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Zamindars of Bengal

The Zamindars of Bengal were influential in administration, in the Bengal region, in the eastern part of the Indian subcontinent, which consists of territories East Bengal which is now Bangladesh and West Bengal. The Nawabs of Bengal ruled the area under the Mughal Empire from 1717 to 1880. Murshid Quli Jafar Khan governed the area, through his feudal chiefs, the zamindars, which mirrored the European system of serfdom.[1] The zamindars dominated most of the villages in Bengal.[2]

Zamindars were the landholders of demarcated areas, responsible for collecting revenue for the monarchy and rose into prominence during the British colonial era, owing to the opportunity availed by the British in India. Mostly credited with cultural, architectural, educational, economical development and urbanisation of Calcutta and discredited for the exploitation of rural Bengal.

History and events

In 1612, Sir Thomas Roe was instructed by King James I to visit the Mughal Emperor to arrange for a commercial treaty which would give the Company exclusive rights to reside and build factories in Surat and other areas. The British were given the ability to trade in the Indian Empire by Emperor Jahangir.


In 1757, after the Battle of Plassey, the rule of the Nawabs were undermined by the British and later they received the diwani (Vice Royalty) from the Nawabs. In effect, the British now directly controlled Bengal and most of its zamindars who were previously under the Nawabs and the Imperial Mughal rule. The Seven Years' War (1756–1763) saw the transformation of events of 1757 to 1764 where European forces were in a struggle to oust the Indian rulers and establish rule in Bengal, that resulted in direct rule over all of India.

In 1764, the Battle of Buxar, saw the loss of Bengal from the Mughals, as Emperor Shah Alam II became a pensioner of the British after a loss. With him, Nawab Shuja-ud-Daula, the Ruler of Awadh was restored, while Nawab Mir Qasim, the Ruler of Bengal lost his control on Bengal.

The Treaty of Allahabad was signed on 16 August 1765 between Mughal Emperor Shah Alam II (son of late Emperor Alamgir II) and Lord Clive of the British East India Company after the Battle of Buxar (1764). Based on the terms of the agreement, Shah Alam II granted Diwani rights or right to administer the territory and collect taxes to the East India Company. These rights allowed the Company to collect revenue from the people of Bengal, Bihar and Orissa. In return, the Company gave an annual tribute of 2.6 million rupees (260,000 British pounds) while securing for Shah Alam II the districts of Kora and Allahabad. The tribute money paid to the emperor was for the maintenance of the court of Allahabad. The accord also dictated that Shah Alam II restore to Balwant Singh the province of Varanasi as long as Balwant Singh continued to pay revenue to the Company. Awadh was returned to Shuja-ud-Daulah but Allahabad and Kora was taken from him. The Nawab of Awadh also had to pay 53 Lakhs rupees of war indemnity to the British.

British rule

This European conquest of The Kingdom of Bengal would later instill the Company rule in India [3] (and would later on turn into the British Empire), which effectively began in 1793 after the Nizamat(local rule) was abolished, and lasted until 1858, when, following the events of the Indian Rebellion of 1857, where the Bengal Army was one of the main protagonists and under the Government of India Act 1858, the British Crown assumed direct administration of India in the new British Raj that would rule all of the Indian subcontinent (present-day India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Burma). While the Battle of Plassey secured a foothold for the British East India Company in the rich province of Bengal only, the Battle of Buxar is really the battle that secured its political ascendancy in India.

The Viceroyalty and later direct Royal British Rule over Bengal started as the British being given the Jemmidarship (British diminutive of the word zamindari) by the Rulers of Bengal.[4]

Direct rule by the Crown

In 1877, the title of Emperor of India of the Mughal Royal Family (Imperial House of Timur) went to the British Royal family, first to Queen Victoria (1877-1901), King Edward VII (1901-1910), King George V (1910-1936), King Edward VIII (1936) and finally King George VI (1936-1948).


Under the British, the zamindars grew more powerful, shedding their image as landed aristocrats, and taking honorary royal titles such as Raja and Maharaja recognized by the British Royal Family themselves. Some families such as the Burdwan Raj family (or Burdhaman) ruled over territories in excess of 13,000 km2, while the Rajshahi Raj family ruled over an area of 33,670 km2 and the only one Yadav (Ahir) King Raja Hariwansh Narayan Singh of Durgapur riyasat ruled over an area of 22,445 km2 but later the more than 2/3 part of total land is occupied by East India Company Who later settled in Khilwat near Hajipur in Bihar after Bengal-Bihar partition. The Baro-Bhuyan occupied the region west of the Kachari kingdom in the south bank of the Brahmaputra river, and west of the Chutiya kingdom in the north bank, and were prevalent in the area since 1498. The Gain family of Bengal were prominent zamindars who owned large amounts of land and built their ancestral castles in Dhanyakuria, now owned by the state-government.[5]

Other families such as the Dighapatia Raj family would go on to establish the first museum of East Bengal in 1910, while Nawab Sir Khwaja Salimullah Khan Bahadur of Dhaka and Nawab Bahadur Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury, another zamindar of Rajshahi was pivotal in establishing the University of Dhaka, the first University of East Bengal. Yet another zamindari of Rajshahi, the Puthia Raj family is the oldest estate of Bengal, originally given to a Lord named Nilambar by Emperor Jahangir with a title of Raja (King). Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah a zamindar of Dhaka is largely credited with founding Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, the oldest engineering institution of the region. Persian nobility (and zamindar), such as Mirza Agha Bakar of Barisal played an important part in Bengal History, Khan Bahadur Ghulam Mustafa Chowdhury, Zamindar of Bhatipara (Sunamgonj) was a founder member of Muslim League, Zamindar Habibul Islam Chowdhury Comilla is well known also.(1935).


Even after the abolition of the zamindari system, zamindari family members such as Sir Khawaja Nazimuddin became the second Governor-General of Pakistan, and later the second Prime Minister of Pakistan. Nawab Bahadur Syed Nawab Ali Chowdhury's grandson, Nawabzada Muhammad Ali Bogra became the third Prime Minister of Pakistan. Sahibzada Iskander Mirza, a relative of the Nawabs of Bengal and also of Muhammad Ali Bogra became the first President of the Republic of Pakistan.

See also


  • Chowdhury, S. R. Kumar; P. K., Singh; Ismail, M. Ali (2012). Blood Dynasties: Zemindaris of Bengal - A Chronicle of Bengal’s Ruling families (Paperback). Dictus: Politics and Democracy series. ISBN 9783847385080. Retrieved 20 March 2014.


  1. ^ Islam in Bangladesh
  2. ^ Markovits, Claude, ed. (2002) [First published 1994 as Histoire de l'Inde Moderne]. A History of Modern India, 1480–1950. London: Anthem Press. p. 301. ISBN 978-1-84331-004-4.
  3. ^ Reports from Committees of the House of Commons Vol IV East Indies, 1772,1773 (1804 Reprint) pp 155-157
  4. ^ 31 October 1698. The Prince having given us the three towns adjacent to our Settlement, viz. De Calcutta, Chutanutte, and Gobinpore, or more properly may be said the Jemmidarship of the said towns, paying the said Rent to the King as the Jemidars have successively done, and at the same time ordering the Zamindar of the said towns to make over their Right and Title to the English upon their paying to the Jemidar(s) One thousand Rupees for the same, it was agreed that money should be paid, being the best Money that ever was spent for so great a Privilege; but the Jemmidar(s) making a great Noise, being unwilling to part with their Country and finding them to continue in their averseness, notwithstanding the Prince had an officer upon them to bring them to a Compliance, it is agreed that 1,500 Rupees be paid them, provided they will relinquish their title to the said towns, and give it under their Hands in Writing, that they have made over the same to the Right Honourable Company. Ext of Consns. at Chuttanutte, 29 December (Printed for Parliament in 1788).Henry Yule, A. C. Burnell, William Crooke (1986) Hobson-Jobson: A glossary of colloquial Anglo-Indian words and phrases. ISBN 0-7100-2886-5.
  5. ^ []

Further reading

External links