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Islam Khan Chisti


Islam Khan Chisti (1608-1613) a Mughal subahdar in Bengal for more than five years. His name was Shaikh Alauddin Chisti, and Islam Khan was a title given by Emperor jahangir. A son of Shaikh Badruddin Chisti and grandson of Shaikh Salim Chisti of Fatehpur Sikri, Islam Khan was a playmate of Prince Salim (when the prince was in the khanqah of Salim Chisti).

As a subahdar of Bengal, Islam Khan won great fame because he succeeded, where his famous predecessors had failed, in subjugating and bringing the whole of Bengal, except Chittagong, under Mughal control. Between 1576 and 1605, akbar had sent about a dozen accomplished military chiefs to subjugate Bengal, but could occupy only a portion centering round the capital city of tanda. Many Rajas, Bhuiyans (Bhuiyans), zamindars and Afghan chiefs then parcelled out Bengal among themselves. Sometimes some of them submitted to the Mughal invading army, but as soon as the invaders withdrew to the capital, the subjugated chiefs behaved as independently as before. So it devolved upon Jahangir to fulfil his father's wishes. Jahangir's first few subahdars also could not do well, so he selected the young and energetic Islam Khan to accomplish the task of subjugating Bengal and sent him there as subahdar in 1608.

Islam Khan, then only 38, apparently had no military training, though it may be assumed that, having been born of a noble family, he received the formal education available to Muslims in those days. Prior to his coming to Bengal he was subahdar of Bihar. On receiving the appointment, he soon moved to rajmahal, then capital of Bengal. He studied the geopolitics of Bengal very carefully and prepared his future plan of action with the help of imperial veterans. He realised that a well-equipped, well-trained, loyal and dutiful armed force was needed to establish Mughal authority in the rebellious province of Bengal. It occurred to him that the chief obstacle to the Mughal conquest of Bengal was the Bhati of the bara-bhuiyans and the Afghans under Khwaja Usman and his brothers.

The Afghans took possession of Bukainagar. So Islam Khan planned to march against the Bara-Bhuiyans first. He felt that the effective means of warfare in the low-lying, riverine Bhati area was a strong fleet of war-boats. So he decided and planned to reorganise and strengthen the navy. He also realised that the capital city of Rajmahal, situated in the western corner of the province, was far away from the troublous area of eastern Bengal. So he transferred the capital from Rajmahal to Dhaka, a centrally located place in the heart of the Bhati area and well connected through rivers with the headquarters of the Bara-Bhuiyans.

Islam Khan received support from the emperor in reorganising the army and navy. The emperor appointed Ihtimam Khan as mir-i-bahr (admiral) and Mutaqid Khan as diwan. Both these officers were experienced and trained in their respective departments, and Islam Khan received unstinted support from them. He came out of Rajmahal and proceeded to Ghoraghat on the way to the Bhati region, at the same time making sure that his rear was safe. He sent his personal officer Shaikh Kamal to invade the three southwestern kingdoms of Bishnupur, Pachet and Hijli and force them to submit. Raja pratapaditya, a rich and powerful landlord of Jessore, saw Islam Khan on his way to Ghaoraghat and offered submission. Raja Satrajit of Bhusna also submitted to the subahdar and accepted imperial service. Islam Khan also sent an army against the refractory zamindars of northwest Bengal. The zamindars and chiefs around him were overawed and there was no chance of any conspiracy against him. Thus he not only kept his rear safe, but his communication with the capital also was free from danger.

Islam Khan came out of Rajmahal in December 1608, reached Ghoraghat in June 1609, passed the rainy season there and in October proceeded towards the Bhati area. He spent the first few months of 1610 fighting against the Bara Bhuiyans before reaching Dhaka in about June-July of the same year. The Bara-Bhuiyans under their leader musa khan, son of isa khan, fought gallantly; they fought at every fort, at every strategic point, but failed. Islam Khan occupied Dhaka, made it his capital and renamed it Jahangirnagar after the name of the emperor. The Bhuiyans were not subdued; they fortified their positions on both sides of the Lakhya River. Islam Khan did not spare them any relief, but after fortifying Dhaka sent expeditions against all stations of the Bhuiyans and before the end of 1611 all the Bara-Bhuiyans including their chief Musa Khan submitted to Islam Khan. The subahdar also defeated Pratapaditya of Jessore, Ram Chandra of Bakla and Ananta Manikya of Bhulua and brought their kingdoms under his control.

He then gave his attention to Khwaja Usman and defeated the Afghans under him at Bokainagar. The Afghans fled to Uhar (in Maulvibazar) and continued their stubborn resistance. On Islam Khan's request, the emperor sent Shujaat Khan to lead the army against Usman. The Afghans fought gallantly and the daylong battle was going to be indecisive, but the sudden death of Usman gave the Mughals an unexpected victory. The Afghans fled under the cover of darkness but later submitted. There was another group of Afghans under Bayazid Karrani at Sylhet. They were also made to submit. Thus the whole of Bengal came under Mughal control, the southeastern frontier being fixed at the river Feni, beyond which lay the kingdom of Arakan.

Then Islam Khan turned his attention to the kingdoms of Kuch Bihar, kamarupa and Kachhar. Raja Laksmi Narayan of Kuch Bihar was always friendly to the Mughals, but Raja Pariksit Narayan put up stubborn resistance against the Mughal advance. After a long-drawn battle, he was made to submit and brought to Dhaka. Later he was sent to the imperial court and Kamarupa was annexed to the Mughal empire. Being defeated the king of Kachhar also was compelled to make peace with the Mughals.

Islam Khan succeeded in subjugating the whole of Bengal and annexing the frontier kingdom of Kamraupa. He defeated the enemies one by one and did not allow them to unite. His policy was to divide and rule, ie to set the Bhuiyans and chiefs one against the other. He implemented this policy very successfully. He did not allow the defeated zamindars, Bhuiyans and chiefs to go back to their respective territories, though their territories were returned to them, they were forced to join the Mughal army and their war-boats were confiscated. Joining the Mughal army, they had to fight against their fellow zamindars and Bhuiyans. So by careful planning and sustained efforts, Islam Khan achieved success and successfully performed the duties and responsibilities reposed on him by the emperor. What the renowned Mughal generals of Akbar could not do in thirty-two years after the fall of daud karrani, Islam Khan accomplished in less than five years. After this, the Bhuiyans, zamindars and Afghan chiefs could not raise their heads again, Afghan power was annihilated and the Bhuiyans, zamindars and local rajas were obliged to be zamindars under the Mughals.

The transfer of the capital to Dhaka was yet another achievement of Islam Khan. He was the first subahdar who realised the strategic importance of eastern Bengal to the Mughals, which is why he transferred the capital to the heart of that region. It is not an exaggeration to say that it was Islam Khan who really conquered Bengal for the Mughals. He organised a uniform administrative system and established peace in the country. He may, therefore, be regarded as one of the makers of the Mughal Empire and the greatest subahdar of the province of Bengal. The emperor also recognised his merit and showered praises upon him on hearing the news of his death. After successfully ruling the province for a little more than five years, Islam Khan died at Bhawal about 25 miles north of Dhaka towards the end of 1613. He was first buried at Badshahi Bagh (old High Court premises), Dhaka, but later his coffin was taken to Fatehpur Sikri and laid to eternal rest by the side of his illustrious grandfather Shaikh Salim Chishti. [Abdul Karim]

Bibliography JN Sarkar, (ed), History of Bengal, II, Dhaka, 1948; H Beveridge and A Rogers (tr), Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri, 2nd edn, Delhi, 1968; Abdul Karim, History of Bengal, Mughal Period, I, Rajshahi, 1992.