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The Growth of Muslim Nobility in the Medieval Court of Arakan

Aman Ullah
RB History
February 28, 2016

During the several centuries, a large number of Muslims settled in Arakan and spread their culture there. The welcome influence Muslim culture in Arakan was so great that the Buddhist kings assumed Muslims names and titles. They introduced Muslim administration system, appointed Qazis, ministers, generals and other Muslim high officials in the state. In the medieval Court of Arakan the high position like Prime Minister (Mahapatra, Mukhyapatra, Mahamatya), Minister (Patra), War Minister (Lashker Wazir), Wzir, Qadi or Judge of the Diwani, Fauzdari etc, were held by the Muslim. [1] They had vast influence in the country and court of the kings. They were learned men.

Thus, in the later part of the 17th century the real administrates were these Muslim High officials. San Baw U, in his book ‘My Rambles: Among the ruins of the golden city of Mrauk u’, wrote that, ‘In those times not only the council of ministers in Arakan were so powerful and dominant but strong popular public opinion existed that guided the officers of the state and curbed the king’s power.’

The Indian historian Ramesh C. Majumdar speaks of a decisive role of the Muslims in the history of the kingdom of Arakan and Jamini M. Ghosh (writing in 1960) thinks that the use of Muslim names and the favours granted by the king to the Muslim poets testify to the ‘cultural affinity’ of the Arakanese and the Muslims. Suniti B. Qanungo, writes: ‘The Muslim subjugations of Arakan from time to time undoubtedly increased the Islamic influence in that country.’

The contemporary Bengali, which blossomed at Mrauk-U in 17th century by the Muslim poets of Arakan, gives reference to a number of Muslim nobles who occupied high post of ministers, chief ministers and war ministers in the Arakan in the 17th century. Among them some of the most distinguished personalities were, Lashker Wazir Burhan-u-ddin, Lashker Wazir Ashraf Khan, Lashker Wazir Bara Thakur, Prime Minister Qurashi Magan Thakur, Prime Miister Sayyed Musa, Prime Minister Navaraj Mujlis, Finance Minister Sulaiman, Minister of War, Sayyed Mohammed, Qazi Daulat, Quazi Sawwod Shah etc.. Besides the minister there were other major or minor officers also.


The first Muslim defence minister (Lashkar Wazir) in the court of Arakan was Burhanuddin. Nasurllah Khondkar, in his ‘Shariatnamah’ writes about him that, “in Bengala (East Bengal) in the kingdom of Gaur, there was a Wazir named Hamid-ud-din. His son Burhan-ud-din left the country with his followers and soldiers and settled in Roshang. In those days there was no cavalry in Arakan. Considering that Burhan-ud-din was an efficient soldier, the king appointed him Lashkar Wazir or head of the army or defence or war minister.”[2] According to Prof. Dr Abudul Karim of Chittagong University, the Shariatnama of Nasrullah Khondkar was wrote in 1749 (or 1755), and Nasrullah Khondkar was the 7th descendant of Burhan-ud-din. So Burhan-ud-din was alive about the last half of the 16th century.


Ashraf Khan was Lashkar Wazir (Defence Minister) of the king Thiri Thudamma (1622-1638 AD) of Arakan. Poet Qazi Daulat wrote his book Sati Maina Lor Chandrani under the patronage of Ashraf Khan. According to Qazi Daulat, Ashraf Khan was a religious minded man, he was a Hanafi and accepted Chishtiya tariqa. He was the follower of Pir, did good to the people and understood political affairs. He built mosques and excavated tanks and he was a generous man. When the king felt that his end was drawing near, he celebrated the coronation ceremony and entrusted Ashraf Khan with the responsibility of governing the country. The king gave him the umbrella, flag and drums and honoured him with many presents. The king also gave him gold emblem, cap and horse and robe of honour (robe of the Lashkar - Wazir). In this way Ashraf Khan became a great minister of the state. Abdul Karim Sahitya-Visharad and Enamul Huq think that Lashak Wazir Ashraf Khan was originally a man from Chittagong, the ruins of his place are seen at village Charia in P.S Hazhazari, Dist. Chittagong, a big tank in this village bears his name and the Lashkar Wazir dighi (big tank) at Kadalpur village in Raozan also bears his name. [3] Sebastien Manrique also refers to this Lashkar Wazir when he says that the Lashkar Wazir led the Muslim contingent of army in the coronation procession of the king Thiri Thudhamma in 1635 A.D.


The third Muslim Lashkar Wazir in Arakan was Sri Bara-Thakur, father of his more illustrious son Magan Thakur. Sri Bara Thakur was the Lashkar Wazir or war minister of the king Narapatigyi (1638-1645 A.D). His actual name is not known, Bara Thakur was his title.


Magan Thakur, son of Sri Bara Thakur, was a Lashkar-Wazir or War Minister of the king Narapatigyi. Magan Thakur was born of Siddiq family, family or descendants of the first Calipha Hazarat Abu Bakr. 

So according to Alaol, Magan Thakur was not only a high born one, he was also a learned man and he respected the learned people. He gathered the learned people of the country by his side and showed them much respect. Sukumar Sen did not think that Magan Thakur was a Muslim. According to him, “There is no proof that Magan Thakur was a Muslim. In those days some Hindus became disciples of Muslim Pirs. Magan Thakur may have done the same thing. The name Magan Thakur is the best proof that he was not a Muslim: ...He was a Magh. The Maghs were not fully Hindus, but they were not Muslims.” [5] But Alaol categorically says that Magan Thakur was born of Siddiq family and he was a Shaik. Alaol also says that, “Sri Bara Thakur was the war minister of king. By begging to God he got the offspring in the morning. Because he was obtained by praying or begging, he was given the name of Magan.” [6]

So it is clear that Bara Thakur prayed to God for a son and God Almighty blessed him with a son and the offspring of prayer (i.e. Magan in Bengali) was named Magan. Thakur was the official title given by the king.

Magan Thakur came to prominence in the reign of the king Narapatigyi or Nripagiri. The king had a daughter, when the king became old, he thought of appointing a fit person as guardian of the daughter and he selected Magan Thakur for his job. Alaol says that, “The princess was extremely pretty and polite, the king brought up his daughter with great care ….. Seeing the tender age of the princess the king was thinking as to whom the guardianship of the princess was to be given. In that country there was a great man he was a Muslim, virtuous man. The king made him the guardian of the princess. When the king died the princess became the chief queen. She appointed her guardian the Prime Minister of the kingdom.”[7]

The fact is that the king Narapatigyi had no son, but only a daughter. When the king became old, he appointed Magan Thakur, who was a minister, and who belonged to a good Arab family, guardian of his daughter. After the king’s death she was married to Thado Minthar (Sad Umedar of Bengali writers), nephew of the king, i.e. the king’s daughter was married to her cousin. This Thado Minthar became king, and the king’s daughter became the chief queen of the kingdom. From the above discussion, it is evident that Magan Thakur was a minister in the reign of king Narapatigyi, but after the latter’s death, during the reign of Thado Minthar and his queen, Magan Thakur was promoted to be the chief or Prime Minister of the kingdom. 

Magan Thakur was a learned man, he gave asylum to the learned people and patronised the great poet Alaol. Alaol also says about him as follows;

“Many Muslims live in Roshang, they are all learned, virtuous and come out good family. All help me and treats me well because I am an educated man. Thakur Magan, the truthful and saintly person was the minister of the Chief Queen. As the end of the days of my grief appeared, I happened to meet him. He brought me up with great care. He treats me well and his generosity bound my neck towards him. The learned people sit in his assembly and enjoy vocal and instrumental music. I was also a member of that assembly and in one such assembly there were many who engaged themselves in various amusements. Some sang songs and some played instruments. When they heard the story of Padmavati they became happy. The people of Roshang do not understand the language, so if it was composed in Bengali poem, all will be happy. So Magan Thakur ordered me to compose Padmavati and by his order I promised to compose the book.”[8]

The king Sanda Thudamma ascended the throne in 1652, after the death of his father. As he was minor, his mother became regent and Magan Thakur held the reins of government on their behalf. Then Magan Thakur was not only the Prime Minister but also became the guardian of the dowager queen and the boy king. The king was coroneted at the age of 30 years about 18 years after his accession in1670. It means that Magan Thakur held the rein of government about 18 years. It was thought that Magan Thakur died before 1660 AD. [9] Of all the Muslim ministers and officers of Arakan in the medieval period, Magan Thakur was undoubtedly the best and his name is immortalised in the pages of history. 


The next Muslim minister of Arakan was Sayyid Musa. He was appointed Prime Minister after the death of Magan Thakur. Sayyid Musa remained in this office for about a decade under the king Sanda Thudhama (Chandra Sudharma). Alaol received patronage from him and at his order completed the composition of Saiful Mulk Badiujjamal. Alaol writes about his patron in the following words:

“Sayyid Musa is a great man. He is a learned man and loves this poor man (Alaol himself) because I am a seeker of knowledge. He is a bounteous man and I am bound to him by his love. He called me once to his house and said that Magan who ordered you to write the book was your disciple and my friend. The book remains half-finished, but if it is completed it will please many. For my sake you write the book. I said, ‘Composing the book is not possible at old age. I have written many books, now it behoves me to remain engaged in remembering God.’ He said that if you do not do it the incomplete book will not be finished; there is no one else who can do it. For three reasons you should do this work, first, your love for Magan, second, (in the story) the prince is now in prison, and third, to please me. So you cannot but complete the book.” [10]


The next Muslim Prime Minister whose name is known to us was Nabaraj Majlis, it is not known whether it was his name or title. He ordered Alaol to compose the famous Persian book Sikandarnama of Nizami Ganjabi. Alaol says how he got the order to write the book:

“The benevolent man Srimanta Majlis became his great minister getting Nabaraj. Hearing about me he made me his courtier and brought me up by giving food and clothes. By his grant I paid government dues in proper time. There are other learned men at his court, but he gives weight to what I say. One day he invited many Muslims and entertained them with all kinds of food and drink. People became happy, some sang songs, and others played instrumental music. All present blessed the Majlis saying that God Almighty will fulfil his wishes. They also praised him for his good deeds like building mosques, excavating tanks and they also said that his name will be remembered in his own country and outside. The Majlis replied that mosques and tanks would not last long only books will last. In the past great men built mosques and excavated tanks, but only books lasted. Mosques and tanks are known in one’s own country, but books are read in all countries. Illiterate people get knowledge through books. Books last till the days of resurrection.”[11]

Nabaraj Majlis was not only the Prime Minister of the kingdom, he was so important a personality that he administered the coronation oath to the king Chandra Sudharma. The king must have his Magh Ministers also, but this Muslim Minister got prominence. Also Alaol says about this:

“The great religious king had a prime minister known as Nabaraj Majlis, he was a great Minister and Chief of all Muslims of Roshang. Now I will tell something about Majlis. When the king went to heaven, the crown prince came to sit on the throne. Outside the throne, he stood facing the east. The Majlis wore his dress and standing before the prince advised him in the following words. ‘Treat the people as your sons; do not deceive upon the people. According to religious rites, be just in state duties, and see that the strong do not oppress the weak. Be kind, be true to your religion, be kind to good people, and punish the wicked. Try to forgive and do not be impatient; do not punish anybody for pass offences.’ The king accepted all these principles, and then bade salam to the Majlis and then all others of the family of his mother.”[12]

This is important evidence about the king and his Muslim Prime Minister Nabaraj Majlis. Alwal first praises king and then says that Nabaraj Majlis was the Chief Minister among all the Muslims there living in the country of Roshang. When the king died and his prince (new King) came to occupy the throne, he was made to stand outside of the throne facing the east. Majlis then appeared before him wearing his official dress. Nabaraj Majlis then administered the oath as follows: ‘treat your subjects as your son; do not oppress the people; be just in religious and legal matters; do not allow the strong to oppress the weak; you should be kind, truthful and religious; behave well to the good people and destroy the wicked; always be generous and do not vacillate or restless; do not harm anybody for past fault;’ and he advised the king in many other matters. The king agreed to abide by his advice and follow his admonition. Then he saluted Nabaraj Majlis and then others of his family.


Sayyid Muhammad Khan was a minister of the king Chandra Sudharma, Alaol composed his book Half Paikar (or Sapta Paikar), being requested by his minister. Alaol says:

“He was a king of kings, owner of huge wealth and his chief war minister was Sayyid Muhammad. His body is blue and his face is like a full moon. He speaks smilingly and he is learned in many subjects, in Arabic, Persian, Indian and Maghi languages. He is a good singer and remains busy with music day and night. Many scholars adorn his court and remain busy discussing philosophical subjects. I attend his court and he brings me up giving food and drinks. He keeps me obliged to him by giving salt, grain and betel nut. He shows me favour and I attend his court as a member of his assembly. I discuss many tales about religious subjects and I related to him the most fascinating story of Sapta Paikar.”[13]

In the above passage we find that the Minister Sayyid Muhammad was the chief army minister. We have seen above those three ministers, Ashraf Khan, Bara Thakur and Burhanuddin were called Lashkar Wazir, which we have rendered as war minister or defence minister. This man Sayyid Muhammad is not called Lashkar Wazir, through he was also attached to the army. It appears that he was also a war minister, but not a Lashkar Wazir. He was a learned man and well-versed in several languages like Arabic, Persian, Hindi and Maghi. He also liked music and always lived in the company of learned and cultured people. In his house, which was a miniature court, many people remained present and they gave demonstration of their talent in their respective fields, for example, some recited poems, some sang songs. In this way they entertained the audience. Alaol used to remain present in that assembly; he received patronage and various types of help from the minister. At his request Alaol composed the Haft Paikar in 1660 A.D. 


He was a minister of the king Chandra Sudharma. At his request, Alaol composed Tuhfa and completed the unfinished Satimaina Lor Chandrani. The first was a book on Fiqh, while the second was written by Qazi Daulat at the request of Lashkar Wazir Ashraf Khan. Before completing the book the poet died and the book remained incomplete. Alaol completed the last part of the book. He says as follows about the minister Srimanta Sulaiman in his Lor Chandani.

“Srimanta Sulaiman is a very virtuous man and he brings up vituous foreigners with care. He became extremely glad to receive me and always entertains me with food and clothes. Learned people always discuss in his assembly on philosophical subjects. Once he sat in his court and discussed on various subjects. By chance the story of Lor Chandrani came up for discussion. This poem remained incomplete, and if completed, readers and hearers will be happy .… Considering this the great Sulaiman ordered me to complete the book so that milk and honey meet at one place (i.e. both stories of Satimaina and Lor Chandrani are found in one place). At his order Alaol promised to complete the book depending on the will of God..... The orders of great men are to be carried on because he was like a father giving food and shelter. Srimanta Sulaiman is a man of virtue. He becomes glad on hearing the story of Sati (chaste woman). At his order Alaol composed the poem in Bengali verse.”[14]

In his Tuhfa, Alaol writes about Srimanta Sulaiman as follows:

“Roshang is a bless country, there is no sin there and Sri Chandra Sudharma is the king there. He is widely known and he is so fortunate that other kings came and adore him. His minister Sri-yut Sulaiman is a man of heavenly knowledge, God created him at an auspicious hour. He excuses (the offenders), he is kind, he is lucky and joyous, and he is a singer and plays instrumental music. He helps the lowly persons and works for other’s benefit, giving up his own work. In the company of the learned, he discusses religious principles ……. He said to me that it is very profitable to read the Tuhfa, but people do not understand it. So he asked me to render it into Bengali and I promised to do so.”[15]


As there were many Muslims entered into Arakan by the 17th century and in their day to day life Muslim law was prevalent. For this reason, Muslim judges had to be appointed. They were called Qazis, and it appears that the Qazi were appointed following the examples of Bengal. Names of several Qazis are available in the writing of poets.

In those days Qazi was an official title and not a family title. It is from the late 18th centuries that Qazi became a family title when the Muslims lost their political power. When the post of Qazi was abolished, the descendants of those who once occupied the post of Qazi began to adopt this as a family title. Qazi Sayyid Sawood Shah or Maswood Shah was another Judge, whose name is available in the writings of Alaol. He writes:

“Sayyid Sawood Shah, the Qazi of Roshang accepted me as a disciple because I have a little learning. The king and good-natured Pir took pity on me and granted me Khilafat in the Qaderiya order. Through I am unable to take such a responsibility, continuous touch turn copper into gold.”[16]

Alaol calls him “Roshanger Qazi” (Qazi of Roshang), which means he was Chief Justices of the kingdom of Arakan. It appears, however, that he judged the cases according to Muslim law, applied to the Muslims. It is not clear whether he also tried the cases of the Magh citizens, and it seems doubtful whether the Maghs had their own legal system. 

Names of some other Qazis are also available; they are Shuja Qazi, Gawa Qazi, Nala Qazi, Abdul Karim, Muhammad Husain, Usman, Abdul Jabbar, Abdul Gaffar, Muhammad Yusuf, Nur Muhammad and Raushang Ali. Details about them are not available.

Footnotes: -

1) Ashit Kumar Bandopodhaya, Bangla Sahityer Itribrita, Vol. III, Culcuta (1965) PP.703-704. 
2) Karim ed.: Shariatnamah of Nasrullah Khondkar, p. 91.
3) Arakan Rajsobhaya Bangla Sahitya, p. 9.
4) Sahitya Patrika, Winter, 1364 B.S., pp. 59-60.
5) Sukumar Sen:Bangala Sahityer Itihas, part II, 1st Ananda edition, p.298.
6) Sahitya Patrika, Winter, 1364, B.S., p. 83.
7) Ibid., p.83
8) Ibid. pp. 57-58.
9) Ibid. pp. 63-65.
10) Ahmad Sharif: Bangali O Bangla Sahitya,Part II. P. 483.
11) Ahmad Sharif: Alaol Birachita Sikandarnama, Dhaka 1977/ 1384 B.S., pp.29-30.
12) Ibid. pp. 26-27.
13) Ahmad Sharif: Bangali O Bangla Sahitya, Part II, P. 487.
14) Sahitya Patrika, Winter, 1364, B.S., pp. 66-67.
15) Ibid. pp. 140-141.
16) Abdul Karim & Enamul Huq: Arakan Rajsabhaya Bangla Sahitya,p. 46.

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