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Jagat Sheth


Jagat Sheth meaning the 'Banker of the World', was a title conferred on Fateh Chand, a very rich banker in Bengal in the first half of the eighteenth century. The founder of the house of Jagat Sheth was Manik Chand who came to Dhaka from Patna in the early eighteenth century and established a trading firm. When murshid quli khan, the diwan of Bengal transferred his capital to Murshidabad, Manik Chand moved with him to the new capital. In Murshidabad he was a favorite of the nawab and eventually became the latter's banker and financial adviser. Emperor farruk siyar, soon after his accession to the throne of Delhi in 1712, honoured Manik Chand with the title of Nagar Sheth (Banker of the city). Manik Chand died in 1714 and under Fateh Chand, his nephew, adopted son and successor the house achieved real greatness.

The title of Jagat Sheth, bestowed on Fateh Chand by emperor Mahmood Shah in 1723, is a testimony to the unique position acquired by his banking house in the country. It had branches in the important cities of Bengal and northern India, including Dhaka, Patna, and Delhi, and its headquarters in Murshidabad. There are references in contemporary records to the east india company's transactions with the house of Jagat Sheth; these had to do with loans, repayment of loans, sale and purchase of bullion, etc. robert orme writes that this Hindu merchant family was the wealthiest in the Mughal empire and its head had tremendous influence on the Murshidabad government. He stood security for the largest number of zamindars while his agents advanced loans to traders. He knew better than anyone else what was going on in the realm and his assistance was necessary in every emergency expenditure.

The transactions of this firm have been compared with those of the Bank of England. It performed for the government of Bengal many of the functions that the Bank of England did for the British Government in the eighteenth century. Its sources of income were manifold. It was the receiver of revenue and the treasurer of the government. The zamindars paid their revenue through this house and the nawab, again, remitted the annual payment to Delhi through it. It minted coins and purchased much of the foreign bullion imported into Bengal thereby adding considerably to its annual income.

After Fateh Chand his grandson Mahtab Chand succeeded to the title in 1744. He and his cousin Maharaja Swarup Chand enjoyed great influence during the time of alivardi khan. Alivardi's successor sirajuddaula alienated them who ultimately conspired against him with the English and helped them with large funds before and after Palashi. The people of Bengal believe that the money of Jagat Sheth together with the sword of the English brought about the fall of Muslim power in Bengal. They continued to enjoy power and influence during the nawabi of mir jafar, but earned the displeasure of his successor mir qasim who ordered the assassination of two of the leading Sheth Brothers in 1763. This event followed by the transfer of power from the nawab to the company led to the beginning of the decline and fall of the house from the late eighteenth century.

In recognition of the services of the Jagat Sheths, their house remained for several years the company's banker. But when the treasury was transferred from Murshidabad to Calcutta in 1773, this function ceased. The family still had preferential rates for minting coins at Murshidabad, but their wealth had diminished so much since the time of their fathers that they could not make full use of this privilege. Still, the successors of Mahtab Chand enjoyed the title of 'Jagat Sheth' for six generations, the last being Fateh Chand, who inherited the title in 1912. After his death his heir did not assume it. [KM Mohsin]