions of bakhtiyar khalji (for example, one Mutamiduddaula). So his account is the only contemporary narrative of the early Muslim conquest of Bengal and the activities of its governors. His information is trustworthy and dependable, and is confirmed and attested by numismatic evidence and archaeological findings.
In point of time and importance Ziauddin Barani's tarikh-i-firuzshahi comes next. In his history Barani narrates the events from the accession of Giasuddin balban to the throne of Delhi in 1266 AD to the sixth year (1357) of the reign of firuz shah tughlaq. Barani came of an aristocratic family. His father and forefathers had served as high officials in the court of Delhi. He himself had been a Nadim or personal official of muhammad-bin-tughlaq for 17 years. For his information on Balban and the first two Khalji rulers he depended on his relatives and high officials. For the remaining period he himself was contemporaneous to the events he related.
But Barani never visited Bengal, and his information on it was collected from the returnee-soldiers from the province (his maternal grandfather Hishamuddin was one) or Dabirs (secretaries) in the royal court of Delhi. During the period (1266-1357) covered by his narratives, affairs in Bengal had been mostly unsettled and turbulent. So, with the best of intentions, he might have failed to collect detailed information on the area. With very few exceptions his descriptions of the events in Bengal in the Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi are very brief and unsatisfactory. However, in this brief account distortions are rarely present. His prime objective in writing history, of course, was to secure the sultan's patronage. As a result he was least sympathetic towards rebellious Bengal and nicknamed it 'Bulghaqpur' or house of strife, and passed derogatory comments on the independent sultans of Bengal. Even then Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi is a valuable source on Bengal's medieval history.
Khwaja Abdul Malik Isami's futuh-us-salatin also contains information on the history of medieval Bengal. He wrote his history in 1349 in the Deccan during the reign of the Bahmani Sultan Alauddin Hasan (1347-58). It was written in verse and as a result, scholars think, it suffers from exaggerations. Isami also never came to Bengal but surprisingly enough, his account of Bengal contains some information which was not mentioned in Barani's Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi. From this it may be presumed that there existed good relations between the two rebel Kingdoms (in the eyes of Delhi) and there were exchanges between the people of these two countries. Consequently, Isami succeeded in collecting material on medieval Bengal. However, the description on the events of Bengal in the Futuh-us-Salatin is less extensive than in the Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi.
Shams-i-Siraj Afif also wrote a history under the same title, Tarikh-i-Firuzshahi, narrating the events of the reign of Firuz Shah Tughlaq (1351-1388). It contains an account of Firuz Shah's expeditions to Bengal (1353 and 1358) but no other elaborate information is found here, as Bengal remained independent during this period. Afif was born in 1350 and held high positions in the court of Delhi. So, understandably, he was greatly tilted in favour of his patron Firuz Shah whose apparent failures against the Bengal rulers (iliyas shah and sikandar shah) were glossed over. He showered praises on the sultan and depicted the Bengal sovereigns as rebels, but otherwise his accounts have been proved to be correct and useful. There is another historical text of the reign of Firuz Shah Tughlaq titled Sirat-i-Firuz Shahi, by an anonymous writer, but it contains scanty information about Bengal.
Yahya bin Ahmed bin Abdullah Sarhindi wrote his tarikh-i-mubarak shahi during the reign of Delhi Sultan Syed Mubarak Shah (1421-1434). In this work he narrated the history of the Delhi sultans starting with Muhammad Ghori down to the year 1424. Along with the narratives of the Delhi sultans, he also accurately referred to the affairs in Bengal.
Amir Khausraus's poetical composition qiran-us-sadain (Meeting of two stars) was yet another early work. The poet visited Bengal twice, once in 1280 in connection with the expedition to Bengal by Sultan Balban and for a second time in 1325 in the retinue of Sultan ghiyasuddin tughlaq. In between these two dates Amir Khausrau accompanied the Delhi Sultan Muizuddin Kaikobad on his march in 1289 against his father and the then ruler of Bengal, bughra khan. The meeting of the two sultans on the bank of the river Saraju ended in a happy understanding between them. It virtually put a seal of formal recognition on the existence of two Sultanates of Bengal and Delhi.
Though essentially a poetical work, it is the best contemporary record of that important event and it throws much sidelight on court life and ceremonies of the time. Chronologically, it also supplies in a way the link between the period covered by the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri on the one hand and the two Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahis on the other.
For the greater part of the Iliyas Shahi and the entire Husain Shahi periods there are no historical works, not even Delhi-centred, that refer to the affairs in Bengal. This gap, to some extent, is covered by foreign travellers' accounts. Of these, the accounts of ibn batuta, ma huan, varthema and barbosa are important, particularly for the reconstruction of the social, economic and cultural history of Bengal.
In his travel account (Rehla) Ibn Batuta referred to the political, economic and social conditions of the then Bengal (1346-47). Much of his information on political events has been proved to be faulty but his narratives on the social and economic conditions are very valuable. He himself visited shops and bazars of the areas he traversed and listed prices of various commodities.
Mahuan visited Bengal with a Chinese delegation as interpreter during the reign of ghiyasuddin azam shah (1390-1411). His account of Bengal is contained in a compilation named Ying Yai Sheng Lan. Here he describes the social and economic conditions of Bengal but he mentions neither the name of the reigning sultan nor the name of the capital.
Varthema was an Italian trader. He visited the Indian subcontinent between the years 1503 and 1508. He also visited Bengal and was charmed to see the city of 'Bangala', which he described as the hub of trade and commerce.
During the same period a Portuguese merchant named Barbosa visited Bengal. He also mentioned the city of 'Bangala'. In his account a description of the economic condition of Bengal is found. These descriptions reflect the prosperity and resources of the Sultanate period (1338-1538), particularly in Husain Shahi Bengal (1494-1538).
In 1538 sher shah conquered Bengal and it remained under the Afghans up to 1576. Some Afghan historians wrote the history of the Afghan sultans of this period: Abbas Khan Sherwani's tarikh-e-sher shahi or Toffah-i-Akbar Shahi, Khwaja Niamatullah's Tarikh-i-Khan Jahani and Makhjan-i-Afghani, Ahmed Yadgar's Tarikh-i-Shahi and Abdullah's Tarikh-i-Daudi. The last work is supposed to have been written at the court of daud karrani (1572-1576) and may be treated as a contemporary work. Other works were written during the Mughal period. Abbas Khan Sherwani and Khwaja Niamatullah served under akbar and jahangir respectively. These works are very valuable in reconstructing the history of the Afghans in Bengal.
Subsequent to 1576 there are a number of histories, official and non-official, written in Delhi, a few from Bengal, and some from other parts of the Mughal empire or from outside. These are mostly general histories of the Mughal empire, and make only incidental references to the affairs of Bengal. The object of these histories was to serve the interests of the Delhi empire and reflect an imperial attitude in dealing with affairs of Bengal. Finally, the accounts are, in many instances, marked by a sense of unreality and exaggeration, as they were written without any direct knowledge about the people of the province.
There are three principal works written during the reign of Akbar (1556-1605). These are Abul Fazl's akbarnamah, Nizamuddin Ahmad Bakhshi's tabaqat-i-akbari and Molla Abdul Qadir Badayuni's muntakhab-ut-tawarikh. In these works are found the accounts of the fall of the Karrani sultans (1564-1676) and the story of Akbar's conquest of Bengal. They may be treated as containing the contemporary narrative of this episode. The Akbarnamah was written in three volumes, and the Ain-i-Akbari constituted its third volume. It is a kind of Gazetteer containing administrative and statistical information on Akbar's empire. It was submitted to Akbar in 1593. Here Abul Fazl's facts about Bengal are not always correct. He assumed that the whole of Bengal was within his master's jurisdiction, which was far from the truth, and then described its revenue and administrative divisions with apparently meticulous but obviously misleading facts and figures. His statements about isa khan, the leader of the bara-bhuiyans of Eastern Bengal, are also contradictory and confusing.
From the point of view of Bengal history, the Tabaqat-i-Akbari is far more valuable. It was completed in 1592-93. Though a non-official general history covering the period from the early Ghaznavid rulers to the 36th year (1592) of Akbar's reign, the Tabaqat devotes a special section to the pre-Mughal Muslim rulers of Bengal which is based on earlier works. Its description of Akbar's fight with Daud Khan Karrani is also factual and correct.
In muntakhab-ut-tawarikh, Badayuni, while writing the history of the Delhi sultans referred to happenings in Bengal.
tarikh-i-firishta of Abul Qasim Firishta (1570-1623) contains information relating to the affairs in Bengal. He wrote his history in the Deccan (1594) under the patronage of Ibrahim Adil Shah of Bijapur. For the collection of source material Firishta travelled all over the Indian subcontinent. His history consists of an introduction, twelve chapters and a conclusion. In the seventh chapter he deals with the sultans of Bengal and Bihar. It is mentioned that in writing the history of the region Firishta took the help of a manuscript of one Haji Muhammad Safahari.
Some Mughal officers serving in Bengal wrote from their personal experiences about the people and affairs of the province. Some of these histories are general, while others may be considered provincial eg Subh-i-Sadiq of Muhammad Sadiq makes a comprehensive study of the Mughal empire, giving a fairly good account of Bengal. Of Mughal officers who wrote in Bengal and gave a detailed account of its history, the names of Mirza Nathan, author of baharistan-i-ghaybi, and Shihabuddin Talish, author of Ajiba-i-Ghariba, also known as fathiya-i-ibriyya and Tarikh-i-Mulk-Assam, deserve mention.
Mirza Nathan was born in a Persian family settled in Hindustan. His father Malik Ali, known as Ihtimam Khan, was commander of 250 horse in the reign of Akbar and was for sometime kotwal of Agra. In June 1607 Jahangir appointed him Mir Bahr of the Bengal nawara (navy). Mirza Nathan, then a young man, accompanied his father as his assistant in the Bengal nawara in the naval warfare against the Bara-Bhuiyans as well as Mags and Firingi raiders in the province. He played decisive roles in many of the campaigns and battles.
Mirza Nathan compiled his work during his tenure in Bengal. In the book, he adopted the takhallus or pseudonym of Ghaybi (invisible) and hence his work is named Baharistan-i-Ghaybi. He wrote his history in order to give a faithful and graphic account of events in Bengal and Assam in which he himself took part during Jahangir's reign (1605-1628). He specifically mentions his intention in the preface of his work.
The narrative in the Baharistan-i-Ghaybi begins with the appointment of islam khan (1607) as subahdar of Bengal and ends with the departure of the rebel Prince shahjahan from Akbarmahal in 1625. It is divided into 4 books: (1) Islam Nama, (2) Qasim Nama, (3) Ibrahim Nama and (4) Waqiat-i-Jahan Shahi,on the basis of the subahdari of 3 subahdars and of prince Shahjahan respectively in Bengal. The author finished the first three books of his work in the 5th year of the reign of Shahjahan (1632). There is no mention of the date in the fourth book. It is however supposed that it was also compiled about the same year.
Baharistan-i-Ghayabi has been written in the form of a personal memoir. The author wrote it from his personal knowledge and experience. He served in Bengal for about twenty years and was well acquainted with its geography, natural peculiarities, political and administrative conditions as well as social and cultural background. He gives a detailed account of military campaigns during the period of his service in Bengal. This also reflects political conditions of the province at this time. This significant work fills a big gap in the history of Bengal in the reign of Jahangir. This is also the first systematic history of this province. Before this, all historians only casually referred to a few incidents in Bengal while writing the history of the empire.
Being a Mughal officer, Mirza Nathan could not rise above the prejudice of an imperial historian in his treatment of the history of Bengal. Excepting this limitation, his work is a storehouse of information about life in Bengal, its geographical features, the attainments of its people, their social customs and superstitions, as well as the economic condition of the province.
The thread of history from the point where it was left by the Baharistan-i-Ghaybi was taken up, in a way, by the Subh-i-Sadiq of Muhammad Sadiq. He came to Bengal in 1628 as waqianavis (news-reporter) with the newly appointed subahdar qasim khan jwini, and remained in Bengal till the viceroyalty of Prince Shuja (1639). Sadiq was learned man and lived many years at jahangirnagar (Dhaka) and took part in the Mughal operation in Koch- Hajo in 1637-38. The Subh-i-Sadiq is planned as a work on universal history and geography. Divided into four volumes, its third volume is devoted to the Indian subcontinent, of which chapter XII relates to the author himself and the affairs in Bengal. His account of Bengal, which comes from his personal knowledge, is of inestimable value. It throws a good deal of light on the political and military events of the time as well as on the intellectual life of Bengal. Sadiq made particular reference to the influx into Bengal of a large number of Shia nobles from different parts of Persia during Prince Shuja's viceroyalty (1639-60). Another work dealing specifically with Shuja was written in 1660 by Muhammad Masum and is entitled tarikh-i-shah shujai.
Shihabuddin Muhammad Talish's Ajiba-i-Ghariba provides a sort of continuity with the narrative from Tarikh-i-Shah Shujai. He was an officer in Bengal during the subahdari of mir jumla (1660-1663). He took part in Mir Jumla's Assam expedition. The work deals mainly with the campaigns in the area. He also narrates the events of the subahdari of shaista khan (1664-1678, 1679-1688), particularly the conquest of Chittagong in 1666. The work is valuable, because the author writes from personal experience and knowledge of the affairs of Bengal under two distinguished subahdars. It throws light on the social and economic condition of the province.
There are quite a few works relating to the Bengal rulers or nawabs since aurangzeb's death (1707). These were written mostly during the early years of British rule (third quarter of the eighteenth century) but their authors were close associates and high officials of the Bengal rulers and were generally participants in the events they describe. The earliest in the series is Azad Husain's Naubahar-i-Murshid Quli Khani. Azad Hussain was a learned Persian emigrant at Jahangirnagar. He presented his work to his patron Mirza Lutfullah, surnamed murshid quli khan II and Rustam Jang, who married Durdana Begam, a daughter of Nawab shujauddin khan (1728-39). Murshid Quli Khan II was the deputy governor of Jahangirnagar from 1728 and was later on transferred to Orissa. The book records anecdotes and counsels of subahdars and nawabs of Bengal. It reflects the enlightenment and culture of the court and society of the province during Muslim rule.
The history of alivardi khan's rule (1740-1756) was written by Yusuf Ali, a son-in-law of Nawab sarfaraz khan (1739-1740). Subsequently Yusuf Ali joined the service of Nawab mir qasim (1760-1764). He accompanied the nawab on his flight from Bihar after the capture of Patna (6 November 1763) by the English and took refuge in Allahabad (3 January 1764). But when the ex-nawab set out with Shujauddaula of Lucknow to conquer Bundelkhand and fight the English in Bihar, he abandoned the fallen fortunes of his master and stayed behind in Allahabad on the plea of illness. He also fell out of favour with the restored Nawab mir jafar ali khan. However, Mir Jafar's death (6 February 1765) freed him from all worries.
Yusuf Ali could not finish his history of Alivardi. There is also no title for the book. It has been posthumously entitled Ahwal-i-Mahabat Jang by later historians on the ground that it narrates events of the career and reign of Alivardi. He refers to the reign of Shujauddin and Sarfaraz Khan just casually, only in so far as they are related to the career of Alivardi. He wrote the history of Alivardi up to 1742 in an authentic and comprehensive form. According to his statement he faced difficulties in giving systematic form to the remaining portion of his history. These difficulties arose from the defeat and flight of his master Mir Qasim, the death of his old father and his own illness in Allahabad, the wrath of Mir Jafar and lack of access to government records.
Yusuf Ali narrated the events of the later period of Alivardi's rule, from 1752, mostly depending on memory, so his account is bound to be brief and inaccurate in dates. Nevertheless, he maintained as a high standard of faithfulness in the description of events in this as in the earlier portion. The authenticity of his account has added special value to his history. His contemporaries appreciated it. Ghulam Husain Tabatabai who frequently refers in his Siyar to Yusuf Alis's history, has in many places copied verbatim from the Ahwal-i-Mahabat Jang.
Karam Ali a nobleman and relative of alivardi khan, composed the Muzaffarnamah under the patronage of Muhammad Reza Khan Muzaffar Jang, who was deputy diwan of Bengal under the East India Company till 1772, and the work was named after him. Karam Ali wrote the history of Bengal from 1722 down to his own time. He was a partisan of sirajuddaula's cousin and adversary shawkat jang. Hence Siraj has been treated rather unjustly in the work.
Salimullah wrote a concise and useful history, entiled tarikh-i-bangala, at the order of governor Henry Vansittart (1760-1764). His book deals with the history of Bengal from the time of Subahdar ibrahim khan (1689-97) to the death of Nawab Alivardi Khan (1756). It is especially valuable for its treatment of the career and administration of Dewan-Nazim murshid quli khan and Nawab Alivardi Khan. It is defective in chronology and its accounts are at places contradictory. It, however, supplies useful information about the revenue system and social life of the province in the period under study.
On the reign of Alivardi Khan there is another work entitled Waqiat-i-Fath Bangala. It is also called Waqiat-i-Mahabat Jang. Muhammad Wafa, a relation of the Nawab, compiled it. Being in the service of Alivardi, the author is a panegyrist of his master.
Ilahi Baksh, a schoolteacher in Malda compiled a general history entitled khurshid jahan numa. Important portions of it were translated into English by henry heveridge and published in the Asiatic Society's Journal (Vol. 64, 1895). It is useful for social history.
The siyar-ul-mutakhkherin of Ghulam Husain Tabatabai, son of Hidayat Ali Khan, is a significant work compiled in eighteenth century Bengal and forms a class by itself. He is regarded as the last great historian of Muslim India. His education, family connections and experience provided him with access to ample source material as well as competence to write the history of his time. His father Hidayat Ali Khan was associated with the courts of Delhi and Azimabad (Patna). His relations served under Nawab Alivardi. He himself was related to Alivardi, and served his government and the nizamat of his successors. He lived in Delhi, Azimabad, Oudh, Murshidabad, Purnea and other political centres of the time. He thus gained experience of events and contacts with the personalities who mattered in the politics of the period.
As an envoy of Ramnarain to Prince Ali Gauhar (later Emperor Shah Alam II), of Major Carnac to Mir Qasim, and again of Mir Qasim to the English, Ghulam Husain Tabatabai acquired knowledge of the great political changes of his time. Therefore, from family connections, contacts and personal observation of the events, he derived material for his work. So, in respect of information about the period his work fills a gap in history.
The Siyar-ul-Mutakhkherin was written in three volumes. Volume I give an account of the Indian subcontinent from very ancient times down to the reign of Emperor Aurangzeb. Volume II begins from the death of Aurangzeb in 1707 and discusses the affairs of his successors. It gives a detailed account of the nizamat of Murshidabad and of the establishment of English supremacy in Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. It also deals with the regulations and administrative organisations of the province under the East India Company. Volume III discusses the affairs of Shah Alam II and of Oudh, Haidarabad, Haidar Ali and the Marhattas. It refers to the death of Nawab Mir Qasim and closes with a discussion of English affairs up to 1781. Volume II has been largely translated from Persian into English by a Frenchman, M. Raymond, who was named Haji Mustafa after conversion to Islam. The translation ends with the conclusion of the treaty of Nawab Shujauddaula with the English after the battle of buxar (22 Oct. 1764).
Ghulam Husain Tabatabai completed his work in 1781. He treated history as a book of experience, knowledge and lessons for the people and wrote the Siyar-ul-Mutakhkherin in order to present a connected and continuous account of the past. His aim was to fill a gap in history from the death of Aurangzeb to his own time. He claims that in his history he stated the truth and gave a faithful account of affairs, unbiased by any consideration of envy, love, fear or favour. The statement of object represents Ghulam Husain as a historian in the good Muslim tradition.
Volume I of the Siyar-ul-Mutakhkherin is just a summary reproduction of the Akbar Namah, the Ain-i-Akbari and some other works and it does not entitle Ghulam Husain Tabatabai to any originality. Volumes II and III, however, occupy an important place because these cover a period (1707-1781) for which there is no comprehensive historical narrative, particularly in respect of the affairs of the nizamat in Bengal. In this field he has filled a gap.
Much of the importance of Ghulam Husain's otherwise important work is diminished by several drawbacks. He proved himself to be faithless and time-serving as an envoy. He acted in bad faith to his patrons and benefactors, Ramnarain and Mir Qasim, and disclosed their secrets to the English, whose favour and patronage he courted at the cost of his master and of the nation. He writes with pride that he forewarned the English against the secret intentions of Mir Qasim. His hostility to Sirajuddaula remains undisguised in his writings. Ghulam Husain was pro-English in attitude. He welcomed the new masters, the English, admired and adored them and justified all their actions and policies.
In spite of these limitations, the Siyar ul-Mutakhkherin remains a storehouse of information, particularly for the social and cultural history of Bengal. It reflects the social degeneration of the time. He occasionally referred to the social institutions and festivities of Muslims and Hindus of the period. References to industries, trade and economic conditions are available in the casual observations of the author. He has given a good account of cultural life in Azimabad and Murshidabad. He has mentioned names of a large number of scholars, poets, physicians, theologians and men of letters who flourished under court patronage.
riyaz-us-salatin, the first ever-complete history of the Muslims of Bengal, by Ghulam Husain Salim Zaidpuri is an important work. The author was a Dak-Munsi under George Udney, commercial resident of the East India Company at Malda in the 1780s. At Udney's insistence Ghulam Husain Salim completed the work in 1788. He made use of almost all the earlier works including the Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, the Tarikh-i-Firuz Shahi, and the works of the Mughal historians. He took recourse also to other less known works, which are not perhaps now extant. He also made use of some old inscriptions and monuments of Gaur and pandua. Indeed, as the translator (Salam, 1905) of the work points out, he is 'pre-eminently the historian of Muslim Bengal'.
The Riyaz was indeed greatly valued by all the earlier scholars on medieval Bengal. charles stewart's History of Bengal (1813) is largely based on it, while henry ferdinand blochmann considered it 'the fullest account in Persian of the Muhammadan history of Bengal'. Some dates and facts mentioned by the Riyaz, however, need revision in the light of more recently discovered coins and inscriptions.
It is clear from the foregoing survey that prior to the Mughal conquest there was no history known to have been written within the confines of the province. The Mughal period produced a number of narratives by Mughal officials serving in the subah. During the period of transition from medieval to modern period (British rule) there are few works dealing exhaustively with the affairs of Bengal. But unfortunately in the whole range of medieval Bengal historiography, we could hardly find a historian imbued with the high ideals of history writing set forth by Thucydides, who employed 'the most severe and detailed tests possible' to find out the 'truth', or Polybius, who considered the historian a judge evaluating the series of events. Most of the histories of this period may be taken as sources on the period and only by applying modern historiographical methods can we have a true history of medieval Bengal. [Delwar Hussain]
Bibliography MA Rahim, Social and Cultural History of Bengal, Vols I and II, Karachi, 1963 and 1966; J N Sarkar, History of History Writing in Medieval India, Calcutta, 1977; MM Ali, History of the Muslims of Bengal, Vol IA, Riyadh, 1985; Abdul Karim, Banglar Itihas: Sultani Amal, (in Bangla), Dhaka, 2nd ed, 1987.
Colonial The historiographical style of the medieval period came to an end with the beginning of the British colonial rule in the mid-eighteenth century. It is well known that medieval historians were mainly patronised by the ruling classes and therefore were disposed to the exposition of royal affairs and royal life mainly. As common people were not central to the affairs of the kingdom then, they got only marginal note from the court historians. It is not always true that medieval historians wrote only under orders. The historical writings of Ghulam Husain Salim, Syed Ghulam Husain Tabatabai and Munshi Salimullah are the finest products of medieval historiography. None of them however had received any patronage from any prince. They are the last representatives of the medieval school of historians. But unfortunately, while the medieval historiographical tradition ended with the beginning of the colonial regime, no indigenous modern historiographical school developed until the later part of the nineteenth century.
As regards contents and characteristics, the colonial historiography may be classified into three distinct phases. mercantilist phase of the eighteenth century, political phase of the nineteenth century and cultural phase of the twentieth. Each of the phases has its unique characteristics.
Mercantilist Phase' The eighteenth century writings were predominantly concerned with mercantilist interests. Merchants and rulers, profit and loss, shipping and cargoes characterise the history of this period. A common goal of the historiography of the mercantilist genre was to report about the market and political relations and political economy of Bengal. Among the important works of this genre are Memoirs of the Revolution in Bengal (1764) by William Watts;' A Narrative of What happened in Bengal in 1760 (1764) by JA Caillaud; Reflections on the Government of Indostan (1770) by Luke Scrafton; History of Hindoostan, 3 vols. (1770-72) by Alexander Dow; Considerations of Indian Affairs (1772) by William Bolts; An Essay upon the cultivation of lands and improvement of the Revenues of Bengal (1772) by Henry Pattulu; Historical Fragments of the Mogul Empire (1782) by Robert Orme; Historical and Comparative Account of the Finances of Bengal (1786) by James Grant; Transactions in Bengal (1791) by F Gladwin and Dissertions concerning the Landed property of Bengal (1793) by Boughton Rous.
All these writers had one goal in common ' understanding the Bengal polity and economy and the feasibility of establishing a colonial state in Bengal. After Palashi and Buxar, the company became so powerful a factor in Bengal politics that they had the confidence to set up the colonial state at will. What they were most concerned with was the financial viability of the new state. The colonial state must pay enough to justify its foundation ignoring the court of directors which showed least interest in having an empire in the east. All mercantilist writers were at one about the profitability of establishing the colonial state. Needless to mention that all these writers were either merchants themselves or engaged by the fort william to write an account on the subject. Historians now rightly believe that the establishment of the East India Company's Bengal state was a project of the company's local officials (called nabobs) who saw great profit for themselves if the colonial state in Bengal was established. Expectedly, all wrote in favour of establishing the colonial state. They even argued naively that such a state would be favourably received by the indigenous people on the ground that the new state would emancipate them from the oppression of the old regime.
Political Phase The mercantilist historiographical trend came to an end from the beginning of the nineteenth century. The establishment of the colonial state in Bengal was complete by 1793 when definite systems of administration, justice and police were established and the nawab was reduced to a mere pensioner of the company. One major project of the political colonialism was the rationalisation of the establishment of the company rule and highlighting the beneficial effects of the new regime. The first exponent of this school was James Mill (1773-1836). He was never in India and never ever met any Indian leader to discuss about Indian conditions. Yet, his History of British India, 3 vols. (1817) had tremendous influence on the British public opinion in favour of the empire. He had deep appreciation for the colonial rule. He branded the pre-British regime as despotic and tyrannical. But he had reservation about the wisdom of allowing a business corporation to govern a vast empire in the east. He, however, criticised the mode of administration of the company that he considered to be despotic, though not tyrannical. According to him, India should be governed not by Indian ways but by British ways. But he further emphasised that the administration should be exclusively in the hands of the British.
Mill's theory of administering India exclusively by the British was supported by other colonial historians including marshman, wilson, Elphinstone, Martin, Thornton, Keene, Beveridge and Kaye. They argued that involving Indians in administration would make it a mixed affair and it would gradually degenerate the colonial system of justice and administration and it would eventually threaten the security of the colonial state. They argued that Indians must get used to the British system of administration and only then they could be taken in partnership in phases. They did not however indicate how Indians would get used to the colonial system of administration and justice without participating in its working. The colonialist historians had one contribution to the historiographical thought on the part of Indians. All these writers took India as one unit in their writings. They took India as a whole and as one geographical and political entity abandoning the traditional idea of political diversity. The Indian educated elite were accordingly indoctrinated to consider India as one country and one people. rajendralal mitra is the first Bengal historian to accept the colonial definition of India. By the 1870s, India was no longer a diverse geographical expression but a single country, a single people. Indian nationalism rests on this new definition of India. The Indian identity got easy acceptance from the Indians because already they became used to many all-India institutions like Indian Legislative Council, Indian Civil Service and other central services, Indian Penal and Civil Codes, Indian Famine Code, and so on. A common higher education system and networks of railway and steamer services connecting all parts of India further buttressed the India personality.
Cultural Phase' The Great sepoy revolt, 1857 was a turning point in the established historiographical approach to political colonialism. With this event ended the 'civilizing' role of the white regime. The new policy of the crown's regime was not to interfere into Indian life and institutions and to rule India with the fullest regard to Indian ways of life. In other words, the theory of the superiority of western civilisation over the Indian culture was modified. Instead an approach to accommodation and appreciation of Indian culture was adopted. It was felt that India could be better managed by means of cultural appreciation, if not assimilation. This was also the time when European age of enlightenment reached a stage to discover, appreciate and conserve world cultures. Such an outlook actually drove Sir william jones to establish the asiatic society and study the man and nature of Asia. But his movement remained confined to a very marginal class of intellectuals among the white. The Sepoy Revolt changed the scenario.
A conscious attempt was made to establish a cultural bridge linking the European and Indian civilisations. Such a policy earned appreciation from the native educated gentry. A special fund was created for promoting the new policy. Civilians were encouraged to undertake studies on Indian affairs. It was officially announced that there was no conflict between the two civilisations of India and Europe and it was the government's responsibility to preserve and promote Indian civilisation. The outcome of the new policy was the establishment of a number of cultural associations and organisations including Archaeological Survey of India under the directorship of alexander cunningham, Ethnological Survey of India headed by Dalton and Linguistic Survey of India headed by Grierson. Several learned organisations like the Asiatic Society, Kolkata, were given state patronage to undertake research on Indian culture and civilisation.
The first historical and anthropological study under the new cultural policy was Henry Maine's Lectures on the Early History of Institutions (1875). Maine argued that ancient Indian societies developed their own systems of local governance, state system and community relations which were of contemporary European standard. This theoretical assumption provided a basis to the government policy of introducing self-governing municipal and local government institutions and accommodating the Indians in the state management. Such a theory became appropriate at a time when the Indian educated middle classes were demanding a share in the administration.
One aspect of colonial historiography was compilation of local history. The British knew the empire but not its local components. With that end in view was adopted a project to write district gazetteers for all Bengal districts. The project was headed by ww hunter who had earlier earned wide reputation as a rural Bengal specialist. Published in 20 volumes, the series entitled A Statistical Account of Bengal was an attempt to identify the details of the history, geography, topography, population, land tenure, resources and markets, communication and flora and fauna of the districts. Every district made a volume. The gazetteer tradition with the aim of understanding the localities of the empire was further strengthened by other civilian scholars such as, Henry Beveridge, James Taylor, BC Allen, O'Malley, JC Jack, Glazier and Sachse.
The gazetteer genre of Bengal historiography earned tremendous prestige among the Bengali intellectuals who indeed evaluated the gazetteers extremely favourably. Every gazetteer left a mark of sincerity and urge for knowledge. This was exactly the aim of the historiography of cultural colonialism. The aim was to create a trust in the sincerity of the ruling race. With the same end in view was adopted some other projects. The Archaeological Survey, Linguistic Survey and Ethnological Survey were launched in the 1870s with the intentions of discovering cultural richness and archaeological treasures of the country. It was intended to create a self awareness among the natives about their historical roots, their past performances and present prospects. All these measures coupled with decennial census, survey and settlement, revenue survey, had created a tremendously favourable impact on the educated elite of the country. They accepted British rule as a kind of blessing.
Influenced by cultural colonialism the Bengali elite now looked to the future in terms of cooperation and collaboration with the British. For long the historiography of nationalist aspirations was dominated by the colonialist elite who appeared on the Bengal intellectual scene as an ideological product of colonialism. Their common assertion was that all the great achievements made so far were due to the British rule. Rajendra Lal Dutt and romesh chunder dutt profusely wrote eulogising the progressive role played by the British colonial rulers, administrators, policies, institutions and culture; in forming the basis of Indian nationalism. But the nationalist brand of historiography tended to attribute the rise and growth of nationalism to the Indian elite.
Outside of these elitist brands of nationalist historiography was also emerging a new genre of professional historiography from the mid-nineteenth century. The new trend was inaugurated by the German scholar Henry Ferdinand Blochmann, a Professor of Persian at Calcutta sanskrit college. He is the first person to unearth many original sources and write various aspects of medieval history of Bengal most analytically and objectively. Blochmann is the first European historian to write professionally outside of the orbit of the colonial elitist historiography. He came out of the influence of the civilian and military schools and applied his historical craft to medieval history of India and of Bengal most independently and dispassionately. Most of his publications came out from the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. His major works were published in the Asiatic Society Journal in the 1870s. He may be called the father of modern professional historiography. The true successor to the historiographical trend that he set up were Rajendra Lal Mitra and akshay kumar maitreya.
Bengal historiography actually started when historiography of cultural colonialism promoted provincial history. Charles Stewart was the first person to write regional history. But his exercise did not grow into a genre subsequently. In order to give the whole of British India a single political entity, the colonial historiography's conscious attempt was to ignore the local history. But the trend took a radical departure from the 1880s when the elitist intellectual civilians tried to create a cultural identity of the provinces within the empire. Such a measure was felt necessary to establish provincial identity as a counter force to the growing Indian nationalism.
Many of the Bengal intellectuals of the early nineteenth century wrote Bengal history in conventional way in vernacular. ramram basu, iswar chandra gupta, iswar chandra vidyasagar, kishori chand mitra, sanjeeb chunder chattopadhyay and bankimchandra chattopadhyay and other writers founded a tradition of history writing. Their histories created a branch of historical literature in Bengal cultural tradition that was lacking before. Their works were directed more to awakening the people politically and socially, than to pursuit of knowledge. The first person who followed Blochmann's methodology and wrote scientific history on Bengal was Rajendra Lal Mitra. He took the Journal of the Calcutta Asiatic Society as a medium of his research. He contributed numerous articles on Bengal history in the Journal. His Sanskrit Buddhist Literature of Nepal (1882) and The Antiquities of Orissa (1875, 1880) became the monolithic marks of historiographical achievements on the part of vernacular scholarship in the nineteenth century.
Akshay Kumar Maitreya was the pioneer scholar in applying the modern historiographical craft in Bangla. As a historian Maitreya made an important claim that historical craft cannot achieve real understanding without using the vernacular sources and vernacular medium. According to him Bengal history must be written in Bangla based on Bengal sources. His approach was not parochial in the sense that his theory is directed to all people of the world. History of a people must be written in its own language, implying that foreigners are handicapped by many factors including language and culture and they cannot consequently reach the depth of problems with their acquired knowledge. This was a direct challenge to the confidence with which the colonial elite civilians were writing the history of alien societies. Maitreya's Gaudalekhamala (1912) had established a new tradition and genre for Bengal indigenous historiography. The other most important historical works of this genre are Gauda Rajmala (1912) by ramaprasad chanda and Banglar Itihas (1908). Writing Bengal history by Bengal historians in Bangla came to maturity in the hands of rakhaldas bandyopadhyay in his two volumes of Bangalar Itihasa (1915, 1917). nihar ranjan ray, Sukumar Sen, Shukhamay Mukhopadhyay, muhammad enamul huq, Sir jadunath sarkar and ramesh chandra majumdar carried forward the tradition. Dhaka University's History of Bengal, 2 vols. (1943, 1948) edited by RC Majumdar and JN Sarkar is an embodiment of the perfection of the historiography of cultural colonialism.
Post Colonial' creation of Pakistan on the basis of Muslim nationalism had totally changed the historiographical trend established by Rajendra Lal Mitra and Akshay Kumar Maitreya and perfected by RC Majumdar and Jadunath Sarkar. The secular Bengalhood in the historical literature was now replaced by a new ideology Muslim nationalism and concept of Pakistan. The state ideology and the new territorial division had influenced the historiographical trend. The Bengal concept of the classical historians was consciously abandoned for Muslim identity and Muslim nationalism. The 'new' history was traced from the earliest Muslim conquest of the province. In fact, many historians felt obliged to write the history of 'Muslim Bengal'. What was expressed before as 'medieval' Bengal was now labeled as Muslim Bengal. The major works under this new genre include Muslim Bangla Sahitya (1955) by Muhammad Enamul Haq, Social History of the Muslims of Bengal (1959) by Abdul Karim, Social and Cultural History of Bengal (1963) by ma rahim, Muslim Architecture (1965) by AH Dani, Muslim Community in Bengal (1974) by Sufia Ahmad and History of the Muslims of Bengal (1985) by Muhammad Mohar Ali.
Historiography of the region took a new turn from 1971. Bangladesh Revolution originated with the rise of a Bengali nationalism on the demise of Pakistan nationalism. It is aptly argued in the new history that cultural independence of Bangladesh began with the language movement (1952) and the language movement itself is thought to have been enshrined in the distinctive development of the Bengali nation from the days of unification of the janapadas of the Bengal delta under the Iliys Shahi dynasty. The Bangladesh nationalist history tends to go far and far into the past in search of its historical roots. Thus while Harun-or-Rashid's Foreshadowing of Bangladesh (1987)) finds the origin of Bangladesh from the constitution of 1935, the government publication Shawdhinata Yudher Dalil Patra (1982), (Documents of the War of Liberation), claims it from 1905. The Asiatic Society of Bangladesh's History of Bangladesh (1992) edited by Sirajul Islam pushes back the origin of Bengali identity to 1704 when Bengal began to assume an independent political identity. In his Discovery of Bangladesh (1996) Akbar Ali Khan has found the name 'Vangladesh' and other elements of Bangladesh identity from the eleventh century.
The major historiographical trends that we have so far traced do indicate the tremendous influence of the cultural and political factors on history writing of the time concerned. The mood of the dominant classes and their ideas had influenced the courses of historiography. Myth was dominant in historical thought during ancient period when religion reigned supreme. The trend got reversed during the Muslim period when myth lost its mystifying effect on intellectual exercises. But the historians' mind could not be liberated due to the despotic character of the ruling regimes. History writing obtained secular and objective character during the colonial period, but colonialist relations and interests markedly tarnished it. Muslim nationalism and Hindu-Muslim communal relations influenced the post-1947 historiographical exercises. At present, Muslim nationalism as the guiding ideology has given way to 'Bangali' nationalism. It is therefore, seen that at no stage of the history of our historiography, we have the presence of people below as a theme of history. The ruling classes have always remained on the focus. The subaltern method of historiography has recently presented a great prospect of writing history of the subordinated elements of the society, but as an intellectual movement subalternism is increasingly losing its spark. [Sirajul Islam]