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Murshid Quli Khan


Murshid Quli Khan founder of the nawabi regime in Bengal. Murshid Quli Khan began his career in Bengal as the provincial diwan and ended as the nazim or governor of Bengal and Orissa, diwan of Bihar and faujdar of several districts, occupying all posts at the same time in the early 18th century.

Murshid Quli Khan

About his family and parenthood nothing is known for certain. Murshid Quli Khan was by birth a Brahman. He was sold to Haji Shafi of Ispahan, formerly a high-ranking Mughal officer, made him a Muslim with the name of Muhammad Hadi, brought him up like a son and took him to Persia with paternal affection and gave him useful education. Shafi Khan became Diwan-i-tan of the empire of Delhi in 1668 and again in 1689, retiring in February 1690. In the interval he had been diwan of Bengal. Thus Hadi learnt the work of diwani department by practice under the best of masters.

After Haji Shafi’s death, he came back to India, entered the Mughal service as diwan of Haidarabad and faujdar of Golkonda (1698) and received a mansab or rank. When aurangzeb was looking for an honest and efficient diwan for Bengal, his choice fell on this young man. He was transferred in 1701 to Bengal as diwan and was honoured with the title of Kartalab Khan.

In 23rd December 1702 he was given the title of Murshid Quli Khan. The emperor also allowed him to rename Makhsusabad as murshidabad after his new title. Thus muhammad Hadi had forced himself up to the second highest place in the richest province of the Empire by sheer merit and in a very short time. Although he was not officially either subahdar or deputy subahdar of Bengal before 1713, his power was indisputable from the outset. As diwan he was the supreme head of the revenue administration in the province; in addition to which as faujdar of Maksudabad, Midnapur, Bardwan (1701) and later of Hugli, with his nominee in Sylhet, he exercised the executive function of a district magistrate and criminal judge over half the province. At the beginning of eighteenth century, the far-flung and never ending warfare in which Aurangzib had been engaged for the twenty years past had reduced the royal family, court and army to starvation. Salaries, both civil and military, had fallen into arrears for full three years, and the grain- dealers in the Deccan camp had refused further credit. On such a background the regular flow of one kror of rupees every year from Bengal which began in 1702 under Murshid quli's management of the finances, made the new diwan appear as a life- saving angel in the eyes of the Emperor. Murshid Quli enjoyed supreme influence with the imperial government during Aurangzib's time. He was then a commander of 1500 in normal rank (zat Mansab), and neither subahdar nor deputy subahdar of Bengal. In 1707, Murshid Quli had been made deputy governor of Bengal. Farrukh Siyar replaced him as naib nazim of Bengal. He was transferred as diwan to the Deccan, and kept out of Bengal for full two years, 1708 and 1709. Ziaullah the diwan of Bengal was killed in 1710 and the diwanship was conferred on Murshid Quli with the high rank of a 3-hazari zat (2000 troopers) and the honour of kettledrums. He was recalled within a couple of years in 1710. In 1713, and became the deputy subahdar, first on behalf of Farkhunda Siyar, the infant son of farrukh siyar, and then, after his death, of the absentee subahdar who was entitled mir jumla. In 1717 Murshid Quli Khan was formally appointed subahdar of Bengal. He transferred the capital of the province from Dhaka to Murshidabad in 1717. He was given title, Mutaman-ul-Mulk Ala-ud-daula Jafar Khan Bahadur, Nasiri, Nasir Jang and continued at the post till his death on 30th June 1727.

In Murshid Quli Khan's time Bengal's internal and international trade grew enormously. Arab, Persian and Armenian merchants were very active in Bengal. From the 17th century European companies were prepared with ready money to buy any amount of Bengal goods, particularly cotton and silk and their by-products. They imported gold and silver bullion and thus the country earned good profits. Along with the traders of goods, the traders in coins, the Sahus or moneychangers and moneylenders, banians or brokers, also did brisk business. There were many such moneylenders, but among them jagat sheth became very prominent. Murshid Quli Khan was aware of the importance of trade and encouraged traders and companies in fair trade but punished unfair traders very severely.

In 1722 he made a fresh revenue settlement that improved upon the settlements made earlier by Todar Mal and shah shuja. Through revenue officers he ascertained the production capability of land and thus increased the imperial revenues. He created some new and big zamindaries. In his times, generally the Hindus were preferred as zamindars, because he thought that it was easy to collect revenue from them. Murshid Quli Khan adopted a twofold plan for increasing the revenue, first, to turn all the officers' jagirs in Bengal into Khalsa, directly under the Crown collectors, and give the dispossessed officers in exchange jagirs in the unsubdued province of Orissa. Secondly, to give contracts for the collection of the land revenue (the Ijara system). He began to collect the land revenue through Ijaradars, by taking security bond from them. This was his malzamini system. In the second or third generation, those contractors came to be called zamindars and many of them were dignified with the title of Rajas and Maharajas. He thus created a new landed aristocracy in Bengal. He divided the entire land into thirteen Chaklas (circle), which were subdivided into thirteen tracts under collection by jagirdars and twenty five areas reserved as khalsa (crownland) farmed out to contractors.

Murshid Quli Khan did not allow the east india company to purchase more villages around calcutta even after the company's receipt of the imperial farman. Murshid Quli Khan was also a good builder. Kartalab Khan's Mosque (Begum Bazar Mosque) at Dhaka and the Murshidabad mosque built by him bear his name. Being a Muslim he used to copy the Holy Quran for distribution to the holy places. In religious belief he was a Shia. [Abdul Karim]

Bibliography G H Salim, The Riaz-us-Salatin, (Eng. translation of Abdus Salam), Calcutta, 1904; JN Sarkar (ed.), The History of Bengal, vol. II, Dhaka, 1948; Abdul Karim, Murshid Quli Khan and His Times, Dhaka, 1963.