Shah Shuja

Shah Shuja (1639-1660 AD) Mughal viceroy of subah Bangla, was the second son of Emperor shahjahan and Empress Mumtaj Mahal. Born on 23 June 1616, he took part, as a prince, in various campaigns and gathered experience both as a military general and an administrator. The emperor had great confidence in his ability so that his mansab (rank) was increased gradually until he was raised to the high rank of 20,000/ 15,000.

Shahjahan recalled islam khan mashhadi to the court and appointed Shah Shuja subahdar of Bengal in 1639. In 1642 Shuja was also given the charge of the province of Orissa. He ruled the provinces for more than twenty years, from 1639-1660. During the period there were two short breaks: first in 1647-48, when he was with the emperor on his campaigns against rebels in the Afghan passes; and second in 1652, when he was at Kabul for about four months from April to July. During the later part of his subahdari, from 1658 he twice proceeded towards the capital in his bid to contest for the throne.

On appointment Shah Shuja found Dhaka as the capital of the subah, but later (the date is unknown), he transferred the capital to rajmahal. During Shuja's administration, the provinces of Bengal and Orissa were more or less peaceful, no serious disturbance took place in any part, and in fact the zamindars, and miscreants were overawed by the presence of a prince holding the office of subahdar. Moreover, Shuja was not only invested with the subahdari of two provinces (Bengal and Orissa), but the conquered kingdom of Kamrupa and the vassal kingdom of Kuch Bihar, which were equal to a third province, were also placed under his control. In fact, Shuja was made the viceroy of Eastern India.

Shah Shuja is not known to have made extensive conquests, though he appears to have sent campaigns against Hijli and Tippera. Bahadur Khan, a habitual rebel, ruled Hijli (Medinipur district of West Bengal) in the southwestern corner of Bengal. In Shuja's time he delayed payment of revenues; Shuja took prompt action. Bahadur Khan was defeated, but he purchased a pardon by promising to pay more revenues than before. Shuja's war with Tippera is mentioned in the Rajmala, the traditional history of the kings of Tippera. The Raja was defeated, but he made peace by ceding a slice of his territory bordering on modern Comilla. Shuja commemorated his victory by building a mosque, which is still extant in good condition and bears his name, on the bank of the river Gumti near Comilla town.

Shah Shuja, a typical Mughal prince, was learned, cultured and polished. He patronised Persian poets and scholars who adorned his court. These people were mostly from Iran and belonged to the Shia sect. His important nobles were Shias, and even in the subordinate posts the Shias were predominant. His mother was a Shia lady, his two wives, married one after the other, were also Shia. There is a tradition prevalent at Dhaka that Shuja brought with him to Bengal three hundred Shias whom he got settled in different parts of the country. At Delhi, rumour spread that Shah Shuja had turned a Shia, and the supporters of his brother aurangzeb fanned the rumour. But the accusation was not true; like his father, grandfather and great-grandfather, he appreciated the cultured intellectual society of Persian scholars, sufis and administrators.

Shuja was a great builder; the earliest extant Mughal buildings at Dhaka date from his time. They are the bara katra, the idgha, the husaini dalan and the Churihatta mosque. The Bara Katra was built on the bank of the river Buriganga (Budiganga), a little to the south of Chaukbazar. A large building, a grand and imposing structure, it was originally built for the residence of the prince, but since the latter preferred to live at Rajmahal, the Bara Katra was given for the residence of travelling merchants, ie it was used as a katra or Sarai. The Idgah is a raised platform, enclosed on all sides, meant for congregational prayers on the two Id days. The Husaini Dalan, built by Sayyid Murad in 1642-43, was used for the congregation of the Shias and the Churihatta mosque was built in 1650. At Rajmahal, Shah Shuja built a palace named Sang-i-dalan (stone palace) and a mosque of marble stone. A big tank called Anand Sarovar also bears the memory of Shah Shuja. Round the tank were built the diwan-i-am, diwan-i-khas, hammams (baths), hauz (water reservoirs) and fuara (fountain of water).

Shah Shuja, conscious of the importance of trade and commerce in the economic development of the country and the welfare of the people, welcomed foreign traders and the European companies and granted them privileges for carrying trade without let or hindrance. He granted a Nishan (letter patent granted by a prince) to the Portuguese confirming their privilege of trade granted to them by a farman of the emperor. He also granted privileges to the English east india company and the Dutch company. Shuja is known to have indulged in private trade, either through other traders, particularly the Persians or by chartering ships himself. The private trade of the princes and imperial officers were, however, detrimental to the interest of the country. Shah Shuja also took interest in a fresh settlement of revenues of the provinces under his control, by which revenues were increased by 15% over the settlement of Todar Mal in Akbar's time.

Shahjahan fell ill on 6 September 1657 and rumours spread all over the empire that the emperor was dead but his eldest son Dara Shikoh kept it secret to secure his position on the throne. The three other princes at once began preparation to march on the imperial capital. At Rajmahal, Shuja immediately crowned himself king and took imperial titles. He marched with a large army, backed by a good number of war-boats in the river Ganga. Beaten in a hotly contested battle at Bahadurpur (in modern Uttar Pradesh, India), at the hands of Dara's army, Shuja turned back to Rajmahal to make further preparations. In the meantime, Aurangzeb defeated Dara twice (at Dharmat and Samugarh), caught him, put him to death and sat on the throne. Shuja marched again to the capital, this time against Aurangzeb. A battle took place on 5 January 1658 at Khajwa (Fatehpur district, Uttar Pradesh, India) where Shuja was defeated. He retreated towards Bengal. Though hotly pursued by the imperial army under mir jumla, Shuja opposed them at every point. He, however, was finally defeated in the last battle that took place in April 1660. After each defeat he had to face desertions in his own army, but he did not lose heart. He, rather, reorganised the army with renewed vigour. But when he was going to be surrounded at tandah, and when he found that reorganisation of the army was no longer possible, he decided to leave Bengal (and India) for good and take shelter in arakan. He left Tanda with his family and retinue in the afternoon of 6 April 1660 and reached Dhaka on 12 April. He left Dhaka on 6 May and boarded the Arakanese ships on 12 May at bhulua.

Shuja made contacts with Arakan before his departure from Bengal. His plan was to go to Makka and thence to Persia or Turkey. But as the sea was rough in May and the rainy season, he asked for asylum in Arakan for a few months and help in procuring ships. On his arrival at Mrohaung (Mrauk-U), the capital of Arakan, the king warmly received him through his ministers. A house was allowed for Shuja's stay in the outskirts of the city. But as time passed, the king's attitude to his guest changed; either for getting hold of rich treasures Shuja carried with him, or to get one of the pretty and cultured daughters of Shuja as his spouse, the king picked up a quarrel with Shuja. Shuja, his family and his retinue were tortured to death. A few of his retinue, fleeing to the countryside, could escape the gruesome murder, but none of the Mughal princes or princesses survived. [Abdul Karim]

Bibliography JN Sarkar (ed), History of Bengal, vol II, Dhaka, 1948; JN Sarkar, History of Aurangzib, vol II, New Delhi, 1972-74; A Karim, History of Bengal, Mughal Period, vol II, Rajshahi, 1995.