Sunday, September 21, 2014

Afghan soldiers of Sultan Balban

Ghyas-ud-din Balban was among the well-known rulers of Mamluk dynasty of India. In 1260 Balban, then Vizier, brought areas known as Kohpaya-Bharatpur, Dholpur and parts of what became Jaipur and Lawar, under the sword with the help of a body of Afghans, who penetrated every where in defiles and ravines, a total of 3000 horse and foot, in a locality of Hind where Muslim troops had not been before [1]. The Persian literati of the time looked with horror at these military heroes of the sultanate. Juzjani describe their fearful presence in the following manner.

         "...each one of them, one could say, is like an elephant with two braided manes [du ghazhgha] on their broad shoulders, or is like a bastion [burji].....and each one of them would seize a hundred Hindus, whether in the mountain or the jungle, and on a dark night would reduce a demon to helplessness.." [2]

Balban continued to use Afghans after he became Sultan. He concentrated on the security of the Sultanate from the north-western side on the Mongol frontier. For this purpose the Afghan commanders, sawars (horse-riders) and other regular mercenaries were deployed in a large number at strategic places in the Sultanate. Major frontier forts were mainly garrisoned by the Afghans at that time. One of them Ahmad Nabi Khan was given the fort of Dipalpur, who maintained a well-equipped army of several thousand horsemen under him. In Multan, the contingent under the command of Prince Muhammad Khan was largely composed of the Afghan soldiers. [3]

Afghans were also deployed by in strategic areas of Ganges-Jamuna Doab. Balban garrisoned forts in Mewati region with Afghans, who kept the road between Delhi and Bengal open. Just over a decade after their first recorded deployment , Afghans controlled the cantonments that encircled the capital of sultanate. Balban gave them rent-free lands and settled them in territories that had seen some of the most violent conflicts between the monarch and his competitors in the preceding decade. These were the most strategic areas in the sultanate. In appointing Afghans to these sites, Balban displayed the extent of his regard for them . Such trust was greeted with ambivalence by some resident of Delhi. Some time around 1280 AD, the famous poet Amir Khusrao, in a letter to Ikhtiyar Al-din Begtars ,  wrote about the Afghans residing in the near vicinity of the capital in the following manner;

                " this fortress live the Afghans - nay man-slaying demons, for even the demons groan in fright at their shouts. Their heads are like big sacks of straw, their beards like combs of the weaver , long-legged as the stork but more ferocious than the eagle , their heads lowered like that of the owl of the wilderness. Their voices hoarse and shrill like that of a jack-daw , their mouths open like a shark. Their tongue is blunt like home-made arrow , and fling stones like the sling of a battering ram.  Well has a wise man said that when speech was sent to men from sky, the Afghans got the last and least share of it." [2]


1- Al-Hind: The Slavic Kings and the Islamic conquest, 11th-13th centuries By Andr Wink, p-193

2- Slavery and South Asian History edited by Indrani Chatterjee, Richard M. Eaton , p-101

3- Agha Hussain Hamadani, The Frontier Policy of the Delhi Sultans (Islamabad: National Institute of Historical and Cultural Research, 1986), p. 104