8 Jul 2014

Sher Shah Suri: The Lion King of India

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From Farid Khan to Sher Shah:

It was during the reign of Sultan Bahlol Lodi that Ibrahim Khan Sur, grandfather of Farid Khan, came to India from Afghanistan. During the reign of Sikandar Lodi (son of Sultan Bahlol Lodi), Jamal Khan, the governor of Jaunpur, gave Ibrahim's son Hasan Khan, the Jagirs of Sasaram and Khwaspur in Bihar. Farid was born during the reign of Sultan Bahlol. The boy Farid was driven away from home by the maltreatment of his step mother. Farid went to his father's patron, Jamal Khan and learned Arabic and Persian literature and history at Jaunpur. Being pleased with his talent, Farid was appointed by his father to administer the Jagirs of Sasaram and Khwaspur (1515). Farid managed the estate with great ability and in a very short time, the parganas became prosperous. His step mother became jealous of him and wanted Hasan to transfer the Jagirs in the name of her son, Suleiman. Due to influence of Suleiman's mother, Hasan was compelled to dismiss Farid and appointed Suleiman to manage the Jagirs (1520). Farid went to Agra and entered into the service of Daulat Khan Lodi, one of the Amirs at the court of Sultan Ibrahim Lodi. On the death of his father in 1525, Ibrahim Lodi conferred him the Jagir of his father. Suleiman, unable to oppose him, went to Muhammad Khan Sur, the governor of Chaundh, for protection. (Muhammad Sur desired that the brothers should quarrel and destroy themselves, and finally occupy the Jagir himself) Since Farid refused to divide the parganas between him and Suleiman, Muhammad Sur was preparing to take them by force. To counter this, Farid decided to join the service of Bahar Khan Nuhani, the governor of Bihar. By this time, Babur defeated Sultan Ibrahim Lodi and established the Mughal Empire (1526).

Farid Khan to Sher Khan: On the death of Ibrahim Lodi, Farid joined the service of Sultan Muhammad Shah Nuhani of Bihar, who rewarded him the title of Sher Khan, for killing a tiger with his bare hands during a hunting expedition. Impressed by his service, Muhammad Shah made him the deputy to his minor son, Jalal Khan. After some time Sher Khan took leave to visit his Jagirs. During his absence Muhammad Sur poisoned the Sultan's ears that Sher Khan was planning to join Mahmud Lodi, a brother of the late Sultan Ibrahim Lodi, and requested him to confer his Jagirs on Suleiman. Muhammad Sur sent a force to occupy the Jagirs and defeated Sher Khan's army. Thus Sher Khan was once again deprived of his paternal Jagir.


In the Service of Babur: With the intention of recapturing his Jagirs Sher Khan joined the services of Junaid Birlas, the Mughal governor of Jaunpur. Junaid was much pleased with Sher Khan and gave him troops to recover his parganas. Unable to resist, Muhammad Sur and Sulaiman fled; Sher Khan got possession of his own parganas as well as Muhammad Sur's. He then befriended Muhammad Sur and returned him the possession of Chaundh. After leaving Nizam (his own brother) in charge of the Jagirs, he went to Junaid Birlas and was presented to Emperor Babur at Agra in 1527. He accompanied Babur in the siege of Chanderi. He remained for some time among the Mughals, where he had the opportunity to observe their military arrangements and the character of their nobles. Once he said to his Afghan fellows, "if luck and fortune favour me, I will very shortly expel the Mughals from Hind, for the Mughals are not superior to the Afghans in battle or single combat; but the Afghans have let the empire of Hind slip from their hands, on account of their internal dissensions. Since I have been amongst the Mughals, and know their conduct in action, I see that they have no order or discipline, and that their kings, from pride of birth and station, do not personally superintend the government, but leave all the affairs and business of the State to their nobles and ministers, in whose sayings and doings they put perfect confidence. If fortune extends a hand to me, the Shaikh shall soon see and hear how I will bring the Afghans under my control, and never permit them again to become divided".

One day at an entertainment, a solid dish was placed before Sher Khan, which he did not know the customary mode of eating. So he cut it into small pieces with his dagger, and put them into his spoon easily disposed of them. Seeing this Emperor Babur wondered and said to his minister, "Keep an eye on Sher Khan, he is a clever man, and the marks of royalty are visible on his forehead. I have seen many Afghan nobles, greater men than he, but they never made any impression on me; but as soon as I saw this man, it entered into my mind that he ought to be arrested, for I find in him the qualities of greatness and marks of mightiness". Since Babur was suspicious of him, he left the Mughal service in 1528.

Battle of Ghagra with Babur (1529): Sher Khan returned to Bihar and joined Sultan Muhammad Nuhani, who restored him to the post of deputy and tutor to his son Jalal Khan (1528). After the death of Muhammad Nuhani Jalal Khan ascended the throne of Bihar under the title Jalal-ud-din Nuhani and and his mother Dudu became the Regent. Meanwhile Mahmud Lodi who had taken refuge in Chittor after Rana Sanga's defeat in the battle of Khanwa (1527), was invited to Bihar and declared as Sultan by some of the Afghan chiefs. Sultan Jalal-ud-din Nuhani was forced to seek refuge with Sultan Nusrat Shah of Bengal. An Afghan confederacy was formed against the Mughals and Sher Khan was compelled to join them. At the news of Babur's approach, Mahmud Lodi and his followers fled to Bengal; while many of the Afghan chiefs including Sher Khan and Jalal Nuhani made their submission. On his submission, Sher Khan was pardoned. Before retiring to Agra, Babur restored Sher Khan and Jalal to their own positions. Dudu appointed Sher Khan the guardian of Jalal leaving the affairs of state in his hands.

Treaty of Chunar with Humayun (1532): Sher Khan acquired the fortress of Chunargarh by marrying Lad Malika, widow of Taj Khan, the governor of Chunar (1530). After the death of Babur in 1530, his son Humayun succeeded him. The Afghans again rose in revolt under Sultan Mahmud Lodi and they captured Jaunpur. Sher Khan joined them unwillingly and wrote to Hindu Beg (one of Humayun's generals) that, The Mughals raised me from the dust. These people (Sultan Mahmud Lodi and other Afghan chiefs) have brought me with them by force; but in the day of battle I will not fight, and will go off the field without engaging. Tell the Emperor Humayun the true state of my case, and that I will serve him in the day of battle, and will cause the defeat of this army. While the two armies were engaged in the battle, Sher Khan retreated with all his troops and in this battle of Dourah in 1532, Humayun defeated the Afghans. But after his victory, Humayun turned against Sher Khan and laid siege to Chunar. However, due to the advance of Sultan Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, he had to abandon the siege four months later. Taking advantage of this opportunity, Sher Khan made his submission and promised to be loyal to the Mughals. Sher Khan was allowed to remain in possession of the fortress of Chunar on his agreement to send his son Kutb Khan to accompany Humayun to Agra. (While Humayun was busy with the reduction of Gujarat, Kutb Khan escaped and rejoined his father)

Capture of Bihar (1534): In West Bengal, Sultan Nasir-ud-din Nusrat Shah (1519-1533) was succeeded by his son Alauddin Firuz. But he was soon killed by his uncle Ghiyas-ud-din Mahmud Shah, who then usurped the throne of Bengal (1533-1538). Makhdum-i-Alam, the governor of Hajipur, revolted against Mahmud and entered into an alliance with Sher Khan. On hearing this, Mahmud Shah sent an army to invade Bihar, however, in this battle, the Bengal army was totally defeated. Makhdum then tried to conquer Bengal but was defeated and slain, leaving all his wealth in the hands of Sher Khan. Due to the rising power of Sher Khan, some of the Nuhani nobles conspired with Jalal Khan to kill him. When Sher Khan learned this, Jalal and his Nuhani followers took refugee in Bengal at the court of Sultan Mahmud Shah. Mahmud Shah sent an army to invade Bihar, however, Sher Khan defeated the combined forces of Mahmud Shah and the Nuhani Afghans in this battle of Surajgarh (1534). Jalal retreated to Bengal. Thus Sher Khan achieved complete control of Bihar by 1534.

Conquest of Bengal (1538): After the defeat of Sultan Bahadur Shah, the whole of the Afghans who were in his service joined Sher Khan. Sher Khan invaded Gaur, the capital of Bengal, and Sultan Mahmud Shah concluded peace with him by paying a large sum. He also ceded large areas to Sher Khan and agreed to pay him an annual tribute. Since Mahmud Shah had failed to pay the annual tribute, Sher Khan sent his son Jalal Khan and his general, Khawas Khan to besiege Gaur (1537). Alarmed at the activities of Sher Khan in Bengal, Humayun marched towards the east and besieged Chunar, which lasted for six months; and by the time the fort fell, Sher Khan had captured Gaur (Apr 1538). Sultan Mahmud fled to Humayun for protection.

Treaty of Bengal with Humayun: After capturing Chunar, Humayun advanced to Banares. He then sent an envoy to Sher Khan demanding the surrender of Bihar and Bengal. Sher Khan replied that if the Emperor would leave him Bengal, he will surrender Bihar and also will pay him an yearly tribute of ten lac rupees. Humayun accepted the proposal however, at the request of Sultan Mahmud, he changed his mind and set off towards Bengal with the intention of capturing it. When Sher Khan heard this, "he entirely gave up all trust in the promises and faith of Humayun". In the meantime, Sher Khan captured the fortress of Rohtasgarh from Raja Hari Krishan Rai and sent his families and those of his Afghan officers, and also the treasures from Gaur there. Humayun occupied Gaur by Sep 1538. While Humayun enjoyed a life devoted to pleasure in Gaur for the next three months, Sher Khan recovered Chunar, captured Banares and Jaunpur, and also took the Mughal possessions as far as Kannauj and Sambhal, thus cutting off the line of communications between Delhi and Bengal. Meanwhile, receiving the news of Hindal's revolt at Agra, Humayun left Bengal and hastened towards Agra.

Defeats & Expels Humayun (1539 & 1540): Sher Khan opposed Humyun's army by marching from Rohtas to Chausa (the boundary of Bihar and Uttar Pradesh). For nearly three months, the Mughal army remained in this situation, neither Humayun could attack Sher Khan nor continue his retreat by crossing the Ganges. Sher Khan wrote to Humayun, saying that if he would give him Bengal, he would acknowledge the Emperor's supremacy. Humayun agreed this and wanted Sher Khan to retreat so that he can advance further. Humayun sent Shaikh Khalil as envoy to Sher Khan to negotiate for peace. Sher Khan asked the Shaikh, "Is peace or war with the Emperor most to my advantage?" The Shaikh replied that "War with the Emperor Humayun is more for your advantage than peace; for this reason, that in his army the most complete disorder exists, he has no horses or cattle, and his own brothers are in rebellion against him. He only makes peace with you now from necessity, and will not eventually abide by the treaty.” Hearing this, Sher Khan decided to fight with Humayun. Sher Khan ordered his chiefs to array their men with all speed, as if they were still in alarm as to Maharta Chero (The Cheros were the indigenous tribes of Bihar and Sher Shah had sent Khawas Khan to destroy them); and that the Emperor might not suspect that his army was coming towards him. Thereupon he made a surprise attack on Humayun's army, and the Mughal army was completely defeated in the Battle of Chausa on Jun 26, 1539. Humayun escaped to Agra. Humayun's wife, Bega Begum (also known as Haji Begum) was captured by Sher Khan's army, but he treated her with great respect and honour and returned her to Humayun with the an escort of his trusted general. Sher Khan now assumed the title of Sher ShahHe seated himself on the throne, unfolded the umbrella over his head, and assumed the name of Sher Shah, and struck coin and caused the khutba to be read in his own name. He occupied Bengal after defeating Jahangir Kuli Beg, the Mughal governor of Bengal.

He sent his son Kutb Khan towards Mandu in order to persuade its ruler, Qadir Shah to assist him against Humayun. But Humayun, who had now made peace with his brother Hindal, sent Askari and Hindal to proceed against Kutb Khan. Kutb Khan was defeated and killed by Humayun's brothers. When Sher Shah heard that Qadir Shah had not assisted his son, and that he was slain, he was extremely grieved and enraged. Humayun collected a large force with which he once more turned towards the East. On 17 May, 1540, the two armies met again at Kannauj. Humayun was again defeated in the Battle of Kannauj (also known as Battle of Bilgram) and had to flee from India.

Sher Shah Suri, the Emperor of India (1540-1545):

Sher Shah Suri and his guards

And fortune thus favoured him; After driving out Humayun from Hindustan, Sher Shah Suri occupied the throne of Delhi and Agra and established the Second Afghan Empire in India, known as the Sur Dynasty (1540-1555). Honouring the final wish of Emperor Babur, Sher Shah moved his body from Agra to the Bagh-e Babur in Kabul (Babur's body was laid first in the Ram or Aram Bagh at Agra). He conquered Malwa & Punjab (1542) Ranthambhor (1542), Raisin, Multan & Sind (1543), Marwar & Chittor (1544). His last expedition was against Kalinjar (1545). He was partially burnt in an accidental explosion of gun powder during the siege of Kalinjar, on 22 May 1545. He was immediately taken to his tent, but he ordered his men to take the fort while he was yet alive. When the news of capture of the fort reached Sher Shah, marks of joy and pleasure appeared on his countenance and soon he expired. His magnificent tomb is located in Sasaram. He had three sons: Adil Khan, Jalal Khan (Later known as Salim Shah Suri, who succeeded him) & Kutb Khan.

Sher Shah was a brilliant administrator. During his brief reign of five years, he introduced a number of reforms. The King was the head of the government and exercised all powers. Every branch of the administration was subject to his personal supervision. He even punished his near relatives and high officials if they tried to break the law or attempted to harass the people. It is said that during his reign "a decrepit old woman might place a basket full of gold ornaments on her head and go on a journey, and no thief or robber would come near her, for fear of the punishment which Sher Shah inflicted."

Civil Administration: He divided his whole empire into 47 divisions called Sarkars; Each Sarkar was sub-divided into several parganas. He transferred officials every year or second year. He kept an efficient espionage system so as to keep informed of all happenings in his empire.

Military Administration: He maintained a large standing disciplined and strong army. He himself recruited the soldiers and fixed their salaries according to their skill and ability. He paid the soldiers in cash. He introduced the practice of branding of horses (dagh) and maintaining descriptive rolls of the soldiers (chehra).

Land Revenue Administration: The process of revenue administration was started by Sher Shah Suri. The land of each peasant was first measured and the land revenue was fixed at one-third of the total produce, which could be paid in cash or kind.

Trade & Commerce: To encourage trade and commerce many unwanted taxes were abolished. In order to provide comfort and convenience to the travelers, he built many roads. The famous Grand Trunk Road (Sadak-i-Azam) which runs from Calcutta to Peshawar was built by him. The second road was from Agra to Burhanpur, the third from Agra to Jodhpur and Chittor and the fourth one was from Lahore to Multan. Fruit-bearing and shady trees were planted on both side of the roads.

Sarais (inn/rest house) were built at a distance of two kos with separate arrangements for Muslims and non-Muslims. In every Saraí he settled Brahmans for the entertainment of Hindus, to provide hot and cold water, and beds and food, and grain for their horses. Whoever entered the Sarais received provision suitable to his rank and food for his cattle from Government. Villages were established all round the Sarais. The Sarais also served as post offices; at every Sarai, two horsemen were kept to carry the mails to the next one. He introduced coins of gold, silver and copper of uniform standard; Silver coin called Rupee, Gold coins called Mohurs and Copper coins called Dams.

Religious Tolerance: Hindus were also given high positions in the army. Raja Todar Mal, one of the nine gems in Akbar's court, began his career under Sher Shah (He was Sher Shah's revenue minister). Brahmajit Gaur was one of his ablest generals.

Rohtas fort at Jhelum, Pakistan
Rohtas fort, a UNESCO world heritage site in Pakistan
A Great Builder: He fortified his northern borders by constructing a fort in the Tilla Hills near Jhelum to intimidate local Ghakkar rebels, who were loyal to the Mughals. He named the new fort 'Rohtas' after the Rohtasgarh fort in Bihar. Rohtas fort (Qila Rohtas) located in Jhelum is a UNESCO world heritage site in Pakistan. Sher Shah rebuilt Humayun's capital, Dinpanah and changed it to Shergarh, which is now known as Purana Qila. He also constructed Sher Mandal, which later served as the library of Humayun. He destroyed the old city of Kannauj and built a city there called Sher Sur. He built his own tomb at Sasaram.

From the day that Sher Shah was established on the throne, no man dared to breathe in opposition to him; nor did any one raise the standard of contumacy or rebellion against him; nor was any heart-tormenting thorn produced in the garden of his kingdom; nor was there any of his nobles or soldiery, or a thief or a robber, who dared to direct the eye of dishonesty to the property of another; nor did any theft or robbery ever occur in his dominions.                                
                                                                                                                Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi

Sher Shah's Empire did not last long as his successors were inefficient rulers. The Sur dynasty came to an end when Humayun defeated Sher Shah's successor Sikandar Suri and re-established the Mughal Empire in 1555. Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi, written by Abbas Khan Sarwani, on the order of Emperor Akbar, provides a detailed information about Sher Shah's administration. Akbar adopted many reforms of Sher Shah as it is or by some modifications. Therefore Sher Shah is regarded as the fore-runner of Akbar.

Sher Shah Suri's tomb at Sasaram, Bihar, India

Notes:

Lodi Dynasty was the first Afghan Empire of India.

The exact date and year of Sher Shah Suri's birth is unknown.

From the Memoirs of Emperor Babur: "intelligence reached us in rapid succession that Sultan Mahmud had gathered round him 100,000 Afghans; that he had detached Shaikh Bayazíd and Baban with a large army towards Sirwar, while he himself and Fath Khan Sarwani occupied the banks of the Ganges, and were moving upon Chunar; that Sher Khan Sur, on whom I had bestowed marks of favour, to whom I had given several parganas, and whom I had left in command in that quarter, had now joined these Afghans...". 

6 comments:

  1. Anjana... a good online book for reference!happy to follow u dear!

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  2. Sher Shah was born in Narnaul in present day Haryana (earlier Hissar Suba during 16th century), where his grandfather was a big Jagirdar and not in Sasaram.The mausoleum of his grandfather is still located in Narnaul and is under the protection of ASI.

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  3. Important information and vivid description. Thanks.

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  4. Although Shersha was a very able ruler ; I doubt that he actually built that trance india road he renovated the grand road and replenished it. ( now GT road) with sarai ( place of rest and refreshments) near it. These was old ( perhaps from the time of Ashok or before him) and the road was older ( it connected nalanda with Taksha shila -- both the region was of much importance ).

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