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 Page 1


TEN
Struggle for Empire in North India—I (Circa
1400–1525)
The growing weakness of the Delhi Sultanat, and the attack of Timur on
Delhi in 1398, followed by the flight of the Tughlaq king from his capital,
emboldened a number of provincial governors and autonomous rulers to
declare their independence. Apart from the Deccan states, Bengal in the east,
and Sindh and Multan in the west were among the first to break away from
Delhi. Soon, the governors of Gujarat, Malwa and Jaunpur (in eastern Uttar
Pradesh) also declared themselves independent. With the expulsion of the
Muslim governor from Ajmer, the various states of Rajputana asserted their
independence.
Gradually, a definite pattern of balance of power emerged between the
states belonging to the various regions. In the west, Gujarat, Malwa and
Mewar balanced and checked the growth of each other’s power. Bengal was
checked by the Gajapati rulers of Orissa, as well as by Jaunpur. The rise of the
power of the Lodis in Delhi from about the middle of the fifteenth century
resulted in a long drawn-out tussle between them and the rulers of Jaunpur
for the mastery of the Ganga-Yamuna valley. The situation began to change
with the absorption of Jaunpur by the Lodis towards the end of the fifteenth
century. Following this victory, the Lodis began to expand their power in
eastern Rajasthan and Malwa. Malwa started disintegrating at this time due to
internal factors, thereby sharpening the rivalry between Gujarat, Mewar and
the Lodis. It appeared that the victor in this contest would dominate the
entire north India. Thus, the struggle for the domination of Malwa was the
cockpit for the struggle for the mastery of north India. It was this heightened
rivalry which perhaps prompted Rana Sanga to invite Babur in the hope that
the destruction of the power of the Lodis would leave Mewar as the strongest
power in the field.
Page 2


TEN
Struggle for Empire in North India—I (Circa
1400–1525)
The growing weakness of the Delhi Sultanat, and the attack of Timur on
Delhi in 1398, followed by the flight of the Tughlaq king from his capital,
emboldened a number of provincial governors and autonomous rulers to
declare their independence. Apart from the Deccan states, Bengal in the east,
and Sindh and Multan in the west were among the first to break away from
Delhi. Soon, the governors of Gujarat, Malwa and Jaunpur (in eastern Uttar
Pradesh) also declared themselves independent. With the expulsion of the
Muslim governor from Ajmer, the various states of Rajputana asserted their
independence.
Gradually, a definite pattern of balance of power emerged between the
states belonging to the various regions. In the west, Gujarat, Malwa and
Mewar balanced and checked the growth of each other’s power. Bengal was
checked by the Gajapati rulers of Orissa, as well as by Jaunpur. The rise of the
power of the Lodis in Delhi from about the middle of the fifteenth century
resulted in a long drawn-out tussle between them and the rulers of Jaunpur
for the mastery of the Ganga-Yamuna valley. The situation began to change
with the absorption of Jaunpur by the Lodis towards the end of the fifteenth
century. Following this victory, the Lodis began to expand their power in
eastern Rajasthan and Malwa. Malwa started disintegrating at this time due to
internal factors, thereby sharpening the rivalry between Gujarat, Mewar and
the Lodis. It appeared that the victor in this contest would dominate the
entire north India. Thus, the struggle for the domination of Malwa was the
cockpit for the struggle for the mastery of north India. It was this heightened
rivalry which perhaps prompted Rana Sanga to invite Babur in the hope that
the destruction of the power of the Lodis would leave Mewar as the strongest
power in the field.
EASTERN INDIA—BENGAL, ASSAM AND ORISSA
As we have seen above, Bengal had frequently become independent of the
control of Delhi due 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 Tughlaq with
rebellions in various quarters, Bengal again broke away from Delhi in 1338.
Four year later, one of the nobles, Ilyas Khan, captured Lakhnauti and
Sonargaon, and ascended the throne under the title Sultan Shamsuddin Ilyas
Khan. He extended his dominions in the west, from Tirhut to Champaran
and Gorakhpur, and finally up to Banaras. This forced Firuz Tughlaq to
undertake a campaign against him. Marching through Champaran and
Gorakhpur, the territories newly acquired by Ilyas, Firuz Tughlaq occupied
the Bengali capital Pandua, and forced Ilyas to seek shelter in the strong fort
of Ekdala. After a siege of two months, Firuz tempted Ilyas out of the fort by
feigning flight. The Bengali forces were defeated, but Ilyas once again
retreated into Ekdala. Finally, a treaty of friendship was concluded by which
the river Kosi in Bihar was fixed as the boundary between the two kingdoms.
Though Ilyas exchanged regular gifts with Firuz, he was in no way
subordinate to him. Friendly relations with Delhi enabled Ilyas to extend his
control over the kingdom of Kamrup (in modern Assam).
Ilyas Shah was a popular ruler and had many achievements to his credit.
When Firuz was at Pandua, he tried to win over the inhabitants of the city to
his side by giving liberal grants of land to the nobles, the clergy and other
deserving people. His attempts failed. The popularity of Ilyas might have been
one of the reasons for the failure of Firuz against him.
Firuz Tughlaq invaded Bengal a second time when Ilyas died and his son,
Sikandar, succeeded to the throne. Sikandar followed the tactics of his father,
and retreated to Ekdala. Firuz failed, once again, to capture it, and had to beat
a retreat. After this, Bengal was left alone for about 200 years and was not
invaded again till after the Mughals had established their power at Delhi. It
was overrun by Sher Shah in 1538. During this period, a number of dynasties
flourished in Bengal. The frequent changes of dynasties did not, however,
disturb the even tenor of the lives of the common people.
Page 3


TEN
Struggle for Empire in North India—I (Circa
1400–1525)
The growing weakness of the Delhi Sultanat, and the attack of Timur on
Delhi in 1398, followed by the flight of the Tughlaq king from his capital,
emboldened a number of provincial governors and autonomous rulers to
declare their independence. Apart from the Deccan states, Bengal in the east,
and Sindh and Multan in the west were among the first to break away from
Delhi. Soon, the governors of Gujarat, Malwa and Jaunpur (in eastern Uttar
Pradesh) also declared themselves independent. With the expulsion of the
Muslim governor from Ajmer, the various states of Rajputana asserted their
independence.
Gradually, a definite pattern of balance of power emerged between the
states belonging to the various regions. In the west, Gujarat, Malwa and
Mewar balanced and checked the growth of each other’s power. Bengal was
checked by the Gajapati rulers of Orissa, as well as by Jaunpur. The rise of the
power of the Lodis in Delhi from about the middle of the fifteenth century
resulted in a long drawn-out tussle between them and the rulers of Jaunpur
for the mastery of the Ganga-Yamuna valley. The situation began to change
with the absorption of Jaunpur by the Lodis towards the end of the fifteenth
century. Following this victory, the Lodis began to expand their power in
eastern Rajasthan and Malwa. Malwa started disintegrating at this time due to
internal factors, thereby sharpening the rivalry between Gujarat, Mewar and
the Lodis. It appeared that the victor in this contest would dominate the
entire north India. Thus, the struggle for the domination of Malwa was the
cockpit for the struggle for the mastery of north India. It was this heightened
rivalry which perhaps prompted Rana Sanga to invite Babur in the hope that
the destruction of the power of the Lodis would leave Mewar as the strongest
power in the field.
EASTERN INDIA—BENGAL, ASSAM AND ORISSA
As we have seen above, Bengal had frequently become independent of the
control of Delhi due 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 Tughlaq with
rebellions in various quarters, Bengal again broke away from Delhi in 1338.
Four year later, one of the nobles, Ilyas Khan, captured Lakhnauti and
Sonargaon, and ascended the throne under the title Sultan Shamsuddin Ilyas
Khan. He extended his dominions in the west, from Tirhut to Champaran
and Gorakhpur, and finally up to Banaras. This forced Firuz Tughlaq to
undertake a campaign against him. Marching through Champaran and
Gorakhpur, the territories newly acquired by Ilyas, Firuz Tughlaq occupied
the Bengali capital Pandua, and forced Ilyas to seek shelter in the strong fort
of Ekdala. After a siege of two months, Firuz tempted Ilyas out of the fort by
feigning flight. The Bengali forces were defeated, but Ilyas once again
retreated into Ekdala. Finally, a treaty of friendship was concluded by which
the river Kosi in Bihar was fixed as the boundary between the two kingdoms.
Though Ilyas exchanged regular gifts with Firuz, he was in no way
subordinate to him. Friendly relations with Delhi enabled Ilyas to extend his
control over the kingdom of Kamrup (in modern Assam).
Ilyas Shah was a popular ruler and had many achievements to his credit.
When Firuz was at Pandua, he tried to win over the inhabitants of the city to
his side by giving liberal grants of land to the nobles, the clergy and other
deserving people. His attempts failed. The popularity of Ilyas might have been
one of the reasons for the failure of Firuz against him.
Firuz Tughlaq invaded Bengal a second time when Ilyas died and his son,
Sikandar, succeeded to the throne. Sikandar followed the tactics of his father,
and retreated to Ekdala. Firuz failed, once again, to capture it, and had to beat
a retreat. After this, Bengal was left alone for about 200 years and was not
invaded again till after the Mughals had established their power at Delhi. It
was overrun by Sher Shah in 1538. During this period, a number of dynasties
flourished in Bengal. The frequent changes of dynasties did not, however,
disturb the even tenor of the lives of the common people.
The most famous sultan in the dynasty of Ilyas Shah was Ghiyasuddin
Azam Shah (1389–1409). He was known for his love of 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 had him beheaded.
Azam Shah had close relations with the famous learned men of his times,
including the famous Persian poet, Hafiz of Shiraz. He re-established friendly
relations with the Chinese. The Chinese emperor received his envoy cordially
and, in 1409, sent his own envoy with presents to the sultan and his wife, and
a request to send Buddhist monks to China. This was accordingly done.
Incidentally, this shows that Buddhism had not died completely in Bengal till
then.
The revival of contact with China helped in the growth of the overseas
trade of Bengal. The Chittagong port became a flourishing port for trade with
China, and for the re-export of Chinese goods to other parts of the world.
During this period, there was a brief spell of Hindu rule under Raja
Ganesh. However, his sons preferred to rule as Muslims.
The sultans of Bengal adorned their capitals, Pandua and Gaur, with
magnificent buildings. These had a style of their own, distinct from the style
which had developed in Delhi. The materials used were both stone and brick.
The sultans also patronised the Bengali language. The celebrated poet
Maladhar Basu, compiler of Sri-Krishna-Vijaya, was patronised by the sultans
and was granted the title of Gunaraja Khan. His son was honoured with the
title of Satyaraja Khan. But the most significant period for the growth of the
Bengali language was the rule of Alauddin Hussain (1493–1519). Some of the
famous Bengali writers of the time flourished under his rule.
A brilliant period began under the enlightened rule of Alauddin Hussain.
The sultan restored law and order, and adopted a liberal policy by offering
high offices to the Hindus. Thus, his wazir was a talented Hindu. The chief
physician, the chief of the bodyguard, the master of the mint were also
Hindus. The two famous brothers who were celebrated as pious Vaishnavas,
Rupa and Sanatan, held high posts, one of them being the sultan’s private
Page 4


TEN
Struggle for Empire in North India—I (Circa
1400–1525)
The growing weakness of the Delhi Sultanat, and the attack of Timur on
Delhi in 1398, followed by the flight of the Tughlaq king from his capital,
emboldened a number of provincial governors and autonomous rulers to
declare their independence. Apart from the Deccan states, Bengal in the east,
and Sindh and Multan in the west were among the first to break away from
Delhi. Soon, the governors of Gujarat, Malwa and Jaunpur (in eastern Uttar
Pradesh) also declared themselves independent. With the expulsion of the
Muslim governor from Ajmer, the various states of Rajputana asserted their
independence.
Gradually, a definite pattern of balance of power emerged between the
states belonging to the various regions. In the west, Gujarat, Malwa and
Mewar balanced and checked the growth of each other’s power. Bengal was
checked by the Gajapati rulers of Orissa, as well as by Jaunpur. The rise of the
power of the Lodis in Delhi from about the middle of the fifteenth century
resulted in a long drawn-out tussle between them and the rulers of Jaunpur
for the mastery of the Ganga-Yamuna valley. The situation began to change
with the absorption of Jaunpur by the Lodis towards the end of the fifteenth
century. Following this victory, the Lodis began to expand their power in
eastern Rajasthan and Malwa. Malwa started disintegrating at this time due to
internal factors, thereby sharpening the rivalry between Gujarat, Mewar and
the Lodis. It appeared that the victor in this contest would dominate the
entire north India. Thus, the struggle for the domination of Malwa was the
cockpit for the struggle for the mastery of north India. It was this heightened
rivalry which perhaps prompted Rana Sanga to invite Babur in the hope that
the destruction of the power of the Lodis would leave Mewar as the strongest
power in the field.
EASTERN INDIA—BENGAL, ASSAM AND ORISSA
As we have seen above, Bengal had frequently become independent of the
control of Delhi due 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 Tughlaq with
rebellions in various quarters, Bengal again broke away from Delhi in 1338.
Four year later, one of the nobles, Ilyas Khan, captured Lakhnauti and
Sonargaon, and ascended the throne under the title Sultan Shamsuddin Ilyas
Khan. He extended his dominions in the west, from Tirhut to Champaran
and Gorakhpur, and finally up to Banaras. This forced Firuz Tughlaq to
undertake a campaign against him. Marching through Champaran and
Gorakhpur, the territories newly acquired by Ilyas, Firuz Tughlaq occupied
the Bengali capital Pandua, and forced Ilyas to seek shelter in the strong fort
of Ekdala. After a siege of two months, Firuz tempted Ilyas out of the fort by
feigning flight. The Bengali forces were defeated, but Ilyas once again
retreated into Ekdala. Finally, a treaty of friendship was concluded by which
the river Kosi in Bihar was fixed as the boundary between the two kingdoms.
Though Ilyas exchanged regular gifts with Firuz, he was in no way
subordinate to him. Friendly relations with Delhi enabled Ilyas to extend his
control over the kingdom of Kamrup (in modern Assam).
Ilyas Shah was a popular ruler and had many achievements to his credit.
When Firuz was at Pandua, he tried to win over the inhabitants of the city to
his side by giving liberal grants of land to the nobles, the clergy and other
deserving people. His attempts failed. The popularity of Ilyas might have been
one of the reasons for the failure of Firuz against him.
Firuz Tughlaq invaded Bengal a second time when Ilyas died and his son,
Sikandar, succeeded to the throne. Sikandar followed the tactics of his father,
and retreated to Ekdala. Firuz failed, once again, to capture it, and had to beat
a retreat. After this, Bengal was left alone for about 200 years and was not
invaded again till after the Mughals had established their power at Delhi. It
was overrun by Sher Shah in 1538. During this period, a number of dynasties
flourished in Bengal. The frequent changes of dynasties did not, however,
disturb the even tenor of the lives of the common people.
The most famous sultan in the dynasty of Ilyas Shah was Ghiyasuddin
Azam Shah (1389–1409). He was known for his love of 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 had him beheaded.
Azam Shah had close relations with the famous learned men of his times,
including the famous Persian poet, Hafiz of Shiraz. He re-established friendly
relations with the Chinese. The Chinese emperor received his envoy cordially
and, in 1409, sent his own envoy with presents to the sultan and his wife, and
a request to send Buddhist monks to China. This was accordingly done.
Incidentally, this shows that Buddhism had not died completely in Bengal till
then.
The revival of contact with China helped in the growth of the overseas
trade of Bengal. The Chittagong port became a flourishing port for trade with
China, and for the re-export of Chinese goods to other parts of the world.
During this period, there was a brief spell of Hindu rule under Raja
Ganesh. However, his sons preferred to rule as Muslims.
The sultans of Bengal adorned their capitals, Pandua and Gaur, with
magnificent buildings. These had a style of their own, distinct from the style
which had developed in Delhi. The materials used were both stone and brick.
The sultans also patronised the Bengali language. The celebrated poet
Maladhar Basu, compiler of Sri-Krishna-Vijaya, was patronised by the sultans
and was granted the title of Gunaraja Khan. His son was honoured with the
title of Satyaraja Khan. But the most significant period for the growth of the
Bengali language was the rule of Alauddin Hussain (1493–1519). Some of the
famous Bengali writers of the time flourished under his rule.
A brilliant period began under the enlightened rule of Alauddin Hussain.
The sultan restored law and order, and adopted a liberal policy by offering
high offices to the Hindus. Thus, his wazir was a talented Hindu. The chief
physician, the chief of the bodyguard, the master of the mint were also
Hindus. The two famous brothers who were celebrated as pious Vaishnavas,
Rupa and Sanatan, held high posts, one of them being the sultan’s private
secretary. The sultan is also said to have shown great respect to the famous
Vaishnavite saint, Chaitanya.
Since the time of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji, the Muslim rulers of
Bengal had tried to bring the Brahmaputra valley in modern Assam under
their control, but had to suffer a series of disastrous defeats in this region
which was little known to them. The independent sultans of Bengal tried to
follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. There were two warring
kingdoms in north Bengal and Assam at that time. Kamata (called Kamrup by
the writers of the time) was in the west, and the Ahom kingdom was in the
east. The Ahoms, a Mongoloid tribe from north Burma, had succeeded in
establishing a powerful kingdom in the thirteenth century, and had become
Hinduized in course of time. The name Assam is derived from them.
Ilyas Shah invaded Kamta and, it seems, penetrated up to Gauhati.
However, he could not hold the area, and the river Karatoya was accepted as
the northeast boundary of Bengal. Plundering raids into Kamta by some of
the successors of Ilyas Shah did not change the situation. The rulers of Kamta
were gradually able to recover many of the areas on the eastern bank of the
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 (in modern Cooch Bihar), and the annexation of the kingdom to
Bengal. The sultan appointed one of his sons as governor of the area. A
colony of Afghans was planted in the area. A subsequent attack on the Ahom
kingdom, probably by Nusrat Shah, the son of Alauddin Hussain, was
unsuccessful and was repulsed with considerable losses. The eastern
Brahmaputra valley was at this time under Suhungmung who is considered
the greatest of the Ahom rulers. He changed his name to Svarga Narayana.
This was an index of the rapid Hinduization of the Ahoms. He not only
repulsed the Muslim attack, but also extended his kingdom in all directions.
The Vaishnavite reformer, Shankaradeva, belonged to his time and played an
important role in the spread of Vaishnavism in the area.
The sultans of Bengal also tried to bring Chittagong and a part of Arakan
under their control. Sultan Hussain Shah not only wrested Chittagong from
the Arakan king, but also conquered Tipperah from its ruler.
Page 5


TEN
Struggle for Empire in North India—I (Circa
1400–1525)
The growing weakness of the Delhi Sultanat, and the attack of Timur on
Delhi in 1398, followed by the flight of the Tughlaq king from his capital,
emboldened a number of provincial governors and autonomous rulers to
declare their independence. Apart from the Deccan states, Bengal in the east,
and Sindh and Multan in the west were among the first to break away from
Delhi. Soon, the governors of Gujarat, Malwa and Jaunpur (in eastern Uttar
Pradesh) also declared themselves independent. With the expulsion of the
Muslim governor from Ajmer, the various states of Rajputana asserted their
independence.
Gradually, a definite pattern of balance of power emerged between the
states belonging to the various regions. In the west, Gujarat, Malwa and
Mewar balanced and checked the growth of each other’s power. Bengal was
checked by the Gajapati rulers of Orissa, as well as by Jaunpur. The rise of the
power of the Lodis in Delhi from about the middle of the fifteenth century
resulted in a long drawn-out tussle between them and the rulers of Jaunpur
for the mastery of the Ganga-Yamuna valley. The situation began to change
with the absorption of Jaunpur by the Lodis towards the end of the fifteenth
century. Following this victory, the Lodis began to expand their power in
eastern Rajasthan and Malwa. Malwa started disintegrating at this time due to
internal factors, thereby sharpening the rivalry between Gujarat, Mewar and
the Lodis. It appeared that the victor in this contest would dominate the
entire north India. Thus, the struggle for the domination of Malwa was the
cockpit for the struggle for the mastery of north India. It was this heightened
rivalry which perhaps prompted Rana Sanga to invite Babur in the hope that
the destruction of the power of the Lodis would leave Mewar as the strongest
power in the field.
EASTERN INDIA—BENGAL, ASSAM AND ORISSA
As we have seen above, Bengal had frequently become independent of the
control of Delhi due 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 Tughlaq with
rebellions in various quarters, Bengal again broke away from Delhi in 1338.
Four year later, one of the nobles, Ilyas Khan, captured Lakhnauti and
Sonargaon, and ascended the throne under the title Sultan Shamsuddin Ilyas
Khan. He extended his dominions in the west, from Tirhut to Champaran
and Gorakhpur, and finally up to Banaras. This forced Firuz Tughlaq to
undertake a campaign against him. Marching through Champaran and
Gorakhpur, the territories newly acquired by Ilyas, Firuz Tughlaq occupied
the Bengali capital Pandua, and forced Ilyas to seek shelter in the strong fort
of Ekdala. After a siege of two months, Firuz tempted Ilyas out of the fort by
feigning flight. The Bengali forces were defeated, but Ilyas once again
retreated into Ekdala. Finally, a treaty of friendship was concluded by which
the river Kosi in Bihar was fixed as the boundary between the two kingdoms.
Though Ilyas exchanged regular gifts with Firuz, he was in no way
subordinate to him. Friendly relations with Delhi enabled Ilyas to extend his
control over the kingdom of Kamrup (in modern Assam).
Ilyas Shah was a popular ruler and had many achievements to his credit.
When Firuz was at Pandua, he tried to win over the inhabitants of the city to
his side by giving liberal grants of land to the nobles, the clergy and other
deserving people. His attempts failed. The popularity of Ilyas might have been
one of the reasons for the failure of Firuz against him.
Firuz Tughlaq invaded Bengal a second time when Ilyas died and his son,
Sikandar, succeeded to the throne. Sikandar followed the tactics of his father,
and retreated to Ekdala. Firuz failed, once again, to capture it, and had to beat
a retreat. After this, Bengal was left alone for about 200 years and was not
invaded again till after the Mughals had established their power at Delhi. It
was overrun by Sher Shah in 1538. During this period, a number of dynasties
flourished in Bengal. The frequent changes of dynasties did not, however,
disturb the even tenor of the lives of the common people.
The most famous sultan in the dynasty of Ilyas Shah was Ghiyasuddin
Azam Shah (1389–1409). He was known for his love of 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 had him beheaded.
Azam Shah had close relations with the famous learned men of his times,
including the famous Persian poet, Hafiz of Shiraz. He re-established friendly
relations with the Chinese. The Chinese emperor received his envoy cordially
and, in 1409, sent his own envoy with presents to the sultan and his wife, and
a request to send Buddhist monks to China. This was accordingly done.
Incidentally, this shows that Buddhism had not died completely in Bengal till
then.
The revival of contact with China helped in the growth of the overseas
trade of Bengal. The Chittagong port became a flourishing port for trade with
China, and for the re-export of Chinese goods to other parts of the world.
During this period, there was a brief spell of Hindu rule under Raja
Ganesh. However, his sons preferred to rule as Muslims.
The sultans of Bengal adorned their capitals, Pandua and Gaur, with
magnificent buildings. These had a style of their own, distinct from the style
which had developed in Delhi. The materials used were both stone and brick.
The sultans also patronised the Bengali language. The celebrated poet
Maladhar Basu, compiler of Sri-Krishna-Vijaya, was patronised by the sultans
and was granted the title of Gunaraja Khan. His son was honoured with the
title of Satyaraja Khan. But the most significant period for the growth of the
Bengali language was the rule of Alauddin Hussain (1493–1519). Some of the
famous Bengali writers of the time flourished under his rule.
A brilliant period began under the enlightened rule of Alauddin Hussain.
The sultan restored law and order, and adopted a liberal policy by offering
high offices to the Hindus. Thus, his wazir was a talented Hindu. The chief
physician, the chief of the bodyguard, the master of the mint were also
Hindus. The two famous brothers who were celebrated as pious Vaishnavas,
Rupa and Sanatan, held high posts, one of them being the sultan’s private
secretary. The sultan is also said to have shown great respect to the famous
Vaishnavite saint, Chaitanya.
Since the time of Muhammad bin Bakhtiyar Khalji, the Muslim rulers of
Bengal had tried to bring the Brahmaputra valley in modern Assam under
their control, but had to suffer a series of disastrous defeats in this region
which was little known to them. The independent sultans of Bengal tried to
follow in the footsteps of their predecessors. There were two warring
kingdoms in north Bengal and Assam at that time. Kamata (called Kamrup by
the writers of the time) was in the west, and the Ahom kingdom was in the
east. The Ahoms, a Mongoloid tribe from north Burma, had succeeded in
establishing a powerful kingdom in the thirteenth century, and had become
Hinduized in course of time. The name Assam is derived from them.
Ilyas Shah invaded Kamta and, it seems, penetrated up to Gauhati.
However, he could not hold the area, and the river Karatoya was accepted as
the northeast boundary of Bengal. Plundering raids into Kamta by some of
the successors of Ilyas Shah did not change the situation. The rulers of Kamta
were gradually able to recover many of the areas on the eastern bank of the
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 (in modern Cooch Bihar), and the annexation of the kingdom to
Bengal. The sultan appointed one of his sons as governor of the area. A
colony of Afghans was planted in the area. A subsequent attack on the Ahom
kingdom, probably by Nusrat Shah, the son of Alauddin Hussain, was
unsuccessful and was repulsed with considerable losses. The eastern
Brahmaputra valley was at this time under Suhungmung who is considered
the greatest of the Ahom rulers. He changed his name to Svarga Narayana.
This was an index of the rapid Hinduization of the Ahoms. He not only
repulsed the Muslim attack, but also extended his kingdom in all directions.
The Vaishnavite reformer, Shankaradeva, belonged to his time and played an
important role in the spread of Vaishnavism in the area.
The sultans of Bengal also tried to bring Chittagong and a part of Arakan
under their control. Sultan Hussain Shah not only wrested Chittagong from
the Arakan king, but also conquered Tipperah from its ruler.
The rulers of Bengal had also to contend with Orissa. During the period of
the Sultanat rule over Bengal, the Ganga rulers of Orissa had aided Radha
(south Bengal), and even made an attempt at the conquest of Lakhnauti.
These attacks had been repulsed but the rulers of Orissa were powerful
enough not to allow the governor of Bengal to penetrate into Orissa. It were
the rulers of the Ganga dynasty who built the famous Puri temple, and the
Sun temple (Konark). It was only after 1338 that the independent ruler of
Bengal, Ilyas Shah, raided Jajnagar (Orissa). It is said that overcoming all
opposition, he advanced up to the Chilka Lake and returned with a rich
booty, including a number of elephants. A couple of years later, in 1360, while
returning from his Bengal campaign, Firuz Tughlaq also raided Orissa. He
occupied the capital city, massacred a large number of people, and desecrated
the Jagannatha temple of Puri. These two raids destroyed the prestige of the
Ganga dynasty. In due course, a new dynasty, called the Gajapati dynasty,
came to the fore. The Gajapati rule marks a brilliant phase in Orissa history.
The rulers were great builders and warriors. The Gajapati rulers were mainly
instrumental in extending their rule in the south towards Karnataka. As we
have seen, this brought them into conflict with Vijayanagara, the Reddis and
the Bahmani sultans. Perhaps, one reason why the Gajapati rulers preferred
aggrandizement in the south was their feeling that the sultans of Bengal were
too strong to be easily dislodged from the Bengal-Orissa border. But the
Orissa rulers could not hold on to their southern conquests for any length of
time, due to the power and capabilities of the Vijayanagara and Bahmani
rulers.
In Bengal, the Orissa frontier at this time was the river Saraswati which
then carried much of the waters of the Ganga. Thus, a large part of
Midnapore district and part of the Hugli district were included in Orissa
territories. There is some evidence that the Orissa rulers tried to extend their
control up to Bhagirathi, but were compelled to retreat. Some of the sultans of
Bengal, including Alauddin Hussain Shah, made raids into Orissa which
extended up to Puri and Cuttack. Intermittent fighting also went on the
frontier. However, the rulers of Bengal were not able to dislodge the Orissan
rulers from their frontiers, or to gain any territory beyond the river Saraswati.
That the Orissan rulers were able to engage successfully in battles at the same
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FAQs on Old NCERT Textbook (Satish Chandra): Struggle for Empire in North India - I (Circa 1400–1525) - History for UPSC CSE

1. What were the major political developments in North India during the period of 1400-1525?
Ans. During the period of 1400-1525, North India witnessed several major political developments. The Delhi Sultanate collapsed, leading to the emergence of several regional kingdoms such as the Sultanate of Jaunpur, Malwa Sultanate, and Gujarat Sultanate. The Lodi dynasty established the Delhi Sultanate once again, which was later overthrown by the Mughals under Babur in 1526.
2. How did the struggle for empire in North India impact the social and cultural fabric of the region?
Ans. The struggle for empire in North India during this period had a significant impact on the social and cultural fabric of the region. The shift in power dynamics led to the rise of regional kingdoms, each with its own distinct cultural and artistic traditions. The patronage of art, architecture, and literature flourished under the rulers of these kingdoms, resulting in the blending of different cultural influences.
3. What were the economic consequences of the struggle for empire in North India?
Ans. The struggle for empire in North India had both positive and negative economic consequences. On one hand, the regional kingdoms promoted trade and commerce, leading to economic growth in certain regions. The rulers encouraged the development of industries, such as textiles and metalwork, which boosted the economy. However, frequent wars and conflicts also disrupted trade routes and agricultural activities, causing economic instability in some areas.
4. How did the religious landscape change during the struggle for empire in North India?
Ans. The struggle for empire in North India brought about significant changes in the religious landscape of the region. The rulers of different kingdoms often patronized different religious communities, leading to the growth of diverse religious practices. Islam continued to be a dominant religion, but there was also the presence of Hinduism and the rise of Bhakti and Sufi movements, which brought about religious syncretism.
5. What were the major factors that contributed to the decline of the Delhi Sultanate and the rise of the Mughal Empire in North India?
Ans. Several factors contributed to the decline of the Delhi Sultanate and the rise of the Mughal Empire in North India. The internal conflicts, weak leadership, and the invasion of Timur weakened the Delhi Sultanate. Meanwhile, the Mughals, led by Babur, took advantage of the power vacuum and established their rule in the region. Babur's military strategies, alliances with local Rajput rulers, and the use of gunpowder technology played crucial roles in the rise of the Mughal Empire.
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