Alivardi Khan

Alivardi Khan (Bengali: আলীবর্দী খাঁন, romanizedAlibôrdī Khãn, Persian: علی وردی خان‎; 1671 – 9 April 1756) was the Nawab of Bengal from 1740 to 1756. He toppled the Nasiri dynasty of Nawabs and assumed power himself. He is also known for his victory during the Battle of Burdwan against the Maratha Empire during the Maratha invasions of Bengal.

Born in one of the cities of the Deccan in 1676, he was originally given the name Mirza Muhammad Ali.[3][4] His father Mirza Muhammad Madani, who was of either Arab or Turkish descent, was the son of a foster-brother of the Mughal emperor Aurangzeb; Madani himself began his career as a cup-bearer under the latter's son Azam Shah.[3][5] Muhammad Ali's mother belonged to the Turkic Afshar tribe of Khorasan. Through her, he was a cousin of Shuja-ud-Din Muhammad Khan, the two having shared a grandfather in Nawab Aqil Khan.[3][6]

Like their father, he and his elder brother Mirza Ahmad (later known as Haji Ahmad) found favour under Azam Shah. Muhammad Ali was named superintendent of the filkhana (elephant-stables) as well as being given responsibility over the zardozkhana (department of embroidered cloths). However, following Azam Shah's death in 1707, the family fell into poverty. They migrated to Cuttack in Orissa, then under the deputy-governorship of their relative Shuja-ud-Din. Finding employment with the latter, Muhammad Ali and Mirza Ahmad proved themselves capable in supporting his government, later even aiding Shuja-ud-Din in becoming Nawab of Bengal.[7]

In 1728, Shuja-ud-Din promoted Muhammad Ali to Faujdar (General) of Rajmahal and entitled him as Alivardi Khan.[8] In 1733, he was assigned as the Naib Nazim (Deputy Subahdar) of Bihar. A year later, he was titled Shuja ul-Mulk (Hero of the country), Hassemm ud-Daula (Sword of the state) and Mahabat Jang (Horror in War) and the rank of Paach Hazari Mansabdar (The rank holder of 5000) by Nawab Shuja ud-Din and returned to Azimabad.

Alivardi aspired for larger authority. On 10 April 1740 in the Battle of Giria, he defeated and killed Shuja ud-Din's successor, Sarfaraz Khan.[8] Thus he took control of Bengal and Bihar. Then on 3 March 1741, he defeated Rustam Jang, deputy governor of Orissa and a relative of Sarfaraz Khan, in the Battle of Phulwarion.[8] Orissa also came under Alivardi's control.

Immediately after his usurpation of power, Alivardi had his takeover legitimized by the Mughal Emperor Muhammad Shah and resumed the policies of Murshid Quli Khan. He also chose Faujdars from various regions such as Patna, Dacca and Orissa.[9]

Since 1742, the Maratha Empire raided Bengal repeatedly, ravaging its territories. Alivardi almost immediately had a long ditch, called the Maratha ditch, dug around Calcutta. Alivardi was a brilliant artillery tactician, though his armies were overrun by the large force of the Marathas from Berar who had arrived to pillage and plunder the territories of Bengal under the command of Raghoji I Bhonsle.

In the year 1747, the Marathas led by Raghoji began to raid, pillage and annex the territories of Alivardi. During the Maratha invasion of Orissa, its Subedar Mir Jafar completely withdrew all forces until the arrival of Alivardi and the Mughal army at the Battle of Burdwan, where Raghoji and his Maratha forces were completely routed. The enraged Alivardi then dismissed the shamed Mir Jafar.[10]

Alivardi's defending armies were overrun in Orissa in the year 1751, despite receiving some assistance from Shuja-ud-Daula. But Orissa was ultimately surrendered to the ravaging Marathas by the Mughal Emperor Ahmad Shah Bahadur. These Maratha raids would continue until 1751 when a peace treaty was settled between Ahmad Shah Bahadur, Alivardi and Raghoji.[8]

In 1750, Alivardi faced a revolt from Siraj ud-Daulah, his daughter's son, who seized Patna, but quickly surrendered and was forgiven.[11] Alivardi also subdued the revolt of a few unruly Afghans who were trying to separate Bihar from his administration.[8]

According to some historians, Alivardi Khan's reign of 16 years was mostly engaged in various wars against the Marathas. Towards the end, he turned his attention to rebuilding and restoring Bengal.

Alivardi Khan was a patron of various musical instruments such as the Veena and Khol drums. He also patronized many manuscripts of the Shahnameh.

Alivardi Khan died of dropsy[12] at 5am on 9 April 1756,[11] aged at least 80. He was succeeded by his daughter's son, Siraj-ud-Daula, who was aged 23 at the time. He was buried in Khushbagh next to his mother's grave.[11]

Unlike many of his contemporaries, Alivardi had only one wife, Sharfunnesa.[13][14] They had three daughters,[15] of whom at least two married sons of his elder brother Haji Ahmad.[16][17] Alivardi outlived his sons-in-law and, having had no sons of his own, he was succeeded by his maternal grandson Siraj ud-Daulah.[18] Alivardi's issue are as follows:[16][17]

Alivardi also had a number of half-siblings, including Muhammad Amin Khan and Muhammad Yar Khan, who served under him as a general and governor of Hugli respectively.[19][20][21] His half-sister Shah Khanum was the wife of Mir Jafar, who later claimed the throne of Bengal in 1757.[22][23] The historian Ghulam Hussain Khan was also a relative.[24]