Mir Jumla

Mir Jumla renouned subahdar of Bengal (1660-1663) under Emperor aurangzeb. An Iranian by birth, his original name was Mir Muhammad Said. He received various titles from the Mughal emperor such as Muazzam Khan, Khan-i-Khanan, Sipahsalar and Yar-i-Wafahdar, but he became more popular in history of Bengal as Mir Jumla. Born in about 1591 AD at Ardistan in Ispahan, he was the son of a poor oil merchant. In his early age Mir Jumla acquired some knowledge of reading, writing and arithmetic through which he was able to secure the job of a clerk under a diamond merchant having connections with Golconda, which was famous for its diamond mines. He later came to India in the service of another merchant. He, however, started his own diamond business, farmed some diamond mines, engaged in maritime commercial ventures and gradually rose to be a merchant of much fame, owning many ships.

Mir Jumla entered the service of the sultan of Golconda and rose to the position of wazir or prime minister of the kingdom. He led campaigns against Karnataka, occupied it and gained immense wealth, which roused the suspicions of the sultan of Golconda against him. Prince Aurangzeb, the Mughal viceroy in the Deccan forwarded his cause and he got the protection of Emperor Shah Jahan who honoured him with the title of Muazzam Khan, raised him to the rank of 6000 zat and 6000 sawar and appointed him the diwan-i-kul or the prime minister.

Aurangzeb, on his accession to the throne, entrusted Mir Jumla with the task of dealing with his rival shah shuja, who was defeated in the battle of Khajwa. Mir Jumla pursued Shuja from Khajwa to tandah and from Tanda to Dhaka, where he arrived on 9 May 1660. The latter, however, had already left Dhaka, crossed the eastern border and ultimately found shelter with the king of arakan. Soon after his arrival at Dhaka, Mir Jumla received the imperial farman appointing him subahdar of Bengal.

The emperor, in recognition of his services, honoured Mir Jumla with titles, rewards and increment of mansab. He at once began reorganising the administration, which had become slack in the absence of Shuja during the war of succession, and disobedience and refractoriness had become prevalent. Reversing the action of Shuja who had transferred the capital to rajmahal, he restored Dhaka to its former glory. He then paid attention to the administration of justice, dismissed dishonest Qazis and Mir Adils and replaced them with honest persons.

Mir Jumla's construction activities in Dhaka and its suburbs resulted in two roads, two bridges and a network of forts, which were necessary for public welfare, strategic purposes, and speedy dispatch of troops, equipment and ammunitions. A fort at Tangi-Jamalpur guarded one of the roads connecting Dhaka with the northern districts; it is now known as the Mymensingh Road. The other road led eastward, connecting the capital city with Fatulla (old Dhapa), where there were two forts, and by extension the road could lead up to Khizrpur where two other forts were situated. The Pagla Bridge lies on this road off Fatulla. Some parts of the roads and forts built by Mir Jumla are still extant.

The most important aspect of Mir Jumla's rule in Bengal was his northeastern frontier policy, by which he conquered the frontier kingdoms of Kamrup (Kamarupa) and Assam. Koch Behar was a vassal state, but Raja Pran Narayan took advantage of the war of succession and shook off his allegiance. The king of Assam, Jayadhvaja Singh, occupied Kamrup, which had earlier been integrated with the Bengal subah. Mir Jumla advanced with a large army and navy against the enemy; he sent the main body of the troops and the navy towards Kamrup, while he himself proceeded against Koch Behar. On his approach, Pran Narayan evacuated the country and fled towards the hills. Koch Behar was occupied in about one month and a half and making administrative arrangements there, Mir Jumla came to join the advance party towards Kamrup. The king of Assam was prudent enough to evacuate Kamrup, but Mir Jumla decided to conquer Assam also. Assam, in those days, was a big country and its physiography was much different from that of Bengal.

But nothing daunted Mir Jumla. In less than six weeks' time, since his starting from Gauhati, Mir Jumla conquered up to Ghargaon, the capital of Assam. Beyond that the country was full of high hills and mountains, inaccessible for horses and troops, where the king took shelter. During the rains, the Mughals were locked in a few raised grounds, the roads were submerged, the streams and even the nalahs (drains) swelled up to become big rivers. The Assamese harassed them from all sides by their habitual night attacks; the supply of rations from their base was also stopped, because they could not be sent due to inundation of roads. There was very great shortage of food in the camps, both for men and beasts, soldiers began to slaughter furnished horses, and it was with great difficulty that the Mughals could save themselves from complete annihilation. Besides the shortage of food, pestilence broke out in the Mughal camps, due to bad and unhealthy air and water. As a result, Mir Jumla lost almost two-thirds of his army, and worst of all Mir Jumla himself became sick.

After the rains were over, both Mir Jumla and the king of Assam agreed to sign a peace treaty. Although the terms were favourable to the Mughals, the occupied Assamese territory was retaken as soon as Mir Jumla left. He died on his way back on boat off Khizrpur (30 March 1663).

Mir Jumla was aware of the contribution of trade and traders in the economy of a country and, as the subahdar of Bengal, looked to the interests of the traders. During his time, the Portuguese trade had declined. But the Dutch and English companies had emerged to take their place. They dreaded his influence and courted his favour. He helped the foreign traders including the European companies to enjoy the trade privileges already granted to them by the imperial authority.

Mir Jumla, a self-made man, was one of the remarkable personalities in the 17th century India. Enterprising and amiable, he started as a simple clerk and rose to be one of the greatest generals and subahdars of the Mughal Empire. A great statesman, he was intelligent and farsighted. He is remembered as a just and humane Mughal subahdar. [Abdul Karim]

Bibliography JN Sarkar (ed.), History of Aurangzib, II, New Delhi, 1972-74; JN Sarkar, The life of Mir Jumla the General of Aurangzib, Calcutta, 1979; Abdul Karim, History of Bengal, Mughal Period, II, Rajshahi, 1995.