Sheherwali Jain community, financiers of the French, British and Nawabs 300 years ago!! - some facts

House of Jagat Seth, Murshrabad,WB.

Have you ever heard of the Indian community whose prominent members were offering finances to British and French companies roughly 300 years ago? The answer is Yes, it is recorded in history that they not only financed the foreign companies but also handled the finances of rich Indian nawabs.  The Sheherwalis were rich Jain merchant families who migrated from the semi arid regions of Rajasthan to conduct business in Bengal, then a fertile place.It is not an easy job to get name in business in a strange land far off from the native place. Sheherwalis achieved success in their business dealings by dint of hard wok, business acumen, integrity  right decision and above all adoptation to a new place. They gained enormous trust in the business community.

Some exciting facts about  Sheherwali Jains:

01. The name Sheherwalis originated from the fact that they were itinerant traders who moved from town to town ( sheher).

 02. An interesting fact that many people are not aware of is that the Sheherwalis, with their  strong belief in non-violence, shunned the use of silk clothing and  developed the concept of ahinsak or non-violent silk hundreds of years ago. The Sankaracharya of Kanchi  Math, Tamil Nadu - late senior Pontiff (Periyavar), a few decades ago, asked the people to avoid dress or sari made from pure silk as it involved killing of  countless silk cocoons (they had to be boiled as part of the process).

03. Roughly  300 years ago Manikchand, a Rajasthani Jain merchant settled in Bengal gained the confidence and trust of the first Nawab of Bengal , Murshid Quli Khan (1704 to 1725). He advised the nawab to shift his seat of power from  Dhaka and establish a city bearing his own name on the banks of the river Hooghly.

04. Through the efforts of Manikchand, a discrete village  of Maksudabad became the  town  of Murshidabad (established in 1717) with  palatial buildings, mosques, temples, mints, etc. 

05. Manikchand became the Nawab’s personal banker, trusted friend  and also the first Dewan receiving the title ‘jagat seth’ (banker of the world). Emperor Farruk Siyar, upon  his accession to the throne of Delhi in 1712, honoured Manik Chand with the title of "Nagar Sheth" (Banker of the city).

06. Thus, in the town of Murshidabad with the pioneering efforts of enterprising Manikchand, the Sheherwali culture  and tradition began on a strong base and flourished for a long time.

Jagat Seth, Banker &friend of Siraj.

07. When the East india Company under Robert Clive captured Bengal and other places in 1757 and later, the Murshdabad nawabs lost their political clout and their history faded into insignificance. However,  the culture of the Sheherwalis kept going unabated. Manik Chand died in 1714 and under the administration of  Fateh Chand, his nephew and successor ran the financial house effectively.
08.  A number of Jain families  came here and settled down in Murshidabad and other neighboring towns of  Azimganj and Ziaganjj
. They also started adopting the local ways of living, including food, dress customs and language, slowly evolving as a prosperous community distinct from the Marwaris.
The title of Jagat Sheth, bestowed on Fateh Chand by emperor Mahmood Shah in 1723, shows his capability and the good name his banking house had gained in the country.

Sheherwali dinner party,

09.  Being careful investors, Sheherwalis  became wealthy business people in Bengal and lived in big mansions designed by French and English architects. 

10. The community's rich cultural heritage was strong as  corroborated by their 14 richly ornate Jain temples in Murshidabad.

11. It was the  "
Sheherwali business people who  introduced a system of doing transaction with hundis, or promissory notes, instead of actual money". 

12. During the reign of Murshidabad nawabs, Bengal was a prosperous province and  the revenue of 20 million silver coins  was sent to the Mogul ruler  through the system of  hundis. Manikchand made enormous profits by way of commission.As for his successor, Fateh Chand, his house minted coins and bought much of the foreign bullion imported into Bengal. This way, they earned more  profits annually. 

After Fateh Chand, his grandson Mahtab Chand succeeded to the title in 1744. He and his cousin Maharaja Swarup Chand were influential and were close to nawab Alivardi Khan. His successor Siraj-ud-daulah  sidetracked  the brothers and they ultimately conspired against him with the English and Siraj's relatives. 

14. The Sheth brothers had good terms with nawab Mir Jaffer, however, his  successor Mir Qusim, for political reasons, assassinated the Sheth brothers in 1763. When East India company seized power from the nawab, the house of Seth began to slide down hill. Though the ESI gave special treatment to their financial house in minting coins, their fortune declined drastically when the British shifted the capital to Calcutta (Kolkata) in 1773.

15. After  Mahtab Chand the title of 'Jagat Sheth' lasted for six generations. The last of the clan Fateh Chand  inherited the title in 1912. After his death his successors  did not assume the title in the colonial period.

16. The Sheherwali community financed many firms in Europe and became leading money lenders. Once Prince Dwarakanath Tagore, a wealthy Bengali man, had borrowed money from them.

17. The
credit  goes to Sheherwali community  for setting up one of the region’s first jute mills in Bengal and this gave them the chance to head prominent business associations in Bengal. Further, they made their foray in other industries as well. Not contended with earning lots of wealth, they engaged themselves in charity and  philanthropy by way of  constructing hospitals, schools and colleges in Murshidabad.

18. This community adopted the attire of Bengal; men gave up pagri (headgear of Rajasthan) and adopted the local tradition. Women gave up their traditional dress - lehengas and odhanas and began wearing saris, but they adopted their own style.

19. This community favors  vegetarian food  and the members introduced several varieties of their vegetarian cuisine.