Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah

Sultan Shams-ud-Din Iliyas Shah (1342-1358) (Bengali: ইলিয়াস শাহ) was the founder of the Iliyas Shahi dynasty of the independent Sultanate of (unified) Bengal in the present day eastern India and Bangladesh.

Early life

Ghiyath al-Din Tughluq, the Delhi Sultan divided the Bengal province into three administrative divisions with their administrative capitals at Satgaon, Lakhnauti and Sonargaon. Muhammad bin Tughluq appointed Izz-ud-Din Yahya Azam-ul-Mulk, Qadr Khan and Ghiyas-ud-Din Bahadur Shah as governors of Satgaon, Lakhnauti ans Sonargaon respectively. Later, the army pay-master of Qadr Khan, Ali Mubarak declared himself independent in north Bengal and started ruling under the title of Ala-ud-Din Ali Shah. A general of the Delhi Sultan, Bahram Khan killed Ghiyas-ud-Din Bahadur Shah and became the ruler of Sonargaon. After his death, his silah-dar Fakhr-ud-Din became the independent ruler of Sonargaon under the title, Sultan Fakhr-ud-Din Mubarak Shah. After his death in 750 AH (1349-50), he was succeeded by his son Ikhtiyar-ud-Din Ghazi Shah.

Iliyas Shah was an inhabitant of Sijistan - the country to the east of Persia and came of a noble family. His father's name was Sultan. During the initial stage of his career Iliyas Shah was in service of Malik Firuz of Delhi. But having committed some crime, he escaped to Bengal and took service under lzzuddin Yahya, the imperial governor of Satgaon and by dint of merit rose to the position of Malik. After Izzuddin Yahya's death, he became the master of Satgaon in 1338. Consolidating his authority there, he waged a long drawn war (1339 to 1342) against Sultan Alauddin Ali Shah and ascended the throne of Lakhnauti in 1342 with the title of Sultan Shamsuddin Iliyas Shah.

The Invasion of Nepal

Iliyas Shah now launched upon a career of conquests. He occupied Tirhut in 1344 and in 1350 made a bold thrust across the inhospitable region of Terai in Nepal, yet to be trodden by Muslim soldiers. He advanced as far as the capital Kathmandu, destroyed the temple of Svayambhunatha and returned with immense booty. This invasion was of the nature of a plundering raid. He, however, did not annex any part of Nepal.

The Conquest of Sonargaon

Iliyas Shah then led a campaign against eastern Bengal, conquered Sonargaon defeating Ikhtiyaruddin Ghazi Shah in 1352 and thus became the master of the whole of Bengal. Shams-i-Siraj Afif adorned him with the title of Shah-i-Bangalah, Shah-i-Bangaliyan and Sultan-i-Bangalah.

The invasion of Orissa

Next, Iliyas invaded Jajnagar (Orissa). The ruling king Nhanudeva II was weak and Illyas advanced through Jajpur and Katak as far south as the Chilka Lake. He destroyed the temples of Orissa and came back with immense wealth including 44 elephants. Iliyas Shah next invaded Bihar in 1353. He further extended his authority beyond Bihar to Champaran, Gorakhpur and Benaras.

Conflict with the Delhi Sultan

In 1353, The Delhi Sultan Firuz Shah Tughluq proceeded towards Bengal to bring Iliyas Shah under subjugation and occupied his capital Pandua, which was evacuated by him. Iliyas took shelter in the fortress city of Ekdala. He tried to defeat Illyas but could not succeed. Concluding a peace with Iliyas Shah, Firuz returned to Delhi in 1355 and Iliyas reoccupied Pandua and continued to rule Bengal as an independent sultan. The friendly relations between the sultans of Delhi and Bengal were further cemented by the exchanges of gifts and envoys, which took place in 1355, 1356, 1357 and 1358. The amicable settlement with the sultan of Delhi gave Iliyas Shah an opportunity to exert his influence on the neighbouring Kingdom of Tripura.

The campaign against Kamarupa

Towards the close of his reign Iliyas Shah added one more laurel to his crown by leading a successful campaign against Kamarupa in 1357. The contemporary ruler of Kamta, Indra Narayan, possessed neither the material resources nor probably the ability to check the invaders. In these favourable conditions Iliyas Shah quite easily conquered a portion of Kamarupa.

Estimate of Iliyas Shah

The Riyaz-us-Salatin describes Iliyas Shah as a Bhangra (an addict of Bhang), but it is difficult to accept the opinion expressed by such a late authority. According to `Afif, he suffered from leprocy but again his statement is not above suspicion. Zia-ud-Din Barani says that Iliyas was an oppressive ruler, shed unnecessary blood, even of women, levied illegal cesses he brought ruin upon Bengal, but all these might be the propaganda by the Delhi court which cannot be regarded as historical truth without corroboration from the independent sources.

Being a daring soldier, Iliyas Shah possessed all the qualities of a successful military leader. He won wonderful victories against his adversaries in and outside Bengal. As a statesman, Ilyas Shah bided his time until circumstances turned in his favour for bringing the whole of Bengal under a unified rule. He felt the necessity of introducing a good administration and thereby winning the support of the local people for maintaining the independence of his Sultanate. He gave the administration a popular character by offering liberal concessions to local elements and opened the government services to talent without any distinction of caste, creed or colour. He was probably the first to make a large recruitment of the local people in the army. It appears from the Inshah-i-Mahru that during his time, Khans, Maliks, Amirs, Sadrs, Akaber and Marifs were charged with civil and military administration. Possibly the Khans, Maliks and Amirs were grandees of the kingdom holding fiefs and villages. Some of them might have been advisers to the sultan as ministers of the state.

Iliyas Shah had great veneration for the saints and sufis. It is noticed that like the Sadat, Ulama and Mashaikh, the non-Muslim hermits and sannyasis also received stipends from the state.

It was he who for the first time founded an independent Sultanate by uniting the territories of Satgaon, Lakhnauti and Sonargaon. He gave to this united territory the name of Bangalah.

Iliyas Shah was a builder too. He was the founder of the city of Hajipur and built a bath like the Shamsi bath of Delhi. The independent Sultanate of Bengal founded by him lasted for nearly two hundred years.


Iliyas Shah died in 1358 after a successful reign of sixteen years. He was succeeded by his son Sikandar Shah.


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