The Baro-Bhuyans were the local chiefs and
zamindarswho put up strong resistance to the Mughalsduring the time of Akbarand Jahangir. The term Baro-Bhuyans means twelve Bhuyans, but who these Bhuyans were could not be identified for a long time. In fact, during the interregnum between Afghanrule and the rise of Mughal power in Bengal, various parts of Bengal passed to the control of several military chiefs, Bhuyans and zamindars. They jointly resisted Mughal expansion and ruled their respective territories as independent or semi-independent chiefs. There was no central control, or if there was any, it was nominal. In such circumstances many Bhuyans raised their heads. Taking the whole of Bengal into consideration, the number of Bhuyans was much more than twelve. These landlords did not belong to any particular ethnicity, religion or caste.
Identification of the Bhuyans
One group of scholars says the term Baro-Bhuyan does not necessarily mean exactly twelve Bhuyans or chiefs, the term was applied loosely to mean many. As number twelve was sacred to the
Hindus, these scholars examined traditions from scriptures to find out in which of the cases the number twelve was used. They applied the term Baro-Bhuyans to those who fought for the freedom of their motherland, though in actual practice the number of such freedom fighters was much more than twelve. This view was later modified by another group of scholars to say that only those Bhuyans who fought against Mughal aggression were known as Baro-Bhuyans. Even the fighters against the Mughals were many more than twelve, so this group also failed to identify the Baro-Bhuyans.
In recent years, the question of identification of the Baro-Bhuyans has been studied afresh and they have been identified more or less satisfactorily. Modern scholars have found that the Baro-Bhuyans flourished during the chaotic period of Afghan rule and the period of the conquest of Bengal by the Mughal emperors Akbar and Jahangir. So the Baro-Bhuyans received proper treatment from the Mughal historians,
Abul Fazl, the author of the Akbarnamah, and Mirza Nathan, the author of the Baharistan-i-Ghaibi. Both of them used the numerical word ithna-ashara (twelve), to denote the Baro-Bhuyans; it means that the word 'Baro-Bhuyans' was not a vague term, rather it gives the exact number of the Bhuyans. They also categorically say that the twelve Bhuyans(Baro-Bhuyans) were people of Bhatiand they rose to power in Bhati. But the identification of Bhati is not an easy task.
On the basis of the confusing statements of the European writers, previous scholars also were in confusion about the identification of Bhati. The Baro-Bhuyans fought against the Mughals in the reigns of emperors Akbar and Jahangir, and they submitted within a few years of Jahangir's accession. So Bhati of the Baro-Bhuyans may be identified with the help of the Mughal histories, mainly the Akbarnama, the
Ain-e-Akbariand the Baharistan-i-Ghaibi. In Bengal the word Bhati generally means low land and the entire low-lying area of Bengal is Bhati. It is a riverine country, and most of it remains inundated for more than half of the year; the mighty rivers the Ganges, the Brahmaputraand their numerous branches wash and water the whole of eastern and southern Bengal.
Modern scholars have, therefore, suggested that different low-lying areas of Bengal should be identified with Bhati. Some say that the whole of the low-lying tract from the
Bhagirathito the Meghnais Bhati, some others include in Bhati Hijli, Jessore, Chandradwipand Bakerganj. Keeping in view the theatre of warfare between the Baro-Bhuyans and the Mughals, and on the basis of the details of the warfare as given in the Akbarnama and the Baharistan-i-Ghaibi the limits of Bhati, where the Baro-Bhuyans flourished and rose to power, may be determined as the area bounded by the river Ichhamatiin the west, the Ganges in the south, the kingdom of Tripurain the east and Alapsinghpargana (in greater Mymensingh) stretching northeast to Baniachang(in greater Sylhet) in the North. So the low-lying area of the greater districts of Dhaka, Mymensingh, Tripura and Sylhet, watered and surrounded by the Ganga, the Brahmaputra, and the Meghna and their numerous branches constituted Bhati in the days of Akbar and Jahangir.
Mughal historians, Abul Fazl and Mirza Nathan, state the number of Bhuyans as twelve, but it should be remembered that the Baro-Bhuyans of the time of Akbar were not the same as those of the time of Jahangir, because some died in the intervening period. For example,
Isa Khan, who fought against Akbar, died in his reign and was succeeded by his son Musa Khan, who took up leadership in the reign of Jahangir. Some parganaschanged hands in the meantime; for example, Chand Raiand Kedar Raiwere zamindars of Vikramapuraand sripur in the reign of Akbar, but in the reign of Jahangir the family was probably extinct, so that the parganas were found in the hands of Musa Khan. After the Mughal campaign in Bhati, as found in the Akbarnama, the following list of the Bhuyans may be drawn up: (i) Isa Khan Masnad-i-Ala, (ii) Ibrahim Naral, (iii) Karimdad Musazai, (iv) Majlis Dilwar, (v) Majlis Pratap( Pratapaditya), (vi) Kedar Rai, (vii) Sher Khan, (viii) Bhadur Ghazi, (ix) Tila Ghazi, (x) Chand Ghazi, (xi) Sultan Ghazi, (xii) Selim Ghazi, (xiii) Qasim Ghazi. In the Baharistan-i-Ghaibi, the names of Musa Khan and his 12 zamindar allies are as follows: (i) Musa Khan Masnad-i-Ala, (ii) Alaul Khan, (iii) Abdullah Khan, (iv) Mahmud Khan, (v) Bahadur Ghazi, (vi) Sona Ghazi, (vii) Anwar Ghazi, (viii) Shaikh Pir, (ix) Mirza Mumin, (x) Madhav Rai, (xi) Binode Rai, (xii) Pahlwan, (xiii) Haji Shamsuddin Baghdadi.
In both the above lists though, there are thirteen names. Actually they were thirteen including the leader, and in fact both Abul Fazl and Mirza Nathan, while referring to the Baro-Bhuyans, wrote, 'Isa Khan made the 12 zamindars of Bengal subject to himself', and elsewhere Mirza Nathan wrote 'Musa Khan and his 12 zamindar allies'.
Rise and Fall
The Baro-Bhuyans gained strength during the chaotic conditions prevailing in eastern Bengal following the disruption of the two-hundred-year old independent
sultanatein 1538 AD. Sher Shahconquered Gaur, the capital of Sultan Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shahand placed the city under his governors, but could not consolidate his power throughout Bengal. There are examples of at least three rebellions against him by the supporters of the supplanted ruling dynasty. In fact, the riverine tract of Bengal was always a headache to the central government. To solve the problem, Sher Shahdivided Bengal into a number of smaller units, because, he thought, the rulers of smaller units would not have the power to rise against the central authority. The decentralisation had its demerits also. If the rulers of smaller units had not the power to rise against the central government, they had also no power to oppose the rebels. That Sher Shah's policy of decentralisation had this bad effect is proved by the several rebellions in eastern Bengal against him. The Afghan historians described this state of affairs by using the term Muluk-ut-tawaif, which means disorder, chaos and disintegration.
The chaotic condition did not end with the foundation of an independent
Sur dynastyunder Shamsuddin Muhammad Shah Ghaziand other Afghan ruling dynasties. During this period, Taj Khan Karranifled from the court of Adil Shah(Adali) at Delhi, came to Bengal and plundered and looted the country at will. He joined his brother Sulaiman who was serving in Bengal and became strong in Bengal politics. Later he accepted service under Ghiasuddin Bahadurof the Sur dynasty and still later laid the foundation of the Karrani dynasty. Even after the fall of Daud Khan Karrani, and occupation of the capital Tandahby the Mughals, Khwaja Usmanand his brothers, having been expelled by Raja Mansinghfrom Orissa, came to Bengal.
Satgaonand Bhusnathey came to Bukainagar(in modern greater Mymensingh district) and carved out an independent kingdom for themselves. It is evident that after the fall of the independent sultanate (1538 AD) and particularly after the decentralisation of administration by Sher Shah, a chaotic condition and disruptive forces prevailed, particularly in eastern Bengal in the region of Bhati; and during this period of chaos, the Baro-Bhuyans gained strength and rose to power. The Baro-Bhuyans were heirs to the two-hundred-year long independent sultanate of Bengal. They rose to power in this region and put up resistance to the Mughals, until Islam Khan Chistimade them submit in the reign of Jahangir. Srimanta Sankardeva, the revered Bhakti leader, was the last Shiromani Bhuyan, or chief Bhuyan in Assam. The Bhuyans of the north bank were transferred to the south bank by the Ahom king, which effectively ended their sovereignty.
The Baro-Bhuyans were not the scions of any royal family, they were zamindars or landholders. They were patriots who resisted the Mughal advance for three decades. After 1612 when Islam Khan Chishti forced them to submit, the term Baro-Bhuyans survived only in popular tales and ballads.
*Citation |last=Neog |first=M |contribution=Origin of the Baro-Bhuyans |editor-last=Barpujari |editor-first=H. K. |title=The Comprehensive History of Assam |volume=2 |pages=62-66 |publisher=Assam Publication Board |place=Guwahati |year=1992
*NK Bhattasali, 'Bengal Chiefs Struggle for Independence in the Reign of Akbar and Jahangir',
*Bengal Past and Present, XXXV - XXXVIII, 1928-29; JN Sarkar (ed),
*History of Bengal, II, Dhaka 1948; Satish Chandra Mitra,
*Joshohar Khulnar Itihas, II, Calcutta, 1965; A Karim,
*History of Bengal, Mughal Period, I, Rajshahi, 1992.
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