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  • Print publication year: 2006
  • Online publication date: October 2011

5 - The Debated Century


‘Bengal is an extensive country and fertile, and produces a large revenue. The climate however is very damp, on account of the quantity of rain that falls and its proximity to the salt sea’ (Khwaja Abdul Karim Khan, Baya'n-i-Waki, Elliot and Dowson, V.8: 130).

The Eighteenth Century and Bengal – The Foundations

A major component of the eighteenth century debate is the received idea of Bengal's primacy. This book has questioned the notion of the ‘primacy’ of Bengal in the previous chapters. The story narrated in this book ends in the eighteenth century. The eighteenth century was crucial for Bengal for it experienced all three of the themes that distinguishes the eighteenth century from others: it saw the formal disintegration of Mughal administration in Bengal, it experienced the rise of a regional power (the Murshidabad nizamat), and faced the domination of foreign capital on its shores, rivers, inland markets and manufactures.

Because of these three markers the importance of the eighteenth century continues unabated in South Asian history; but it is important to keep in mind that in Bengal the eighteenth century brought with it yet another dimension. From then on, the economic and political focus was finally concentrated on the west (vanga). The east or samatata became a marginal land.

The eighteenth century–a century of change–is now itself the subject of a debate. It hinges around three themes: the decline of imperial power, the emergence of regional powers, and the rise of European economic and political power. The eighteenth century debate originated from the idea that the fragmentation of the Mughal Empire in the post-Aurangzeb era brought forth an era of decay in the sub-continent.