Ideas and Institutions
Ideas and Institutions of the peoples of Bengal may be traced back to the time when the janapadas of the Delta entered in regular state formation processes under the impact of the Aryans. From the janapada states of the fifth century BC to the independence from British rule, we encounter a long chain of political regimes and religio-cultural systems which directly influenced the thoughts and ideas of Bengal people. Since most religions and rulers, including the Muslims and British, were of extraneous origins, it may be well assumed that external influences on the social ideas and institutions during the period were very significant. The external ideas and institutions were in a process of being adapted to those of the indigenous peoples.
People from diverse ethnicity and culture living in a common space for a durable period, are sure to influence each other in their respective ideas, thoughts and practices. The ruling class do influence the ruled far more directly and materially, but over the time the rulers are also influenced, in turn, through association by contiguity and similarity. For example, if Buddhist thoughts and ideas had noticeable similarity with those of the Vedic religion, it was because of the Buddhist association with the Vedic system by contiguity and similarity. Buddhist schools emerged when the Vedic system was already dominant there; hence it could not but be influenced by the dominant system. At the same time, since the Buddhist thought emerged indigenously by and large, it could not but derive many of its ideas and institutional characters from indigenous sources.
Thoughts and ideas to 1204 AD Until the rise of the regular, territorial state with defense and state bureaucracy, which did not possibly emerge until the advent of the Mauryas in the Gangetic plain, people's thoughts and ideas are known only from the early Vedic literature. The epic literature like the ramayana and mahabharata, presumed to be composed in 1500 BC, are some notable examples. All the kingdoms and kings and all the faiths and beliefs mentioned in the Ramayana, Mahabharata and Purana were basically abstruse in meaning and in historicity. The most dominant thought of the Brahmanic rishis (ascetics) in the shrutis, smritis and purana texts in the pre-state period have a common goal: establishing a perfect regime of the Brahma (Ramraj). The Jaina and Buddhist texts also had the same goal, a perfect regime of peace and tranquility. The Vedic, Jaina and Buddhist literature indicate that their main aim was to explore the origins of human being and the universe. The best specimen of the thoughts of prehistoric period are the Brahmanic ideas of cosmology and caste, and the anti Brahmanic thoughts of Jainism and Buddhism.
The eastward expansion of the Aryans led them to be in contact with the Bengal janapadas around the fifth century BC. It was the time when the peoples of Bengal had already made a transition from the tribal to janapada polity. According to Aryan concepts, the Veda or Divine Knowledge was revealed to the rishis who were believed to be divine incarnates in human form. Truths were revealed to rishis who passed the secrets of nature on to people by means of mantras (hymns). By mantras, the rishis revealed the state of things before and after creation. The cosmogony and cosmology of the Veda as described by rishis bear a high degree of metaphysical and evolutionary concept of the age, which also include state formation.
The thought of the rishis about the origins of the universe seems to have not been very different from those of Zoroastrianism, Judaism and Christianity. However, the rishis gradually conceived the idea of a Spirit. The Spirit was a realm of no-entity though it gives life and existence to entities. They called the spirit Brahm, which diffuses itself through the universe. All gods, men and things are but modes of that Spirit. From the creative faculty of the sages later originated the myths of Trimurti (Hindu Triad), the three manifestations of the Brahma the Supreme Being: Brahma as the Creator, Vishnu as the Preserver and Shiva as the Destroyer.
The creative ideas of the rishis and priests further proliferated while they were in contact with the Janapada peoples of the Bengal-Delta. They accommodated the local ideas of gods into their fold by creating a series of demigods, superhuman beings, higher and lower gods that would help them get close to Brahma. Furthermore, all the manifestations of Brahm: Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva become reincarnate (avatar) on earth in human form, and they have wives and children as they go for war and peace on earth. Krishna, the hero of the Mahabharata, and Rama, the hero of the Ramayana, are the avatars of Vishnu. In the Ramayana and Mahabharata, we find a series of demigods, super human beings, lower gods and higher gods, all in conflict or cooperation as and when necessary. They have authority on humans and they demand their obedience and surrender. Unless propitiated by sacrifices, the smaller gods do a lot of harm to the helpless worshippers. Towards minimizing their harming propensity arose the elaborate system of sacrifices. Originally sacrifice (yajna) was simply a symbolic gift, but later it assumed enormous institutional complexities to the extent of animal and even human sacrifices. The priests would determine which of the gods demands what from human being, when and how. Priests determine how much have to be sacrificed and in what mode, where and how. No wonder, as an institution, the class of priests emerged as the guiding force of society.
Finally, we reach the legal or perceptive phase of Brahmanism, the chief source of which is the Code of Manu. Myth goes that Manu (son of Brahma), in consultation with other sages, compiled the Code in eighteen books. The Code detailed all manner of duties connected with the worship of God, and all the possible relations that can subsist between human and human, and between human and God. It is on the Code of Manu that the caste-system, the decisive element in the Hindu social thoughts and institutions, have been based. According to Manu, Brahma created distinct orders of men, as he created distinct species of animals and plants, and these orders are Brahmins (priests), Khatriyas (soldiers), Vaishyas (producers) and Sudras (servants). They must maintain separate entity from each other. The social order, according to Manu, would remain as perfect as the degree of perfections that could be maintained with regard to inter-caste separations.
But soon the original four castes proliferated into hundreds of sub-castes. Manu's Code bestowed upon the Brahmin the privilege to marry a woman from any of the three lower castes. From the offspring of such marriages arose an endless number of castes within castes, each limited to its own occupation, rites and rituals. Under the caste rules none was allowed to transgress the caste limit; and if one did, he lost his caste and became outcaste. All outcastes made a kind of caste again. Social punishment for an outcaste was so severe that none dared to trespass the caste barrier through marriage or change of occupation. As regards human relations in society, the idea of the caste system and its detailed institutionalization stand out as the singular major institution devised for social divisions by the later Vedic sages.
The interpretations of Vedas led to the rise of several philosophical schools (darshanas), most influential of which is the Vedanta school of Shankara (788 ' 820). His major works include the Brahma-Sutra-Bhasya and the Gita Bhaysa (a commentary on the Bhagavad-Gita). He provides a vigorous defense of the mind-body dualism, of the existence of a plurality of minds and mind-neutral physical objects and of monotheism. By analysing shruti (scripture), he relegates dualism, realism and theism to illusion in favour of a monism which holds that only nirguna (quality-less) Brahma exists. Mimansa is another major philosophical school about which the practitioners tried to get definitive knowledge by conceiving pramana or proof. Knowledge is real only when it is both logical and proven (pramana). Alternatively, it is also called the nyaya-school of thought. It seeks to show that birth is the pre-condition of human's suffering, and hence the most basic form of suffering. Most noted philosophical concept after pramana was samkhya, an atheistic philosophy attributed to a legendary figure, Kapila. This philosophy stresses on the fact that emancipation comes from understanding prakriti, renunciation and self-denial.
Jaina and Buddhist thoughts and ideas Ancient society's three main speculative streams, Brahmanism, Jainism and Buddhism, belong to the Sramanic trend of culture. The essence of Sramanic culture is that, in a life conceived as stages of increasing depersonalization or asceticism, every one is a pilgrim (sramana) whose only motto is to 'keep on going' and who is determined to cross the Sea of Life and to reach its other shore. The Sramanic tradition is spiritualistic and stereological in its nature. It lays special emphasis on the renunciation of worldly belongings and enjoyments and on emancipation from worldly existence: the cycle of birth and death. These very ideas of emancipation (moksa/mukti/nirvana/kaivalya) and renunciation (tyaga/samyama/vairagya) have been cultivated by the Sramanas. Asceticism is the fundamental concept of the Sramanic tradition. It is on this ground that the religions of the Sramanic tradition such as Jainism and Buddhism differ so significantly from the early Vedic religion. The early Vedic religion was against asceticism and emphasised the material welfare of the individual and society. The caste system is directed to a welfare and well-ordered society, at least for the upper castes. While the Vedic seers in their hymns praised worldly existence and prayed for their own health and wealth, the Sramanas condemned this world of existence and propounded the theory that this worldly existence is full of sufferings and that the ultimate aim of human life is to get rid of worldly existence, that is, the cycle of birth and death. Austerities, renunciation, emancipation, atheism, supremacy of human beings over gods, equality of all beings and opposition of supremacy of Brahmins, animal sacrifices and emphasis on moral values were some of the fundamental tendencies of the Sramanic tradition. It is fundamentally important that Brahmanic ideas branded the Sramanic ideas as Vratya or uncultivated and local. The concepts of austerity, asceticism, liberation, meditation, equanimity and non-violence, which were earlier absent in the Vedas, came into existence in Brahmanic culture through Sramanic influences. The Jaina idea makes a room for a perfect co-existence with the rest of the living world. All living beings including plants and even insects remain unmolested by a believer in Jainism. It is futile to identify Jainism and Buddhism as sheer revolts against Brahmanism. These were virtually reformist movements taking ingredients from Brahmanic and local thoughts and ideas.
Jainism, Hinduism and Buddhism share many key concepts derived from the Sanskrit language and dialects which enabled them to sharpen their religious debates. For example, all three traditions share a notion of karma i.e actions of individuals that determine their future births; yet each has attached unique connotations to the concept. This is also true with terms such as dharma (often translated as 'duty,' 'righteousness,' or 'religious path'), voga (ascetic discipline) and yajna (sacrifice, or worship). This Sanskritic discourse has shaped the religious and philosophical speculations as well as the polemics of each of these traditions. The Buddhist triads- the Buddhas, the sacred books and the priesthood-are the harmonies in which they place all their confidence. The greatest institution for the Buddhas are their monks, sangha and vihara.
Humanist thought in the age of Asoka Until the rise of the Maurya dynasty, we have a long but practically dateless regime of philosophical concepts, faiths and beliefs and legends; but little we know about political environment in which these thoughts originated and got circulation. However, the regime of the Maurya emperor Asoka reveals how the rulers reacted to religious ideas and institutions. Diverse religious ideas and hypotheses are being seen to receive Asoka's attention. Asoka seems to have borrowed liberally the religious ideas of his time and tried to implement them as state ideologies. The prestine Buddhism later turned into many splinter sects, each of which had been propagating its own ideas as precepts of Buddhism. Asoka made a syntheses of all of these ideas and built on them his own concept, Dhamma, and propagated it throughout his empire.
Asoka's concept of Dhamma has been laid down in the form of inscriptions displayed in different parts of his empire. To Asoka, Dhamma appears to be an aggregate of ethical and moral values. In his inscriptions Dhamma has been defined both as Truth and Piety. He believed, Dhamma is not some sectarian formula but is indicative of eternal moral-ethical values for all to become happy and emancipated. Asoka himself defined Dhamma as a moral life characterised by freedom from sin, rendering good to others, mercifulness, liberality, truthfulness, purity, sanctity and finally modesty. These attributes are the essence of Brahmanism, Jainism and Buddhism. In short, Asoka's ideology was to synchronize all great ideas hitherto projected by diverse religions and ideologies, and to make them popular and practiced among his subjects. Asoka's Dhamma was circulated throughout the empire by means of pillar inscriptions. In moulding social character in the line of the Dhamma Asoka's inscriptions worked quite effectively. To save the people from the effect of a devastating famine in eastern India, Asoka issued a decree to the local rulers to distribute food grains among the needy from state granary. The impact of Dhamma on state policy can be measured by this royal order.
Social and political ideas The Maurya empire lasted from 187 BC to 300 AD. From the epigraphic records we get some ideas about the Maurya state management system. The epigraphic records of the Maurya empire, which extended up to eastern Bengal to the east, reveal that the Mauryas developed and executed the idea of paternalistic state responsibility about the security and welfare of the subjects. For example, the Mahasthan Brahmi Inscription discovered in 1931 indicates that the Maurya rulers directed local administration to establish state granaries and keep them full always to help the subjects at times of scarcity and famine. It is clear that Asoka and his successors were influenced by contemporary Brahmanic, Jaina and Buddhist ideas on the responsibilities of the king. The duties of the rajas and maharajas and also of the kingly functionaries, such as amatya, mantri and sachiva, were elaborated though vaguely in the Smrti literature of Manu, Narada, Katyayana and Prajapati. The Mimansa darshan of Sabar, Kumarila and Jaimini is the second most important source for enriching the political mind of the Maurya state. Niti Sastra, particularly Kamandaka's Nitisar, taught the king about his rights and responsibilities. King's powers are limited by his responsibilities, according to Kamandaka. In the manner of Arthasastra, Kamandaka reiterates that the 'King has to be equipped in all the four branches of knowledge, namely, philosophy, theology, economics and politics. Self-discipline, sharp intellect and sound character are the ruler's prerequisites.'
Thoughts on Society, polity and economy The social and economic ideas of the period are reflected in the works of Kautilya's Arthasastra (AD 300), the Niti Sastras and Puranas, the works of Kalidasa, Bana Bhatta, Harshavardana and others. What we understand by economics today was called varta in ancient times. Within the discipline of varta came agriculture, commerce and cattle breeding. Kautilya held that agriculture, cattle rearing and trade alone constitute varta. Kusida or money lending was also within the scope of varta. In the later period, artisanship was also brought under varta. Varta comes from vritti (profession or livelihood). The Bhagavad Purana has given the highest status to cattle rearing as a vritti, and it came second only to agriculture in importance. Trade and lending money on interest were allotted the third position, trade being put at a somewhat higher level than usury, the vritti of the lowest grade. Varta recognised family as a necessary economic and social unit. The deciding unit for consumption was the family, not the individual. Things and services were directed to the family and not to the individual. The family was also a production centre. All members of the family must follow the same vritti. A vritti was decided by birth, not by choice. Therefore, varta became the occupations of the two lower castes, Vaisya and Sudra.
Land was the source of all wealth according to Sukra. Sukra Nitisara makes a clear departure from the Arthasastra-Sriti tradition in dealing with political economy. It deals less with statecraft and more with the ruler and the norms of state life. Sukra's emphasis was on inter-relationship between the king, state and subjects. Sukra's Nitisara is more a code of conduct for the rulers and the ruled, and furthermore discussion of the functions of the state, techniques and measures of coercion, conquest and the disciplining of the people for a stable order. About land owners there were two theories among the thinkers. According to Jaimini and Sabara, land belonged to cultivators, but king was entitled to taxes from the holders of land. The rent collecting right was exchanged for the protection offered by the king to the occupants of land. However, the school of thought represented by Manu and others regarded king as the representative of God and Lord of land, and cultivators had the right to their land through the grace of the Divine king. To protect the agriculturists during famines, Sukra recommended establishing state granaries in different parts of the state. The political and economic thoughts of the Maurya state seems to have prevailed down to the end of Sena rule.
Ideas and Institutions Turki-Afghan-Mughal times (1204-1772) The geographical limit of the ideas and institutions discussed above belonged mainly to the heartland of Aryan culture, the middle and lower Gangetic regions (northern India, Bihar, West Bengal and northern part of Bangladesh). It is postulated that in the Bengal Delta's central, eastern and northeastern regions, the diffusion of Indo-Aryan culture was undoubtedly far less felt. The non-Aryan tribes were still dominant in their political and production relations until the coming of the Muslim rulers, though Buddhist culture established considerable foothold in some parts of eastern Bengal. But by and large eastern Bengal seems to have remained immune from the influence of Aryan ideas and institutions. The Muslim ruling dynasties from the beginning of the thirteenth century added an important new dimension to the social, political and cultural life of the region. This region was destined to be influenced more by Turki-Afghan-Mughal culture than by Aryan culture.
From the perspective of changes in thoughts and ideas and their impact on polity and culture, Muhammad Bakhtyar Khalji's conquest of northwestern Bengal (1204 AD) and the subsequent developments in politics, culture and economy make revolutionary innovations in the existing ideas and institutions. Invocations of political symbols are in effect resorting to cultural moorings. If most of the political thoughts and ideas of the pre-sultanate state deeply concentrated on the duties of the king, it was because of Brahmanic culture in which 'king' was accepted as divine. Hence, it was for humans to ask favour and grace from him in the guise of reminding him of his divinely ordained duties. But the chief of the sultanate state was a human being and had no divine authority to invoke. His authority was based on power, not on divinity. The governing elements of the new statehood are directly drawn from the Arab, Persian, Turkish and Central Asian political and religious cultures, where 'power' gives legitimacy to the ruling classes. There the theocratic institution of Khilafat worked as a theory in favour of the unifying Khilafat. But in practice, sharia did not possibly work as strong a symbol as the former divinity of the Brahmanic state.
Muhammad Ghuri, who established Muslim rule in Delhi (1193 CE), did not apply comprehensive sharia rules. It was not possible in a state where Muslims formed a small minority. Ghuri's general Muhammad Bakhtiyar, the conqueror of Bengal, shared the same principle. The political vision of the sultanate has been elaborated by Fakhr al-Din Razi (d. 1209) of Herat, a renowned Iranian thinker and scholar who served in some Central Asian states. He also served as an advisor to Muhammad Ghuri and Bakhtiyar. In his Jamial-ulum, Razi formulated the following propositions for the Muslim state in India:
The world is a garden, whose gardener is the state [daulat];
The state is the sultan, whose guardian is the Law [sharia];
The Law is a policy, which is protected by the kingdom [mulk];
The kingdom is a city, brought into being by the army [laskar];
The army is made secure by wealth [mal];
Wealth is gathered from the subjects [raiyats or peasants];
The subjects are made servants by justice [adl];
Justice is the axis of the prosperity of the world [alam].
The propositions, though full of platitudes, indicate Razi's political thoughts for a Muslim ruler in a non-Muslim country. It must be noted that Razi, as a practical politician and thinker, did not make any reference to Allah. His deductive approaches are secular which laid emphasis on royal justice, which must be the binding force between the king and his subjects. Though he mentions about sharia, it appears little more than a prop to the sultanate. The caliph is not mentioned at all. Razi meant the sultanate to be a secular state and the sultans, in fact, gave equal support to all faiths. Incidentally, Muslim rulers in Central Asia and Spain made justice and power the bases for legitimacy. Thus both the justice and military departments were kept in the hands of the Muslims and the rest of the state functionaries were allowed to be shared with the subject people. The sultans and later the Mughal state also kept justice and military in the hands of the immigrant Muslims.
Conversion to Islam in the Muslim-dominated Cental Asian countries took place predominantly through the dervishes and sufis, and the process was repeated in the Sultanate and Mughal Bengal. The state itself did not undertake any measure to promote Islam in Bengal. Many of the sufis received land grants from government for maintaining their khankas (spiritual hubs). The Hindu spiritual figures and educators also had similar grants from the government. In short, the political mind of both the sultanate and Mughal state was to have a laissez-faire approach to the religious affairs of the subjects.
Rise of assorted ideas and institutions At the philosophical level, the major religions like Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism held many thoughts in common. Their sharing concepts like karma, yoga and dhyna had very wide ramifications among all the ancient religions of the region. More significantly, in esoteric and abstruse practices, the major religions had deep influences on indigenous culture too. Under this setting, the contact between Islam and Bengal's eclectic faiths and practices was destined to produce effects of far-flung significance. Islam, as the religion of the ruling people of the Sultanate and Mughal states, was likely to play a major role in its interaction with the existing faiths of the region. As has been noted earlier, the Muslim regimes maintained a neutral status with regard to dealing with local religions, which were allowed to function without being interfered by the state. Yet, without active state support Islam became strongly established in Bengal within a century of the foundation of Muslim rule.
On the eve of the establishment of the sultanate state we find a movement for a synthesis in the Tantrika thought of worship in Hinduism. We have thus Tantrikism for at least five Hindu sects: Saiva Tantrikism, Sakta Tantrikism, Vaisnava Tanrikism, Saura Tantrikism and Ganapatya Tantrikism. The whole Tantrika procedure of mantra, yantra, chakra, nyasa, mudra, initiation, bhutasuddhi and consecration of images was gradually introduced into various Brahmanical cults signifying that Brahmanical domination in social ideas was eroding from within. The trend facilitated the movement to a common path to mystical practitioners of all religions including Islam. For all, Yogachara became the most important mode for achieving numinous insight by both Hindu and Muslim mystics. In mystical speculations, sufi methods sounded impressive to Hindu sadhus and Tantrika Buddhists, who were equally eager to comprehend the transcendent reality unmediated by priests or other worldly institutions.
The sufis, who came to Bengal in the wake of the foundation of the sultanate state, put great emphasis on the acquisition of knowledge ('ilm). 'They were able to convince the ruling dynasty that their political strength and security lay in the acquisition of knowledge. Rukunuddin Samarkandi (d. 1218), the chief qazi of the government of Ali Mardhan Khalji (1210-1212) was a great jurist and a sufi. He learnt Sanskrit to understand the state of learning in the new Muslim kingdom. He found good deal of similarity between mystic approach of the sufi and yogist and tantric thoughts of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and other minor religions. Such an approach was certainly highly favourable to the new regime, which found it expedient to promote the idea in a Hindu land ruled by Muslims.
The Sufi theory of kingship The Muslim mystics, particularly those of the early sultanate period, mostly possessed independent ideas about life, religion and state. They considered ilm (knowledge), ishq (love) and aql (intellect) as essential qualifications for spiritual and worldly advancement. Every sufi set up a madrasa within the precinct of his khanka. Most of them were also seasoned warriors and were supported by other warriors. Through their learning and armed following, the sufis wielded immense influence over the political authorities and on the people. The political government always sought their sanctions regarding legitimacy, law, sanctification of bureaucratic authority and bestowing state positions and so on. Without the sanction and support of the sufis it was difficult on the part of a sultan to rule peacefully. Thus all new sultans sought their blessings by personal visits to their khankas. However, differences of thoughts and ideas regarding din (religion) and duniya (worldly affairs) among sufis led them to remain organized under different silsila (spiritual orders) of which most important and influential during the sultanate and Mughal periods were the Chishti, Shattari, Suhrawardi and Firdausi orders.
The existence of a sufi and a sultan in the same geographical domain gives two parallel visions of authority. While the sultan was the sovereign of the state, the sufis wielded some parallel power and status. The following parallelism of authority between a sufi and a sultan/padsha illustrates two parallel powers in the same realm:
The title of the sovereign is king.The title of the sufi is Shah/Shahsufi.King sits on a throne.Sufi sits on a gadi.King has kingdom.Sufi has wilayet.King has the capital.Sufi has the khanqa.King wears crown.Sufi wears taz/dastar.King has a court.Sufi has a darbar. King collects taxes.Sufi collects musthi/nazrana. King holds punyah at the year-end.Sufi holds Urs and collects annual nazrana. King punishes for violation of laws.Shah punishes for bedaat. King is a protector of subjects.Sufi is the murshid (spiritual guide) of muridan (followers).King issues decree.Sufi issues fatwa (legal opinion).King nominates a successor to throne.Sufi nominates pirzada or sheikhzada to gadi (spiritual centre).In the sultani political thought as interpreted by the sufis, the political status of the sufi was theoretically superior to the sultan, as a shah or sufi could customarily issue fatwa against the legitimacy of a new sultan. This idea was commonly shared by all the leading orders of the sufis. The sufi's superiority over the sultan is recognized by the fact that the sultans honoured the sufis by making visits (ziarat) to them in their khankas. The royal visits were rarely returned by the sufis. In sufi thought, there was no scope for giving high positions to non-Muslims in a Muslim state. Though Muslims formed a microscopic minority demographically, the sufis considered Bengal as a Muslim state simply on the ground that the rulers of the country were Muslims.'
But realities prompted the sultans to share power with the Hindus. While most military and judicial positions were held by the Muslims, most civil positions, especially those of the crucial revenue administration, were allotted to the Hindus. According to orthodox Hindu thought, all those who cooperated with the Muslim rule by joining in the services of the Muslim state became polluted by their contacts and associations with the yavanas (foreigners), and such polluted people got new caste titles, such as Pir-Ali, Sher-khani and Srimantakhani. They were looked down upon by the mainstream Brahmin groups and subgroups. However, through their association with the Muslim rulers, they became immensely rich and influential in society, and their social influence ushered a new trend in the socio-religious ideas and thoughts. The rise of' Gaudiya Vaishnavism' was a direct result of the Hindu-Muslim cooperation. This movement launched by sri chaitanya in the late fifteenth century challenged the castes, sects, rituals, sacrifices prescribed by Hindu orthodoxy. Love for human and understanding God through love alone became the theme of the new movement. Most leading followers of the new movement came from those high caste Hindus who were 'polluted' by their yavandosh. Their contact with yavanas made them unacceptable to orthodox Hindu society. Leaders of the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement were influenced by sufi thought and the greatest of them was Sri Chaitanya (1486-1533), a young radical scholar of Nabadwip. Chaitanya's core thought was unity and oneness of humankind and salvation through love for the whole humanity and all forms of Vishnu, especially Krishna. The aim of this new thought was to include all sections of society into its fold. It was presented as an alternative social ideology based on the reformed religious ideas and principles. All Hindus 'polluted' by contact with the Muslim mlechhas and ostracised by orthodox Hindu society joined the new movement. Since most of them were relatively affluent and influential due to their wealth and education and state support, the new movement could establish support bases among the depressed people very rapidly. By the end of the sixteenth century the Gaudiya Vaishnava movement reached every nook and corner of the Shah-i-Bangaliya (the royal Bengal).
The humanist idea of Bhakti, salvation through devotion and love of vaishnavism is rooted in the Vaishnava saints like Narada, Sandilya, Rupa Gosvami, Jiva Gosvami and Vallabhachari. All Vaishnava sects honour Narada as a great Vaishnava saint. His sayings, called Sandilya-sutra, have been described as a Mimansa of Bhakti tatva (thought). Rupa Gosvamin and Jiva Gosvami made the original simple dogma of Chaitanya complex and ritualistic to some extent. They were perhaps influenced by the worldly reality that without rituals no abstract thought could survive the test of time. The devotees were directed to give up learning and to submit to bhakti for the sake of psychic development. Bhakti required one to reject bohemianism of all kinds in the name of religion, and reject all kinds of physical and mental impurity. Bhakti was declared to be absolutely incompatible with sexual yoga. According to Bhakti thought, yoga as a method might be appropriate for acquiring knowledge, but for achieving the state of samadhi, the last stage of yoga, bhakti was superior to yoga.
Sharia concept of the Muslim state The Sultans ruled a region, Shah-i-Bangaliya, which was populated predominantly by Hindus, Buddhists, Jains, tribals and others. Yet, the ulama, sufis and the sultans declared their regime as Muslim. Their claim was logical in the sense that it was then the rulers, not the ruled, who determined the political status of their domains. The Muslim law and justice system allowed the subject peoples to live according to their respective faiths and beliefs if they paid a symbolic duty called jizya, a tax which exonerated the non-Muslims from rendering military services during the time of war. The contemporaries did not look at jizya as a disgrace as it came to be perceived in modern times. The tax relieved its payers from the grave risk of going to war. At more practical levels, Muslim laws allowed the non-Muslims to live freely according to their own faiths and practices. It must be noted that similar toleration was shown to the non-Muslim subjects of the early Islamic state so long Muslim population did not acquire dominant position demographically. Such a supreme demographic superiority was never acquired in Bengal until the late nineteenth century and that was, again, achieved in eastern Bengal only. Therefore, as per the Islamic tradition of coming to terms with the majority subject peoples during the formative period of the Islamic state in the Arab, Persia and Central Asian worlds, the Sultanate and Mughal state also followed the policy of toleration towards the non-Muslims. As regards personal law, the state administered Hindu laws for the Hindu subjects and Muslim laws, for the Muslim subjects. Buddhists and other religionists were also governed by their respective religious canons.'
The political theory of the Mughal government in Bengal was to knit many religious and ethnic communities into a single political system. Activities offensive to Hindus were banned. Levies on Hindu pilgrims and all discriminatory taxes on Hindus were abolished. State support was given to celebrated Hindu festivals, and Hindu sages were accorded special honour. The theory and practice of looking at all subjects equally and generously had been directly drawn from both Indian and Perso-Islamic notions of kingship in which the king was seen as divine. In this respect, all subjects high and low had the right to seek justice and kindness from the throne on an equal footing. The institution of jharoka was intended to bring the ruler and the ruled together on a common platform. Both blessed each other. Jharoka was copied at provincial level. In Mughal political concept, all people of the kingdom from the highest to the lowest in rank were bound together by a theory of mutual obligations articulated through the ideology of 'salt' (nimak), a semantic term of Persian origin expressing mutual obligation and protection.
The most remarkable aspect of the ideas and institutions of the Sultani and Mughal regimes was the identification of land as the sole source of wealth. To generate wealth in land the Muslim rulers consistently tried to undertake measures congenial to development of land resources, which included forests and fisheries. Mughal thought favoured the idea of creating a landed class in the persons of zamindars and talukdars who were expected to represent the government to local people, and local people to the government. Thus the Mughal revenue administration vested the zamindars and talukdars with the revenue management locally. The creation of a state-sponsored intermediary class in the persons of zamindars and talukdars was a radical departure from the pre-Mughal practices.
'In Mughal political thought, the emperor possessed global jurisdiction. People visiting the emperor were considered as his subjects, not as foreigners endowed with special rights. This thought applied to the European maritime traders who came to Bengal for trade and commerce. They enjoyed no special rights. Thus Bengal could enter global trade through the European maritime traders. The imperial intention was to earn enough silver and make the imperial economy monetised and globalised.
Sultani thought on the national language The development of the Bangla language and literature into a national language and national identity in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries was the realisation of a conscious thought promoted by the sultani rulers. A common feature of imperial history is that foreign rulers consistently introduced their own languages and cultures as a strategy of control over the subjugated peoples. The Sultani and Mughal rulers were no exception to this rule. They made Persian the official language of the sultanate, and the Mughals also upheld that tradition later. Under the Sultani and Mughal regimes Persian language and literature flourished. For material success local Hindu elites also learnt Persian and acquired the qualifications to get jobs under the Muslim rulers.
However, the great political thought of the Sultans and Mughals was concerned with the decision to make the state bi-lingual. Persian was to be the official language centrally, and Bangla regionally. The idea behind developing Bangla as a lingua-franca at local level was indeed revolutionary though it originated from a different motive altogether. The motive was essentially political. The existing supremacy of the Brahmanical class, which was opposed to the Sultani regime, in the social sphere and the dominance of the Sanskrit language and culture in the cultural arena had to be grappled with astutely and replaced by indigenous language and culture. The language policy of undermining Sanskrit and upgrading Bangla was felt to be absolutely necessary in order to strengthen the security of the sultani state.
The state patronized the indigenous intellectuals to write in Bangla and on indigenous subjects. The policy led to the rise of an indigenous intellectual class to ventilate their thoughts in Bangla and to bring the indigenous culture to a broader view. The Bengali literary output of the great medieval writers like Jashoraj Khan, Kavindra Parameshvara, Shrikar Nandi, Shridhara, Vijaya Gupta, Vipradas and many others were the direct result of state patronage. That the sultan's language policy received local support is vindicated by the fact that writers of books in Bangla were eloquent in praising the patronizing sultans. Recognizing the contributions of the Sultani patrons in the prefaces of books became the standard practice among writers. Patronizing a vernacular language was stupendously successful in making Bangla the vehicle of intellectual expressions of Bengali writers. Once the Bangla language received recognition and status, the language of the land came to be known as Bangla. The state of the Bangla speaking people came to be known as Shah-i-Bangaliya.
Thoughts on human bondage The genealogy of bonded relations, especially slavery, established by the dominant classes may be historically traced back to the age of Aryanization of Bengal, when the subjugated local people, branded as dasa (slave) and bratya (untouchable), were politically, socially and economically placed in the social margin under the generic nomenclature of sudras. In the Aryan system, the labours of the sudra caste were designed to keep the general production system moving on the one hand and to give free labour to their high caste neighbours on the other. All faiths and polities preceding colonial rule preserved and promoted this system of social servitude in various forms of bondage from ordinary jazmani and peonage to direct slavery. The social idea of placing the dasas (slaves) and sudras at the bottom of the social ladder under the Brahmanic caste system was to sustain the comfort and creativity of the non-labouring higher castes. Undoubtedly, the idea of a perpetual working class (sudra caste) worked successfully in maintaining the supremacy of the higher castes until the mid-nineteenth century.
The Muslim thought of slavery or social servitude fundamentally differed from the Hindu idea of the system. The dasas or slaves/sudras under the Brahmanic system was a permanent social domain placed at the bottom of society keeping the higher castes on the top as a perpetual arrangement. The Muslim thought about slavery came from political considerations rather than religious stipulations. It did not reject slavery outright but encouraged traditional slave owners to emancipate their slaves or at least treat them more humanely.'
In Bengal, the Muslim social thought on slavery was to create a new variety of servitude beyond the existing caste-based institution of sudras. Muslim rulers and nobilities, who constituted initially a small minority in the country, needed considerable manpower to guard and serve their seraglios, harems and zenanas and to serve in the army and in other labour-intensive sectors. Under these pressing circumstances, they imported slaves from East Africa, Arab world, Central Asia and other places. The manner of importing foreign slaves was not very dissimilar to the slavery practiced in the early-modern plantation economies of America and European colonies in the Oceania.
As for Mughal thought on political economy, the most significant was its decision to monetise the economy in response to western maritime contact. The thought was perhaps guided more by political than economic considerations. Against the European marine forces, traditional army supplied by mansabdars (military provincial governors) became ineffective. This realization came when the government failed to subdue the East India Company in a protracted naval war (1686-1690), which ended in a compromise and included the grant of zamindari right to the Company over three villages, Kolkata, Sutanuti and Govindpur. In response to the changed international relations, the government felt that a strong standing army and an efficient bureaucracy must be maintained to respond effectively to the presence of European maritime powers in the Indian waters.
The European maritime companies brought bullion with them to buy eastern goods. The Mughal decision to establish takshal (minting house) to turn imported bullion into coins and to make the economy monetised was an extraordinary fiscal event in the history of medieval India. Hitherto money was minted but mainly to validate and display royal authority. Economically, the use of coins was limited to bulk transactions in urban centres.
The monetization of the economy necessitated the bringing of corresponding changes in the revenue collection system. Previously revenue was generally collected in kinds, for which strong local government had to be established. Strong gram panchayet or village council was introduced to make revenue collection in-kind possible. Mughal authorities were quick to understand that monetisation of the economy held out to them a great opportunity to centralise the revenue collection system, and with it their political control over the remote local people too. Thus government conceived the idea of dispensing with the traditional rajas, bhuyans and rayans, and establish direct control over the people through a state-appointed zamindar class. Zamindars became the symbol of the state at pargana level. The idea of the zamindari system made the government politically strong on the one hand and financially stronger on the other. In between the zamindars and the state was created a hierarchic bureaucracy to make the collection of state revenue systematic and organised. With the intervention and encouragement from zamindars, various cash crops were introduced for facilitating the cash nexus of the economy.
Ideas and Institutions: British Period
The political idea of Warren Hastings, the first Governor General of the East India Company's domain in Bengal was to rule the country in accordance with the established ideas and institutions of the native people. As a long resident in the country he acquired considerable knowledge about the habits, customs and governing institutions of the country. His political idea was to preserve and promote the local culture and tradition and not to import alien political concepts and institutions for governing the country. For governance, he pursued the policy of power sharing with the local notables in the line of the Sultani and Mughal rulers. According to him Bengal was the inheritor of a rich historical tradition which must not be disturbed by the introduction of any European institution. As regards language, his policy was to preserve the local language and learning as was earlier done by the Muslim rulers.
Hastings's 'orientalist' ideas soon produced two groups of opinions among the civilians regarding the future management of the colonial state. One, and the most influential group until the early 1820s, was advocating for bringing changes in the country through revitalizing the indigenous institutions of the country, and the other, which was gaining ground from the 1820s, was in favour of abandoning the 'decadent' oriental institutions and replacing them with western ideas and institutions for introducing vigour in the social mind of the country. The holders of the first idea have been known as Orientalists and those of the second as Anglicists.
Intellectually, the Orientalist way was first beckoned by Sir William Jones (1746-1794), a Sanskrit scholar and jurist from Oxford and the founder of the Asiatic Society, Kolkata (1784) and a judge of the Kolkata Supreme Court. His famous 'Third Annual Discourse, 1788' presented at the Asiatic Society let the world know for the first time that India had enjoyed a great civilization in the distant past (the Vedic age) marked by high degree of achievements in arts, sciences and philosophies. He inaugurated the discipline of linguistics by declaring with satisfactory evidences that the major languages of India are distinctly linked to those of the Aryans and Europeans. The other intellectuals stemming from the school of Jones were H.T Colebrook, S. Davis, J. Duncan, F. Gladwin, J.H Harrington, William Carey and C. Wilkins. They came from the colonial state's civil, diplomatic, military and judicial departments. Their main institutional bases were Kolkata Madrasah, Beneres Hindu College, Kolkata Fort William College, Kolkata School Text Book Society and Kolkata Sanskrit College. The Orientalists assumed that the way the European Renaissance drew its inspiration from the ancient texts, could very much show the path to Indian reawakening based on ancient Sanskrit lore. These Orientalists together represented the compound nature of Orientalist thought aspiring to achieving historical rediscovery, linguistic and literary re-birth and socio-cultural revival of India.
The English public initially received the orientalist assumptions and findings with a spirit of humanism, classicism, cosmopolitanism and European enlightenment. Encouraged by this spirit, the government patronised the Orientalists until the first quarter of the nineteenth century. The Asiatic Society of Bengal (estd 1784) and fort william college (estd 1800) became the major centres for the cultivation of Orientalism. However, the outlook began to change from the 1820s when British colonial domination assumed world proportions and the imperialists thrust upon themselves the responsibility of 'civilising' the subject peoples. The new thought, which got its strength from the liberal ideas of the Benthamite school in Britain, seriously suspected the usefulness of Orientalist exercises in the context of British colonial state in India. They were in favour of introducing English language and learning in India. This group, which came to be known as Anglicists as opposed to Orientalists, was led by the Council member Lord B. macaulay (1800-1859). The Anglicist thought of westernising India was in favour of abandoning the Orientalist policy of modernising India by revitalizing its ancient learning and institutions. Their idea was to launch the westernization drive by introducing western education and associated institutions.
All the governor generals from Warren Hastings to Lord Amherst (1823-1828) belonged to the Orientalist view. Governor General William Bentinck (1828-35) adopted the Anglicist thought and overturned all the Orientalist ideas and achievements made since the time of Warren Hastings. Under Bentinck's administration, the College of Fort William became virtually non-existent, the Asiatic Society experienced grave financial strains, the Kolkata Madrassa and Sanskrit College came close to closure, the Kolkata School and School Text Book Societies were rendered ineffective. In short, the Orientalist thought of taking the colonial state to the path of progress and modernity without eradicating local culture and institutions was reduced to a dream of the past.
The Anglicist arguments were first advanced seriously by Charles E. Trevelyan (1807-1886). Once an ardent Orientalist civilian and then turned an Anglicist, Trevelyan wrote a tract (1834) on the 'uselessness' of the Fort William College. His argument was that the oriental thoughts of Warren Hastings and Wellesley were directed to educate the Europeans about local Indian languages and culture, but their ideas were later stretched out to the dream of making India modern by reviving and reinvigorating the ancient thoughts and institutions of India. Trevelyan found the effort of effecting modernism by an Orientalist way expensive and unpractical. Trevelyan recommended abandoning the Orientalist idea and making the desired change in India by giving western education in English and by introducing western institutions to inculcate western thoughts. Bentinck encouraged the Anglicist group and himself became an active Anglicist. H.H Wilson (1786-1860), the leader of the Orientalist group, being utterly frustrated, wrote to a friend that it was sheer lack of learning and ignorance about eastern civilisations that led Bentinck to support Trevelyan and other Anglicists. In fact, Bentinck represented Benthamite thought and wanted to transform India according to Utilitarian principles. Obviously, many civilians changed their Orientalist posture and joined the bandwagon of Anglicist group promoted by the Council's Law Member Thomas B. Macaulay, well-known in the west for his great intellectual ability, nationalism and literary style. He possessed little knowledge and experience about Indian civilization and possibly had no sympathy for the subjugated people of India at all. He believed that the introduction of English as a medium of instructions and administration would contribute to bringing modernist transformations for India and good for the people. He wrote a long minute on the issue of the Orientalist and Anglicist thoughts about future education policies. Throughout his minute Macaulay ridiculed the futility and vainness of Indian languages and cultures, arts and sciences and remarked that these were useless for modern life. The governor general in council finally resolved to abandon the orientalist line of policy and declared that the great object of the British Government ought to be the promotion of European literature and science amongst the natives of India and that all the funds appropriated for the purposes of education would be best employed on English education alone.
Liberal reform in operation Ramram Basu (1757-1813), a kayastha and a pundit at Fort William College, inaugurated the thought of the liberal school by pointing to the moral laxity and idolatry of the Brahmanic class. In a tract entitled Jnanodoy (Dawn of Knowledge), Ramram described in details the errors of the Hindu priestly class and called for reforms in the religion before it became useless and dangerous to society. In terms of reason and re-thinking William Carey compared Ramram's tract with the discourses of Erasmus and Martin Luther on the eve of the Reformation in Europe.
The Calcutta hindu college turned out to be earliest centre for inculcating western ideas and thought. Henry Louis Vivian Derozio (1809-1831), a young Eurasian teacher of Hindu College gave lectures on Enlightened philosophers, especially Hume and Kant. He taught his students how to be critical in outlook and how to think independently. Derozio was fired from the Hindu College for the style of education he presented to students. Derozio's teachings indeed crossed the limit of toleration that the conservative Hindus could endure. But many of Derozio's students were deeply influenced by his thought and became critical of the traditional Hindu beliefs and practices.
This radical group of the Hindu College came to be known as young bengal. Their aim was to rebuild the intellectual tradition of Bengal on the basis of reason. They were deeply influenced by the western intellectual ferment of the time. For their westernized outlook they received indignation and indictment from the conservative Hindus. The assumption of the Young Bengal was that for various historical and other reasons Bengal society became superstitious, irrational and gullible. So it must be put to the path of knowledge in order to salvage it from degradation. Their idea got expression in the publication of a weekly journal, Jnanannesan (search for knowledge) in 1831-40.
In short, we find in the early nineteenth century the rise of three schools of thought. First was the Arya Samaj, which drew ideas from rammohun roy and his Atmiya Sabha. This school advocated for the restoration of monotheistic Vedic thought in religious practices and abandoned idolatry. The Arya Samaj supported the British idea of free trade and colonization of India and the introduction of commercial crops based on plantation mode of production. It is very clear that the Arya Samaj was under the influence of British free traders who were active in the movement for abolishing the East India Company and allowing British capitalists to introduce the plantation economy in India. The social thought of the Arya Samaj was to reform Hindu society in the line of Vedic ideas and make society caste free. The mainstream thought was represented by the Dharma Sabha (estd 1831) led by raja radhakanta dev, ram camul sen and bhabanicharan bandyopadhyaya. They also sought limited social reforms, and that within the bounds of Hinduism. They steadfastly opposed Bentinck's plan of reforms in the name of eliminating social 'superstitions'. The opposition started with the legal abolition of sati in 1828. Radhakanta Dev and his followers opposed the abolition of sati not so much because they had strong faith in its practice, but because in the so-called reform move they felt intuitively the danger of destabilising Hindu society and culture through a series of reforms gradually undermining the fabric of Hindu culture. The most remarkable aspect of the ideas propagated by the Dharma Sabha was their very advanced thoughts as regards various measures taken by the Company regime. In view of the wholesale elimination of Indian elements from the responsible positions in the government, Dharma Sabha leaders called for Indianising' the civil service, abolition of the Permanent Settlement, giving up the idea of colonisation, taking up poverty alleviation programme and setting up a charitable hospital. Undoubtedly such thoughts were far ahead of time. These ideas came under public discussion and became public demands half a century later when the nationalist movement began under the leadership of the western educated bhadralok class in the 1880s. The third school of thought was that of the Young Bengal which drew its inspiration from the west and gave the idea of establishing secularist knowledge and institutions based on reason and utility. Both these thoughts came from the minority elements of the Kolkata intelligentsia.
The ferment of the Hindu reformist thoughts conceived and practised by Rammohun Roy, Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar, Devendranath Tagore, Akhayakumar Datta, Ramtanu Lahiri, Ramkrishna and others in the nineteenth century shook traditional social thought to its foundation. They attacked the system of sati, early marriage for girl and dowry systems. Their ideas made a synthesis of the traditional Hindu meaning of life and western ideas and education. Rammohun's Brahma Sabha, Ramkrishna's Asram and Mission, Rabindranath's Santiniketan, Sriniketan and Visva Bharati represented their quest for the larger universe and their commitment to humanity, and at the same time keeping faith in the theory of maya (illusion).
Reform thoughts in Muslim society As regards the application of reason in intellectual exercises and everyday life, the Muslim intellectuals were undoubtedly far more advanced than their Hindu counterparts in the eighteenth century. 'The ferment of Muslim scholarship in the eighteenth century is well attested by the historiography of the time compiled by H. M Elliot and J. Dawson in a multi-volume series published in 1877 and a Bio-bibliographical Survey made by CA Storey published in 1939. The historical works like Riyaz us Salatin by Ghulam Husain Salim, Siyar-e- Mutakkherin by Saiyid Ghulam Husain Khan Tabatabai, Tawarikh-i-Bangala by Munshi Salimullah, Tarikh-i-Muzaffari by Muhammad Ali Khan, Tarikh-i-Nusrat Jangi by Nawab Nusrat Jung and other works are brilliant examples of Muslim intellectual responsiveness to the time. All these historical writers, particularly Saiyid Ghulam Husain Khan Tabatabai and Ghulam Husain Salim, interpreted Muslim rule in India as glorious politically, economically and religiously though they also identified many weaknesses and decadence of the Bengal rulers since Nawab Shujauddin Khan (1727-1739). They regarded the Palashi and subsequent events as inevitable in view of the failure of the Muslim political classes, measuring the importance and implications of the commercial interactions with the Europeans. All these writers hailed the take-over of the country by the Company and expected that the country's interests would not be adversely affected by the political changes. But it was only when the diwani system was abolished in the 1770s and the westernisation of administration by purging the local amla began in the 1780s and 1790s in defiance of sharia law that the Muslim intelligentsia declared absolute non-cooperation with the British. The non-cooperation included the wholesale rejection of all things western, including the benefits and dividends of inter-cultural contacts. Sometimes non-cooperation took the shape of violence. They registered their disapproval of the mode of English rule by organising armed resistance to it, and resistance in different forms continued down to the end of the great Sepoy Revolt.
shah waliullah of Delhi (1703-1762) started an intellectual movement to make the Muslim community aware of their decadence and of their political status in the face of the presence of the Europeans in India. Waliullah wanted the restoration of Islam on the basis of Sharia, not on syncretist ideas. Waliullah's desciple Saiyid Ahmad of Rae Bereli (1786-1831) declared the British as infidel and unacceptable to Muslims. He had a number of vigorous reformist activist desciples in Bengal like titu mir and haji shariutullah.
As has been noted, we have three schools of thought among the members of the Hindu intelligentsia, the Brahma Samaj, Dharma Sabha and Young Bengal. In varying degrees, all of them sought reason and modernization in their traditional culture. But the Muslim intellectuals (ulama) is seen to have ignored the reality of the strength of British rule and remained committed to their eighteenth-century thought and outlook. The ruling status of the elite Muslims remained fresh in their memory and it was indeed hard on their part to reconcile with the conquering people and their thoughts and ideas, and to make a new start in the light of political changes. Until the end of Warren Hastings's regime, Muslims were actively involved in the management of the new colonial state and they had no reason to stay away from it because the new regime allowed the local administration to be governed by local elements and according to the traditional system. From 1786 began the processes of Europeanising the administration and this policy alienated the Muslim elite class from the British state. The ruling class pride and the policy of the Company government to dispense with the past institutions disregarding their merits made the Muslim intelligentsia antagonistic to English rule, and thus remained intentionally aloof from reaping the benefit of the colonial regime. It is in this backdrop that we must look at the thoughts and ideas of the Muslim intelligentsia of the nineteenth century.
One side effect of the continued non-cooperation of the Muslim intelligentsia to British rule was their conscious effort to keep their system of knowledge and cultural life impervious to western thoughts and ideas. They withdrew to the charm of their past glories. Under the changed circumstances, the Wahabi thought of Islam had a unique opportunity to propagate it almost unopposed among the rural Muslim population of Bengal, though neither Titu Mir nor Shariatullah and their adherents were able to exercise any influence over the Muslims of the upper and middle classes living in the urban areas. The urban Muslim intelligentsia consistently maintained their affinity with the syncretic thoughts and ideas of sufi tradition. But the Anglicist policies eventually alienated the hitherto loyal urban Muslims and drove them to join the rank of the rebellious rural Muslims.
But in spite of the Muslim rejection of British rule and its westernization plan, a number of Muslim intellectuals emerged to point out the mistakes of holding on to the traditionalist thought, while wind of progressive changes was blowing under the impact of the Anglicist reforms. Special mention may be made of Abdur Rahim (1785'1853). Like Rammohun, Rahim was also originally influenced by traditional Muslim rationalist thought. But, as he wrote in Persian and Urdu, his ideas and thoughts remained confined to a limited circle. Rahim had no high descent to be proud of. His father was a solvent weaver. By the age of 15, Rahim became proficient in Persian and Arabic and proceeded to Lucknow first and then to Delhi for higher studies. Abdur Rahim came to Kolkata in 1810 to settle down at the age of 25. In Kolkata he joined the Europeans and the Kolkata bhadralok class and soon acquired proficiency in English and began his career as a translator to the Text Book Society. He earned fame among the Kolkata Anglicists as a translator of an article on geometry into Persian from the Encyclopedia Britannica, Hutton's Course on Mathematics into Arabic and Bridg's Algebra into Persian.
Like Rammohun, Abdur Rahim questioned many of the religious dogmas of the Muslims of his time, particularly the Shia-Sunni conflict and sharia and sufi ways of life. Eventually, Rahim discarded sharia and turned into a rationalist and free-thinker. His philosophical and scientific views offended Muslims of all sects when he argued that the idea of God or a Supreme Being was the gift of the imams (Muslim religious and intellectual leaders). According to him, things existed and moved according to the law of nature and not by the wishes of any supernatural force. With the Muslims, he came to be known as Abdur Rahim Dahri (materialist/atheist). His radical thought alienated him from both the Muslims and Hindu intellectuals and even from the Christian missionaries.
Rahim's ideas were too radical to attract the general public. However, Rahim left behind two illustrious students to keep his critical outlook alive. One was Obaidullah al-Obaidi (1834-1885), the well-known Orientalist scholar, educationist and reformer; and the other was Delwar Hosaen Ahmed (1840-1913), the first Bengali Muslim graduate of Kolkata University and a rationalist. While Obaidullah al-Obaidi was inclined to reforming Islam according to Sharia, Delwar Hosaen Ahmed was advocating for applying reason and updating the laws and institutions of Islam according to the changes and demands of the time. He argued that change was the part of law of nature and this natural dictate must be recognised for survival. He ventilated his social thought in the form of essays published in most of the progressive Kolkata newspapers and periodicals. In 1889, two volumes of his writings under the title Essays on Mohammedan Social Reforms were published by Thacker Spink and Co., Kolkata. Delwar Hosaen's main idea about the state and religion was that they must be separate from each other. State must tolerate religion and religion must tolerate state laws.
The greatest influence on Muslim minds in the nineteenth century was exerted by traditionalist (but friendly to British rule) Muslim scholars like Maulanakeramat ali (1800-1873) of Jaunpur,abdool luteef (1828-1893) and syed ameer ali (1849-1928). They declared that though under a Christian regime India was not dar-ul harb. Opposing the ideas of the Wahabi leaders like Titu Mir and Shariatullah, they advocated for establishing a relationship with the British based on cooperation on the ground that Islam was not in danger under British rule. The Kolkata Mohammedan Society which was founded and led by Nawab Abdool Luteef, maintained that jihad or religious war against the British Raj would be unlawful. This statement represents just the opposite views held by the Wahabi activists who thought that opposition to, and even war against, British rule was an obligation on the part of all Muslims.
Ideas of transferring power to elected institutions About governance, the guiding principle of the East India Company's government was to rule the country as far as possible by the native laws and institutions but without the participation of the natives in administration. The Great Sepoy Revolt of 1857 changed the mind of the British parliament about the continuation of British imperial presence in India. Parliament resolved in principle to take the natives in partnership in governing the country and eventually transferring power to the natives in phases, when it was appropriate. Through various reforms, measures were undertaken to recruit educated natives for the newly introduced Indian Civil Service. Measures were also taken to include the competent natives in the decision making areas like legislative councils, municipal government. The process started in 1862 with the induction of limited number of nominated members in the Governor General and Viceroy's Council and provincial governor's council. The processes of local self-government was begun with the introduction of local self-government in urban and rural areas. Through morley-minto reforms (1909) electoral system on a limited scale was introduced for the governor's legislative council. The most significant aspect of the Morley-Minto reforms was the introduction of separate electorate for the relatively backward Muslim community. The separate electorate system was destined to heighten the Hindu-Muslim tension, and eventually the partition of Bengal on communal basis.
The montagu-chelmsford reforms (1919) laid the foundation of the representative government in the country. Under this Act limited representative government, what is known to us as Diarchy, was introduced. The idea of representative government based on adult franchise obtained institutional fullness under the Act of 1935, which introduced responsible provincial government under the separate electorate system. The Act transferred most of the governing powers to the elected representatives excepting some reserved powers held by the governor who now stood as the only link between the British and the Indians. It was under this Act that the total transfer of power was implemented on 14-15 August, 1947.
Ideas and Institutions, 1947-1971 The partition of Bengal (1905) and its annulment (1911) led the Muslims think that they were in fact used as a pawn of British imperialism. The annulment of the partition forced the Muslims of East Bengal to chart their political future independent of British tutelage, and drove them to join the Pan-Islamist movement of the time and make a united platform with the Congress in order to fight against imperialism and achieve independence. The result was the Lucknow Pact (1916). The Lucknow Pact recognised the separate electorate system provided by the Morley-Minto Reforms of 1909. The Hindu-Muslim unity got further strengthened by the Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movements and finally by the Bengal Pact (1923) which gave an institutional structure to Hindu-Muslim amity by giving the gurantee that the Muslims would be entitled to more jobs and services than their numerical entitlements until the parity was achieved between Hindus and Muslims. Thus the political thought of Pan-Islamism gave way to Hindu-Muslim unity based on Indian nationalism.
But the ideal of Hindu Muslim unity soon collapsed on the rock of the Shuddhi and Sangathan movements lauched by Swami Shraddhananda in North India. Both the movements aimed at reconverting the Hindus who accepted Islam before. In response, Tabligh movement was launched from Deoband to stop the process of Muslims becoming Hindus. In the mean time Gandhi cancelled his Non-Cooperation and Khilafat Movement without consulting the Muslim leaders. All these had a backlash on Hindu-Muslim relations which culminated into a series of communal riots beginning from 1925 to 1927. Hindu-Muslim dissensions destroyed Gandhi's dream of Hindu-Muslim unity in Indian politics.
Emergence of the ideas of partition The Prime Minister Ramsay MacDonald's Communal Award (1932) which became the basis of the Act of 1935 largely satisfied the Muslim demands, but the Congress rejected the Award. The Communal Award was quickly followed by the idea of Pakistan first put by a young Cambridge student, Chowdhury Rahmat Ali, who set up an organisation called Pakistan National Movement to promote the idea of Pakistan. Pakistan, according to the idea of Rahmat Ali, was to be something like a Federation of Muslim majority provinces in the North West of India. The first leaders to take to the idea of 'Pakistan' for implementation was the spiritual leader Aga Khan and political leader Fazli-i-Husain of the Punjab. Pakistan as a political concept became current in Muslim political parlance by 1935. In support of the Pakistan idea, poet and philosopher Allama Iqbal wrote to ma jinnah, the Muslim League leader, on 21 June 1937 encouraging him to translate the idea of 'Pakistan' into a reality. But so far 'Pakistan' idea did not include Bengal. But so far the 'Pakistan Scheme' did not mean partition of India but a federated India with virtual independent provinces in which 'Pakistan' would be one. The Pakistan idea was first supported by the daily Star of India (Calcutta) in its issue of 14 April 1933, but with little stir until 1940. While the krishak praja party (KPP) fought the elections of 1937 on the questions of rights of raiyats and rural indebtedness, the Bengal Muslim League fought mainly on the old Muslim solidarity issue. The concept of Pakistan arrived in Bengal in 1940 as a newspaper report from the Muslim League's Lahore Conference.
As a new political party, the KPP did astoundly good at the 1937-elections, in which it emerged as the third largest party in the Bengal Legislative Assembly, the Indian National Congress being the first. Personally, a.k fazlul huq emerged as the most influential leader of Bengal, especially of East Bengal. But politically he failed to turn his KPP into a national institution. Soon KPP split into mutually opposing groups and for power became dependent on the support of the Muslim League. To stay in power, Huq joined the Muslim League and joined the Lahore Conference as the premier of Bengal. The Muslim League's Lahore Conference obtained special political significance from the fact that the League could persuade Fazlul Huq to read out the historic resolution that led to the emergence of Pakistan. The emergence of Pakistan was accompanied by the death of KPP.
The original Lahore Resolution conceived Pakistan as a federation of 'states' in agreement with the Act of 1935 and contemporary pan-Islamic movement as a bridge between Muslim nationalism and Indian nationalism. But the Muslim League's huge electoral success in the Muslim majority provinces turned the Muslim League's idea of the federation of' 'states' into a demand for one single state based on Muslim nationalism and thus Pakistan came into being on 14 August 1947.
The idea of independent Bengal Under the Act of 1935, the provincial governments wielded the real power and responsibilities maintaining nominal link with the central government in Delhi. On the question of the mode of transfer of power, the Congress and Muslim League were unable to reach any agreement, and consequently law and order situation was collapsing in many provinces, particularly in Bengal and the Punjab. Being tired of the political wrangling between the Congress and the League, Prime Minister Attlee announced in February 1947 that the British rule in India would end inevitably by June 1948, and that if the Congress and the League could not reach an agreement on the question of transfer of power, the Britons would in that case leave India by keeping the provincial governments in power, if necessary. In this setting, husein shaheed suhrawardy, the Chief Minister of Bengal, officially initiated (27 April 1947) in Delhi the idea for an 'independent, undivided and sovereign Bengal'. The move was backed by abul hashem, secretary of the Bengal Provincial Muslim League, Sarat Chandra Bose, leader of the Forward Bloc and Kiran Shankar Roy, the leader of the Bengal Congress parliamentary party. M.A Jinnah raised no objection to the idea of an independent Bengal. On 20 May 1947, an agreement was reached at Sarat Bose's house at Calcutta on the issue of the constitutional structure of the United Independent Bengal. But though the high commands of both Congress and League agreed to the idea, the independent Bengal plan did not eventually materialise. Time stood on its way. The transfer of power took place one year earlier than the date announced by Attlee. There was little time left for successful negotiations. Congress High Command gave veto to the idea of united independent Bengal. Communal tensions heightened. Above all, majority members of Legislative Assembly from the western part of Bengal voted for the partition of Bengal. Time was indeed too short to pilot successfully the idea of independent Bengal, and the central government's role was dubious. It was not really too pressing for them to organize the transfer of power one year earlier than the declared date. Furthermore, Suhrawardy should have been active on his idea of united independent Bengal much earlier than he did.'
Language Movement Each of the five provinces of Pakistan had its own major language. In this spectre of multi-linguality, the most dominant was Bengali, the tongue of 53% people of Pakistan as a whole. To promote national integration, the central government in 1948 declared Urdu to be the state language of Pakistan. But Urdu, a language of North India, had no currency in East Bengal. East Bengal people spoke Bangla, and duly protested the measure of the central government. At one stage of the protest movement several students were shot dead in Dhaka (21 February 1952). This incident intensified the language movement in East Bengal and the government had to declare Bangla along with Urdu as the state language of Pakistan, and to promote Bangla language a research institution called Bangla Academy was established in December 1955.
Disparity debate, concept of two economies On the eve of the partition, HS Suhrawardy, the premier of Bengal, remained busy with his idea of United Independent Bengal and thus the Bengal Muslim leadership in fact had no time, rather no mental preparation, to discuss the terms and conditions of East Bengal's becoming a constituting partner within the framework of Pakistan. Henceforth East Bengal remained the most neglected province of Pakistan. East Bengal's civil service, economy and armed forces were dominated by West Pakistan. The results of the First Five Year Plan and allocations made in the Second Five year Plan showed that East Bengal was made a source of income for West Pakistan. In short, East wing of Pakistan was virtually made a colony of West Pakistan. The economists and intellectuals of East Pakistan proved it quantitatively that earnings by East Pakistan were spent in development activities of West Pakistan, and central government allocations showed a regional disparity against East Pakistan to the extent of 60%. The progressively widening disparity issue persuaded the economists of East Pakistan to develop a Two Economy Theory for Pakistan. The economists and intellectuals visualized that the growth in disparities between East and West Pakistan originated in the inequitable policies and allocative decisions of the central government.
The East Pakistan economists and intellectuals analysed the Second Five Year Plan (1960-65) and made it clear analytically that East Pakistan was destined to be poorer and poorer compared to West Pakistan unless the economic planning was made based on two economies. Economically, East and West Pakistan would compete and collaborate with each other in order to forge a balanced development for both the wings. But such thought did not get any consideration from the central government, and thus discontentment in East Pakistan was growing fast. Politicians took the language of the economists and intellectuals and tried to mobilize the masses to realize their demands and supported the two-economy theory advanced by economists and intellectuals of East Pakistan.
Six-Point Programme Influenced by the two-economies idea, sheikh mujibur rahman, the leader of the Awami League, advanced his Six-Point Programme at All-Parties Convention at Lahore on 6 February 1966. In his programme the Sheikh declared that East Pakistan was reduced to a colony of West Pakistan in all intents and purposes. To bring East Pakistan to equal footing with West Pakistan in all respects, Sheikh put up in his programme that Pakistan should be declared a federal state which would look after only defence and foreign affairs and the rest of the powers would be dealt with by the provinces; that the wings of Pakistan would have two convertible currencies; that taxation and revenue collection would be vested in the provincial government; that East Pakistan should have its separate militia or para military force. The West Pakistan leaders rejected Sheikh Mujib's demand outright and branded it as a plea to making East Pakistan independent of West Pakistan. The Sheikh was immediately confined and a case against him was filed to face a trial for sedition. But in the face of mounting mass agitation government released him. The Awami League joined the elections of 1970 on the Six-point programme. The people endorsed the six-point programme by electing the Awami League thereby expressing their total support to the political ideas.
Idea of independence and War of Liberation On the confinement of Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, a popular movement began in support of his Six-point programme. The movement was spearheaded mainly by the student community. Various student organisations drew up an eleven-point programme the target of which was the independence of East Pakistan. They declared independence at Dhaka University on 2 March 1971 and raised the standard of independent Bangladesh. They chose a national anthem and put up pressure on Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman to declare independence. Bangabandhu's address in the mamoth gathering at Ramna Racecourse on 7 March 1971 was the virtual declaration of independence. The declaration was followed by a War of Liberation from the mid-night of 26 March 1971, which culminated in the liberation of Bangladesh on 16 December 1971. The rise of Bangladesh as an independent state establishes the fact that the great tradition of ideas and institutions shaping and re-shaping the socio-cultural landscape of a society over the centuries can scarcely be nullified by political conveniences of the time. [Sirajul Islam]
Bibliography Sirajul Islam ed., Cultural History, in Cultural Survey of Bangladesh Series-vol. 4 (Asiatic Society of Bangladesh, 2007); Richard M. Eaton, The Rise of Islam and the Bengal Frontier, Delhi, 1994; Mohammad Mohar Ali, History of the Muslims in Bengal, Riadh, 1985; Asim Roy, The Islamic Syncretistic Tradition in Bengal, Princeton, 1983; David Kopf, British Orientalism and the Bengal Renaissance: The Dnamics of Indian Modernization 1773-1835, University of California Press, Berkeley 1969; A.F. Salahuddin Ahmed, Bangladesh: Tradition and Transformation, Dhaka 1987.