|Nawab of Dhaka|
|First holder||Khwaja Abdul Ghani|
|Last holder||Khwaja Habibullah|
|Seat(s)||Ahsan Manzil, Dhaka|
The Nawab of Dhaka (Bengali: "ঢাকার নবাব"), originally spelt in English Nawab of Dacca, was the title of the head of largest Muslim zamindar in British Bengal and Assam, based in present-day Dhaka, Bangladesh. The title of nawab, similar to the British peerage, was conferred upon the head of the family by Queen Victoria as a recognition of the first Nawab's loyalty and contribution to the social welfare activities.
Although the Nawabs of Dhaka were not sovereigns, they played an essential role in the politics of South Asia—and the relations with external entities. The family was proprietary of the Dhaka Nawab estate, seated at Ahsan Manzil palace. "Nawab of Dhaka" was the title of the head of family and estate from 1843. Khwaja Alimullah was the first holder of the title, and Khwaja Abdul Ghani was the first Nawab of Dhaka when the title was made hereditary by Queen Victoria.
Considerable infighting within the Nawab's family gradually led to the decline of the estate. In 1952, the East Pakistan Estates Acquisition Act formally abolished the estate. Khwaja Habibullah Khan Bahadur was the last Nawab of Dhaka to hold the office. Successive land reform in Pakistan and Bangladesh brought an end to the remaining landholdings of the Nawab family.
The Nawabs of Dhaka were Persian and Urdu-speaking aristocrats tracing their ancestry to Kashmiri Khan Mughal merchants who arrived in Mughal Bengal during the reign of emperor Muhammad Shah to pursue trade, but eventually settled in the districts of Dhaka, Sylhet and Bakerganj. Maulvi Khawaja Abdullah Kashmiri, who moved from Delhi in the late Mughal era, is recorded as the first patriarch of the family in Bengal. Having established a successful business in Sylhet, he invited his father and brother from Kashmir. Later, the family settled in Dhaka.
The Dhaka Nawab family was officially established by Khwaja Hafizullah Kashmiri son of Khawaja Abdullah Kashmiri, who acquired considerable wealth via trade in leather and gold. His fortune was built upon trading leather, spices, and salt with notable Armenian and Greek merchants. He also purchased some floundering zamindari estates, on sale everywhere in Bengal under Permanent Settlement, and indigo factories in Barisal District and Mymensingh District. In the following years, they married into renowned families in the locality to strengthen their hold over the newly acquired territories.
Hafizullah acquired Atia Pargana in the former Mymensingh District (currently in the Tangail District). Hafizullah bought a 4-anna (one fourth) share of the pargana, including Dhamrai, the Atia Mosque built in 1608, and much of Madhupur forest in 1806, on the strength of a mortgage bond for Rs. 40,000. Profits gained from this purchase compelled him to engage further in the purchasing of land properties. He also acquired Aila Phuljhuri in the Bakarganj Sundarbans, a 44,000 acres (180 km2) area bought for Rs 21000 in 1812, at a revenue demand of only Rs 372 annually. After clearing of the jungle was affected, in the late 1870s, its estimated total rental income appeared as high as Rs 2,20,502.
Due to an absence of any surviving male successor of Hafizullah, his estate upon his death descended to his nephew Khwaja Alimullah, son of his deceased elder brother Ahsanullah, whom he had groomed as an estate manager. His landed acquisitions were added to those of his uncle, consequently making the united zamindari as one of the largest in the province. Before his death in 1854, Alimullah made a waqf for a united status of the zamindari which was to be managed jointly by a mutawalli.
His nephew, Khwaja Alimullah, who was the third son of Khwaja Ahsanullah, is reported to have been an enterprising member of the clan, effectively laying the foundation upon which successive heads of the family established their prosperity and power. He purchased Ahsan Manzil, which was then a French trading house. He had learnt English and encouraged members of his family to learn English, in addition to forging alliances with Englishmen by mixing with them freely. He had partaken in development work for the Dhaka Municipality, and with the aid of the British, he set up the Ramna Race course. He bought thoroughbreds for his race course and established the Gymkhana Club. He purchased the famous diamond, Daria-e-Noor at a government auction in 1852, held by Hamilton and Company of Calcutta. The diamond was initially exhibited at The Great Exhibition in Hyde Park but failed to sell for a desirable price, and was resultantly sent back to India. The diamond is presently being held in a vault of the Central Bank of Iran in Tehran.
In 1846 he made a Waqfnama in favour of his second son Khwaja Abdul Ghani, and made him a powerful Mutawalli (Manager) for the management of all the properties of the family. This aided in preserving the family wealth, as it could not be divided amongst descendants. That Waqfnama was the main key responsible for the future success of the family. Despite being a Sunni Muslim himself, Khwaja Alimullah financed the Muharram Festival of the Shia Muslims in Dhaka. He started in 1843 after the death of Ghaziuddin Haider who was the Naib Nazim of Dhaka. He died in 1854 and was buried in the Begum Bazar graveyard.
Khwaja Abdul Ghani, son of Khwaja Alimullah and Zinat Begum, was rendered the Mutawalli of the estate. On the succession of Khwaja Abdul Ghani to the management that the prosperity of the house reached its zenith. Under him the land control of the family was extended to many parganas in the districts of Dhaka, Bakerganj, Tripura, and Mymensingh. For management he split the zamindari into 26 sub-circles, each governed by a kachari (office) headed by a naib (manager) with a number of amlas (officials). He was vested with the personal title of Nawab in 1875, which was made a hereditary title by Queen Victoria on 1 January 1877.
With Khwaja Abdul Ghani the Khwaja family for the first time developed interest in the politics and social works of the country. He also organised Dhaka people into panchayet mahallas, which was endorsed by the British Raj in consideration of his support to the Raj during the Sepoy Mutiny. Nawab Abdul Ghani made several contributions towards benevolent and charitable work, not only in the city and elsewhere in Bengal but also beyond the Indian subcontinent. His most conspicuous public act was the water works system in Dhaka city. The filtered water was supplied free of charge to the people of Dhaka. In addition he established a number of schools, madrasas and donated funds for the Mitford hospital in Dhaka, Kolkata Medical College and Aligarh College. He supported women to act in dramas in spite of the opposition of leaders of the conservative society. At the beginning of the Christian era, each year, he arranged a grand fair in Shahbagh Garden, and maintained a Portuguese Band to entertain guests on festive occasions. He oversaw and financed the construction of Buckland Bund.
Nawab Abdul Ghani handed over the responsibility of the Dhaka Nawab Estate to his eldest son, Khwaja Ahsanullah on 11 September 1868, but continued to supervise the estate until his death on 24 August 1896. Khwaja Ahsanullah was born in Dhaka in the year 1846. He was an Urdu-Persian poet and his pen name was "Shaheen". He was known to compose verses spontaneously, and at the spur of the moment, at the request of his acquaintances. His works disclose a manifestly joyous and optimistic outlook on life. His selected poems, Kulliyat-e-Shaheen is preserved in the Dhaka University. His book, Tarikh-e-Khandan-e-Kashmiriyah is a vital addition to Urdu-Persian literature and history. Both father and son had the title of Nawab conferred upon them in 1875, and in 1877, this title was made hereditary for the eldest member of the line.
"Nawab Ahsanullah established the Ahsanullah School of Engineering, and being thoughtful of the health of the residents of Dhaka he, along with his father, contributed towards the establishment of a water tank from which filtered water would be supplied to the citizens of Dhaka as far back as 1874.
Nawab Salimullah, the second son of Ahsanullah took up the management of the zamindari in 1902. But soon family feuds started and Salimullah lost the grip on the estate. The estate management deteriorated to the extent of rising revenue arrears and estate debts. For political considerations, the government backed up Nawab Salimullah financially, which included a confidential official loan to Salimullah (1912) to clear up his personal debts. Nawab Salimullah of Dhaka and the Muslim aristocrats who formed the bulwark of the Muslim League in 1906 inspired Muslim peasants against the Swadeshi movement (1905–1911) in support of Partition of Bengal. Together with Nawab Ali Chowdhury, he was instrumental in initiating A. K. Fazlul Huq into politics, who isolated Muslim League from peasants and defeated Sir Khwaja Nazimuddin at the Patuakhali Constituency in the election of 1937. Dhaka Nawab Family, together with the Ispahanis of Kolkata still kept a firm grip on a majority of Muslim students while the Bengal chapter of the All India Muslim Students Association was renamed as All Bengal Muslim Students League in 1938.
The tottering Dhaka Nawab Estate was brought under the Court of Wards in September 1907. The first steward of the Estate was HCF Meyer who was followed by LG Pillen, PJ Griffith, and PD Martin, all members of the Indian civil service. On 16 December 1901, while he was posted in Mymensingh, he received a telegram informing him of the demise of his father, and on his arrival in Dhaka the next morning, as the eldest son, and with the "unanimous consent of all parties concerned" was installed as the new Nawab. Nawab Salimullah was a great educational reformer, and like his father, was inclined to prodigal liberality. He was a great philanthropist, rendering financial assistance to many poor students, and established the largest orphanage of undivided Bengal, which was named "Salimullah Muslim Orphanage". For the benefit of Muslim students he donated the well-known "Salimullah Muslim Hall" in Dhaka, which was then the largest residential Hall in any Asian University.
Nawab Sir Salimuilah is mainly remembered today for three of his greatest achievements. Firstly, the part he played in the partition of Bengal which was implemented on 16 October 1905, aimed at freeing the Bengali Muslims from the bondage of Hindu domination, and to secure their socio-economic progress by establishing a separate Muslim majority province; secondly, for being the founder of such a strong political party as the All India Muslim League in December 1906, and the establishment of Dhaka University in 1912.
As has so often happened in the great families of India, after five generations of splendour, the Nawab Family now entered on a period of decline. Extravagant living and the necessity of maintaining an ever-increasing number of dependents were the main causes of the trouble, but to them must be added, the considerable sums spent by Nawab Ahsanullah and Nawab Salimuilah on public service or pro-Partition propaganda. The family was heavily in debt and in view of the political importance of the family, its estates were brought under the Court of Wards in 1909.
Nawab Salimullah was the first man of the Nawab Family of Dhaka to actively participate in politics. He is reported to have said that, his grandfather, Nawab Sir Abdul Ghani, and his father, Nawab Sir Khwaja .Ahsanullah, were men of international renown and were imbibed with the love of their country and people, but, they refrained from participating in politics. It was in his destiny to open the door to politics for the Nawab Family of Dhaka. Nawab Sir Salimullah died in Calcutta on 16 January 1915, and his coffin was brought to Dhaka by a special launch, and he was buried in the family graveyard in Begum Bazar."
In 1934, the family had estates that covered almost 200,000 acres and was well spread over different districts of Eastern Bengal, together with properties in Shillong, Assam, had an yearly rent of £120,000. With its wealth, social status and close relationship with the Raj, the family of the Nawab of Dacca was the single most powerful Muslim family in Bengal.
The Dhaka Nawab Estate was abolished in 1952 under the East Bengal Estate Acquisition and Tenancy Act (1950). Only the Ahsan Manzil complex and khas lands held under raiyati rights were exempted from the operation of the Acquisition Act. But due to many unresolved family claims many assets of the Estate were still controlled by the Court of Wards. The land reforms board, which is the successor of the Court of Wards, still holds those assets on behalf of the family.
The influence of Dhaka Nawab family on the Muslim Students League eroded after the partition, particularly after Muhammad Ali Jinnah's pronouncement on the state language issue in 1948. The anti-Khwaja faction of the Muslim League broke away from the All Bengal Muslim Students League, and established East Pakistan Muslim Students League in 1948. This Students League spearheaded the Language Movement that began that year.
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Extended kin of the Dhaka Nawab Family played a vital role in the history of Urdu-Persian literature in Bengal. Khwaja Haider Jan Shayek, Khwaja Kawkab, Khwaja Atiqullah Sayeda, Khwaja Muhammad Afzal and Sir Khwaja Nazimuddin KCIE, CIE and others contributed considerably to Urdu and Persian literature in the 19th and 20th centuries. The family maintained close connection with literary figures like Mahmud Azad and Hakim Habibur Rahman. Khwaja Muhammad Azam wrote Islami Panchayet Dhaka (1911) in Urdu. His son, Khwaja Muhammad Adel, co-edited Jadu, a monthly journal with Hakim Habibur Rahman. Khwaja Abdur Rahim Saba (d 1871) wrote Urdu poems. His manuscript, Daste Saba is preserved in the Dhaka University Library. Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah wrote Urdu poems by his pen-name Shaheen collected in Kulliat-e-Shaheen, and a history of his family collected in Ta'arīkh-e-Khândan-e-Kashmirian. He was also a composer and lyricist of thumri songs, and a financier of Ahsanul Kasas (15 February 1884), an Urdu weekly magazine of Dhaka.
It was in the later part of the 19th century that the art of photography got its momentum in Dhaka under the patronage of Nawab Khwaja Ahsanullah and his son Nawab Khwaja Salimullah. Khwaja Ahsanullah joined the Calcutta-based Photographic Society of India in 1888.
Nawab Abdul Latif was forthright in his analysis: Urdu is the mother tongue of the Ashraf (the elite class) and Bengali is the mother tongue of the Athraf (the commoners)... The Nawab family of Dhaka, the Suhrawardy family of Midnapur, the Nawab family of Shaistabad in Bakerganj all spoke in Urdu...
Urdu was never spoken in Bengal except by the immigrant Muslims in Calcutta and the Murshidabad and Dhaka nawab families.
Nazimuddin, a member of the wealthy landed nawab of Dhaka family, was related to an earlier nawab whose palace was the site of the founding of the Muslim League in 1906. The family is Kashmiri in origin, often associated with British rule, Urdu-speaking at home, rarely politically fluent in Bengali, and part of the national elite.
Nawab Sir Ahsanullah Khan Bahadur was thus born in Dhaka into one of the wealthiest and famous Muslim families of East Bengal. His grandfather, Khwajah Alimullah, and father, Nawab Sir Abdul Ghani, traced their family history back to Kashmir... the founder of this family was Maulvi Abdullah who came to India during the time of Emperor Muhammad Shah... Maulvi Abdullah left Delhi and settled in Sylhet... Thereafter, he invited his father and brother to come to Sylhet from Kashmir... Maulvi Abdullah, the founder of the Nawab family, hailed from Kashmir and moved to Delhi during the reign of the Moghul Emperor, Muhammad Shah, in search of fame and fortune... Salimullah's ancestors were originally Kashmiri merchants who came to East Bengal during the mid-eighteenth century to pursue trade and eventually they settled in the districts of Dhaka, Sylhet and Bakerganj...
It was at this time that a recently settled Muslim trading family of the city of Dhaka, originally from Kashmir, gave up trade and invested their wealth in buying land from the auctions. The founder of this Kashmiri Muslim family in Dhaka was Khwaja Alimullah.
Khwaja Alimullah came forward ... his family rose to the premier position in Dacca. This family has no connection with the old Muslim rulers of this province. It takes its origin from the Kashmiri family of Khwaja Abdul Hakim, who migrated to Sylhet and started his business ... Khwaja Hakim’s one brother, Maulvi Abdullah, moved to Dacca, and from him issued the present Dacca family. Khwaja Alimullah was his grandson, who purchased the French Factory in about 1838.
It was the Sunnis who from the early nineteenth century gradually came to dominate the Muslim community in Dhaka, and one of them, Khwaja Alimullah, a Kashmiri trader turned zamindar, became one of Dacca's most wealthy and influential citizens...
Nawab Abdul Ghani Nawab Ghani, born in 1830 of Kashmiri descent, was the most influential person in East Bengal in the last half of the 19th century.
Daryā-e Nūr, also spelled Darya-i-noor, largest and finest diamond in the crown jewels of Iran.