New Delhi: The life of Jalaluddin Muhammad Shah and his reign is both an exciting and controversial phase in the history of Bengal, a region that had seen its fair share of rulers and kingdoms in the earlier days. Shah was the ruler of Bengal in the 15th century and an essential figure in the medieval history of that region. Unlike what his name suggests, he was born a Hindu to his aristocratic father Raja Ganesha, the patriarch of the Ganesha Dynasty. Later in his life, he converted to Islam and ruled the Bengal Sultanate for 16 years. During his reign, Bengal grew in wealth and population, and he also combined Bengali and Islamic architecture.
As per historians, Raja Ganesha took control of Bengal soon after the death of Sultan Bayazid. Soon, he faced an imminent threat of invasion at the behest of a powerful Muslim holy man named Nur Qutb Alam.
He requested the saint to call off his threat, and he agreed. But, there was a catch. He put forward a condition that Raja Ganesha's son Jadu would convert to Islam and rule in his place. Raja Ganesha had no option but to agree, and Jadu started ruling Bengal as Jalaluddin in 1415. Nur Qutb Alam died in 1416 AD and Raja Ganesha was emboldened to depose his son and accede to the throne himself as Danujamarddana Deva.
Jalaluddin was reconverted to Hinduism by the Golden Cow ritual, but after the death of his father, he once again converted to Islam and started ruling his second phase.
After becoming a ruler once again, he maintained a relatively peaceful kingdom. His authority stretched to eastern Bengal Moazzamabad (present-day Sunamganj) and south-eastern Bengal (present-day Chittagong). He also conquered Fathabad (present-day Faridpur) and southern Bengal. Firuzabad Pandua became a populous and flourishing town during his reign, and evidence of it can be found in the 'Ming shi' that a Chinese explorer named Cheng Ho visited the city twice in 1421–22 and 1431–33.
Later, he made Gauda his capital, and the city was re-populated during his reign. Jalaluddin himself constructed several buildings there.
According to some, religious conversions took place in Bengal during his reign. According to Dr James Wise, who explained in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal (1894) that people were given two choices, Quoran or death. Fearful Hindus fled to Kamrup and the jungles of Assam. He added that possibly more people were converted to Islam during his reign than in the next 300 years.
However, he had a good relationship with non-Muslims in his kingdom. According to DC Bhattacharya, Jalaluddin appointed Rajyadhar, a Hindu, as the commander of his army. He gained the support of Muslim scholars and reconstructed and repaired the mosques and other religious architectures.
However, the 17th-century Persian historian Firishta said that he was tolerant of Hindus and Buddhists, a remark corroborated by the evidence of the Smritiratnahara and the Padachandrika. He patronised Sanskrit culture by publicly showing appreciation for eminent scholars of classical Brahmanic scholarship, and honoured many Brahmin poets. According to a 19th-century chronicle written by Francis Buchanan-Hamilton, Jalaluddin compelled many Hindus to convert to Islam, resulting in many Hindus fleeing to Kamrup.
Jalaluddin established diplomatic relations with the Timurid ruler Shah Rukh of Herat, Yung Lo of China and al-Ashraf Barsbay, the Mamluk ruler of Egypt. He used both the titles of 'Sultan' and 'amir' and received from the Abbasid Caliph a 'robe of honour' and 'investiture'. He issued a new coin in 1431, assuming the significant title of 'Khalifat Allah'. He inscribed 'Kalima' on his coins. He breathed his last in 1433 AD.