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History of Dhumghat-Ishwaripur fort

The history of Dhumghat is extensively linked with the greater history of Bengal. The first reference of Dhumghat and Ishwaripur is found in the 2nd century AD, when chronicles of foreign traders from northern India and the South East Asia, while describing the flourishing maritime trade routes of south Bengal and the rich kingdom of Gangaridi between the Ganges river and the Padma river, mentioned the ancient port of Ishwaripur and the old mud fort of Dhumghat protecting the trade outpost. Dhumghat fort worked as a naval stronghold in the 6th and 7th century AD for King Sasanka of the Gauda Kingdom in south Bengal, against the continuous invasions of Bhaskarbarman of Kamrupa or modern-day lower Assam as well as those by Emperor Harshavardhana of North India. After the death of King Sasanka, Dhumghat lost its prominence as an outpost till the rise of the Pala Empire. The second Pala Emperor, Dharmapala, and his son, Emperor Devpala, built the stone ramparts of the fort of Dhumghat and extended the fort walls across both sides of the riverbanks, including the Ishwaripur complex into it. This way the port, the village and the island fort came inside the same outer walls, and the village served as a protected food supplying hinterland for the fort during any siege. These walls, still visible at the outskirts of Ishwaripur, date back to the 8th century AD. Under the Sena rule in Bengal, the temples were renovated and the Dhumghat fort continued to protect the trading vessels to and from the other parts of Bengal and Assam, and stayed as a strong trading outpost in the river network of southern Bengal.

Under the Bengal Sultanate in the pre-Mughal era, Dhumghat came under the jurisdiction of the estate of Raja Srihari, an influential officer in the court of the last independent Afghan Sultan of Bengal, Daud Khan Kagani. In 1576, when Daud was defeated by the invading Mughal army of Akbar the Great, Raja Srihari, in who’s custody was the entire Bengal treasury, fled the battlefield with the full wealth to Jessore, which was under his governorship since the last two years, and declared independence. His son and the greatest name associated with Dhumghat, Maharaja Pratapaditya, ascended the throne of Jessore in 1584. Understanding the continuous advent of the Mughals deeper and deeper into Bengal, and the imminent clash of the independent kingdoms of south Bengal with the Mughals Pratapaditya shifted his capital from Jessore to the strategically more secure Dhumghat-Ishwaripur and started strengthening the fort walls. He also started his own foundry inside the island fort to start producing artillery required to defend the fort and the city in case of any Mughal invasion. He also built two major protective outposts along with large forts at Salka and Kagarghat, on both sides of the rivers, to protect the route of advent towards Dhumghat. He also strengthened the navy of Dhumghat, by building new and stronger war canoes and barges at the Jahazghata port. The Jessore navy comprised a fleet of 5000 war canoes and 1000 barges, which supplemented the large land army and the artillery in a great way. Then he developed a confederation of independent kings of Bengal and Assam by the name ‘Baro Bhuiyaa' to face the advancing Mughal army with a combined strength. The confederation was irrespective of any religious or cultural beliefs, and together with Issa Khan of Sonergaon, Pratapaditya took the front line of leadership in the fight against the Mughals. Pratapaditya’s own uncle, Raja Basanta Ray, though sided with the Mughals because of his personal closeness to Raja Man Singh of Amer, the nephew of Emperor Akbar and brother in law of Emperor Jahangir. When Basanta Ray started giving out strategic military information related to the defense mechanism of Dhumghat, Jessore and Bakla, Pratapaditya invited Basanta Ray to Dhumghat at the pretext of negotiating peace with the Mughals and got him murdered. This incident enraged Raja Man Singh, who was the then governor of Mughal Bengal, and he immediately gave the order to the Mughal army to march against Dhumghat. Pratapaditya ‘s eldest son and heir apparent, Udayaditya, gave a valiant fight at Salka with Elephants and war canoes, but was defeated. After Pratapaditya himself was defeated in the battle of Khagarghat and a major part of his fleet destroyed, he retreated to the Dhumghat fort and prepared to defend the capital in one last stand. Udayaditya was given the defense of the left bank of the Ichhamati river and the Ishwaripur outpost, whereas Raja Ramchandra of Bakla, the son in law of Pratapaditya, was given the defense of the right bank of the river. Ramachandra was tricked to believe that the Mughal army was attacking through the river bed, and while Ramachandra tried to foil the attack by a small contingent of the Mughal fleet upstream, the majority of the Mughal army crossed the Ichhamati unopposed and attacked the fort of Dhumghat. In the ensuing battle, Pratapaditya was captured, and Dhumghat fell. Udayaditya continued the resistance for some time, before surrendering to the Mughals and becoming a vassal of Mughal Empire.

Many architectural developments during the Mughal period as well as periods after that, gives one the idea that Dhumghat-Ishwaripur did not lose its significance as a trading outpost in the river networks of South Bengal. This area came under the Greater 24 Parghanas Jagir, which was given to the British as a revenue earning area by the Nawab of Bengal in 1751. After the Battle of Plassey in 1757, when Bengal came under the dominance of the British East Indian Company, this area was given as a personal property to Lord Robert Clive by the Nawab of Bengal. Dhumghat fort has been repeatedly reconstructed and strengthened, first by the Mughals and then by the British to protect naval trading from Portuguese and Arakanese pirates. After the consolidation of the British colonial rule however, Dhumghat fort started losing its strategic significance and went into ruins.

Dhumghat came into news once again in 1971 when, during the Bangladesh Liberation War, the Pakistani army conducted a genocide in this area, killing almost 70 percent of the population of Dhumghat-Ishwaripur. A memorial monument stands inside the fort commemorating the sacrifice of the Bengali martyrs.