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Musa Khan


Musa Khan Masnad-i-Ala' ruler of Bhati. He succeeded his father isa khan Masnad-i-Ala to the masnad of Sonargaon in 1599, and inherited a vast territory comprising about a half of modern greater Dhaka and Comilla districts, almost the whole of greater Mymensingh district, and perhaps some portions of the greater districts of Rangpur, Bogra and Pabna. He continued his father's policy of unrelenting hostility to the Mughals, and openly fought for maintaining his supremacy over the Bhati.

Isa Khan though initiated a league of the neighbouring Bhuyans (zamindars) to resist the onrush of the Mughals, his main strength rested on the rebel Afghan chiefs with whom he forged an anti-Mughal confederacy. But with the gradual disintegration and decline of Afghan strength in Bengal Musa Khan had to change his strategy, and he very prudently organized the Bengal bhuyans in a more effective way, and perhaps also infused in them a feeling of regional affinity thereby creating an intimate association among the ruling gentries. The bhuyans in league with him though popularly known as bara- bhuyanS (twelve zamindars), they were actually more in number.

Musa Khan possessed a formidable fleet of war-boats, and this aided by the fleets of his confederates, the bhuyans, enabled him to fight the Mughal imperialists for nearly a decade in the reverie region of Bhati. The centre of Musa Khan's political authority was the strategic region southeast of modern Dhaka, where the Padma, the Sitalakshya, the Brahmaputra and the Meghna formerly met. Musa Khan's fort at Khizrpur stood nearly the confluence of the Dulai and the Sitalakshya, commanding the only water route to Dhaka from this side. Opposite Khizrpur on the river Sitalakshya stood Katrabo, his fortified family residence, and opposite modern Narayanganj stood Kadam Rasul, another fortified post of Musa Khan. His capital city of Sonargaon was also strongly fortified. Another important post of Musa Khan was Jatrapur, about 40 kilometers southwest of Dhaka, which stood at the confluence of the channel where the Padma, the Dhaleswari and the Ichhamati met. It commanded the strategic position of great importance, the Jatrapur route along the Ichhamati being the usual water route from Dhaka to Rajmahal, the then capital of Bengal subah of the Mughal.

During the early years of Musa Khan's reign, his territory remained almost immune from Mughal aggression. Though since 1601 Musa Khan had been harbouring the Afghan rebels consequent upon his league with the Afghan chief Daud, son of Qutlu Khan's late wazir, and also helping the other Afghan chiefs in their struggle against the Mughals, he was not found to enter into any serious direct encounter against the imperialists. It was not until 1608 that Musa Khan was engaged in prolonged war against Mughal aggression.'

At the closing of rainy season of 1608, Mughal viceroy islam khan started on his Bhati campaign with a large army supported by artillery and a fleet of 295 war-boats. Having intelligence of the campaign, Musa Khan sent messages to the allied zamindars to obstruct the advance of the Mughal army by surprise attack, and wherever possible face them collectively.

From his camp in pargana Gaur, Islam Khan dispatched a force of 2000 cavalry and 4000 infantry under the command of Shaykh Kamal to subdue Bir Hamir, zamindar of Birbhum, Shams Khan, zamindar of Pachet, and Salim Khan, zamindar of Hijli, who were however forced to submit to the Mughal general. Raja Satrajit of Bhushana was also compelled to offer submission to the Mughal general Iftikhar Khan (1609 AD). Mirza Nathan was sent against Mirza Mumin, Dariya Khan, and Madhab Rai, who made a combined attack on the imperial pargana of Sonabazu. At the news of the approach of imperial army, the associates of Musa Khan left their new stronghold at Sonabazu and retired to Sonargaon.

At the approach of the rains, Tuqmaq Khan in his jagir in Shahjadpur on the bank of the Karatoya, was suddenly attacked by the local zamindar Raja Rai, and was besieged in the fort of Shahjadpur. After a siege for three days Raja Rai was compelled to withdraw. Another imperial officer, Mirak Bahadur Jalayer, had to face a more severe and organized attack on his jagir of Chandpratap (in Manikganj district) made by the local zamindar Binode Rai aided by three other zamindars, Mirza Mumin, Dariya Khan and Madhab Rai. The object of the zamindars was to liberate Chandpratap and thereby to put an impediment on the way of the imperialists in their advance towards Bhati. Musa's allies besieged the fort of Chandpratap so effectively that it was about to fall. At such a juncture, Mughal jagirdar Tuqmaq Khan hastened from Shahjadpur to the rescue of Mirak Bahadur, whereupon the besiegers were compelled to withdraw.

By this time Islam Khan made preparation for launching direct attack on Musa Khan. He, with the main army and the fleet, proceeded from Boalia (Balia), about 16 kilometers southeast of Shahjadpur, and reached a strategic point near the confluence of the three rivers, the Padma, the Ichhamati, and the Dhaleswari, which may roughly be identified with great confluence of' rivers at Jafarganj, and entrenched on the bank of the Padma. The immediate objective of Islam Khan was the capture of the almost impregnable stronghold of Musa Khan at Jatrapur. Islam Khan advanced with the land army from Jafarganj towards Jatrapur by making block-houses all along the route, while the fleet moved down the Ichhamati under cover of these block-houses and the protection of the land army, and made a combined assault on Jatrapur fort. Earlier, Musa Khan placed three of his ablest lieutenants, Miza Mumin, Dariya Khan and Madhav Rai, to defend the fort at Jatrapur. Musa Khan, with his allies on 700 war-boats, hastened along the Ichhamati, and launched an immediate attack on the enemy entrenchments on the bank of the Padma.

At the end of the day's fight, Musa Khan with an object of strengthening his line of defence launched the erection of a big fort at a strategic point on the bank of the Ichhamati, named Dakchar, five kilometers nortwest of Jatrapur. In one night, a high mud fort was raised with a deep moat around, and with bamboo spikes fixed into the ground all around the moat. Next morning, Musa Khan resumed his assault on the imperialists from this new fort. In the beginning, Musa Khan's artillery wrought great havoc on the enemy. Islam Khan was then taking his meal. The first shot destroyed all the utensils and crockery, and killed almost 30 of his table attendants, while the second one scattered his standard bearer mounted on an elephant. The imperialists soon rallied and began a vigorous counter attack. The artillery continued firing from the high bank of the river killing among others a son of Madhab Rai and a brother of Binode Rai, and wounding many a men on Musa Khan's war-boats and sinking a few of them.

Next morning the fighting was more severe and prolonged. Repeated attempts were made to break into the Mughal entrenchments, and severe hand to hand fight ensued. At the time of the third assault, the Mughals gained the upper hand with the result that a large number of Musa Khan's soldiers were either drowned or trampled to death by the war-elephants. Musa Khan was forced to withdraw to his strongholds of Dakchar and Jatrapur.

Islam Khan's repeated attempts to take the fort of Jatrapur having failed he planned a new strategy. He continued his attack on the fort of Dakchar, and thus holding Musa Khan engaged in defending this fort, made a sudden night attack on the fort of Jatrapur. The imperial forces on war-boats and on elephants managed to cross the Ichhamati at dead of night and launched a vigorous assault on the fort of Jatrapur. After some fighting Musa Khan evacuated the fort which was promptly occupied by the enemy (c. early in June 1610).

Islam Khan now concentrated all his energies on the capture of the fort of Dakchar. But this proved to be a very formidable task because of the strong natural defences of the fort having been surrounded by low lying marshy land on three sides and river on the other. The attempts of the imperialists having failed to make passage of their war-boats, they managed to push them in at night by excavating a dried up canal. The imperial fleet forced its way to the Ichhamati through this canal. But all the efforts of the invaders failed even to approach the vicinity of the fort, rather sustained heavy losses in their course of operations. The guns from the turrets of the fort poured forth unremitting fire, while the artillery in the Musa Khan's war-boats on the river Padma proved equally effective. The imperialists then took resort to highly concentrated effort secretly to approach the fort at night. They selected the most vulnerable side of the moat where the mud and mire was least thick, and the infantry, in the face of incessant firing from the fort and from the war-boats of Musa Khan, began to move forward in darkness under the cover of their shields. In the venture, the imperial army sustained heavy casualty. They then carried the wagons (gardunha) generally used to be arranged as a sort of moving bridge on the war-boats, and used them as the back support of an artificial barrier made of heaps of straw mixed with mud, under cover of which the troops reached the environs of the fort-wall. The imperialists just before dawn broke down the rampart and entered the fort of Dakchar after a siege of more than a month (c15 July 1610). After the fall of the two fortresses, Jatrapur and Dakchar, Musa Khan lost his line of advance defence and retreated to Sonargaon.

Islam Khan's next move was to make direct assault on Musa Khan's capital, Sonargaon. He with his fleet, artillery and land force soon reached Dhaka (end of July 1610), settled a fresh plan of military operations and posted his officers at different strategic points. The news of the imperial preparations put Musa Khan also in action, and he made sufficient arrangement for the second trial. Leaving his capital in charge of Haji Shamsuddin Baghdadi, Musa Khan came out to fight making the Sitalakshya his main line of defence. He took post at a central strategic point at the mouth of the Bandar canal. Of the two earthwork forts, one on each side of the canal, Musa Khan with Mirza Mumin held one while his cousin Alaul Khan guarded the other. Of his brothers, Abdullah Khan was placed in charge of the fortified post at Kadam Rasul, Daud Khan in charge of Katrabo, Mahmud Khan in charge of another post at the point where the Dulai joined the Sitalakshya at demra, while Bahadur Ghazi was stationed with 200 war-boats further up the Sitalakshya, near his ancestral residence Chaura. Only a few outposts were retained at Sripur and Vikrampur, and the majority of the forces were concentrated on the several strategic posts on the left bank of the river. It appears that Khizrpur, at the confluence of the Dulai with the Sitalakshya, was voluntarily evacuated by Musa Khan.

Islam Khan strictly confined himself to the right bank of the Sitalakshya. He strongly fortified Khizrpur and made it the base of his war-boats and artillery. Mirza Nathan started the campaign (c.12 March 1611) with a night attack on Daud Khan's post at Katrabo. Initially at dead of night, a selected force of 140 cavalry and 300 soldiers on horse back and Mirza Nathan with his force on elephants, managed to swim across the river, and launched an attack on the post of Daud Khan. After a hotly contested hand to hand fight Daud Khan was compelled to evacuate the fort and retreat to Musa Khan.

Mughal admiral Ihtimam Khan came out with the entire fleet from the river Dulai into the Sitalakshya, and attacked Kadam Rasul post. Mirza Nathan hurried to the help of Ihtimam Khan with his war-boats and a large number of infantry, cavalry, gunners and archers. Unable to withstand this sudden assault, Abdullah Khan vacated Kadam Rasul. Mirza Nathan launched a sudden attack on Musa Khan's two new fortifications near the mouth of the Bandar canal. Musa Khan, taken by surprise, evacuated the fort without resistance. Mirza Mumin with some of his cavalry forces crossed the Bandar canal and followed Musa Khan. Mirza Nathan then easily forded the canal and captured the other fort under Alaul Khan.

These successive defeats so thoroughly unnerved Musa Khan that he thought it unsafe to stay even in his capital. He evacuated the city of Sonargoan and retreated to the island (char) of Ibrahimpur. Haji Shamsuddin Baghdadi, the officer in charge of Sonargaon, then submitted to Islam Khan, and formally handed over the city to him (c. middle of April 1611)

The fall of his capital city broke the back of opposition of Musa Khan and symbolised his final acknowledgement of failure, though he made a few desperate attempts to recover the lost ground. But fresh reverses only served to hasten his final surrender.

From his Island refuge at Ibrahimpur, Musa Khan opened negotiations for peace through the Mughal general Shaykh Kamal, and ultimately tendered submission to Islam Khan with his brothers and confederates. Musa Khan and his family members were kept in strict surveillance and restraint at Jahangirnagar. Musa Khan and his confederates were only nominally given back their estates as jagirs, but were actually deprived of them and compelled to render personal service in the ranks of the imperialists. Their territory were occupied and their armed forces probably disbanded, their war-boats were all seized and used as auxiliary to the imperial fleet.

Musa Khan, along with other zamindars, were restored to liberty in 1618 AD (middle of March) by Mughal viceroy ibrahim khan fath-i-jang who adopted a conciliatory policy with regard to the prominent zamindars headed by Musa Khan. Musa Khan then displayed faithfulness in serving the Mughal government in Bengal, distinguishing himself especially in the conquest of Tripura and in suppressing the rebellion of Madhusudan, a nephew of Raja Lakshmi Narayan of Kamrupa, and bringing him to terms (1618).

Musa Khan died in Dhaka sometime in April 1623 as the result of a serious and long continued illness. He is laid buried in the Bagh-i-Musa Khan, close to Musa Khan Masjid, now situated within the Shahidullah Hall compound of Dhaka University. [Muazzam Hussain Khan]

Bibliography Muazzam Hussain Khan, Thousand Years of Sonarganw, Dhaka, 2009