In the middle of the 17th century the mantle of European cartographic excellence passed from the Dutch to the French. A pioneer in the French school of cartography was Nicholas Sanson. Sanson’s version of the map of the Mughal Empire is not very different from that of Blaeu. In Bengal some city names have been added and others dropped. Notable additions are Rajmahal and Tanda, both onetime capitals of Bengal. This is the earliest European map to show Tanda. What is perplexing is that Tanda as a capital was abandoned decades before this map. Sanson shows it to be located in eastern Bengal, whereas it is actually located just across the Ganges from Gaur.
The capital of Bengal changed many times over the centuries. All the capitals were built on river banks, not only for freshwater supplies but to take advantage of the extensive inland water transport system of the Ganges delta. The capital moved sometimes for the change in the course of the river, sometimes for strategic or economic reasons and sometimes because of the whim of the ruler.
A chronology of the capitals of Bengal (1204-1765) is given below;
1204: Lakhnauti: First Muslim invasion of Bengal by Turkic general Bakhtiyar Khilji. Bengal becomes a province of the Delhi Sultanate with varying degrees of sovereignty.
1352: Pandua: Shamsuddin Ilyas Shah wrests control of all of Bengal from the Delhi hegemony, moves the capital to Pandua, 20 miles to the north of Lakhnauti and initiates the first of several dynasties to rule Bengal as an independent sultanate.
1450: Gaur: Nasiruddin Mahmud Shah restores the Ilyas Shahi dynasty and moves the capital to this legendary city. Gaur is built on the site of the old capital of Lakhnauti.
1565: Tanda: Suleiman Karrani, the second sultan of the Afghan Karrani dynasty moves the capital to Tanda across the Ganges River as the river shifts from Gaur.
1575 April: Gaur: Mughal General Munim Khan defeats Daud Khan Karrani the last independent sultan of Bengal. Bengal is now a province of the Mughal Empire. Munim Khan becomes governor and makes an ill fated decision to return the capital to Gaur. A plague sweeps through the city decimating the Mughal Army and killing Munim Khan.
1575 October: Tanda: The capital of the Bengal Subah (Province) reverts back to Tanda.
1595: Rajmahal: Tanda is threatened by the erosion of the Ganges. Mughal Governor Man Singh moves capital to Rajmahal., further upstream on the Ganges. Rajmahal is renamed Akbarnagar in honor of the reigning Mughal Emperor Akbar.
1610: Dhaka: In a strategic move Mughal Governor Islam Khan shifts the capital to Dhaka to coordinate the military operations against the rebellious zamindars of eastern Bengal. He is successful. Dhaka is renamed Jahangirnagar in honor of the reigning Mughal Emperor Jahangir.
1639: Rajmahal: Prince Muhammad Shuja, governor of Bengal and son of ruling Mughal Emperor Shahjahan, moves capital to Rajmahal for personal reasons. His complaint was that the climate of the delta was not conducive to good health and he wanted to live as far west as possible, a view shared by Mughal bureaucrats stationed in Bengal.
1660: Dhaka: Emperor Aurangzeb after overthrowing his father Shahjahan dispatches General Mir Jumla against his brother, Prince Shuja who is a contender to the throne. Shuja is defeated and flees to Arakan. Mir Jumla reestablishes Dhaka as the capital of Bengal.
1717: Murshidabad: After a long power struggle Murshid Quli Khan becomes governor of Bengal and moves the capital to Maksudabad on the Hooghly River in western Bengal. The city is renamed Murshidabad. The economic center of gravity had moved to this region with the explosion in trade with European nations. Bengal becomes a de facto independent state with the governor taking the title of Nawab.
1765: Kolkata: A series of Mughal defeats starting with the routing of the Bengal army of Nawab Sirajuddaula in the hands of the British East India Company (EIC) in 1757 ends in the treaty of Allahabad in 1765.The EIC becomes the Mughal Emperor’s diwan or revenue collector. The Nawab of Bengal still holds court in Murshidabad but is now a puppet of the British. There is no doubt as to who really rules Bengal. It is the British from their stronghold of Kolkata.
Through most of its history the capital of Bengal was located on the Ganges River in the northwest part of the country. Through most of the 17th century, however, the capital of Bengal was Dhaka in the east. The rapid urbanization that followed turned Dhaka into one of the great cities of the region, reaching its apogee under the Governor Shaista Khan (1664-1678).Parallel to this was the government sponsored program of clearing forests for agriculture in the eastern Bengal hinterland. The men chosen to lead this program came from the rural Muslim gentry: Mullahs, Hajis and Sufi Pirs. This had far reaching consequences. Even as the fortunes of Dhaka declined with the shifting of the capital to Murshidabad, an agrarian revolution rooted in an indigenous version of Islam continued to spread in eastern Bengal.