Monday, November 30, 2015

Sarwani Pashtuns and the part played by them in history of India

Sarwanis  (corrupted to Sherwani) are descendants of Sarwanaey, son of Shah Hussain Ghori, by his second wife Mahiya. Out of the Shah Hussain's descendants, the Sarwanis were the first to leave their original home. They took possession of Darabhan and Chaudwan, and the surrounding areas, in the Dera Ismael Khan district during the rule of Shahab-ud-din Ghauri. One of the gates of Daraban was named after Sheikh Malhi Katal (Sarwani) that was, till recently, referred to as Shiakh Qatal Sarwani gate, since whose time the chieftainship of the tribe resided in Sari-pal section. The Prangis (Lodis), their Kinsmen, soon followed in their footprints and moved into their neighborhoods.

A feud with the Surs (then settled at Rori, Dera Ismael Khan) was the cause of the Sarwani decadence, and made them unable to withstand the inroads of more energetic neighbors. A man of Sur clan from Rori eloped with a girl of his own clan and took refuge with the neighboring Sarwanis of Darabhan. The Suris demanded his surrender. The Sarwani jirga , following the tenets of Pashtunwali, refused the demand and instead offered five maidens from Sarwani tribe to the relations of the girl who disdainfully refused the offer. A fierce fight ensued between two tribes, resulting in a great massacre, thousands were slain, most of the young men on both sides were killed. Thus both the tribes were weakened beyond recovery, unable to offer steady resistance to external foes.

The Sarwanis consisted of 52 or 104 'Khels' or minor sub-divisions and though possibly they may have visited India before the Tughlaq Sultans of Delhi, but the first Sarwani of note, about whom we hear , was Malik Qabul Khan, Governor of Badoan, during the reign of Feruz Shah Tughlaq, and later on, about the end of Tughlaq dynasty, we find that Malik Yousuf Sarwani was included as a commander in the army of Tamurlang that overran India up to the Gangetic plain and even up to the Jalali in the district of Koil - the present Aligarh. This seems to be the first acquaintance of Sarwanis with Aligarh district in which they now reside in such a large number.

Progressing further on Sikander Khan Sarwani, a valiant fighter and skilled bowman, rose into prominence, just after Bahlul Lodi had established himself as Sultan at Delhi . It was this Sikander Khan Sarwani who, along with others, defended the besieged fortress of Delhi wherein the families of Bahlol Lodi and other Pashtuns were confined at the time of the invasion of Mahmud Sharqi, King of Jaunpur, while Bahlol was away in the Punjab and engaged upon reducing Dehalpur. Bahlol Lodi, realizing his plight, invited many Pashtuns from the Roh to help him, holding out promises of rich rewards and a good living in a fertile country. Among others Sarwanis responded to the call in large numbers and henceforth we hear of Omar Khan Sarwani, the son of Sikander Khan, and other Sarwani leaders. Omar Khan and his son Ibrahim assisted Bahlol's son Nizam Khan in quelling the rebellion of Tatar Khan Lodi and consequently Omar Khan replaced the latter as the governor of the place and at the same time he (Omar Khan) received extensive jagir lands in Sirhind , Shahabad in Karnal districts, Payalpur and its vicinity in the Punjab.

Omar Khan Sarwani also suppressed the rebellion of Ahmad Khan Bhatti of Sindh and bore the title of Khan Azam. He was instrumental in helping Hasan Khan Sur, the father of future Sultan Sher Shah , in securing a foothold in India in as much as Omar Khan allotted some villages out of his own jagir to Hasan Khan and also got for him more lands from one Kamal Khan Sarang Khani. Later on, Omar Khan bestowed a village on Fareed Khan, the future Sher Shah, for his maintenance. Sarwanis now appear to have been settled in Rapri ( district Mainpuri , U.P) as well , where their military duties must have taken them as the country round about this locality was the scene of constant battles between the Delhi and Sharqi Sultans. A mohallah in Rapri is still known as Sherwan Khel though now there are no Sarwanis at this place.

Shaikh Sadar-ud-din Sarwani,commonly known as Sadar Jahan,  fourteenth in descent from
common ancestor Sarwani, was of devout life and pious practices. Leaving his native Darahban, he set out for a journey through Hindustan , and having reached what is now Maler, built himself a hut on the banks of a tributary of the Sutlej , and there became absorbed in religious practices and meditations. In view of his piety, Bahlol gave him his daughter in marriage and bestowed on her 11 villages which formed the nucleus of Malerkotla state. The Sarwani rulers of Malerkotla played an important role during Sikh regime.

Tomb of Shaikh Sadar-ud-din Sarwani in Malerkotla

After Balul's death in 1489, a dispute arose as to succession to the throne. The Sarwanis,  in particular Omar Khan, supported Balul's second son, Nizam Khan, who was elected as King near Jalali in Aligarh district under the title of Sikander Lodi. He now profusely rewarded the Sarwanis and their leaders. There were fresh arrivals of Pashtuns from the Roh during Sikander Lodi's reign including one Saif Khan , a Sarwani pertaining to the Aja Khel branch as distinct from Omar Khan's Gakboor Khel. Sikander Lodi deputed Daud Khan alias Rao Khan Sarwani after whow Sikander Rao in this district is known, to suppress the rebellion of Rajputs of Bilram in the Etah district. This Saif Khan Sarwani rose into great prominence as he was now a commander of 5000 and founded a Mohallah after his own name which still exists in Sambhal (Moradabad district) when the place enjoyed the distinction of being the temporary capital of Sikander. Omar Khan Sarwani's other son, Haibat Khan and Mohammad Khan , now came to the forefront - the former having been promoted to be a commander of 45,000 cavalry and 700 elephants. Omar Khan was employed in various responsible and onerous duties , such as suppressing the revolts of Sultan Ashraf Jalwani at Biana and the Rajputs of Jaunpur who rebelled at the instigation of Hussain Shah Sharqi. After the latter's flight , Sikander's brother Barbak was put in charge of Jaunpur but, having proved a failure , was deposed and put under the supervision of Omar Khan Sarwani and his son Haibat Khan. The latter's son Isa Khan and Ibrahim Khan also served Sikander Lodi. Omar Khan was now killed in suppressing the revolt of Jats Jartauli near Tappal in Aligarh district. Shortly afterwards Omar Khan's son Haibat Khan and his son-in-law Said Khan , governor of Lahore , Derya Khan and other Sarwani leaders were banished by Sikander Lodi as they appear to have plotted against him due to a quarrel between Sarwanis and Lohanis on the Polo ground , in the course of which a Sarwani was killed while Lohanis were injured in the King's presence. These exiled Sarwanis sought refuge at Malwa Mandu where the Khilji ruler employed an army of Afghans and also ar Muzaffar's court at Gujarat , and at Gawalior. Two of the Sarwanis , Omar Khan's son Muhammad Khan and Firoz Khan , son of Ahmad Khan , appear to have escaped Sikander's wrath , as the former was probably now appointed at Koil while the latter administrated Rohtak where he lies buried.

After the death of Sikander Lodi in 1518 AD, the Sarwanis espoused the cause of his son Ibrahim lodi who was elected King, though opposed by a party of who supported his brother Jalal Khan. Ibrahim Lodi now recalled the Sarwanis expelled by his father Sikander and bestowed rewards and lands on them as they fought against Jalal Khan and in support of Ibrahim Khan. Isa Khan Sarwani was appointed governor of Agra or Delhi while Islam Khan Sarwani governed the province of Kara manakpur. Mohammad Khan Sarwani , about this time built a fort at Koil Aligarh which still exists and about which an inscription in verse was discovered in 1872. When Prince Jalal Khan escaped from Jaunpur to Gawalior, Haibat Khan Sarwani was deputed in his pursuit but incurred the King's wrath as he failed to capture Jalal Khan. Haibat Khan was thereupon imprisoned at Agra and subsequently died in prison. This injustified and harsh treatment towards a leader of Azam Humayun Haibat Khan's standing prompted a rebellion on the part of his son, Islam Khan and other Afghans and in the course of its suppression by the King's troops both the sides lost about 10,000 Afghans. As the Afghans felt much disgruntled at Ibrahim Lodi's dealings with them, they incited Babur who invaded India and defeated Ibrahim Lodi at Panipat in 1526 AD. Most of the Sarwanis sided with Babur and were rewarded by him. He was guest of Daud Khan alias Rao Khan Sarwani at Sikandra Rao, as the latter had faithfully served him. Babur also bestowed rewards on Shaikh Bayazid Sarwani whose son fought for the Mughal king at Chanderi and also on Mian Ahmed Sarwani who suppressed the Sarwani rebel, Qutub Khan of Etawah. Fateh Khan, son of Isa Khan Sarwani, and his son Mahmud Khan were also rewarded by Babar. Another Sarwani Bijli Khan opposed Babar at Hissar but was punished and vanquished.

Sher Khan Sur now plotted to oust Mughals from India and succeeded in plans after Babur's death. Sarwanis sided with their Kinsman Sher Khan who recalled Isa Khan and others who had dispersed after their banishment. Consequently Hamayun gave a wide berth to Sarwanis who openly fought against him and sided with Sher Shah. Isa Khan Sarwani, Saif Khan Sarwani and other Sarwani leaders assisted Sher Khan Sur in defeating Humayun at Chausa and then decisively on the Ganges near Kanuaj. Safi Khan Sarwani was also instrumental in enabling Sher Khan to escape from Rohtas Gadhi Bengal when Humayun invaded the fort. Sher Shah was now persuaded by Isa Khan Sarwani to declare himself King of Delhi. Isa Khan also saved the life of Bairam Khan Khan Khana after the battle on Ganges but refused to be recompensed later on when Bairam Khan was all in all in the beginning of Akbar's reign. Isa Khan Sarwani was Sher Shah's right hand man and was appointed governor of Sambhal. He and other Sarwani leaders fought for Sher Shah in various battles and the King appointed him as his "hajib" too. After Sher Shah, Isa Khan and most of the Sarwanis served his successor Islam Shah Sur with loyalty and distinction, fighting against Islam's Shah opponent and brother Adil Khan. After Islam Shah's death, Isa Khan and other Sarwanis supported his successor Adil Shah but the latter's cruelty and egoism appear to have exasperated most of the Sarwanis and other Afghans so much that they went over to the side of Adil Shah's opponent , Sultan Muhammad, who assumed independence at Delhi. The Sarwanis were at this time much weakened , and, as Afghan hostility to Mughals continued after the end of Afghan rule, on return of Humayun, they seem to have retired from active participation in politics and military career. A fresh arrivals in Akbar days, Mullah Pir Muahmmad Khan Sherwani , of 5,000 mansab, rose into a great prominence but left no Sarwani successor behind him. Akbar, after the revolt of Karranis in Bengal, dispersed Afghans from the Punjab to distant places and it was about this time that the well known Sherwani family of Aligarh district seems to have settled here. In 1607 AD, Mubarak Khan Sarwani was appointed faujdar of Hissar by Jehangir. Two years later he was granted an increased rank of 1000/300. Yatim Khan Sherwani was associate of Mir Jumla and assisted him in the Assam campaign. There were only three petty Mansabdars from Sarwani tribe during the reign of Shah Jahan. Muhammad Behlol Sherwani was the faujdar of Idar (Gujarat) in 1687.The Bhikampur Aligarh family of Sarwanis was ousted at first by Jats and then by Gushains during the reign of Shah Alam II but were restored to the rightful possessions of their lands on the advent of British in 1803 AD. The Sarwanis are now residing in U.P, Punjab and possibly southern India.


1- Muhammad Hayat Khan,"Hayat-i-Afghani", p-302.
2- Muhammad Abbas Khan Sarwani, 'Proceedings of the Indian history congress", 1943, p-392-95
3- Rita Joshi, ''Afghan nobility and the Mughals", p-92 , p-99
4- Abdul Halim, History of the Lodi sultans of Delhi and Agra