the historical point of view, very little recorded,
authentic information about the early ages of
Bengal (originally comprising the entire west
Bengal and modern Bangladesh) is available.
The name Bengal is probably derived from Banga
one of the many names of this region.
Historical information about the Bengal region
is available only from the Gupta
period (320 - 520 AD). The Guptas
ruled from Magadh (modern
Bihar) which is considered to be the golden
age of India. After the decline of the Guptas,
the kingdom of Gour in Bengal
came into prominence. The first known ruler
of independent Bengal was Shashanka
(ruled around 606 AD).
The death of Shashanka was
followed by a period of political turmoil.
In 750 AD Gopala was elected
the king of Gaur. This led
to foundation of the Pala
dynasty in Bengal. Gopala
(reigned between 750 - 775 AD) was succeeded
by his son Dharmapala (reigned
between 775 - 810 AD) who in turn was succeeded
by his Devapala (reigned
between 810 - 850 AD). Each of them consolidated
the dynasty’s position in Bengal and
the surrounding regions, making the Palas
one of the most powerful dynasties during
The rule of Narayanpala
(reigned between 854 - 908 AD) witnessed the
beginning of the dynasty's decline. Mahipala
I's (reigned between 977-1027 AD)
times saw a resurgence of the Pala powers.
Though Mahipala I regained
control of large parts of the territories
annexed by foes, he was defeated by one of
the Chola kings of from southern
A series of defeats and internal feuds weakened
the Palas and consequently various independent
kingdoms got established in Bengal. Under
Rampala (reigned from1077
- 1133 AD) the re-establishment of the Pala
hold in Bengal took place. Madanpala
(reigned betwen 1143 - 1161 AD) is considered
to be the last of the Pala
Another important dynasty which ruled in
Bengal during this period was that of the
Chandras who ruled over the
southern part of Bengal. Both the Palas
and the Chandras were Buddhists.
Towards the end of the 7th century AD, Raghunath
or Adimalla founded the Malla
dynasty. This dynasty ruled for a thousand years
in the western part of undivided Bengal. The
rulers where initially Shaivites,
who later became Vaishnavites.
The capital was shifted to Vishnupur
under the reign of Jagat Malla
who ascended the throne in 994 AD. The reign
of Virhambir is considered
to be the golden age of the Mallas.
During their reign, the Mallas
built hordes of terracotta temples in and around
Vishnupur the ruins of which still stand.
A terracotta temple
of the Malla period
This dynasty originally hailed from Karnat.
The first Sena king Hemantasena
ascended the throne in 1095 AD and was probably
a petty ruler under king Rampala.
Since the Senas were Hindus,
Hindu traditions became stronger and more widespread
in their kingdom. Probably after Rampala's
death, Hemantasena established
himself as an independent ruler.Under his son
Vijaysena (reigned from 1096
- 1159 AD) the Senas became
a major power in Bengal. Ballalsena,
who ascended the throne in 1158, seized Gour
from the Palas. Laxmansena,
the next ruler succeeded Ballalsena
in 1179. His reign lasted almost 20 years, with
his headquarters at Nabadwip.
By this time Northern India had fallen to the
Turkish invaders from Central Asia. In 1203
- 1204 AD, Muhammed Bakhtiyar Khilji,
a Turkish general, attacked Nabadwip.
Laxmansena was defeated, but
managed to escape. After his death, his sons
Vishwarupsena and Keshavsena
ruled over the kingdom.
The Deva dynasty, which ruled
in eastern part of Bengal, was probably the
last independent Hindu dynasty of Bengal. Their
capital was believed to be in Sonargaon
(near present day Dhaka).
The period of the Palas and
the Senas witnessed the growth
of Bengali language. Jaidev
(12th century AD), the famous poet of Bengal,
was one of the Pancharatnas (literally
5 gems) in the court of Laxmansena.
Jaidev composed the Geeta Govinda,
one of the first literary works in Sanskrit.
Islamic rulers of Bengal
The power struggle between the Turks and the
Afghan invaders resulted in Delhi and northern
India changing hands from one dynasty to another.
This indirectly affected Bengal too. The rulers
of Bengal were often subjugated by various rulers
and dynasties of Delhi and northern India.
early Sultans of Bengal ruled till 1282. This
was followed by the rule of several successive
dynasties. Iliyas Shah (reigned
between 1342 - 1358 AD) founder of the Iliyas
Shahi dynasty (1342 - 1412 AD), took
complete charge of Bengal, and shifted the capital
to Sonargaon (near present
day Dhaka, Bangladesh). He was one of the independent
rulers of Bengal. His son Sikandar Shah
(reigned between 1358 - 1390 AD) built the subcontinent's
largest mosque, the Adina Masjid
at Pandua (near Gour).
The emergence of the Mughals
in northern India had a strong impact on Bengal's
political scenario. Babur was
related to two legendary warriors – Taimur
and Chengiz Khan. He invaded
northern India and in 1526 AD and defeated the
incumbent ruler Ibrahim Lodhi.
Babur became the first ruler
(1526 - 1530 AD) of the Mughal dynasty. After
his death, his son Humayun became the emperor.
This period also saw the rise into prominence,
of Sher Shah Suri (alias Farid
Khan, 1472 - 1545 AD), an Afghan who
slowly established himself as the ruler of what
is today the territory of Bihar. He defeated
the king of Bengal, Muhammed Shah
in 1534. In 1537 he attacked Gour
and ransacked the city. In 1539 AD the Humayun
marched towards Bengal to quell Sher
Shah. However he was defeated by the
latter at Chausa. In 1540 AD,
Humayun was again defeated
by Sher Shah Suri at Kannauj
and went into exile.
captured Delhi and Agra and established control
over a vast region extending from Bengal in
the east to the Indus river in the west. His
reign lasted from 1540 AD till 1545 AD.
Sher Shah Suri’s successors ruled
Bengal upto 1553 AD.
By 1554 AD the Suris were torn
apart by internal conflicts. Taking advantage
of this, Humayun invaded and
captured the cities of Lahore and Delhi, but
died in 1556 AD. Humayun was succeeded by Akbar,
who defeated Dawood Khan Karnani
of Bengal's Karnani dynasty
(1564 - 1576 AD). After this incident, the entire
region of Bengal passed into the hands of governors
appointed by the Mughal emperors. These Governors
ruled Bengal till 1716 AD.
The valiant Sher Shah Suri
Quli Khan, became the governor of Bengal
in 1717 AD. This was the beginning of a new phase
in Bengal's history, marking the advent of independence
from the authority and control of Delhi rulers.
He shifted the capital of Bengal from Dhaka
to Murshidabad (northern part
of modern west Bengal), declared
himself the nawab and paid only a nominal
allegiance to the Mughal Emperor. Murshid
Quli Khan had built the magnificent Katra
Masjid. After his death in 1725 AD, he
was buried below the steps of the same mosque.
Quli Khan was succeeded by his son-in-law
Suja-ud-Din (1725 - 1739 AD).
He was a charitable, just and impartial ruler,
who greatly patronised learning, art and culture.
Suja-ud-Din died in 1739 AD
and was succeeded by his son Sarafraz
Khan. (1739 - 1740 AD).The latter was
a brave man but of religious temperament. His
brief career ended in 1740 AD when he was defeated
at the battle of Giria on 9th April 1740 AD
by Alivardi Khan.
Alivardi Khan (1740 - 1756
AD), who was earlier the Governor of Patna,
became the Nawab by defeating and killing
Sarfaraz Khan in 1740 AD and ruled for 16 years
thereafter. Though an efficient ruler, he had
to face continual attacks by the Marathas and
rebellion by the Afghans. To attain peace, he
allowed many concessions to the Marathas. He
maintained good relationships with the Europeans
but did not allow them to increase their military
presence. Siraj-ud-Daula (1756
- 57 AD), Alivardi’s
favourite grandson ascended the throne after
Nawab Siraj ud Daula
young nawab faced a two-pronged problem: the
increasing ambitions of the British and the
conspiracy of his disgruntled relatives who
were allied with the bureaucrats He tried to
encounter these by first relieving his maternal
aunt, Begum Ghasiti, (a scheming
and intriguing person) of her wealth and slashing
the powers of Mir-Jafar, the Commander-in-Chief
(Bakshi) of the royal army. On the 24th May
1756 AD Siraj occupied the
Cossimbazar factory of the
British. He went on to occupy Calcutta in June
1756 AD. Next he went to Purnea,
Bihar to quell the rebellion of his cousin Shaukat
Jang, also a contestant for the throne.
Taking advantage of this turbulent situation,
the British re-conquered Calcutta in February
1757 AD and struck a secret deal with Mir-Jafar.
When the British captured the French factory
at Chandernagore, the French
sought help from Siraj. The
final showdown between Siraj-ud-Daula
and the British army, commanded by Robert
Clive, took place at the fields of
Plassey, a tiny village, located
midway between Calcutta and
Murshidabad. Owing to an act
of gross betrayal by Mir Jafar,
Siraj was defeated on 23rd June 1757 AD, and
subsequently killed. Mir-Jafar ascended the
throne of Bengal.
Lord Robert Clive
Mir-Jafar (1757 - 1760 AD and
1763 - 1765 AD) was merely a puppet and also
an incompetent ruler.The British replaced him
with his son-in-law Mir-Qasim
in 1760 AD, on account of non-payment of dues.
Mir-Qasim paid the dues off
but was planning to become independent. He shifted
his capital to Monghyr in Bihar
and tried to organize his own army. The British
defeated Mir-Qasim in the Battle
of Buxar in 1764 AD. After
a gap, Mir-Jafar regained the
crown, but died shortly afterwards. He was followed
by a number series of Nawabs who were
merely puppets in the hands of the British.
Note: The history of Bengal
and Calcutta after this period is inextricably
linked with the general history of India. Therefore
please do refer to the other articles in the
history section of our website.
Mir Jafar – the epitome