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Turks, The


Turks, The a Central Asian race. They first came to Bengal in the beginning of the thirteenth century along with bakhtiyar khalji. Bakhtiyar and other Turks came out of their homeland in search of fortune. After establishing Muslim suzerainty over gaur (which was given the name of lakhnauti) and adjacent territories, Bakhtiyar, for better administration of his possession, divided it into a number of iqtas and placed them under his three lieutenants, ali mardan khalji, Muhammad shiran khalji and Husamuddin iwaz khalji. He took steps to build and encourage Muslim society by establishing mosques for prayer, madrasas for imparting education and khanqahs for the esoteric exercises of mystics. The death of Bakhtiyar was followed by internal feud among his Khalji nobles, Shiran, Ali Mardan and Iwaz holding power one after another. Of these Khalji Maliks Iwaz was the most successful. He was cool, calculating, shrewd and sagacious. On assumption of sovereignty' in 1212 AD, he took the title of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Iwaz Khalji and undertook welfare activities like the construction of a highway and flood control. For strategic reasons he built a fort and organised a flotilla of war boats.

During the Khalji rule in Bengal, the Ilbari Turks held sway in Delhi. They did not look upon the sovereignty of the Khaljis at Lakhnauti with favour. Sultan Shamsuddin iltutmish of Delhi, an Ilbari Turk, did not tolerate the independence of Lakhnauti. He suppressed Iwaz Khalji in 1227 AD and Lakhnauti was made a province of the Delhi Sultanate. The Khaljis could not regain their power, and the Ilbaris of Delhi ruled Lakhnauti for the next sixty years. After the death of Iltutmish in 1236 AD, the Turkish nobles became powerful and they played the role of kingmakers. The governors of Bengal, sent from Delhi, belonged to the Turkish nobility. They were all ambitious persons, and sometimes fought among themselves for occupying the seat of Lakhnauti. The result was that the expansion of the Muslim Kingdom of Lakhnauti was halted. Taking advantage of the chaos that followed the death of the Delhi Sultan ghiyasuddin balban (1287), the Khaljis under Jalaluddin Firuz Khalji occupied the throne of Delhi in 1290 AD. In Bengal Balban's son, bugra khan assumed independence and took the title of Sultan Nasiruddin Mahmud. So in Delhi the Ilbari Turks lost power and the Khaljis took over, and in Bengal the Ilbaris established their power.

In the period between 1290 and 1324 the Muslim kingdom in Bengal witnessed expansion into the regions of satgaon, sonargaon, Mymensingh and Sylhet. In 1324 Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq, sultan of Delhi, invaded and captured Lakhnauti. The Tughlaq (Qaraunah Turks) rule in Bengal continued up to 1338, when fakhruddin mubarak shah assumed independence at Sonargaon. Taking advantage of the preoccupations of Sultan muhammad bin tughlaq in other parts of the Delhi empire, Lakhnauti also became independent under Sultan Alauddin Ali Mubarak and ultimately Haji Iliyas, another Turkish adventurer from Sijistan, occupied the throne of Lakhnauti and took the title of Sultan Shamsuddin iliyas shah.

With Iliyas' assumption of sovereignty, Turkish rule in Bengal entered into a new phase. Iliyas Shah united the whole of Bengal under him, and turned the kingdom of Lakhnauti into the kingdom of Bangalah. Iliyas Shah and his descendants ruled Bengal up to 1487 with an interregnum of 23 years (1412-1435 AD) when the house of Ganesh held power. Sultan jalaluddin fath shah, the last ruler of this dynasty, was killed by his Abyssinian slave and Turkish rule in Bengal came to an end.

The Abyssinians held power for a short period. Sultan Alauddin husain shah, who was a sayid, ousted them. The Husain Shahi dynasty was ousted by sher shah in 1538 and with this the independent Sultanate in Bengal came to an end. The Afghans ruled Bengal up to 1576. Then came the Mughals, who held the reins of government up to the end of Muslim rule.

The fate of the Turks during this long period is not known. They must have merged with the society and some of them may have joined the Mughal services also. In the reign of shahjahan, one Turk named Muhammad Quli Salim was an accomplished poet. Some later Nazims were of Turkish origin. The line of Turks began from shujauddin muhammad khan (1627-1639) who occupied the masnad of Murshidabad after the death of his father-in-law, murshid quli khan. He was an Afshar Turk by descent. alivardi khan and his elder brother Haji Ahmad, men of Turkish descent, rose to prominence in the court of Shujauddin, when he was the deputy subahdar of Orissa. When Shujauddin became nazim at Murshidabad, Alivardi, Haji Ahmad and the latter's three sons occupied important positions. Haji Ahmad himself was one of the chief advisers of the nawab. Alivardi got his three daughters married to his three nephews, the sons of Haji Ahmad. After the death of Shujauddin his son sarfaraz khan occupied the masnad. Alivardi Khan occupied the masnad by defeating Sarfaraz Khan. So from the death of Murshid Quli Khan (1727), the people of Turkish blood played a prominent role in Bengal under the suzerainty of the Mughals.

The coming of the Turks and their rule was a boon for Bengal. The Turkish rulers played a significant role in the establishment of Muslim society in Bengal and in giving Muslim culture a definite shape. From the beginning they built mosques, madrasahs and Khanqahs. They patronised Muslim ulama and sufis in their religious pursuits. The Turkish rulers, and probably other Turks also, came burning their boats, and made Bengal their home. They neither transferred wealth and treasures from Bengal to their native country, nor did they think of leaving the country. They were interested in architecture and calligraphy. Some mosques built by them are extant. They are fine and elegant. The Turks used local building materials like burnt bricks; sometimes they also imported stones and they introduced new styles and techniques in their architecture. They also built forts and bridges. In the inscriptions put up over these buildings, they introduced fine specimens of calligraphy. Some of them initiated welfare activities like making roads, bridges, dykes, embankments etc for controlling floods and facilitating egress and ingress of water.

The Turkish rulers were liberal. They appointed non-Muslims in the administration, even in the higher offices like ministers and in the army. In the reign of sultan ghiyasuddin azam shah, raja ganesha rose to the position of a principal minister, chief of administrative and revenue matters. The Turkish sultans patronised both Persian and Bangla literature and poets. Sultan ruknuddin barbak shah, particularly, is known to have patronised Persian poets, names of some of whom are available. Amir Zainuddin, who is called Malik-ush-Shuara (king of poets), was the most notable. Ibrahim Qawwam Farqui, a lexicographer who wrote the Farhang-I-Ibrahim Qawwam Faruqi or sharfnamah wrote a few verses in praise of the sultan. Barbak Shah also patronised Hindu poets. Maladhar Vasu, the author of the Shri-Krsna Vijaya was given the title of 'Gunaraj Khan' by him. The sultans also engaged many non-Muslims in the state services and gave them titles. [Abdul Karim]

Bibliography GH Salim, Riaz-us-Salatin, Calcutta, 1898; JN Sarkar (ed), History of Bengal, vol II, Dhaka University, 1948; Minhaj-I-Siraj, Tabaqat-i-Nasiri, Calcutta, 1964; A Subhan, Tarikh-I-Bengalah-I-Mahabat Jangi of Ynsuf Ali (Eng trans), Calcutta, 1982; A Karim, Social History of the Muslims in Bengal, down to AD. 1538, 2nd edition, Chittagong 1985; A Karim, Banglar Itihas: Sultani Amal (in Bangla), Dhaka, 1999.