Iliyas Shah

Iliyas Shah (1342-1358) founder of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty. He consolidated the independent Sultanate of Bengal. liyas Shah was an inhabitant of Sijisthan, a country of east -Persia and came from a noble family. His father's name was Sultan. At the begening of career Iliyas Shah worked under Malik Firuz of Delhi. But for some unknown reason, he escaped to Bengal and took service under lzzuddn Yahya, the imperial governor of satgaon and by dint of his merit rose to the position of Malik. After Izzuddin Yahya's death, he became the ruler of Satgaon in 1338. Consolidating his authority there, he waged a long drawn war (1339 to 1342) against alauddin ali shah and ascended the throne of lakhnauti in 1342 with the title of 'Sultan Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah'.

He occupied Tirhut easily in l344 and in 1350 made a bold thrust across the inhospitable region of Terai in Nepal, yet to be trodden by Muslim soldiers. He advanced as far as the capital Kathmandu, destroyed the temple of Svayambhunath and returned with immense booty. He, however, did not annex any part of Nepal. Iliyas Shah then led a campaign against eastern Bengal, conquered sonargaon defeating ikhtiyaruddin ghazi shah in 1352 and thus became the master of the whole of Bengal. Shams-i-Siraj Afif adorned him with the title of Shah-i-Bangalah, Shah-i-Bangaliyan and Sultan-i-Bangalah.

Emboldened by success Iliyas invaded Jajnagar (orissa) and advanced through Katak as far south as the Chilka Lake. He destroyed the temples of Orissa and came back with immense wealth including 44 elephants. Iliyas Shah next invaded Bihar in 1353. He further extended his authority beyond Bihar to Champaran, Gorakhpur and Benaras.

The Delhi Sultan firuz shah tughlaq proceeded towards Bengal to bring Iliyas Shah under subjugation, but could not succeed. Concluding a peace with Iliyas Shah, Firuz returned to Delhi and Iliyas continued to rule Bengal as an independent sultan. The friendly relations between the sultans of Delhi and Bengal were further cemented by the exchanges of gifts and envoys, which took place in 1355, 1356, 1357 and 1358. The amicable settlement with the sultan of Delhi gave Iliyas Shah an opportunity to exert his influence on the neighbouring Kingdom of Tippera.

Towards the close of his reign Iliyas Shah added one more laurel to his crown by leading a successful campaign against kamarupa in 1357. The contemporary ruler of Kamta, Indra Narayan, possessed neither the material resources nor probably the ability to check the invaders. In these favourable conditions Iliyas Shah quite easily conquered a portion of Kamarupa.

A daring soldier, Iliyas Shah possessed all the qualities of a successful military leader. He won wonderful victories against his adversaries in and outside Bengal. As a statesman Iliyas Shah bided his time until circumstances turned in his favour for bringing the whole of Bengal under a unified rule. He felt the necessity of introducing a good administration and thereby winning the support of the local people for maintaining the independence of his Sultanate. He gave the administration a popular character by offering liberal concessions to local elements and opened the government services to talent without any distinction of caste, creed or colour. He was probably the first to make a large recruitment of the local people in the army. It appears from the Inshah-i-Mahru that during his time, Khans, Maliks, Amirs, Sadrs, Akaber and Marifs were charged with civil and military administration. Possibly the Khans, Maliks and Amirs were grandees of the kingdom holding fiefs and villages. Some of them might have been advisers to the sultan as ministers of the state.

A deeply religious man Iliyas Shah had great veneration for the saints and sufis. It is noticed that like the Sadat, Ulama and Mashaikh, the non-Muslim hermits and saints (sannyasis) also received stipends from the state.

As a nation builder, it was he who for the first time founded an independent Sultanate by uniting the territories of Satgaon, Lakhnauti and Sonargaon. He gave to this united territory the name of Bangalah and to the people thus integrated the name of Bangali. He did his best to advance the political, social, economic and cultural interests of the country. In fact he infused a new life in the society by adopting a liberal policy to bring cohesion among the people. As a result, all the people of Bengal came under the banner of one politico-social and linguistic platform. Like a true national leader he gave equal treatment to all his people.

Iliyas Shah was a builder too. He was the founder of the city of Hajipur and built a bath or hammam like the Shamsi bath of Delhi. The independent Sultanate of Bengal founded by him which lasted for nearly two hundred years. He died in 1358 after a glorious reign of sixteen years. [ABM Shamsuddin Ahmed]

See also history.