Chapter 12 ​Struggle for Empire in North India—II Mughals and Afghans (1525–1555)


Central Asia and Babur

Important changes took place in Central and West Asia during the fifteenth century. After the disintegration of the Mongol empire in the fourteenth century, Timur united Iran and Turan under one rule once again. Timur’s empire extended from the lower Volga to the river Indus and included Asia Minor (modern Turkey) Iran, Trans- Oxiana, Afghanistan and a part of the Punjab. Timur died in 1405but his grandson, Shahrukh Mirza (d. 1448) was able to keep intact a large part of his empire. He gave patronage to arts and letters and in his time, Samarqand and Herat became the cultural centres of West Asia. The ruler of Samarqand had great prestige in the entire Islamic world.

The power of the Timurids declined rapidly during the second half of the fifteenth century, largely owing to the Timurid tradition of partitioning the empire. The various Timurid principalities which arose always fought and wrangled among themselves. This provided an opportunity to tVo new elements to come to the forefront. From the north, a Turko-Mongol tribe, the Uzbeks, thrust into Trans-Oxiana. The Uzbeks had become Muslims, but were looked down upon by the Timurids who considered them to be uncultured barbarians. Further to the west, a new dynasty, the Safavid dynasty, began to dominate Iran. The Safavids were descended from an order of saints who traced their ancestry to the Prophet. They supported the Shiite sect among the Muslims and persecuted those who were not prepared to accept the Shiite tenets. The Uzbeks, on the other hand, were Sunnis. Thus, political conflict between these two elements was embittered by sectarian strife. Further to the west of Iran, the power of the Ottoman Turks was growing. They wanted to dominate eastern Europe as well as Iraq and Iran.

Thus the scene was set for the conflict of three mighty empires in Asia during the sixteenth century In 1494, at the young age of twelve, Babur succeeded to Farghana, a small state in Trans-Oxiana. Babur made a bid to conquer Samarqand from his uncle. Shaibani defeated Babur and conquered Samarqand. This forced Babur to move towards Kabul which he conquered in 1504. For the next fourteen years, Babur kept biding his time for the re-conquest of his homeland.

These developments finally forced Babur to look towards India.

Conquest of India

The political situation in northwest India was suitable for Babur’s entry into India. Sikandar Lodi had died in 1517, and Ibrahim Lodi had succeeded him. Ibrahim’s efforts to create a strong, centralised empire had alarmed the Afghan chiefs as well as the Rajputs. One of the most powerful of the Afghan chiefs was Daulat Khan Lodi, the governor of the Punjab, who was almost an independent ruler. Daulat Khan attempted to conciliate Ibrahim Lodi by sending his son to his court to pay homage. At the same time, he wanted to strengthen his position by annexing the frontier tracts of Bhira, etc.

In 1518—19, Babur conquered the powerful fort of Bhira. He then sent letters and verbal messages to Daulat Khan and Ibrahim Lodi, asking for the cession of the areas which had belonged to the Turks. But Daulat Khan detained Babur’s envoy at Lahore, neither granting him audience nor allowing him to go to Ibrahim Lodi. When Babur returned to Kabul, Daulat Khan occupied Bhira, and expelled Babur’s agents posted there.

In 1520—21, Babur once again crossed the Indus, and easily captured Bhira and Sialkot, the twin gateways to Hindustan. Lahore also capitulated to him. He might have proceeded further but for the news of a revolt at Qandhar. He retraced his steps, and after a siege of a year and a half recaptured Qandhar. Thus reassured, Bahur was once again able to turn his attention towards India.

It was about this time that Babur received an embassy from Daulat Khan Lodi, led by his son, Dilawar Khan. They invited Babur to India, and suggested that he should displace Ibrahim Lodi since he was a tyrant and enjoyed no support from his nobles. It is probable that a messenger from Rana Sanga arrived at the same time, inviting Babur to invade India. These embassies convinced Babur that the time was ripe for his conquest of the whole of the Punjab if not of India itself.

In 1525, while Babur was at Peshawar, he received the news that Daulat Khan Lodi had changed sides again. He had collected an army of 30,000—40,000 men, ousted Babur’s men from Sialkot and was marching to Lahore. At Babur’s approach, the army of Daulat Khan melted away. Daulat Khan submitted and was pardoned. Thus, within three weeks of crossing the Indus, Babur became the master of the Punjab.

The Battele of Panipat (20 April 1526)

A conflict with Ibrahim Lodi, the ruler of Delhi, was inevitable, and Babur prepared for it by marching towards Delhi. Ibrahim Lodi met Babur at Panipat with a force estimated at 100,000 men and 1000 elephants. Babur had crossed the Indus with a force of 12,000, but this had been swelled by his army in India, and the large number of Hindustani nobles and soldiers who joined Babur in the Punjab. Even then, Babur’s army was numerically inferior. Babur had also secured the services of two Ottoman master-gunners, Ustad Ali and Mustafa. The use of gunpowder had been gradually developing in India. Babur says that he used it for the first time in his attacks on the fortress of Bhira. Apparently, gunpowder was known in India but its use for artillery became common in north India with the advent of Babur.

Despite the early setbacks, Ibrahim Lodi’s army fought valiantly. The battle raged for two or three hours. Ibrahim Lodi fought to the last, with a group of 5000—6000 people around him. It is estimated that besides him, more than 15,000 of his men were killed in the battle.

The battle of Panipat is regarded as one of the decisive battles of Indian history. It broke the back of Lodi power, and brought under Babur’s control the entire area upto Delhi and Agra. The treasures stored up by Ibrahim Lodi at Agra relieved Babur from his financial difficulties. The rich territory up to Jaunpur also lay open to Babur. However, Babur had to wage two hard-fought battles, one against Rana Sanga of Mewar, and the other against the eastern Afghans, before he could consolidate his hold on this area. Viewed from this angle, the tattle of Panipat was not as decisive in the political field as has been made out. Its real importance lies in the fact that it opened a new phase in the struggle for domination in north India.

The difficulties of Babur after his victory at Panipat were manifold. Many of his begs were not prepared for a long campaign in India. With the onset of the hot weather, their misgivings had increased. Babur knew that the resources in India alone would enable him to found a strong empire and satisfy his begs. He thus took a firm stand, proclaiming his intention to stay on in India, and granting leave to a number of his begs who wanted to go back to Kabul. This immediately cleared the air. But it also invited the hostility of Rana Sanga who began his preparations for a showdown with Babur.

The Battle of Khanwa

The growing conflict between Rana Sanga and Ibrahim Lodi for the domination of eastern Rajasthan and Malwa has already been mentioned. The establishment of an empire in the Indo-Gangetic valley by Babur was a threat to Rana Sanga. Sanga set afoot preparations to expel Babur or, at any rate, to confine him to the Punjab.

Babur accuses Rana Sanga of breach of agreement. He says that Sanga had invited him to India, and promised to join him against Ibrahim Lodi, but made no move while he (Babur) conquered Delhi and Agra. Many Afghans, including Mahmud Lodi, a younger brother of Ibrahim Lodi, rallied to Rana Sanga, in the hope of regaining the throne of Delhi in case Sanga won. Ilasan Khan Mewati, the ruler of Mewat, also cast in his lot with Sanga. Almost all the Rajput rulers of note sent contingents to serve under Rana Sanga.

The reputation of Rana Sanga, and his early success against some of the outlying Mughal posts such as Bayana, demoralised Babur’s soldiers. To rally them, Babur solemnly declared the war against Sanga to be a jihad. On the eve of the battle, he emptied all the wine jars and broke the wine flasks to demonstrate what a staunch Muslim he was. He also banned the sale and purchase of wine throughout his dominions and abolished customs taxes for Muslims.

Having carefully selected a site, Babur entrenched himself at Khanwa about 40 km from Agra. The battle of Khanwa (1527) was fiercely contested. Babur’s forces were undoubtedly inferior in number but dominated. Sanga’s forces were defeated after a great slaughter. Rana Sanga escaped and wanted to renew the conflict with Babur. But he was poisoned by his own nobles who considered such a course to be dangerous and suicidal. Thus died one of the most valiant warriors produced by Rajasthan. With Sanga’s death, the dream of a united Rajasthan extending up to Agra received a serious setback.

The battle of Khanwa secured Babur’s position in the Delhi-Agra region. Babur strengthened his position further by conquering the chain of forts—Gwaliyar, Dholpur, etc., east of Agra. He also annexed large parts of Alwar from Hasan Khan Mewati. He then led a campaign against Medini Rai of Chanderi in Malwa. Chanderi was captured after the Rajput defenders had died fighting to the last man and their women performed jauhar. Babur had to cut short his plan of further campaigns in the area on hearing of the growing activities of the Afghans in eastern Uttar Pradesh.

The Afghans

Although the Afghans had been defeated, they had not been reconciled to the Mughal rule. Eastern Uttar Pradesh was still under the domination of the Afghan chiefs who had tendered their allegiance to Babur but were prepared to throw it off at any time. The Afghan sardars were being backed by Nusrat Shah, the ruler of Bengal, who had married a daughter of Ibrahim Lodi. Earlier, the Afghans had ousted the Mughal officials in eastern Uttar Pradesh and reached up to Kanauj. But their greatest weakness was the lack of a popular leader. After some time, Mahmud Lodi, a brother of Ibrahim Lodi, who had fought against Babur at Khanwa, reached Bihar. The Afghans hailed him as their ruler, and mustered strong under him.

This was a threat which Babur could not ignore. Hence, at the beginning of 1529, he left Agra for the east. Crossing the Ganga near Banaras, he faced the combined forces of the Afghans and Nusrat Shah of Bengal at the crossing of the river Ghagra. Although Babur crossed the river, and compelled the Bengal and the Afghan armies to retreat, he could not win a decisive victory. Being ill, and anxious about the situation in Central Asia, Babur decided to patch up an agreement with the Afghans. He put forward a vague claim for suzerainty over Bihar, but left most of it in the hands of the Afghan chiefs. He also patched up a treaty with Nusrat Shah of Bengal. Pie then returned to Agra. Shortly afterwards, Babur died near Lahore while on his way to Kabul.

Significance of Babur’s Advent Into India

Babur’s advent into India was significant from many points of view. For the first time since the downfall of the Kushan empire, Kabul and Qandhar became integral parts of an empire comprising north India. Since these areas had always acted as staging places for an invasion of India, by dominating them Babur and his successors were able to give to India security from external invasions for almost 200 years. Economically also, the control of Kabul and Qandhar strengthened India’s foreign trade since these two towns were the starting points for caravans meant for China in the east, and the Mediterranean seaports in the west. Thus, India could take a greater share in the great trans-Asian trade.

In north India, Babur smashed the power of the Lodis and the Rajput confederacy led by Rana Sanga. Thereby, he destroyed the balance of power in the area. This was a long step towards the establishment of an all-India empire.

Babur introduced a new mode of warfare in India. Although gunpowder was known in India earlier, Babur showed what a skilled combination of artillery and cavalry could achieve. His victories led to rapid popularisation of gunpowder and artillery in India. Since artillery was expensive, it favoured those rulers who had large resources at their command. Hence the era of small kingdoms ended.

By his new military methods as well as by his personal conduct, Babur re-established the prestige of the Crown which had been eroded since the death of Firuz Tughlaq. Babur had the prestige of being a descendant of two of the most famous warriors of Asia, Changez and Timur. None of his nobles, could, therefore, claim a status of equality with him, or aspire to his throne.

An orthodox Sunni, Babur was not bigoted or led by the religious divines. At a time when there was a bitter sectarian feud between the Shias and the Sunnis in Iran and Turan, his court was free from theological and sectarian conflicts. He declared the battle against Sanga a jihad and assumed the title of ghazi after the victory, but the reasons were clearly political. Though his reign was a period of war, only a few instances can be found of destruction of temples.

Babur was deeply learned in Persian and Arabic, and is regarded as one of the two most famous writers in the Turkish language which was his mother tongue. As a prose writer, he had no equal, and his famous memoirs, the Tuzuk-i-Baburi, is considered one of the classics of world literature. His other works include a masnavi and the Turkish translation of a well-known Sufi work. He was in touch with the famous poets and artists of the time and describes their works in his memoirs. He was a keen naturalist, and has described the flora and fauna of India in considerable detail. He laid out a number of formal gardens with running water thereby establishing a tradition of building gardens.

Babur introduced a new concept of the state which was to be based on the strength and prestige of the Crown, absence of religious and sectarian bigotry, and the careful fostering of culture and the fine arts. He thus provided a precedent and a direction for his successors.

Humayun’s Conquest of Gujarat and Histussle With Sher Shah

Humayun succeeded Babur in December 1530 at the young age of 23. He had to grapple with a number of problems left behind by Babur. The administration had not yet been consolidated, and the finances were precarious. The Afghans had not been subdued, and were nursing the hope of expelling the Mughals from India. Finally, there was the Timurid legacy of partitioning the empire among all the brothers. Babur had counselled Humayun to deal kindly with his brothers, but had not favoured the partitioning of the infant Mughal empire, which would have been disastrous.

When Humayun ascended the throne at Agra, the empire included Kabul and Qandhar. Kabul and Qandhar were under the charge of Humayun’s younger brother, Kamran. However, Kamran was not satisfied with these poverty-stricken areas. He marched on Lahore and Multan, and occupied them. Humayun, who was busy elsewhere, and did not want to start a civil war, had little option but to agree. Kamran accepted the suzerainty of Humayun, and promised to help him whenever necessary. Kamran’s action created the apprehension that the other brothers of Humayun might also follow the same path whenever an opportunity arose. However, by formally granting the Punjab and Multan to Kamran, Humayun had the immediate advantage that he was free to devote his attention to the eastern parts without having to bother about his western frontier.

Apart from these, Humayun had to deal with the rapid growth of the power of the Afghans in the east, and the growing power and sweep of Bahadur Shah, the ruler of Gujarat. At the outset, Humayun was inclined to consider the Afghan danger to be the more serious of the two. In 1532, at a place called Dadrah, he defeated the Afghan forces which had conquered Bihar and overrun Jaunpur in eastern Uttar Pradesh. After this success, Humayun besieged Chunar. This powerful fort commanded the land and the river route between Agra and the east, and was known as the gateway of eastern India. It had recently come in the possession of an Afghan sardar, Sher Khan, who had become the most powerful of the Afghan sardars.

After the siege of Chunar had gone on for four months, Sher Khan persuaded Humayun to allow him to retain possession of the fort. In return, he promised to be loyal to the Mughals, and sent one of his sons to Humayun as a hostage. Humayun accepted the offer because he was anxious to return to Agra. The rapid increase in the power of Bahadur Shah of Gujarat, and his activities in the areas bordering Agra, had alarmed him. He was not prepared to continue the siege of Chunar under the command of a noble since that would have meant dividing his forces.

Bahadur Shah, who was of almost the same age as Humayun, was an able and ambitious ruler. Ascending the throne in 1526, he first overran and conquered Malwa. He then turned to Rajasthan and besieged Chittor. Bahadur Shah offered a still greater challenge to Humayun. He had made his court the refuge of all those who feared or hated the Mughals. He again invested Chittor and, simultaneously, supplied arms and men to Tatar Khan, a cousin of Ibrahim Lodi. Tatar Khan was to invade Agra with a force of 40,000. Humayun easily defeated the challenge posed by Tatar Khan. The Afghan forces melted away at the approach of the Mughals, and Tatar Khan was defeated and killed. Determined to end the threat from Bahadur Shah’s side once for all, Humayun now invaded Malwa.

In the struggle which followed, Humayun showed considerable military skill, and remarkable personal valour. Bahadur Shah did not dare face the Mughals. He abandoned Chittor fled to Ahmedabad and finally to Kathiawar. Thus, the rich provinces of Malwa and Gujarat, as well as the large treasures hoarded by the Gujarat rulers at Mandu and Champaner, fell into the hands of Humayun.

However both Gujarat and Malwa were lost as quickly as they had been gained. The Gujarat campaign was not a complete failure. While it did not add to the Mughal territories, it destroyed forever the threat posed to the Mughals by Bahadur Shah: Humayun was now in a position to concentrate all his resources in the struggle against Sher Khan and the Afghans. Soon after, Bahadur Shah drowned in a scuffle with the Portuguese on board one of their ships. This ended whatever danger remained from the side of Gujarat.

Sher Khan

During Humayun’s Malwa campaign (February 1535 to February 1537), Sher Khan had further strengthened his position. He had made himself the unquestioned master of Bihar. The Afghans from far and near had rallied round him. Though he continued to profess loyalty to the Mughals, he systematically planned to expel the Mughals from India. Shortly after Humayun’s return to Agra, he had used this army to defeat the Bengal king, and compel him to pay an indemnity of 13,00,000 dinars (gold coins).

Next, Humayun marched against Sher Khan and besieged Chunar fort strategically located on line of communications. Despite the best efforts by the master-gunner, Rumi Khan, it took six months for Humayun to capture it. Meanwhile, Sher Khan captured by treachery the powerful fort of Rohtas. He then invaded Bengal for a second time, and captured Gaur, its capital.

Thus, Sher Khan completely outmanoeuvred Humayun. After his victory over Gaur, Sher Khan made an offer to Humayun that he would surrender Bihar and pay an annual tribute of ten lakhs of dinars if he was allowed to retain Bengal. But Humayun was not prepared to leave Bengal to Sher Khan. Bengal was the land of gold, rich in manufactures, and a centre for foreign trade. Humayun marched into Bengal. Sher Khan had left Bengal and was in south Bihar. He let Humayun advance into Bengal without opposition so that he might disrupt Humayun’s communications and bottle him up in Bengal. Arriving at Gaur, Humayun quickly took steps to establish law and order. But this did not solve any of his problems. His situation was made worse by the attempt of his younger brother, Hindal, to assume the Crown himself at Agra. Due to this and Sher Khan’s activities, Humayun was totally cut off from all news and supplies from Agra.

After a stay of three to four months at Gaur, Humayun started back for Agra, leaving a small garrison behind. Despite the rumblings of discontent in the nobility, the rainy season, and the constant harrying attacks of the Afghans, Humayun managed to get his army back to Chausa near Buxar, without any serious loss. Meanwhile, Kamran had advanced from Lahore to Agra to quell Hindal’s rebellion. Though not disloyal, Kamran made no attempt to send reinforcements to Humayun which might have swung the military balance in favour of the Mughals.

Despite these setbacks, Humayun was still confident of success against Sher Khan. Misled by an offer of peace from Sher Khan, Humayun crossed to the eastern bank of the Karmnasa river, giving full scope to the Afghan horsemen encamped there to attack. Humayun showed not only bad political sense, but bad generalship as well. He chose his ground badly, and allowed himself to be taken unawares. Humayun barely escaped with his life from the battle field, swimming across the river with the help of a water-carrier. Immense booty fell in Sher Khan’s hands. About 7000 Mughal soldiers and many prominent nobles were killed.

After the defeat at Chausa (March 1539), again the army hastily assembled by Humayun at Agra was no march against Sher Khan. However, the battle of Kanauj (May 1540) was bitterly contested. Both the younger brothers of Humayun, Askari and Hindal, fought valiantly but to no avail. The battle of Kanauj decided the issue between Sher Khan and the Mughals. Humayun, now, became a prince without a kingdom, Kabul and Qandhar remaining under Kamran. He wandered about in Sindh and its neighbouring regions for the next two and a half years. Worse, his own brothers turned against him, and tried to have him killed or imprisoned. Ultimately, Humayun took shelter at the court of the Iranian king, and with his help recaptured Qandhar and Kabul in 1545.

It is clear that the major cause of Humayun’s failure against Sher Khan was his inability to understand the nature of the Afghan power. Due to the existence of large numbers of Afghan tribes scattered over north India, the Afghans could always reunite under a capable leader and pose a challenge. Without winning over the local rulers and zamindars to their side, the Mughals were bound to remain numerically inferior. In the beginning, Humayun was, on the whole, loyally served by his brothers. Real differences among them arose only after Sher Khan’s victories. Some historians have unduly exaggerated the early differences of Humayun with his brothers, and his alleged faults of character. Though not as vigorous as Babur, Humayun showed himself to be a competent general and politician, till his ill-conceived Bengal campaign. In both the battles with Sher Khan, the latter showed himself to be a superior general.

Humayun’s life was a romantic one. He went from riches to rags, and again from rags to riches. In 1555, following the breakup of the Sur empire, he was able to recover Delhi. But he did not live long to enjoy the fruits of the victory. He died from a fall from the first floor of the library building in his fort at Delhi. His favourite wife built a magnificent mausoleum for him near the fort. This building marks a new phase in the style of architecture in north India, its most remarkable feature being the magnificent dome of marble.

Sher Shah and The Sur Empire (1540–55)

Sher Shah ascended the throne of Delhi at the age of 54 or so. His original name was Farid and his father was a small jagirdar at Jaunpur. Farid acquired sound administrative experience by looking after the affairs of his father’s jagir. Following the defeat and death of Ibrahim Lodi and the confusion in Afghan affairs, he emerged as one of the most important Afghan sardar. The title of Sher Khan was given to him by his patron for killing a tiger (sher) or, for services rendered. Soon, Sher Khan emerged as the right-hand of the ruler of Bihar, and its master in all but name. This was before the death of Babur. The rise of Sher Khan to prominence was, thus, not a sudden one.

As a ruler, Sher Shah ruled the mightiest empire which had come into existence in north India since the time of Muhammad bin Tughlaq. His empire extended from Bengal to the Indus, excluding Kashmir. In the west, he conquered Malwa, and almost the entire Rajasthan. Maldeo, the ruler of Marwar who had ascended the gaddi in 1532 attemptted to create a large centralised state in Rajasthan by conquering Bhatis of Jaisalmer, Ajmer and Bikaner. Maldeo was regarded as a threat by the ruler of Delhi and Agra. It was believed that Maldeo had an army of 50,000. However, there is no evidence that Maldeo coveted Delhi or Agra. Now, as before, the bone of contention between the two was the domination of the strategically important eastern Rajasthan.

The Rajput and Afghan forces clashed at Samel (1544) between Ajmer and Jodhpur. The battle of Samel sealed the fate of Rajasthan. Sher Shah now besieged and conquered Ajmer and Jodhpur, forcing Maldeo to take shelter in the fort of Siwana where he died soon afterwards. Sher Shah then turned towards Mewar. The rana was in no position to resist, and sent the keys of Chittor to Sher Shah who set up his outposts up to Mount Abu. Thus, in a brief period of ten months, Sher Shah overran almost the entire Rajasthan. His last campaign was against Kalinjar, a strong fort that was the key to Bundelkhand. During the siege, a gun burst and severely injured Sher Shah. He died (1545) after he heard that the fort had been captured.

Sher Shah was succeeded by his second son, Islam Shah. However, his death at a young age led to a civil war among his successors. This provided Humayun the opportunity he had been seeking for recovering his empire in India. In two hotly contested battles in 1555, he defeated the Afghans, and recovered Delhi and Agra.

Contribution of Sher Shah

The Sur empire may be considered in many ways as a continuation and culmination of the Delhi Sultanat, the advent of Babur and Humayun being in the nature of an interregnum. Amongst the foremost contributions of Sher Shah was his re-establishment of law and order across the length and breadth of his empire. He dealt sternly with robbers and dacoits, and with zamindars who refused to pay land revenue or disobeyed the orders of the government.

Sher Shah paid great attention to the fostering of trade and commerce and the improvement of communications in his kingdom. Sher Shah restored the old imperial road called the Grand Trunk Road, from the river Indus in the west to Sonargaon in Bengal. He also built a road from Agra to Jodhpur and Chittor, evidently linking up with the road to the Gujarat seaports. He built a third road from Lahore to Multan. Multan was at that time the staging point for caravans going to West and Central Asia. For the convenience of travellers, Sher Shah built a sarai at a distance of every two kos (about eight km) on these roads. The sarai was a fortified lodging or inn where travellers could pass the night and also keep their goods in safe custody. We are told that Sher Shah built 1700 sarais in all. Some of these are still existing. His roads and sarais have been called ‘the arteries of the empire’. They helped in quickening trade and commerce in the country. Many of the sarais developed into market-towns (qasbas) to which peasants flocked to sell their produce. The sarais were also used as stages for the news service or dak-chowki. The organisation of these dak-chowkis has been described in an earlier chapter. By means of these, Sher Shah kept himself informed of the developments in his vast empire.

Sher Shah also introduced other reforms to promote the growth of trade and commerce. In his entire empire, customs duty for goods were paid only at two places: goods produced in Bengal or imported from outside paid customs duty at the border of Bengal and Bihar at Sikrigali, and goods coming from West and Central Asia paid customs duty at the Indus. No one was allowed to levy customs at roads, ferries or towns anywhere else. Duty was paid a second time at the time of sale of goods.

Sher Shah directed his governors and amils to treat merchants and travellers well in every way, and not to harm them at all. Sher Shah made the local village headmen (muqaddams) and zamindars responsible for any loss that a merchant suffered on the roads. If the goods were stolen, the muqaddams and the zamindars had to produce them, or point out the haunts of the thieves or highway robbers, failing which they had to undergo the punishment meant for thieves and robbers.

The currency reforms of Sher Shah also helped in the growth of commerce and handicrafts. He struck fine coins of gold, silver and copper of uniform standard in place of the earlier debased coins of mixed metal. His silver rupee was so well executed that it remained a standard coin for centuries after him. His attempt to fix standard weights and measures all over the empire were also helpful for trade and commerce.

Sher Shah did not make many changes in the administrative divisions prevailing since the Sultanat period. A number of villages comprised a pargana. The pargana was under the charge of the shiqdar, who looked after law and order and general administration, and the munsif or amil who looked after the collection of land revenue. Accounts were maintained both in Persian and the local languages (Hindavi). Above the pargana was the shiq or sarkar under the charge of the shiqdar-i-shqdaran or faujdar and a munsif-i-munsifan. It seems that only the designations of these officers were new since both pargana and sarkar were units of administration in the earlier period also.

A number of sarkars were sometimes grouped into provinces, but we do not know how many of such provinces existed and the pattern of provincial administration. It seems that the provincial governors were all-powerful in some areas. In some areas such as Bengal, real power remained in the hands of tribal chiefs and the governor exercised only a loose control over them.

Sher Shah apparently continued the central machinery of administration which had been developed during the Sultanat period. Sher Shah’s excessive centralisation of authority in his hands was a source of weakness, and its harmful effects became apparent when a masterful sovereign like him ceased to sit on the throne.

Sher Shah paid special attention to the land revenue system, the army, and justice. Having administered his father’s jagir for a number of years, and then as the virtual ruler of Bihar, Sher Shah knew the working of the land revenue system at all levels. With the help of a capable team of administrators, he toned up the entire system. The produce of land was no longer to be based on guess work, or by dividing the crops in the fields or on the threshing floor. Sher Shah insisted on measurement of the sown land. A crop rate (called ray) was drawn up, laying down the state’s share of the different types of crops. This could then be converted into cash on the basis of the prevailing market rates in different areas. The share of the state was one-third of the produce. The lands were divided into good, bad and middling. Their average produce was computed, and one-third of it became the share of the state. The peasants were given the option of paying in cash or kind, though the state preferred cash.

The areas sown, the type of crops cultivated, and the amount each peasant had to pay was written down on a paper called patta and each peasant was informed of it. No one was allowed to charge from the peasants anything extra. In order to guard against famine and other natural calamities, a cess at the rate of two and a half seers per bigha was also levied.

Sher Shah set up a strong army in order to administer his vast empire. He dispensed with tribal levies under tribal chiefs, and recruited soldiers directly, after verifying their character. Every soldier had his descriptive roll (chehra) recorded, and his horse branded with the imperial sign so that horses of inferior quality may not be substituted. Sher Shah seems to have borrowed this system, known as the dagh (branding) system, from the military reforms of Alauddin Khalji.

Sher Shah placed considerable emphasis on justice. Qazis were appointed at different places for justice but, as before, the village panchayats and zamindars also dealt with civil and criminal cases at the local level. A big step forward in the dispensation of justice was, however, taken by Sher Shah’s son and successor, Islam Shah. Islam Shah codified the laws, thus doing away with the necessity of depending on a special set of people who could interpret the Islamic law.

Sher Shah also built a new city on the bank of the Yamuna near Delhi. The only survivor of this is the Old Fort (Purana Qila) and the fine mosque within it. Sher Shah also patronized the learned men. Some of the finest works in Hindi, such as the Pudmauat of Malik Muhammad Jaisi, were completed during his reign.

Sher Shah was not a bigot in the religious sphere, as is evident from his social and economic policy. Neither Islam Shah nor he depended on the ulama, though they respected them a great deal. Religious slogans were sometimes used to justify political actions. The treacherous murder of Puran Mai and his associates after he had vacated the fort of Raisen in Malwa on the basis of a binding oath is one such example. Sher Shah did not, however, initiate any new liberal policies. Jizyah continued to be collected from the Hindus, while his nobility was drawn almost exclusively from the Afghans. Thus, the state under the Surs remained an Afghan institution based on race and tribe. A fundamental change came about only with the emergence of Akbar.



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