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Ruknuddin Barbak Shah


Ruknuddin Barbak Shah (1459-1474) sultan of Bengal of the Later Iliyas Shahi dynasty. He succeeded his father, nasiruddin mahmud shah, in 864 AH/1459 AD. Prior to his accession to the throne he served as governor of satgaon.

The inflow of Muslims from abroad and their settlement in Bengal continued during Barbak Shah's reign. The most notable example of this process was the arrival of shah ismail ghazi with one hundred and twenty associates. After his arrival at lakhnauti, Shah Ismail was able to draw the attention of the sultan and gain his favour by successfully constructing a bridge over the Chutia Putia river.

Ruknuddin Barbak Shah's reign witnessed an all-round expansion of his sultanate. According to the risalat-us-shuhada, the sultan sent Shah Ismail Ghazi against Gajapati, the rebel Raja of Mandaran who was defeated, taken prisoner and beheaded. An army under Shah Ismail was also sent against Kameswar, the Raja of kamarupa. Though Ismail Ghazi suffered defeat in the battle his saintly character overwhelmed the Raja who surrendered voluntarily to him and embraced Islam. The Raja agreed to pay tribute and withdrew from Muslim territory, and as a result Bengal's northeastern frontier ran along the Karatoya river.

The fort of Hajipur and its adjoining areas, which once formed a part of iliyas shah's sultanate were now included in the Sharqi Kingdom of Jaunpur. Barbak Shah, with the help of Afghan veterans, invaded Tirhut in 875 AH and established effective authority over the fort of Hajipur and its adjoining areas. With this new acquisition, his political authority extended up to the Buri Gandak river in the north. The Hatkhola inscription, found in Sylhet, indicates that Sylhet continued to be under Barbak Shah's jurisdiction. It is also evident from the Mirzaganj inscription that the Bakerganj area was also included in his sultanate. Towards the end of his reign Barbak Shah's authority was also re-established in Chittagong. Most of the regions of north, east, south and southeast and west Bengal, and parts of Bihar were included in his sultanate.

Barbak Shah is known to have recruited about eight thousand Abyssinian slaves and employed them in the army and in various key posts of the state. This influx of a large number of Abyssinians had a far-reaching effect in Bengal history.

A good administrator and a lover of justice, Barbak Shah was tolerant and benevolent. During his reign, along with the Muslims, the Hindus played a prominent part in the civil and military administration of the Sultanate. Krttivas mentions the following Hindu officers and courtiers of Barbak Shah- Kedar Rai, Narayan Das, Jagadananda Rai, Sunanda, Gandharva Rai, Tarani, Sundar and Mukunda.

Barbak Shah, himself a learned man, was a patron of scholars and poets, both Muslim and Hindus. He claimed himself to be a Fazil and Kamil and showed great interest in Bengali literature. Under his patronage jainuddin wrote his Rasul Vijaya and Ibrahim Qawam Faruqi composed a Persian lexicon Farhang-i-Ibrahim, better known as sharafnamah, which contains the names of a few scholars and poets of the time. Amir Zainuddin Harwi, Amir Shihabuddin Hakim Kirmani, Mansur Shiraji, Malik Yusuf bin Hamid, Sayyid Jalal, Sayyid Muhammad Rukn, Sayyid Hasan and Shaikh Wahed were among the Muslim celebrities. Among the most noted Hindu scholars receiving Barbak Shah's favour were Raimukuta Brhaspati Mishra, maladhar basu and Krttivas Ojha. Barbak Shah honoured the poet Maladhar Basu and his son with the titles of Gunaraj Khan and Satyaraj Khan respectively. He also honored one Kuladhar with the title of Satya Khan and Shuvaraj Khan.

A great builder, Barbak Shah built a number of mosques at Gaur and Deotala. A just, liberal, learned, wise and deeply religious king, Barbak Shah died in 879 AH/1474 AD. [ABM Shamsuddin Ahmed]