History is always written by the Victors, it is said. This is especially true of all historians belonging to the Abrahamic religions. In Bharat we had the system of writing history which spoke about both, the victor and the loser, because we believed that good and bad were committed by both. So every war was recounted as one from which the future generations could learn its principles and ideals from. Thus our Ramayana and Mahabharata list the good qualities of the heroes as well as the anti-heroes.
When the invaders came to India to loot her treasures, some of them continued living on this soil. They did this by defeating the existing kings/queens and cruelly subduing the common people. As is expected, there were some who resisted this tyranny … from among these brave hearts, some won against the tyrants & some lost their lives fighting bravely. Those who won were able to leave behind memoirs of their wins in some form of written history, but those who lost, were forgotten in the sands of time. Narratives of their valourous deeds are only available in the form of ballads and poems. Maharaja Pratapaditya of Bengal is one such figure in the history of Bengal, who resisted the Mughals for a very long time, but eventually lost to them.
Maharaja Pratapaditya (1561–1611) was the King of Jessore and most prominent of the Hindus in Baro-Bhuyan of Bengal, who declared independence from the Islamic rule of Mughals and made the dream of Hindu Bengalis true of establishing an independent Hindu Kingdom in Bengal. His kingdom at its zenith encompassed the districts of Nadia, North 24 Parganas and South 24 Parganas in West Bengal and in current Bangladesh up to Kushtia district in north, Barisal in east and Sundarbans and Bay of Bengal to south. He was a contemporary to the likes of Shivaji Maharaj, Lachit Borphukan and Guru Gobind Singh. His father Srihari (or Sridhar), was an influential officer in the service of Daud Khan Karrani, the last independent Sultan of Bengal. When Daud Khan passed away, Srihari declared independence and gave himself the title of ‘Maharaja’. Srihari divided his kingdom – 5/8th to Pratapaditya and 3/8th to his brother Basanta Ray.
Pratapaditya was an able administrator. During his reign there was a complete restoration of law and order. He did not show any partiality to any of his subjects irrespective of the religion they followed. In fact, he had Muslims, Rajputs, Kayasthas and Portuguese sailors in his army and navy. He also had a sizeable number of Kuki soldiers in his army. Pratapaditya built several forts. The principal fourteen of them were at Jessore, Dhumghat, Raigarh, Kamalpur, Vedkashi, Shibsha, Pratapnagar, Shalikha, Matla, Haidargarh, Araikaki, Mani, Raimangal and Chaksri. There were seven forts built by Pratapaditya in and around present day Kolkata. They were at Matla, Raigarh, Tala, Behala, Salkia, Chitpur and Mulajor. Apart from these Pratapaditya had built a fort near present day Jagatdal. His capital was at Dhumghat.
According to Historian Radhakumud Mookerjee, “But by far the most important seat of Hindu maritime power of the times in Bengal was that established at Chandikhan or Saugor island by the constructive genius of Pratapaditya, the redoubtable ruler of Jessore. Numbers of men-of-war were always to be found ready for battle and in a seaworthy condition at that naval station. There were also three other places where Pratap built his shipyards and dockyards: these were Dudhali, Jahajaghata and Chakasri, where his ships were built repaired and kept.” According to Dutch historian Jos Gommans, the Mughal fleet consisted of, at maximum about 500 boats, whereas the fleet of Raja Pratapaditya had twice as many.
The Jesuits arrived at Jessore in 1599. They were received most cordially by the king and his Portuguese subjects, most of whom were in the naval services. The king granted them full permission to preach to his subjects and to baptise all those who wished to become Christians. The first Jesuit church in Bengal was opened in January 1600. After 1602 the Jesuit church were razed to ground and the missionaries were expelled as they had started converting by deceit and insulting Hindu faith.
THE TWO BATTLES WHICH HE LOST AGAINST THE MUSLIM RULERS:
The first was the battle of Salka, in which he deputed his son Udayaditya to defend the fort of Salka. The Mughal forces were under the command of Islam Khan’s brother Ghiyas Khan or Inayat Khan, while the fleet and artillery were under Mirza Nathan, son of Ihtimam Khan. They soon reached a place named Salka near the confluence of the river Jamuna and the Ichhamati. With its overwhelming numbers the Jessore fleet managed to force the Mughals into backfoot, but steady artillery support from both the banks of Ichhamati and Mirza Nathan’s breaching the enemy ranks at the back led to capitulation of the Jessore fleet. Udayaditya managed to escape while Khwaja Kamal, his commandant who commanded 500 war boats, was killed.
The second was the battle of Kagarghat where Pratapaditya prepared himself to fight a second time from a new base near the confluence of Kagarghat canal and the Jamuna. The Mughals began the battle by an attack on the Jessore fleet (Jan 1612) and compelled it to seek shelter beneath the fort. But their further advance was checked by the heavy cannonade of the Jessore artillery. A sudden attack of the Mughals completely defeated the Jessore fleet and they fell upon the fort with the elephants in front, thereby compelling Pratapaditya to evacuate the fort and retreat. His valiant army strategist Rudraditya was forced an exile after being captured during this war.
WHAT HAPPENED AFTER THIS :
After the fall of Pratapaditya, the Mughal army ransacked Jessore. Srish Chandra Basu quotes historian Tapan Kumar Ray Choudhuri,
“Plunder and rape appear as the concomitants of Mughal campaigns, and even a sensible man like Mirza Nathan boasts of his ruthless exploits. Udayaditya’s (Pratapaditya’s son) failure to satisfy this officer’s lust for gold drew upon the head of the Jessore people a terrible vengeance. He threatened to show what is meant by looting, and true to his words, wrought such havoc that he became an object of terror to the people of the country. Yet, to be sure, Mirza Nathan was more humane than his brother Murad who during a Jessore campaign bought as captives four thousand women, young and old, stripped of their clothing.”
After his death, Bhavanand Majumdar, who had been in the service of Pratapaditya, was given the throne by Raja Man Singh, and he subsequently became the founder of the Nadiya Raj family.
WHY IS SO LESS KNOWN ABOUT PRATAPADITYA?
It is Bharat’s sorrow that Her heroes who kept invaders and looters at bay, were ignored or shamed even, by those who called themselves ‘educated’. Rabindranath Tagore, in his first novel “Bou Thakuranir Haat” categorically condemned Pratapaditya for his high ambitions, treason with Akbar and the murder of his uncle Basanta Ray. Historian Sir Jadunath Sarkar insisted that Pratapaditya was just a zamindar with “false patriotism.” He also condemned the Pratapaditiya’s glorification in contemporary culture. Contrast this to Hyder Ali (Tipu Sultan’s father), who was a soldier in the army of the Wodeyars of Mysore and rose because of his ruthless terror, embezzlement and plunder, being called a Sultan & de facto ruler of Mysore.
But in the early 1900s Sarala Devi, a leading Nationalist leader of Bengal wrote that Pratapaditya was a Bengali Hero because he “Stood up alone against the might of the Mughal Emperors to defend Bengal’s independence” She also felt that “The heroic tale of Uditaditya (son of Pratapaditya) must be revived and implanted in the hearts of Bengali youths.” In the past, the 2nd day of Durga Puja – the Ashtami was also known as Birashtami – the day to pay homage to the brave and valiant. This day was propagated by Sarala Devi as the day when Mothers would be encouraged to understand the ideals of Motherhood, to nurture brave and heroic sons.
ISN’T IT TIME TO INCULCATE THIS BRAVERY INTO THE PEOPLE OF WEST BENGAL ONCE AGAIN?
With Hindus being massacred in West Bengal and the Government of West Bengal going overboard in Muslim appeasement, isn’t it time we encouraged our Bengali brethren to fight back and regain what was their land? Let our History books also teach about this brave son of Bharat Mata.
Jai Hind !!!
Rati Hegde **