Various Bengals and their Coalescence into Subah Bangla in the Eighteenth Century
‘Les Khorasan I'appellent Douzakhast…ce qui signifie en arabe un enfer rempli des biens’
(The Khorasans call it [Bengal] in Arabic ‘a hell full of abundance’)
Ibn Batuta, Voyages, Tome III, (Tr). Defremery, E.C., Sanguinetty, B.R., 1982, Paris, Maspero. (My translation).
The idea of Bengal, as a hell full of good things, took root from the fourteenth century. The statement above, attributed to Ibn Batuta the famous Maghrebian voyager who visted Bengal in the first half of the fourteenth century, has also been attributed to other travellers who have left behind accounts of Bengal; most notably Francois Bernier and Robert Challes, both of whom visisted Bengal in the seventeenth century. This was echoed as late as in the eighteenth century when the Riyas-us-Salatin stated this same sentiment unambiguously.
The flag of dissidence was frequently raised from Bengal. In 1579 Abu'l-Fazl called Bengal bulghak-khana or a ‘house of turbulence’. In Mughal times a posting to Bengal was deemed a demotion away from the corridors of power at Delhi, Agra or Lahore; yet it was emphasised that fortunes awaited those subahdars who braved this unsavoury posting. In travel accounts Bengal is portrayed as a frontier land, a place unknown, yet a country where fortunes could be made.
Bengal's frontier culture was unfamiliar to the north. A fish-eating land, its culture was perceived as alien by the Mughal ashrafi culture of north India. Bengalis were dismissed as ‘bands of fishermen’–a culture that the Mughals despised.