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Iranians, The


Iranians, The Muslim rule was established in Bengal by the turks. After the Turks successively came the Afghans and the Mughals as rulers of the country. Though Iran is neither contiguous to Bengal, nor did Iranians get a chance to establish their rule in this country, yet Iranian influence was consistently dominant in Bengal throughout the Muslim rule.

It may be noted that even the Arab culture came under the influence of Persia after its conquest by them. Persian language and culture were so rich and attractive that even the Turks and Afghans adopted Persian as the official language in India under Muslim rule. The Iranian language, i.e. Persian, was the official language of Bengal throughout the Muslim period and Persian literature enormously influenced bangla literature. A great many Persian words entered Bangla language and literature, into official documents and the idiom of court circles. This was possible due to the immigration of many Iranians to Bengal in the train of the Muslim conquest and in the service of the rulers.

The Iranians came and engaged themselves either in peaceful pursuits or joined the army or the administration. Those of the first category included the Ulama, Mashayikh, teachers, poets and those of the second category were the subahdars, nazims, diwans, their retinue and holders of subordinate posts. Iranian learned people had come to Bengal from the beginning of Muslim rule. The first two Iranians who came to Bengal with bakhtiyar khalji, were Baba Kotwal Ispahani and Qazi Ruknuddin Samarqandi; the former was a kotwal of lakhnauti under whose custody was kept ali mardan khalji, suspected of Bakhtyar's murder, and the latter was the qazi of Lakhnauti under Sultan Alauddin Ali Mardan Khalji. Qazi Ruknuddin, an Alim and a Sufi, was a Hanafi jurist and the author of Kitabul Irshad and was the founder of the science of Al-khilafi wal-jadl (dialectics). While at Lakhnauti, he converted Bhojar Brahman, a yogi of kamarupa; the latter presented a copy of Amrta-kunda, a Sanskrit yogic work, which was translated by the Qazi into Arabic with the title of Hauz-ul-Hayat and into Persian under the title of bahr-ul-hayat.

A son of Muhammad al-Maraghi (Maragha is in Azerbaizan of modern Iran), whose name is lost, built a khanqah in Birbhum, West Bengal in 1221 in the reign of Sultan Ghiasuddin iwaz khalji. The famous saint shaikh jalaluddin tabrizicame to Bengal at about the same time. Two places in Bengal commemorate the name of Shaikh Jalaluddin Tabrizi; pandua, once capital of the Sultans of Bengal with the name of Firuzabad and Deotala, fifteen miles north of Pandua. The shrine of the saint at Pandua is known as Bari Dargah (big shrine) to distinguish it from Chhoti Dargah (small shrine) of Shaikh nur qutb alam, also at Pandua. Deotala was renamed Tabrizabad (Tabrizabad) in honour of the saint and a good number of inscriptions commemorating his memory have been discovered from these two places. Shaikh Jalaluddin Tabrizi died in 1226 or in 1244 AD and he is probably lying buried at Deotala (Tabrizabad).

Minhajuddin Usman bin Sirajuddin al Jurjani, an Alim who held the office of Qazi both at Uchch and Delhi, but is more famous as a historian, came to Bengal in 1242 AD in the train of Izzuddin tughral tughan khan, governor of Bengal and left it two years later with the same governor. Qazi Minhaj-i-Siraj, while in Bengal, collected materials for the history of the first Muslim conquest of Bengal. Moreover, while in Delhi he moved with the ruling class, which enabled him to collect information from the court circle about Bengal, a province of the Delhi empire. Minhaj-i-Siraj's tabaqat-i-nasiri is, therefore, a primary source for the history of Muslim rule in Bengal for half a century after its conquest by the Muslims.

The next prominent Iranian who made contributions to the cultural history of Bengal was Maulana sharfuddin abu tawwama, an Alim and a Sufi of eminence, whose birthplace was Bukhara. He came to Bengal towards the second half of the 13th century and established a madrasa and a Khanqah at sonargaon, where he lies buried. His book Maqamat-i-tasawwaf was popular among the contemporary learned circles, and another book nam-i-huq on Fiqh, either written by him or by one of his disciples has come down to the present day. During the reign of Sultan Nasiruddin nusrat shah (1519-1532), a learned man, Sayyid Jamaluddin, son of Sayyid Fakhruddin Amuli (Amul is a town on the Caspian Sea) built a mosque at satgaon. Names of many other Alims and Sufis, i.e. learned people, are available in the sultanate period, but it is difficult to pick out the Iranians among them. However, from the few names whose Iranian connection is certain, it is clear that in the pre-Mughal period Iranians came to Bengal and were engaged in peaceful pursuits; they were scholars and Sufis who disseminated learning in this part of the world.

The Iranian inflow continued in the Mughal period; the scholars, ie the Alim, Sufi, and poets came in large numbers. During this period Iranians also became dominant in the state services; some of the very successful subahdars and other highly placed officials were of Iranian origin. Persian poets used to accompany the troops to the battlefield, and they wrote tales of victory called Jang-namah. The poets received patronage from the subahdars and other high officers. qasim khan jwini was a treasurer of the subah in the reign of jahangir; he later became subahdar in the reign of shahjahan. His father came from Jwin, a township in Khurasan. He was himself a poet, and his diwan is extant. Being a poet himself, he patronised other Persian poets and helped them by giving suitable appointments.

In his time Muhammad Sadiq came to Bengal and accepted Mughal service; but his importance lies in the fact that he was a poet himself and wrote the Subh-i-Sadiq, in which names of many Persian poets including those who were in Bengal are available. Muhammad Sadiq and his father Muhammad Salih Ispahani spent a part of their life in Bengal. Muhammad Sadiq served in Bengal under three subahdars: Qasim Khan, azam khan, and islam khan mashhadi. Khwaja Muhammad Sharif was a well-known poet at Dhaka; he was the son of Khwaja Hasan Shusteri, a rich Persian merchant. Sayyid Muhammad Taqi Dahdar, experienced in mysticism, was appointed an Amin. Mukhlis Khan Tabrizi, a poet, was appointed Bakhshi and Hasan Beg Grani, also a poet, was appointed bakhshi of the nawara department. Other Persian poets in the time of Qasim Khan were Mulla Darvesh Harvi, Mulla Wafai Marvi, Mulla Hakim Shirazi, Mir Abdul Qaiyum etc. Qasim Khan's successor subahdar Azam Khan was also a patron of poets. Ruhullah Mazandarani, a poet and a mathematician, and Ziauddin Yusuf Tabrizi and Mir Masum Kashi, both poets of renown, flourished during his time. During the subahdari of Islam Khan Mashhadi, important poets were Mir Ruzi, Muhammad Sharif Talwani and Muhammad Husain Mashhadi. Mir Ruzi was a son of Abu Turab Mashhadi; his pen name was Danish.

During the subahdari of shah shuja many Persian poets and scholars came to Bengal and settled at Dhaka and rajmahal. They got encouragement from the Prince. Muhammad Husain Qazvini, a poet and a calligraphist was in the service of Shah Shuja. Abul Maali, Alaul Mulk and Alauddaula, sons of Allame Mir Sayyid Nurullah Margashi were all accomplished scholars and poets. Abul Maali was the author of three books, Tafsir-i-Surah Ikhlas, Manzaf-ul-Ulum and a collection of Persian poetry. Alaul Mulk was given charge of educating Prince Shuja and among his books were Mahazzab fil-manfiq, Anwar-ul-Huda fi Ilm-i-Ilahi and Sirat-ul-wafil Asbat-ul-Mawazib; the third brother was also a poet. Mirza Shah Baqi Wajdi Shirazi and some other good poets also were employed under Shah Shuja and his officers.

Persian poets and scholars also received patronage from later subahdars like mir jumla, shaista khan, ibrahim khan, murshid quli khan and others. Prince Azimuddin, grandson of aurangzeb and nazim of Bengal was a patron of Persian poets; he used to sit with them in poetry reading sessions, and their most favourite book was Maulana Jalaluddin Rumi's Masnavi. In the 18th century, many xia Muslims from Iran came and settled in Bengal, particularly under the patronage of Murshid Quli Khan. Mirza Lutfullah, entitled murshid quli khan ii Rustam Jang, was a poet of merit; his pen name was Makhnur. Names of many Shia Muslim scholars and poets are available in contemporary historical literature like siyar-ul-mutakhkherin of Sayyid Ghalan Husain Tabatabai.

Apart from the scholars and poets many people of Iranian origin entered into the administrative services of the Mughals. Many able and very successful subahdars or nazims were of Iranian origin. Muzaffar Khan Turbati was one of the earliest Mughal subahdars of Bengal; he was called Turbati, because he belonged to the Turbat tribe of Khurasan. He was an expert in revenue administration and rose to prominence as a diwan. Akbar appointed him subahdar of Bengal in 1579, and he died there at the hands of Mughal mutineers. After jahangir's marriage with Meherunnisa (Nur Jahan), the family of the empress' father, Mirza Ghias Beg Itimaduddaula, rose to prominence. The family came from Iran and belonged to the Shia sect. Nur Jahan's brother ibrahim khan fath-i-jang, appointed subahdar of Bengal in 1617, came to Dhaka with a host of Shias in his retinue. Ibrahim Khan's nephew Mirza Ahmad Beg also accompanied his uncle with his retinue. In the reign of Jahangir many Mughal officers of Bengal were Iranians and Shias; the mir bahr Ihtimam Khan and his son Mirza Nathan, author of the baharistan-i-ghaibi, played a very prominent part in the subjugation of Bengal. After Ibrahim Khan, Mahabbat Khan, whose family came from Shiraz, was appointed subahdar. He ruled Bengal for a short period through his deputy, his son Khanzad Khan. Shah Jahan's subahdars of Bengal, Qasim Khan Juyuni and Islam Khan Mashhadi were also Iranians.

Iranian Shia officers, nobles, poets and scholars surrounded the next subahdar, the prince Shah Shuja. His four important nobles were Iranians. They were Muhammad Zaman Tehrani, his deputy in Orissa; Mir Abul-Qasim al-Husaini al-Tabatabai al-Simnani, his deputy at Dhaka; Mir Alaul Mulk, his tutor; and Mir Rukn Ali, his servant of the Stirrup. Poets and scholars who adorned his court or who were appointed in subordinate posts were mostly Shias and of Iranian origin. His mother was a Shia lady; his two wives belonged to Shia families. There is a tradition prevalent at Dhaka that Shuja brought with him three hundred Shia nobles. Shuja's personal attendant and the author of the Tarikh-i-Shah Shuja, Mir Masum was also an Iranian. Masum and his father, Hasan, were in service in Bengal.

The next two subahdars, Mir Muhammad Said Muazzem Khan Khankhanan, who is more famous in history by his surname Mir Jumla and the Amirul Umara Shaista Khan, were of Iranian origin. Mir Jumla was born in Ardistan in Ispahan, a city for long capital of Iran, in an indigent Sayyid family. He acquired some knowledge of reading and writing which enabled him to secure the job of a clerk under a merchant. This enabled him to come to Golconda, a place famous for diamond mines. By dint of labour and merit he became a diamond merchant. He also engaged himself in maritime commercial ventures, which brought him in contact with international merchants and European trading companies. Later he became wazir of the sultan of Golconda, and conquered the Karnataka country for the sultan. A dispute arose between him and the sultan over the acquisition of Karnataka and Mir Jumla, in quest of safety, established contact with prince Aurangzeb, then viceroy of the Deccan. Mir Jumla accepted service under Shah Jahan, who loaded him with favours and titles.

In the war of succession in the closing years of Shahjahan's reign, Mir Jumla sided with Aurangzeb, and fought against Shuja until the latter was driven out of Bengal to Arakan. Mir Jumla was appointed subahdar of Bengal in 1660. During his viceroyalty in Bengal he led successful campaigns against Cuch Bihar, Kamrup and Assam. On his way back from the Assam campaign Mir Jumla died on a boat off the fort of khizrpur (near modern Narayanganj) on 30 March 1663. Two roads, one towards Tangi, now called Mymensingh Road, the other towards Narayanganj and two bridges, Pagla Bridge on the Narayanganj road and the Tangi Bridge on Turag commemorate Subahdar Mir Jumla.

Amirul Umara Shaista Khan was the son of Asaf Khan (who was son of Mirza Ghias Beg Itimaduddaula and brother of Nur Jahan) and so a maternal uncle of Emperor Auranzeb. Shaista Khan succeeded Mir Jumla as subhadar and arrived at Dhaka in the early part of 1664. Shaista Khan ruled Bengal for two terms with a short break in the middle; his total tenure of office was about 22 years. His gifted sons, buzurg umed khan, Aqidat Khan, Jafar Khan, Abu Nasr Khan and Iradat Khan, each of whom was placed in charge of the different districts, assisted him in his administration. Buzurg Umed Khan conquered Chittagong on behalf of his father in 1666. Shaista Khan is famous for his building activities. A Persian poet himself, he encouraged other poets, particularly Shias of Iranian origin. The next great subahdar of Iranian origin was Ibrahim Khan, son of Ali Mardan Khan. He was old and weak when he came to Bengal, but he had a great passion for reading Persian books. In his time shobha singh, a zamindar, joining with rahim khan, an Afghan leader stirred up a rebellion in Midnapore, Burdwan and Hugli and adjoining areas. ibrahim khan remained inactive, but on the order of the emperor, his son Zabardast Khan took the field and dispersed the rebels, inflicting heavy losses.

After the death of Aurangzeb, in the midst of prevalent chaos in the Mughal empire, Murshid Quli Khan held the reins of government in Bengal with ability and tact. Murshid Quli Khan was not of Iranian blood, but was the son of a Brahmin of south India. He was sold to Haji Shafi, an Iranian officer under the Mughals who brought him up in the Iranian fashion. Like his adopted father he was a Shia and with his elevation to high office, he was surrounded by many of his sect. From his time Shias of Iranian originteachers, physicians, performers, ulama and mashyikh became prominent in important towns and cities of Bengal: Murshidabad, Dhaka, Hugli etc; and this position continued until the end of Muslim rule. Whenever any Iranian officer came to Bengal he was accompanied by a number of his adherents and supporters. In this way people of Iranian origin increased, some made this country their home and settled and died here, while others left for their homes or for northern India.

As a general remark it may be said that in the early part of Muslim rule in Bengal, Iranians came on peaceful pursuits. Some of them may have accepted government office, but they were mostly teachers, ulama, mashayikh, engaged in teaching, spreading learning and education and in other trades and professions. In the Mughal period the Iranian inflow increased; they came on peaceful pursuits, but took a more active part in administration. Many of the subahdars, diwans and other officials and many in the armed services belonged to Iran or were of Iranian origin. [Abdul Karim]

Bibliography JN Sarkar, (ed), History of Bengal, II, Dhaka, 1948; Abdul Karim, Social History of the Muslims in Bengal, Dhaka, 1959; Murshid Quli Khan and His Times, Dhaka, 1964 and History of Bengal (Mughal period), I, II, Rajshahi, 1992, 1995.