A man of great personal excellence, and exemplary ruler of India, and the greatest leader ever produced by the Afghans who sat on the throne of Delhi for not more than five years, but his rule became a landmark in the Sub-continent. Sher Shah is one of the world’s few worthy rulers to whom history has not done justice. A brilliant strategist, Sher Shah was a constructive genius of high order. We shall study in this article his reign and the heights he rose on to within a short reign of five years and six months. From being a neglected child, he became a soldier and then from managing a Jagir rose on to rule the country, is a remarkable story of exceptional man.
Sher Shah belonged to a Pashtun family of Roh, a family called Suri which was a branch of Lodis. Ismail Lodi’s son in third generation was known as Sur and their sept was called Shira Khel and Sher Shah belonged to this Shira Khel branch of Lodi Pathans , an off shoot of the Mati Taifa. The other branch of Lodis is called Shahu Khel to which Sultan Bahlol Lodi belonged. The claim of some writers that Suris were a branch of Ghoris is wrong. Suris has no connection with the house of the Ghor, for Ghoris were Tajiks originally and not Pathans.
Sher Shah’s grandfather Ibrahim Khan left his native country ,a place which is called in the Afghán tongue “Sargarí” sometimes called “Rohrí”, to Hindostan at an old age when the first Pathan Kingdom of Lodi was well established. Abbas Khan Sarwani tells in his Tarikh-i-Sher Shahi that it was during the time of Bahlul Lodhi that the grandfather of Sher Shah, Ibrahim Khan Suri , with his son , Hasan Khan , migrated to the subcontinent . Ibrahim Khan Sur was basically a petty horse trader who in search of better fortune moved to Delhi. He first took service under Mahabat Khan Suri but later came under the patronage of Jamal Khan Sarangkhani, who allotted him a few villages in Pargana Narnaul area to maintain 40 horse troopers. Ibrahim Khan Suri lived there till his death. The tomb of Sher Shah Suri’s grandfather Ibrahim Khan Sur still stands as a monument in Narnaul.
It was Hasan Khan Sur, the father of Sher Shah who left family trade and joined Raimal Shekhawat as a soldier against his war with Bhatis as it was normal in those days for pathans to fight as mercenaries for their Hindu Masters. Hasan later joined Jamal Khan Sarangkhani, governor of Hisar and was elevated to be a leader of 400 Savars during Sikandar Lodi’s reign. When Sikandar Lodi appointed Jamal Khan as governor of Jaunpur , Jamal’s successor Ahmad Khan Sarangkhani, took Hasan Khan Suri to the iqta of Sasaram and Khawaspur-Tanda under the Sirkar Rohtas (near Shahabad District) with a rank of 500 sawars. This way the family of Suris moved from Roh to Narnaul and from Narnaul to Sasaram.
Farid Khan Suri was born in Narnaul. Farid and Nizam were born of first wife of Hasan Khan 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.
Historian Satish Chandra writes that, “We do not know precisely when and where Farid, later Sher Shah, was born. The consensus of opinion among modern scholars is that he was born in Narnaul in 1486 or so, during the reign of Bahlol Lodi. However, the popular belief that he was born in Sasaram (Bihar), in the Rohtas district is wrong. He was one of eight sons of Hassan Khan Sur.Medieval India: From Sultanat to the Mughals
Though he was born in Narnaul he spent his childhood at Sasaram. Early in the 16th century, Sasaram, under Hasan Khan Sur was a sleepy town. Later on Sher Shah developed Sasaram into a successful administrative unit. It was an important trading post and often people came here to buy horses and later Sher Shah built a mint here. He passed his childhood in difficulties as is evident from his next step to leave his father and join Jamal Khan at Jaunpur.
It is interesting to read as to how from managing a Jagir , with notable insight and valour, Farid Khan went on to become Emperor of the entire Sub – continent. At a fairly young age, having been dissatisfied with his father’s attitude, he fled to Jaunpur which was a center of learning at that time. He studied there for few years, acquired knowledge of Arabic and Persian and lived under the patronage of Jamal Khan, mentor of his father.
Jamal Khan intervened 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 many years but then the jealousy of his step-mother and brothers forced him to leave Bihar and thereafter he left for Agra.
He first served Amir Daulat Khan Lodi and then he entered the service of Bahar Khan Lohani . Again due to the jealousy of some nobles ,he left Bihar and took up service under the first Mughal Emperor Babur. During a dinner Babur noticed him cutting a piece of food by his sword and asked his nobles to keep an eye on Farid Khan. Anyways , he left Babur as well and came back to Bihar and after the defeat & departure of Jalal Khan , he became the de-facto ruler of Bihar and assumed the title of Hazrat e Aala.
Sher Khan faced Humayun in the Battle of Chausa and defeated him. Assuming the title Farīd al-Dīn Shēr Shah, he defeated Humayun once again at Kannauj in May 1540 and forced him out of India. 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, drove him out of India and captured the throne of Delhi.
The most remarkbale thing in the life of Farid was his invinicibilty , Farid Khan was a bold and dynamic soldier who rebelled against the Mughal power and overthrew the government of the Humayun .As an emperor , he conquered Malwa (1542) Ranthambor (1542) , Raisin (1543) , Marwar ( 1542) Chittor ( 1544), and Kalinjar (1545) and It is a fact that during seven years of his reign he never lost a battle.
Land Revenue System
During his five year rule, he set up a series of new economic and military administration, Some of his strategies and contributions were later idolized by the Mughals, most notably Akbar.
- The most striking contribution of Sher Shah was in the land revenue system
- Sher shah is the only sovereign who is known to have gained practical experience in revenue administration. He conducted an accurate survey of all the lands in empire and the share of the government was fixed at 1/3 rd of the expected produce. The payment could be made to the government either in cash or in kind. The government share was realized with the help of Muqaddams who got a percentage for their services. This system of revenue collection was based on just and rational principles. It is the system which was further improvised by Akbar’s minister Todar Mal.
- He assured the proprietary right of the peasant over land for the first time by introducing the system of Patta (deed of right) and Qubuliyat (deed of agreement) and The settlement was made direct with the Cultivators.
- He introduced a system to provide loans to tenants to encourage agriculture. Officials were required to be friendly to the agriculturists, to advance loans (taqavi) to the needy peasants and to recover them gradually giving them remissions in case of damage to the crops.
- He strictly impressed upon the governors that if a theft or robbery occurred within their limits and the perpetrators were not discovered then they should arrest the Muqaddams of the surrounding villages. In his days Muqaddams used to protect their limits of their villages lest any thief or robber might harm a traveller.
- Tareekh i Dawoodi says that a horse was stolen from Sher Shah’s camp in Thanesar , all the zamindars of 50 kos were summoned with a warning that if the thief & horse is not produced within three days , all those chiefs and zamindars would lose their lives. Within a day both the thief and horse were produced before the King.
- Similarly during the march at Malwa, a camel driver plucked some green chick-pea from a farm , Sher Shah ordered a hole to be bored from nose , with corn around his neck , and hang him upside down throughout the march . Thereafter not a single case of theft or destruction of crops was reported.
- He directed the Aamils to compel the people to treat merchants and travellers well in every way and not to harm them at all.
- He forbade his officials to purchase anything in Bazars except in usual bazaar rates.
- He instructed that no victorious armies should cause any harm to the cultivation of the common man and he personally examined while on the march to prevent trespassing on any farm or cultivation.
- His kitchen was extensive with an order that anyone in need of food, should be fed from the king’s account. The daily cost of these meals was 500 gold Ashrafis with clear instruction that no soldier or a helpless person be left unprovided-for or hungry.
- He gave stipends from the treasury to blind, the old, the weak in body, widows and sick.
- He resumed the investigations where religious persons and Imams had collected more lands by fraudulent practices.
The writer of Tabaqat-i-Akbari says that during Sher Shah’s reign a merchant could travel and sleep in desert without any fear of being robbed of his merchandise.
Sher Shah kept a large army in order to save the country from foreign Invasions and subdue any rebellions, He maintained a large army including 150,000 horse , 300 elephants , 20000 bowmen , and artillery under his own command. With the object of organizing the army , he began to pay the soldiers in cash, maintained their respective rolls etc. He personally supervised the recruitment of soldiers, training, promotion, disbursement of salary and supply of arms and clothes to the soldiers, maintenance of their descriptive rolls. The soldiers were paid in Cash while the officers were assigned Jagirs. He asked the officer known as ariz to keep an up-to-date record of huliya i.e. name and physical features of the soldiers and their belongings.
Branding of Horses ( Dagh)
He revived the practice of branding horses with imperial sign called dagh which was done to prevent the replacement of superior Arabian horses with inferior ones. Every horse that was received by government had the mark burnt on the right thigh; and those that were returned, on the left side. He rigidly enforced the branding regulations that nobody could obtain his salary without his steed being branded. Even the sweeper could not do without it. The Mughals were highly influenced by this system and they developed the Chihra-i-Aspan (descriptive roll of horses ) which was an elaborate description of the horses.
Sher Shah issued a coin of silver which was termed the Rupiya. This weighed 178 grains and was the precursor of the modern rupee. It remained largely unchanged till the early 20th Century. The names on the coins were given in Devanagari script as well. The term Rupiya was prevalent long before his rule but it was a general term for all silver coins, while Sher Shah Suri standardized the currency after debasing all old coins and issued new silver, copper and gold coins.
- Silver coin (178g) was One Rupiya.
- Gold Coin (169g) was One Mohar.
- Copper coin was One Paisaor one Dām,
- 1 Rupiya = 64 Dām
Have we ever thought that Daam word is still in use, when someone asks Kya Daam hain iske ? The Rupee coinage system of Sher Shah Suri was accepted by the British and even today the name Rupee is used as the national currency in India, Indonesia, Maldives, Mauritius, Nepal, Pakistan, Seychelles, Sri Lanka among other countries. The rupee was once a legal tender across East Africa and Asia. It was accepted in Oman, Qatar and within UAE as well.
Patliputra or Pataliputra, was the seat of power during the Maurya and Gupta empires but after the fall of the Gupta Empire, Patliputra lost its glory and fell into ruin. Pataliputra emerged from its political obscurity when Sher Shah built a fort there in 1541, as It happened when he returned from Bengal and stood on the banks of River Ganges, he told his officers” If a fort were to be built here, the waters of Ganges could never flow far from it and this place would become one of the great towns of the country” . He ordered a fort to be built there and transferred the provincial capital from Bihar Sharif, and gave it the new name of Patna. It became an important commercial center during the seventeenth century. Mughal emperors further extended the city in 1704.
Grand Trunk Road
One of the great achievements of Sher Shah Suri was the rebuilding of ancient road called Uttarapatha. The old route was re-aligned, widened and further re=routed at Sonargaon and Rohtas with its breadth increased. Fruit trees and shade trees were planted on both sides of the road. At every 2 kos, a sarai was built, the number of kos minars and baolis increased. Gardens were also built alongside some sections of the highway. Those who stopped at the sarai were provided food for free. Hindus & Muslims had separate arrangements for meals and lodging. Wells were also dug, especially along the western section. It has been recorded that he built 1700 Sarais throughout the empire.
There is no doubt, he was solely responsible for rebuilding and modernizing this road then recorded as Sarak-i-Azam which ran for 3000 miles from Sonargaon to Multan via Agra, Delhi and Lahore, came to be known as the Grand Trunk road in the Colonial period. He built other roads as well like the road from Lahore to Multan via Harappa and another road from Agra to Mandu, Agra to Chittor , another from Lahore to Khushab and onward to Kurram valley.
- Agra to Chittor
- Agra to Burhanpur
- Lahore to Multan
- Lahore to Khushab
He introduced a novel device for easy and quick dispatch of government orders and messages, to and from the capital, by relay of horses. Sarais, besides providing shelters for traders, travellers and government servants (especially under order of transfer), served as dak-chowkis as well. He also established an efficient postal system, with mail being carried by relays of horse riders. At every sarai two horses were kept exclusively for carrying reports and dispatches from the subordinates to the emperor.
In a brief reign of only five years (1540-1545), Sher Shah effected order and discipline in the country and remodelled its administration. He divided provinces of his kingdom into 47 divisions and these divisions were called Sirkars. These Sirkars were divided into Parganas and every Pargana was under a Shiqdar who looked into the law and order of the Pargana, other officers who assisted him were Aamil, Munsif, Khazanchi , Waqai Navees ,Amin, Patwari , Muqaddam and Karkun
He created various departments whose heads enjoyed a status of a Minister ( Wazir).
Diwan-i-Wizarat – The Wazir of Revenue and finance.
Diwan-i-Arz – Head was Arz al Mumalik – looked after the recruitment & maintenance of Armed forces
Diwan-i-Risalat – Head of this dept maintained correspondence with foreign states and other chiefdoms.
Diwan-i-Insha – Head was known as Dabeer I Khas who looked after the confidential correspondence of the state
Diwan-i-Bareed – Intelligence Officer
Diwan-i-Qaza – Administration of Justice
He ordered the trade tax to be collected at two places only, first the place where the good entered into the territory and the other where it was sold. For example when it came from Bengal, customs were levied at Gharrí ( Sikri gali ) ; when it came from the direction of Khurásán, the customs were levied on the borders of the Kingdom and again a second duty was levied at the place of Sale. Thus only two types of taxes were in vogue , customs and Sales tax. No one dared to levy any other customs duty either at roads or ferry throughout the empire.
His Friendship with Raj Bhojpur
An important chapter of his life was the friendship with the rulers of Bhojpur raj. Raja Durlabh Deo, who ascended to the throne in 1489 had three wives and five sons: Badal Singh, Shivram Singh, Sangram Singh, Devendra Singh, and Mahipal Singh, when Durlabh Deo died in 1519, and a bloody succession war broke out among his sons. Badal Singh and Mahipal Singh were both killed. Shivram Singh survived and became the sole ruler of Bhojpur, with his capital at Bihta. Later, in 1532, Badal Singh’s widow met with Farid — then known as Sher Khan — and asked for assistance in raising her two sons (Gajpati Sahi, then 18, and Bairi Sal, then 15) to the throne. Sher Khan obliged and sent an army that, in 1534, defeated and killed Shivram Singh, and Gajpati Sahi became raja, with his seat at Jagdishpur. After this, Gajpati became a close ally of Sher Khan. In 1534, Sher Khan asked for Gajpati’s assistance against Ghiyasuddin Mahmud Shah, the Sultan of Bengal, and Gajpati responded by mustering an army including 2,000 cavalrymen to aid him. At Surajgarh, their combined forces defeated those of the Sultan, with Gajpati killing the Sultan’s commander Ibrahim Khan, and they seized the Bengal army’s camp equipment, elephants, and artillery. Sher Khan, highly pleased, granted Gajpati the region of Buxar, and gave a sword to his younger brother, Bairi Sal.
He was a remarkable builder but in a short span of five plus years, he could construct very few buildings but all of his constructions are unique. The Purana Qila is said to have been further developed by Suri who named it Sher garh where he built a lofty mosque which is a great example of Indo-Islamic Architechture. Sher Shah built several monuments that remain includes Rohtas Fort (now a Unesco World heritage Site in Pakistan), many, the Sher Shah Suri Mosque at Patna, the Sher Mandal, an octagonal building also inside the Purana Qila complex, which later served as the library of Humayun. He built a new city Bhera, in present-day Pakistan in 1545, including within it a grand masjid named after him. He wanted to create naval Serais to Makkah for the pilgrims but this dream could not be realized due to his death.
Sher Shah was killed on 22 May 1545 during the siege of Kalinjar Fort in Bundelkhand against the Rajputs of Mahoba. Sher Shah had ordered the walls of the fort to be blown up with gunpowder, but one of the bomb struck the wall of the fort , exploded and came back to the heap of gunpowder and there was a great explosion, some nobles came out partially burnt but Sher Shah himself was half burnt as a result of the explosion. He was kept in a tent pitched for him in front of the Kalinjar fort from where he used to watch the progress and whenever he gained consciousness, he shouted to his men to seize the fort. By the time of Zuhr, the imperial army entered the Fort, when the news was broken to Sher Shah, he heaved a sigh of relief and he uttered his last words “ Thanks to the Almighty this was my desire” and shortly passed away on 22nd May 1545. He was succeeded by his son, Jalal Khan, who took the title of Islam Shah Suri.
Mausoleum of Sher Shah
Sher Shah Suri’s 122 feet (37 m) red sandstone tomb, built in the Indo-Afghan style stands in the middle of an artificial lake at Sasaram. It was once covered in blue and yellow glazed tiles which reflects an Iranian influence with the massive Stupa style of Buddhist heritage. The tomb was built during the lifetime of Sher Shah but completed during the reign of his son Islam Shah. An inscription dates its completion to 16 August 1545, three months after the death of Sher Shah.
The tomb of Sher Shah’s father Hasan Khan Suri is also at Sasaram, and stands in the middle of green field at Sherganj, which is known as Sukha Rauza.
As a brilliant strategist, Sher Shah proved himself as a gifted Muslim administrator as well as a capable general. His reorganization of the empire laid the foundations for the later Mughal emperors. During his five-year rule from 1540 to 1545, he set up a new economic and military administration, issued the first Rupiya from “Tanka” and organized the postal system of the Indian Subcontinent. Sher Shah was the only Muslim ruler of India who in his early life had no connection with the court of Delhi. From being a manager of an estate, he by sheer dint of merit rose to be the Emperor of Hindostan.
“ Of all the rulers of Medieval times, Sher Shah stands as the ideal of New India – The India of Hindus and Muslims united in heart and spirit. He says that Sher Shah Suri was a greater constructive genius and a better nation-builder than Akbar the Great.Kalikaranjan Qanungo
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Khalid Bin Umar is a history buff who writes on Micro-history, Heritage, Sufism & Biographical accounts. His stories and articles has been published in many leading magazines. Well versed in English, Hindi, Urdu & Persian, his reading list covers a vast arrays of titles in Tasawwuf & Oriental history. He is also documenting lesser known Sufi saints of India
A very good and authentic article by tawarikh.
A must article for today’s generation . My respect for Sher Shah