In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Early Career of Sher Shah 2. Contest for the Empire (1530-1540 A.D.) 3. The Extension of the Empire: Last Days and Death (1540-1545 A.D.).
Early Career (1472-1530 A.D.):
“If luck aided me and fortune stood my friend, I could easily oust the Mughuls from Hindustan.” Sher Shah had expressed his intentions thus when he was in the service of the Mughul emperor Babur and engaged in his campaign against Chanderi. Sher Shah succeeded in achieving his ambition. He established the second Afghan empire under the family of Surs in northern India.
Sher Shah is one among those great personalities of history who had a humble beginning but succeeded in establishing powerful empire simply by his own exertions, merit and power of sword. Sher Shah did not belong to a rich family and, in no way, was connected with a royal family or with any well-known military commander or religious preacher.
Thus, he was a man without any high connections, influence or status and he did not get any support from anybody in his career. Whatever he achieved, he achieved simply by his own efforts and capability.
Farid was the name of Sher Shah when he was a child. His grandfather Ibrahim Sur traded in horses. But as he could not get much success in his trade, he and his son Hasan entered into military service and settled at Bajwara, two miles south-east of Hastinapur in Punjab. Here at Bajwara or according to Dr Qanungo in the pargana of Narnaul, Farid was born in 1486 A.D. by the first wife of Hasan.
Hasan went to Jaunpur with his master Jamal Khan during the reign of Sikandar Shah Lodi and was assigned by him the Jagir of Sasaram, Hajipur, Khawaspur and Tanda. Hasan had four wives and eight sons.
Farid and Nizam were born of his first wife while Sulaiman and Ahmad were born of his fourth wife. Hasan was under the influence of his fourth wife and therefore, neglected his first wife and his sons. Farid could not get the care and affection of his father and therefore, passed his childhood in difficulties.
At the age of 22, Farid quarrelled with his father and fled to Jaunpur which was a centre of learning at that time. Farid studied there for three years, acquired knowledge of Arabic and Persian and was able to impress Jamal Khan, the master of his father by his knowledge and labour.
Jamal Khan brought about a reconciliation between the father and the son and Farid was appointed the deputy of the Jagir of his father. He looked after the Jagir of his father for about twenty-one years (1497-1518 A.D.) and managed its administration very well.
But then the jealousy of his step-mother and brothers forced him to leave Bihar and he went to Agra. He entered into the service of an influential Amir Daulat Khan Lodi and requested Sultan Ibrahim Lodi to bestow on him the Jagir of his father.
The request was turned down at that time. But, after the death of Hasan in 1520 A.D., Farid was granted the Jagir of his father. He immediately took possession of it. His step-brother Sulaiman fled away from there and took up service under Muhammad Khan, the Jagirdar of Chaund.
Muhammad Khan tried to interfere on behalf of Sulaiman and sought the partition of the Jagir which was refused by Farid. Farid, however, entered the service of Bahar Khan Lohani, the master of south Bihar to counteract the influence of Muhammad Khan of Chaund.
Here he got the title of Sher Khan for killing a tiger single-handed in a hunting excursion. Bahar Khan was so much pleased with his services that he appointed him as the tutor of his minor son, Jalal Khan and made Sher Khan his deputy in administration.
In 1526 A.D., Ibrahim Lodi was defeated at the battle of Panipat by Babur and therefore, many Afghan nobles declared their independence. Bahar Khan Lohani was also one of them. He declared himself the ruler of south Bihar and assumed the title of Sultan Muhammad. The growing influence of Sher Khan on Sultan Muhammad provoked the jealousy of certain Lohani nobles who instigated the Sultan against him.
Sher Khan was forced to leave Bihar. He went to Agra and took up service under the Mughul ruler, Babur. He participated in the campaign of Babur against Chanderi. But, very soon, he felt insecure about of his life and fled away from the Mughul camp.
He returned to south Bihar where again he was deputed the tutor of Jalal Khan by Sultan Muhammad. Sultan Muhammad died in 1528 A.D. and his wife Dudu appointed Sher Khan as the deputy or the Naib of his minor son, Jalal Khan.
In 1529 A.D., he joined Mahmud Lodi to fight against Babur. The Afghans were defeated at the battle of Ghaghara. However, Jalal Khan was restored his Jagir of south Bihar and Sher Khan remained there as he was. In 1529 A.D. Nusrat Shah of Bengal attacked south Bihar but was defeated by Sher Khan who, by that time, had monopolised its administration. The Lohani nobles could not tolerate Sher Khan any more and conspired to murder him.
But they failed and, finding no alternative, fled to Bengal along with the nominal ruler Jalal Khan. The flight of Jalal Khan cleared the way of Sher Khan who now assumed the title of Hazrat-i-Ala and became the virtual ruler of south Bihar.
Contest for the Empire (1530-1540 A.D.):
The success against the army of Bengal and occupation of south Bihar inflamed the ambitions of Sher Khan. He now started organising the Afghans and called them from distant places to assemble under him. He utilised their hatred of the Mughuls and inspired them to try their luck once more in turning the Mughuls out of India.
In 1530 A.D. Humayun became the Mughul emperor and the Afghans decided to fight against him under Mahmud Lodi. They assembled in Bihar and Sher Khan also had to join them though he had no faith in the leadership of Mahmud Lodi.
The Afghans were defeated in 1532 A.D. at the battle of Dauhria. Mahmud Lodi fled away to Orissa and there he lived till his death. The exit of Mahmud Lodi from the political scene provided Sher Shah the opportunity of leading the Afghans against the Mughuls.
Humayun laid the siege of Chunargarh after the defeat of the Afghans in 1532 A.D. The fort was under Sher Khan and was well defended by his son Jalal Khan. After four months of siege, Humayun decided to withdraw in order to pay his attention towards Bahadur Shah of Gujarat. Therefore, he made peace with Sher Khan and allowed him to retain south Bihar and Chunargarh in return of acceptance of the suzerainty of the Mughuls.
Humayun remained busy in the west for next some years. That opportunity was utilised by Sher Khan to establish his power in the east. Nusrat Shah was succeeded by Mahmud Shah in Bengal who was not a competent ruler. Sher Khan decided to gain at the expense of Bengal. However, initiative was taken by the ruler of Bengal who sent a strong army against Sher Khan and the battle of Surajgarh was fought in 1534 A.D.
It was a complete success to Sher Khan himself who captured a large number of elephants, a train of artillery and huge treasure. Next year, he again attacked Bengal and forced Mahmud Shah to pay him 13 lakh gold dinars and a large territory.
In 1537 A.D. he attacked Bengal on the plea that Mahmud Shah had failed to pay the annual tribute to him. Mahmud Shah could not defend himself, fled to his capital Gaur and sent messages for immediate help to Humayun.
In 1537 A.D. Humayun proceeded towards the east to subdue Sher Khan. But before Humayun could capture Chunargarh, Sher Khan succeeded in looting Gaur and returned to Bihar. In 1538 A.D. he captured the fort of Rohtasgarh from its Hindu king by resorting to a stratagem. There he placed his treasure and family for security and prepared himself to fight against Humayun.
Humayun proceeded to Bengal and when he returned after some months, Sher Khan blocked his way of return. He defeated Humayun at the battle of Chausa in 1539 A.D. After this battle, he assumed the title of Sher Shah, Sultan-i-Adil with the consent of all his present Afghan nobles.
Thereafter, he attacked Bengal and captured it. Now, he became the master of Bengal and Bihar. In 1540 A.D., he again defeated Humayun at the battle of Kannauj. He then occupied cities like Agra, Delhi, Sambhal, Gwalior, Lahore and all the territory of the Mughuls. He, thus, established the second Afghan empire in India.
The Extension of the Empire: Last Days and Death (1540-1545 A.D.):
Sher Shah’s primary interest was to safeguard his empire from any fresh invasion of the Mughuls. His second task was the extension of his empire and its consolidation. Therefore, he engaged himself in the double task of making further conquests and administering his empire till his death in 1545 A.D.
1. Campaign against the Gakkhars:
Sher Shah sent Barmazid Gaur in pursuit of Humayun and himself went after him up to Khusab. There, certain Baluch chiefs offered their submission to him. Then, after appointing Khawas Khan and Qutb Khan to check infiltration of the Mughuls into his territory, he himself undertook a campaign against the Gakkhars.
The primary motive of Sher Shah was to stop the infiltration of the Mughuls in India through the Bolan and Khybar Pass. Besides, the Gakkhars were loyal to the Mughuls and occupied strategic territory in the north-west. Sher Shah ravaged the territory of the Gakkhars, broke their aggressive power but failed to reduce them to submission.
Sher Shah built a strong fort, ten miles north of the town of Jhelam, named it Rohtasgarh and garrisoned it with 50,000 Afghan soldiers under the command of Haibat Khan Niyazi and Khawas Khan. He also tried to dislodge Mirza Haidar from Kashmir but failed.
2. The Revolt in Bengal (1541 A.D.):
While Sher Shah was yet in Punjab, he received disturbing news from Bengal. His Governor, Khizr Khan had married the daughter of the deceased Sultan Mahmud and was behaving as an independent ruler. Sher Shah himself went there and imprisoned Khizr Khan. He introduced a novelty in the administration of Bengal to check the possibilities of future revolt in that distant province.
He divided Bengal into several sarkars (districts) and placed each of them under a military officer called the Shiqdar with a small force. The Shiqdars were placed under a civil officer called Amin-i-Bangla or Amir-i-Bangla. The first man appointed to this post was Qazi Fazilat. Thus, there remained no military governor in Bengal commanding a large military force and, thereby, none capable of revolt against the Sultan.
3. Malwa (1542 A.D.):
Mallu Khan, the governor of Gujarat in Malwa, assumed independence and the title of Qadir Shah after the death of his master Bahadur Shah. He possessed the forts of Mandu, Ujjain and Ranthambhor. He had refused to help Qutb Khan, son of Sher Shah in 1540 A.D who, therefore, was killed by Askari and Hindal in the battle of Kalpi.
He refused to accept the suzerainty of Sher Shah when he became the Sultan of Delhi. Sher Shah apprehended that, probably, Malwa would be captured by Maldeva of Marwar or Humayun. Therefore, he decided to conquer it himself and proceeded to attack it. He conquered Gwalior on the way and reached Sarangpur.
Here, Qadir Shah came and surrendered himself to Sher Shah. He was offered the Jagir of Kalpi or Lakhnauti and major portion of Malwa was annexed to the kingdom of Delhi. But. Qadir Shah fled away to Gujarat in order to save his life and Sher Shah appointed Sujaat Khan as his governor in Malwa. While returning from Malwa, Sher Shah forced the governor of the fort of Ranthambhor to surrender to him.
4. Raisin (1543 A.D.):
The forts of Raisin and Chanderi were in the hands of Puran Mal. In 1542 A.D., Puran Mal had acknowledged the sovereignty of Sher Shah. However, news were conveyed to Sher Shah that he persecuted the Muslims and forced even respectable Muslim women to adopt the profession of singing and dancing. Therefore, Sher Shah took an oath to punish him. But Dr Qanungo says that the motive of Sher Shah in attacking Raisin was purely political.
There is no doubt that Sher Shah desired to capture the forts of Raisin and Chanderi for political purposes. The religious cause as described above was merely pretext for the invasion. Sher Shah attacked Raisin in 1543 A.D. and besieged the fort. The Rajputs resisted him successfully for many months.
Sher Shah, then, gave a solemn promise sworn on the Koran to safeguard the lives, property and honour of Puran Mal and his followers if they would surrender the fort to him. Being assured thus, Puran Mal handed over the fort to Sher Shah. The Rajputs came out of the fort and encamped themselves near Sher Shah.
However, the Muslim families, particularly their women-folk wept before Sher Shah and requested him to punish Puran Mal. The Qazis also advised him to break his vow. Sher Shah simply wanted a pretext and now he had one. The Rajputs were surrounded from all sides one night.
When, in the morning, the Rajputs understood the motive of Sher Shah, they killed their women and children and then fought till the last of them was either killed or captured. Those who remained were converted into slaves. The little daughter of Puran Mal was left on the street for dancing.
Sher Shah, thus, captured the fort of Raisin with the least cost but as Dr Qanungo writes- “His conduct towards Puran Mal is the deepest blot on his memory.” The loyal noble of Sher Shah, Qutb Khan, who had been a party to the promise given to the Rajputs, committed suicide in shame.
5. Multan (1543 A.D.):
Haibat Khan, the new governor of Punjab succeeded in capturing Multan in 1543 A.D. Probably, a part of Sindh was already conquered by the officers of Sher Shah.
6. Rajasthan: Contest with Maldeva:
The ruler of Marwar, Maldeva was a courageous and ambitious ruler. When Mewar lost its power after the battle of Khanua, Marwar took its place as the foremost power in Rajasthan. By that time, Maldeva had captured some important places like Merta, Siwana, Jalore, Tonk, Nagaur and Ajmer. His territories had reached very close to Delhi. Jhajhar which was within his kingdom was hardly thirty miles away from Delhi.
Sher Shah did not like the rise of a Rajput power by his side. Besides, Maldeva had failed to capture Humayun as desired by Sher Shah. Therefore, Sher Shah simply wanted a pretext to invade Marwar. He got it when Kalyan Mal of Bikaner and Biramdeva of Merta sought his help against Maldeva. He attacked Marwar in 1544 A.D. at the head of 80,000 troops.
Maldeva also moved forward and the two armies faced each other seventy miles north of Jodhpur. Maldeva commanded a strong force while Sher Shah was short of supplies. Sher Shah avoided fighting for a month. Then, he again took recourse to stratagem. A false letter addressed by certain Rajput chiefs to Sher Shah promising him to capture Maldeva and hand over to him was prepared and dropped near the camp of Maldeva.
As foreseen by Sher Shah, the letter was picked up and produced before Maldeva. Maldeva grew suspicious of his nobles and decided to retreat. Some Rajput chiefs, Jayata and Kumpa among them, separated themselves from the main Rajput army and attacked Sher Shah with nearly 12,000 soldiers to clear themselves from the charge of treachery.
They were cut down to the last man. Maldeva now understood the game of Sher Shah. But, it was too late then. The Rajput army was left disorganised. He had to retreat and Sher Shah occupied his territory from Ajmer to Mt. Abu. Sher Shah achieved his aim without any serious fighting. Sher Shah left Khawas Khan and Isa Khan Niyazi to reduce Marwar to order and himself proceeded towards Mewar.
Mewar had become a weak state after the defeat and death of Rana Sanga. Balbir, an usurper had occupied the throne after killing Vikramajit though his infant child was saved by his nurse, Panna. That very child, Uday Singh, became the ruler of Mewar in 1542 A.D. but was not in a strong position by that time. When Sher Shah attacked Mewar, he offered submission without resistance. Sher Shah afterwards got submission of the Raja of Ranthambhor and certain other Rajput chiefs as well.
Thus, Sher Shah reduced Rajasthan to submission. But except Marwar and Raisin, he did not annex the territories of Rajput rulers. He allowed them to rule over their kingdom once they accepted his suzerainty. However, he separated them from each other, took possession of their strong forts and posted Afghan soldiers there to keep them under his control. This brought about the desired result. His Rajput policy has been regarded successful.
7. Bundelkhand, Kalinjar (1545 A.D.):
After the conquests of Malwa and Rajasthan, Sher Shah decided to conquer Kalinjar in Bundelkhand. The fort of Kalinjar was strong and its ruler Kirat Singh had been loyal to Humayun. Probably, his son Vir Bhanu had helped in the escape of Humayun after the battle of Chausa.
Kalinjar was of administrative and military importance to Sher Shah. It is also said that Sher Shah desired to possess a famous dancing girl at the court of Kirat Singh. Kirat Singh gave one more offence to Sher Shah. Raja Birbhan Baghela of Rewa refused to attend the court of Sher Shah and found shelter with Kirat Singh.
Sher Shah demanded him back which was refused by Kirat Singh. Sher Shah then attacked and laid siege of the fort of Kalinjar in 1544 A.D. Nearly seven months passed but the fort could not be captured. On 22 May 1545 A.D., an attempt was made to breach the wall of the fort by artillery. One of the rockets when fired against the gate of the fort, rebounded and fell into the heap of the ammunition lying near the place where Sher Shah was standing.
It led to an explosion in which Sher Shah was seriously burnt. He, however, ordered an assault on the fort. The fort was captured by the Afghans by the evening. But, then, Sher Shah died on 22 May 1545 A.D. However, prior to his death, he had received the news of the capture of the fort.
In the words of Dr K.R. Qanungo- “Thus passed away in the mid-career of victory and beneficent activity the great soldier and statesman. . . .”
Sher Shah succeeded in capturing practically entire northern India except Kashmir, Assam and Gujarat. It was a grand success for a man who was the son of a petty jagirdar. That itself was sufficient to assign him an honourable place in history. But, Sher Shah achieved more than that. He proved himself a capable administrator as well. Therefore, he occupies an important place among the rulers of medieval India.