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Jagat Sheth Family


Jagat Sheth Family Jagat means world and Sheth means banker. Jagat Sheth means 'banker of the world'. It was a hereditary imperial title conferred on Manik Chand the founder of the family. The Jagat Sheth family ruled the financial world of dhaka and murshidabad until institutional banking system was established in the last quarter of the eighteenth century. Manik Chand, the founder of the family, migrated from Patna in the last decade of the seventeenth century and settled in Dhaka and became a banker to the government. When Murshid Quli Khan, the diwan of Bengal transferred his khalasa or revenue daftar to Murshidabad (1704), Manik Chand shifted his establishments to Murshidabad and became his chief financial advisor and banker. Soon Manik Chand turned out to be the sole banker to the government. In 1712, Murshid Quli Khan procured for him the title of Nagar Sheth (banker of the city) from the Emperor farrukh siyar.' Manik Chand died in 1714. His nephew Fateh Chand, who was previously adopted as a son, became the chief of the family firm. It was Fateh Chand raised the status of the family firm to all India level. The hundis issued by Fateh Chand were honoured at sight in all parts of India. Fateh Chand's greatness as a financial wizard and his trans-regional influence as a banker earned for him the title of Jagat Sheth (banker of the world) from Emperor Mahmud Shah in 1723. The title of Jagat Sheth, bestowed on Fateh Chand by the emperor is a testimony to the unique position acquired by his banking house in Bengal and beyond. The house of Jagat Sheth with its headquarters at Murshidabad had its banking branches in all the important cities of Bengal and northern India, including Dhaka, Patna, Delhi, and Surat.

Raghunandan, Murshid Quli Khan's darogah of the Mint died in 1718 and since then the Jagat Sheths took the control of the Murshidabad Mint. The currency policy of Bengal was officially controlled by the Jagat Sheths untill 1760. The absolute control over the Murshidabad Mint enabled the Jagath Sheths to control the currency system of the country. There are references in contemporary records to the East India Company's transactions with the house of Jagat Sheth concerning with loans, repayment of loans, sale and purchase of bullion, etc. Robert orme, a contemporary European witness writes that this Hindu merchant family was the wealthiest in the Mughal Empire and the family had tremendous influence on the Murshidabad government. According to him, the Jagat Sheths stood security for the largest number of zamindars and traders, who also received loans from the Jagat Sheths.'

The transactions of this firm have often 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 controlled the Murshidabad Mint and purchased bullions imported into Bengal by the European traders and turned them into coins at the Murshidabad mint.

Mahtab Chand, the grandson of Fateh Chand, succeeded to the title in 1744. His cousin Maharaja Swarup Chand became one of the principal nobles at the court of Nawab alivardi khan. Being encouraged by the East India Company merchants, both Mahtab Chand and Swarup Chand became quite hostile to Nawab Sirajuddaila and eventually they silently sided with the company when Sirajuddaula came to a headlong conflict with the company. There is evidence that the Jagat Sheths conspired against the nawab and gave large scale 'loans' to the company to enable the company to take the risk of going to war against Sirajuddaula. No doubt that the battle of palashi was enacted by the company largely with the help of the Jagat Sheths. As the politics went on after 1757, the Jagat Sheths became the de-facto nawab of the country. mir Jafar, the company-made nawab became totally dependent on the Jagat Sheths. Obviously, nawab mir qasim, who tried to restore the Mughal rule, first expelled the Jagath Sheths from his court, and later enacted the assassination of both the Jagat Sheth brothers in 1763. The decline and fall of the house became inevitable when the east india company acquired diwani of Bengal, Behar and orissa in 1765. The rise of the company as a territorial power became inconsistent with the continuation of power and influence of the Jagat Sheths. The rise of the European Agency Houses in the 1780s and 1790s made the traditional banking at state level unnecessary and thus the banking family of the Jagat Sheths, which played so significant role in the late Mughal polity in Bengal, got lost in terms of financial power and influence from the 1780s. [Sirajul Islam]