Friday, March 28, 2014

Islam Shah Suri (1545-53)

Islam Shah Suri’s original name was Jalal Khan and he was the younger son of Sher Shah Suri. He was the second ruler of Suri Dynasty. As he was fairly well-educated man and a poet in Persian at the time of his accession, it may be presumed that he must have been given a fairly high education in his early years. But he was primarily a soldier and had given proof of his military ability on more than one occasion before he was called to the sovereignty of Hindustan.

In 1531 his valiant defence of Chunargarh so impressed Humayun that on the conclusion of peace the latter insisted on Islam Shah Suri’s taking charge of the Afghan contingent which Sher Shah had placed at the disposal of Mughal emperor. In 1527, Islam Shah played a prominent part in the siege of Gaur, and was subsequently entrusted with the defense of Teliagarhi, the Gateway of Bengal, where the Afghans under him inflicted the first defeat upon the Mughal army. In 1539 and 1540 he was placed in charge of an important division of his father’s army in the battles of Chausa and Kanauj, and in both the engagements he displayed great valor and military the rulers of Raisin and Jodhpur. While Sher Shah was engaged in the siege of Kalinjar, Islam Shah was deputed to reduce Rewa, but his work could not be accomplished due to Sher Shah’s untimely death.

Islam Shah succeeded to the throne after the death of his father. Though Sher Shah`s eldest son, Adil Khan was nominated by him as his successor but the nobles preferred Jalal Khan, Sher Shah`s younger son who was regarded more capable and industrious by them. Jalal Khan was called by them to come to Kalinjar and after his arrival, he was declared Sultan on 27 may 1545 A.D. He assumed the title of Islam Shah.

Conflict with Adil Khan
Islam Shah could not feel secure as long as his elder brother was alive. He asked him to come to Agra. He was assured of his life and the grant of Jagir of Sayan. Eminent nobles like Isa Khan and Khavass Khan stood surety for his life. Adil Khan went to Agra, paid homage to the Sultan and returned to Bayana. Islam Shah tried to murder him but failed. Feeling insecure Adil Khan sought support of Khavass Khan. They combined their forces and proceeded towards Agra but the rebels were defeated. Adil Khan fled towards Panna and was heard of no more. Khavass Khan also fled towards Sarhind.

The Revolt of the Nobles
Islam Shah tried to kill ail those nobles who were supposed to be in sympathy with Adil Khan. Thirteen old nobles were sent to Gwalior where they were blown by gun-powder. Said Niazi fled away from the court and found shelter with his brother Haibat Khan Niazi, governor of Lahore. Haibat Khat Niazi revolted against the Sultan. Khavass Khan also came and joined him. Islam Shah went himself to suppress this revolt. He met the rebel near Ambala (1547 A.D.). Khavass left Haibat Khan on the eve of the battle because he wanted to fight in the name of Adil Khan while Haibat Khan was fired with the ambition of himself be crowned. The Niazis were defeated and Islam Shah pursued them up to the bank of the Jhelum River. He left an army to suppress the fugitives and himself returned to Agra.

The Results of Revolts
Islam Shah succeeded in suppressing all revolts, He, thus, broke the power of the old nobility which could be a threat to the power of the Sultan. He appointed his own loyal nobles to all important posts and was able to command their respect. In this respect, Islam Shah proved more successful than his father. The provincial governors showed respect not only to him but even to his shoes and obeyed his commands blindly. But, this policy towards the nobles did not prove to be the lasting interest of the state. Two attempts were made to murder him though both failed. But the nobles could not remain loyal to the royal family. It was only the fear of Islam Shah which kept them in check during his life. Thus, Islam Shah`s greatest failure was that instead of consolidating the power of the Afghans he divided it and, thus, participated in the downfall of the second Afghan empire.


In 1553 Humayun, who had got rid of his ungrateful brother, Kamran, made a feeble attempt to recover Hindustan and as a preliminary step set out to conquer Kahnir. Islam Shah was at this time lying ill at Delhi. When he heard that Humayun had crossed the Indus, he immediately took off leeches from his throat and, though ill, started to face the invader, Humayun was dismayed at the promptitude displaced by his old rival’s son and returned to Kabul. There seemed to be now no danger to the Afghan kingdom and Islam Shah Suri returned to his favorite residence at Gwalior. He was afflicted by a painful disease and medical aid proved of no help. Islam Shah Suri died on 30th October, 1553.

Administration under Islam Shah
Islam Shah was a worthy son of his father. He not only maintained the administrative set-up of his father but also strengthened it further. Sher Shah had constructed Sarais on every fourth mile. Islam Shah constructed Sarais on every second mile and arranged for free distribution of food in each of them. Islam Shah could not abolish the jagirdari system but he took away the land from old jagirdars and redistributed it among his loyal support. This measure created a class of people loyal to him and indirectly weakened the hereditary jagirdari system. He assigned the respectibility of maintaining law and order in villages to his officials. Islam Shah brought out changes in the army administration as well. He divided his cavalry into units of 50, 200, 250 and his infantry into 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 soldiers.

In the north-west, he constructed a chain of forts, viz., Shergarh, Islamgarh, Rashidgarh, and Ferozgarh. Together, these were called the forts of Mankot. Islam Shah kept his nobles under strict discipline. Each of them respected or rather feared him very much. The nobles were terrorised by Islam Shah and remained under his strict control during his life-time. But this policy proved harmful for the dynasty in the long run. The Suri dynasty lost the love of Afghan nobles and, as soon as Islam Shah passed away, they tried to decide the fate of the throne by the power of their swords and were divided among themselves which ruined the fate of the Suri dynasty. The best novelty of the administration of Islam Shah was the framing of a very large number of administrative laws. His legislature practically covered every sphere of state activity and was universally applied throughout his empire. Islam Shah freed the laws from religion and enforced them purely on behalf of the state. Islam Shah was a capable administrator.

Islam Shah was a successful ruler. He not only provided order and security to the empire which he inherited from his father but extended it further. East Bengal was conquered during the last days of his rule. Not a single revolt succeeded during his time. He also tried to bring about improvement in the administration set-up by his father and succeeded in certain measures. He also filled the Mughals with so much of awe and fear that they came to him either as supplicants or felt shy of approaching his frontier

About Islam Shah Dr. R. P. Tripathi says that "He was a worthy successor to his father. A good student of literature and a patron of men of letters, he distinguished himself in literary circles by his wit, humour, apt quotations from classics and appreciation of fine composition. At times, he composed extempore verses. He had studied canon law and theology and took an intelligent part in discussion on those subjects. His private life was well regulated. His manners were pleasant, polished and refined. He had distinguished himself as a good soldier and an able commander even as a prince.

When he became a king, he added substantially to his reputation as a leader of inspiring courage, bravery and sound judgment. As a ruler, he was God-fearing a protector of his subjects, a hard task-master and a vigilant, energetic and firm administrator. However, he was also haughty, suspicious, revengeful, ruthless and at times ferocious and cruel. His treatment of Niazi women was outrageous, shameful and barbarous. The result was that he was feared but not loved.