This article throws light upon the top three rulers of the Bengal Muslim penetration and settlement who led to the independent sultanate of Bengal.
The rulers are: 1. Ikhtiyar-Ud-Din Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khalji (1201-1206) 2. Ali Mardan (1206-07) 3. Muhammad Shiran Khalji (1207-08): Husam-Ud-Din Iwaz (1208-10).
Ruler # 1. Ikhtiyar-Ud-Din Muhammad Bin Bakhtiyar Khalji (1201-1206):
There has been a good deal of confusion about the date, race and parentage of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji.
Raverty’s theory about the race as well certain dates about Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji has been found to be incorrect by Sir Jadunath. Similarly R.D. Banerjee’s theory that Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji was not a subordinate officer of Qutbuddin Aibak but held an equal status with the latter directly under the same sovereign at Ghur has been rejected by Sir Jadunath. The dates of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar are also uncertain.
On the evidence of Taj-ud-maasir as in a Tibetan work, Sir Jadunath states that Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar was a subordinate officer of Aibak, for after the capture of Kalinjar Qutb-ud-din Aibak went to Badayun and on his return Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar waited on him with presents of elephants, jewels and cash. Again the Tibetan source refers to the visit of Sakya Sribhadra a Buddhist scholar of Kashmir to south Bihar in
1200 A.D. and he found Odantapuri and Vikramsila Viharas in ruins due to Turkish invasion and the monks of those Viharas had fled to Jagaddal monastery in Bengal. “This proves that Bengal had not yet been conquered by the Muslims.”
From these sources it is found that Muhammad Bakhtiyar advanced towards Bihar and Munghyr in 1197-98, captured by walled city of Hisar in 1199. It was not until 1201 A.D. that he had surprised the city of Nadia. This is in consonance with Minhaj-us-Siraj’s account that “After being honoured by Qutb-ud-din Aibak with a special robe, Bakhtiyar returned and went towards Bihar (Province) and fear of him took a total hold of the hearts of the infidels on all sides of the countries of Lakhnauti, Bihar Bang and Kamrup. After returning from the court of Qutb-ud-din Bakhtiyar conquered Bihar. Raj Lakhmania sent out agents (to Mirzapur?) to find out if the personal appearance of Bakhtiyar agreed with those of the prophesied Turkish destroyer of his kingdom, and these spies reported that it was so. Then the Brahmans and rich traders began to leave Nadia and flee to Sylhet, Bang and Kamrup.”
It is interesting to note that the soothsayers of Lakshman Sen prophesied that his kingdom would be destroyed by the Turks. They also gave a description of the Turkish destroyer. As the persons sent by Lakshman Sen to verify if the appearance of the Turkish destroyer really was similar to that described by the soothsayers the Brahmans and many others advised Lakshman to leave the capital to some place of safety. But Lakshman Sen refused to listen to this cowardly advice.
“The year following this (1199-1200) Muhammad Bakhtiyar marched out of Bihar and suddenly entered the city of Nadia.” Thus it is clear that the surprise of Nadia took place in 1201 A.D.
According to Minhaj only 18 of Bakhtiyar’s horsemen could keep pace with him and the main army fell behind. He reached the palace gate without molesting anyone nor rousing any suspicion and the people imagined that he and his men were merchants and had brought horses for sale. But on their reaching the palace of the Rai Lakshman Sen, Bakhtiyar drew his sword and started an onslaught.
“The whole of his treasures, his wives and other females, his domestic servants and his particular attendants were seized.” A number of elephants and a vast booty fell into their hands. Lakshman Sen considering resistance impossible left Nadia barefooted by the back door for Sonargaon where he and his descendants ruled for some time more.
Bakhtiyar did not consider Nadia a place fit for the seat of his Government. He selected Lakhnauti on his capital both from political and geographical considerations. It was nearer to his base at Bihar. Bakhtiyar was correct in his decision for Nadia continued to be under Hindu control for decades.
He however, consolidated his position both militarily and culturally in those portions of Northern Bengal that were under his occupation. He set up a number of mosques, madrasas, and Shanghas in those parts and established military stations in Nagar in Birbhum, and Devkot and Khutba was read in the name of Muizz-ud-din.
Bakhtiyar led a campaign against Tibet ignoring his possible victories over the Hindu principalities within his easy reach. It is suggested by Habib and Nizami that the Khalji spirit of adventure perhaps led Bakhtiyar to attempt at discovering a short route to Turkistan with a view to get uninterrupted supply of men arid materials from Turkistan for expansion of his territories in Bengal. It might as well have been his intention to carve out a Kingdom independently of Delhi.
Bakhtiyar’s Tibet expedition is rather interesting. According to Minhaj between Lakhnauti and Tibet there were three tribes of people: the Kunch, Mej and Tiharu. The Mej Chief fell into Bakhtiyar’s hands and was converted to Islam. This Chief led Bakhtiyar and his army towards Tibet as a guide and on reaching a bridge over a hilly river left. Bakhtiyar crossed it and posted his men on two sides of the bridge in order to guard it till his safe return.
The king of Kamrup at this point of time informed Bakhtiyar to wait till the end of the year and promised to help him in conquering the hilly areas. But Bakhtiyar rejected the suggestion and pushed ahead towards the mountains of Tibet. After sixteen days he reached Tibet. “The area was well-populated and well under cultivation. Ultimately the army reached a strong fort and started ravaging the area. The people of the fort as well as the adjoining areas assembled to give battle which started at daybreak and continued till sunset. Many Muslim soldiers fell in the field.”
When Bakhtiyar discovered the difficult nature of the hilly terrain and found his soldiers thoroughly exhausted he retreated with his army. To his utter misfortune he found the bridge destroyed making it impossible to cross the hilly river. The king Kamrup surrounded Bakhtiyar and his men while they were preparing to improvise some raft-like things to cross the river. Bakhtiyar’s men got drowned. Only one hundred of his horsemen and Bakhtiyar himself somehow succeeded in crossing the river. Bakhtiyar somehow reached Devkot with his fame and career completely ruined. At Devkot he was assassinated by Ali Mardan (1206).
Sir Jadunath observes that “Malik Ikhtiyar-ud-din Muhammad Bakhtiyar was indeed the maker of the medieval history of Bengal.” His career was one of elevation from the slave market to the masnad of Bengal. Bakhtiyar began his life as a soldier of fortune but he excelled many of his contemporaries in soldierly skill, dash, resourcefulness and leadership.
“Although a Plebeian by birth and deformed in body, he was a born leader of men, brave to recklessness and generous to a fabulous extent. His weaknesses were born of over-confidence and uninterrupted success.” The Government that prevailed during the time of Bakhtiyar was more or less a sort of a clannish feudalism. It is believed that although Bakhtiyar did not assume the title of Sultan, he must have exercised the prerogatives of a Sultan, namely, reciting Khutba and striking coins in his own name. Mosques and Madrasas grew up through his beneficence.
Ruler # 2. Ali Mardan (1206-07):
Ali Mardan occupied the Masnad of Bengal after assassinating, Ikhtiyar-ud-din Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji, in August, 1206. He unleashed a reign of terror in ‘Lakhnauti’. But hardly the news of the assassination of Bakhtiyar reached Muhammad Shiran Khalji a trusted lieutenant of the former; he reached Devkot in north Bengal to punish Ali Mardan. Ali Mardan was defeated and captured and imprisoned, and the interregnum terminated with the election of Muhammad Shiran as a ruler of Lakhnauti (1207) by the Khalji Amirs.
Ruler # 3. Muhammad Shiran Khalji (1207-08): Husam-Ud-Din Iwaz (1208-10):
In the meantime Muhammad Ghuri had been assassinated and Qutb-ud-din Aibak enthroned himself as the Sultan of Delhi. Muhammad Shiran found the time very much unsettled and the loyalty of his own Amirs was most uncertain as every one of them thought himself more suitable for the masnad than others. But Muhammad Shiran was man of extraordinary courage and sagacity.
He maintained Status Quo within his dominions by confirming each Amir in his own jagir and showed no vindictiveness towards the partisans of Ali Mardan. He also avoided the wrath of Delhi by refraining from assuming any independent title while exercising, in fact, full independence. It is not certain if Muhammad Shiran exercised authority over Bihar.
Muhammad Shiran’s peace was broken by Ali Mardan who managed to escape from prison and betook himself to Qutb-ud-din Aibak and instigated him to send an army against Muhammad Shiran. Alibak ordered Que-maz-Rumi, governor of Oudh to march against Lakhnauti. Muhammad Shiran who could not reorganise his army after the disaster of Tibet expedition of Bakhtiyar, found his position totally desperate due to the treachery of Husam-ud-din Iwaz, the premier noble of Lakhnauti.
Muhammad Shiran evacuated Devkot and retreated with his army eastward beyond the river Punarbhava. Rumi occupied Devkot and it is not known if he had advanced against the city of Lakhnauti which had become an obscure city after its capture.
Now, the position was that the Khalji principality was to be governed from Devkot by a protege of Delhi Sultan. Rumi now inflicted a defeat on Shiran who fled with the Khalji Amirs towards modern Bogra district. Thus ended the gloomy short rule of Izz-ud-din Muhammad Shiran. But there was no attempt on the part of Iwaz to pursue him. Shiran, in all possibility preferred to die a sovereign rather than submit to the vassalage of Delhi. Husam-ud-din Iwaz ruled over the greater part of Lakhnauti as vassal of Delhi Sultan (1208-1210) till Ali Mardan made his reappearance on the scene.
Qutb-ud-din found in Ali Mardan, a Khalji chief from Lakhnauti, a dare-devil soldier who might be put to good use. When Qutb-ud-din proceeded against his adversary Taj- ud-din Yalduz of Ghazni when the latter invaded Punjab, Ali Mardan accompanied him.
Ali Mardan followed Qutb-ud-din to Lahore and thence to Ghazni in his triumphal train. But eventually fell a prisoner into the hands of Taj-ud-din who also found Ali Mardan a worthy courtier. But after one year’s detention Ali Mardan rejoined Qutb-ud-din. His services ajid sufferings were recognised and rewarded by Sultan Qutb-ud-din who appointed him viceroy of Lakhnauti. But before his departure for the viceroyalty he must have raised an army of sturdy Turks and appeared on the scene of his viceroyalty in 1210.
Ali Mardan did not encounter any opposition. Iwaz welcomed the Delhi viceroy, Husam-ud-din also ostensibly accepted the rule of the Viceroy, retiring into the background waiting for the favourable turn of events.
Ali Mardan restored political unity of Lakhnauti by subduing the partisans of Muhammad Shiran. His strength lay in his army composed of foreigners who accompanied him from Lahore. The interests of these Turks naturally were agaist those of the Khalji oligarchs who were long domiciled in Bengal. “Owing to the influx of a fresh wave of immigrants the Muslim power in Bengal entered on a new phase of expansion. Hardly Ali Mardan had established his authority in Bengal, his master Sultan Qutb-ud-din Aibak died (1210, Nov.).
True, Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar and Muhammad Shiran had been independent ruler although they did not assume any royal title. But it was Ali Mardan who for the first time assumed the title of Sultan and styled himself as Sultan Ala-ud-din.