Pashto Prose in Tarekh-e Murasa’


Abdul Hai Habibi



The seventeenth century CE is considered to be an important phase in Pashto prose since Pir-e Roshan (Byazid Roshan) laid the foundation of artistic and scientific prose.

As far as we know, before Byazid Roshan, Pashto prose was simple and fluent and devoid of artistic ornateness, a sample of which we see in Tazkerat-e Awlia of Suleiman Mako written around 1215 CE.

Political events have had a grave impact on the literary development of Pashto. Former conquerors passed through Pashtunkhwa on their way to India and did not leave a heavy imprint of their cultural and social impact. Genghis Khan and Timur passed through areas of Pashtunkhwa but when Babur came to Afghanistan from Fargana in 1495 CE he stayed here for a long time and was a king for many years and when he went to India several regions of Afghanistan stayed under the influence of his family for two centuries. From the west we were impacted by the political domination of the Safavi empire which also left its literary imprint on the land.

The literary impact of Babur’s family was underway in the eastern regions of Pashtunkhwa and to the west the influence of the Safavi family was taking place in the western parts of the country. During this time the writing of artistic prose was considered as a prime accomplishment in the Indian and Iranian courts and scientific circles. When Pir-e Roshan started writing his Khair-al-Bayan he adopted a new style for the writing of Pashto prose, unlike the old form of Pashto prose. While writing his book he adopted the artistic form of Arabic and Persian style and wrote his book in the form of rhymed-prose.

A century later, when Khushal Khan Khatak started writing Pashto prose, he did not follow the Roshan and Akhund Darweza school of writing but put his natural talent to work and converted the rhymed-prose style of writing back to its simplistic form. This was a major literary accomplishment by Khushal Khan. His family members continued to follow his style of writing. Gowhar Khan wrote Qalb-al-Sayr and Afzal Khan wrote Tarekh-e Murasa’ in this form which later proved to be very beneficial in writing Pashto prose.

Their style of writing also had some anomalies which were later corrected and we see that the Pata Khazana (Hidden Treasure) of Mohammad Hotak is an excellent example of prose which show that two centuries after the writing of Khair-al-Bayan, Pashto prose improved considerably. Tarekh-e Murasa’ of Afzal Khan Khatak is a good example of Mohammad Hotak’s style of writing in the lower Pashtunkhwa. Similarly, upon the request of Afzal Khan, his uncle, Gowhar Khan, wrote Qalb-al-Sayr. Afzal Khan also translated Kalia-wa-Damna into Pashto. These three books, which were written by members of the same family, at the same time, represent the style of Pashto prose by the Khatak family after Khushal Khan.

It looks as though a movement to reform Pasho prose had also started in Kandahar after Pir-e Roshan’s death and the style of writing had completely transformed in the Hotak court to a simple form of writing prose, much different from the rhymed-prose of Pir-e Roshan and Akhund Darweza.

During this time the Abdali (Durrani) were the administrators of the Arghandab, Helmand, Farah and Hari Rud regions, while the Indian Mughals and Safavi empires were fighting to have supremacy over the land. As a result the Durrani maintained their internal freedom and there was a concerted movement to ensure that Pashtuns remain free from the political, military and cultural domination of these two empires. This movement was also seen among the Pashtuns living in eastern regions and after the Pir-e Roshan period, Aimal Khan and Khushal Khan became the leaders of this region.

Political developments have an impact on literature and languages. The Abdali and Hotak freedom movement against the Safavi continued in Kandahar and in the eastern regions the Mohmand, Khatak and Yusufzai were fighting against Dehli’s Mughal empire.

The impact this strife had on the literature and prose of the Pashtuns reverted the language back to a simple style of writing and freed from imitating other languages. We see this change particularly in the prose of Mohammad Hotak. His style of writing is robust, plain and simple, free from the influence of Persian and is close to the style of Tarkh-e Murasa’. However, we see an Indian flavor in way Tarekh-e Murasa’ has been written and the effects of Persian in the writing with phrases such as ulisat, subedar and amargan.

The language of Tarekh-e Murasa’, sentences and the trend of speech is imbedded with more Persian influence compared to the prose of Pata Khazana. Despite this it is considered to be a simple form of writing.

Hand-written manuscripts of Tarekh-e Murasa’ are available in Peshawar and London but none exist in Afghanistan. Ten years ago Dost Mohammed Kamel was in possession of the copy in Peshawar and he wanted to correct and publish it.

The Faculty of Literature and Human Sciences of Kabul University received a number of microfilms from London, one of which was Tarekh-e Murasa’. This copy is preserved in the library of London University and was written in Nastaliq style by Mohammad Hasan Peshawari in 1872 in 1204 pages.

Raverty in Gulshan-e Roh, published in 1860 CE, and Hues, in Keleed-e Afghani, published in 1875 CE contain some extracts from Tarekh-e Murasa’ in their books. Since these extracts contain only a part of the book I used the microfilm copy to discuss the book in this article.

Mohammad Hasan Peshawari, the scribe of the book, was a skilled Nastaliq calligrapher, his style is a good example of the Indian form of Nastaliq. Unfortunately he was just a calligrapher and has made many literary mistakes in the copy of the book or it is possible that he did not know the Pashto language or that the original copy had mistakes. If someone is seeking to read a correct copy of the book then he should not rely on this copy and should compare it with another copy so that the mistakes are eliminated.

Here I extract the chapter which Afzal Khan has written about the life of Mirwais Khan and this is important because:

1. Historically this is the only written statement by a Pashtun, regarding Haji Mirwais Khan. We see that many alien historians have written about the life of Mirwais Khan. Now we shall read what a contemporary Pashtun has written about him? This is definitely an important documentation.

2. This is a complete, unpublished example of Ashraf Khan’s prose, which was published for the first time in Wazhma magazine[1] and reveals the style of Tarekh-e Murasa’. 

3. It also serves as an important document for those who want to research Pashto prose. With this copy they will be able to make comparisons with other texts.

I present the text together with my explanations from page 834 of the book.


In Remembrance of Mirwais Ghalji

He is from the Autak[2] tribe. He lives in the surrounding areas of Kandahar like the Awdal,[3] Ghalji[4] and Tarin[5] Pashtun tribesmen. The king of Iran has imposed tax on these people and the regional governor collects this tax. From a long time, Khudaki, an Awdal chief, has been the local administrator of this region under the title of Sultan.[6] Whenever the Awdal nation was deemed to be strong and the leader of the Awdal declared independence, they retaliated against the Mughal and Safavi rule.

Those who go against the rule of God and take a destructive path end up in failure. The governor of Kandahar was at odds with Sultan Khudaki and the reason for his opposition was that God had bestowed Khudaki with religious supplication and he was a strong leader. If anyone were to challenge the Iranian administration then he would be killed.

The matter was conveyed to the Iranian king, the king issued a proclamation to the governor that Khudaki should be killed. He was summoned to the governor’s office. When Khudaki arrived a pillow was placed on his mouth and he was suffocated. Then his cousin was chosen as the Sultan.

His elder son was Qalandar Sultan,[7] he went to India and spent a long time in the service of Prince Darashekwa. The administrator of Kandahar died and another person was appointed in his place. Qalandar Khan learned about the death of the administrator so he left Multan and came back to his country and started working for the governor. The king of Iran was informed about the arrival of Sultan and what steps should be taken about him? The king called him to his court and bestowed upon him great kindness. He was given the firman to be the sultan, bid him goodbye and Qalandar Sultan returned home. He was the sultan for a long period of time and was a capable administrator. For some reason the governor developed animosity toward him. He had a cousin who was his rival. The governor asked the cousin what should be done with Sultan? The cousin suggested to summon Sultan and tell him he wished to marry a Pashtun woman. He has an unmarried daughter and ask to marry her. If the Sultan agrees that will be fine and if he refuses you will have a ruse to hurt him.

Qalandar Sultan was summoned and was informed about his daughter. He refused the governor’s wish and was imprisoned. One evening the governor asked him to be brought to his presence from prison and asked him whether he agreed with his order? Qalandar said he could not agree to such a request and it was up to the governor to do whatever he wished. The governor was drunk and he had a sword beside him. He killed Qalandar with a blow of the sword.

The king of Iran learned about this incident. He summoned the governor and asked him what was the reason for killing Sultan Qalandar? The governor was unable to provide an answer to the king and he was let loose to the killer dogs that finished him off. The king summoned another brother of Qalandar Sultan and he was appointed as the sultan of Kandahar. He had a younger brother by the name of Hayat Sultan whom the Sultan did not allow to go with him on his hunting trip. He told his younger brother it was time for him to pay attention to his education and not participate in hunting trips with him.

One day Hayat disobeyed his brother and followed him on the hunting trip. When the Sultan learned that his brother was accompanying him on the trip he chastised him. Hayat Sultan conspired with some hoodlums that his brother did not allow him to enjoy his life and plotted to kill him. The Sultan had released a falcon to chase a heron which had managed to overpower the heron. When Sultan Hayat went to his brother he asked him why did he come? Hayat trampled his elder brother under the hoofs of his horse. Then the other hoodlums attacked and killed him.

The king learned of this incident and summoned Hayat Sultan, the murderer of his brother. He was put in prison and stayed there for a period of six years. It so happened that a large caravan, on its way to India, was attacked by the Kakar tribesmen, which is a large nation.

When the king learned of this attack he asked who is there to revenge the Kakar nation? He was told that the Sultan of Awdal would have been able to resolve the matter but since the sultan was killed and his brother is in prison. The king ordered that the imprisoned brother be brought to him. The king asked how could he take revenge from the Kakar nation? Hayat Sultan told the king that it will be an easy task with the king’s agreement.

Hayat was appointed as the sultan and freed from imprisonment. Hayat killed the hoodlums who took part with him in the murder of his brother telling them why did they agree with him in this sinister plot? He gathered an army and killed a number of Kakar and managed to retrieve a large portion of the looted merchandize of the caravan.

He was busy as sultan of Kandahar and after a while enmity developed with the governor who sent three officers resulting in a battle between the two sides. Hayat managed to kill all three officers, then he left with three thousand families and went to Multan. From there he went to the court of Emperor Awrangzeb with a petition stating that if the king wished to take over Kandahar that would be an easy task for to accomplish.

The king made him an officer of five hundred men, told him to return back to Multan, and added that he was busy with other important matters. Hayat is still in Multan and taking advantage of his salary as an officer.

The governor of Kandahar appointed Mirwais, who is from the Ghaljai tribe and Autak clan, as administrator, sent a request on his behalf to the king of Iran and dispatched him there. The king issued the firman of his leadership. He was the administrator for a period of time. Then the governor of Kandahar was unhappy with Mirwais and complained about him to the king. The king summoned Mirwais who stayed in Iran for a while. When he asked to be allowed to leave the king refused. Mirwais then asked to be allowed to go to the House of God (Mecca). When he returned he did not go to see the king and went home to be the leader of his tribe but was in trepidation from the Safavi rule.

During this time Shah Nawaz Khan Gurji[8] was governor. There were two squadrons in Kandahar, one of Ghurji and the other of a Shiite officer. They both were very cruel to the Shiites and Pashtuns of Kandahar. Shah Nawaz Khan faced a revolt by the Baluch people and sent his troops there. Mirwais realized this was the time to free his people and consulted with the Ghalji leaders and the elders of Kandahar and told them this was the ripe opportunity. The Ghalji gathered in Kandahar. Mirwais challenged Shah Nawaz Khan to come to battle.

Most of Shah Nawaz Khan’s troops had gone to quell the Baluchi rebellion. Shah Nawaz came with his men and attacked Kandahar but he was killed. A number of Ghalji warriors lost their lives in battle but Kandahar was freed. Three thousand Gurji (Armenian) troops were killed in Kandahar. All the Turkmen and Shiites troops, who were in Kandahar, were pardoned. Those troops who had been sent to face off the Baluch returned back but were unable to subdue the defenders of Kandahar and went to Mashad and Herat.

All the goods and treasures that were in Kandahar fell into the hands of Mirwais. Shah Nawaz Khan’s family was allowed to return and all the Shiites in Kandahar were pardoned and allowed to go home. Aurangzeb died in India while these incidents were taking place and Bahadur Shah had ascended the throne. Mirwais sent his nephew, together with gifts, to Bahadur Shah. He was made in charge of three thousand men in Sar-e Hind and orders were issued for five thousand men to serve under Mirwais so that Kandahar may be under his domain, and an oration be read, during the Friday prayers, in his name.[9] The Savid force, composed of thirty to forty thousand, under the command of people such as Khusrao Khan, tried several times to take over Kandahar but were defeated. A large number of the enemy were killed and the administration in Kandahar managed to accumulate a great deal of wealth until the year one thousand one hundred and twenty four.[10] He is in Kandahar and conducting the affairs of his government, may success be on his side. He is a good Pashtun leader.[11]






[1]Wazma Magazine, 1347 Solar Hijera (1969 CE), Hamal and Saur Edition, pp 1-11.

[2]People call them Autak but authors write this name as Hotak. Afzal Khan writes it the way people pronounced the word.

[3]All the Pashtuns call them Awdal but the clergy and authors have converted it to Abdal and Abdali. Ahmad Shah Baba writes:

All are the same whether they are Ghalji or Awdali

But blessed is the one who has a kind heart.

[4]This is an old spelling. Now clerks have converted it to Ghalzai.

[5]Tarin live between Pseen and Lorlayee regions. Formerly it was a part of greater Kandahar.

[6]During the 17th and 18th centuries Sultan was a title of the local governor. Khudaki was the leader of the Awdal around 1640 CE and the governor of Kandahar. He was the son of Khezr Khan and grandson of Malik Sado.

[7]Other historians have written this name as Lashkar Khan, who was a governor in Multan.

[8]This person is Gurgin Khan Garji, who was an Armenian Christian.

[9]Kandahar was independent during the time of the Hotaks, no one has minted a coin there during this period. Mirwais Khan’s nationalist movement liberated Kandahar from the clutches of the Safavids in 1707 CE. For the next eight years Mirwais Khan’s administration was based on democratic principles with the participation of national leaders and they did not mint any coin or conducted the the prayers in the name of any king from India.

[10]1124 H (1712 CE) is the year when this part of Tarekh-e Murasa’ was written. In 1711 CE Khusrao Khan attacked Kandahar with a force of 50,000 men but Mirwais Khan, with a force of 16,000 braves from Kandahar repulsed their attack and Khusrao was killed in the battle.

[11]This is the way a contemporary historian and leader of his tribe portrayed Mirwais Khan. Afzal Khan, who was the leader of the Khatak tribe during this time, wished for the success of Mirwais Khan and considers him a good Pashtun. Such praise by another Pashtun is very important and not every one has such qualities. Afzal Khan, who himself was a Pashtun, knew who had a good character and considered it worthy of Mirwais. Meaning that Mirwais was bestowed with excellent Pashtun characteristics.