Medieval History of West Bengal

By BYJU'S Exam Prep

Updated on: September 13th, 2023

There was a predominance of Pala and Sena dynasty along with some Muslim dynasties in Bengal. The development in late medieval history in Bengal was not only significant for the region but also influenced the shaping of the history of the rest of Indian sub-continent.



Early Medieval History of Bengal

Bengal in medieval era underwent many changes including invasions, cultural and architectural reforms. The architectural structures reflect upon the fact that there was the involvement of expertise of Hindu, Buddhist and Muslims in their establishments.

Let us know in brief about the prominent rulers of the Medieval period:

1. Pala Empire

The Pala Empire was an imperial power and the first independent Buddhist dynasty of Bengal. 

  • Gopala I (AD 750-770) was the founder of the Pala dynasty of medieval Bengal. 
  • The Pala dynasty ushered provided stable and prosperous governance in Bengal, lasting for four centuries. 
  • Dharmapala and Devapala greatly expanded Gopala’s empire.
  • Dharmapala adopted the title Paramesvara Paramabhattaraka Maharajadhiraja.  He built Somapura Mahavihara in Paharpur (Naogaon district, now in Bangladesh) which is one of the greatest Viharas in the Indian sub-continent. 
  • Devapala, succeeded his father Dharmapala, was regarded as the most powerful Pala ruler. 
  • Under the Pala regime, many temples and artworks were carried out. They also established ancient higher-learning institutions of Nalanda and Vikramashila, and Bengal became the main centre of Buddhist as well as secular learning.

 2. Chandra Dynasty

The rulers of Chandra dynasty ruled over the kingdom of Harikela in Eastern Bengal from the beginning of the 10th century CE. 

  • Vikrampur (modern Munshiganj) was the capital and important military centre capable enough to oppose the Pala Empire to its North-West. 
  • Govindachandra was the last ruler of Chandra dynasty and was defeated by the South Indian Emperor Rajendra Chola I of the Chola dynasty in the 11th century.

3. Sena Dynasty

The Sena rulers, descendants of the Karnataka migrants, established their rule in Bengal after Chandra dynasty.

  • Samantasena was the founder of the Sena dynasty.
  • The greatest ruler of the dynasty was Vijayasena (1095-1158 CE). He conquered nearly the whole of Bengal and was succeeded by his son Ballala Sena (1158-1179 CE).
  • Ballala Sena captured Gauda from the Pala and became the ruler of the Bengal delta and made Nabadwip his capital. He is also assigned with a significant social movement known as ‘Kulinism’ (by which the nobility of birth and purity of blood were carefully protected).
  • Ballala Sena authored Danasagara, a work on Smriti and Adbhuta Sagara, a work on astronomy. 
  • Ballala Sena succeeded by his son Lakshmana Sena. 
  • Lakshmana Sena’s court was adorned with literary personalities like Jayadeva (the author of Gita Govindam), Halayudha (the linguist ) and Dhoyi (the poet of Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji).

 4.  Deva Dynasty

It was a Hindu dynasty of medieval Bengal that ruled over Eastern Bengal after the collapse Sena Empire. The capital of this dynasty was Chittagaung in present-day Munshiganj district of Bangladesh. 

  • The kingdom was extended up to the present-day Comilla-Noakhali-Chittagong region. 
  • Deva dynasty regime is regarded as the period of peace, prosperity and creative excellence.
  • Damodardeva was the most powerful ruler of this dynasty. He took the title of Ariraja-Danuja-Madhava Dasharathadeva and extended his kingdom to cover much of East Bengal. 

Late Medieval History of Bengal 

The late medieval history of Bengal started from the advent of Turk-Afghan rule in Bengal in the 13th century to the rule of Mughal Nawabs of 18thcentury CE in Bengal.

1. Turk-Afghan Rule

Muhammad Bakhtiyar Khilji’s invasion marks the advent of Turk-Afghan rule in Bengal. Khilji’s rule in Bengal lasted from 1203 to 1213 CE. From the 13th century CE onwards Bengal region was controlled by the Bengal Sultanate, Hindu Rajas and Baro Bhuyan or warrior chiefs and landlords. 

  • In the 14th century, Sultan Ghiyasuddin Tughlaq (1320-25 CE) of Tughlaq dynasty turned his attention towards Bengal. 
  • After annexing Bengal in 1324 CE, he placed Nasiruddin on the throne of Bengal. 
  • He attempted to ensure the loyalty of Bengal by dividing it into three administrative divisions with capitals at Lakhnauti (North Bengal), Sonargaon (East Bengal) and Satgaon (SouthBengal); but his measures failed. 

2. Ilyas Shahi Dynasty

After the end of Turk-Afghan, Ilyas Shahi Dynasty started, and Bengal came under the rule of Ilyas Shah.

  • Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah founded the Ilyas Shahi dynasty which lasted from 1352-1414 CE in Bengal. 
  • They were patrons of art and literature and encouraged Bengali culture and literature.
  • Adina Masjid and Darasbari Masjid were built during this period. 

 3. Ganesha Dynasty

This dynasty was founded in the Bengal region by Raja Ganesha in 1414 CE. Other kings of this dynasty were Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah, and Shamsuddin Ahmad Shah were originally Hindu but converted to Islam. They were the son and five grandsons of Raja Ganesha respectively.

4. Hussain Shahi Dynasty

Alauddin Hussain Shah established this dynasty after defeating the Arabs in I494 CE. 

  • Alauddin Hussain Shah (AD-1493-1519) is regarded as the most influential independent Muslim ruler of Bengal who brought a cultural renaissance in Bengal.
  • His generosity towards Hindus as well as Muslims, was legendary. During his reign, Chaitanya preached Vaishnavism in Bengal.

Note: The Hindus honoured him as an avatar of Krishna,’Nripati Tilak'(Crown of Kings) and ‘Jagat Bhushan (Adornment of the Universe). 

Hussain Shahi dynasty was interrupted by Mughal invasion during Nusrat Shah’s (Hussain Shahi’s son) regime. 

Afghan Rule

Sher Shah established Afghan rule in Bengal by killing Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah the last independent Sultan of Bengal in 1538 CE. 

  • Grand Trunk Road was extended from Chittagong in the frontiers of the province of Bengal in North-East India to Kabul in Afghanistan.
  • After Sher Shah’s successor, the Afghan rule in Bengal was carried by Karrani family, who were among the principal ministers and officials of Sher Shah. 

Karrani Dynasty

The Karrani dynasty, founded in 1564 CE by Taj Khan Karrani, was the last dynasty to rule the Sultanate of Bengal. 

  • Taj Khan, a former employee of the Afghan Emperor Sher Shah Suri, captured South-Eastern Bihar and western part of Bengal. 
  • After the assassination of the last Muhammed Shahi ruler, Taj Khan seized all of Bengal. 

Note: Bengal had its capital at Sonargaon. Other prominent Karrani rulers were Sulaiman Khan Karrani and Daud Khan Karrani.

Mughal Rule in Bengal

1. Nawabs of Bengal

Muslim rulers of princely states were given the title of ‘Nawab’ by the Muslim Emperors. They were given the primary duty to administer their province. The popular Nawabs of Bengal were as follows:

2. Murshid Quli Khan

He was regarded as one of the first Nawabs and appointed by the Mughal emperor Farrukhsiyar as the Nawab of Bengal in1717 CE.  

  • Farrukhsiyar reigned over Bengal, Bihar and Orissa from his capital Murshidabad which he had transferred from Dacca. 
  • He sent the revenues from state to the Mughal empire and also opened a mint and introduced the ‘Zurbe Murshidabad’ coin. 
  • He built the famous Katra Masjid, and after his death, he was buried under the steps of the Masjid.

 3. Sarfaraz Khan

Sarfaraz Khan, son of Shuja-ud-Din and grandson of Murshid Quli Khan, received the title of ‘Motamul-ul-Mulk’ and ‘Ala-ud-Din Haridar Jung’. The Nasiri dynasty of Murshid Quli Khan ended with the death of Sarfaraz Khan.

 4. Alivardi Khan

After the defeat of Sarfaraz Khan in the Battle of Giria, Alivardi Khan was made the Nawab of Bengal. With a prosperous reign of 16 years (1740-1756 CE) as Nawab of Bengal, Alivardi successfully defended his kingdom from his enemies to expand his dominion across Bengal, Bihar and Orissa.

 5. Siraj-ud-Daulah 

Mirza Muhammad Siraj-ud-Daulah, the grandson of Alivardi, was ascended to the throne after the death of Alivardi. He is also regarded as the last independent Nawab of Bengal.

  • His regime was ended in the Battle of Plassey (fought between British East India Company and Siraj-ud-Daulah, the Nawab of Bengal)
  • Siraj-ud-Daulah was defeated, captured and later assassinated.   
  • With the end of his reign, marked the beginning of British East India company empire in Bengal which was later extended pan-India.

 6. Mir Jafar

MirJafar with the support of British East India Company was made the Nawab after Siraj-ud-Daulah. He is considered as an incompetent ruler and mostly remained under the control of British administration.

 7. Mir Qasim

On account of non-payment of duties, the Britishers later replaced Mir Jafar with his son-in-law, Mir Qasim as the Nawab of Bengal. Dutch forces were invited by Mir Jafar to oppose the British East India Company and in the ‘Battle of Chinsura’ British defeated the Dutch troops. 

  • Consequently, the Company ordered the Nawab of Bengal, Mir Qasim to pay for war expenses and expenses to purchase the presidencies of Bombay and Madras. 
  • The Company had also taken the zamindari of Burdwan, Midnapore and Chittagong. This decision angered Mir Qasim, and he shifted his capital from Murshidabad to Munger in 1762 and also established a gun factory. 

Note: This marked the beginning of the conflict between the Company and Nawab.

Battle of Buxar in 1764 was fought between the British forces under the command of the British East India Company’s Major Hector Munro on one side, and the combined army of Mir Qasim, the Nawab of Bengal, the Nawab of Awadh and the Mughal King Shah Alam II on other side. 

This battle gave a decisive victory for the British East India Company!

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