Medieval History

Provincial Kingdoms of Medieval India (Gujarat, Kashmir, Bengal, etc.) l www.insightdaily.in


In the wake of the decline of the Delhi Sultanate in the north, many provincial kingdoms arose in different parts of India, the most important of which were the Vijayanagara and the Bahmani kingdoms. This is discussed in great detail in Provincial Kingdoms of Medieval India (Part 1).

In this article, you can read all about the provincial kingdoms in Western, Eastern and Northern India. This is an important part of medieval Indian history for the UPSC exam.

Under the Delhi Sultanate, Gujarat was one of the wealthiest provinces owing to its brilliant handicrafts, flourishing sea-ports and fertile land. Alauddin Khalji was the first sultan who annexed it to the Delhi Sultanate in c.1297 CE. During the rule of Firoz Tughlaq, Gujarat had a liberal governor who encouraged the Hindu religion and also promoted the worship of idols. He was succeeded by Zafar Khan, whose father Sadharan was a Rajput who had converted to Islam and had given his sister in marriage to Firoz Tughalq. After Timur’s invasion of Delhi, both Gujarat and Malwa declared independence and Zafar Khan (the then governor of Gujarat) proclaimed himself an independent ruler in c.1407 CE. He assumed the title of Muzaffar Shah and founded the Muzaffarid dynasty

Muzaffarid Dynasty

Zafar Khan/Muzaffar Shah (c.1407 – 1411 CE)

Ahmed Shah Ⅰ (c.1411 – 1441)

  • Grandson of Zafar Khan and is considered to be the real founder of the kingdom of Gujarat. During his long tenure, he brought the nobility under control, settled the administration, expanded and consolidated the kingdom.
  • He shifted the capital from Patan to the new city of Ahmedabad (its foundation was laid in c.1413 CE).
  • Ahmed Shah tried to exercise his control over the Rajputana states in the Saurashtra region and also over the regions located on the Gujarat-Rajasthan border (Bundi, Dungarpur, and Jhalawar). In Saurashtra, he defeated and captured the strong fort of Girnar, but restored it to the raja on his promise to pay tribute. He attacked Sidhpur, the famous Hindu pilgrim centre and destroyed many beautiful temples. He imposed the tax jizya on the Hindus in Gujarat, but at the same time inducted Hindus into his government. For example, Moti Chand and Manik Chand (belonging to the trader community) were ministers in his government.
  • He was a just ruler and publicly executed his son-in-law for committing murder.
  • He beautified the town with many magnificent palaces and bazaars, mosques and madrasas. He was quite influenced by the rich architectural traditions of the Jains of Gujarat. Some of the architectural features are slender turrets, stone carving and highly ornate brackets. The Jama Masjid in Ahmedabad and the Teen Darwaza are fine examples of the style of architecture of his time.
  • He fought against Muslim as well as Hindu rulers. His arch-rivals were the Muslim rulers of Malwa. The bitter rivalry between the two kingdoms weakened them and made it difficult for them to play a larger role in the politics of north India.
  • After his death in c. 1441 CE, Muhammad Shah, his eldest son, occupied the throne. He was also known as Zar-Baksh. He was killed in c. 1451 CE by conspirators. Muhammad Shah was followed by two weak rulers. Later, nobles raised Fateh Khan, a grandson of Ahmed Shah to the throne. He was a very capable ruler and assumed the title of “Mahmud Begarha”

Mahmud Begarha (c. 1459 – 1511 CE)

  • The most famous ruler of Gujarat was Mahmud Begarha. During his reign, Gujarat emerged as one of the most powerful states in the country.
  • He was called Begarha because he captured two important forts (garhs) – Girnar in Saurashtra (now Junagarh) and Champaner in south Gujarat. Although the ruler of Girnar paid regular tributes to Ahmed Shah, Mahmud Begarha’s ambition was to bring Saurashtra under his full control. The powerful fort of Girnar was considered suitable not only for administering Saurashtra but also as a base for operations against Sindh. Mahmud founded a new town at the foot of the hill called Mustafabad. It became the second capital of Gujarat.
  • He captured the fort of Champaner which was important to control Malwa and Khandesh. Mahmud constructed a new town called Muhammadabad near Champaner. He laid out many beautiful gardens there and made it his principal place of residence.
  • Mahmud sacked Dwarka, on the grounds that it harboured pirates who preyed on the pilgrims travelling to Mecca.
  • Mahmud Begarha led an expedition against the Portuguese who were interfering with Gujarat’s trade with the countries of West Asia. For this, he sought help from the ruler of Egypt but he was unsuccessful.
  • During the long and peaceful reign of Mahmud Begarha, trade and commerce flourished. He built many caravan sarais and inns for the travellers. He also worked to make roads safe for traffic.
  • Although he did not receive any formal education, he patronised art and literature. During his reign, many works were translated from Arabic to Persian. His court poet was Udayaraja who composed in Sanskrit and wrote a book called Raja Vinoda on Mahmud Begarha.
  • His appearance was quite striking as he had a long flowing beard that reached his waist and his moustache was long enough to tie it over the head. According to a traveller Barbosa, Mahmud was given some poison right from his childhood and if a fly settled on his hand, it immediately died. He was also famous for his voracious appetite.

Gujarat was annexed by Akbar in c.1573 CE.

Malwa 

Alauddin Khalji conquered Malwa in c.1310 CE and annexed it to the Delhi Sultanate. It remained part of the Delhi Sultanate till the death of Firoz Shah Tughlaq. The state of Malwa was situated on the high plateau between the rivers Narmada and Tapti. It commanded the trunk routes between Gujarat and northern India and also between north and south India. The geopolitical situation in northern India was such that if any of the powerful states of the region could extend its control over Malwa, it could also dominate entire north India.

After the invasion of Timur, in c. 1401 CE, Dilawar Khan Ghori who belonged to the court of Firoz Shah Tughlaq threw off his allegiance to Delhi and became independent. Dilawar shifted the capital from Dhar to Mandu, a place that was highly defensible and which had a great deal of natural beauty. Dilawar Khan Ghori died in c.1405 CE and was succeeded by his son, Alp Khan who assumed the title ‘Hoshang Shah’.

Hoshang Shah (c. 1406 – 1435 CE)

  • He was the first formally appointed Islamic king of Malwa. Hoshang Shah adopted a broad policy of religious toleration. He encouraged many Rajputs to settle in Malwa. From the inscription of the Lalitpur temple, which was constructed during his reign, it appears that there was no restriction on building temples. He extended his patronage to the Jaina who were the principal merchants and bankers of the area. For instance, Nardeva Soni, a successful merchant was his treasurer as well as one of his advisors. 
  • Hoshangabad in Madhya Pradesh (earlier called Narmadapur) was founded by Hoshang Shah. He also made Mandu one of the most impregnable forts of India.

Mahmud Khalji (c. 1436 – 1469 CE)

  • Mahmud Khalji assassinated Mohammad, the son of Hoshang Shah and ascended to the throne. He is considered to be the most important Malwa ruler.
  • He was an ambitious monarch who fought with almost all his neighbours – the Bahmani Sultans, the ruler of Gujarat, the rajas of Gondwana and Orissa and even the sultan of Delhi. However, his prime targets were the south Rajputana states especially Mewar. He fought with Rana Kumbha of Mewar and both the kingdoms claimed victory. Mahmud Khalji erected a seven-storied column at Mandu and Rana Kumbha raised a tower of victory in Chittor.

Ghiyas-ud-Din (c. 1469 – 1500 CE)

  • Mahmud Khalji was succeeded by his eldest son, Ghiyas-ud-din. He was more interested in music and women than his kingdom. He built the Jahaz Mahal.
  • He was defeated by Rana Raimal of Chittor.

Mahmud Shah Ⅱ (c. 1510 – 1531 CE)

  • The last ruler of the Khalji dynasty of Malwa. He surrendered to Bahadur Shah (Sultan of Gujarat) after he lost the fort of Mandu in c.1531 CE.
  • During the period c. 1531 – 1537 CE, Bahadur Shah controlled the kingdom, though the Mughal emperor Humayun captured it for a brief period (c. 1535- 36 CE). In c.1537 CE, Qadir Shah who belonged to the previous Khalji dynasty regained control over a part of the erstwhile kingdom. But in c.1542 CE, Sher Shah Suri defeated him and captured the kingdom. He appointed Shujat Khan as the governor and his son Baz Bahadur declared independence in c. 1555 CE.

Baz Bahadur (c. 1551- 1561 CE)

  • He was the last sultan of Malwa. He was famous for his association with queen Roopmati.
  • In c.1561 CE, he was defeated by Akbar’s army led by Pir Muhammad Khan and Adham Khan in the battle of Sarangpur. Baz Bahadur fled to Khandesh.
  • Pir Muhammad Khan attacked Khandesh and proceeded up to Burhanpur where he was defeated and killed by a coalition of three powers – Tufail Khan of Berar, Miran Mubarak Shah Ⅱ of Khandesh and Baz Bahadur. The confederate army drove the Mughals out of Malwa and thus, the kingdom of Malwa was restored to Baz Bahadur, though for a short period.
  • In c. 1562 CE, Akbar again sent an army led by Abdullah Khan which defeated Baz Bahadur who fled to Chittor. In c. 1570 CE, he surrendered to Akbar at Nagpur, and Malwa thus became a province of the Mughal empire.

Mewar 

The rise of Mewar during the 15th century was an important factor in the political life of north India. With the conquest of Ranthambore by Alauddin Khalji, the power of Chauhans in Rajputana came to an end. After being overrun by the forces of Alauddin Khalji, Mewar had become relatively insignificant. Later in c. 1335 CE, Rana Hammira (c. 1314 – 1378 CE) established the second Guhila dynasty of Chittor and also became the progenitor of the Sisodia clan, a branch of the Guhilot clan, to which every succeeding Maharana of Mewar belonged. He was the first ruler who started the use of the title “Rana” and also built the Annapoorna Mata temple in Chittorgarh fort in Rajasthan. After the assassination of Rana Hamirra’s grandson, Maharana Mokal, his son Rana Kumbha ascended the throne of Mewar. Mewar (Udaipur) kingdom was originally called Medhpaat.

Rana Kumbha (c. 1433 – 1468 CE)

  • Rana Kumbha raised the kingdom of Mewar to the status of a power to be reckoned with. After consolidating his position with great diplomacy and defeating his internal rivals, Kumbha conquered states like Bundi, Kotah, Dungerpur, etc. 
  • The conflicts with Gujarat and Malwa occupied Kumbha throughout his reign. Rana Kumbha had given shelter to a rival of Mahmud Khalji of Malwa and even attempted to install him on the throne. In retaliation, Mahmud Khalji had given shelter and encouragement to some of the rivals of Kumbha such as his brother Mokal. Mahmud Khalji of Malwa fought with Rana Kumbha and both claimed victory. 
  • Although sorely pressed from all sides, Rana Kumbha was largely able to maintain his position in Mewar. Kumbhalgarh was besieged several times by the Gujarat army, while Mahmud Khalji raided Ajmer. However, Kumbha was able to resist these attacks and retain possession of most of his conquests except some outlying areas like Ranthambore.
  • Kumbha patronised art and literature. He himself composed a number of books. He was a great veena player. He patronised scholars like Atri and Mahesh who composed the inscriptions of the Victory Tower (Kirti Stambha) at Chittor
  • To protect his kingdom he built five forts – Achalgarh, Kumbhalgarh, Kolana, Vairat and Maddan. Some of the temples built during this period show that the art of stone cutting, sculpture were at a high level.
  • He was murdered by his own son, Udai in order to gain the throne. He was, however, ousted by Maharana Raimal, the younger son of Rana Kumbha. Later, after another unfortunate, long fratricidal conflict with his brothers, Rana Sanga (son of Raimal) became the ruler of Mewar.

Rana Sanga (c. 1508 – 1528 CE)

  • He was the grandson of Rana Kumbha. With his bravery, he established his supremacy over almost all Rajput states in Rajasthan.
  • Apart from being a great warrior, he was also a visionary. Under his leadership, he was able to unite various factions of Rajputs who had broken up after the fall of the Gurjara-Pratihara kingdom. Read more on the Gurjara-Pratihara kingdom in Early Medieval Northern India.
  • After consolidating his position at Mewar, Rana Sanga moved his forces against the internally troubled neighbouring kingdom of Malwa (as Malwa was disintegrating during this period). 
  • The ruler of Malwa, Mahmud Ⅱ was wary of his rival Rajput wazir Medini Rai’s power, so he asked for help from Bahadur Shah of Gujarat and also from sultan Ibrahim Lodhi of Delhi. Rana Sanga came to the aid of Medini Rai. Sanga’s army along with the Rajput rebels from within Malwa not only defeated Malwa’s army but also their supporting forces from Delhi. Thus, Malwa fell under Rana’s military might. However, Rana Sanga treated Mahmud Ⅱ with generosity and restored his kingdom even when he was defeated and taken as a prisoner by Rana Sanga.
  • In c. 1518 CE, the Lodhi ruler Ibrahim Lodhi invaded Mewar but suffered defeat at the hands of Rana Sanga at Ghatoli (near Gwalior). Lodhi was again defeated at Dholpur in c. 1519 CE.
  • According to some legends, Rana Sanga invited Babur to invade India in c. 1526 CE. But in c. 1527 CE, Rana fought against Babur in the famous Battle of Khanwa (near Fatehpur Sikri). He was supported by the contingents of Hasan Khan Mewati, Raja Medini Rai of Alwar and the Afghan Mahmud Lodhi. Rana Sanga was wounded, fell unconscious from his horse and the Rajput army thought their leader was dead and fled in disorder, thus allowing the Mughals to win.
  • In c. 1528 CE, he again fought Babur at the Battle of Chanderi to help Medini Rai who was attacked by Babur. But he fell sick and died in the camp.

It is important to mention that the poet, saint and devotee of Lord Krishna, the legendary Meera Bai, was the daughter-in-law of Maharana Sanga, and Maharana Pratap also belonged to his lineage. Read more on the Bhakti Movement in the link.

Provincial Kingdoms of Northern India

Kashmir

Kalhana was a 12th-century poet and historian who wrote the Rajatarangini during c.1148 – 1150 CE. It provides the earliest source on Kashmir that can be labelled as a reliable historical text on this region. According to Hindu mythology, Kashmir was once a lake that was drained out by a rishi named Kashyapa, who then asked people to settle in the valley. According to Al-Beruni, entry into the beautiful kingdom of Kashmir was not allowed even to the Hindus, who were not known personally to the local nobles. In the 11th century, Shaivism was the central religion in Kashmir. However, the situation changed with the ending of Hindu rule around the middle of the 14th century. 

During the reign of Sahdev (c. 1301 – 1320 CE), Kashmir was invaded by a Turkic-Mongol chief, Dalucha (Zulju) and Sahdev fled from Kashmir. Dalucha ordered the widespread massacre of men while women and children were enslaved and sold to the merchants of Central Asia. The hapless Kashmir government could not resist, thereby losing all credibility and public support. 

In c. 1339 CE, Shamsuddin Shah became the ruler of Kashmir and from this period, the religion Islam was being established in Kashmir.

Shah Mir Dynasty (c. 1339 – 1555 CE)

Shamsuddin Shah Mir (c. 1339 – 1342 CE)

  • He was the founder of the Shah Mir dynasty and was titled Sultan Shamsuddin.

Sultan Shihab-ud-din (c. 1354 – 1373 CE)

  • He was a great ruler who led many campaigns and conquered many regions like Sindh, Kabul, Ghazni, Dardistan, Gilgit, Balochistan and Ladakh. He faced an invasion by the ruler of Kashgar (Central Asia) who later claimed Ladakh and Baltistan. He founded a new town Shihab-ud-din Pora (now Shadipora). Due to his good administration, he is known as ‘Lalitaditya of Medieval Kashmir’.

Sikander Shah (c. 1389 – 1413 CE)

  • He was intolerant towards other religions. He levied taxes on non-Muslims, forced people to convert to Islam
  • After his death, his son Ali Shah (c. 1413- 1419 CE) ascended the throne. After a few years, his brother Shah Khan ascended the throne under the title of “Zainul Abidin”.

Zain-ul-Abideen (c. 1420 – 1470 CE)

  • He is called Bud Shah (The Great Sultan) by Kashmiris.
  • He was a benevolent, liberal and enlightened ruler. He brought back all the non-Muslims who had fled and gave freedom to revert to Hinduism to all those who were forcibly converted. He even restored the libraries and the land grants which the Hindus had enjoyed. He abolished jizya, cow slaughter and also withdrew the ban on sati, to respect the wishes of the Hindus. The Hindus occupied high offices in his government, for instance, Sriya Bhatt was minister of justice and court physician. As noted by Abul Fazl more than one hundred years later, Kashmir had 150 majestic temples and it is most likely that they must have been restored under Zain-ul-Abideen.
  • The sultan was a learned man and composed poetry. He was well versed in Persian, Kashmiri, Sanskrit and Tibetian languages. He also patronised Sanskrit and Persian scholars and under his patronage, the Mahabharata and Kalhana’s Rajatarangini were translated into Persian.
  • Though he was not a great warrior, he defeated the Mongol invasion of Ladakh, conquered the Baltistan region (called Tibbat-i-Buzarg) and kept control over Jammu, Rajouri, etc. He thus unified the Kashmir kingdom.
  • The fame of Zain-ul-Abideen had spread far and wide. He was in touch with the leading rulers in other parts of India and also with the leaders of Asia.
  • He paid great attention towards the economic development of Kashmir. He sent two persons to Samarqand to learn the art of paper-mache and bookbinding. He encouraged the art of shawl making for which Kashmir is world-famous. Under his rule, the art of wood carving, stone cutting and polishing, gold beating, bottle making, musket making and carpet weaving prospered. The sultan developed agriculture by making large numbers of dams, canals and bridges. He also introduced reforms in the currency, market control and fixed prices of commodities.
  • He built an artificial island, Zaina Lank, in the Wular lake on which he built his palace and a mosque. He also founded the towns of Zainapur, Zainakut and Zainagir. He also built the first wooden bridge at Srinagar, Zaina Kadal.

With the death of the Sultan in c. 1470 CE, the Shah Mir dynasty also started to decline due to its weak rulers. The last ruler of this dynasty was Habib Shah (c. 1555 CE). He was dethroned by his commander Ghazi Chak who was a Military General.

Chak Dynasty (c. 1555 – 1586 CE)

The dynasty was founded by Muhammad Ghazi Shah Chak in c. 1555 CE. The Chaks originally belonged to the Dard territory of the Gilgit Hunza area. Chak rulers prevented the attempts of Mughal rulers like Babur and Humayun to annex Kashmir.

Yusuf Shah Chak (c. 1579 – 1586 CE) became the ruler of Kashmir after his father, Ali Shah Chak. He was brought for talks with Akbar but was imprisoned by him in Bihar, where he died. After his death, his son Yaqub Shah Chak became the ruler of Kashmir. He tried to resist the Mughal Army but was defeated by Qasim Khan who led the army. Thus, the kingdom of Kashmir was conquered by Akbar (in c. 1586 CE) and became a part of the Mughal Empire.

Provincial Kingdoms of Eastern India

Jaunpur (in eastern Uttar Pradesh)

With the growing weakness of the Delhi Sultanate and the invasion of Timur in Delhi (c. 1398 CE), Malik Sarwar (Sultanu Sharq) – governor of Jaunpur took advantage of the situation and declared independence. He extended his authority over Awadh and a large part of the Ganga Yamuna doab such as Kannauj, Dalmau, Kara, Sandeela, Bihar and Tirhut. He laid the foundation of the Sharqi dynasty. A distinctive architecture evolved during this period known as the Sharqi style of architecture. Jaunpur was called the Sheraz of India. The Atala Masjid, Jama Masjid and the Lal Darwaja Masjid are some of the examples of the Sharqi style of architecture.

Malik Sarwar (c.1394 – 1399 CE)

  • He founded the Sharqi dynasty.
  • The Rai of Jajnagar and the ruler of Lakhnauti recognised his suzerainty. 
  • After his death, his adopted son Malik Qaranfal ascended the throne and took the title of Mubarak Shah.

Mubarak Shah (c. 1399 – 1402 CE)

  • During his rule, Mallu Iqbal (the powerful minister of the Delhi Sultanate) tried to recover Jaunpur but failed.

Ibrahim Shah (c. 1402 – 1440 CE)

  • Ibrahim was the younger brother of Mubarak Shah. During his reign, Jaunpur became an excellent centre of learning.
  • His kingdom extended to Bihar in the east and to Kannauj in the west. He led an expedition to Delhi but failed.
  • He patronised Islamic learning and established a number of colleges for this purpose. The Hashiah-i-Hind, the Bahar-ul-Mawwaj and the Fatwa-i-Ibrahim Shahi are some of the scholarly works on Islamic theology and law that were produced during his reign.
  • The famous Atala Masjid, the foundation of which was laid by Firoz Shah Tughlaq (in c.1376 CE) was completed during the reign of Ibrahim Shah. The Jhanjhiri Masjid was also constructed by Ibrahim Shah in c.1430 CE.

Mahmud Shah (c.1440 – 1457 CE)

  • He was the elder son of Ibrahim Shah who conquered the fort of Chunar but failed to capture Kalpi.
  • He invaded Delhi in c.1452 CE but was defeated by Bahlol Lodhi. Later, he made another attempt to conquer Delhi and marched into Etawah. Finally, he agreed to a treaty that accepted the right of Bahlol Lodhi over Shamsabad. But when Bahlol Lodhi tried to take possession of Shamsabad, he was opposed by the forces of Jaunpur. Around this time, Mahmud Shah died and was succeeded by his son Bhikhan who took the title of Muhammad Shah.
  • During his reign, the Lal Darwaja Masjid was constructed in c.1450 CE.

Muhammad Shah (c.1457 – 1458 CE)

  • He made peace with Bahlol Lodhi and recognised his right over Shamsabad.
  • He was killed by his brother Hussain Shah who then declared himself the Sultan of Jaunpur.

Hussain Shah Sharqi (c. 1458 – 1505 CE)

  • He assumed the title of Gandharva and contributed significantly to the development of Khyal – a genre of Hindustani classical music. He also composed several ragas (melodies) like Malhar-syama, Bhopal syama, Gaur-syama, Hussaini or Jaunpuri-asavari (presently known as Jaunpuri) and Jaunpuri basant.
  • During his rule, Jama Masjid was built in c.1470 CE.

Finally, Sikander Lodhi who succeeded Bahlol Lodhi annexed Jaunpur, Hussain Shah died and the Sharqi dynasty came to an end.

Bengal 

Bengal was ruled by the Palas in the 8th century and by the Senas in the 12th century. It was the easternmost province of the Delhi Sultanate. Bengal had frequently become independent of the control of Delhi owing to its distance, climate and the fact that much of its communication depended upon waterways with which the Turkish rulers were unfamiliar. Due to the preoccupation of Muhammad bin Tughlaq with rebellions in other parts of the Sultanate, Bengal again broke away from Delhi in c.1338 CE. Thus, Bengal emerged as an independent regional state in the 14th century.

In c. 1342 CE, Haji Ilyas Khan (one of the nobles) became the ruler of Bengal and laid the foundation of the Ilyas Shah dynasty. The Bengal Sultanate, which ruled for around 125 years though in phases, established by Ilyas Shah emerged as one of the leading diplomatic, economic and military powers in the subcontinent. The capitals of Bengal – Pandua and Gaur were adorned with huge buildings. Bengali developed as a regional language while Persian remained the language of administration. The sultans patronised the poet Maladhar Basu, compiler of Sri Krishna Vijaya and awarded him with the title of Gunaraja Khan and his son was granted the title of Satyaraja Khan. Later, the kingdom was taken over by the Hussain Shahi dynasty that ruled for a period of 44 years. Thereafter, one of the most capable Suri rulers, Shar Shah Suri ruled Bengal who even ousted the Mughal ruler Humayun from Delhi.

Ilyas Shah Dynasty

Haji Shamsuddin Ilyas Khan (c.1342 – 1357 CE)

  • He laid the foundation of the Ilyas Shah dynasty. He extended his dominions in the west from Tirhut to Champaran and Gorakhpur and finally, up to Banaras. This forced Firoz Shah Tughlaq to undertake a campaign against him, marching through Champaran and Gorakhpur, the newly acquired territories by Ilyas. Firoz Shah Tughlaq occupied the capital of Bengal, Pandua and forced Ilyas to take shelter in the strong fort of Ekdala. Ilyas Shah had to sign a treaty of friendship with Firoz Shah Tughlaq, according to which the river Kosi in Bihar was fixed as the boundary between the two kingdoms. Friendly relations with Delhi enabled Ilyas Shah to extend his control over the kingdom of Kamrup (modern Assam).
  • Ilyas Shah was a popular ruler and had many achievements to his credit. Ilyas Shah is considered the Bengali equivalent of Alexander or Napoleon.
  • Ilyas Shah died in c.1357 CE and his son Sikandar ascended the throne. During his rule, Firoz Shah Tughlaq again invaded Bengal but Sikandar followed the policy of his father and retreated to Ekdala. Firoz Shah once again failed and had to retreat. After this Bengal was left alone for a period of 200 years and was not invaded again till after the Mughals had established their power at Delhi. It was overrun by Sher Shah Suri in c. 1538 CE. During this period, a number of dynasties flourished in Bengal.

Ghiyasuddin Azam (c. 1390 –  1411 CE)

  • The famous sultan in the dynasty of Ilyas Shah was Ghiyasuddin Azam Shah. He was famous for delivering justice. It is said that he once accidentally killed the son of a widow who complained to the qazi. The sultan, when summoned to the court, humbly appeared and paid the fine imposed by the qazi. At the end of the trial, the sultan told the qazi that if he had failed to do his duty, he would have been beheaded.
  • Azam Shah had close relations with the learned men of his times, including the famous Persian poet, Hafiz of Shiraz. He also had cordial ties with China which helped in the overseas trade of Bengal. The Chittagong port was an important port for trade with China.

There was a brief spell of Hindu rule under Raja Ganesh (c. 1414 – 1435 CE), but later the rule of the Ilyas Shahi dynasty was restored by Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah and his successors (c. 1435 – 1487 CE). Thereafter, Habshis came to rule over Bengal for a brief period of seven years (c. 1487 – 1494 CE) and were overthrown by Alauddin Hussain Shah.

Alauddin Hussain Shah (c. 1494 – 1519 CE)

  • He was the founder of the Hussain Shahi dynasty. A brilliant period began under the enlightened rule of Alauddin Hussain. He not only expanded the frontiers of Bengal but also brought about a cultural renaissance in Bengal. During his reign, the Bengali language flourished.
  • The sultan restored law and order and adopted a liberal policy by offering high offices to the Hindus – his wazir, chief bodyguard, chief physician, master of mint were all Hindus. He also had great respect for the famous Vaishnavite saint, Chaitanya.
  • He conquered Jajnagar, Orissa and Kamarupa. He also extended his empire to Chittagong port, which witnessed the arrival of the first Portuguese merchants.
  • After his death in c. 1518 CE, his son Nasib Khan ascended the throne under the title of Nasir-ud-din Nasrat Shah.

Nasiruddin Nasrat Shah (c. 1518 – 1533 CE)

  • He married Ibrahim Lodhi’s daughter and gave refuge to the Afghan lords. He saved Bengal from the Mughal invasion by signing a treaty with Babur.
  • He followed his father’s policy of expanding his kingdom. However, after c. 1526 CE, he had to contend with the Mughal supremacy and also suffered a reversal at the hands of the Ahom kingdom.
  • After his death, his son Alauddin Firuz Shah ascended the throne. During his reign, Bengal forces entered Assam and reached Kaliabor but he was murdered by his uncle Ghiyassuddin Mahmud Shah.

Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah (c. 1533 – 1538 CE)

  • He was the last sultan of the Hussain Shahi dynasty who ruled from Sonargaon. He is described as a pleasure-seeking and easy-going ruler who could not deal with the political problems which beset Bengal during his reign.
  • He had to face many rebellions, for instance, from Khuda Baksh Khan, his general and governor of the Chittagong area and Makhdum Alam, the governor of Hajipur. 
  • In c. 1534 CE, the Portuguese who had arrived in Chittagong were sent to Gaur as prisoners on charges of misbehaviour. Later, they were freed and allowed to set up factories at Chittagong and Hughli.
  • Ghiyasuddin and his Portuguese allies were defeated by Sher Shah Suri and his Afghans in c. 1538 CE.

Sher Shah conquered Bengal and established the Sur Empire. Later, in c. 1586 CE, Bengal was conquered by Akbar and made it a province (Suba). The Mughals established their capital in the heart of the eastern delta at Dhaka, where officials were granted land and settled there.

Assam 

  • The history of Assam is the history of the confluence of the Tibeto-Burman (Sino Tibetan), Indo Aryan and Austroasiatic cultures. Although invaded over the centuries, it was never a vassal or a colony to an external power until the Burmese in c. 1821 CE and subsequently, the British in c. 1826 CE after the famous treaty of Yandaboo.
  • The history of Assam has been derived from varied sources, proto-history has been derived from folklore epics like Mahabharata and two medieval texts compiled in the Assam region – the Kalika Purana and the Yogini Tantra. The establishment of Pushyavarman’s Varman dynasty (4th century) begins the ancient history of the Kamarupa kingdom. The Varman dynasty left behind a corpus of Kamarupa inscriptions on rocks, clay, copper, etc. Samudragupta’s Allahabad pillar also mentions the Kamarupa kingdom. The Buranji chronicles written in the Ahom and the Assamese languages by the Ahom kings give a detailed account of Assam in the medieval period.
  • According to the Kanai Boroxiboa rock inscription, the Bengal Muslim rulers had tried to gain control over the Brahmaputra region since the time of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji (c. 1207 CE). They, however, suffered a series of disastrous defeats as the region was little known to them.
  • There were two warring kingdoms in north Bengal and Assam at that time – Kamata, also known as Kamrupa in the west and the Ahom kingdom in the east. The Ahoms, a mongoloid tribe from north Burma, had been successful in building a strong kingdom in the 13th century and had been Hinduised in course of time. The name Assam is derived from them. 
  • Ilyas Shah raided Kamata and reached up to Gauhati, however, he could not hold the area and the river Karatoya was fixed as the north-east boundary of Bengal. Later, Kamata rulers recovered many regions on the eastern bank of the river Karatoya. They also fought against the Ahoms. By alienating both their neighbours they sealed their doom. An attack by Alauddin Hussain Shah, which was supported by the Ahoms led to the destruction of the city of Kamtapur (near modern Cooch Bihar) and the annexation of the kingdom to Bengal. The sultan appointed one of his sons as the governor of the area.
  • A subsequent attack on the Ahom kingdom, probably by Nusrat Shah, the son of Alauddin Hussain Shah, remained unsuccessful and was repulsed with huge losses. The eastern Brahmaputra was at this time under Suhungmung (c. 1497 – 1539 CE), who is considered to be one of the great rulers of the Ahom kingdom. He adopted the title of Svarg Narayana, which infers to the rapid Hinduization of the Ahoms. He not only repulsed the Muslim attack but also expanded his empire in all directions. Shankara Deva, the Vaishnavite reformer, belonged to this time and played a vital role in propagating Vaishnavism in the region.

Orissa/Odisha 

During medieval times, the Hindu Gajapati rulers (c. 1435 – 1541 CE) ruled over Kalinga (Odisha), large parts of Andhra Pradesh and West Bengal, and the eastern and central parts of Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand. Gajapati means “king with an army of elephants”. In c. 1435 CE, Kapilendra Deva founded the Gajapati dynasty after the decline of the last eastern Ganga king, Bhanu Deva Ⅳ. The Gajapati dynasty is also known as the “Suryavamsi dynasty”. The Gajapati rule marks a brilliant phase in Orissa. The rulers were great builders and warriors. They extended their rule in the south towards Karnataka which brought them into conflict with Vijayanagara, the Reddis and the Bahmani sultans. However, by the early 16th century, the Gajapati rulers lost significant portions of the southern dominion to Vijaynagara and Golconda and the Gajapatis were even ousted by the Bhoi dynasty.

Gajapati Dynasty

Kapilendra Deva (c. 1435 – 1466 CE)

  • He was the founder of the Gajapati dynasty. His empire extended from Ganga in the north to Bidar in the south.
  • Around c. 1450 CE, he appointed his son Hamvira Deva as the governor of Kondavidu and Rajahmundry. Hamvira Deva conquered Hampi, the Vijayanagara capital and made its ruler, Mallikarjuna Raya, pay taxes. In c. 1460 CE, Tamavupala (commander of Hamvira Deva) conquered the southern states of Udayagiri (Nellore district) and Chandragiri. The rock edicts of Srirangam temple (near Trichinapalli) indicate that Hamvira Deva captured Trichinapalli, Tanjore and Arcot in the south. In c. 1464 CE, he adopted the title of Dakshina Kapileswara.
  • During his reign, the Odia language was officially used as an administrative language. Sarla Das, the famous Odia poet wrote the “Odia Mahabharata”.

Purushottama Deva (c. 1466 – 1497 CE)

  • After the death of Kapilendra Deva, his son Purushottama Deva ascended the throne in c. 1484 CE by defeating Hamvira Deva. During this period, significant southern parts of the empire were lost to the Vijayanagara Kingdom. However, he was able to regain some of the territories by the time of his death.

Prataparudra Deva (c. 1497 – 1540 CE)

  • Son of Purushottama Deva. During his reign, Alauddin Hussain Shah of Bengal raided twice. In the latter campaign (c. 1508 CE), the Bengal army marched up to Puri.
  • In c. 1512 CE, Kalinga was invaded by Krishna Deva Raya of the Vijayanagara kingdom and the army of the Gajapati kingdom suffered defeat. In c. 1522 CE, Quli Qutb Shah of Golconda ousted the Odia army from the Krishna-Godavari tract.
  • During his reign, the Bhakti movement gained momentum under the influence of Sri Chaitanya. Prataparuda Deva was greatly influenced by the works of Chaitanya and led an ascetic life after retiring himself.

In c. 1541 CE, Govinda Vidyadhara, minister of Prataparudra Deva, rebelled against the weak rulers and murdered the two sons of Prataparudra Deva. He established the Bhoi dynasty which only ruled for a short period of time and came into conflict with neighbouring kingdoms. In c. 1559 CE, history repeated itself as Makundra Deva, a minister of the Bhoi dynasty assassinated the last two Bhoi rulers and ascended the throne. He is considered the last independent ruler of Odisha as the region witnessed a steady fall afterwards. In c. 1568 CE, Odisha came under the control of Sulaiman Khan Karrani of the Karrani dynasty, who was the ruler of the Bengal Sultanate. The year c. 1568 CE is important in the history of Odisha, as Odisha never emerged as an independent kingdom again.

Provincial Kingdoms of Medieval India (Part 2):- Download PDF Here





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