Sher Shah Suri


Abdul Hai Habibi


 Suri has been recorded as an old family in the history of Ghor. They were in power during the early Islamic period and it is possible they are linked to the tribe, which until this day, is known as Zuri. The city of Zurabad, in upper Khorasan, is named after this tribe. Members of this tribe lived between Upper Khorasan and Ghor. This tribe has ancient roots in history of the land.

Some families of the tribe migrated to the eastern regions of Pashtunkhwa (land of the Pashtuns), and the foothills of the Kesi mountain, in the early part of the 13th century CE, when the Ghori kings were engaged in their conquests and from there they spread all over India.

After the Ghalji rulers, the Ludis raised the banner of Pashtun might in India. This was a time when a large number of Suri people joined their army and administration. During the reign of Sultan Bahlol Ludi, Ibrahim Khan Sur, together with his son Hasan Khan, went from Afghanistan to India and joined the officials of the Ludi administration. Hasan Khan, who was a young and brave warrior, started working for Khan Azam Omar Khan Sarwani, the prime minister of Sultan Bahlol Ludi. When Sultan Sekandar Ludi, ascended the throne in 1489 CE, Hasan Khan Sur, was a prominent figure of the court. The Sultan appointed him in charge of the affairs of Sahsaram, where he established his residence.

Among his eight children one was names Farid Khan, who later became a judicious and thoughtful king as recorded in the annals of Indian and Pashtun history. Farid Khan was born between the years 1480 to 1482 CE in Sahsaram and was raised in the environ of a Pashtun family and culture, and like his father, reached a high position in the court of the Ludi sultanate.

In 1524 CE, as a result of attacks by Babur Shah the Ludi sultanate faltered and Bahadur Khan Luwani, declared his sovereign state in Bahar. This Luwani king elevated Farid Khan to a high position and bestowed upon him the title of Sher Khan.

In 1526 CE Babur Shah attacked India by way of Afghanistan and the Pashtun king, Sultan Ibrahim Ludi, was killed in the Pani Pat battle and Babur managed to capture Delhi resulting in the end of three hundred years of Pashtun rule in India.

Farid Khan, now famous as Sher Khan, witnessed the sad decline of Pushtun power in India and came to the conclusion that it was his duty to once again uplift Pashtun power in India and put them back as the rulers. Sher Khan was the leader and commander of the Pashtuns in India. He saw that Pashtun power and glory ended as a result of discord and infighting among the Pashtuns resulting in their defeat by Prince Babur, who had come from Fergana. Sher Khan had the vision if the Pashtuns were united again they would be able to once again revive the glory of the Ghalji, Ghori and Ludi rule in India. Sher Khan by himself managed to unite the Pashtuns in India. Five years after capturing Delhi Babur Shah died in 1531 CE and his son, Homayun, ascended the throne.

Sher Khan took measures and first conquered the Bahar region, later he captured Bengal and defeated Homayun in several battles and managed to take control of the whole of north-eastern India. He was the commander of a force of 70,000 infantry and cavalry and 500 elephants. However, Homayun’s army was over a hundred thousand. Sher Khan was a commander who, side by side with his men, participated in the digging of trenches for his forces. In 1539 CE, when Homayun and Sher Shah’s armies faced each other along the banks of the Ganges river, Homayun sent Mullah Mohammad as an emissary to Sher Shah and asked for a peaceful settlement. The emissary saw Sher Khan engaged with his men in digging a trench. After that he sat down on the ground and started talking to the emissary. The main battle between the two armies took place on July 6, 1539 CE, fierce fighting took place between the two sides and Haji Begum, Homayun’s wife, was arrested by Sher Khan’s men. Homayun was defeated but Sher Khan kept the queen, with great respect as a guest, in the Ehtas fortress.

 After this Khan Azam, Omar Khan Sarwani and Essa Khan Sarwani, who were Pashtun leaders, voted in favor of Sher Khan to ascend the inherited Pashtun throne. As a result Farid Khan was given the title of Shah Alam Sher Shah (king of the world, the lion king). A coin was minted in his name and he was declared as king during the Friday prayers and Pashtuns celebrated his ascension to the throne for seven days. Sher Shah Suri became king of half the territory of India and started working to establish the Afghan sultanate.

Homayun once again gathered his forces near Funuj, along the banks of the Ganges river, and met Sher Shah’s army, composed of a force of 50,000 men. Even though Homayun’s army was twice as large  he was decisively defeated during the month of June 1540 CE and fled by way of Sind to Iran. As a result all of India, from Bengal to the Indus river, fell into the hands of the Sher Shah Suri sultanate.

Sher Shah realized that Homayun had fled and left his queen with him. When he was sure that Homayun had left the Indian soil he addressed his guest, Haji Begum:

“Decisions are made between Homayun and me with the might of sword. But you are a guest of the Pashtuns, I will send you with utmost respect to your husband.” The historian, Abu al-Fasl, in Akbar Nama, writes: “Sher Shah sent that chaste woman, under his protection, with utmost respect.” Sher Shah united the whole of India and showed that Pashtuns are not just shrewd militarily leaders but are also astute politicians and cillvil administrators. Sher Shah’s mode of administration and his political and civil arrangements are famous in India. He opened offices to collect taxes, made rest houses for travelers, initiated laws to curb crimes, spread justice and fairness, treated people like his children and brethren and looked after the welfare of all citizens.

Informers kept him up to date with events in the whole country, he established courts and a strong military system. His army was composed of about 200,000 infantry and cavalry and there were 5000 warrior elephants in the ranks. Beside military posts he established a large number of forts and cities. He built the road from Calcutta to Peshawar with guest houses and wells spread along the way. According to historians his reforms proved to be useful for the future Mughal administrations and even the British Raj in India followed his program of reforms.

Sher Shah had a universal vision for the progress of mankind. He was not just interested in uplifting India but strived for the improvement of whole mankind. Mir Rafiuddin Mahdas was a famous scholar of his court who wanted to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca and asked Sher Shah for permission to travel, Sher Shah addressed him in these words: “It is my intention that after the reforms in India I want to conquer all the lands as far as Iran and then send you as an ambassador to the Usmani court so that the Afghan and Usmani sultanates can work jointly to create a union in all of Asia from Bengal to Istanbul. Together with the Baghdad court I would like to open a center in the two harems (Mecca and Medina) and in this way free Asia from fraud and sedition.”

Historians praise the great ideals and personality of Sher Shah. The author of Salatein Afghania writes: “He did not have any match in nobility, praiseworthiness, thought, military strategy, and world vision. In particular he did not have any equal like him among the Afghan leaders and he paid great attention to the prosperity of his people and did not show any prejudice toward people from different sectors of society.”

Sher Shah used to say: “Be it a Moslem or non-Moslem, both are in need of equal justice. We are the guardians of people’s destinies, if the nation is left to corrupt officials that will mean the destruction of the country. The sultanate can only survive under a just system. Cruelty and negligence are the enemies of kings and result in their downfall. Great is the one who is always busy with his work.”

Sher Shah managed to spread his reforms over all of India with the aid of his just administration and vision. Unfortunately this great patron of civilization and enlightenment was gravely injured in the Kalkhajar battle, when explosives were being used to blow up a path and died on May 31, 1545 CE, as a result of wounds incurred from the explosion.[1]

[1]Zwandun Magazine, Vol. 34, pp. 12-13.